NBA Power Rankings: Showtime! The 50 Greatest Los Angeles Lakers of All Time
After writing an 8,600-word opus highlighting the historical greatness of the NBA’s most successful franchise, what’s a writer to do?
I’ll tell you- you go back to the well!
In writing the last of my 29 “NBA All-Time Starting Fives” articles, it occurred to me that Lakers history has seen enough winners, characters and unique talents that there was a longer, even more involved piece to be written.
As I have previously mentioned, the Lakers have participated in exactly half of the in the Finals series that have taken place since the franchise’s inception, 62 years ago. They’ve won 16 championships, including 10 of the last 30 and five of the past 11.
That doesn’t happen without a pretty strong flow of Hall-of-Famers.
Of the 101 players have suited up in at least 300 games for the Lakers, 13 are in the Hall of Fame. This number is guaranteed to hit 15 exactly five years after the respective retirements of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, with Pau Gasol likely to follow suit.
However, it takes more than transcendent stars at the top of the roster to sustain this kind of excellence for nearly two-thirds of a century. A fair number of All-Stars, “very good” players and unsung role players (also known as “glue guys”) need to be on hand as well.
What’s the criteria for inclusion? I’m not exactly sure.
As was the case with the All-Time Starting Fives, inclusion on this listed, and the rankings within it, were based on a combination of length of tenure with the Lakers, general statistical productivity, contribution to team success (in this case conference titles or better), with consideration given to the historical era in which a guy played, and his significance to the Lakers in the context of that era.
In case you were wondering what a list of the 50 greatest Lakers of all time might look like, I submit for you approval…
50. Trevor Ariza
Thanks to elite athleticism and defensive prowess, in his brief stint with the Lakers, Trevor Ariza emerged as a top-tier supporting player. Had he continued to grow into this role, it’s conceivable that he would have developed into a modern-day Michael Cooper.
Ariza broke a bone in his right foot just two months after joining the Lakers, which limited him to just 24 regular season games. He returned during the postseason, but didn’t make much of an impact, playing just six minutes per game.
The following season, Ariza played in all 82 games, starting 20, and averaged 8.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 1.7 spg. That spring, Ariza took the floor in all 23 postseason games, scoring in double figures 14 times and recording a playoff career-high 21 points in the team’s playoff opener against Utah.
In the conference finals, his late-game defense was vital to two wins over Denver. In Game 1, he stole an inbound pass from Chauncey Billups to help seal a two-point win. Then, in Game 3, with under a minute remaining, he stole a pass intended for Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers went on to win by six points and ultimately secured a 4–2 series win.
Ariza made an impact in the Finals as well. In Game 4, after an 0-for-6 first half, he scored 13 of the Lakers’ 30 points in the third quarter, as the Lakers overturned a 12-point halftime deficit and ultimately won the game in overtime. Ariza finished with 16 points (made six of eight shots after halftime) and nine rebounds. In the 2009 postseason, Ariza averaged 11.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.6 spg and made 48% of his 3-pointers range as the Lakers won the franchise’s 15th championship.
49. Sam Perkins
Signed as a free agent in the summer of 1990, Sam Perkins spent two and a half seasons with the Lakers. He was a key member of the 1991 Finals team, averaging 17.7 ppg and 8.3 rpg in the 19-game postseason run. He also played a huge role in the Lakers’ lone victory in the series, hitting a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to give the Lakers a 92-91 lead (the final score was 93-91).
In 185 games with the franchise, he averaged 14.6 ppg and 8 rpg. In 1991-92, Perkins enjoyed the most productive season of his 17-year career, averaging 16.5 ppg and 8.8 rpg.
He was traded to the Seattle Supersonics ahead of the 1993 trade deadline, in exchange for Benoit Benjamin and Doug Christie.
48. Adrian Dantley
After winning the 1977 Rookie of the Year with the Buffalo Braves, but before cementing his status as one of the greatest scorers in NBA history with the Utah Jazz, future Hall-of-Famer Adrian Dantley spent just under two seasons (1977-78 and 1978-79) with the Lakers.
In 116 regular season games, Dantley averaged 18.3 ppg and 6.4 rpg. In a pair of forgettable playoff appearances (11 games total) as a Laker, Dantley averaged 17.5 ppg and 5.3 rpg.
47. Frank Selvy
A talented and accomplished player whose legacy has come to be dominated by a single shortcoming. Frank Selvy is the Bill Buckner of the Laker organization.
Selvy was the first overall pick in the 1954 draft. He spent a total of nine seasons in the NBA, the last five as a Laker. In his time with the Lakers, Selvy averaged 10.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 3.1 apg and earned the second All-Star selection of his career (in 1962).
Playing alongside Elgin Baylor and later Jerry West, Selvy was a member of NBA Finals teams in 1959, 1962 and 1963. He’s best known for his role in Game 7 of the 1962 Finals. With the Lakers trailing the Celtics by four points in the game’s final minute, Selvy grabbed two important rebounds and scored a pair of clutch baskets to tie the game at 100.
With the clock winding down, he missed a 12-foot jumper that would have secured the championship for the Lakers. Instead, the game went into overtime, where the Celtics pulled out a 110-107 win. This was the second of seven NBA Finals losses the Lakers would suffer at the hands of the Celtics between 1959 and 1969.
As the Lakers suffered through the most painful stretch in franchise history, Selvy’s miss loomed larger with each subsequent loss to their rivals.
46. Dick Garmaker
A 6'3" swingman from the University of Minnesota, Garmaker joined the Minneapolis Lakers for the 1955-56 after being drafted by the franchise for a second consecutive year.
Garmaker spent the first four and a half of his six-NBA seasons with the Lakers, averaging 12.8 ppg and 4.2 rpg in 350 games. In 1956-57, he averaged a career-best 16.3 ppg (10th in the NBA) and 4.7 rpg and earned his first of four consecutive All-Star selections. That season he was also selected to the All-NBA Second Team. He was equally productive the following year, averaging 16.1 ppg and a career-best 5.4 rpg.
Garmaker was the third leading scorer the Lakers 1958-59 NBA Finals team. He averaged 14.5 ppg and 4.2 rpg in 13 postseason games.
He was traded to the Knicks 44 games into the 1959-60 season.
45. Glen Rice
Acquired from the Hornets as the centerpiece of a 1999 trade, Rice was the third scoring option on the Lakers’ 1999-2000 title team. However, this was his only full season with the Lakers.
Although he helped the Lakers to a championship, Rice did little to endear himself to either the Laker organization or its fans.
For starters, in order to acquire Rice, the team held dealt away wildly popular fan-favorite Eddie Jones.
Additionally, Rice was upset with Lakers management for exercising a $7 million team option for the 1999-2000 season, rather than offering him a new, big-money contract or letting him become a free agent.
Finally, in the midst of the Lakers’ title run in 2000, his wife publicly criticized coach Phil Jackson for underutilizing her husband on offense. These conflicts, along with his subpar defense and inability to excel in the Triangle offense, led the Lakers to trade Rice to the Knicks that summer.
However, despite a rocky tenure with the franchise, Glen Rice did average 16.3 ppg, 4 rpg and help the Lakers capture their first championship in a dozen years.
44. Archie Clark
Archie Clark spent the first two years (1966-67 and 1967-68) of his 10-year NBA career with the Lakers. In 157 games with the franchise, he averaged 15.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg and 3.8 apg. In his second season he averaged 19.9- 4.2- 4.4 and earned the first of his two All-Star selections (the only one as a Laker).
That year, the Lakers reached the NBA Finals for the sixth time in 10 years, falling to the Boston Celtics in six games.
That summer, he was traded, along with Darrall Imhoff and Jerry Chambers, to the Philadelphia 76ers for Wilt Chamberlain.
43. Ron Artest
Say hello to the most lovable crazy person in Laker history.
He chose his 2009-10 jersey number based on the number of consecutive weeks (37) that Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album spent atop the music charts.
