Ranking the best of the best is never an easy task. However, when you attempt to subjectively proclaim who the best Lakers are of all time, it becomes an arduous endeavor that will undoubtedly stoke the ire of some die-hard of NBA fans. Nevertheless, rankings of any kind are fantastic for inspiring thought-provoking debates while invoking a sense of nostalgia in those that remember watching these supremely talented athletes perform gracefully on the court. Whether or not your favorite Lakers make the list, this is a piece that is designed to allow dedicated fans to relive all of the glorious memories that are still associated with these iconic Hall-of-Famers that forever changed how the game of basketball was watched and enjoyed.
5. Wilt Chamberlain, Center
Although Wilt Chamberlain only played for the Los Angeles Lakers during his final years as an NBA player from 1968-1973, he arguably had some of his best seasons when he was the showstopper of Los Angeles. Leading the league in rebounds during his final three seasons in the NBA, Chamberlain was a physically fierce big man as he utilized his imposing stature to bully any opponents that tried to attack the glass in his presence (7’1″, 275 lbs). While Chamberlain did win an NBA Championship with Lakers before retiring two years later, the relationship between the Hall-of-Famer and the organization was ultimately damaged as Los Angeles sued him for trying to play for an ABA team in the San Diego Conquistadors. Still, Chamberlain was and always will be considered one of the most iconic Lakers of all time due to his competitive fire and dominance as a rebounder and scorer.
4. Shaquille O’Neal, Center
Arguably the most dominant big man of all time, “Shaq” was a shot-blocking, double-double juggernaut that never quit when he was on the court. Aside from his prowess as an imposing defender, Shaq was practically unstoppable as a scorer when he was underneath the basket, with the only prevention method being to send him to the free throw line. Winning all three finals MVP’s during the Lakers three straight years as NBA Champions from 2000-2002, Shaq was an integral part of the Lakers prolific success at the start of the 21st century. Sadly, the off-court issues with fellow Laker Kobe Bryant were most likely the reason for the dominant center’s departure from the organization in 2004 after the Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. Regardless, Shaq was and still is one of the most beloved Lakers by fans and it’s thanks to his legendary talents that a new generation of Laker fans was treated to some of the most memorable moments in NBA history.
3. Kobe Bryant, Shooting Guard
One of the most clutch and cerebral players to ever step foot on an NBA court, Kobe “The Black Mamba” Bryant was a consummate competitor that regularly took over games and single-handedly baffled his opponents on numerous occasions. A five-time NBA champion and a 15-time All-Star, Bryant’s dominance rarely faltered and his performances in the NBA playoffs were nothing short of miraculous. From 2000-2012, Bryant never averaged less than less than 20 points per game while averaging no worse than one steal per game during that same time span. Simply put, Bryant was a do it all playmaker that rarely played within his defined role as a shooting guard, as he was a ruthless and unforgiving ball facilitator as well as a clutch shooter. With both of his jerseys now hanging from the rafters at Staples Center, Byrant is unquestionably one of the most well-known and respected NBA players of all time.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Center
Known affectionately as “Kareem the Dream”, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not only considered one of the best Lakers of all time but also as a top-five player in NBA history. A dynamically dominant two-way superstar, Abdul-Jabbar was a shot blocking machine that was equally proficient on the offensive end and was simply unstoppable at his peak with the Lakers from 1975-1976 (16.9 RPG, 4.1 BPG, 27.7 PPG). Winning all but one of his six NBA Championships with the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar was instrumental in helping the franchise establish itself as a perennial championship contender. Of course, Abdul-Jabar is most well-known for his graceful yet deadly “Skyhook” shot where he bent his entire body like a straw in one fluid motion while raising the ball and releasing it at the highest point of his arms arching motion. At 7’2″, the skyhook shot was all but impossible to prevent without goaltending, and it was one of the many baffling ways in which Abdul-Jabbar was able to frustrate opposing defenses. As Abdul-Jabar is still the NBA’s leading scorer with 38,387 points, it’s hard to imagine the transcendent athlete not being on any rankings list that involves sensational basketball accomplishments.
1. Magic Johnson, Point Guard
Considered by many to be the best passer of all time, Earvin “Magic” Johnson epitomizes what it means to be a competitive superstar. As a lifelong Laker, Johnson is well-known by both young and old fans for his numerous contributions both and off the court for the legendary organization. Leading the Lakers to five NBA Championship in nine years, Johnson was an instinctually gifted playmaker as he was always able to find the open man on the court (regularly averaged double-digit assists per game). Better still, Johnson was more than capable of producing on the offensive end on his own as he averaged 52% shooting from the field and was confidently clutch whenever he was sent to the free throw line (90.5 FT% during his career). Despite being 6’9″ (a size normally reserved for frontcourt players), Johnson was a graceful and fluid passer that could utilize his size to get to the basket swiftly and aggressively. Although there are other Lakers that may be more impressive from a statistical perspective, Johnson could literally do it all and revolutionized what it meant to be a positionless player that could contribute in a multitude of ways on the basketball court.