When 1280 The Zone's Big Show posted a Facebook poll about who the greatest Laker was, I couldn't help but want to answer. Starting with Jerry West, there have been six players wearing the purple and gold of Los Angeles who are imprinted on the history of basketball in an astounding and permanent way. And because each of these players have been blessed with incredible natural talent in an individual way, it's difficult (if not impossible) to definitively declare the all-time best.
But, being basketball fans, the easiest way to start this kind of discussion is to look at stats. And so I give you:
AMATEUR NUMBERS IN A PILE SOME RUDIMENTARY STATISTICS.
Some of the numbers here bear explanation. Jerry West shows a pretty miserable chance of landing the Lakeshow in a division championship, but that's because the makeup of the NBA has changed since West's inaugural season of 1960-1961. These changes are also reflected in West's average wins per season. But the Western Conference (formerly Western Division) and NBA Championship numbers are accurate. The only other minor points to note are (1) I didn't include Magic Johnson's 1996 "season;" (2) the current season isn't included in Kobe's stats, but two lockout seasons are; and (3) the 1999 lockout is also reflected in Shaq's statistics.
Surprisingly, you don't see a different player leading in each category:
- Wests numbers are a little wonky as the league was developing. 3rd in ppg, 5th in game availability, last in average Laker wins, last in division champion probability, 3rd in conference champion probability, and waaay dead last in championships per year.
- Chamberlain: 1st in ppg, 4th in game availability, 1st in wins, 2nd in division probability, 1st in conference probability, and 5th in champ odds.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 4th in ppg, 1st in game availability, 3rd in division probability, 4th in conference probability, and 3rd in championship probability.
- Magic: 6th in ppg, 2nd in games, 2nd in wins, 1st in division probability, 2nd in conference probability, and 1st in championship probability.
- Kobe: 2nd in ppg, 3rd in games, 5th in wins, 4th in division probability, 6th in odds to win the West, and 4th in championship probability.
- Shaq: 5th in ppg, 6th in game availability, 3rd in wins, 5th in division odds, 5th in conference odds, and 2nd in championship odds.
If we look at the average rank, Jerry West (with the shakiest of mathematical underpinnings) is dead last at 4.833, which I don't feel that bad about since he only won a single championship. The fifth-greatest Laker is Shaquille O'Neal with a 4.333. At 4.000, fourth goes to the Black Mamba. Third place is Kareem with a 3.167.
There's a tie for first and second, with both Wilt Chamberlain and Earvin averaging 2.333. But these numbers include career-average point-per-game numbers, which doesn't favor a point guard like Magic. Drop ppg from the metric, and Wilt averages 2.600 while Johnson drops to 1.600 (Kobe and Shaq switch 4 and 5 spots).
So you see, using some probably-not-good-enough-for-seventh-grade statistical analysis, Magic Johnson remains the greatest Laker to ever play the game. Sorry, Kobe.
Actually, I'm not sorry. SUCK IT, MAMBA.