AC Green is often overlooked for what he did in L.A. - he shouldn't be
To have your jersey retired by the Lakers requires quite the distinguished career. Just 14 players, one coach and one broadcaster have seen their name on a jersey hoisted to the top of Staples Center.
That number is even smaller when you separate the Lakers of Minneapolis from the team in Los Angeles. To date, just seven L.A. players have had their jerseys retired with two more (Shaquille O'Neal and Jamaal Wilkes) set to be honored during the 2012-13 season.
Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Elgin Baylor, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and James Worthy—each one of them in the Hall of Fame—had their jerseys rightfully retired. Legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster Chick Hearn also had a jersey retired.
It is obviously a very high honor to have your Lakers jersey retired. For a franchise that sets extremely high standards and has captured 16 world championships, it may be more difficult for an outstanding former player to get that recognition he really deserves.
We think there are at least five who ought to have their jerseys retired. Five players who were special, who made a difference on and off the court; five tremendous athletes who have not been recognized, but should be.
Kurt Rambis was the original "hustle guy" for the Lakers.
Kurt Rambis—when fans utter his name in Los Angeles, a smile usually accompanies the conversation.
Many remember a play in the 1984 Finals when Boston's Kevin McHale clotheslined a streaking Rambis and prevented him from scoring an easy layup. It turned the tide for Boston who won that series, but it also illustrated the toughness of Kurt Rambis, who was quick to jump up and go after the Celtics forward who landed the cheap shot.
Those who know the Lakers well know that the real Superman (sorry, Dwight), a.k.a. Clark Kent, was the player who would literally run through a brick wall if it helped his team win. Rambis was known for his incredible work ethic and passion for defense and loose balls.
As a 10-year player with the team and as assistant coach under Phil Jackson, Rambis accumulated seven World Championship rings. He played an integral role as an off-the-bench, high energy forward on teams that won titles in 1982, '85, '87, and '88. While assistant coach, Rambis helped guide the Lakers to titles in 2001, '02, and '09.
You won't see a lot of scoring from Kurt Rambis over the course of his career. He averaged 5.2 points, both in the regular season and playoffs. Yet he did average just 60 percent shooting during his peak years with the team and was a tenacious defender and rebounder. Rambis did the dirty work and was the backbone that allowed the Lakers' Showtime teams to flourish.
Many thought Rambis deserved a shot at the head coaching job of the Lakers when Phil Jackson retired and he was considered. That day may still come.
Kurt Rambis deserves to have his No. 31 purple and gold Lakers jersey retired. He's earned his stripes.
AC Green and Michael Cooper were formidable defenders for the Lakers.
A.C. Green played in 1,192 consecutive games over his 16-year career, the most in NBA history. The first eight and 1/15th years were spent with the Lakers.
The former first round draft pick (Oregon State) started all 164 games for the Lakers in 1988 and '89 and was a key ingredient to world championships those years, as he averaged 13.3 and 12.9 points respectively.
Green's nickname was Iron Man and the title was deserved. He was as reliable to be in the Lakers lineup from 1985-93 as any player in their illustrious history. He consistently pulled down eight-nine rebounds per game, leading L.A. in rebounds six of the eight years he spent with the team.
Green's teammates (James Worthy, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Michael Cooper) comprised Showtime in Los Angeles. Because he wasn't flashy, Green often gets overlooked for his contributions, but No. 45 was a special player. He also helped the Lakers win another title during the 1999-2000 season with leadership off the bench.
Green's motto for longevity in the NBA was simple: "If I can breathe, I can play." In an interview with Mark Media of the L.A. Times, Green elaborated on what he needed to do to be out there on the court contributing every night:
"You have to have some help. You have to have good trainers, you have to eat right and keep your mind on the right things and find a balance on how to rest. It's a combination of things. You have to have help from the man above. It's nothing easy or magical about it because that's a long time. At the same time, it's fun."
Derek Fisher came up big over and over for Lakers, especially in crunch time of playoffs.
When asked about Derek Fisher's toughness and durability, former Lakers forward A.C. Green had this to say: "He's the iron man."
"He's the ultimate professional," Green said of Fisher. "He goes out there and does what he needs to do every single night. More importantly, he does it in practice and his pre-game rituals. He just knows how to prepare himself. That's really a lesson in life where you have to find a game plan."
No. 2 always had his own game plan, from the day he was drafted by the Lakers out of little-known Little Rock, Arkansas in 1996, the same year that Kobe Bryant came to L.A. The two became fast friends who loved to compete against each other in practice and greatly admired their respective work ethics.