After the Lakers won the 2010 championship, he did not take off his uniform for more than two days… until he took it off and simply gave it away.
He is currently raffling off his 2010 championship ring.
With all of that said, Ron Artest is a guy that you want on your team. When the Lakers effectively swapped young up-and-comer Trevor Ariza for the similarly skilled, seemingly crazy and older Artest, many observers (myself included) were concerned that he’d have a detrimental effect on the team.
Think about it: have you eve heard a complaint about Ron Artest from one of his teammates?
Yeah, me either.
Artest is an outstanding basketball player- instinctive, tough, heady and selfless. Throw in the fact that that since joining the Lakers, he plays not for stats, not for winning, but for the approval of Kobe Bryant, and it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be a problem.
In 77 regular season games in 2009-10, he averaged 11 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 3 apg. He carried this over to the Lakers’ 23-game title run, when he averaged 11.2 ppg, 4 rpg and authored multiple signature moments.
In the finals seconds of Game 5 of the conference finals against Phoenix, he made one of the great “Basketball IQ” plays of recent years. As Kobe attempted a potential game-winner from the right wing, Artest got around Jason Richardson, dove into the lane. As Kobe’s shot fell short, Artest grabbed the air ball and hit an off-balance game-winner at the buzzer. Two nights later in Phoenix, he made 10 of 16 shots (including four 3-pointers) and scored 25 points as the Lakers eliminated the Suns to advance to the Finals.
In the Finals, he came up big again. With Kobe struggling offensively in Game 7 against the Celtics, Artest stepped up. He scored 20 points and hit a HUGE 3-pointer with a minute left- the Lakers’ last field goal in the game- that essentially sealed the franchise’s 17th championship.
42. Rick Fox
After spending his first six NBA seasons in Boston, Rick Fox signed with the Lakers before the 1997-98 season. In seven seasons as a Laker, Fox averaged 8.7 ppg and 3.7 rpg.
Fox was a key contributor on the Lakers’ 2000-02 championship teams. He was a reserve on the 2000 team and the starting small forward on the next two title teams. In 35 total games in the 2001-02 postseasons, Fox averaged 9.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 3.5 apg.
Injuries limited Fox to just 38 regular season games in 2003-04, and to just 1.1 ppg in 9 mpg that postseason. He retired following the Lakers’ loss in the Finals that June.
41. Mychal Thompson
In his time with the Lakers, Mychal Thompson was essentially “McAdoo 2.0” (this will make more sense in a few minutes)- an unsung catalyst for a pair of titles. Thompson’s numbers are somewhat underwhelming (8.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg in 335 games), but his impact on the late-1980s Lakers was significant.
Fresh off a 1986 playoff loss to the Houston Rockets and their “Twin Towers” (Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson), and with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar approached 40 years of age, the Lakers were in urgent need of depth in the middle. Thompson was acquired from the San Antonio Spurs just before the trade deadline.
He provided the team with exactly what it needed: solid minutes at center off the bench, particularly in the playoffs. In 42 games over the next two postseasons- each ending in a Lakers’ championship- Thompson averaged 9.2 ppg and 6.1 rpg as the Lakers’ backup center. More importantly, he logged 1,016 minutes (~24 per game) and significantly lightened Kareem’s workload.
40. "Hot Rod" Hundley
Nicknamed “Hot Rod” in college for his flashy dribbling and showboating style- which included hook shots from the free throw line and hanging on the rim while awaiting a pass from a teammate. Hundley spent his entire six-year career with the Lakers. Three times his teams reached the NBA Finals, but never managed to capture the ultimate prize, falling each time to Bill Russell’s Celtics.
Hundley was the first pick in the 1957 draft, by the Cincinnati Royals, who immediately traded his rights to the Minneapolis Lakers. Hundley played for the Lakers in the franchise’s last three seasons in Minneapolis and the first three in Los Angeles. In 431 career games, he averaged 8.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 3.4 apg.
He was named an All-Star twice (1960 and 1961), ranking in the NBA’s top-10 in assists each season. Hundley enjoyed his best season in 1959-1960, when he averaged 12.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, and 4.6 apg.
Chronic knee injuries brought Hundley’s NBA career to an end in 1963, when he was just 28 years old.
Following his retirement, Hundley pursued a career in broadcasting. After spending four years each with the Phoenix Suns and the Lakers, Hundley has worked for the Utah Jazz for the past 37 years.
39. Elmore Smith
An excellent defensive center and one of the NBA’s first great recorded shotblockers. As much as any player, Smith was a beneficiary of the league’s decision to begin keeping track of blocks in 1973-74- his first of two seasons with the Lakers. He led the league in total blocked shots in both 1973-74 (393) and 1974-75 (216). He also led the league with 4.9 bpg in 1973-74, and finished second to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 2.9 bpg in 1974-75. In a game against the Portland Trailblazers in October 1973, Smith blocked 17 shots- a single-game record that still stands.
Smith was also a solid rebounder and a capable scorer. He averaged a double-double (10.7 ppg, 11.1 rpg) in his two-year run with the Lakers.
However, Smith turned out to be much more than a simply solid replacement for the departed Wilt Chamberlain. In the summer of 1975, he was a key part of the package (which also included Brian Winters and draft picks Junior Bridgeman and Dave Meyers) sent by the Lakers to Milwaukee in exchange for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
38. Andrew Bynum
The Lakers’ only lottery pick of the past decade and a half, Andrew Bynum is potentially the latest in the long line of great Laker centers.
Thanks to his immense talent and the tutelage of legendary big man Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bynum’s shown himself to be one of the NBA’s smartest and most skilled big men. When healthy, he’s a double-double machine, a potential All-Star and a constant threat to put up a 25-15.
He’s blessed with exceptionally soft hands, has developed great technique and footwork in the post and is an outstanding passer, whether looking for a cutter or passing out of a double team.
However, over the past three years, injuries have robbed him of 96 regular season games, cost him the entire 2008 postseason and limited him to no more than 24 minutes per game in the Lakers’ two title runs.
In 278 regular season games, Bynum has averaged 10.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 1.5 bpg (per 36 minutes, these numbers jump to 15.7- 10.2- 2.2). Unfortunately, he’s only managed to play in more than 65 games or average 30+ minutes once in his five seasons.
Thanks to a seemingly chronic inability to stay healthy, Bynum is increasingly at risk of becoming one of the franchise’s greatest “what if’s,” rather than one of its greats.
For the time being, however, the focus should remain on his defense, his rebounding, his role in the Lakers most recent title and more importantly, his unlimited potential.
37. Bob McAdoo
Bob McAdoo averaged 20+ ppg in seven of his first eight seasons, capturing three straight scoring titles (30+ ppg each year), earning five All-Star selections and winning a pair of MVP awards. However, he joined the Lakers in December 1981 as a fading superstar and managed to reinvent his game.
Despite widespread skepticism about his ability to mesh with an established contender, McAdoo embraced his sixth man role with the early-1980s Lakers. In 224 regular season games with the Lakers, McAdoo averaged 12.2 ppg and 4.4 rpg.
McAdoo was a key bench contributor on teams that made four consecutive Finals appearances and won a pair of championships (1982 and 1985). In 61 postseason games with the Lakers, McAdoo averaged 13.4 ppg and 4 rpg.
36. Elden Campbell
Quick! Name the Lakers’ leading scorer for the decade of the 1990s.
That’s right! With a whopping 6,408 points, it’s L.A. native Elden Campbell.
The 27th pick in the 1990 draft, Campbell spent 8+ seasons with the Lakers, averaging 10.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 1.7 bpg in 618 games. In 59 postseason games, he averaged 9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 1.5 bpg, and played in the 1991 Finals as a rookie.
Campbell’s third in franchise history with 1,022 blocked shots and ranks in the Lakers’ top 20 in games played (13th), points (18th), rebounds (15th) and steals (16th).
