Los Angeles Lakers: 50 Greatest Players in Lakers History (Updated 2023)

(Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images) /
49 of 50
Los Angeles Lakers
Magic Johnson (Photo by: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) /

Greatest Lakers of all time: 2- Magic Johnson

  • 13 seasons, 906 games, 5 titles, 9 NBA Finals
  • 19.5 PPG
  • 11.2 APG
  • 7.2 RPG

Many fans may have forgotten or are unaware that when the Lakers had the top pick of the 1979 draft, selecting Earvin Johnson was not a sure thing. In fact, at the time many argued that shooting guard Sidney Moncrief would be a better fit alongside Norm Nixon in the LA backcourt.

Moncrief went on to have a distinguished 11-year NBA career, making 5 straight all-star teams while playing with Milwaukee. But Lakers owner Jerry Buss recognized that Magic Johnson’s flamboyant style and Hollywood smile was indeed the perfect fit for the Lakers. Selecting him launched the legendary Showtime era, starting with teammates Nixon, Abdul-Jabbar, Wilkes and

Cooper, and later adding Worthy and Scott.

The primary knocks against Magic going into that draft was that at 6-9, he was too tall to play point guard in the NBA and that he couldn’t shoot. But he knew how to protect the ball against smaller, quicker defenders, & used his height to pass over them. And he improved as a shooter as much as any player ever has once he turned pro.

During his first 5 seasons, his free throw percentage ranged from 76-81%, good but not great. But he then shot 84% or better his final 8 years, including a league-leading 91.1% in 1988-89.

And in his first 9 seasons, Magic was a poor 3-point shooter who attempted very few shots beyond the arc. But he became respectable, increasing his attempts per game as his average rose over 30%, including 38% or better in 2 of his last 3 seasons.

It was his passing, however, that helped make Johnson such a special player. There may have never been a better player in the NBA to lead a fast break. Whether by conventional passes or the crowd-pleasing no-look variety, he consistently put the ball in the hands of his wings at the exact moment when they were in great position to convert lay-ups and dunks.

Magic led the league in assists per game 4 times, and averaged double-figure assists in 9 seasons. His career average of 11.1 is tops in history and his total assists ranks 5th all-time in the NBA. He knew instinctively how to get the best out of every teammate and always made them look good.

Behind his beaming smile lay a burning, tough as nails competitiveness. His coach Pat Riley recognized that quality and accordingly gave Johnson the nickname Buck.

Whatever name he was known by, he made the all-star team 11 times in his first 12 seasons, missing out only his second year when he was injured. Three times he was named the league MVP winner. But above all else, Johnson was the quintessential leader on the basketball court who did whatever it took to help the Lakers win.

Although he was more about team success than individual, Magic compiled outstanding statistics. For his Lakers career, including his one comeback season at age 36 following 4 missed years after testing HIV-positive, Earvin of course ranks first on the team in assists. But he’s also 5th in total points, 7th in PPG and 6th in games played.  He hit over 50% of his field goal attempts 9 times and converted 52% in his career.

In the postseason, Johnson ranks 1st in assists (12.3), 4th in total points and 8th in PPG (19.5). He was also the Finals MVP 3 times, in 1980, ’82 and ’87.

But Magic’s impact on the Lakers and on the NBA extends beyond those impressive numbers. His Laker teams made the Finals 9 times in 12 years. No team in the modern era, since the Celtics of the late 1950’s and 1960’s, has experienced that level of success.

Those Showtime Lakers won 5 championships. If not for untimely postseason injuries, the Lakers could have added another one or two titles. His 1986-87 team won 65 regular season games and went 15-3 in the playoffs, culminating in a championship over the Celtics and Magic’s rival Larry Bird, and is regarded as one of the best teams the NBA has ever seen.

The only possible weakness to Magic’s game was his defense. He was just an ordinary man-to-man defender, not someone who could check a star opponent one-on-one. But he was an outstanding team defender, playing the “free safety” role to near perfection.

Magic is universally acclaimed as the greatest point guard in NBA history. A good argument could be made that he should rank as the best Laker ever. In these ratings he falls just a hair short, mostly due to the longer sustained excellence of the single player ranked above him.