Power Ranking the Greatest Centers in L.A. Lakers History
Dating back all the way to 1960 when the Minneapolis Lakers became the Los Angeles Lakers, the franchise has seen centers ranked from decent to great to legendary. Power ranking the best centers to wear a Lakers uniform lends itself to a handful of names either in the NBA Hall of Fame or bound for it in the future.
By pulling off a four-team offseason trade and landing Dwight Howard in the process, the Lakers have once again added one of the league’s most dominant big men.
This has become a common theme in Lakers lore, and fans have gotten used to watching some of the NBA’s biggest stars (literally) put up huge numbers for their favorite team.
So where does Howard, the new addition to the Lakers, land in a ranking of the greatest centers in Lakers’ franchise history? Read on to find out.
Spoiler Alert: Kwame Brown doesn’t make the cut.
Note: George Mikan is not on the list because he was a member of the Minneapolis Lakers, not the Los Angeles Lakers.
6. Rudy LaRusso
Best season with Lakers: 17.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.
Rudy LaRusso is the only Lakers center on this list to have played for both the Minneapolis Lakers and the Los Angeles Lakers. We’ll overlook his solid rookie year as a Minneapolis Laker since we're solely focusing on the Los Angeles Lakers, but he’s still a deserving member.
Although LaRusso played in a basketball era diluted with talent compared to what we see today, he was still the third-best player on many of the early '60s Laker squads led by Jerry “The Logo” West and Elgin Baylor.
In what will become a common theme with Laker centers on the list, LaRusso played seven seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers (eight if you include his rookie year).
The Lakers teams in the early to mid '60s frequently reached the NBA Finals, but they simply could not get past the Boston Celtics with LaRusso on the roster. This could have a little something to do with a guy named Bill Russell.
Anyway, LaRusso made two All-Star appearances as a member of the Lakers and notched two more All-Star selections as a member of the San Francisco Warriors.
Although LaRusso played in a different era, he was still one of the best centers in Lakers history. He played better in San Francisco since he wasn’t overshadowed by Baylor and West, but that may actually help his case because he proved his numbers weren’t inflated by playing around NBA legends.
However, as a 6’7” big man in the '60s, LaRusso shot a putrid 43.1 percent from the field for his career. Even Kobe Bryant, who often shoots 20 or more times per game during each season, has a career 45.3 percent clip as a guard. This doesn’t help LaRusso’s case in the slightest.
5B. Andrew Bynum
Best season with Lakers: 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
Andrew Bynum started his career with the Los Angeles Lakers as a young pup at just 18 years old. He spent his first seven professional seasons with the Lakers before being traded this offseason to the Philadelphia 76ers so Los Angeles could land Dwight Howard.
Although Bynum was around for two Laker championships, he was pretty much an afterthought on both teams. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were the leaders that made back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010 possible. During that time, Bynum was often struggling with injuries and making little impact in the postseason.
In addition, even though Bynum spent a lengthy seven seasons with the Lakers to start his career, he truly only had one great season. Those stats came last season during the grueling 66-game, lockout-shortened schedule. It defied logic that Bynum was able to stay healthy during a more physically demanding year, but he did so nonetheless.
It’s a matter of personal preference whether you think Bynum should remain at “5B” or move up to “5A.” However, his maturity issues throughout the start of his career coupled with his injury woes and only having one great season in a Lakers’ uniform hinder him on this list.
5A. Vlade Divac
Best season with Lakers: 16 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
Like Andrew Bynum, Vlade Divac started his NBA career by playing seven seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. He returned to Los Angeles as a 36-year-old at the tail end of his career, but he only played 15 games then.
Unlike Bynum, Divac was rarely injured during his NBA career and put up consistently solid numbers as a result. In my mind, his consistency over the course of seven seasons with L.A. is slightly better than Bynum’s one great year around a slew of average to below-average numbers.
Divac is remembered as being one of the NBA’s greatest passing big men. He had a tremendous basketball IQ and put up a solid NBA career as a result.
He never averaged more than 16 points or 10.8 rebounds per game, but you knew what you were getting from Divac on a game-to-game basis.
Oh and there’s also that little tidbit that the Lakers were able to trade Divac for someone named Kobe Bryant. So although Divac never won a championship as a Laker, he was indirectly responsible for five future rings.
