As Kobe Bryant gets enshrined today. There’s a question that got recently asked about where Kobe gets ranked in terms of greatest players of all-time to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. Some are even trying to rewrite his history after his tragic passing by calling him the best. Simply put he wasn’t. In terms of popularity there’s no question it’s Bryant with Magic Johnson coming in a distant second.
Still when it comes to greatest players in Lakers franchise history it’s incredibly difficult to choose. The only easy answer though is that Kobe isn’t the greatest in franchise history. Here’s why.
Johnson is considered by many as the greatest point guard of all-time. For his career he averaged 19.5 points per game, 11.2 asssists, 7.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals. One of his most signature moments was as a rookie. He volunteered to start at center for the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in game six of the NBA Finals and finished with 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals.
In franchise history he ranks first in assists, first in assists per game, first in triple-doubles, second in steals, second in steals per game, fourth in total rebounds, fifth in points, and ninth in points per game.
Then there’s Abdul-Jabbar. He ended his career as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 and won five championships with the Lakers. Though he spent his first six seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, he ranks first in blocks, second in total rebounds, third in points, third in blocks per game, fifth in field goal percentage, sixth in assists, and sixth in triple-doubles in Lakers history.
Abdul-Jabbar’s sky-hook is quite possibly one of the most iconic moves in NBA history. He’s also considered by many as the second greatest center in NBA history.
Now what center is better than Abdul-Jabbar? The answer is Wilt Chamberlain who played for five seasons with the Lakers at the end of his career. Even in the limited amount of games played with the franchise he still ranks first in rebounds per game and fifth in total rebounds.
Which doesn’t put him ahead of Kobe. Chamberlain did his most damage in a Philadelphia Warriors and San Francisco Warriors uniform.
Sticking with the center theme Shaquille O’Neal is next up and he played eight seasons in Los Angeles. He was the most important piece of three championship teams. In his time with the franchise he averaged 27 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 2.5 blocks.
In franchise history he ranks second in blocks, second in points per game, fourth in field goal percentage, sixth in total rebounds, and seventh in points.
Jerry West is the NBA’s logo. He was efficient for a guard and played his entire career with the Lakers and averaged 27 points, 6.7 assists and 5.8 rebounds. His best season arguably came in 1971-1972 when he averaged 25.8 points, 9.7 assists and 4.2 rebounds.
Also he had four seasons in which he averaged over 30 points per game. In franchise history he ranks second in points, third in points per game, third in assists, fifth in assists per game, fifth in triple-doubles and 10th in total rebounds.
Quite possibly the most overlooked and underappreciated Laker of all-time is Elgin Baylor. His best season came in 1960-1961 when he averaged 34.8 points, 19.8 rebounds, and 5.1 asssists. Career wise he averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
He ranks first in points per game, first in total rebounds, second in rebounds per game, second in triple-doubles, seventh in assists, and 10th in assists per game.
Now it’s time to look at Bryant. He won three titles with O’Neal and then there was a well publicized falling out between the two with Shaq leaving. So what did Bryant do without him? He had the highest scoring averages of his career. Yet the Lakers didn’t find much success in the playoffs.
Also during this time he demanded a trade as well and nearly got dealt to the Chicago Bulls. Eventually the Lakers found Kobe help by acquiring Pau Gasol resulting in two championships and a finals loss.
For Kobe his best season came in 2002-2003 when he averaged 30 points, 6.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.2 steals. Career wise he averaged 25 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.4 steals. In franchise history he ranks first in points, second in assists, third in total rebounds, fourth in triple-doubles, fifth in points per game, eighth in assists per game, and ninth in steals per game.
There is no question that Kobe belongs when discussing the greatest Laker of all-time. Still Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal, West, and Baylor are ahead of him.