From the Forum to Staples: The Top 10 Lakers as Ranked by Your Enemy
What the heck do you mean "...as ranked by your enemy," isn't this going to be another "I Heart Kobe" article?
No. I do not Heart Kobe. I can't stand Kobe, though I might have considered him the greatest player of his generation if the poor Charlotte Hornets hadn't been bamboozled by the evil Jerry West into giving him to the Lakers.
I don't Heart Shaq, Magic, or Kareem either.
Well, that's not entirely true anymore—if Shaq produces this season, he'll be more favorite former Laker of all-time. I might even refrain from spitting when I say his name.
You see, I'm a Celtics fan. Born and bred, green-bleeding, Bird-worshiping Celtics fan.
But wait you fans of the Purple and Gold—who better to rank your all-time best than someone who prides himself as your mortal enemy? As eloquently put by some ancient Chinese cat, "If you know yourself but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat."
I know the Lakers almost as much as I know the Celtics. Every move the Lakers make, I'm watching it for how it impacts The Rivalry. Every free agent signing, every trade, every injury—I'm watching like a hawk.
One thing I can guarantee you before we start—at no point in this slide show will there be any gushing about how so-and-so was "my favorite player growing up" or any such nonsense. No player will be overrated for sentimental reasons. I dislike each of these players.
Cold hard facts, viewed through my own unique perspective as your enemy, is the order of the day.
Without further ado...
10. James Worthy
"Big Game" James.
Where to begin?
James Worthy was a pretty good college basketball player. He was MOP for the 1982 NCAA Tournament, and was the leader of the 1982 championship-winning team that also featured Sam Perkins and some kid named Michael Jordan.
Possibly knowing that the defending NBA champion Lakers held a 50-50 chance of getting the top pick in the draft (oh, the good ol' days of the coin flip!), Worthy forwent his senior year at UNC, entered the draft, and was promptly selected by the Lakers.
Worthy was an integral member of the 1985, 1987, and 1988 championship teams for the Lakers, but I still just remember him as a "fill the lane" guy. He had a decent set of post moves, but it was his ability to run out on the fast break and finish at the rim with either hand that got him most of his points and his gaudy field goal percentage.
Worthy's jersey was retired by the Lakers, one of only seven to receive such an honor, but he played less than 1,000 games and scored only 16,320 points in his career.
Certainly loved by the Lakers faithful, Worthy was a product of Magic Johnson's more than anything else. He was not a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection, and without Magic as his point guard, he would have likely been a fairly ordinary player.
Basically, Worthy never scared me.
9. Gail Goodrich
UCLA legend Gail Goodrich was a member of the school's first two NCAA title-winning teams in 1964 and 1965, before becoming the Lakers territorial pick in the 1965 draft.
The 6'1" guard, nicknamed "Stumpy" by teammate Elgin Baylor, was a prolific scorer in college, but had trouble cracking the lineup in his first three seasons with the Lakers. He was made available for the 1968 expansion draft, where he was selected by the Phoenix Suns. Goodrich promptly exploded into a 20 points per game player. He led the Suns in points and assists in his two seasons with the team.
The Lakers were able to reacquire Goodrich in a trade for Mel Counts before the 1970-71 season.
Goodrich, along with shooting guard Jerry West and center Wilt Chamberlain, led the Lakers to a 69-13 record and the NBA title in 1971-72.
From the 1968-69 season to the 1974-75 season, Gail Goodrich was as good a guard as there was in the NBA. During that period, he averaged about 24 points and five assists per game.
Goodrich left the Lakers as a free agent in 1976, finishing his career up with thee seasons as a member of the New Orleans Jazz.
Being responsible for the first title by the Lakers in L.A. would give Goodrich a fair amount of love from Lakers fans, but I suspect that his jersey was retired more for his move to New Orleans. Under bizarre rules in place at the time, the Lakers were entitled to compensation from the Jazz for losing their free agent. The Jazz gave the Lakers their first round picks in 1977, 1978, and 1979.
That 1979 pick was Magic Johnson.
8. Michael Cooper
Michael Cooper, a 6'5" guard/forward, was the 60th pick of the 1978 NBA draft. Yes, a third-round pick makes the list of all-time Lakers greats.
Coop played 12 seasons with the Lakers from 1978 to 1990. He helped the "Showtime" Lakers win five NBA titles, but he never averaged more than 12 points per game and usually far less than even that.
So, why is Cooper so important?
Well, someone on those Lakers teams had to play defense, didn't they?
Magic, Worthy, and the rest of the high-octane Lakers excelled in the fast break, but they were near liabilities on defense. It was Michael Cooper's job to try to shut down the opposing team's best perimeter player, and he did it quite well.
Cooper was, quite simply, the best perimeter defender in the 1980s.
Larry Bird famously called Cooper the best defender he ever faced. That's enough for me.
