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Kobe Bryant will join the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when the Lakers retire his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys on Monday. This barstool debate will likely go on forever, but who do you think is the greatest Laker of all time?
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David Aldridge: Not trying to split hairs, but are we talking guys who played for the Lakers at any point in their careers, or someone who was a Laker Lifer? If the former, I'd have to take Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is on my NBA Mount Rushmore. But he did play his first six seasons in Milwaukee, during which time he was Rookie of the Year, Finals MVP and won three of his six league MVP awards, before playing his last 14 years in L.A. If the latter, I have to take Magic Johnson over Jerry West. The ledger: five NBA titles -- the first as a rookie, which included Magic's seminal 42-point/15-rebound/seven-assist effort in the deciding Game 6 of the 1980 Finals in Philly, playing center for an injured Kareem. Three Finals MVP awards. Three league MVP awards. The best nickname ever.
Steve Aschburner: Bully for Kobe Bryant, though the retiring of two jersey numbers for one guy is silly, excessive and so coddling as to seem fit for a millennial. Pick one, c’mon! Especially since the greatest Laker of all time remains Earvin (Magic) Johnson. I’m not counting rings or toting stats for a visceral, subjective verdict such as this. I’m simply of a certain age that got to see Magic in all his glory on the court. And feel and hear the added buzz, home or away, when he and his Showtime pals were in the building. Chamberlain happens to be my favorite Laker of all time, and I can come up with hard criteria why most of them fall short -- not any (Baylor) or enough (West) rings, splitting time with other franchises (Wilt, Kareem). But it’s really not about that in my view. It’s about the way Magic revived Abdul-Jabbar’s career, it’s about the way he and Larry Bird revived the NBA and most of all, it’s about the smile that invited everybody in.
Shaun Powell: A quick "no" to Wilt and Kareem; both spent part of their careers elsewhere, although admittedly Kareem had massive seasons with the Lakers. But these "who's greater" arguments must be conducted in context. I never saw Elgin play, or West, and that's punishment for being born too late. Therefore, the vote is Magic over Kobe, partly because of what Magic did for the league. But there's no wrong answer here, is there?
John Schuhmann: In regard to being the best player on championship teams, transforming the culture, being a leader, and making the players around him better, it's Magic Johnson. But Jerry West makes a strong case when you consider his work as the team's general manager and the architect of championship teams beyond his years as a player.
Sekou Smith: I've always been partial to Magic Johnson. And there is nothing that Kobe or anyone else has done to change my mind. As far as impact, accomplishments, transcendent greatness and lasting legacy in Los Angeles and beyond, I'd think it would be hard to argue for anyone above Magic. Granted, I realize your opinion rests largely on what generation you are a part of and how you weight the titles won, and in what era, for each player. But without Magic's arrival and the "Showtime" Lakers era, the history of the franchise is so dramatically different that Kobe and anyone else who came after Magic would not have had a standard to chase. West, Wilt and Kareem all worked wonders in purple and gold, but no one had the impact in that Lakers uniform that Magic did. And I don't care how many times Magic claims that Kobe is the greatest Laker of them all!