Top 10 Greatest Lakers of All Time

Sportswriter Elone Safaryan gives his take on who are the top 10 greatest Lakers of all time

The Los Angeles Lakers are a franchise that have had tremendous success throughout their entire existence. Originally the Minneapolis Lakers, the team relocated to Los Angeles in the beginning of the 1960-1961 season. Having won 11 titles during their time in Los Angeles, their 11 championships (16 including time in Minneapolis) is second only to the Boston Celtics’ 17 titles. The Lakers have had some of the game’s very best players, such as Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The Lakers haven’t won a championship since 2010 and haven’t appeared in the playoffs since 2013. This year, however, could have been a lot different. After signing Lebron James last season and trading for Anthony Davis this past offseason, the Lakers were favorites to win the NBA title. That was, at least, all until the COVID-19 pandemic happened that caused sports to be suspended indefinitely. 

When and where the NBA would continue is still a mystery, as executives are still working on a solution. The lack of sports these past months has been difficult for enthusiasts, so, in these bleak times, we look at some of the great players that put on a Laker jersey and did a lot for the franchise.


This article will discuss the players who have played for a considerable amount of time for the Los Angeles Lakers and not Minneapolis. 


10. Byron Scott:  One of the more lesser known players of the Lakers’ Showtime era in the 80’s, Byron Scott was a key player that helped the team achieve great success. Scott won three championships with the Lakers (1985,1987, and 1988) and was named to the 1984 all-rookie team. His best season came in 1987-1988 where he led the team in scoring with a career best 21.7 points per game. He played for the Lakers from 1983-1993 and returned to the team again in the 97-98 season where he had a lesser playing role and served as mentor to the younger Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

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9. Michael Cooper: Though he wasn’t known for his offensive skills, Cooper proved to be just as important as anyone else on the team, with his excellent defensive skills. Earning praise from the likes of Larry Bird, who called Cooper the best defender he’s ever faced, Cooper was one of the best defensive players back in the day. Having won five championships in the Showtime era, Cooper was a vital piece in the Lakers’ dynasty. Cooper played his entire NBA career with the Lakers, was named to the All-Defensive First Team five times and won NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1987. A lockdown defender, Cooper will go down in Lakers history as one of if not their best defensive player of all time.

8. Elgin Baylor: There are many NBA legends who never won a championship. One of them is Elgin Baylor. He averaged 27.4 and 13.5 rebounds per game and is considered to be one of the best to put on a Laker jersey and one of the best in NBA history. Baylor played 14 seasons with the team before calling it quits in the beginning of the 1971-1972 season after playing just nine games. That year the team would go on to win the championship which was the first for the team since it’s move to Los Angeles. Despite playing those few games, the team still gave a ring to Baylor. A talented scorer and an excellent rebounder, Baylor still holds several records for the Lakers. These records include: highest points per game in a season- 38.3, highest career points per game- 27.4 and most total rebounds with a whopping 11,463. His career average of 27.36 points per game currently ranks third all time, just behind Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.

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7. James Worthy: The former first overall pick in the 1982 was another key player during the Lakers Showtime era. At first Worthy’s role was minor and he would be an apprentice to Jamaal Wilkes, who was playing a lot of minutes for the team. Nonetheless, as a rookie he made quite the impact, scoring 13.4 points per game while averaging 5.2 rebounds. His efforts earned himself a spot on the All-Rookie team. Worthy’s role would continue to grow however, and soon established himself as one of the game’s best small forwards. With the already all-star lineup the Lakers had, Worthy continued to thrive in their high-powered offense. Receiving the nickname “Big Game James” he excelled at scoring under pressure and during crucial games. Worthy was able to elevate his play in the playoffs and would often outshine his teammates with his tremendous speed and dynamic shooting. During his 12-year stint with the team, he helped the Lakers to three NBA titles while receiving the Finals MVP in 1988 for his dominant play which included a 36-16-10 performance in game seven against the Detroit Pistons. Although he doesn’t hold the records, Big Game James is one of the most clutch players in Lakers history and without a doubt one of the best to wear the jersey.


6. Wilt Chamberlain: Arguably one of the best players in NBA history, Wilt Chamberlain did things that nobody else could and possibly ever will. Chamberlain achieved many great feats, such as scoring 100 points in a single game or holding the records for highest career points per game with 50.4 and most rebounds per game with 27.2. A great scorer and an even better rebounder, Wilt had established himself as one of the best centers of the game and would continue to shine when he was traded to the Lakers by the Philadelphia 76ers. In his five-year tenure here, Chamberlain helped the team to four Finals appearances while winning the championship in 1972, the team’s first in Los Angeles. He was also given the Finals MVP for his efforts. Along the way Wilt set numerous records for the team: highest minutes per game- 43.7, most rebounds in a game- 42 and a field goal percent of .727 as well as several other records. Although he wasn’t scoring at the pace he was in Philadelphia, his contributions to the team will cement his legacy as one of the best Lakers of all time.


5. Jerry West: Probably the most complete player on this list, Jerry West could do it all. He could score, be a playmaker and play defense. West was also known for scoring late in games, which earned him the moniker “Mr. Clutch.” West played all 14 years of his career with the Lakers and appeared in the Finals nine times before winning in 1972. In 1969, despite the team losing to the New York Knicks in seven games, West was awarded the Finals MVP making him the only player in NBA history to win the award despite being on the losing team. His career average of 27.0 points per game is currently fifth all time. After West retired in 1974, he continued to work for the Lakers as a coach and eventually took over as general manager. West also earned the nickname “The Logo” after a silhouette of him was chosen to be the NBA logo at the start of the 1969 season. 

