Ah, the Los Angeles Lakers. A team rich in history, bursting with talent, and a name synonymous with NBA greatness. But what makes this team truly special? Well, that’s simple: the players. They’re the backbone of the franchise, the spark behind the success. Throughout the years, the Lakers have seen their fair share of players etching their names into the annals of basketball lore. Today, we’re going on a trip down memory lane to talk about the best Lakers players of all time.
Ever since their inception in the 1940s, the Lakers have been a breeding ground for exceptional talent. This has resulted in a high bar set for any player donning the purple and gold. However, a select few players have managed to not just meet, but surpass these expectations, achieving the status of Lakers legends. Whether it was with their uncanny ability to sink a shot when it mattered the most, their prowess in guarding the hoop, or their overall versatility on the court, these individuals have etched their names into the heart of every Lakers fan.
1 – Magic Johnson
Revolutionizing the point guard position with his size, vision, and elite passing skills, Earvin “Magic” Johnson lands firmly in the ranks of the greatest Lakers of all time. Johnson’s 6-foot-9 stature was an anomaly for the position, giving him the unique advantage to tower over and see past his competitors. As the maestro of the “Showtime” Lakers era, Magic embodied charisma and leadership both on and off the court.
His accolades with the Lakers read like a fairytale: Five NBA championships, three NBA Finals MVP awards, and ten All-Star selections. From his rookie season in 1979-80, Johnson’s impact was immediate. He stepped into the center position for the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA Finals and produced one of the most memorable performances in basketball history – a 42-point, 15-rebound, and 7-assist masterpiece that clinched the championship.
Known for his quick hands and flashy assists, Johnson averaged 11.2 assists per game over his career, leading the league four times. He also holds the NBA Finals single-game assists record with 21. When it comes to Lakers history, few can match the incredible legacy Magic Johnson left on the franchise and the sport as a whole.
2 – Kobe Bryant
Often found in the debate for the best Lakers player ever, Kobe Bryant’s career was a testament to his relentless pursuit of greatness. Known as the “Black Mamba,” Bryant was a complex character – simultaneously adored and feared by opponents for his ruthless competitive spirit and clutch performances.
Over his 20-year career – all spent with the Lakers – Bryant amassed five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP awards, one regular-season MVP award, 18 All-Star selections, and four All-Star Game MVP awards. He is also the youngest player in NBA history to reach 30,000 career points.
Among the highlights of Bryant’s career, his 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 stands out as one of the greatest individual performances in NBA history. A legendary scorer, Bryant’s hard work and determination became the definition of the “Mamba Mentality,” a term he coined to describe his approach to basketball and life.
3 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 career points, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is not just one of the Lakers legends; he is a basketball legend. Abdul-Jabbar’s iconic skyhook shot is one of the most effective and unguardable moves in the history of the sport.
During his time with the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar won five of his six NBA championships and three of his six league MVP awards. He was a 19-time All-Star and two-time Finals MVP. He remains the NBA’s career leader in points, field goals made, and minutes played.
Off the court, Abdul-Jabbar is renowned for his activism and involvement in social issues, making him an influential figure in sports and society. His influence extends far beyond the basketball court, making him a truly iconic figure in Lakers history.
4 – Shaquille O’Neal
Dominating the paint like no one else, the 7-foot-1, 325-pound center Shaquille O’Neal, also known as “Shaq,” stands tall among the best Lakers players of all time. A force of nature on the court, his combination of size, strength, and athleticism was simply unmatched during his time.
With the Lakers, Shaq clinched three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2002, each time earning Finals MVP honors. He averaged 27.0 points and 11.8 rebounds during his eight-season tenure with the team. Unforgettable moments include his famous “alley-oop” from Kobe Bryant in the 2000 Western Conference Finals – a play that symbolized the unstoppable duo they became.
Shaq’s off-court personality was as larger-than-life as his presence on it. His engaging personality, full of humor and wit, added a unique flavor to his already impressive career. One thing’s for sure, the Lakers, and indeed the NBA, wouldn’t be the same without Shaquille O’Neal.
5 – Jerry West
Dubbed as “Mr. Clutch” for his ability to score under pressure, Jerry West remains one of the Lakers famous players in history. His silhouette serves as the NBA logo, a testament to his influence on the sport.
West spent his entire playing career with the Lakers, leading the team to the NBA Finals nine times and winning the championship in 1972. He was also a 14-time All-Star and the 1972 NBA Finals MVP. Known for his scoring prowess, West is the only player in NBA history to be awarded the NBA Finals MVP despite being on the losing team, a testament to his exceptional performances.
Post his playing career, West’s contributions to the Lakers continued as a coach and executive, playing a vital role in building the “Showtime” Lakers and bringing Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal to Los Angeles.
6 – Elgin Baylor
An electrifying player whose high-flying acrobatics and scoring genius amazed fans, Elgin Baylor is often credited with inventing the ‘above the rim’ style of play. Baylor’s playing style was a spectacle, and he’s rightly regarded as one of the greatest Lakers of all time.
