The 10 Greatest L.A. Lakers of All Time
Everybody has a story. Every moment has a consequence. In sports there is a small line that separates famous from infamous. Some franchises consistently find themselves on the wrong side of that line with the wrong players and those franchises tend to play out the same story year after year after year.
The Lakers however have a different story. It is a story that presents a different cast of characters, yet the results remain the same. Here is a collection of the best to ever do it for the Lakers. They all played their own role in maintaining or creating the Laker brand that we know today.
This group played with unfounded pride and commitment. Regardless of the time period these players were and are timeless. What made each player special varies, for some it was an inconceivable work ethic while for others it was a meticulous approach to details. Some were touched with natural ability but ALL had a burning desire to seize the moment and live forever in NBA championship glory.
The Lakers are unlike any other sports franchise. They have achieved a certain level of success without sacrificing the purity that has endeared them to fans from coast to coast and from hood to hood. It is certain a lineage that each great player seems to pass on to the next. Whether it is one developing a move that another improves upon or a certain cosmic sequence of events that always lead up to the ultimate accomplishment, the Lakers are truly unlike any other sports franchise.
They seem to almost effortlessly relive each conquest while other franchises struggle to record and duplicate a singular ounce of their success. Simply they are the gold standard by which ALL professional teams are measured and here are the top ten reasons why.
10) Gail Goodrich 1965 – 1968 & 1970 - 1976:
This selection is sure to incite “comments” from the peanut gallery. This was one of the tougher decisions but certainly one of the most deserving. Gail Goodrich’s Laker career was an exercise in trial and conquest. He did not look the part of a Laker great but played the role to resounding results.
Goodrich began his career as nothing more than a role player and finished his career a champion and hall of famer.
It is difficult to imagine the Laker guard was as good as he was. At first glance he seems pedestrian in stature and physique, yet it was the heart of this player that enabled him to attain such a high level of success.
A five-time all-star Gail sits among the all –time Laker greats in several categories. He is tenth in minutes played, ninth in field goals made, seventh in field goals attempted, ninth in free throws made, ninth in free throws attempted, eighth in total points scored, and ninth in points per game.
What make these numbers so impressive are the players Goodrich played with and the things they accomplished as a unit.
In his first few years in the league he was behind Final Four Most Outstanding Player and 5th pick in
the 1964 draft Mahdi Abdul-Rahman, an in his prime Jerry West, and a still dominant Elgin Baylor. The Laker played well but it is a strenuous task to assert yourself as a player when you are surrounded by such talent. Although playing time and touches were at a premium Goodrich was able to watch the two prolific scorers and take certain nuisances from their games and incorporate them into his.
To say the mercurial guard was lucky to get scooped up by the Phoenix Suns in the expansion draft would be disrespectful to him. It is more prudent to state the Phoenix Suns gave the guard an opportunity that he had been preparing for. So when his time came he was ready to shine and shine he did for the Suns who eventually traded Goodrich back to the Lakers for center Mel Counts.
LA attained the final piece to what would become the greatest regular season team in NBA history. Many people know about the 1971 – 1972 Lakers team that won an NBA record 33 straight games. What most people do not know is Gail Goodrich was the leading scorer on that team in the regular season with 25.9 points per and in the post season he led with 23.8 points per. He along with Happy Hairston were instrumental in bringing the Los Angeles Lakers their first ever championship.
Goodrich finished his career in New Orleans playing alongside Pistol Pete Maravich, before retiring in 1979. Prior to retiring Goodrich gave the Lakers one more gift, the gift of Magic. When the guard signed with the New Orleans Jazz the Lakers received the Jazz’s first round pick. Since the Jazz sucked that year and finished 26 – 56, the Lakers were eligible for the coin flip that decided who was awarded the first pick in the 1979 draft.
The Lakers won and they picked Magic Johnson end of story.
