Magic Johnson and James Worthy will always be remembered for being apart of the Showtime Lakers. Jerry West and Elgin Baylor will be apart of the heartbreak teams that always made it to the Finals, yet couldn’t overcome the big bad Celtics. Kobe Bryant will go down as arguably the greatest, and most popular, Laker of all-time once his career is said and done.
But it’s simply because these guys were apart of title-winning teams that fans hold them higher up. It’s not because they were some of the best players of their generations. Fans look at these guys in a different light because they are Lakers through and through, never leaving the franchise, never playing elsewhere.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played as important of a role in the Showtime Lakers as Worthy or Magic, yet he isn’t as begotten as those two. The Lakers don’t win a title in the early 70s without Wilt Chamberlain, yet he’s an after-thought to West and Baylor. Bryant has transcended a generation, bridging the gap between Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol, winning titles with both big men.
Current fans maintain a special connection with Bryant. We’ve witnessed him grow from an immature teenager into a a seasoned, savvy veteran. Magic went from the overly energetic youngster to clutch champion in one season. But his energetic personality made him the beloved child of Los Angeles. Even after his retirement, Magic is considered “one of us” to the city of LA.
For West and Baylor, Lakers fans suffered with them. Years and years of emotional losses to the Celtics in the Finals were finally revenged when they won the title in 1972 over the Knicks. Fans were relived and ecstatic to celebrate with West to get his title. And although Baylor retired at the beginning of the season, he was still given a ring for his involvement.
This isn’t to say the Lakers don’t love their other stars. Shaq played for six teams in his career, yet his jersey was retired this past season. Wilt Chamberlain five years in LA, but his jersey hangs in the rafters. Even Gasol has spent just five and a half years in the purple and gold, but he has a case for his name hanging alongside the greats as well.
But none of these players have the same kind of connection with the fans that Magic, Kobe, and company still maintain to this day. Unfortunately for the Lakers, no current player outside of Kobe nor is there anyone who potentially might. With the Lakers focused more on buying players than developing them in recent years, those type of connections may become a distant thought in the forthcoming future.
But you can guarantee that no matter who the current roster consists of, West, Baylor, Magic, Worthy, and Kobe will always be considered one of the guys.