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The 50 greatest Lakers of all time: I take a crack at it

This morning, our own Dave McMenamin revealed his list of the 50 Greatest Lakers of All Time. More specifically, the 50 Greatest Los Angeles Lakers of All Time. His #1? Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Hard to argue. Beyond the obvious statistical achievements and five championship rings, he holds a place in the city's consciousness that goes well beyond his contributions to the team. I'm willing to bet that for most Lakers fans, when it's time to play the word association game, after "Lakers" comes "Magic."

The rest of McMenamin's Top 10 (in order, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, James Worthy, Gail Goodrich, Byron Scott) seems pretty reasonable, even if some guys could be slotted in different spots. Of course, I'm not here simply to pass along the list, but to put something together myself. Because it's more interesting, and opens me up to public ridicule (call it my gift to you this holiday season). A few notes on my list, before I break out that bad boy:

  • I totally missed the memo about limiting it to Lakers of LA. It makes sense, what with the 50 years celebration and all, but when I got the note from my editor ("Be thinking about a list of the 50 greatest Lakers") I didn't make the connection. My hope is management comes to find this lack of intuition endearing at some point, like a they might an eager-but-dim Labrador puppy. Second, like your average university, I give serious weight to tenure, and it comes at the expense of championships. If a player wins a ring in two seasons, I don't necessarily think that makes him a "better Laker" than a guy who contributed for six or seven years at a solid level but without a title.

  • To me, ranking players within a franchise isn't quite the same as ranking guys by their career as a whole. Some of what makes a player "greatest" to a local market is the connection that's created, often aided by time, even if it oustrips skill level. Kurt Rambis is a great example. In seven seasons wearing purple and gold, Rambis never averaged more than 7.5 points or 7.0 rebounds a night. But earlier in the month when I was walking through Nordstrom to do a little holiday shopping, I saw his face on a designer t-shirt. It cost, like, sixty bucks if memory serves. Magic may have movie theaters, Friday's, and a bunch of Starbucks, but I've never seen his face on a designer t-shirt. That should count for something. (By the way, less expensive Rambis t-shirt homages are available.)

  • At all times it should be understood I'm a 34-year old former Midwesterner. "The Package" didn't exist when I was younger. Cable, if I remember correctly, was mostly HBO running "Victory" over and over again. There are holes in my Lakers knowledge, despite efforts to brush up on the team's history during my time covering them (one great place to start is here). I think my top choices are in a pretty good order, but as it goes along, I fully cop to a little bit of Basketball Reference-aided dart tossing. While the goal is to create some fairly vigorous debate, if in the comments below you take me to task for saying _____________ should be 42 instead of 47, I'll probably just agree with you. So be nice.

And without further ado... Brian Kamenetzky's Top 50 Lakers (Minny, LA, or Tims) of All Time:

1) Magic Johnson

2) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

3) Kobe Bryant

4) Jerry West

5) Elgin Baylor

6) Shaquille O’Neal

7) James Worthy

8) George Mikan

9) Gail Goodrich

10) Wilt Chamberlain

11) Michael Cooper

12) Byron Scott

13) Jamaal Wilkes

14) Derek Fisher

15) AC Green

16) Norm Nixon

17) Vern Mikkelsen

18) Vlade Divac

19) Clyde Lovellette

20) Lamar Odom

21) Kurt Rambis

22) Rudy LaRusso

23) Happy Hairston

24) Pau Gasol*

25) Robert Horry

26) Eddie Jones

27) Jim Pollard

28) Mychal Thompson

29) Rick Fox

30) Elden Campbell

31) Bob McAdoo

32) Sedale Threatt**

33) Slater Martin

34) Jim McMillian

35) Nick Van Exel

36) Cazzie Russell

37) Elmore Smith

38) Ced Ceballos

39) Darrell Imhoff

40) Mel Counts

41) Frank Selvy

42) Luke Walton

43) Mike McGee

44) Anthony Peeler

45) Hot Rod Hundley

46) Glen Rice

46) Dick Garmaker

47) Whitey Skoog***

48) Stanislav Medvedenko****

49) Jim Krebs

50) Dick Schnittker*****

*In another two seasons, he could be Top 10.

**Easily the best Lakers player to come out of the West Virginia Institute of Technology.

***Because he was a pretty good player, and I once saw Whitey Skoog open for REO Speedwagon and they rocked.

****For his contributions to YouTube and jokes my brother and I love to make. Plus, two championship rings.

*****Because I'm too immature to say it without giggling.

More notes:

  • Kobe could certainly end up at the top of this list by the time it's all over, but right now, he's not quite at the level of Kareem in terms of monster stats+titles, and it could be tough for him to eclipse Magic in overall Lakerness. I'm not sure it's possible, but if anyone can, it's Kobe.

  • Shaq falls behind Baylor and West because of the tenure thing. Same basic principle with Wilt. He very well could be one of the three or four greatest players of all time, but didn't spend enough of it in LA to rise above the others.

  • Pau is a great example of a guy who just needs a little more time to become one of the team's true greats. It's already easy to forget he hasn't finished two full seasons as a Laker.

Finally, some fun lists (via the Basketball Reference Player Register, a colossally phenomenal way to kill time) :

Top Five Great Lakers Names of All Time, in no particular order and omitting the aforementioned Skoog and Schnittker--

1) Sedale Threatt

2) Slick Leonard

3) Howie Jolliff (say it five times fast)

4) Mike Smrek

5) Corky Calhoun

6) Jack Tingle

7) Soumalia Samake

8) Cotton Nash

9) Zelmo Beatty

10) Didier Ilunga-Mbenga

And my favorite, Top Lakers Shooter of All Time When Statistical Minimums are Removed From the Equation:

Normie Glick. Never missed a shot (1-1, 1.000 FG% with the Lakers). For that matter, 1-1 for his career.

One game, 1949-1950 season. Make your shot, walk away. I respect that.