He has five rings, is the fifth leading scorer in NBA history and the top scorer in Laker history; but is that enough to call him the best Laker ever? Does he need a sixth ring?
His career statistics are 29,484 points, 6142 total rebounds, 5,418 assists, 1.722 steals and 594 blocks. Pretty gaudy stats, and on paper would make him the best Laker of all time, but he's not so easily crowned as such. One has to compare Bryant's career to those of other top Lakers like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
Elgin Baylor is one of the most versatile players in NBA history, but was unlucky for his entire career and didn't win a title. As a Laker, Baylor had 23,149 points, 11,463 rebounds and 3,650 assists.
Baylor was one of the original high flyers and helped the Lakers get to eight NBA finals, losing all eight. To make things worse, he retired during the 1971-72 season and the team actually went on to win the title that season.
Baylor is one of the Laker greats, but his stats and rings aren't comparable to Kobe's, thus giving Bryant the nod over him.
Jerry West is one of the most iconic players in NBA history. His figure is used as the logo of the NBA and he is one of the better scorers the league has ever seen. In 14 seasons as a Laker, West put up 25,192 points, 6,238 assists, 5,366 rebounds and won one title.
West is beloved in Laker land for his clutch shooting, but that alone isn't enough to best Kobe. The Logo is one of the very best players in NBA history, but Kobe Bryant has simply done more statistically and has more rings.
Kareem is the NBA's all-time leading scorer and played 14 of his 20 seasons with the Lakers. During his Los Angeles tenure, Abdul-Jabbar put up great numbers with 24,176 points, 10,279 rebounds, 3,652 assists, 2,694 blocks and 983 steals. He also helped bring five titles to Los Angeles.
Kareem is one of the best players in NBA history and was a truly dominate force, but he spent six years away from the Lakers and would have been the unquestioned best Laker ever had he spent his entire career with the team.
He has the same number of rings as Kobe and is only superior in rebounds and blocks. It's tough, but Kobe takes it over Kareem.
Earvin "Magic" Johnson
Magic Johnson is one of the best players in NBA history with his phenomenal passing skills, and is the top contender against Kobe for the title of greatest Laker of all time. Magic is beloved not only in LA but all over the country for his exciting play and his handling of his tragic HIV announcement.
In 13 seasons with the Lakers, Magic had 17,707 points, 10,141 assists, 6,559 rebounds and 1,724 steals to go along with five titles. However, these numbers should come with an asterisk because Johnson lost out on four seasons due to his battle with HIV and would have have many more stats to add to each category.
Magic is not only a great player statistically, but also one of the most like-able players in NBA history. He was on top of the world when he announced on November 9,1991 that he had the HIV virus and the world stopped for a while to realize what had just been said. This press conference is one of the biggest events in NBA history and, probably, the biggest sports press conference ever.
Everyone was so shocked that someone as important, influential and well liked as Magic could be forced to succumb to such a terrible thing as HIV.
In it's own way, it assured his status as one of the top players of all time. It would take a huge effort, but his popularity is as big, if not bigger, now than it was 20 years ago, and he is even more beloved because of his success in helping America better understand HIV.
The dynamic on-the-court performances and off-the-court displays of heroics give Magic the honor over Kobe as the best Laker ever. Kobe has him beat on stats, but Magic's tremendous contributions to the city of Los Angeles and the NBA as a whole put him over the top.
What does Kobe have to do to best Magic Johnson?
Besting Magic is about winning over the fans of LA, but even more important is getting that sixth ring. Magic was transcendent of sport, and Kobe would have to perform at a very high level for a couple more years to approach his level.
In my opinion, Kobe needs to get at least one more championship, get in to the top three of all time scorers and contribute in a big way off the court to come close to Magic in terms of best Laker ever. It will be extremely difficult but, if anyone can do it, it's Kobe "Bean" Bryant.
All statistics used in this story are from http://www.basketball-reference.com/
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