9) George Mikan 1949 – 1956:
Many say George Mikan changed the game of basketball. While that is a subjective point of view it is safe to say Mikan was the dominant force of his time. “Mr. Basketball” forced teams to alter their style of play and changed the mindset that big men could not play basketball.
In Mikan’s first year in the newly formed NBA he averaged 27 points per game and created a new statistic called rebounds. In his second year, with rebounds now an official statistic, he averaged 14.1 rebounds per and 28 points a night. Mikan would go on to lead the new league in scoring for next four years and then would lead them in rebounding for the next two years.
With Mikan manning the middle the Minneapolis Lakers won five of the league’s first titles including the NBA’s first ever three peat. The NBA had its first dynasty and the league was a certified success in its beginning years. Simply put he was the most dominant player on the most dominant team.
One of the benefits of playing during the infancy stages of the NBA is everything is new and there is no precedent set. This along with a league consisting of eight to ten teams allowed Mikan and the Lakers to appear far more superior then their competition. However, it was Mikan’s superiority that forced the NBA to adjust to a player who was abnormal in size then but would later become the norm.
The widening of the lane gave opposing guards more opportunities to get to the rim and sped the game up. This rule change did not eliminate Mikan’s relevance but it did hamper it a bit on the offensive end. The introduction of the shot clock is another rule change that can be directly related to Mr. Basketball. Teams could no longer play “keep away” from great players, they would now be forced to at least attempt a shot. This attempt had to draw iron thus eliminating throwing it off of the backboard and securing the rebound.
For all of Mikan’s playing accomplishments he will be most remembered for one thing “the Mikan drill”. This is a drill where the player rebounds the ball with one hand and uses that same hand to lay the ball up. It is a drill that every post player is taught and depending on the player’s athletic prowess masters. Since it is a drill based on repetition and not skill most post players spend very little time developing it. This drill if used correctly could result in tremendous success.
Mikan is one of the few players in league history who gave more to the game of basketball then he received.
8) Jamaal Wilkes 1978 – 1985:
Jamaal Wilkes is the forgotten Laker. Whenever Laker greats are mentioned Wilkes' name always seems to be omitted.
Few people truly understand just how special Wilkes was. In his rookie season he helped the Golden State Warriors win their first and only NBA title and this type of success would prove to be Wilkes’ mantra throughout his career.
The small forward was a star among stars who carved his own niche on championship teams. He was second in scoring on the 1979 - 1980 Los Angeles Lakers championship team and he was third on the 1981 – 1982 championship team. Wilkes was a key cog in the ShowTime machine that had taken the NBA by storm.
In just seven years in the league Jamaal notched three NBA titles, secured the star role in the hood classic “Earl Cornbread and Me”, made the all-defensive team twice , built a reputation as having one of the illest jump shots in the NBA, and was known as one of the best small forwards in the game.
Wilkes changed his name from Keith to Jamaal when he converted to Islam in 1974 and remains a devoted Muslim today. The man known as “Silk” finished his career with four NBA titles and a place among Laker greats. Silk has more titles than many of his more glorified Laker counterparts and should be more revered in not just Laker history, but NBA history as well.
Many have stated you need three superstars to win an NBA title or at the very least three players who are in the top five at their respected positions. Wilkes is the reason for this logic he jump shooting opened the lane for Magic’s drives and Kareem’s sky hook.
He was a special player and his talents were summoned up very eloquently by the late great John Wooden who when asked to describe his ideal player said this, “I would have the player be a good student, polite, courteous, a good team player, a good defensive player and rebounder, a good inside player and outside shooter. Why not just take Jamaal Wilkes and let it go at that."
7) Jerry West 1961 – 1974:
Mr. Clutch was a great Laker and if this list were for the most influential Lakers of all-time West would definitely be in the top three. However, this list is for the greatest players to ever rock the purple and gold in order from great to greatest. Based on that criteria West falls in the top ten not the top three.