Baylor spent his entire 14-year career with the Lakers, earning 11 All-Star appearances and 10 All-NBA First Team honors. Baylor’s career was marked by exceptional scoring feats, including his still-standing record for the most points in an NBA Finals game with 61.
Despite his career being marred by injuries and the Lakers not winning a championship until the year he retired, Baylor’s impact on the franchise and the sport cannot be overstated. His acrobatic style of play paved the way for the high-flying antics we see in today’s game.
7 – Wilt Chamberlain
When it comes to sheer dominance on the basketball court, very few can match up to the prowess of Wilt Chamberlain. Standing at 7’1″, Chamberlain was a physical behemoth with a towering presence in the paint. He joined the Lakers legends roster in 1968, adding his incredible athleticism to a team already rich with talent.
During his time with the Lakers, Chamberlain clinched the NBA Championship in 1972, a victory that saw him claim the NBA Finals MVP award as well. Despite being in the twilight of his career during his stint with the Lakers, Chamberlain maintained impressive numbers, averaging 17.7 points and a staggering 19.2 rebounds per game.
His 100-point game remains unmatched, a record testament to his scoring prowess. Chamberlain’s contributions to the Lakers and the sport of basketball are immeasurable, and his legacy endures in the annals of NBA history.
8 – George Mikan
Known as the NBA’s first superstar, George Mikan’s place among the greatest Lakers of all time is well earned. At 6’10”, Mikan was a towering figure in the early days of professional basketball, using his size to his advantage.
His dominance led to numerous rule changes in the NBA, including the introduction of the goaltending rule and the widening of the key, underscoring his significant impact on the sport. Mikan led the Lakers (then the Minneapolis Lakers) to five NBA Championships, showcasing his winning pedigree.
Despite his career stats not being as inflated as modern players due to the era he played in, Mikan’s influence on the game is undeniable. He laid the foundation for future Lakers best players and set the standard for successful big men in the NBA.
9 – James Worthy
James Worthy, also known as “Big Game James,” is another unforgettable figure in Lakers’ history. His nickname, earned for his knack for performing at his best in high-pressure situations, epitomizes his legacy as one of the best Lakers players of all time.
Worthy played a pivotal role in the “Showtime” Lakers era alongside Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His iconic performance in Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals, where he clinched a triple-double, secured the Lakers’ championship and earned him the Finals MVP award.
Known for his fast breaks, dunks, and clutch performances, Worthy was a seven-time All-Star. His contributions to the Lakers’ success during their “Showtime” era cements his place in Lakers’ lore and NBA history.
10 – Michael Cooper
Last but certainly not least on our list of Lakers legends is Michael Cooper, an exceptional player best known for his defensive skills and remarkable athleticism. Throughout the 80s, Cooper was an integral part of the Lakers’ “Showtime” era, playing alongside other greats such as Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Cooper was the epitome of a team player. His selfless play and unyielding dedication to defense often meant that his contributions didn’t always show up in the box scores. Still, they were essential to the Lakers’ success. He bagged the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 and was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team for five consecutive years.
One of the Lakers best players, Cooper, also had a knack for timely three-point shooting, an asset that proved crucial in many Lakers victories. He played a pivotal role in the Lakers’ five NBA Championship wins during the 80s.
His legendary defensive skills, combined with his ability to deliver under pressure, secured Cooper’s place in the Lakers’ lore and the heart of fans. To this day, Michael Cooper stands tall as an embodiment of the spirit of the Lakers and the pinnacle of defensive expertise in basketball.
A trip down the memory lane of the LA Lakers history illuminates a rich heritage of immense talent, unyielding dedication, and unbreakable team spirit. Additionally, these Lakers legends we’ve celebrated today aren’t just the cornerstones of the franchise; they’re the heart and soul of the game of basketball itself.
From the golden era of George Mikan to the unprecedented dominance of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers have gifted the world of basketball with players who have not only defined the game but redefined it, shattering records, and setting new ones.
They’re the embodiment of the Lakers’ ethos – a blend of exceptional skill, grit, and relentless pursuit of excellence. These remarkable players have written chapters of the LA Lakers history that continue to inspire every new generation of basketball aspirants. They’ve made the Lakers not just a team, but an enduring symbol of success and resilience in the NBA.
Each of these Lakers best players has left an indelible mark on the franchise and the game. They are the trailblazers who have elevated the Lakers to iconic status, paving the way for new talent to continue the legacy. The Lakers’ past is illuminated by these legends’ brilliance, and their future seems equally bright, promising many more unforgettable moments and exceptional talent in the years to come.
The LA Lakers aren’t merely a basketball team; they’re a phenomenon. From the hard courts of the NBA to the hearts of millions of fans worldwide, their legacy lives on. So here’s to the Lakers – an emblem of basketball excellence, a beacon of inspiration, and the home of legends. Long may their legacy continue!