With the Vegas Summer League officially over, it was time for Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen to give NBA fans something to talk about during the dry period. They’re two of the top-50 greatest players ever, so when they speak, we listen.
Shaq caught my attention with his role as GM in this conversation. It’s interesting that he pretty much penciled himself in as the starting power forward. He’s obviously fully aware that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the greatest Lakers center of all time, and that’s not up for discussion.
So what would the all-time Lakers starting five look like?
Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Elgin Baylor, O’Neal and Abdul-Jabbar take the floor for the Lakers in front of a sold out crowd in the Staples Center. This exercise is designed to be intriguing and appealing. Those are arguably the five greatest players in the franchise’s history with each player being special and exhibiting a uniqueness that makes them admirable.
The glamor and prestige associated with the Los Angeles Lakers makes it a tough place to play in. You have to be an individual devoid of any fears playing in the spotlight. If you’re not built for that life, it’ll eat you alive.
Johnson is now beloved as one of the greatest point guards to ever play the sport. Couple that with how he defied the odds of being plagued with HIV and you’re looking at a legend with a smile that glistens in the streets of downtown Los Angeles. But even with five championship rings in nine finals appearances, he was no stranger to the boo birds that came with the territory of inauspicious playoff performances.
In the 1984 Finals against the Boston Celtics, the highly touted matchup of Magic and Larry Bird brought fans to the edge of their seats. The 6’8” point guard earned the name “Tragic Johnson” because of his failures in the waning moments of games 2, 4 and 7.
He’s also credited with getting head coach Paul Westhead fired prior to Pat Riley coming on board. But none of these two aspersions cast on him will ever be enough to dilute what he did as a player.
After winning at the high school and collegiate level, Johnson was drafted with the first overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft and that spelled great things for Laker Nation, as they went on to win the title with Johnson being named the Finals MVP. When Abdul-Jabbar went down with a sprained ankle in Game 6 of that series, Johnson played center and erupted for 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists. This was one of the greatest performances in NBA Finals history.
When you think of the “Showtime Lakers,” you think of Magic Johnson. He ended his career with averages of 19.5 points, 11.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds.
The Lakers’ all-time leading scorer is Kobe Bryant with 32, 482 points. Had it not been for three consecutive season-ending injuries that number would be much higher. With five rings under his belt, Bryant has had a profound impact on an organization as you can ever have. Whether it’s getting people in the seats at the Staples Center or constantly bailing out teammates with tough shots as time is expiring, he’s enjoyed his time atop the throne in LA.
For his career, he’s averaged 25.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists. His killer instinct and natural-born scoring ability is what makes him Hall of Famer. Most people tend to forget just how gifted he was on defense to the tune of 12 All-NBA Defensive Team accolades. Scoring 82 points in a game might make you forget about his defense.
Now that the backcourt has been solidified, we move to the small forward position, where Elgin Baylor holds his rightful place. Like Magic, Baylor was the first overall pick.
Injuries forced him into an untimely retirement, which saw him miss two great achievements in Lakers history. Subsequent to him calling it quits, the Lakers went on to win a record 33 games in a row before hanging a championship banner at the season’s conclusion.
But luck aside, Baylor had an incredible career that began with him hoisting the Rookie of the Year trophy. He made the All-NBA First Team 10 times and won the All Star Game MVP in 1959.
Baylor ended his career as the Lakers all-time leader in points per game (27.4) and rebounds per game (13.5).
Shaquille O’Neal was the Lakers center during his run that saw him win three straight titles. His ferocity on the offensive end often angered opposing players, but worked to his advantage because his unparalleled physicality made him unstoppable.
He wasn’t a gifted free throw shooter, but as he would tell you, the “hack-a-Shaq” strategy simply doesn’t work. His ineptitude at the charity stripe didn’t seem to stymie the Lakers during any of their title runs.
Shaq is tied for second in Lakers history with Jerry West in points per game (27.0) and No. 2 in field goal percentage (57.5). Although he wasn’t really known as a defensive stopper, he’s second in total blocks.
It’s always interesting to wonder how many rings Shaq and Kobe could’ve won had they been able to get along. As far as duos go, these two are up there with anybody. They were flawed, but inexorable to say the least.
Kareem is arguably the greatest center of all-time. He’s the all-time leader scorer in NBA history. He leads the Lakers in blocks, offensive and defensive rebounds, and defensive win shares. He’s also third in field goal percentage.
With career numbers of 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t just exceptionally talented, but like everyone else mentioned, he had an extremely high basketball IQ. And I’d of course be remissed if I didn’t mention that he’s responsible for the most unguardable shot in the history of the league–the hook shot.
Though he didn’t necessarily display accuracy at the line, Shaq was dead on with picking his teammates. Whether it was Magic Johnson’s flashy passes, Kobe Bryant’s impeccable shot making, Elgin Baylor’s hanging jumpshots, Shaquille O’Neal’s posterizing abilities or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook, they all had trademarks attached to them.