Lakers fans, please take the time to thank Vlade.
4. Dwight Howard
Best season with Lakers: N/A
Despite the fact that Dwight Howard has yet to play a single minute as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, he’s already proven to be one of the best centers in NBA history.
He carried the Orlando Magic to the playoffs year after year and even led them to an NBA Finals appearance.
The three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year is a near lock to average 20 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks per game.
Although his off-court persona has been shaped by this summer’s headache known as the “Dwightmare,” Lakers fans will be able to overlook his antics, since he’s the best center in the game at the moment.
If he manages to win a championship with the Lakers next season, he’ll have mirrored Shaquille O’Neal’s career almost perfectly. All he would have to do is star in a film about a genie and try to get a rap career off the ground.
3. Shaquille O'Neal
Best season with Lakers: 29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds and three blocks per game.
In The Book of Basketball, author Bill Simmons of Grantland.com describes Shaquille O’Neal’s career as “dominant, but not the best.”
In my opinion, that’s a fair description of "The Big Aristotle’s" NBA career. He was without question one of the most dominant players the NBA has ever seen, yet O’Neal’s career could have been so much more.
He was always a terrible free-throw shooter over the course of a 19-year NBA career, and he never once played in all 82 regular-season games. Over the course of his career, O’Neal averaged approximately 64 games per season, meaning he missed an average of 18 games per year.
He had injury troubles throughout his prime, and those only became magnified as the years caught up to O’Neal’s gigantic frame.
Even though O’Neal came with his share of negatives, the positives he brought to the table often overshadowed those by a wide margin.
Shaq was the centerpiece of the Los Angeles Lakers teams that won back-to-back-to-back NBA championships from 2000-2002.
Although O’Neal went on to win another championship ring with the Miami Heat after being traded from Los Angeles, the fact that Lakers’ management decided to trade O’Neal over Kobe Bryant should mean something. It doesn’t help that a few years down the road it became increasingly clear that the Lakers made the correct choice by keeping Bryant.
Still, “dominant but not the best” isn’t necessarily a bad label to have. O’Neal was a 15-time NBA All-Star, a three-time NBA Finals MVP and once a regular-season MVP.
He had a fantastic NBA career that is highlighted by the Lakers’ three-peat to start the decade.
2. Wilt Chamberlain
Best season with Lakers: 20.5 points, 21.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
Even though Wilt Chamberlain was past his prime when he found his way to the Los Angeles Lakers, he was still a potent defensive and rebounding threat.
After years of falling short in the NBA Finals, the addition of Chamberlain finally got the Lakers over the hump in 1972 when they defeated the New York Knicks in five games. Even though Chamberlain was no longer the truly dominant player he once was, he managed to grab 21 rebounds per game in the postseason and earn Finals MVP recognition.
Wilt made the All-Star team in all 13 of his professional seasons and won four MVP awards throughout his career.
Not only was Chamberlain one of the best Lakers in history, but he’s undoubtedly one of the best centers to ever play the game of basketball.
It’s worth noting that as a 7’1” center playing in the '60s and early '70s, Chamberlain was a modern-day athlete playing in an era where he could simply dominate opposing players. However, the level at which he dominated with his distinct advantage is still extremely impressive.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Best season with Lakers: 27.7 points, 16.9 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played 13 NBA seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, he was a prominent member of the “Showtime” Lakers, and he won an astounding five championships while wearing a Laker uniform.
Even though Kareem won five titles in Los Angeles, he won his first championship in 1971 as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, proving his winning pedigree in the NBA almost instantly.
Abdul-Jabbar is a 19-time All-Star, a Rookie of the Year, two-time NBA Finals MVP and a six-time NBA MVP.
He played absurdly consistent basketball professionally from the time he was 22 years old until he was 41 years old. The fewest games he ever played in a single season was 62 in 1978, which was also the only time he played fewer than 74 games in a season in his career (and the 74 games was when he was 41 years old).
He was an extremely durable player who doubled as a transcendent talent known for his famous, unguardable sky hook.
Abdul-Jabbar is in the discussion for “best Laker ever,” but it’s hard to argue that he’s not the best center the franchise has ever seen.