Kobe Bryant and the 10 Most Controversial Stars in Lakers' Franchise History
The dictionary defines controversial as “giving rise or likely to give rise to public disagreement.”
The Lakers have had many controversial players over the years.
Some have caused fan outrage by their performance on the court, while others have drawn attention by their actions off the court.
Here are the 10 most controversial stars in Lakers’ franchise history.
Did I get the order wrong? Did I leave any players off the list?
Please leave a comment and let me know.
Honorable Mention: Dennis Rodman
10. Pau Gasol
While many might not think of Pau Gasol as controversial, few players have bounced back between “loved” and “despised” the way that Pau has.
Gasol joined the Lakers in 2008 and was the main reason they were able to reach the NBA Finals that year.
Once in the Finals, Gasol was pushed around by the Celtics, and the Lakers lost in six games. Many blamed Gasol for the Lakers' loss and accused him of being soft.
He bounced back during the 2009 and 2010 NBA playoffs and helped the Lakers win back-to-back championships. Gasol averaged over 18 points and 10 rebounds per game during both years.
Now in 2011, Gasol is despised once more. He was awful in the playoffs and was bullied by the Mavericks and Hornets. There are rumors that his girlfriend left him, and that was the reason for his poor play.
Regardless, Gasol is one of the main players to be blamed for the Lakers’ shortened playoff run this year.
9. Kermit Washington
Kermit Washington will forever be remembered as the guy who punched Rudy Tomjanovich and broke his face.
The incident occurred on December 9, 1977 during a Lakers-Rockets game. Tomjanovich was coming over to break up a fight, and Washington hit him with a roundhouse punch.
Tomjanovich barely survived the injury and later said he could taste spinal fluid in his mouth after being hit. The punch remains one of the ugliest moments in sports history.
Washington was suspended for the equivalent of 26 games and was traded to the Boston Celtics two weeks after the incident.
8. Ron Artest
How can Ron Artest not be included on any list that ranks controversial stars?
Artest has only been a Laker for two seasons, but he still has many moments that have sparked controversy.
Most recently, Artest was suspended one game for clotheslining J.J. Barea in the closing minutes of a Lakers-Mavericks playoff game.
Fans have mixed feelings about Artest. He was loved for his clutch performances against the Celtics and Suns in the 2010 playoffs, but contributed little in the 2011 playoffs.
While his worst moments are behind him (we hope), the words “Artest” and “controversy” still seem to go hand in hand.
7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Fans loved him. The media couldn’t stand him.
While Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a Laker legend, he had a reputation of being introverted and somber. Kareem rarely talked to the press and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way during his 20-year career.
When Magic Johnson was a team ball boy, he tried to get an autograph from Kareem and was brushed aside. On another occasion, Kareem refused to put down his newspaper as he was interviewed.
Kareem was not immune to on-court issues.
In the first game of the 1977-78 season, Kareem was elbowed by Kent Benson and retaliated by punching him in the face. The punch fractured Benson’s jaw and broke Kareem’s hand.
He also instigated the Lakers-Rockets brawl that ultimately led to the Rudy Tomjanovich punch.
6. Nick Van Exel
In his five seasons with the Lakers, “Nick the Quick” averaged 15 points and seven assists per game and made one All-Star appearance.
Despite his solid statistics, many felt that Van Exel was a selfish player who only gave a full effort when he felt like it. He was loved and hated by Lakers fans—sometimes at the same time.
While many believe that his trade to the Denver Nuggets stemmed from his difficult relationship with coach Del Harris, Van Exel had also butted heads with teammates Derek Fisher, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
The most controversial moment in Van Exel’s Laker career had nothing to do with his behavior but resulted from the actions of a rogue scorekeeper, first reported by Deadspin.
In a 1997 game against the Grizzlies, Van Exel recorded a career-high 23 assists even though his team combined to make only 37 field goals. When asked about the game, the scorekeeper responded:
"Partly because I'm a Laker fan, I gave Nick Van Exel like 23 assists one game. If he was vaguely close to a guy making a shot, I found a way to give him an assist."