So let us focus on the things Mr. Clutch did amazingly well. As a player, coach, and general manager West has given his life to the Lakers franchise and the franchise is excellent for it. As a player he was part of the 1971 – 1972 team that brought the first ever NBA title to Los Angeles.
While he won six championships as a General Manager West did not enjoy the same championship success as a player. In his illustrious 14 year career the Laker guard was always a brides’ maid but never a bride and for all his greatness he was 1 – 9 in the NBA Finals.
Few players have garnered the level of respect that Jerry West has from his peers. This is due in large part to his perseverance and tireless work ethic. While NBA careers are so often defined by championships it was West’s majestic play in these monumental losses that established his prominent legacy.
In 1965 he averaged 40.6 points per game in the playoffs and despite losing the championship to the Boston Celtics, 4 games to 1, his dominance was remarkable. Outstanding performances in defeat were the norm for the sensational guard.
In the 1968 - 1969 postseason West went for 30.9 a night, but in the Finals against the Boston Celtics he was his customary self. In game one West scored 53 points on 51% shooting as the Lakers managed to draw first blood and take a one game lead. Although, the Lakers would go on to lose again to the hated Celtics 4 games to 3 it was West who took home the Finals M.V.P trophy. His triple-double in Game 7, 42 points 13 rebounds 12 assists, solidified his place among the greatest competitors in NBA history.
West inspired through his defeats and gave a belief that in the darkest of moments he would always shine brightest. His valiance on the basketball court was triumphant even in losses. He gained the respect of his peers because he experienced failure and but never accepted it. His losses were a part of his career but it was his desire for glory that defined his career, which is why he is the logo.
6) Wilt Chamberlain 1968 – 1973:
Wilton Norman Chamberlain was the single greatest force to ever play professional basketball. His endeavors on the court have been well documented from his 100 point game all the way to the season where led the league in total assists with 702.
The Wilt Chamberlain that arrived in Los Angeles was different then the Chamberlain that was selected by the Philadelphia Warriors with their territorial pick.
This version of the Big Dipper was focused on championships. By his own admission Chamberlain stopped trying to score. "I look back and know that my last seven years in the league versus my first seven years were a joke in terms of scoring," Chamberlain told the Philadelphia Daily News. "I stopped shooting. Coaches asked me to do that, and I did. I wonder sometimes if that was a mistake."
However, adding Chamberlain did not instantly equate to a championship parade down Figueroa Street. Wilt’s first year with the Lakers was the 1968 – 69 season. The Lakers finished three games better, 55 wins, than the year before 52 wins. The three game difference does not tell the full story, they were now a much improved defensive team with the Big Dipper.
In the 67 – 68 season, pre-Wilt, they allowed 9,477 points which averaged out to 115.6 points per. The year Wilt arrived they allowed 108.1 points per and teams scored a total of 8,864 points. The Lakers were unequivocally a significantly better defensive team with Chamberlain. Even with the defensive success he provided the Los Angeles Lakers still fell short on attaining their first NBA title.
Finally in 1971 the Los Angeles Lakers won their first championship and Wilt set a couple of NBA records along the way. First the Lakers as a squad set the record for consecutive wins, 33, during the regular season a record that still stands today.
Second they set a then NBA record for wins with 69, and individually Wilt claimed his first ever finals M.V.P trophy. Sadly this would be the only finals M.V.P trophy he would ever receive.
The 1972 -73 season would be Chamberlain’s last in the NBA, but before walking off into the sunset the NBA’s biggest star had one more twinkle left in him. The man who set so many records left the game with the all-time record for field goal percentage, 727%. This would be fitting for a player who had so many physical attributes, but is remembered for being nothing more then a scorer.
In four years the Philadelphia native helped the Lakers accomplish something his hall of fame counterparts could not. He gave birth to a championship franchise and created a standard of excellence that the Lakers continue today.
A man whose career began as a selfish novelty who revered doing things in a singular fashion would finish his career as a piece of the greatest franchise in sports history. Wilt took the Lakers from perennial second place finishers to champions, and in the process began a fraternity that no one outside of that franchise can be a part of.
