As we head into the next Los Angeles Lakers season, and a new era in Lakers basketball, the staff here at Lakers Nation has decided to take a look back and rank the 10 greatest Lakers of all-time.
The staff put together a list of the most significant figures in franchise history based on accolades, achievements and statistics. While there were many deserving candidates, the group was ultimately narrowed down to 10.
The rankings were determined by solely focusing on each individual’s accomplishments with the Lakers. Without further ado, here’s selection no. 1.
Seasons with Lakers: 20
Statistics: 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 44.7 field goal percentage
Accolades: 5x NBA Champion (2000-02, 2009, 2010), NBA Regular Season MVP (2008), NBA Finals MVP (2009, 2010), 18x NBA All-Star (1998, 2000-2016), 4x All-Star Game MVP (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011), 11x All-NBA First Team (2002-04, 2006-13), 2x All-NBA Second Team (2000, 2001), 2x All-NBA Third Team (1999, 2005), 2x Scoring Champion (2006, 2007), 9x First Team All-Defense (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006-11), 3x Second Team All-Defense (2001, 2002, 2012)
Kobe Bryant probably wouldn’t agree with this list. Even with as much respect as he had and has for Dr. Jerry Buss, how could Kobe agree he was No. 2 in anything?
That mindset was what drove Kobe to be the second-greatest Laker in history, behind only the man who was there for all of the franchises’ greatest successes.
Whether it was Jalen Rose intentionally injuring him in the NBA Finals and Kobe giving him 81 a few years later or crushing the Boston Celtics in a heartbreaking seven-game series two years after they forced him to ruminate alone in the shower on a Finals loss, Bryant never let any slight go unpunished, any loss go unavenged.
Fittingly, it was ultimately Father Time and Mother Nature who had to beat Kobe 2-on-1 when they essentially ended his career with a torn Achilles, but he still fought them tooth and nail on the way out. First he tried to re-attach his tendon before somehow walking over to shoot his free throws anyway. Then again by dropping 60 points in his farewell to basketball at age thirty-freaking-seven.
Bryant’s career accolades — the five championships, the 18 All-Star Games, 12 All-Defensive teams, a regular season MVP and two Finals ones — and stats — 25 points per game en route to the third-most points in NBA history — don’t really matter. They’ll get him into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, but they always came off as window dressing to Bryant.
Sure, he spoke about years where he didn’t win a championship as a waste, talked about the #MambaMentality being about winning titles and nothing else, but that wasn’t the core of who Bryant appeared to be.
Bryant was the anti-hero everyone loves to root for, the Frank Underwood/Heisenberg of the NBA. Bryant wasn’t chasing titles, not really. Bryant was chasing every opportunity to step on your throat and watch the life leave your eyes while reminding you how you had wronged him with a smile.
But it wasn’t just his killer instinct, it was the way he did it. Watching Bryant play basketball was to watch technical perfection. The footwork, the up-and-unders he’d clearly practiced literally millions of times alone, in a gym, while his opponents were still asleep.
Sure he wasn’t always the most-willing passer, nor the most efficient player on the floor. It didn’t matter, because he was going to win, and he was going to embarrass and outwill his opponents to do it.
There was a cover on Sports Illustrated a few years ago proclaiming Bryant “The Last of the Alpha Dogs,” but that’s not really true. There are still strong-willed players who want to do things their way or the highway in the league (see Westbrook, Russell), but Bryant was the last of something.
He was the last of the players inspired by and able to put on a convincing mimic of Michael Jordan, because the players who play like that today aren’t trying to be like Mike, they’re trying to be like Kobe. And honestly, none of them probably ever will, and that’s why Bryant is the second-greatest Laker of all-time.
At least until this list inspires him to make a comeback and cement his name at the top.
Previous: No. 3 Magic Johnson