Kobe Bryant is the most talented and greatest Laker of all-time.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the greatest team player in Lakers history and arguably in all of sports, but Bryant holds sole ownership of being the greatest player in the prestigious history of the Lakers franchise.
Jerry West, who is on the Mount Rushmore of the NBA and Lakers history, made his thought public in an article in USA Today:
“What he (Bryant) has accomplished with this team, I don’t think there’s any question in my mind at this point in time – because of him being with this team for his whole career – that he has been the greatest Laker player.”
West was the Lakers G.M. that thought highly enough of Bryant coming out of high school that he traded then Center Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for the rights to Bryant, who was selected 13th overall in the first round. West’s next move was signing then free-agent Shaquille O’Neal as the centerpiece for that current Lakers squad that a couple years later ended up winning three NBA championships in a row cementing West’s basketball I.Q. in the top five in basketball history.
If “The Logo” says it, it has to be true, right? West got to see Johnson and Bryant.
“Magic” Johnson without a shadow of doubt will always be the quintessential team player always looking to make the guy next to him better and look great doing it. Johnson, indeed, was magical out on the hardwood. But, Johnson and even Bryant’s “frienemy” O’Neal have gone on the record reiterating that Bryant is the greatest Laker of all-time.
Critics of Bryant will point out his selfish shooting, ballhandling, and “me first” attitude as a detriment to his teams, but those critics have to remember some of the names that played alongside Bryant were Mark Madsen, Kwame Brown, Brian Cook, Javaris Crittenton, Slava Medvedenko, Sasa Vujacic, and Ronny Turiaf. There is a reason why Bryant averaged 35.4 points per game in 2006 and there’s a reason why he only had two assists and 81 points on the night of January 22nd, 2006. Johnson couldn’t have made these players look great.
Johnson was a fascinating player that could play all five positions on the floor and averaged double figure assists nearly every season. Johnson was a (.520) shooter for his career, but labeling Johnson as a “shooter” is being way too kind. Johnson was a driver, a low-post player, and occasional shooter. In addition, Johnson had his critics much like Bryant. Johnson was called a “coach-killer and choke artist” specifically right after the 1984 NBA Finals where he cost the Lakers three games single-handedly.
Neither of the two were boys scouts off the court either. Bryant with the sexual assault case in Colorado that was eventually dropped and Johnson contracting the HIV virus back in the early 1990’s. So, there is no case for giving the title of “Greatest Laker of All-Time” to the more straight-laced individual.
Bryant’s resume includes: seven NBA finals appearances, five NBA championships, two finals MVP’s, three gold medals, one regular season MVP, 14x All-Star, three All-Star game MVP’s, 2x NBA scoring champion, 14x All-NBA (ten 1st), 12x NBA All Defensive Team (nine 1st), 81 points in a single game (second all-time), 30K points, 5K assists, & 6K rebounds
Johnson’s resume includes: nine NBA finals appearances, five NBA championships, three finals MVP’s, one gold medal, three regular season MVP’s, 12x All-Star, two All-Star game MVP’s, 10x All-NBA (nine 1st), 4x NBA assists leader, 130 Regular Season Triple-Doubles, 30 Playoff Triple-Doubles, 17K points, 10K assists, & 6K rebounds
Bryant is obviously the greater scorer and Johnson is clearly the better all-around player. If Bryant wanted to be more of an unselfish team player he could have quiet possibly morphed himself into that. However, Johnson could not have morphed himself into the offensive scoring juggernaut that Bryant was and still is.
MPG FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST STL TOV PTS
KB24 36.5 .454 .338 .838 5.3 4.7 1.5 3.0 25.5
EMJ32 36.7 .520 .303 .848 7.2 11.2 1.9 3.9 19.5
If Bryant isn’t the greatest Laker as of right now he very well might be once he retires because of the ungodly numbers he will have accumulated. If Bryant can lead the Lakers to one more championship (his sixth) one more than Johnson, then he (Bryant) no question should be dubbed the greatest Laker. However, until that happens critics and fans may still debate and argue over who deserves the title of “Greatest Laker of All-Time.”