5) Elgin Baylor 1959 – 1972:
He was a transcendent player who rescued the Lakers franchise from irrelevance and paved the way for the Minneapolis Lakers to become the Los Angeles Lakers. Elgin Baylor was a phenomenal basketball talent whose presence on the Lakers record books is often overlooked.
When people talk about the greatest scorers in Lakers history few ever utter his name, despite the fact that he is the franchise’s all-time leader in points per game with 27.4.
To be clear Baylor is also first in total rebounds (11,463) along with points per game (27.4), he is second in field goals attempted (20,171), minutes per game (40.0) and rebounds per game (13.5), he is third in free throws made (5763) and free throws attempted (7391). Baylor is fourth in total minutes played (33,863), field goals made (8693), and total points scored (23,149). He holds the NBA record of eleven straight playoff games of scoring 30 or more points. So there should be little argument that statistically he is among the best Lakers ever.
In 1957 the Minneapolis Lakers were struggling on the court and more importantly in owner Bob Short’s wallet. They were the worst team in the league and could not sustain the interest of the locals. They were last in attendance for three years in a row and for the first time had no superstar to carry them into the new era of professional basketball.
The Minneapolis Lakers were having immense difficulty adjusting to the current NBA. Larry Foust and Vern Mikkelsen were good players but were not capable of carrying the Lakers. The two were also failing miserably in the people skills department. They simply did not gain the interest of the Minneapolis fans that supported the franchise in years past. In one last attempt to keep the franchise in Minneapolis and, keep the franchise out of the red, owner Bob Short coerced a young stallion to leave school a year early and join his struggling Lakers team.
In 1958 the Lakers were in dire need of a jolt and coming off a 19 – 53 season they were not particular about where said jolt would arrive from, enter Elgin Gay Baylor. Armed with a $20,000 contract and unlimited potential Baylor took the league by storm. He finished his rookie season fourth in scoring (24.9) and third in rebounding (15.0) and in just one year the Lakers went from second to last in attendance to fourth. Baylor won Rookie of the Year honors and led the Lakers back to the NBA Finals for the first time since the 1953 – 54 season.
Although they would lose to the Celtics 4-0 Baylor officially announced his presence with authority. The Southwest DC native proved to be more than a one hit wonder as he would improve both his scoring (29.6) and rebounding (16.4) averages respectfully in his second season. The highlight of that year was Baylor dropping 71 points against his future teammate Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia Warriors. There was no doubt that Baylor was a bonafide star and where else do stars go but the City of Angels.
So two years after owner Bob Short talked Baylor into to coming to Minneapolis he was now using the forward as the center piece in a move that would change the sports world forever. The man who soared while others used set shots was now headed to Los Angeles.
Once the Lakers arrived in Los Angeles they were not the celebrated franchise that we have come to know and loathe. Instead they had to prove their worth and Baylor was up to the task. In the first three years of their inception the Laker forward averaged 34.8, 38.3, and 34.0 points a game combined with 19.8, 18.6, and 14.3 rebounds a game. As word spread about the dynamic forward attendance at Laker games grew and grew. The Lakers were seventh in attendance during the 1960 – 61 season.
In 1961 – 1962 they were fourth and that would also mark the first time the Los Angeles Lakers ever played for an NBA title, losing to the Boston Celtics 4-3. However, Baylor again put on a show and in game five he scored 61 points and pulled down 22 rebounds. In the playoffs that year the forward averaged 38.6 points and 17.6 rebounds, what made the 61 – 62 season so amazing was Baylor only played in 48 games. He was in the Army Reserves that year and was only able to play in games that were on the weekends.
In four years the Laker forward had led two franchises to the NBA finals, however he was unable to attain that elusive NBA championship. This would become a staple in his magnificent career and thus the reason many exclude him from the conversation of all-time greats.
