The Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most storied teams in NBA history. Since joining the NBA in 1948-49, the Lakers have won 16 championships and only missed the playoffs on three occasions in their entire history. The Lakers franchise has been among the most popular franchises with a wide fan base and is a team stars have yearned to play for.
Here are the top-10 Lakers, based on their play with the franchise:
1. Magic Johnson (1979-91, 96)
The offensive version of Bill Russell with the ability to dominate the game offensively without the need to be a volume scorer. There has never been a player in NBA history who displayed the court vision and passing skills in a 6-9 body the way Magic Johnson did. Nor has any player ever had the versatility to dominate from every position as a rookie in a Finals like Magic in 1980. Magic led the Lakers to five titles in the 1980s and ran the dynamic up-tempo offense that became known as “Showtime.” Magic’s rivalry with Larry Bird revitalized the NBA in the 1980s, leading to a period considered by many fans to be a golden era. Johnson constantly improved during his career, going from being a liability as a long-range shooter to a great shooter later in his career. Magic is the all-time Laker leader in assists and his number 32 was retired by team.
2. Kobe Bryant (1996- current)
Few players have ever had the competitive drive to be the best that fuels Kobe Bryant. Kobe is the all-time leader in points scored in Laker history. Bryant has played on five Laker title teams and played on two other teams that have appeared in the NBA Finals. Currently in his 17th season, Bryant has shown no signs of slowing down any time soon and is leading the NBA in scoring.
3. Jerry West (1960-74)
West was known as Mr. Clutch during his career for several big plays on the offensive and defensive end that led to Laker victories. West was one of the premiere two-way players of the 1960s and was a fixture during the decade on the All-NBA First Team. West is the only player to ever be named NBA Finals MVP while playing on the losing team, which he did in 1969. West helped lead the Lakers to the 1972 NBA championship, when they won a then-record 69 games during the regular season. West played on eight other Laker teams that made the Finals. West would have a stronger claim to be first on this list, but his era included Russell’s Celtics who just would not lose to the 1960s Lakers.
4. George Mikan (1948-54, 1956)
Mikan was the most popular and dominant player of the NBA during the early days of the league. Mikan led the Lakers to five titles in a six-year span from 1948 to 1954. Mikan’s dominance forced the league to make changes to limit his dominance, including widening the lane. Without the foundation that Mikan built, the Lakers wouldn’t be the team they are today.
5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1975-89)
Kareem was a three-time MVP during his time with the Lakers and helped lead the team to five titles. Kareem was one of the first NBA superstars to force his way to L.A. and helped establish the Lakers as the glamour team where the superstars wanted to go. Kareem had his greatest moment as a Laker during the 1985 NBA Finals. Kareem became the oldest player to ever win Finals MVP at 38, when he led the Lakers to their first-ever Finals victory over their longtime nemesis, Boston Celtics.
6. Shaquille O’ Neal (1996-2004)
O’Neal signing with the Lakers as a free agent in 1996 signaled a return to dominance for the Lakers franchise. With Shaq the Lakers would go on to win three straight titles from 2000 to 2002. Shaq was the NBA’s MVP in 2000 and the Finals MVP from 2000-02. Shaq, during his time with the Lakers, was considered to be the most dominant player in the league, with a combination of size and strength that made him unstoppable in the low post. Shaq would have ranked higher on this list if his pairing with Kobe didn’t end on bad terms, forcing Shaq to finish his career elsewhere. If Kobe and Shaq could have worked out their personal differences, Shaq could have won at least two more titles during his tenure in LA.
7. Elgin Baylor (1958-71)
The man who helped keep the Laker franchise during their last days in Minneapolis and starred after the move west to Los Angeles, Baylor was the prototype for the athletic, high-scoring forwards who have followed in his footsteps. Baylor was an 11-time All-Star who helped lead the Lakers to eight NBA Finals appearances during his career. Baylor holds the record for most points in a NBA Finals game with 61. Baylor suffered the same fate as Jerry West, losing seven times to the Celtics in the final round. Unfortunately for Elgin, his retirement early in the 1971-72 season served as a catalyst to the Lakers first championship team in LA.
8. James Worthy (1982-94)
It’s not often when the first pick in the draft finds himself going to a team that has won two of the previous three NBA Championships. This was the situation Worthy found himself in when entering the NBA, playing with a star-studded cast where he was often the second or third option. Worthy took it all in stride and saved his best performances for the biggest games and earned the nickname “Big Game James.” During his career Worthy won three titles, made seven All-Star teams and was the 1988 NBA Finals MVP.
9. Wilt Chamberlain (1968-73)
The NBA’s most-dominant scorer for much of his career, by the time he got to the Lakers, Wilt’s high scoring days were mostly done. Wilt changed his style of play with the Lakers to more closely match former rival Bill Russell. Wilt was the linchpin of the Lakers defense and used his passing to set up the Laker fast-break attack. Wilt led the Lakers to the 1972 title, winning the Finals MVP along the way. During Wilt’s five seasons with the Lakers, only once did the team fail to reach the NBA Finals.
10. Gail Goodrich (1965-68, 1970-76)
A high-scoring guard who starred on 1972 champion Lakers, Goodrich was selected to four All-Star teams during his Lakers tenure and was All-NBA First Team in 1973-74. Goodrich’s signing with the New Orleans Jazz as a free agent in 1976 led to the Lakers getting the Jazz’ first-round pick in 1979 as compensation. That pick ended up being the greatest Laker ever, Magic Johnson.
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