As a Laker, he set career-highs in points (40 in a 2OT game against the Knicks on 2/23/1997), FG made (15, four days later, at Washington) and blocked shots (nine on 3/14/1996 at Golden state).
In March 1999, Campbell was traded along with Eddie Jones to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Glen Rice, J.R. Reid and B.J. Armstrong.
35. Cedric Ceballos
Before he went “Club Ced,” Cedric Ceballos was the franchise’s first All-Star of the post-Magic era. (Note: Worthy was an All-Star in 1992, but he’s still “Magic era”).
Ceballos led the Lakers in scoring in each of his two full seasons with the franchise. In 1994-95, he averaged 21.7 ppg ,was named an All-Star and on December 20, 1994, in a home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, produced the first 50-point game by a Laker in over 20 years.
The following season, he averaged 21.2 ppg. In 144 games as a Laker, Ceballos averaged 20.9 ppg and 7.3 rpg.
34. Dick Barnett
Best know for his role on the Knicks’ 1970 championship team (he was the fifth starter, with Reed, Frazier, Bradley and DeBusschere), Barnett spent three quality seasons with the Lakers in the 1960s.
In 1962-63 and 1963-64, Barnett averaged 18+ ppg and was the third leading scorer (behind Jerry West and Elgin Baylor) for a pair of Finals teams. In 232 games as a Laker, Barnett averaged 16.8 ppg and 3 rpg.
He was traded to the Knicks in exchange for Bob Boozer in October 1965.
33. Sedale Threatt
The immediate successor to Magic Johnson, Threatt was acquired a month before the start of 1991-92 season and did an admirable job of running the point for the Lakers, particularly given the unexpected nature of his promotion.
Following Magic’s HIV announcement and subsequent retirement, Threatt spent two years as the Lakers’ starting PG, averaging an excellent 15.1 ppg and 7.2 apg. Despite the sudden loss of an irreplaceable legend, the Lakers managed to reach the postseason in both 1991-92 and 1992-93 (their 16th and 17th straight playoff appearances)- and he was the main catalyst. In 1993, the Lakers almost became the first #8 seed to win playoff series, pushing Charles Barkley’s top-seeded Suns to the brink. Threatt was outstanding in the series, averaging 18 ppg, 8 apg and 2.6 spg.
He spent another three years with the Lakers as a backup, before being released in the summer of 1996. In 386 games with the Lakers, Threatt averaged 11.9 ppg, 5.2 apg and 1.6 apg.
32. Nick Van Exel
Statistically, Van Exel is the best Laker PG since Magic Johnson.
The 37th pick of the 1993 draft, he teamed with Eddie Jones and Cedric Ceballos to make up the core of the upstart post-Magic, pre-Shaq/Kobe Lakers. In 378 games with the Lakers, he averaged 14.9 ppg and 7.3 apg.
More important than Van Exel’s numbers, however, was his persona. At a time when Laker fans were in desperate need of excitement and star power, “Nick the Quick,” with his brashness and swagger, delivered. His ability to penetrate, his desire to take the big shot and his propensity for catching fire from behind the arc gave the Lakers an edge that had been lacking.
In 1994-95, after a one-year playoff absence, Van Exel helped the Lakers to 48 wins and the fifth seed in the postseason. In 10 postseason games (a 3-1 upset of the Seattle Supersonics and a 4-2 loss to the top-seeded Spurs), he was awesome, averaging 20 ppg, 7.3 apg and 2.1 spg.
Though he spent three more years with the franchise, the 1995 playoffs were Van Exel’s high-water mark. In the years that followed, he reportedly had conflicts with Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and then- coach Del Harris.
After an embarrassing sweep in the 1998 Western Conference Finals (including his infamous “Cancun” crack) at the hands of the Utah Jazz, Van Exel was traded to the Denver Nuggets for Tony Battie and the rights to Tyronn Lue.
31. Eddie Jones
Along with Nick Van Exel and Cedric Ceballos, Eddie Jones played a major role in the Lakers’ post-Magic renaissance of the 1990s. Jones’ athleticism, tenacious play on defense and smooth offensive game made him extremely popular with Laker fans.
The 10th pick in the 1994 draft, Jones averaged 14 ppg and 2.1 spg as a rookie, exhibiting a game that was slightly reminiscent of that of Michael Cooper. His performance earned him a place on the All-Rookie First Team and fourth place in Rookie of the Year voting.
After a lackluster second season, Jones raised his game in 1996-97 and 1997-98, averaging a combined 17.1 ppg, 4 rpg and 2.2 spg. His improvement did not go unnoticed, as he was rewarded with a pair of All-Star selections. In 1998, Jones was one of four Lakers (along with Shaq, Kobe and Van Exel) to be selected to the AllStar team. The quartet was briefly on the floor together in the Game, which was held at Madison Square Garden.
Around this time Jones also began to receive attention for his outstanding perimeter defense. In 1997-98 and 1998-99 he was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team.
In 314 games as a Laker, Jones averaged 15.2 ppg3.8 rpg, 3 apg and 2.1 spg.
Following multiple playoff disappointments and the emergence of Kobe Bryant as a superstar, Jones became expendable in the Lakers’ pursuit of a championship. In March 1999, after 4+ seasons in L.A., Jones was traded, along with Elden Campbell, to the Charlotte Hornets for Glen Rice, B.J. Armstrong and J.R. Reid.
30. Larry Foust
Prior to joining the Lakers in 1957, Foust spent seven seasons with the Fort Wayne Pistons. He was named an All-Star each of his first two seasons with the Lakers, the seventh and eighth selections of career.
His first season with the franchise was his best statistically (16.8 ppg, 12.2 rpg), although it did mark the first time in franchise history that the Lakers failed to reach the playoffs.
The following season saw the arrival of all-universe rookie Elgin Baylor, and a trip not only to the postseason, but to the NBA Finals, where the Lakers fell to the Celtics for the first time. Foust averaged 12.3 ppg and 8.7 rpg in the regular season and 11.8 ppg and 10.5 rpg in 13 postseason games.
In 216 games with the Lakers, Foust averaged 13.7 ppg and 9.8 rpg.
Another interesting link between Larry Foust and the Lakers: On November 22, 1950, while playing for the Pistons against the Minneapolis Lakers, Foust scored the winning basket in the lowest scoring game in NBA history. In order to offset the dominance of the Lakers’ George Mikan, upon taking a 19-18 lead on Foust’s basket, the Pistons simply pass the ball around for the remainder of the game, without making any attempt to score. With no shot clock to force a shot attempt, the score remained 19–18. Four years later, the NBA introduced the shot clock.
29. Norm Nixon
Magic’s predecessor-turned-backcourt-mate, Nixon averaged 16.8 ppg, 7.9 apg and 1.8 spg in six seasons with the Lakers. He averaged better than 17ppg and 8 apg three times and earned the first All-Star selection of his career in 1982.
Upon Magic’s arrival, the pair combined to make up the starting backcourt of the Lakers’ championship teams of 1980 and 1982. In 58 postseason games with the Lakers, Nixon averaged 17.7 ppg and 8 apg, including a career-best 20 ppg and 8 apg for the 1982 champs.
28. Kurt Rambis
One of the NBA’s all-time glue guys. A fan favorite in the 1980s, Rambis is one of the unsung heroes of Showtime.
Originally drafted by the Knicks in the third round of the 1980 draft, he never suited up for the team. Rambis spent the 1980-81 basketball season in Greece, playing for AEK Athens, with whom he won the Greek Cup in 1981.
His NBA career began when he signed with the Lakers as a free agent in 1981. Rambis spent his first seven NBA seasons with the Lakers, averaging 4.9 ppg and 5.9 rpg in 569 games.
However, his impact on the 1980s Lakers extends far beyond numbers. Rambis was a hard-nosed defender, rebounder and enforcer for four of the five championship teams in the 1980s.
