Who’s the best Los Angeles Laker to ever play the game?
I was sitting on my couch a few days ago and I saw a feature on the Lakers. Kobe Bryant had just surpassed Jerry West for the all time franchise scoring leader with 25, 208 points and it got me thinking. Considering that the Lakers are one of the greatest franchises and most notable teams in the NBA, I wondered who was the best player to ever play for them? I was a little torn, I couldn’t quite decide, I had three and here’s how I came up with my top 3 Lakers of all time.
3. JERRY WEST
The Minneapolis Lakers were on the down slide, many years spent as a .500 team, the franchise was starting to suffer. From 1955-1960 the team had accumulated a record of 144-219, and then owner Bob Short decided that the franchise would be more suited if it were relocated to California. In 1960 Short moved the team to Los Angeles, and in doing so a dynasty was born. With the second pick in the 1960 NBA draft The Los Angeles Lakers selected Jerry West. In his first year West was mostly known for his hustle on the floor, he was one of their best defenders and helped the team to a 36-40 season losing to the St.Louis Hawks in the Western Division finals. The years to follow His numbers grew and his game began to develop. In his 14 year career with the Lakers, West played in 9 NBA Finals, and led the Lakers in scoring in seven seasons. He was also the key part of the Lakers’ success in the 1971-72 season, when they recorded an unbelievable 33 game win streak and recording a 69 win season. West was huge in the Lakers success that year, registering 25.8 pointer per-game to go along with a league leading 9.7 assists per-game. That year the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship. He was viewed as one of the greatest clutch players to ever play the game. Other than Jerry West, Michael Jordan was the only other NBA player to have a higher career scoring average in the playoffs, 33.5 points to West’s 29.1. Another set of numbers that stand out are his career averages. At the end of his career, he averaged 27 Pts, and 6.7 assists. Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain are the only other retired players that surpassed his 27 pts per game average. ESPN voted West the third greatest shooting guard of all time. All of this only adds to the depth of West’s playing career. He was one of the Lakers best all around players to ever play in the NBA.
2. Kobe Bryant
Right now Kobe Bryant is one of the NBA’s most dominant players. Able to take a game over at the snap of your fingers, much like West Kobe is a clutch player. This year alone he’s hit a number of game winning buzzer beaters. He’s a four time NBA champion, and you might say that he was nothing without Shaq. But he won the 2008-2009 NBA Championship without him and just might do it again this year, that would give him six championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s having an MVP season right now averaging 28 points a night good enough for fourth overall in points leaders in the NBA. He won the NBA Finals MVP in 2009, won the 2008 NBA MVP. 12 time all star 2 time NBA scoring champion, a 2008 Olympic Gold medalist. He’s consider one of the most complete players in the NBA. Bryants been compared to Michael Jordan hundreds of times even though the shooting guard dislikes the comparison. He’s one of those players who can create his own shots. Kobe’s also one of the game’s best defenders. He knew that the only way to win championships was to develop his defensive skills, which he has done, being selected to seven NBA All Defensive First Team in his career. His reputation as a great competitor and great player is known all over the world. You could walk down the street of downtown Toronto and the first five people you see will know who Kobe Bryant is. The only reason he’s not number one on my list is because his career isn’t over, If he manages to win another championship and MVP he’s definitely one of if not the best Laker to ever to play the game.
1. Earvin “Magic” Johnson
I know you must be thinking why is this not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Even though Kareem was a great player, he was still nowhere near the player that Magic was. Johnson’s nickname “Magic” came from a sports writer for the Lansing State Journal. Earvin was 15 years old and playing sophomore ball for Lansing’s Everett High School. He recorded a triple double in front of Fred Stabley Jr, the sports writer for the State Journal. He Recorded 36 pts, 18 boards, and 16 assists. After the game Stabley gave him the name “Magic” and it stayed with him ever since. Johnson was drafted first overall in 1979 by the Lakers. He was brought in, and expected to help Abdul-Jabbar win a championship. In Magic’s rookie season the Lakers went 60-22. Johnson averaged a stunning 18 pts, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists that season. But what was most amazing was the Lakers’ reaching the 1980 finals, and Magic single handedly won the Championship without the help of Kareem. Remember Johnson was just a rookie, and had never experienced the NBA Finals. The Lakers were up 3-2 in the best of seven series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Kareem had sprained his ankle in game five and wasn’t able to play game six in Philly at the Spectrum. The “perceived” outcome of that game was that the Lakers would give the 76ers a go but would lose and end up tied going back to LA, and hope that Kareem would be good to go for game seven. Head Coach Paul Westhead made the decision to start Johnson at center for the game. Magic took over and dominated the game at every position, finishing with 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals, and an NBA Championship. That night Magic changed the way the game was played and revolutionized the game of basketball. He posted up centres that were three inches taller than he was, banged bodies down low on the block, threw bullet like passes, threading the needle through double teams, blocking shots, and grabbing key rebounds thereby dominating every piece of the hardwood, not to mention becoming the only rookie to win the NBA finals MVP award. His performance that night is still to this day regarded as one of the best in NBA history. Magic went on to win four more championships three NBA MVP awards, and three NBA finals MVP awards. Magic changed basketball in LA, and changed the way it is played to this very day. He turned the Lakers into “Showtime” running a fast paced offence, get out and run type of tempo. He spawned fans around the world not to mention North America, turning the casual NBA fan into a hardcore Lakers fan. Not only did he revolutionize the game of basketball he also changed the way the point guard position was played. Using his great ball handling abilities he was able to make passes to wide-open team mates in ways that people have never seen. He shares the single-game playoff record for assists with 24 as well as holding the finals record for assists in a game with 21. Magic’s stats and accomplishments are many, his number 32 was retired by the Lakers in 1992 and will remain in the rafters as the greatest Laker to ever play the game.