Michael Cooper was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1987, and was named to the All-NBA Defensive Team eight times.
7. Elgin Baylor
Well before becoming one of the worst (and longest tenured) NBA executives of all time, Elgin Baylor was a helluva basketball player.
The 6'5" forward out of Seattle University was the number one overall pick in the 1958 draft. Baylor played 14 seasons with the Lakers in both Minneapolis and Los Angeles, 12 of them at a very high level, before retiring right before the 1971-72 season.
Until he blew out his knee during the 1964-65 season, Baylor was a truly deadly scorer. His high point came in 1961-62 when he averaged an insane 38.3 points per game. Even after the knee injury, Baylor could still pour in over 20 per game, but he just wasn't the same player.
His 23,149 career points and 14 years of service to the Lakers would qualify him for any "Greatest Lakers" list. His lack of an NBA title keeps him at number seven on mine.
5-B. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain, the Big Dipper, Wilt the Stilt.
Chamberlain is one of the most famous, most dominant, and most decorated basketball players of all time.
He played in the NBA for 14 seasons, and was a 13-time All-Star and a four-time NBA MVP. He scored 31,419 points, and if he ever dreamed that three guys would eventually pass him, I'm sure he would have played longer.
His accolades and accomplishments are far too many to list out, but most of them do not apply to this ranking.
The Los Angeles Lakers acquired the reigning MVP (third year in a row, actually) before the 1968-69 season from the Philadelphia 76ers. That alone should tell you something. Why would a team trade away a guy who has just won his third straight MVP award? Because he demanded it, that's why.
Wilt was always about Wilt more than anything. He might be one of the worst teammates in history.
His place in Lakers history is nevertheless very important.
The Lakers moved to L.A. in 1960, but could not grab the local audience. A team that had won five titles in Minneapolis couldn't get the fans in L.A. excited about their team. Wilt changed that.
The fans started coming. The team was selling out the Forum on a regular basis. Wilt was teamed with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor—it would just be a matter of time before the Lakers could defeat the mighty Celtics and capture their first title as Southern California residents.
It took some time, four years actually, before they finally won the title in 1972, but Wilt and his over-sized personality were critical for establishing the Lakers as a featured attraction in L.A.
Ironic for one of the most dominant scorers in the history of the league, but the Lakers won the title primarily because Wilt had decided to turn himself into one of the greatest defensive forces the league had ever seen.
One title, and huge marketing buzz, gets Wilt a share of the number five spot on this list.
5-A. Shaquille O'Neal
This one is actually pretty easy.
Shaquille O'Neal ruled the basketball world from the time of Michael Jordan's retirement in 1998 through the end of the 2002-03 season. He did this in a Lakers uniform.
After four years with the Orlando Magic, the best young player in the league signed a free agent contract with the Lakers in 1996.
Shaquille led the Lakers to the NBA title in 2000, 2001, and 2002. He was also the Finals MVP in each of those championship teams. If not for disharmony and complacency, the Lakers title run could have easily reached five straight.
Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat after the 2003-04 season.
Eight years of dominant play—without question, the prime of his career—and three championships should get Shaq a pretty lofty spot on a team's Top 10, but I'm sticking Shaq Diesel in the five slot.
That's right—a penalty for allowing the most infantile of human emotions destroy what could have been a serious rival for the Bill Russell-led Celtics dynasty. An additional penalty was levied for the fact that he has played more seasons out of a Lakers uniform than in.
4. Jerry West
Mr. Clutch, Jerry West, was the second pick in the 1960 NBA draft, right behind Oscar Robertson. He was the first ever draft pick for the newly relocated Lakers.
West established himself as the team leader on the Lakers by his second season. His tremendous all-around play and work ethic made him a popular draw around the league.
An amazing outside shooter, West was also a fantastic athlete. He worked this to his advantage on the defensive end, and on the fast break.
Jerry West played 14 seasons with the Lakers—he made the All-Star team each season. He also made the All-NBA first or second teams 12 times.
West is notable as being the only player from the losing team to win the NBA Finals MVP award. He accomplished this in a 1969 loss to the Boston Celtics. In Game 7 of that series, while playing on a badly strained hamstring that left him noticeably limping, West recorded an unbelievable stat line of 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists.
Winner of just one championship (1972), Jerry West was respected and admired by both his peers and the opposing fans for his class and his relentless play.
I will admit here for the first time that I actually don't have a problem with Jerry West. There, I said it. There is a Laker that I like.
3. Kobe Bryant
A big question in Laker Land seems to be Kobe Bryant's place in Laker history—can he ever be called the best Laker of all time?
Kobe Bryant was only the sixth player to go directly from high school to the NBA, and the first guard to do so, when he was selected with the 13th pick by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 draft. Displaying the temerity and arrogance that plague his public image to this day, Bryant and his agent had let it be known before the draft that there was only one place Kobe would agree to play—Hollywood or bust.