Because of his “average Joe” appearance and lack of flair while on some of the NBA’s all-time glamour teams, Rambis was wildly popular among Laker fans. There wasn’t an ounce of effort that Rambis was unwilling to give in pursuit of victory.
After spending five seasons with the Hornets, Suns and Kings, Rambis returned to the Lakers in 1993. He spent two more quiet seasons with the franchise before retiring in 1995.
27. A.C. Green
Another of the NBA’s ultimate glue guys, Green’s game was predicated on rebounding (7.8+ rpg five times), hustle and defense. Despite seldom having plays run for him, he scored in double figures in five of his first seven NBA seasons.
The 23rd pick in the 1985 draft, Green quickly developed into the starting power forward of Showtime’s last two title teams, and two other conference champions (1988-89 and 1990-91). Playing alongside Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Byron Scott and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he helped the Lakers to back-to-back titles in 1986-87 and 1987-88, averaging a combined 11.1 ppg and 8.2 rpg in the two championship seasons.
Green left the Lakers in 1993, signing with the Phoenix Suns as a free agent. After seven years with the Suns and the Dallas Mavericks, he returned to the Lakers for the 1999–2000 season. He averaged 5 ppg and 5.9 rpg off the bench en route to his third championship ring.
Individually, he was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 1988–89 and was voted a All-Star starter in 1990 (not the fans’ greatest voting moment, given Karl Malone’s 31- 11 averages that year. Or Tom chambers’ 27+ ppg. But still…)
However, Green is best known as the NBA’s Iron Man. Beginning on November 19, 1986, he played in 1,192 consecutive games. The streak ended on April 18, 2001, in his last regular season game before retirement, as a member of the Miami Heat.
Interestingly, this is only the second most impressive streak of A.C. Green’s NBA career.
26. Vlade Divac
The first-ever non-American player drafted by the Lakers (26th overall in 1989) and one of the first European exports to make a major impact in the NBA.
While already an extremely intelligent and skilled player, Vlade had the benefit of learning the NBA game from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for a year and Magic Johnson for two at the start of his NBA career.
After playing every game and averaging 8.5 ppg and 6.2 rpg off the bench in 1989-90, he was selected into the All-Rookie First Team. He averaged 11+ ppg and 8+ rpg in five of his next six seasons, twice putting up a double-double (14.2 ppg, 10.8 rpg in 1993-94 and 16- 10.4 in 1994-95). In 535 games with the Lakers, Divac averaged 12.2 ppg and 8.5 rpg.
He reached the postseason six times with the Lakers. In 1991, he averaged 13.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 2.1 bpg in 19 games during Magic Johnson’s last run to the Finals. His best statistical postseason came in 1993, when he averaged 18 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 5.6 apg and 2.4 bpg in five games as the Lakers’ nearly upset the top-seeded Phoenix Suns. In 51 postseason games with the franchise, he averaged 12.8 ppg, 7 rpg and 1.7 bpg.
In seven seasons with the Lakers, Vlade Divac was a very good player. However, his biggest contribution to the franchise came upon his departure. On July 11, 1996, Vlade was traded by the Lakers to the Charlotte Hornets for the draft rights to a 17 year-old recent high school grad, named Kobe Bryant.
25. Lamar Odom
The only non-Kobe constant of the post-Shaq era, Odom is well on his way to becoming one of the most popular Lakers of all time. Not only has Odom been the third best player on two (and counting) title teams, he’s evolved as a player and matured as a person since pulling on a Laker jersey.
That he’s averaged a 13.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 3.9 apg in six seasons as a Laker and consistently averaged a near-double-double in the postseason is fantastic, but his willingness to do whatever is needed to win games has been vital.
Despite having more raw talent than all but a few NBA players, he comes off of the bench without complaint.
Thanks to his outstanding ballhandling, he’s more than capable of running the point for a while.
He’s also 6’10”-230. Need him to log a few minutes in the middle? He’s there.
As a Laker, Odom’s overcome the issues that plagued him early in his career and has developed into a team-first veteran and a championship-caliber Swiss Army knife.
24. Rudy LaRusso
Ever wonder who the third-best Laker was during the 1960s?
During the eight years that Rudy LaRusso spent with the Lakers (1959-1967), no one played more games with the franchise (582), only Elgin Baylor outrebounded him and only Baylor and Jerry West outscored him (his 8,231 are more than double the next highest total for that stretch).
LaRusso averaged 12+ ppg and 7.8+ rpg in each of those eight seasons. Six times he grabbed 9+ rpg and averaged a double-double for three straight seasons (1961-62 through 1963-64). His best season as a Laker came in 1961-62, when he averaged 17.2 ppg and 10.4 rpg and earned the first of his five career (three as a Laker) All-Star selections.
He played in the postseason seven times with the Lakers, averaging 13.4 ppg and 8.2 rpg in 77 games. Playing alongside Balyor and West, LaRusso was on the floor for the Lakers’ first five Finals defeats against the Celtics.
In 582 regular season games, he averaged 14.1 ppg and 9.6 rpg.
In January 1967, LaRusso was traded to the Detroit Pistons as part of a three-team trade. His rights were subsequently sold to the San Francisco Warriors when he refused to report to the team. He averaged 21.3 ppg and 8.9 rpg in two All-Star seasons with the Warriors (his last in the NBA), though both ended in postseason losses to the Lakers.
23. Happy Hairston
Harold “Happy” Hairston began his NBA career in mid-1960s with 5+ seasons with the Cincinnati Royals and the Detroit Pistons, but it was with the Lakers that he established himself as one of the most productive regular season forwards of his era.
After being acquired in November 1969, Hairston averaged a double-double in each of his 5+ seasons with the Lakers. He enjoyed his best season as a pro in 1969-70, when he averaged 18.5 ppg and 11.1 rpg, thanks primarily to his 20.6- 12.5 line in 55 post-trade games with the Lakers. The following year he had his best full season with the Lakers, averaging 18.6 ppg and 10 rpg.
Hairston also played a key role in the Lakers’ 1971-72 championship season averaging 13- 13 in both the regular season and the postseason. That year, he grabbed 1,045 rebounds, while Wilt Chamberlain grabbed 1,572. This remains the only time in NBA history that teammates have grabbed 1,000+ rebounds in the same season.
In 394 games with the Lakers, Hairston averaged 15.2 ppg and 12.4 rpg. Unfortunately he was unable to carry this impressive form into the postseason, averaging just 11.3 ppg and 8.6 rpg.
Hairston retired in October 1975, after being waived by the Lakers following a 10.3 ppg, 12.8 rpg season. In retirement, he founded the Happy Hairston Youth Foundation, which pays for underprivileged children to attend private school.
Happy Hairston was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999 and passed away on May 1, 2001, due to a respiratory illness resulting from complications with the disease.
22. Jim McMillian
The biggest beneficiary of Elgin Baylor’s retirement.
The 13th pick in the 1970 draft, McMillian was a major factor in the Lakers’ success in the early-1970s. After an unremarkable rookie season (he did averaged 15.1- 5.4 in 12 playoff games), McMillian was the man chosen to step into the starting lineup following Baylor’s retirement nine games into the 1971-72 season. His first start of that season marked the beginning of the Lakers’ record-setting 33-game winning streak. After winning a then-record 69 regular season games, the 1971-72 Lakers cruised through the playoffs and captured their first championship in Los Angeles. McMillian averaged 19.1 ppg and 5.7 rpg in the title run.
In three seasons with the Lakers, McMillian averaged 15.3 ppg and 5.4 (18.9 ppg, 6 rpg in his last two). In 44 playoff games he averaged 18.4 ppg and 5.3 rpg.
After the retirement of Wilt Chamberlain in 1973, McMillian was traded to the Buffalo Braves in exchange for Elmore Smith.
21. Robert Horry
They say that timing is everything. Thanks to exceptional timing, the Lakers’ 77th best scorer and 51st best rebounder (based on per-game averages) is one of the one of the beloved players in franchise history.