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4. Shaquille O’Neal: When he first came into the league, Shaquille O’Neal quickly established himself as one of the strongest and dominant players in the league. It wasn’t until when he arrived in Los Angeles that he would go and help put the Lakers on top again. Signing a seven year $121 million contract, there were a lot of expectations for O’Neal and whether or not he would live up to it. Long story short, he did just that. In his eight-year tenure with the Lakers he led the team in scoring his first six years and led again in rebounds seven seasons. With O’Neal and a young Kobe Bryant, the Lakers achieved greatness, appearing in the Finals four times but only winning three NBA titles in a row (2000, 2001, and 2002). O’Neal received the NBA Most Valuable Player award in 2000 and was named Finals MVP in each of their title wins. Their success would come to an unfortunate end as tension between O’Neal and Bryant resulted in O’Neal requesting a trade to the Miami Heat, forcing the team into a small rebuild. Regardless of how he left, O’Neal accomplished a lot here and helped bring L.A. three consecutive titles.

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3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Considered to be the greatest player of all time by legends such as Isiah Thomas, Julius Erving and former coach Pat Riley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar performed at an elite level with the Lakers. Sitting at the top as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, he is also the leader in total minutes played in a career with 57,446 minutes. Known for his “skyhook,” Abdul-Jabbar was a terrific scorer averaging 22.1 points in his 14-year stint with the Lakers. An excellent rebounder and shot blocker, Abdul-Jabbar was also a terrific defender which led to him being named to the NBA’s First Defensive Team seven times. He also helped run the fast break with Magic Johnson, creating the famous “Showtime” in the 80’s. Unlike most big men, Abdul-Jabbar was above average at free throws, shooting at 73.7%. During his time in Los Angeles, Abdul-Jabbar helped the Lakers to eight Finals appearances, winning five championships. He was also awarded three regular season MVPs and one Finals MVP. Abdul-Jabbar also holds the franchise record for most blocked shots with 2,694 as well as defensive rebounds and offensive rebounds with 7,785 and 2,494 respectively. After he retired in 1989, Kareem returned to the Lakers again as a special assistant coach to Phil Jackson from 2006-2011, winning two more NBA titles. You can see why Abdul-Jabbar is considered to be the greatest ever to play. As the NBA’s leading scorer with 38,387, it’s hard to imagine anyone breaking that record any time soon.


2. Kobe Bryant: Upon entering the league right out of high school, Kobe Bryant took a few seasons to get into the groove and make an impact in the NBA. It wasn’t until Phil Jackson took over as coach that Bryant would excel through Jackson’s triangle offense system and develop into one of the league’s deadliest shooters. A prolific scorer, Bryant is currently the NBA’s fourth all-time leading scorer with 33,643 points. He is also considered to be one of the greatest players of all time and arguably the best player of this generation. In 2006, Bryant scored a career high 81 points in a home game against the Toronto Raptors. His 81 points is only second all-time to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. He is also the Lakers all-time leading scorer and holds the franchise records for most games played, seasons played, minutes played and steals. In addition to being a scorer, Bryant was also a great defender resulting in being named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team 12 times, nine times on the first team and three times on the second team. Despite his differences with teammate Shaquille O’Neal, he and O’Neal led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles (2000, 2001, and 2002). After O’Neal was traded, Bryant became the cornerstone of the Lakers franchise. Bryant continued to dominate, leading the league in scoring twice and winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2008. He then led the team to two more NBA titles in the process and was named Finals MVP both times. Bryant wore two numbers in his 20-year career with the Lakers, 8 and 24 both of which are retired by the team. Before he retired in 2016, he put on a show at Staples Center when he scored an NBA season high at the time 60 points in his final game. Kobe Bryant made an everlasting impact on the game and has inspired millions with his dedication and perseverance to the game of basketball.

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1. Magic Johnson: And now, the greatest Laker of all time, Earvin “Magic” Johnson. There shouldn’t be much surprise as to why Magic is number one on the list. When the first overall selection in 1979 came into the NBA, he made a huge impact the moment he stepped on the court. With an all-time great in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a teammate, Magic and Abdul-Jabbar did wonders as the Lakers accumulated a 60-22 record on-route to their first championship since 1972. Magic averaged 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 9.4 assists per game and was the recipient of the Finals MVP, making him the first rookie to ever win the award. His regular season performance of 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game resulted in an NBA All Rookie Team selection. This would only be the start of even greater things to come for Magic. Known as a playmaker/setup guy and for his flashy no look passes, Magic holds several assist records for the NBA which include the following: highest career assists per game average- 11.2, highest career assists per game in playoffs- 12.4, most assists in playoffs- 2,346 and he’s also the only player to have at least 2,000 assists. He also holds every assist record for the Lakers and leads the franchise in triple doubles with 138, Elgin Baylor is second with 24. In the 80’s Magic helped create “Showtime” along with Abdul-Jabbar, which was a run and gun style of play consisting of high scoring games. The style relied on Abdul-Jabbar’s quick rebounding and outlet passing, Magic’s fancy passes and scoring from players like Byron Scott, James Worthy, Michael Cooper, or even back to Abdul-Jabbar that helped drive the team’s success. During the “Showtime” era, Magic won four more NBA titles with the team (1982, 1985, 1987, 1988) and was the recipient of two more Finals MVPs (1982 and 1987). Magic also won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award three times (1987, 1989, 1990) and led the league in assists four times. Magic played in L.A. for 12 seasons before he was diagnosed with HIV and was forced to retire. He made a comeback in the 1995-1996 season, playing only 32 games but averaged 14.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game. The Lakers made the playoffs but lost in the first round to the Houston Rockets. Afterwards, Magic permanently retired. Considering how much Magic was able to do in only 12 and a half seasons, there is no doubt why Magic is ranked number one. He is the greatest point guard of all time. No debate.


Elone Safaryan can be reached at [email protected]