Van Exel’s fault? No. But the story shows that controversy followed the 6’1” point guard everywhere he went.
5. Karl Malone
Karl Malone was only a Laker for the 2003-2004 season. While he never quite looked right in a Lakers uniform, he might have won his coveted NBA championship if he wasn’t injured in the postseason.
Lakers fans never fully warmed up to the Mailman, but the real controversy with Malone came off the court.
Malone's agent, Dwight Manley, told the Los Angeles Times…that Malone was asked by Vanessa Bryant, "Hey, cowboy, what are you hunting?" in reference to Malone wearing a cowboy hat and boots.
"She said it twice," Manley said, "and Karl answered, 'I'm hunting for little Mexican girls.' "
Malone apologized for the incident but said, “Misery loves company. This is a Hollywood soap opera, and I'm not going to be a star in another Bryant soap opera.”
Bryant responded, "He was like a mentor, like a brother to me, so when something like that happens, you're upset, you're hurt."
Malone was a free agent at the time and considered re-signing with the Lakers before ultimately deciding to retire.
4. Magic Johnson
While Earvin “Magic” Johnson was nearly flawless on the court, controversy surrounded Magic off the court.
Prior to the 1991-1992 NBA season, Magic tested positive for HIV and announced that he would retire immediately. Many accused him of being homosexual and players openly said he shouldn’t play because he might contaminate them.
Magic planned to come back for the 1992-1993 season but ultimately decided not to do it after many NBA players were against the idea.
After sitting out four straight years, Magic successfully returned to the NBA at the age of 36. He averaged 14.6 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game in the last 32 games of the 1995-1996 season.
Magic retired permanently after that season, saying, "I am going out on my terms, something I couldn't say when I aborted a comeback in 1992.”
3. Shaquille O’Neal
During his years as a Laker, Shaquille O’Neal was loved by all of Los Angeles. He brought the Lakers three straight championships and his infectious and jovial personality made him a fan favorite.
Despite loving the Big Fella, many questioned his work ethic and commitment to winning throughout his time in LA.
After the 2002 championship, Shaq delayed having toe surgery. He waited until just before training camp to have the operation and explained, “I got hurt on company time, so I’ll heal on company time.” The Lakers started slowly that year, ultimately finishing with the No. 5 seed before losing in the second round of the playoffs.
Things took a turn for the worse after Kobe and the Lakers lost the 2008 Finals. While at a New York City night club, Shaq took the microphone and dissed Kobe in a freestyle rap.
Shaq is the oldest active player in the NBA and currently plays for the Boston Celtics—a team the Lakers love to hate.
2. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain became a legend when he scored 100 points in a game and average 50 points per game for an entire season. He was an unstoppable scorer and is regarded as one of the most dominant players in NBA history.
Despite Chamberlain’s talents, his legacy has been somewhat tarnished by his inability to step up in important games. Some have gone as far as to question his commitment to winning.
Throughout his career, Chamberlain’s main rival was Bill Russell. When the two squared off, Chamberlain often outscored Russell, but his team regularly lost to Russell’s Celtics. Wilt finished his playing career with two NBA championships while Russell finished with 11.
On a personal note, Chamberlain prided himself on being a ladies man and once claimed that he had been with over 20,000 women.
1. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is the most controversial Laker in team history and his actions have routinely been scrutinized since he entered the league in 1996.
Here are a handful of his most controversial moments:
- The ongoing feud with Shaquille O’Neal
- The “incident” in Colorado and the following court case
- Phil Jackson’s reference to Kobe as “uncoachable” in his book
- The three straight air balls that he shot in a critical moment of a rookie playoff game
- The accusation that he quit on his team during Game 7 of the 2006 Playoff series against Phoenix
- The time he almost signed with the Clippers
- The Turkish Airlines commercial
- The Call of Duty Black Ops commercial
- The YouTube video in which he called out Andrew Bynum
- The recent use of a “gay slur”
- The jersey change from No. 8 to No. 24
Despite all of the controversy, when Kobe hangs up his sneakers he will go down as one of the best Lakers in team history.