Total Baylor would play in eight NBA Finals and lose all eight of them. Twice he played in three straight Finals only to have the bitter taste of defeat served to him again and again. The Lakers would finally win the title that would have validated his career in the 1971 – 72 season, sadly Baylor was forced into retirement just nine games into that season with an injury. This was also the season the Lakers set the 33 consecutive wins streak, which still stands today.
There have been a plethora of stories written and told about how great Jerry West was but there have been too few written to tell just have great Baylor was. It seems his greatness is almost destined to be an afterthought. What Baylor played through was incomprehensible. The things he endured as a black athlete during these trying times in America and still managed to flourish is simply amazing.
Think about this the face of the NBA was changing Bill Russell was leading the Celtics not Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson was the best guard in the game and was the first pick in the NBA draft, ahead of “the logo”, and Elgin replaced Mikan. Even today change is not a welcomed part of our lives. Imagine what a trip to play a game in Boston, St. Louis, Baltimore, Atlanta or Cincinnati must have been like for this trailblazer. Then later in his career at the height of the racial tensions in this country he played in such welcoming places like West Virginia and still he managed to shine.
The league was changing along with America. Imagine what was said on a daily basis to Baylor the first athlete to play truly above the rim. He was the first of a new generation of players yet his legacy is shackled by the old generation’s affinity with others. His place in Lakers’ history is set based on the records he holds, but when will his name be mentioned among those same Lakers who sit behind him in those record books. The NBA and America were forced to change because of players like Elgin Baylor and the game along with our lives are better for it.
4) Shaquille O’Neal 1996 -2004:
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Shaquille O’Neal is the most overanalyzed and over criticized player in Lakers history. Despite being the only player in NBA history to be defended using jailhouse rules people consistently state he underachieved. Getting his detractors to use fact instead of opinion is as likely as O’Neal coming into camp resembling Lou Ferrigno. In short it aint happening, therefore it is no sense in trying.
In his eight years with the purple and gold their lowest winning percentage was 610%. How can someone say a man who led his team to victory 60 percent of the time underachieved? His 27 points per game is tied for second all-time with everyone’s favorite Laker Jerry West, but still no love. The Lakers went to four NBA Finals in O’Neal’s eight years and won three. He was M.V.P of each of those those Finals and led his team to the second highest regular season win total in franchise history (65).
To truly grasp how much the North Jersey native meant to the Lakers one must first look at the state of the franchise when he arrived. Magic Johnson had just officially retired, again. The team’s leading scorer was Compton’s own Cedric Ceballos with 21 points per.
Granted the team won 53 games that year but they were quickly dismissed in the first round of the playoffs 3 games to 1 by the Houston Rockets. As a unit they were a collection of overachievers who were headed to lotteryville.
When the Diesel arrived he brought championship creditability back to LA and in a city where names carry weight they now had the biggest name in basketball. Once General Manager Jerry West signed O’Neal he went about completely revamping the entire team no one but Gary Vitti was safe.
It took O’Neal four years to win his first championship with the Lakers and ironically it took Wilt four years as well. Shaq was the first center to lead the Lakers to a three-peat since another Goliath graced the court named George Mikan, who accomplished the feat in 1954.
History tends to give the just facts when describing players and their legacies, yet it is those facts that get ignored when people discuss his-story.
In the 2000 playoffs the man people claimed was always out of shape logged 1000 playoff minutes. This feat has only been accomplished six times in 59 years and no Kobe is not one of the six.
Another gripe people have with O’Neal is his rebounding prowess. The argument is he should have been a more tenacious rebounder, this is another opinion based criticism. In the 2000 playoff run the Diesel pulled down 119 offensive rebounds which is second all-time and 236 defensive rebounds which is third all-time.
Aside from his Laker predecessor, Wilt Chamberlain, no other Laker comes close to accumulating these type of numbers in the playoffs. Hopefully this will at least curtail the notion he was lazy. If not here is one more jewel in the Lakers 63 seasons of existence only one player has scored over 700 points in the playoffs, one.