Robert Horry is proof of the deceptive power of numbers. As a Laker, he averaged 6.3 ppg on 42.1% from the field and wasn’t much better in the postseason.
The story of Horry is not about how many shots he made, but when he made some of them.
Game 3, 2001 NBA Finals: In Philadelphia, having already surrendered home court and with Shaq having fouled out, the Lakers were clinging to a one-point lead. With 47 seconds left Horry hit a corner 3-pointer (his third without a miss) and made four free throws in that final minute to seal the win.
Game 4, 2002 Western Conference Finals: The Lakers are trailing 2-1 to an arguably more-talented Kings team, and on the verge of a brutal 3-1 deficit. Trailing by two in the game’s dying seconds, Shaq and Kobe both miss layups and Vlade Divac knocks the ball away to kill the clock. Unfortunately for the Kings, it bounces right to Horry, who, in rhythm, steps into a game/season/dynasty-saving 3-pointer.
20. Clyde Lovellette
Clyde Lovellette spent the first four seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the Lakers, averaging 17.2 ppg and 11.2 rpg. As a rookie he averaged 8.2 ppg and 5.8 rpg on the last of the Minneapolis title teams. He averaged a double-double in each of the three seasons that followed, including at least 20- 13.5 his last two years. He earned the first of his three career All-Star selections in 1955-56, when he averaged 21.5 ppg and 14 rpg.
Lovellette is also widely regarded one of the dirtiest players in NBA history. However, in addition to frequently discharging elbows in the paint, Clyde liked to travel with heavier duty firepower. A huge fan of Western movies, and perhaps fancying himself to be a real-life John Wayne, Lovellette dressed in cowboy grab and traveled with six-shooters. This led to one of the most incredible stories in NBA history.
One night, after an exhibition game in Lubbock, TX- Lovellette was no longer a Laker, now a member of the St. Louis Hawks- he went to the hotel room of Willie Smith, one of the game’s referees. When the unsuspecting official answered the door, Lovellette pulled two pistols from the holsters he was wearing and fired them at the man’s torso.
Fortunately for Smith, the guns were loaded with blanks, and not live ammunition.
Think about that for a second.
“Everybody in the league heard about it,” said fellow Hall-of-Famer and the target of more than one Lovellette elbow Dolph Schayes. “Everybody knew what happened. And everybody laughed like hell.”
Given the outsized reactions to “Gilbert’s Gunplay” and “Manny being Manny,” I can’t even imagine how David Stern and ESPN would handle “Clyde being Clyde.”
19. Michael Cooper
A Laker for his entire 12-year career, Michael Cooper was a part of all five Showtime championship teams (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988). Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson can make the same claim.
One of the greatest perimeter defenders in NBA history, an excellent outside shooter and able to play either guard position as well as the “3,” Cooper was the Lakers’ most important backcourt reserve in the 1980s.
He was named to the All Defensive Team eight times (First Team five times, Second Team three times) and won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1986-87.
Cooper was immensely popular with fans, thanks to his intensity, athleticism and lockdown defense (Larry Bird has called Cooper the best defender he ever faced). He also enjoyed an amazing rapport with Magic Johnson, with whom he’d frequently run an alley-oop play that came to be known as the "Coop-a-loop."
In 873 career games, Cooper averaged 8.9 ppg, 4.2 apg, 3.2 rpg and 1.2 spg. He still ranks in the top-10 in franchise history in games played (6th), minutes (8th), 3-pointers made (7th), assists (5th), steals (5th) and blocked shots (8th). His 7,729 points are good for 16th in franchise history.
After a dozen seasons, Cooper retired from the NBA after the 1989-90 season. He spent the 1990-91 season playing for Pallacanestro Virtus Roma in the Italy before returning to the Lakers in a front office role.
He’s since become a very successful coach, holding jobs with WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks (champs in 2001 and 2002), the Denver Nuggets (2004–2005; interim) and the D-League’s Albuquerque Thunderbirds (2006 champs). Since May 2009, he has been the head coach for USC's Women of Troy Basketball Team.
18. Derek Fisher
Fisher has spent 11 of his 14 NBA seasons with the Lakers, providing toughness, leadership and timely buckets for five title-winning teams. Early in his career, he helped Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal get over the championship hump, as has returned as a grizzled vet to help Kobe capture another pair of rings.
Despite a modest stat line (8.1 ppg, 3 apg), his perimeter defense (maybe the best ever at drawing charges) and timely offense have been invaluable to the Lakers over the past decade. Through the years, he’s established himself as one of the best clutch players in franchise history.
Some signature postseason moments from Derek Fisher:
Game 5, 2001 NBA Finals: As the Lakers locked up their second straight title, he scoring 18 points on six-of-eight 3-pointers and literally “shushed” the Philly crowd.
Game 4, 2004 Western Conference Semifinals: With the Lakers down a point and just 0.4 seconds remaining, he managed a lightening quick, off-balance shot to even the series.
Game 4, 2009 NBA Finals: With the Orlando Magic poised to even the series, he hit a pair of massive 3-pointers- one to sent the game into overtime and another to seal the victory.
Game 3, 2010 NBA Finals: With the Lakers having already lost home court advantage and about to fall behind 2-1 in the series, Fisher scored 11 huge fourth quarter points, almost single-handedly securing the win, and memorably burst into tears in an interview immediately following the game.
17. Slater Martin
The first star point guard in franchise history. Martin spent his first seven NBA seasons with the Minneapolis Lakers, averaging 9.9 ppg and 4.1 apg. He was also known for being a fierce perimeter defender.
As a rookie, Martin played a minor role in the Lakers’ title in 1949-50, his rookie year. From 1952-55, alongside George Mikan, Jim Pollard and Vern Mikkelsen, Martin helped the Lakers to three more championships. In 67 postseason games with the Lakers, he averaged 9.3 ppg and 3.8 apg. Martin’s best individual postseason performance came in 1955, when he averaged 13.7 ppg, 4 rpg and 4.4 apg.
He was an All-Star each of his last four seasons with the Lakers. His last two years in Minneapolis were the best of his NBA career, as he averaged 13.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg and 6 apg.
16. Jamaal Wilkes
One of the most prolific and graceful frontcourt scorers in franchise history, “Silk” averaged at least 17.6 ppg in each of his six healthy seasons as a Laker. He averaged 20+ ppg in three straight seasons (1979-82) and earned three straight All-Star selections (1980-83).
After three excellent seasons with the Golden State Warriors (Rookie of the Year, two All-Defensive selections and a championship), Wilkes signed with the Lakers in the summer of 1977. As a Laker, he averaged 18.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg and shot 51.6% from the field.
He was a key contributor to the title-winning teams of 1980 and 1982, averaging 20+ ppg in each of those postseason runs. Also, remember Magic's epic 42-point Game performance in the 1980 Finals? As epic as that was, the Lakers probably have a tough time winning without Wilkes' 37 points that night.
He was a member of the 1984-85 team as well, but was left off the postseason roster due to injury.
15. Byron Scott
One of the best players of the last 30 years not to make an All-Star team.
He captured three rings as Magic Johnson’s backcourt running mate during the prime years of Showtime. In almost 1,000 games as a Laker (846 in the regular season, 142 in the postseason) Scott was good for more than 15 ppg. With 12,780 regular season points, he remains the ninth leading scorer in Lakers’ history.
He averaged 17+ ppg three times and was the leading scorer (21.7 ppg) for Lakers’ 1987-88 “Back to Back” championship team. This was also his best all-around season, as he added 4.1 rpg and 4.1 apg.
Byron Scott was a central figure in the glory days of Showtime and is one of the underappreciated two-guards of his era.
14. Gail Goodrich
Gail Goodrich was the bridge between West-Baylor-Wilt era and arrival of Kareem. He spent the best years of his Hall of Fame career in Forum Blue and gold. He led the Lakers in scoring for five straight years (1971-75), averaging at least 22.6 ppg each year. He scored a career-best 25.9 ppg for the 69-win 1971-72 championship team. That year he earned the first of his four All-Star selections as a Laker.
