Picking the 10 greatest Lakers of all-time is like trying to decide the best TV show of all time.
I go with M*A*S*H, by the way.
You’re talking about some of the best basketball players to ever walk the planet. There’s a guy who ranks No. 3 all-time in the NBA in scoring and I don’t think he makes the list (Karl Malone). Malone did only play one forgettable year with Los Angeles.
For purposes of our evaluation, we stayed with just Los Angeles, so George Mikan, the NBA’s first marquee star, doesn’t make the cut. We did our best to keep our biases in check. There’s literally a Kobe Generation, a LeBron Generation and a Jordan Generation of NBA fans.
Picking the best out of those three sparks endless arguments.
Into the fray I go, here are my Top 10 Los Angeles Lakers in history.
10. Byron Scott
We will talk more about this when we get to Big Game James, but the Lakers in the 1980s were the most perfectly constructed NBA team of all time.
Scott was a California native who could run and jump, making him the perfect complement for the Showtime Era. His career wasn’t as long as some of the other people on this list, and let’s not talk about his disastrous two-year run as Lakers coach, but Scott is an all-time Laker.
He won three NBA titles, and still ranks seventh on the all-time Laker list in minutes played. The sight of him, Magic and Worthy coming down the floor on the fast break is an indelible image.
9. Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan. Listed as 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Baylor was a combo forward/guard (before such a position existed) who started out with the Minneapolis Lakers then moved to LA in 1960 with the franchise.
That same year the Lakers drafted Jerry West, and Baylor and West formed an unparalleled NBA duo.
But Baylor’s story is also a tragic one. He played in eight NBA finals and never won a title. He nicked his knee in 1965 and was never quite the same. Had the injury happened now, he would have been scoped and back in nine months. He made the NBA’s 35th, 50th and 75th anniversary team.
8. Shaquille O’Neal
This is where you start saying, Shaq? Eighth? Listen, wait until you see the guys we have ahead of him. Shaq still ranks eighth all-time in the NBA in points (28,596) and won four NBA titles with the Lakers. He was league MVP once.
When he started out in the NBA he was a force like no other. What human being could move so well and was so strong? When he got to the Lakers, he didn’t have the same spring, and then there was the whole Kobe beef thing. He played 20 seasons and probably a few too long, which dims his overall rating on this list.
7. James Worthy
He’s Big Game James. Remember talking about how the Showtime Lakers were this perfectly constructed basketball team? Worthy was the athletic one. I can still picture him getting the ball on the low blocks and spinning around whatever helpless defender was on him (even better if it was against a Celtic). Then soaring down the court on a fast break.
Whenever teams practice a fast break drill, Worthy is the perfect role model. Get out quick, make space and take a loping angle to the basket.
Worthy’s career was cut a little short by a knee injury, so we never got to see how he might have adapted. He played from 1982 to 1994. He won three NBA titles and was a seven-time All-Star. He’s on the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary team. He gets the nod over Shaq because he played in LA longer.
6. Jerry West
Forget calling him “The Logo,” Jerry West is so much more than that. West is synonymous with success in the NBA as an executive.
As a player, his story is incredible. He was known as “Mr. Clutch.” He’s one of the best shooters in NBA history.
And the Lakers couldn’t win.
West played in nine NBA finals, losing eight of them, six to the Celtics. He was eaten up so much by those defeats he almost quit the game. Then the Lakers won the title in 1972, giving him vindication forever. West is still 23rd in NBA history with 25,192 points, and he is the Logo.
5. Wilt Chamberlain
Here’s my favorite Wilt Chamberlain trivia thing to hit people with. In the 1962-1963 season, Wilt averaged 44.8 points a game for the San Francisco Warriors.
Pretty amazing, right? It’s too bad it was a down year for him. He averaged 50.4 the year before. That’s not a typo. Fifty-point-four.
Wilt is still the NBA’s all-time leader in REBOUNDS, and it’s not even close. LeBron isn’t catching him. Dwight Howard would have to play 20 more years to catch him (please no).
Wilt changed the game of basketball, but was never a consistent winner (Bill Russell had something to say about that). He won two NBA titles and still is the NBA’s single-game all-time scorer with 100.
4. LeBron James
Here’s the thing with LeBron. He may be the best NBA player ever. He is most certainly the best player of this generation.
But is he the best Laker? I would say no. He’s only been with the Lakers since 2018. He won a title, yes, a bubble title, but so what? He’s won four NBA titles, is a four-time NBA MVP, and 18-time All-Star. When they write the history of the NBA, he’s in the first 100 words.
He’s about to pass another guy on this list as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. If this list was best NBA player of last 10 or 20 years, LeBron is 1. This is best Laker. Also, I worry about what his last couple of years might look like. He’s started to show signs of wear and tear.
3. Kobe Bryant
There’s a generation that will say Kobe is No. 1 on this list and I respect that.
I just don’t agree. People forget what a selfish player Kobe was early in his career. It was not fun to watch. But when he matured, he was ferocious. Kobe was unstoppable in his prime and no one was tougher.
Kobe is still the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer with 33,643 points. It’s kind of fitting that he played his whole career with one team. He won five NBA titles and was an 18-time NBA All-Star. They now call the NBA All-Star Game MVP the Kobe Bryant Award. His tragic death has only heightened the love and respect of his fans.
2. Magic Johnson
It’s difficult to explain the impact Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson made on the sport of basketball. He literally likely saved the NBA, and helped it become a global force when in the 70s, the game had a drug and a perception problem.
Here came Magic with his big smile and pass-first game. He had the size of a forward, the speed of a guard and the vision of a God. No one played the game like him. He won five NBA titles, three-time league MVP and a gold medal.
Then of course, his life took a detour with HIV. Then he came back, went away, came back. Off the court, his skills haven’t perfectly translated, but that’s because there’s no one like Buck (his nickname among the Lakers) and no one like Magic.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Deny Kareem Abdul-Jabbar all you want; he is the greatest Laker. His game was about balance, poise and competitiveness. He won six NBA titles, five with the Lakers, one with the Bucks.
When they chose the NBA All-Time team in 1980, the 35th anniversary team, they only picked 11 players. Kareem was one of them. He’s on the 50th and 75th anniversary teams too.
His undefendable skyhook helped him to an NBA record 38,387 points. LeBron will break that this season if he stays relatively healthy.
Abdul-Jabbar was the Lakers’ No. 1 option for years, and then when he started to get a little slower (and balder) he was able to transform his game and become a complementary player for Magic, Worthy and Showtime.
Abdul-Jabbar understood basketball at a high level. What he’s done since leaving the NBA as a spokesman and writer has only embellished his credentials. He’s the best Laker of all.