He was the fat, selfish, and lazy cat who never seemed to play hard. Somehow he managed to luck up and score 707 total points in the 2000 playoffs, leading the Lakers to the NBA crown for the first time since 1988.
Too many Shaq and Wilt were the two most physically dominating forces to ever play in the NBA. Yet there dominance, to some, was too sporadic. These beliefs tend to taint just how special the two were and how privileged we as fans were to witness these players. The Lakers have history of great centers and it is strange how each is linked, however O’Neal seems to receive the most disdain from fans or basketball purest.
His beef with Kobe and eventual departure from the team he revitalized have now taken front stage in the soap opera that is professional sports. Yet, forgotten or just ignored are his accomplishments and achievements. Numbers do not tell the story of just how great Shaquille O’Neal was, but the spotlight that he, Mikan, Wilt, and Kareem cast over that franchise will never be overshadowed.
3) Kareem Abdul – Jabbar 1975 – 1989:
Kareem Abdul – Jabbar was more polish than spit. More gazelle than grizzle bear. He was not a bruising burly type of center, but rather a player whose game encompassed skill and technique. He was fundamentally sound and because of his style of play he was able to sustain 20 years of NBA basketball.
The selection of Abdul – Jabbar was a simple choice. It was not because he had five NBA championships. It was not because he won three M.V.P awards in a four year span. It centers around how he was able to remain dominate regardless of the circumstances. The selection stems from his approach to the game.
Abdul – Jabbar was a meticulous mind who always managed to find a way to be magnificent. When college basketball outlawed the “dunk shot” Kareem unfazed began to show the world just how unstoppable he was. The “skyhook” or hook shot as it was known at the time was a move Abdul – Jabbar developed on the block. It was a move that he mastered through years of practice and what would later turn out to be years of preparation.
The hook shot has been in basketball since its inception and was a favorite move of George Mikan. The Lakers center simply mastered what Mikan developed and incorporated his greatness into it. The result was six M.V.P trophies and six NBA titles.
What made Kareem so impressive was his linear focus on the task at hand and never being unprepared for the moment. He played 20 years in the NBA because in 1976 he took yoga as a way to persevere his body. In 1976 the lean center decided to incorporate fancy stretching into his daily excercise ritual to persevere his body.
The skyhook came about because he wanted to simply get a shot off against the older players at the courts in New York. He later pulled that from his repertoire as if he knew someday he would need a patented move to combat other players who may be stronger or more athletic.
When “Cap”, as he was known to his Laker teammates, came to the Lakers he was already a refined offensive weapon, but once Magic Johnson arrived he was able to become a more cerebral player. At the ripe age of 39 he led the Lakers to their first of their back to back titles. No longer the force that he had grown accustomed to being the Laker center fell back and allowed Magic Johnson and James Worthy to take the offensive reigns. He focused on defense and providing a physical presence for a Lakers team that some felt were Hollywood soft. However, in game six with the championship on the line the all-time great poured in a team-high 32 points and 4 blocks and fouled Robert Parish out of the contest.
The 1987 – 1988 season would bring us a 40 year old Kareem who could no longer carry a team. His basketball I.Q. still remained intact and he was an integral piece of the Lakers second part of back to back titles.
Kareem Abdul – Jabbar did not just play basketball he studied the game of basketball. Every move was strategic and calculated. The game to him was an exercise in discipline and required his devoted attention. He once stated to the LA Times, "Take the time to know what you're doing and have some commitment to it.” It was his commitment to excellence that allowed his wealth of talent to reach the magnitude of success that it did.
2) Kobe Bryant 1996 – Present:
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He was the child prodigy who developed into arguably the greatest player ever. From the moment Kobe Bryant put on a Laker’s uniform it was evident he had talent, but no one knew just how driven he was. Like most child prodigies Bryant had trouble early adjusting socially to the NBA and was too young to understand the consequences of being the man.