The Hornets agreed to trade their pick to the Lakers for starting center Vlade Divac. It didn't seem like such a bad deal at the time. A legitimate starting center for a cocky, teenaged shooting guard—who knew that this kid would become one of the two greatest shooting guards of all time?
I won't bore you Kobe's accomplishments. You already know about his scoring ability and his five championships, and I, quite frankly, would rather forget them.
One thing about Kobe that is often overlooked, is that Kobe knows that non-Lakers fans don't like him. He doesn't care. Never has. To his credit, Kobe has never really played the popularity game. He is driven to be the best basketball player of all time whether you like him or not. He lets his play on the court do most of his talking, and that is something I can respect. I wish some of the younger players in the league would do the same.
Kobe Bryant has improved his game every year he has been in the league. He changes his game to fit his athletic abilities, and has become a better all-around basketball player as he has aged.
Kobe will never be Magic Johnson. He knows that, and I don't think he cares. He has already scored more points than any Laker in history. If he can finish his career with more titles than anyone not named Russell, he will have ensured that no one ever forgets his name. That will probably be enough for him.
I like that.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Lew Alcindor, the greatest college basketball player in history, was the first pick in the 1969 draft and almost immediately earned the title of the best center in the NBA. Bill Russell had retired, and Wilt Chamberlain was 33 years old and no longer the dominant player he once was.
Alcindor teamed with Oscar Robertson to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to an NBA title in 1971, after which he legally changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Kareem was literally unstoppable, averaging over 30 points per game in four of his six seasons with the Bucks, and winning three of his six NBA MVP awards.
After the 1974-75 season, Kareem requested that the Bucks trade him to either New York or Los Angeles to better meet his cultural needs. For reasons known by no one, the Knicks underbid for Kareem's services, so the second-greatest center of all-time was headed to Los Angeles.
Abdul-Jabbar would go on to play 14 seasons with the Lakers, winning thee more MVP awards and five more championships along the way.
For at least 18 of his 20 seasons in the NBA, there was no more skilled center in the NBA. For 17 of those years, he was the most dominant scorer in the league—truly unstoppable and feared throughout the league.
I earlier called him the second-best center of all time. I hope you know that that is code for "he's the best ever, but I am legally obligated to rank him below Russell."
Magic Johnson received more credit for those five Lakers championships, and he was genuinely indispensable to those teams, but Abdul-Jabbar was the player who was the most feared. No Kareem, no titles. Pretty simple.
1. Magic Johnson
Earvin "Magic" Johnson will always be the greatest Laker of them all.
His 11 seasons (not counting the aborted comeback in 1995) helped establish the NBA as a "big time" league in the U.S. The much celebrated battles between Magic's Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics created the league that we enjoy watching today. Before Magic and Larry, there wasn't much NBA on TV, and what games were shown were often tape-delayed or preempted by other programming.
The NBA became huge in the 1980s, and Magic Johnson was one of the brightest stars the league had to offer.
On the court, Magic is frequently called the "best point guard ever." He was a point guard in a power forward's body. He wasn't the fastest guy on the court, his long-range shot was awful, and he had extreme difficulty guarding other perimeter players, but Magic leading the fast break was a thing of beauty. I don't care which team you support, the "Showtime" Lakers were fun to watch, and Magic was their leader.
Five titles, three MVP awards, 11-time selection to the All-NBA teams. The undisputed leader of his teams. One of the most charismatic players in league history. One of the most beloved players in league history.
No Laker will ever surpass Magic Johnson, no matter what they accomplish on the court.
I really don't think James Worthy was that special. Pau Gasol, on the other hand, is really gifted.
Gasol played for six and a half seasons in Memphis before joining the Lakers. Since donning the Purple and Gold, Gasol has helped Kobe Bryant and the Lakers reach three consecutive NBA Finals, winning two straight titles.
Gasol is only 30, so you have to expect that he will play at least five more years in the NBA, and at least three of those with Kobe.
If Gasol and Kobe win one more title, and Gasol finishes his career with the Lakers, Worthy is getting bumped from the 10-spot, Cooper and Goodrich move down a spot, and The Stork gets the number eight ranking on this prestigious list.
I'm sure some of these rankings (and possibly some omissions) will be opposed by you Lakers people. That's cool. Remember, this is an enemy's assessment of your history.
I hope you enjoyed looking back at this little slice of Lakers history. I'm not sure it was worth assembling this, as I now have an upset stomach—the connection between the two should be obvious.
For a Lakers fan's guide to the Celtics Top 10 players, please check out fellow Bleacher Creature Ethan's work "From the Old Garden to the New One: The Top 10 Celtics As Ranked by the Enemy."
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