Fisher has always had his detractors, especially in recent seasons as he slowed down and had trouble guarding slick, fast point guards. But those detractors need to look at the body of work D-Fish had with L.A. over the course of 13 seasons and realize that Bryant most likely would not have five championship rings without the inspirational former captain of the Lakers.
Every great team needs a leader, someone who acts as coach on the court and has the respect of his teammates. Whether it was during the early years, winning three consecutive titles with Shaq and Kobe or later winning two more with Kobe, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, Fisher always remained the stabilizing force among bigger stars with much bigger egos.
During those runs, it was Fisher who consistently came up with big plays, like the miraculous, 360-degree turn and shoot winner against the Spurs with .04 seconds on the clock in the 2004 playoffs. He'll be remembered for hustle plays, like the driving layup against the Celtics at Boston in the 2010 playoffs, where he was mauled but still made the key bucket and foul shot.
"A hustle play in a lot of ways symbolized who I was coming into this league, who I've tried to be my 16 years in and probably what I'll be remembered as going out," Fisher told the L.A. Times after coming up with the key play in a regular season win over Denver in 2011.
"I was a guy who was willing to do whatever it takes for his team to win. It doesn't look great all the time. I won't be as big of a name. But I'll always find a way to help my team in more times than not."
Derek Fisher's career stats do not jump off the page—8.6 points, 3.1 assists, and 40 percent from the field. Yet, D-Fish shot 37 percent from three point range (40 percent during 229 playoff games) and was the quintessential leader throughout a 16-year career.
Derek Fisher is a five-time champion and a winner on and off the court. His jersey should be retired.
Pat Riley was not a great basketball player, though he was a first round selection of the San Diego Rockets in 1967. But he was one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time and, as head coach of the Lakers from 1981-90, led them to four world championships.
As good a coach as Phil Jackson was for the Lakers (he won five titles in Los Angeles), there would be many who would argue that Riley is the greatest in team history.
Riley was a broadcaster doing Lakers games when, during the 1979-80 season, head coach Jack McKinney had to step down after a near-fatal bicycling accident. Assistant Paul Westhead took over the head job and asked Riley to be his assistant.
Just six games into the 1981 campaign, Magic Johnson said he wished to be traded because he hated playing for Westhead. At a hastily called news conference, team owner Jerry Buss attempted to designate Jerry West as the new head coach, but West begged off. When Buss then tried to make West "offensive captain" and name West and Riley co-coaches, West said he would only support Riley as the head guy. What a way to start your coaching career.
Riley guided some of the greatest teams in Lakers history: Jabbar, Johnson, Worthy, Cooper, Green, Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis and Mychal Thompson all played under "Riles." With their fast-paced Showtime offense and Riley's penchant for expensive Italian-made suits, the Lakers became the NBA's version of a Hollywood production. And they backed it all up with incredible wins and multiple championships.
And though Riley left the Lakers amid some negative rumors about player mismanagement and anger issues, most fans remember him for leading perhaps the most glorious era in team history.
For that, Pat Riley deserves to have a jersey retired atop Staples alongside the other greats.
Elden Campbell: tremendous shot blocker and team's leading scorer of the '90s
On just about any other team, Elden Campbell's No. 41 might be hanging from the rafters. It just so happened he played during a time when the Lakers were woeful and lacked much in the way of team talent.
A native of Los Angeles, the 6'11" Campbell not only became the team's second all-time leader in blocked shots (1,006), he also led the Lakers in scoring for the 1990s.
Campbell improved his scoring average every year for seven consecutive seasons with L.A., becoming only the seventh player in league history to accomplish the feat (Derek Harper, Shawn Kemp, Happy Hairston, Alex English, Avery Johnson and Kevin McHale were the others...pretty good company).
From 1993-97, Campbell averaged 12.3, 12.5, 13.9, and 14.9 points per game for the Lakers. His best year may have been 1995-96 when he averaged almost three blocked shots per game and shot over 50 percent from the field.
Campbell did get to appear in 59 playoff games for L.A., including the 1991 NBA Finals where the Lakers lost in five games to Michael Jordan and the Bulls. It marked the end of Magic Johnson's Finals appearances and the Lakers would not get back to the Finals until 2000.
Campbell was all about bad timing. He got to play with O'Neal for a few seasons in the late '90s and together the big men were pretty powerful, going 8-2 against the San Antonio Spurs when both were in the lineup. Campbell just never had the opportunity to play with the likes of Kobe, Shaq, Magic and Worthy when all were in their prime.
Had that been the case, Elden Campbell might have a retired jersey in Staples Center. But the reality is that he probably never will.