What is the Lakers' ultimate roster? Here is our pick for the 12-man all-time team, with an emphasis on a player's performance in a Lakers uniform (sorry, Karl Malone) and with some flexibility in finding room for four dominant centers. With apologies to Byron Scott, Jim Pollard, Jamaal Wilkes and A.C. Green, among others, here is The Greatest Laker team.
He played one of the greatest games in NBA Finals history in 1980 when he moved to center in place of an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And that's when he was a rookie. Over the next 11 seasons, before the first of his two retirements, nobody played the position better. And, perhaps, nobody every will.
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Jerry West | Starting guard
Here's how good Mr. Clutch was: He pushes Kobe Bryant over to another position on my team. Zeke from Cabin Creek played in that era when guards were just guards, and he and backcourt mate Gail Goodrich both shot and passed without thinking about who was doing what. On this team, with Magic throwing him the ball, West's scoring would increase exponentially.
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar | Starting center
Nobody did it better for longer. What's "it?" Scoring, rebounding, defending and passing, all of which A-J was doing until he was 42 years old. His consistency is what earns him the start over the other great Lakers centers.
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Elgin Baylor | Starting forward
Maybe the most unappreciated player in NBA history. He was a combination of Julius Erving and Michael Jordan who played years before they came along. One of the saddest facts in NBA history is that this athletic marvel, who averaged 27.4 points over 14 seasons, never got a ring.
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Kobe Bryant | Starting forward
OK, we moved him to the frontcourt. Big deal. He posts up as well as an interior player anyway, and, when necessary, will find his three-point shot. Plus, Bryant's size and athleticism enables him to guard the position without a problem. And this year, Bryant will try for his fifth championship in L.A.
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Wilt Chamberlain | Reserve center
Possibly the most physically dominant athlete in history, Chamberlain learned how to be a role player midway through his career when he suddenly started becoming one of the league leaders in assists. No, he wouldn't be happy coming off the bench on this team, but he'd play like hell to prove that he should be starting over Abdul-Jabbar.
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Shaquille O'Neal | Reserve center
For the three consecutive seasons at the beginning of the 21st century when the Lakers won championships, the Big Aristotle played the pivot position as well as it could be played. And he provided a few laughs along the way, something we never got from Kareem or Wilt.
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George Mikan | Reserve center
Yes, it's a little hard to imagine that the hulking, bespectacled Minneapolis Lakers stalwart could compete in today's game. But Mikan was a highly skilled and highly motivated individual who was recognized as the game's first great player.
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Gail Goodrich | Reserve guard
Sometimes overshadowed by West, his backcourt mate, this UCLA product was a rarity -- a small man (6-1) whose primary skill set was getting himself open and shooting. He was so clever at doing that, he didn't have to become a classic passing point guard.
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James Worthy | Reserve forward
The word "finisher" could've been invented for this 6-9 North Carolina product who, when he received Magic's fast-break passes, always seemed able to put them away via dunk or by twisting away from a defender. But he was also a fine perimeter shooter, a reliable defender and the Finals MVP in 1988.
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Vern Mikkelson | Reserve forward
Admit it -- you don't know much about him. But, behind Mikan, this 6-7, 230-pound forward was the second greatest player in Minneapolis Lakers history, retiring just before the franchise moved west. Mikkelson, who averaged a point-rebound double-double four times, helped set a standard for Lakers excellence as a member of championship teams in 1950, '52, '53 and '54.
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Michael Cooper | Reserve guard
Shouts of COOOOOP! used to ring down from the rafters at the Forum. On Lakers teams known for the fun-fun-fun wizardry of Magic and the icy efficiency of Abdul-Jabbar and Worthy, Cooper provided the grit. He really wasn't a "Bird-stopper" -- nobody was -- but it was fun watching him match up on the Celtics' star, for Cooper backed down for no man. And he was a reliable three-point shooter, too.
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Pat Riley and Phil Jackson | Coaches
Copout? Sorry. Can't make a call. They're both good good. Riley would handle the rough stuff and Jackson would apply the Zen-like balm. An unbeatable team.
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