Kobe Bryant will one day be accepting his place in basketball immortality in Springfield. He’ll definitely be considered one of the game’s greats when it’s all said and done. He may even be considered the greatest Laker in the organization’s storied franchise.
But not quite yet.
Despite a surefire Hall of Fame career and the countless comparisons to Michael Jordan, Bryant still has some work to do if he wants to be considered the greatest Laker ever, because that honor still belongs to Magic Johnson.
The Lakers’ franchise history is one littered with superstars, but it is Johnson who helped the Lakers establish dominance — side-by-side with the Celtics — as one of the game’s most dominant forces in the 1980s.
When comparing Johnson and Bryant, that’s a key thing to remember. While Bryant and Johnson both have five rings to their name, you have to consider the eras the two played in. For Johnson, the Celtics and Larry Bird were seemingly always there waiting. Meanwhile, Bryant has seen turnover in the West and throughout the league, with the Celtics just recently getting back to the top for something of a rivalry.
Furthermore, Johnson is just a better all-around basketball player than Bryant ever was or ever will be. Look no further than the 1980 NBA Finals. Magic, known for most of his career as a point guard, played the majority of the deciding Game 6 at the center position. All he did was score 42 points and grab 15 rebounds. It was a performance for the ages, and it just begun to lay the foundation for Johnson’s legend.
Also, Johnson made everyone around him better. While Jerry West did the same, arguably no player in NBA history got more of his teammates than Magic did. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he often played in lineups that featured multiple future Hall of Famers, but when it comes down to it, Johnson is arguably the best facilitator the game has ever seen.
Jerry West embodies the Lakers organization (and the NBA — literally), but probably more for his contributions after his playing days than anything else. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a terrific talent and a winner, but was no doubt aided by the play of Johnson. And Kobe Bryant may one day be the greatest Laker of all time, but he’s just not there yet.
That throne still belongs to Magic.
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