Commentary

Magic tops in Laker lore

Updated: December 24, 2009, 2:59 AM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPN Los Angeles

This season marks the 50th anniversary of the Lakers' move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles before the start of the 1960-61 campaign. The Lakers are even wearing a nifty little patch on their jerseys this season to commemorate it. (I can't blame you if you haven't noticed it, however, what with Kobe Bryant's broken-fingered game winners and Ron Artest's blogging about Hennessy.)

We figured what better way to celebrate the anniversary (and bring some love to the patch from a wider audience than Paul Lukas' Uni Watch) than to rank the top 50 Lakers over the course of those years?

Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Andrew D. Bernstein./ NBAE/ Getty Images Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were no-brainers on a list of Lakers great in L.A., but others weren't so easily decided.

Easier said than done.

If you read the subject of this article, it says the top 50 Los Angeles Lakers of all time, not the top 50 Lakers. So all the guys whose Lakers' service came solely in Minneapolis are ineligible. You might think this would make the selection process easier because it lops off 12 seasons' worth of data from the total pool to consider -- data pertaining to guys who played in the late 1940s and all of the '50s, while this writer was born in 1982 -- but it really wasn't much of an aid when considering that it eliminated no-brainer, can't-miss Lakers greats and opened up spots to plug in players whose credentials were more nuanced.

George Mikan and Vern Mikkelsen are both widely considered to be in the top-10 territory for all-time Lakers greats. Clyde Lovellette, Jim Pollard and Slater Martin all probably fit somewhere in the top 25. Whitey Skoog's and Dick Schnittker's statistics probably warrant a spot in the top 50, and really, if you're going to take the time to compile a list that's 50 players long, it's pretty hard not to find room for amazingly awesome names like Whitey Skoog and Dick Schnittker.

The first thing I did was figure out what I would be looking for in the ideal candidate. For instance, what made Magic Johnson such a perfect Laker?

Johnson played 13 seasons in the NBA, all of them in Los Angeles. Any time a player spends 10 years or more in one city with one fan base, he will be memorable just because he's given so many chances to do something to leave his mark on the franchise's history. And if a player spends his whole career in the same city with the same team, there's no identity crisis when you think about who that player was. Magic always was and always will be a Laker. So the first thing I wrote next to every name I considered was the number of seasons they played in Los Angeles.

Next I looked at Magic's collection of work. What stood out? What was most important? The five rings, of course. The Lakers have won a staggering 15 championships, second-most in NBA history, and 10 of those have come in L.A. You could almost justifiably take the starting lineups from those 10 teams to fill up the 50 spots and call it a day. So the second criterion was chips.

Then I lifted the most shining, shimmering, splendid accomplishments remaining on Magic's résumé -- the three NBA Finals MVPs, three league MVPs and the incredible career assist total of 10,141 -- and put them next to his name as well.

Ron Harper
Matt A. Brown/Icon SMIWhere, oh where, to put someone like Ron Harper on a list of Lakers greats?

And the list began to form.

Putting so much emphasis on championships really dictated everything. Was Cedric Ceballos being named an All-Star and averaging 20.9 points to lead a mediocre Lakers team to the playoffs more or less impressive than Ron Harper averaging 6.8 points per game and winning two championships as a starter in his two seasons with the team?

Another question arose regarding what to do about guys who had a tremendous impact on the franchise as coaches or in the front office but made only marginal contributions in their playing days. Ultimately, only one from among the likes of Pat Riley, Brian Shaw, Mitch Kupchak and Kurt Rambis ended up making the list of top 50 players. I went to Syracuse, and I remember when Jim Boeheim didn't make the university's official all-century team as a player, outraging a lot of people because they thought he deserved an honorary spot, but really things get complicated when you do stuff like that. So I had to do to Riles, Mitchie and B-Shaw what they -- and everyone who makes roster decisions -- said is the worst part of the job: cut them.

The most fun part of creating the top 50 was actually creating a bonus list that I affectionately titled "Greats who played with the Lakers (but weren't necessarily great with the Lakers)." Turns out, the Lakers have had more than their fair share of Hall of Fame-caliber players who had a stint with the team. The players that stood out to me were (in alphabetical order): Adrian Dantley, Connie Hawkins, Spencer Haywood, Maurice Lucas, Karl Malone, Bob McAdoo, Gary Payton, Mitch Richmond and Dennis Rodman. Maybe it was just the Southern California weather that got all those guys to come here.

And that's the great thing about doing a list like this. It refreshes all the details. You know James Worthy was a great player, but you forget just how great a game he had (36 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists) in Game 7 of the 1988 Finals. The name Happy Hairston rings a bell, but you don't realize just how awesome a team player he was. You've heard about Jerry West's perpetually miserable outlook, but you're reminded that it was shaped in part by eight -- eight -- series losses in the Finals.

So after all the debating, shuffling, cross-referencing and Basketball-Reference.com visiting, here are the 50 greatest Los Angeles Lakers of all time. How would you rank them?

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com