While the Los Angeles Lakers have seen several NBA icons take the floor for them during their rich franchise history, two that tend to stand out above others are Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson. Bryant spent all 20 years of his career with the Lakers, and Johnson each of his 13 seasons.
Despite their contrasting styles of play, the two legends accomplished plenty during their respective careers. They evenly combined for 10 NBA championships and both have their respective jerseys retired by the Lakers — and in Bryant’s case, both numbers.
Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal, another franchise pillar, have often referred to Bryant as the greatest Laker of all-time.
But during his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Bryant explained why Johnson deserves to hold that title:
“Well, I’ll never disagree with my elders… No, I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I grew up watching Magic and I’ve learned so much from him. I can’t sit here and be like, ‘No, I’m the greatest Laker ever.’ To me, he is. To keep it real with you, I stole so much from him that my game wouldn’t be complete without him.”
Beyond Bryant being arguably one of the game’s best one-on-one players, whereas Johnson excelled at distributing the ball and keeping teammates involved, the debate over which player is better is all the more intriguing when taking into account leadership style.
Johnson was renowned for his charismatic and warming personality, which remained the case after his retirement. Meanwhile, Bryant drew constant criticism for his no-nonsense approach that at times ruffled teammates’ feathers.
Though, it should be noted some former teammates, including current Lakers head coach Luke Walton, saw an evolution and maturation in Bryant’s leadership.
While the debate may never be settled, at minimum Bryant and Johnson can agree on being the two best Lakers of all-time.
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