Lakers Now

Round-the-Clock Purple and Gold

« Previous Post | Lakers Now Home | Next Post »

The Logo, The Mamba, (The) Magic, and cross-generational comparisons

Earlier this morning, reader "jimjoyce" posted an interesting question, asking if fans today would take Kobe over Jerry West or Magic Johnson over Kobe Bryant to start a team.  (I assuming he meant each player in his prime. If you made the choice right now, it's pretty easy.  No disrespect to West, but the man was born in 1938.)  Obviously I've seen a ton of Kobe, and lots of Magic as well.  But like a lot of people, I never had a chance to see Jerry West play in any Jerry_west_2 meaningful way, live or on television. There are a few great higlight packages of The Logo on YouTube, from TV bios (here and here, for example) or classic playoff clips (here, here), but clearly that's not enough to make an informed judgment. 

It did, though, make me think about something that always comes up in this type of debate (as it would this morning), specifically questions of athletic ability.  Invariably, the player from the older generation is docked for not having enough relative to the modern player.  But as my mom might say, "Here's the thing...":  Aren't seemingly all pros more athletic today, across sports?  Better, stronger, faster? (After all, we have the technology.)  Does it stand to reason that if Mr. Clutch, listed at 6'2" 175 on his Basketball Reference page, rose up through today's sports scene that he'd be 15 pounds heavier, or at least that much stronger, and quicker on his feet? 

All that, plus the textbook form on the J?  I still think Kobe would have the edge athletically (because he has it over virtually everyone on the planet), but isn't that sort of thing worth considering?  Or that his skill set would be more in line with the type of game that players enter the league with today (largely because of the influence of guys like West and Magic that came before?) Anyone else have suggestions on how to compare players who competed 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years apart from each other?  The inherent unanswerability of cross-generational comparisons means I don't take them all that seriously, but it's the same quality that also makes them fun.  We'd be doing the world a public service to find a formula, right?


Comments () | Archives (69)

The comments to this entry are closed.



Another great day in another great season to be a Lakers fan. Whispers that Drew might really make it back by late March or early April, Pau Gasol winning his 2nd NBA Western Conference Player of the Week award in a row, Lamar Odom playing out of his mind, and the Lakers on pace to post the best record and win home court advantage in the playoffs. Wait, did I mention we also have Kobe Bryant, the best player on the planet in his prime? No wonder we don’t hear from Butler and RLC anymore. They’ve already given up.

What this portends for the rest of the NBA is another Lakers dynasty with a team that is younger and potentially more talented than any previous Lakers championship squad. You can already hear the groans in Boston and Cleveland as broadcasts one good stroke of fortune after another for the now favorite Lakers. It was bad enough that Andrew Bynum suddenly became the Bigger and Better Beast that the Lakers had hoped for but now the Lakers opponents have to deal with the fact that both Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom have also broken out with beastly performances. They gotta be wondering what’s next.

Which is why news that Andrew may be back sooner rather than later has to completely dishearten and discourage Celtics and Cavaliers fans, who now know exactly how the rest of the Western Conference feels as they compete to avoid the Lakers until the conference finals and all but concede that the Lakers are the best team in the NBA even without budding superstar center and future franchise player Andrew Bynum. With Bynum, the Lakers sometimes shaky defense suddenly gets much better and the odds rapidly swing to the Lakers perhaps sweeping the playoffs or at least challenging the 16-1 postseason record of the 2000 Shaq and Kobe Championship Lakers.

What the Lakers need to do is bottle the full court magic that we have going with Pau and Lamar to go with the dominating half court power that Drew can bring and make that our focus as far as first and second units go. I could see Pau and Lamar leading the second unit with Jordan, Sasha, and Trevor as a great second unit. I like the idea of tightening up the rotation to 8 guys for the last month of the season and the playoffs when Drew returns. The Lakers will truly be unstoppable if Andrew can get back to his pre-injury form in time for the playoffs. It seems like a pipe dream considering last year but who knows?

Maybe you can split the starting job by having Luke open the game as small forward and then have Lamar start the second half with the Triple Towers. The key to me is Drew and Kobe should be the focus of the starting lineup, as the stats show was the case for the entire month of January before Drew was injured. Then maybe 8 minutes in, you bring in Lamar and bench three to play with Pau and give Drew and Kobe a quick breather. In the end, you need to have 32 or more minutes from Kobe, Drew, Pau, and Lamar for this team to win. And somehow, you have to somehow find a way to keep Lamar as a starter.