He did not build friendships in his career instead he built an NBA resume that is as impressive as watching Shakira dance with the mute button on. You may not like Bean but you have to respect his grind.
1997 Slam Dunk Champion
Lakers record for points scored in a season (2832)
Lakers record for points per game (35.4)
Lakers record for points scored in a game (81)
All-time Lakers leader in games played (1,103 and counting)
All-time Lakers leader in minutes played (40,145 and counting)
All-time Lakers leader in field goals attempted (21,370 and counting)
All-time Lakers leader in 3-PT field goals made (1,418 and counting) and 3-PT field goals attempted (4,185)
All-time Lakers leader in total points scored (27,868 and counting)
For the sake of time we will move on. Bryant’s individual accolades are immaculate, but it is apparent he sacrificed his individual accomplishments early in his career for the betterment of the team. After the departure of Shaq at the end of the 03 - 04 season Bryant was left to fend for himself. The 04 – 05 season saw Kobe flourish individually but as a unit the Lakers struggled.
The 2007 – 2008 season saw Derek Fisher return to the Lakers, Pau Gasol rock the purple and gold, and an NBA Finals rivalry renewed as the Lakers battled the Celtics for supremacy. Although, the Celtics would win the series and championship, there is always a lesson learned in defeated.
Bryant like previous years past took this rejection and used it as a motivating factor to run off back to back NBA tiles. During this run of retribution he vindicated the loss to the Celtics, and also proved he could lead a team to a championship.
Numbers aside it is the irrefutable mark he has left on the game that makes him one of the greatest. The NBA is a big man’s game but every few years a player comes and changes the course of history. There have been regular season warriors who have captivated our minds and even one year heroes who have defied all odds and won a championship.
However, it is consistency that separates the greats from the legendary. In the storied history of the NBA only four players, Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Larry Bird and Kobe Bryant, have ever won multiple championships without a dominant center. His dedication to grind for glory is something that will never be duplicated.
1) Magic Johnson 1979 – 1991 & 1995 – 1996:
Magic Johnson is the greatest winner to ever wear a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. He made the mundane look majestic. The Lakers were a great franchise when Magic arrived but he transformed them into a glorious franchise. There was nothing Magic Johnson could not do.
He was great at each facet of the game and while there may be players who were better at one part none had the complete arsenal that Magic possessed. He played in nine NBA Finals and won five of them compared to Jerry West who also played in nine NBA Finals and won one.
From the moment the 6’9 point guard stepped on the NBA hardwood he was winner. The year prior to Magic’s arrival the Purple and Gold were 47 – 35 and made it to the second round of the playoffs. They acquired the number one pick in the ’79 draft thanks to Gail Goodrich signing in New Orleans and a coin flip.
The next year, with Magic, the Lakers won 60 games and the NBA title. If there was any doubt that Johnson was special Game 1 of that series should have erased them, Johnson almost messed around a got a triple-double (16 points 9 assists 10 rebounds). This was just a precursor to what was about to occur.
Every great player has a signature moment where they announce their greatness to the world. Johnson reiterating he is the jack of all trades and displaying just how special he was conversely has a signature game. It was Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Magic’s rookie year.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was suffering from a severely sprained ankle and was held out of the contest by team doctors. Head Coach Paul Westhead decided to play Magic at center, he responded with 42 points 15 rebounds, and seven assists. His game 6 performance, along with 37 points and 10 rebounds from Jamaal Wilkes, secured the Larry O’Brien trophy once again for the Lakers.
The 1980’s championship was the first of Magic’s career and the first of Kareem’s Laker career. In his first 10 years in the league Johnson played in a remarkable eight NBA Finals. He was named Finals M.V.P three times in that eight year span.
Magic made everyone around him a level better than what they actually were. If you were good in San Diego you were great in LA. If you were great in San Francisco you were a Hall of Famer in LA. He could take any player and almost “magically” make them special.