He remained with the Lakers through the 1975-76 season, and still ranks in the top-10 in franchise history in points (13,044; 6th), assists (2,863; 8th) and scoring average (19 ppg; 9th).
As great a player as Goodrich was, he had only minimal involvement in his greatest contribution to Laker history. In 1976 he signed with the New Orleans Jazz as a free agent. As a result New Orleans sent its top pick in the 1979 draft and a pair of additional first-rounders to the Lakers. The Jazz finished the 1978-79 season with the worst record in the NBA, which ensured the Lakers a top-two pick. They then won a coin flip against the Bulls, and with it the right to select Magic Johnson.
13. Wilt Chamberlain
One of the greatest centers in NBA history, Wilt wound down his storied career with the Lakers in the late-1960s and early-1970s. Not the scorer he’d been early in his career (17.7 ppg), Wilt averaged over 18 rpg (with a pair of 18+ ppg, 20+ rpg campaigns) in each of his five seasons in L.A., earning four All-Star selections (he only played in 12 regular season games in 1969-70).
The Lakers reached the NBA Finals four time with Wilt on the roster, winning the 1971-72 title (the second of his career) to cap off one of the greatest seasons by any team in league history.
Wilt could easily have been higher on this list had he given more of himself in a pair of Finals’ Game 7’s: in 1969, against Russell’s Celtics, in an extremely close game in which the Lakers had rallied from 17 down in the third quarter (sound familiar?), he hurt his knee in the fourth quarter (not severely from everyone’s reaction), bolted for the sideline and watched as West, Baylor & Co. fell two points short- the Lakers’ seventh Finals loss to the Celtics since 1959.
The following year, in the legendary “Willis Reed game,” Wilt was totally psyched out by Reed’s pregame entrance and made only a half-hearted attempt to dominate his essentially crippled counterpart as the Lakers lost to the Knicks by 14 points.
12. Pau Gasol
With an awesome low post arsenal, 18-foot range, exquisite passing skills and fantastic rebounding and shot-blocking ability, Pau Gasol is one of the best all-around big men in recent NBA history.
In 173 regular season games with the Lakers, he’s averaged 18.7 ppg, 10 rpg, 3.5 apg and 1.4 bpg. He’s also been named an All-Star in each of his two full seasons as a Laker.
Pau has also been the second best player and primary inside presence for three consecutive Finals appearances and a pair of championship teams. Also, he’s done a fantastic job of evolving and persevering after being roughed up by the Celtics in the 2008 Finals.
In addition to improving his scoring and rebounding averages in each of the last two postseasons, Pau’s exhibited a toughness that was previously missing from his game. In a related story, the Lakers have hoisted the trophy at the end of each of those playoff runs.
In case you’re wondering how exactly Pau Gasol can rank ahead of Wilt Chamberlain on this list considering the following: he’s not only a better offensive player with more rings (as a Laker) than Wilt, he’s a significantly better big game player.
Also, as we just discussed, Laker Wilt took the floor in two Finals’ Game 7’s (1969 and 1970), and shrank under the pressure on both occasions.
Meanwhile, in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals, against the Celtics’ front line that had tormented him two years earlier, Gasol scored 19 points (nine in the fourth quarter), grabbed 18 rebounds, had a huge blocked shot against Paul Pierce and a tough layup that gave the Lakers a six-point lead with 1:30 left.
And that’s that.
11. James Worthy
The top pick in the 1982 draft, James Worthy had a combination of speed, athleticism and a complete offensive arsenal that made him the perfect complement to Magic Johnson on the Showtime fast break.
In 12 NBA seasons, all spent with the Lakers, he scored 16,320 points, grabbed 4,708 rebounds, earned seven All-Star selections (1986- 92) and was central figure in three championship teams. In 926 career regular season games, Worthy averaged 17.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3 apg and shot 52% from the field. He also had a talent for elevating his play in important situations, averaging 21.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 3.2 apg in 143 career postseason games.
The “Big Game James” nickname was not terribly imaginative, but it sure was accurate.
The most storied performance of Worthy’s postseason career came in the 1988 Finals. The Lakers returned to L.A. trailing Detroit’s Bad Boys 3-2 in the series, needing a pair of wins at home to repeat as champions. Worthy scored 28 points and grabbed nine rebounds as the Lakers won Game 6 by a single point, and returned with an even better Game 7. With the season on the line, Worthy produced a phenomenal 36-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist performance. Worthy averaged 22 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 4.4 apg in the series. He was named the 1988 Finals MVP as the Lakers became the first team in 19 years to repeat as champions.
10. Jim Pollard
The first great forward in franchise history and perhaps the best forward of his era. He was known for his exceptional athleticism, and reportedly had a habit of dunking from the free throw line during warmups.
Pollard scored in double-figures every year he played in NBA, earned two All-NBA First Team selections and four All-Star selections (there was no All-Star Game his first two seasons). He was the leading scorer in the 1954 game with 23 points.
Pollard was a Laker from Day One and spent his entire seven-year career with the franchise. He averaged 13.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg (in 319 games with rebounding stats) and 3.2 apg as a Laker. He was inducted into Basketball’s Hall of Fame in 1978.
Along with George Mikan, Pollard was the only member of all six (one in the NBL in 1948) Minneapolis title teams. In 72 career postseason games, he averaged 13.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg (in 50 games with rebounding stats) and 3.6 apg.
9. Vern Mikkelsen
Vern Mikkelsen is one of the first stars in franchise history and a valuable piece of the Lakers’ Minneapolis dynasty. He spent his entire 10-year career with the Lakers, where he teamed with Georg Mikan, Slater Martin and Jim Pollard to win four championships.
In 699 career games, Mikkelsen averaged 14.4 ppg and 9.4 rpg and averaged a double-double four times. He enjoyed his best NBA season in 1954-55, when he averaged 18.7 ppg and 10.2 rpg. He was named an All-Star six times (11 ppg, 9 rpg AS Game average) and All-NBA Second Team four times. He also holds the dubious record for the most times fouling out of an NBA game (127).
Mikkelsen was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995 along legendary Minneapolis Lakers coach John Kundla.
8. George Mikan
Mikan was the NBA’s first superstar and the central figure in the Lakers’ dynasty in Minneapolis. In seven pro seasons- all spent with the Lakers- Mikan was named All-NBA First Team six times, earned four All-Star selections (the All-Star Game didn’t exist until his third season) and led the Lakers to six championships. The league MVP award didn’t exist until Mikan’s final season- if it had, it’s a safe bet he’d have accumulated some of those as well.
In his prime, Mikan dominated the NBA to the extent of changing the way the game itself was played. Thanks to Mikan, the NBA widened the lane (from 6’ to 12’), outlawed defensive goaltending and introduced the shot clock.
In 439 regular season games, Mikan averaged 23.1 ppg and 13.4 rpg (in 311 games in which rebounding stats were kept). He averaged 27+ ppg in each of his first three seasons and grabbed 14+ rpg in each of the first four seasons that rebounding stats were recorded.
In 70 career postseason games for which stats are available, he averaged 24 ppg and 13.9 rpg. In 38 postseason games in his second three-peat with the Lakers (1952-54), Mikan averaged 21 ppg and 14.8 rpg.
George Mikan scored 11,764 points in his career and retired as the league’s all-time leading scorer. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959.
7. Elgin Baylor
If Julius Erving and David Thompson took the NBA game above the rim, Elgin Baylor got it off of the ground.
Baylor was an offensive juggernaut- fantastic mid-range shot with great hang time, strong baseline drives and a variety of reverse layups and double-clutches in the paint.
