Only for a franchise as storied as the Lakers can the NBA’s All-time leading scorer not be the franchise’s best player. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, former Lew Alcindor, comes in at number three on the list of our top 10 Lakers, in a true display of how great the Lakers have been historically. The Captain has played the 2nd most games, grabbed the 3rd most rebounds, scored the most points, 3rd in blocks, and 10th in all-time FG% in NBA history – a resume that can’t be matched. Oh, did I forget to mention Kareem was a 6-time league MVP? Kareem also managed to pull off the amazing feat of winning Finals MVP awards 14 years apart. In terms of longevity, you needn’t look further than Kareem, who played for an astounding 20 seasons. And Kareem was certainly a winner, managing to capture 5 titles during his tenure with the Lakers.
On defense, Kareem was just as deadly as he was on offense. His 11 selections to an all-defensive team are a testament to his ability to anchor a defense. Had the Defensive Player of the Year award existed during Kareem’s prime, its likely he would have a few of those to pile on top of his other accomplishments. Kareem was also an All-Star an astounding 19 times, a current NBA record.
The reason Kareem isn’t higher up on this list is twofold; first, the Lakers have so many worthy candidates and second, Kareem was at a distinct disadvantage versus the top two by virtue of having played from 1969-75 with the Milwaukee Bucks. There has also been a stigma around Kareem that he wasn’t as fan-friendly as some of the other Lakers greats. Put it this way, if Kareem had played every season with the Lakers would you keep him out of the top spot? Statistically, very few players in NBA history can touch the accomplishments that Kareem put together, but one valid knock on Kareem was that he was never the face of the Lakers franchise.
The Lakers traded for Kareem prior to the 1975-76 season, giving up Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Junior Bridgeman, and Dave Meyers in exchange for the then 3-time league MVP. Although Kareem’s first season with the Lakers resulted in great personal success, notching his 4th MVP season, the Lakers failed to make the playoffs. The next few seasons saw the Lakers make the playoffs, but never really put together a real run. Enter Magic Johnson. The Lakers drafted the 6’9″ point guard from Michigan State and the pairing of Magic and Kareem turned into one of the most formidable of all-time. The tandem made it to 8 NBA Finals, winning 5 titles along the way. Considering the Kobe-Shaq pairing only made it to four NBA Finals, it is hard to argue against the Johnson-Abdul-Jabbar pairing as the top in Lakers history.
Kareem seems to have always been under-appreciated during his career despite all of his outstanding accomplishments. Here is a quote from Kareem regarding the possibility of getting a statue outside of Staples Center:
“I don’t understand (it). It’s either an oversight or they’re taking me for granted. I’m not going to try to read people’s minds, but it doesn’t make me happy. It’s definitely a slight. I feel slighted.”“I am highly offended by the total lack of acknowledgement of my contribution to Laker success. I guess being the lynchpin for five world championships is not considered significant enough in terms of being part of Laker history.”
It was unfortunate that the little spat had to be made public, and for some, myself included, it left a bad taste in my mouth regarding Kareem. He knew he would eventually get a statue, which he has since been given, but he wanted it when he wanted it. Kareem’s accomplishments may have been overshadowed by Magic, and with players such as Shaq, Pau Gasol, and Kobe coming through it is easy to forget how good The Captain actually was. If Kareem had spent his entire career with the Bucks, he would be idolized and put above almost all others. Instead he came to LA and had to battle for attention amidst the plethora of other stars. At the end of the day, Kareem is the 3rd best player in Lakers history. This shouldn’t be viewed as a slight – rather it should be seen as a great honor. After all, where would the Lakers be without The Captain?