The Los Angeles Lakers have done an amazing job at building a brand rich of tradition, legacy and history. Whether you are or are not a Laker fan, you can agree that the narrative the Lakers have created from its establishment with George Mikan’s Lakers in Minneapolis in 1947 to the Showtime Lakers at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood to Kobe’s Lakers at the Staples Center in downtown LA, has made an incredible imprint on the game of basketball.
With the recent news that went public that one of the most instrumental Lakers and one of the best players in basketball history, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, will have his legacy honored with a statue outside of Staples, I was reminded of the organization’s rich history of big men throughout the years. The acquisition of Dwight Howard this off-season is yet another brilliant move by Lakers management to ensure that this legacy, tradition, and narrative continue to live on in the Laker brand.
There has been much talk around the Dwight Howard trade in regards to the expectations of where Howard will end up among the all-time Laker big fellas. The big men have always been so critical to not only winning championships, but to establishing tremendous success in the organization that has led to the reputation and resume that make the Lakers, well the Lakers. Let’s take a brief look at these legendary Laker centers that Dwight will aim to join the company of.
The late Mikan was the first “big man” for the Lakers, then located in Minnesota, and in professional basketball in general. Mikan would become known as the most dominate player in the National Basketball League (NBL) during his career spanning from 1946-56. Mikan’s dominance was so strong that the league had to change the rules of the game, including widening the lane from six to twelve feet (“The Mikan Rule”) and introducing the three second violation.
George “Mr. Basketball” Mikan retired from the Lakers in 1956 with 11,764 points scored, which was then the all-time record, and averages of 22.6 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 520 NBL, BAA, and NBA games. Mikan lead the Minneapolis Lakers to five championships, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1959 (its inaugural year) and is regarded as the league’s first superstar and the original center. Here’s a look at his highlights over his career.
- 5× BAA and NBA champion (1949- 1950, 1952-1954)
- 2× NBL champion (1947-1948)
- NBL Rookie of the Year Award (1946)
- NBL Most Valuable Player (1948)
- 2× NBL season scoring leader (1947-48)
- 3× NBA season scoring leader (1949-51)
- NBA All-Star MVP (1953)
- 4× NBA All-Star(1951-1954)
- 6× All BAA/NBA First Team (1949–1954)
- Greatest Player of the First Half-Century (1950)
After playing for the Harlem Globetrotters and Philadelphia, the late Wilt Chamberlain was acquired by the Lakers in 1969, forming the first Lakers “Big Three” with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Chamberlain is considered the most dominant player of his era and his rivalry with the Celtics’ Bill Russell is considered one of the best in NBA history, even competing with the Magic/Bird rivalry. Like Mikan, the league had to change rules due to his dominance, including adding offensive goaltending and making it illegal to cross the plane of the free-throw line when shooting a free-throw.
Chamberlain ended his career as a Laker in 1973, posting the following career numbers: 31,419 points, 23,924 rebounds and 4,643 assists. That means Chamberlain averaged 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. Of course, Chamberlain holds the record for most points in a game, which is very likely to never be matched, when he scored 100 points against the New York Knichs in 1962. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978 and had his number retired by the Lakers in 1983. Here’s some of Chamberlain’s accolades over his career.
- 2× NBA champion (1967, 1972)
- NBA Finals MVP (1972)
- 4× NBA Most Valuable Player (1960, 1966–1968)
- 13× NBA All-Star (1960–1969, 1971–1973)
- NBA All-Star Game MVP (1960)
- 7× All-NBA First Team (1960–1962, 1964, 1965–1968)
- 3× All-NBA Second Team (1963, 1966, 1972)
- 2× NBA All-Defensive First Team (1972–1973)
- 7× NBA scoring champion (1960–1966)
- 11× NBA rebounding champion (1960–1963, 1966–1969, 1971–1973)
- NBA Rookie of the Year (1960)
- #13 Retired by Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers
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