However, in addition to his on-court artistry, he is responsible for saving the Lakers franchise. In 1958, after a brilliant collegiate career, he was drafted first overall by the Lakers. With George Mikan gone, the Lakers were suffering, both on the floor (19-53 in 1957-58) and with flagging ticket sales. Had he elected not to forego his last year of college, there’s a strong chance the franchise would have folded.
In 1958-59, Baylor averaged 24.9 ppg and 15 rpg, won the 1958 Rookie of the Year award (duh!), was named an All-Star and All-NBA First Team. He also led the Lakers to the NBA Finals.
In 1961-62, the Lakers’ second year in L.A., Baylor had perhaps the greatest individual season in NBA history, averaging 38.3 ppg (highest ever among players not named Wilt), 18.6 rpg and 4.6 apg. It should be noted that he only took part in 48 games that year. Why? Because he was an Army Reservist and was called into active duty during the season. Stationed in Washington State and only granted a weekend pass, he could only play in weekend games. He would join the Lakers wherever they happened to be each weekend, before returning to Washington.
Starting in 1963-64, Baylor began to suffer from the knee problems that would ultimately end his career, though he would play seven more full seasons, averaging 24+ ppg and 9.6+ rpg (12+ three times) six times.
Baylor remains one of the NBA’s greatest ever all-around forwards. He retired with 23,149 points (27.4 ppg, still fourth all-time and first in Lakers’ history), 11,463 rebounds (his 19.8 rpg in 1960-61 is the sub-6’8” record) and 3,650 assists in 846 games- all as a Laker. He earned 10 All-NBA First Team selections, 11 All-Star selections and made seven appearances in the Finals. He averaged 26 ppg in 44 Finals games and still holds the single-game Finals scoring record, with 61 points in Game 5 of the 1962 series against Boston.
Hobbled by chronic knee injuries, Baylor retired nine games into the 1971-72 season. The Lakers won their first game after his retirement. And the 32 after that. That’s right, Baylor’s retirement marked the beginning of the Lakers’ 33-game winning streak. That team went on to post a 69-13 record (an NBA record for 25 years) and win the championship that eluded Baylor in eight trips to the NBA Finals.
6. Shaquille O'Neal
From 1996-2004, Shaquille O’Neal spent eight seasons with the Lakers, where he spearheaded three consecutive championship teams and secured his status the most physically dominant player of his era. He averaged at least 26 ppg in each of first seven seasons. He never shot worse than 55.7% from the field and grabbed at least 10.7 rpg every year he was a Laker.
Shaq earned seven All-Star selections as a Laker (there was no AS Game in 1999), won a pair of All-Star MVPs (2000 and 2004), was named First Team All-NBA seven times (and Second Team once) and earned the only All-Defensive Team selections of his career, making the Second Team three times.
In his three championship seasons with the Lakers, he averaged at least 27.2 ppg and 10.7 rpg, including a career-best and league-leading 29.7 ppg, with 13.6 rpg, 3.8 apg and 3 bpg in his 1999-2000 MVP season. He followed that season up with a 28.7- 12.7- 3.7 in his next, MVP-runner-up season.
In his first two championship runs with the Lakers, Shaq averaged a combined 30.6 ppg and 15.4 rpg in the postseason, before “slipping” to 28.5 ppg and 12.6 rpg in 2002. In the Finals, the man was nothing short of a monster. In 15 Finals games between 2000 and 2002, Shaq averaged 35.9 ppg and 14.6 rpg, with four 20-20 games and three 40-20s.
Following an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Detroit Pistons in the 2004 Finals, amid conflicts with Kobe Bryant (longstanding and irreparable) and owner Jerry Buss (Shaq wanted a huge-money contract extension), Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat for Caron Butler, Brian Grant, Lamar Odom, and a 2006 first-round draft pick.
5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Thanks to his legendary and unblockable sky hook, Kareem was able to remain effective on offense until he was nearly 40 years old. He spent the last 14 seasons of his two-decade career with the Lakers, with whom he cemented his status as one of the three players in NBA history.
14 seasons, 1,093 games, 24,176 points, 10,279 rebounds, 3,652 assists, five championships (Finals MVP in 1985), three MVPs, 13 All-Star selections (apparently 25.8- 12.8 was considered subpar in 1978), six All-NBA First Team selections, four All-NBA Second Team nods, three All-Defensive First Team selections and four All-Defensive Second Team selections.
Based solely on his time with the Lakers, Kareem would still hold a place in top tier of NBA legends.
He was dominant in his first season with the Lakers, averaging 27.7 ppg (second in the NBA), 16.9 rpg and 4.1 bpg (led the league in both) and capturing his fourth MVP award. Kareem remains the last player to record 4,000+ PRA (Points + Rebounds + Assists) in a season, recording 4,076 in 1975-76. He was outstanding the following year as well, averaging 26.2 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 3.2 bpg and winning another MVP award, his fifth in seven years.
In each of his first six seasons in L.A., Kareem put up at least 23.8- 10 and averaged at least 21.8 ppg in each of his first 11 seasons as a Laker (until age 38!)
In the 1980s, teamed with Magic, Worthy, Wilkes, Nixon and Scott, Kareem made eight trips to the Finals and won five NBA titles. Individually, he was not the same dominant force he’d been in his youth, but he was exceptionally durable (76+ games every year until age 40) and still productive, averaging 17.5 ppg and 6.7 rpg at age 39.
In June 1989, after 20 NBA seasons, Kareem announced his retirement. He remains the NBA’s all-time leading NBA scorer (38,387 points) and is third in rebounds (17,440). In NBA history, only Robert Parish has played more than Kareem’s 20 seasons and 1,560 games. He is also the third all-time in blocks shots with 3,189, particularly impressive given that blocks were not recorded until his fourth NBA season.
4. Jerry West
In retrospect, this is the article in which Jerry West Laker legacy outweighs that of Kobe Bryant. In terms of on-court contribution, Kobe has overtaken his legendary predecessor. In terms of longevity, evolution within the franchise and overall contribution to championships, West is still the king.
However, in the interest of fairness and balance, given my snub of Kobe in my recent Lakers’ All-Time Starting Five article, I’ve reversed the rankings of the two Laker legends.
See! Two wrongs can make a right!
West was one of the NBA’s first combo guards, with ballhandling and passing skills that would have landed him in the Hall of Fame as a point guard.
During his 14-year playing career with the Lakers, West earned 14 All-Star selections (MVP in 1972), 10 All-NBA First Team selections and a pair of Second Team nods. He is the third player in NBA history to reach 25,000 points (after Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson).
He retired with 25,192 points (2nd in Laker history, without the benefit of the 3-point shot), 6,238 assists (2nd in Laker history) and 5,366 rebounds in 932 games. He retired with career averages of 27.0 ppg (6th all-time and tied with Shaq for 2nd in Laker history), 5.8 rpg and 6.7 apg. He led the Lakers in scoring seven times (Elgin Baylor topped him four times and Gail Goodrich three times at the end of West’s career). Four times in his career, he averaged 30+ ppg, five times he grabbed 6+ rpg and nine times he averaged 6+ apg.
On defense, he was every bit as good. While stats were not kept on steals and blocked shots until his final season, West is widely regarded as one of the NBA’s great ball hawks and shot blocking guards. The All-Defensive Teams were introduced in 1969, his 10th season. He made every one until he retired in 1974.
In 14 seasons, he appeared in the Finals nine times, capturing his only championship (as a player) in 1972, after seven heartbreaking Finals losses to Celtics in the 1960s. Two of the fives times his teams failed to reach the Finals, 1967 and 1974, he was unable to play more than a single postseason game due to injury.
West averaged 30+ ppg in a postseason seven times, including an awesome 40.6 ppg in 1965. In the 1969 Finals, he became the only player ever to win Finals MVP in a losing effort, averaging 38 ppg and posting a 42- 13- 12 in a two-point Game 7 loss. In 153 career postseason games, West averaged 29.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 6.4 apg. Only Michael Jordan has a higher career postseason scoring average.
