Originally Published on September 22, 2009, by Daniel Burge (Edited by Ian Chin)
No franchise in the history of the NBA has suited up more dominant big men as the Los Angeles Lakers. This embarrassment of riches at the center position spans decades and includes four Hall of Fame players and three of the top players all-time to ever play the position.
Here are the top five as they appeared in 2009 with an update for 2020.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Lakers centers is that the number one ranked player has scored more points than any other player in NBA history, yet it is still debatable whether he belongs on the top of this list. However, while it may be argued, there are very few members of Lakers Nation that will complain about this placement. Abdul-Jabbar played for the Lakers from 1975 until 1989 during, which he won five NBA championships, 3 NBA Most Valuable Player awards, and the NBA Finals MVP award in 1985. Abdul-Jabbar had the unstoppable skyhook, which led to 38,387 career points, more than any other player to ever step on the floor.
2. George Mikan
Mikan is commonly credited with changing the game of basketball. When he began his professional career in 1946 big men were not known for their power, rebounding, and shot-blocking. Mikan, however, rapidly changed that as he developed skills that would benefit him due to his size and strength over the rest of the league. Mikan won four NBA championships with the Minneapolis Lakers and was one of the NBA’s Top 50 Greatest Players list. His legacy still is relevant today, as many rules had to be changed or adjusted due to Mikan’s dominance down low. Mikan established the center position as we all know it today, and is truly one of the most remarkable players in Lakers, and league history.
Now I understand that many of you may still feel slightly bitter towards O’Neal due to the circumstances surrounding his departure from the Lakers in 2004, but there is no question he belongs on this list. One of the most dominant big men in the history of the league, O’Neal was truly an unstoppable force. Arguably the most physically imposing center in history, O’Neal led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles from 2000 until 2002, taking home the Finals MVP in all three seasons. O’Neal also won the NBA MVP award in 2000. Opponents’ strategy to containing O’Neal was to foul him endlessly, as western conference contenders would stockpile big men purely for their ability to bring six fouls to the game.
The Big Dipper played for Los Angeles from 1968 until 1973 after being acquired in one of the biggest trades in league history. Chamberlain joined a Lakers team that already featured Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, and was a member of the 1971 team that won an NBA record 33 consecutive games. Chamberlain’s list of records is incredibly impressive, as there is almost no scoring record that Wilt doesn’t hold. The most dominant center of his era, Chamberlain is largely considered by many to be one of the top five centers in league history.
5A. Vlade Divac (2009)
The Lakers have had remarkable centers throughout their storied existence, and while Divac may not be destined for the Hall of Fame. but he certainly played well for the Lakers in an era where they did not dominate. Divac played for Los Angeles from 1989 until 1996 and was a key member of the team that reached the NBA Finals in 1991. Divac was one of the most influential European players to ever play in the NBA and was a valuable contributor for the Lakers until his departure in 1996 when he was traded to the Charlotte Hornets for the draft rights to Kobe Bryant.
5B. Andrew Bynum (2020)
Andrew Bynum was 21 and about to begin his fourth season with the Lakers when we first published this list. He’d play three more seasons for the Lakers and while he’s not in the same class as the top four on this list, it’s easy to argue he was as good or better than Vlade Divac. ~ Ian Chin (Publisher)