As we head into the next Los Angeles Lakers season, and a new era in Lakers basketball, the staff here at Lakers Nation has decided to take a look back and rank the 20 greatest Lakers of all-time.
The staff put together a list of the most significant figures in franchise history based on accolades, achievements and statistics. While there were many deserving candidates, the group was ultimately narrowed down to 20.
The rankings were determined by solely focusing on each individual’s accomplishments with the Lakers. Without further ado, here’s selection no. 13.
Seasons with Lakers: 5
Statistics: 17.7 PPG, 19.2 RPG, 4.3 APG, 60.5 FG%
Accolades: 13-time All-Star, two-time NBA Champion, seven-time scoring champion, four-time MVP, 1971-72 Finals MVP
If Wilt Chamberlain had played his whole career with the Los Angeles Lakers, he’d be ranked a lot higher than the 11th-best player in franchise history. This is a man who once scored 100 points in a single game, a player who AVERAGED over 34 points per game for the first seven years of his career.
Still, Chamberlain’s time in Los Angeles was more than enough to earn the retired jersey that hangs in the Staples Center rafters. After the Philadelphia 76ers traded Chamberlain to Los Angeles in exchange for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff, the man known as “The Big Dipper” averaged 17.7 points and 19.2 rebounds while shooting 60.5 percent from the field during his five seasons as a Laker, absurd numbers that potentially most absurdly still pale in comparison to his bonkers career averages.
But while the version of Chamberlain the Lakers got wasn’t as good as he once was, he was plenty good enough to serve as the most overqualified second or third option in NBA history.
Despite his prodigious production, however, it still took Chamberlain three years in Los Angeles before the team was finally able to break through and beat the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals. During that season, Chamberlain averaged 14.8 points per game and 19.2 rebounds at age 35 before playing one final season that ended with the Knicks getting their revenge in the Finals.
Chamberlain’s value to the Lakers’ franchise and why he ranks so highly on this list goes beyond just his numbers with the team, though. He helped Jerry West get his one-and-only title as a player, allowing Mr. Clutch to retire a champion as a player before going on to be arguably the most successful executive in the history of professional sports.
Wilt the Stilt was also probably the first player to really bring Hollywood-style cool to the Lakers, whether it be when he dabbled in movies or just his larger-than-life persona and braggadocious claims. Imagine if LaVar Ball was as good at basketball as he claimed he was, seven feet tall and unleashed in a pre-TMZ Los Angeles and you have something resembling Chamberlain, who was one of the first athletes to realize the value boasting could have for a player’s brand.
Possibly craziest about Chamberlain’s career arc is that he might actually rank higher in NBA history than he does in Lakers’ history, a rarity for any player to wear purple and gold because of how the Lakers have either drafted or acquired most of their franchise-centerpiece superstars very young.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the only Lakers player whose career arc really mirrors Chamberlains at all, but he was still four years younger than Chamberlain and a far better player when he arrived in Los Angeles. The first player to truly mirror Chamberlain might be LeBron James, should he choose to come to the Lakers next summer.
Still, despite his strange path to Hollywood and a tenure with the Lakers that likely left one or two titles on the table, it’s impossible to argue Chamberlain isn’t one of the most talented players to ever suit up in Los Angeles, and it’s why he’s the 11th-best Laker on our countdown.
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