Finally, as much as I love Kobe Bryant, I don’t know how any general manager or owner could pass up Magic Johnson if we were talking about starting a franchise with each guy in his rookie year. With college, Magic was a superstar the day he set foot in the NBA while Kobe had to go through the first few years in a struggle. Of course, Magic walked into a much better situation than Kobe did at first. And he had Kareem, who was a much better and more mature center than Shaq ever became. That’s why he is the G.O.A.T.



I don't know whether the Lakers can finish a better record than the Celtics, the Celtics have 2 games against the Cav, 2 against the Magics and 1 against the Spurs left,while the Lakers have 13 games against above .500 teams left.

Player rankings... my favorite topic. Cross-generational comparisons are extremely tricky, because, the advances in today's training techniques and nutrition, plus the benefit of looking back on legends, may make the average player today much better than that of the past.

I mean, if you were to put Kwame Brown into a time machine back to the 1960s, he'd be bigger and stronger than most of the centers. He'd be mentioned in the same breath as Wilt and Russell, plus Thurmond and Reed.

At the same time, if you were to put the 1940s George Mikan into a time machine into today's game as he was, he wouldn't last long in the NBA.

So the fair thing to do is, what if "a" George Mikan or "a" Jerry West were to emerge in this era, benefiting from training, nutrition, improved coaching, etc? It's the mindset, basically, that has defined these legends, so they'll likely dominate today's game like they did in their era.

All in all, I'd take "a" Magic above "a" Jerry West or Kobe. Imagine Magic getting better training on his shooting and defensive skills. He'll probably be 6-10 (instead of 6-9), weighing 250-260 pounds. Likely more chiseled than he was in his heyday. Think a slightly bigger Lebron only with less hops but better perimeter shooting, plus advanced leadership skills and drive.

Jerry West was my hero from about 1968 to 1974 or so. Magic wasn't so overwhelmingly good at anything, he just had a knack for making the great play at the right time, which was also West's claim to fame. Kobe is much more the ultra studied technician. all are winners. my head would hurt making the decision.

yes BK, Jerry West(whereas Magic and Kobe's names are shortened, Jerry West is almost always called by his full name) would have been bigger, stronger, faster and just as effective as always if he played today.

The only sensible way to make that comparison is to look at how each player fared in relation to their peers.

Well, not to date my crickety knees, but I did watch Jerry West in his prime. In fact, I was on the same basketball floor (my high school gymnasium) with Mr. Clutch. He and other Lakers had recently arrived the previous year in SoCal and were giving local high school palyers demonstrations in pick/roll technique and other fundamentals.

West demonstrated his signature pull-up jumper from dozens of spots on the floor (all over 20' from the rim). He swished every one of them!

And that is where West was better than Kobe. Shooting the ball.

I would also note that back in the 60's placing your hand on the side of the ball was called a "carry" and whistled (a turnover). Much of what is called dribbling today was considered a "carry" or travelling back then.

The game and the players have changed.


You know that commercial that says....both?

Usually that annoys me, but it makes sense here.

It's all good baby! We're Laker fans, we've been gifted enough to have all, both, all lol.

Magic, period.

The best player ever.

The man is the greatest PG ever (at 6-9, no less), could play all five positions, won 5 rings, multiple MVP and Finals MVP titles...

Yes, I like Magic better than Jordan, and yes, I'm biased when it comes to Mr. 32. The guy is one of my favorite people in sports, second only to the GOAT Muhammad Ali.


"I mean, if you were to put Kwame Brown into a time machine back to the 1960s, he'd be bigger and stronger than most of the centers. He'd be mentioned in the same breath as Wilt and Russell, plus Thurmond and Reed."

LOL! Are you referring to Kwame's weight or talents? Kwame Brown compared to Wilt and Russell, it doesn't fit at all even if they belonged to different generations. It's like comparing a 7th grade hoopster to Bill Russell. Besides, no center can be compared to Kwame, he's just one of a kind.

That Al Green song made me fall in love with Jerry West, MR CLUTCH, MR NBA LOGO. What he has done for this organization is amazing.


