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The Best LA Lakers Centers of All-Time

Wilt Chamberlain of Los Angeles Lakers against Dave DeBusschere of New York Knicks during an NBA basketball game circa 1972

So, the center is that player that has to do all aspects of the game brilliantly. They have huge defensive responsibilities, as they seek to keep the opponent from shooting by blocking shots and passes in those vital areas. Yet, they are also expected to fight for the rebounds in the offense. If you are the centre you are usually taller and broader than most others on the team, as your game is a physical one. You are going into battle for your team.

This is what we see as the perfect center and it is this that guides our choices of players who have worn this vest for the Lakers. Currently, Howard proves our point as the Lakers’ coaches have once again gone for a big, dominant man. However, the question is whether he ranks in the greats or not.

Six: Rudy LaRusso

LaRusso played for the LAkers when they were in Minneapolis and then when they became the Los Angeles Lakers. He had a solid Rookie year, but that was in Minneapolic – so not of concern for us here. Also, we have to consider that he was playing in an era for the Lakers that was diluted with talent – so he may not have had the support needed on court to really shine. He was one of the best players on the team alongside Elgin Baylor.

In the seven years he played for the LA Lakers, the team frequently made the finals and was continually thwarted by the might of the Boston Celtics and their star Bill Russell. 

LaRusso made two All-Star appearances – and continued to shine when he moved up state to the San Francisco warriors and notched up two more All-Star appearances.

At 6 foot 7, he was a massive man in the 60s and dominated the physical space but he had a severely limited offensive game, which means he comes in 6th. He just didn’t play in a classic era, which means he also doesn’t stand out.

Five: Vlade Divac

Divac played centre for seven seasons – if we discount the twilight appearance at the age of 36 when he only played 15 games. Divac was consistent as hell, hardly ever injured, and as a result offered stability for the team around him. He was a big man who could pass, with a basketball IQ off the chart. While his scoring wasn’t stellar and his defense at times mediocre, he was a wizard and dictating the plays with some extraordinary vision. 

Another reason to love Divac – he was traded for Kobe Bryant = so was indirectly responsible for the team winning five titles.

Four: Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard of Los Angeles Lakers scores over Jusuf Nurkic of
Portland Trail Blazers at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex August 2020

Sure Howard deserves to make the list. He proved his worth with the Orlando Magic and is an awesome addition to the Lakers – serving up some quality to Davis and James. He has won Defensive Player of the Year while knocking off a 20-point average. He has the all-round game – if only he could temper that personality of his, he would be the all-round perfect player for the Lakers’ fans.

Three: Shaquille O’Neal

According to author Bill Simmons, Shaq had a dominant career but not the best. He was a terrible free-throw shooter for instance. But, come on, he was an awesome player and certainly should be close to the top (if not the top in some people’s opinion). He literally led the NBA for a period – no-one could touch him. The main issue keeping him from the top was his record of injuries – he never once played all games within a season – averaging 18 games injured per year. However, when he played he overshadowed all the others on the court, which only magnified the loss when he was missing.

The Lakers chose to keep Bryant and trade O’Neal, which at the time was thought controversial but over the years proved a sound choice. Therefore, he was dominant but he maybe wasn’t the best and Bill Simmons proves why he is a solid commentator on the NBA.

Two: Wilt Chamberlain

Maybe a more controversial decision is to not put Chamberlain at the top of the list. However, by the time he finally played for the Lakers he was definitely past his prime. He was still a brilliant defender and a definite threat when a rebound opportunity arose. Also, he was a great for the Lakers because he got them over the hump in 1972 and they won the title and earned the Finals MVP. He may not have had the speed but he had the physical presence and intelligence in these latter years to still dominate.

Wilt made the All-Star team in all 13 of his professional seasons. We repeat – every single one of his years in pro basketball. He also won MVP four times. He is not only one of the best centres ever to play for the Lakers, he was probably one of the best basketball players ever to grace the court.

One: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Los Angeles Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at Staples Center on February 2020

But, then there is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who had all the talent of Chamberlain at his peak and Abdul-Jabbar chose to spend his peak at the Lakers. He won five championships in the Laker uniform and continued showing his skill at the Bucks, as he took them to an NBA title immediately on his move there.  He is a 19-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, two-time NBA Finals MVP and six-time NBA MVP – come on now – argue with us over who is the greatest centre to play for the Lakers. We would argue he is the greatest player ever to wear the Lakers shirt – and maybe even play the game. We dare you to argue with us!

If you have enjoyed reading this article, make sure to check our rankings of the Lakers’ best small forwards.

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