After his retirement, West remained committed to Laker success. He coached the team to three straight playoff appearances in the 1970s before moving to the front office. As GM, he constructed the Showtime dynasty that won five titles in the 1980s, as well as the Kobe-Shaq-Phil Jackson dynasty. For those of you keeping score, all 11 of the Lakers’ championships in Los Angeles have Jerry West’s fingerprints all over them (for getting Kobe and Phil in the first place, he gets some credit for the last two as well!).
Jerry West is the greatest shooting of the pre-Jordan NBA, the Logo, and forever one of the greatest players in NBA history.
3. Kobe Bryant
One of the hardest workers and fiercest competitors the NBA’s ever seen. In his first 14 NBA seasons, Kobe Bryant has built a resume that rivals that of any of NBA’s all-time greats.
In nearly a decade and a half since entering the NBA as an unpolished teenager, Kobe’s developed the deadliest mid-range game since Michael Jordan, has become a threat from 3-point range (tied for the most ever made in a game, 12), has evolved into one of the NBA’s best-ever perimeter defenders (All-Defensive First Team eight times) and has become a very good rebounder (Game 7 was the rebounding equivalent of a 40-point game). Additionally, he’s the best crunch time player since MJ, and one of the best ever.
He’s reached the postseason in 13 of 14 seasons, advancing to the NBA Finals seven times. Five of those seven trips have ended in a championship. In 198 postseason games (4th all-time), Kobe’s averaged 25.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 4.8 apg. He’s scored 5,049 postseason points, putting him 82 behind Shaq for third all-time.
Kobe possesses dominant offensive game that’s seldom been seen in a perimeter player: A pair of scoring titles, 25+ ppg nine times, 30+ three times, one of three 35+ ppg seasons since 1975, a record nine straight games of 40+ points in 2002-03, 62 points through three quarters v. Dallas in December 2005 (the Mavs had 61), the second highest scoring game in NBA history (81 v. Toronto on 1/22/2006), 10 50-point games in 2006-07 (including four in a row, with a pair of 60s), the highest non-Wilt singe month scoring average (43.4 ppg in January 2006) and 25,790 points scored (11th all-time; 1,619 out of 6th place). And counting…
Kobe’s been named an All-Star 12 of 13 possible times (no game in 1999) and has won three All-Star MVPs. He’s been selected to the All-NBA First Team eight times, the Second Team twice and was named league MVP in 2008 (and should have been in 2006 as well). In 1,021 career regular season games, Kobe’s averaged 25.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.7 apg and 1.5 spg.
Now 32 years old and seemingly nearing the twilight of his career, Kobe Bryant is a virtual lock to walk off the floor as one of the absolute best players in NBA history.
And, with that, I'm all square with the Laker two-guard legend community!
2. Magic Johnson
The greatest point guard of all time, Magic Johnson’s combination of style and substance personified the Lakers’ Showtime era and elevated the team game to glorious heights.
In a city overflowing with star power, he was the star of stars in Los Angeles. No player in NBA history has better personified a city, a team and an era than Magic did in the 1980s.
In addition to being the greatest fast break maestro in NBA history, he was the greatest statistical wonder since Oscar Robertson.
As a 20 year-old rookie in 1979-80, Magic averaged 18 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 7.3 and 2.4 spg.
In 1981-82, he put up the greatest all-around season of the past 45 years, averaging 18.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 9.5 apg and 2.7 apg in 78 regular season games. For reasons that defy explanation, he was not named an All-Star.
The worst of his first five seasons as a pro was 1982-83, when he put up 16.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 10.5 apg and 2.2 spg.
He averaged at least 10 apg in each of the nine seasons from 1982-83 through 1990-91, topping 12 apg six times.
For eight straight seasons beginning in 1983-84, he was good for at least 17.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg (7+ three times) and 11.5 apg.
In 12 prime seasons, Magic earned 10 All-Star selections (MVP in 1990 and 1992), nine straight First Team All-NBA selections, three league MVP awards.
As amazing as he was in the regular season, Magic was even more legendary in the postseason. He led the Lakers to nine conference titles in 12 years and collected five championship rings and three Finals MVPs (1980, 1982 and 1987) in the process. In 190 career postseason games, Magic Johnson averaged 19.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 12.3 apg.
Magic produced perhaps the signature game of his career as the aforementioned 20 year-old rookie, in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals. With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar nursing an ankle injury in Los Angeles, Magic led the Lakers into Philadelphia’s Spectrum, where he started at center in place of the Captain, played every position on the floor and produced a 42- 15- 8- one of the best individual performances of all time- in leading the Lakers to the title.
For nine straight postseasons starting in 1983, he averaged no worse than 17.4 ppg and 11.8 apg. In 1985, as the Lakers exorcised nearly three decades worth of demons and captured a title on the Boston Garden parquet, he put up a crazy 17.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg and 15.2 apg stat line in 19 postseason games.
In 906 career games as a Laker, Magic averaged 19.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 11.2 apg and 1.9 spg.
On November 7, 1991, Magic announced his retirement from the NBA after a physical had revealed that he was HIV positive. This did not mark the last time he would take the floor in the NBA, but it did bring an abrupt and heartbreaking end to one of the NBA’s most glorious eras.
Almost! Kobe's almost here!
1. Chick Hearn
Unless you know, you really don’t know.
More than any player, coach or owner, Chick Hearn was the Lakers.
He wasn’t just the voice of Lakers, he provided the soundtrack for the city of Los Angeles for 41 years. Chick was the franchise’s only constant from the end of Jerry West’s rookie season (1960-61) until Kobe secured his third ring in 2002.
On November 21, 1965, a night after bad weather stranded him in Arkansas following a college game he’d announced, he launched one of the most incredible streaks in the history of sports. Chick would call the Lakers’ next 3,338 consecutive games (absurd!), not missing a game until the 2001-02 season, when heart surgery and a subsequent hip injury forced him to miss several weeks. At age 85, he returned to the booth and resumed broadcasting that season.
In May 1991, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1995, he was the 20th inductee into the American Sportscaster Hall of Fame by his fellow sportscasters.
Fittingly, Chick’s final game at the mic for the Lakers was Game 4 of the 2002 NBA Finals, watching the Lakers complete a sweep of the New Jersey Nets to win their third straight NBA championship, and the ninth of his broadcasting career.
Two months later, on August 2, 2002, he suffered a fall at his home, which resulted in a serious head injury. Three days later- eight days before his 64th wedding anniversary to Marge (we all know the name!)- Chick Hearn passed away at the age of 86.
Candlelight vigils were held. And not just one. In the greatest show of unity in the history of Laker nation, fans took to the streets- outside the hospital where he passed, outside Staple Center and outside Hearn’s Encino, CA home.
In the middle of summer, Staple Center was opened to the fans, tens of thousands of whom filed through the empty arena, which was illuminated only by spotlight, focused on Chick’s broadcast perch.
Whether you preferred West or Baylor, Magic or Kareem, Shaq or Kobe, Showtime or the 1960s, if you’re a Laker fan, you grew up with, and found incredible comfort in, Chick Hearn’s voice.
After his passing, in honor of his contributions to the city Los Angeles and the Lakers, the stretch of West 11th Street adjacent to the main entrance of Staple Center was renamed Chick Hearn Court. Additionally, in April 2010, the Lakers unveiled a statue of Hearn in Star Plaza outside Staples Center.
Whether basketball fans know it or not, we carry on Chick’s legacy every time we discuss the game. His immense contribution to the basketball lexicon (slam dunk, air ball, charity stripe, shooting a brick, dribble drive, finger roll and garbage time, among MANY others) has come to define the way the game is discussed.
Specifically for Laker fans, Chick also developed his own equivalent of Red Auerbach’s victory cigar:
“This game is in the refrigerator! The door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are coolin’, the butter’s gettin’ hard and the Jello’s jigglin’!”