In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share the top 5 players in Laker history whom I am thankful for. These guys are largely responsible for the success that the Lakers have had over the many years in the NBA. Not only did they leave us with classic memories and championships, but they were able to become recognized as some of the greatest players of all time while wearing the Laker uniform.
5. Shaquille O’Neal
Superman is in the building! Well the Superman of the early 2000s. After signing with the Lakers in 1996, Shaq was largely responsible for bringing success back to the city of Los Angeles after the Show Time era. He averaged ridiculous numbers and led the Lakers to the playoffs where they came up short until the arrival of Phil Jackson.
With the triangle offense into effect, the Lakers gained amazing success as they won three consecutive NBA championships. Shaq was named MVP of the NBA Finals all three times and had the highest scoring average ever for a center. In the 1999-2000 season, Shaq was voted the regular season Most Valuable Player. During that year, O’Neal led the league in scoring, finished second in rebounds, and third in blocked shots.
I’m pretty sure Shaq would have ended up being higher on this list, but problems between him and Kobe led to his Laker tenure being shortened. With the way Shaq was playing during those championship years, who knows what kind of success the Lakers would have enjoyed for the rest of that decade.
4. Jerry West
This guy’s legacy is definitely one of the greatest of all time. As a Los Angeles Laker, he was a 14 time All-Star and scored a total of 25,192 points, gained 6,238 assists, and 5,366 rebounds. He averaged 27 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.8 rebounds over the course of his historic careers. He is recognized as one of the greatest clutch performers in NBA history largely because of his 29.1 points playoff average. Only Michael Jordan has averaged more in the playoffs. Can you imagine the type of numbers this guy would have been able to put up if there was a three point line in his generation?
The reason why I am thankful for Jerry West goes even beyond his playing days. As general manager of the Lakers in the 80s, the team won 5 championships. After that wonderful decade as the Lakers GM, he made some of the most historic decisions in NBA history as he traded Vlade Divac for Kobe Bryant, signed Shaquille O’Neal, and signed the greatest coach of all time, Phil Jackson. We all know that ended up being a three-peat from 2000-2002.
3. Kareem Abdul Jabar
Mr. Skyhook himself is the third Laker who I am most thankful for. This guy definitely did it all as a Los Angeles Laker. He was apart of 6 NBA Championships, while winning 2 Finals MVPs. He also won 6 regular season Most Valubale Player awards and made it to the NBA All-Star team a staggering 19 times. He led the league in blocks 4 times, scoring 2 times, and rebounding once. Don’t forget that this guy is also the NBA All-time leading scorer.
The accomplishments of Kareem go on and on. The things that he was able to do as center of the Los Angeles Lakers is absolutely amazing. He also became well known for his trademark “sky-hook.” At 7 ft 2 inches, Kareem developed a nearly unguardable hook shot that was absolutely beautiful to see. This hook shot was very effective and contributed to his career field goal percentage of .559.
After his playing days, he still helps the Lakers. He was able to work with Andrew Bynum and show him some of his classic post moves, which helped Bynum quickly emerge as one of the best centers in the NBA. Today, he plans on working with Dwight Howard and also showing him a few things that will help him develop his game even further. This season, Kareem finally got a very well deserved statue made of him by the Los Angeles Lakers to recognize all that he has done for the organization.
2. Magic Johnson
Magic is widely recognized as the greatest point guard of all time. Even NBA fans who never liked the Lakers find it extremely complicated to even try to debate this. At 6 ft 9, Magic was able to play like no other for his size. As leader of the Los Angeles Lakers during the show time days, Magic was able to win 5 NBA Championships, while earning 3 Finals MVPs. He also won 3 regular season MVPs and made it to the All-Star game 12 times. With his amazing ability to pass the basketball, Magic was able to lead the league in assists a total of 4 times.
Magic led the Lakers as the heated rivalry with the Boston Celtics became intensified. This historic battle in the 1980s between Magic and Larry Bird is very historic and something NBA fans will never forget. One of the most memorable moments of not only Magic’s career, but the entire NBA is when he nailed a last second hook shot over the Celtics to win Game 4 of the NBA Finals 107-106. This led to the Lakers winning another championships as Magic won the finals MVP averaging 26.2 points, 13 assists, and 8 rebounds.
Sadly, his career was shortened as he discovered that he had tested postive for HIV. In 1991, Magic made a public announcement and decided to retire. HIV had not been able to defeat Magic after his NBA Career. He became a huge activist and created the Magic Johnson Foundation to help against HIV. His smile, personality, and style of play is something that can never be duplicated. He will always be remembered for his great play, while also warming the hearts of many NBA fans.
1. Kobe Bryant
Where do I begin with this guy? He has done it all and continues to play at a high level even at this point in his long historic NBA Career. As a Laker, Kobe Bryant has won 5 NBA Championships with 2 Finals MVPs. He also won the regular season MVP in 2008 and many people believe that he should have won more over the course of his career, but wasn’t able to due to politics. He has made it to the All-Star game 14 times and won the MVP of that game a total of 4 times. Scoring a huge output of points, Kobe led the NBA in scoring back to back seasons.
The guy made an immediate impact in league at a very young age as the duo of him and Shaq was able to win the Lakers three straight championships. Many people believed that Kobe would not have enjoyed the success if he wasn’t paired with Shaq, but he silenced those critics as he made it to the championship 3 straight years in a row, while winning 2 without Shaquille O’Neal on the team.
During his long and historic career, Kobe was able to overcome many obstacles. He has broken numerous records and continues to move up on lists that feature some of the greatest players to ever play the game. He is currently 5th on the all time scoring list with a chance to continue moving up even higher. At 34 years of age and 16 NBA seasons under his belt, Kobe continues to play at a very high level, while still being viewed as one of the best players in the game.
Kobe Bryant has been the only guy that draws realistic comparisons to the game of the great Michael Jordan, In 2007, ESPN voted him as the second best shooting guard in NBA history. Kobe also had one of the greatest individual performances as he scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. So far in his career, Kobe has had 5 sixty-point games, 24 fifty-point games and 107 forty-point games. With everything he has already accomplished in his career, it’s amazing to think of all of the things that are still ahead of him if he is able to continue this high level of play. Because of everything he has been able to accomplish and his style of basketball, Kobe has been recognized as the greatest Laker of all time by every person on this list. He is definitely someone to be thankful for.