I don't have a formula for cross-generational comparisons, but I will make a choice.

Forgive me 'Zeek from Cabin Creek', 'Mr. Clutch' (who I wanted to be when I was 7.)

But no question I would choose Magic. Not necessarily the purest shooter or even the most athletic but he just blew the doors off the NBA when he arrived. Great skills and great team leader.

Man...if I could have ALL THREE guys on the same team. *Dies*

Here's a good interview Mike Trudell had with Pau (wanted to add it because of him winning his 2nd POW):


I'm referring to Kwame himself. I'm not saying that he's comparable to Wilt or Russell (sacrilege!). What I was saying was, if someone were to kidnap Kwame and time-transport him to the 60s, he'd be a top-10 center in that era because his advantages in physique (especially the calves), relative quickness, and training would allow him to compete better in that era than the present. Of course, those stone hands that cause him to drop passes will likely get him beaten up in the locker room after games by his teammates...

I think a relevant question is how dominant were they in their own time periods.

By point count, I guess West wins.

But then we have the AK / BK problem. Magic's greatness wasn't Magic's greatness. It was his ability to make other players better. He elevated the team. I do not know how much West did, because I don't have the evidence.

Did Kobe elevate his team as much as Magic? No. Well, maybe, but largely by drawing double teams. Magic's assists made his triple double count off the charts. What were West's assists?

And I nearly agree with EDOD GREAT, comparisons are very hard.


The game and the players have changed. - Gman

I definitely agree with Gman. FG% I believe West is better than Kobe. Showmanship-wise, I think Kobe is a combination of West-Baylor. West doesn't do acrobatic shots in the post mostly jump shots while Baylor was gifted on his hanging jump shots. and passes like Magic just a fun to watch.

You should also consider the building blocks that Mikan, Russell, Cousy, Chamberlain, West, Baylor did for what we call the NBA today. They have to sell the sport to America, entertained them with those fancy dribbling, shooting accuracy and court efficiency. Had they been bricking or kept on running in different directions like our young players today without accomplishing any kind of shots, the audience would junk this sport. The competition of NBA or ABA as a whole at that time is against the Harlem Globetrotters, it is designed to woo the public to the popular international sport.

Therefore, to downgrade the status of the founders and hall of famers to our players today like James, Kobe and Wade is just far fetched and unfair.

I read NBA history, and i had a lot of respect for Magic, a rookie playing in NBA Finals, same thing for Sam Casell who was a rookie and hit big shots after big shots for Houston Rocketts in NBA Finals. Kobe played very good to help Shaq to win first NBA Finals against Pacers, but Magic had to play against good championship experience Celtics. I have watched NBA classic games between Lakers and Celtics, Celtics had good guards, Johnson and Daniel Ainge, they made outside shot better than Lakers. Same thing,Daniel built the Celtics with Pierce and Ray Allen.

the don,

Choose another Center like Shaq or Dwight but not Kwame please! Kwame could not even reach the double digit production with the Centers of today, what more with Russel and Wilt. I could just imagine Kwame being blocked 10 times in one game with Bill Russell.

I think it's only fair to judge a given player against his peers. When it all comes down to it, you'll never be able to compare a player to a player. It can't be done. All you can do it say, "how did this player rate against other players of his day?" I think that's pretty much how they handle these things when it comes to the MLB Hall of Fame.

So, looking at Kobe versus Magic versus West, you've got to look at things like All Star game appearances, how did the players perform in the playoffs, and what were their overall career numbers in comparison with those they played against. Of course, there are intangibles with each one, as well.

West holds the All-Star game appearances edge narrowly over Kobe. Magic holds more titles than Kobe or West, and I'm pretty sure West's career numbers are better than either Magic or Kobe.

Intangibles? Well, I'm always fond of Magic's 42-15-7 Game 6 of the Finals versus Philly his rookie year, when he started in place of an injured KAJ. Of course, Mr. Clutch was the only player ever voted Finals MVP from the losing side of the ball. Kobe scored 81 points in a meaningful game that his team won.

Bottom line, I think you could make the argument for any of these three players over the other two. It's exactly like the SAT essay section: one choice isn't right or wrong, it has more to do with how you defend your position.

As is often the case, I'm the odd man out, here. Proving any of this proves nothing, since it can't be proven. The best reason to be a Lakers fan is the amazing succession of great teams and great players in a single franchise.

Los Angeles should construct a Lakers Hall of Fame Museum in the vicinity of Staples Center to honor all of the greats who've worn Purple & Gold. These giants of the game deserve more than just to having their jerseys hanging around the rim of Staples. A multi-media palace with game films featuring player audio narration looped throughout, autographed items, statues, personal momentoes and biographical material would be a fitting tribute to our Lakers icons.

There's no competition among these legends. In my mind, fans would be wise to take their heroes' cue and simply celebrate the rich tradition that brings us together.

Personally, I wouldn't compare the three - all great players, totally different games. I remember West on the b&w Zenith. as a kid.. I went to my first Lakers games at the Forum a few years after he retired. I was a fan of West, was a fan of Magic... HUGE fan of Magic.

Kobe's as different from West and Magic as they are from each other. He's even more different in how he's judged - it seems to me that he's gone through his whole career with an asterick... it's always been a case of "yeah, he's good but is he has good as...?" Insert Michael, Magic, Lebron, whoever.

To be honest, I think it's a load of crap. The guy does things that I've never seen anybody do before, insert any name you want. Magic said essentially the same thing in an interview. I'm not going to quantify his game as being better than these guys... West had the shot, Magic had the magic. I will say this - I'd take a fired-up Kobe in the 4th quarter over anybody save Michael and that would have to be a toss-up. At the peak of their game, all else being equal, no time limit? That would be one for the ages... it would be last man standing.

Its hard to compare a guy who could go for a quiet 30 any night, with a guy that could average a triple double and tried to excite people, with an assassin.

Why try to make a comparison? For the record I'ld start a teacm with Magic who tried very hard to make the entire team better. The few games I saw of Jerry, he was a good defender but primarily a shooter kindof like Kobe before this year.

One thing is fo sure, how blessed ar Laker fans to get to watch these all-stars on a regular basis!!

Rick F.

For the sake of fantasizing which is very common in the video games nowadays, perhaps they could feed all the talents into a computer program and play ball. They did this in boxing in the late sixties fitting Muhammad Ali vs. Rocky Marciano, well the latter won. I have not seen Marciano except on those Classic fights but I grew up with Ali.

I don't want to go to the Showtime era, I will be biased observer. One thing I have observed I don't criticize Magic, Kareem or Scott efforts if they lost a game. We just believe then with what the team could do and couldn't accomplish. Today, if they lose to a sub 500 team, I cringed in despair with all salaries they're getting, either they're intentionally tanking or just playing lazy trying to turn it on their game at the last minute.

You guys are forgetting what the other part of Jim Joyce's post was that he felt Kobe was a little boy even at 30 and Magic and Jerry west were men at a younger age!!

I dont know from where he got that notion from!! I mean Jerry West did lose 8 out of the 9 finals he participated in. he won only 1 ring even though he was obsessed with winning!! he always doubted himself even though every1 knew he was a great player..

Magic played a huge part in getting his coach fired and this is something i read today that he sat out an entire MONTH for a dislocated finger during the 83-84 season, thats the same injury Kobe had couple of weeks back and he missed 0 minutes! and he did play on a team for most of his career which was way better than any of the teams Kobe has ever had!!

And even the old-timers in the blog has to accept that Kobe mentally has a edge over jerry west and Magic.. I mean just think what all Kobe has had to overcome during his career!! yet he still remains the best player in the game today!!


Jerry West was before my time so I can't comment on him, but there must be a very good reason why he's the Logo.

As far as Kobe v. Magic goes, I can't say at this point because the story has yet to be finished. In my book, it'll simply come down to the number of rings each players finishes his career with. If Kobe wins 3 more, he's the greatest Laker ever.

laker guru-

Not forgetting, just ignoring. That wasn't the part of the comment I found interesting. Just the three-generations comparison.


Its really simple.......Magic ......And thats it......Like THI mentioned ...(6,9)...Point guard...Are you kidding me?..Could play every spot on the floor..The guy was a walking tripple double...Yes he played with great players but he created an era before the Jordan era......Show Time.....People can say there will never be another Jordan and thats fair...but there will never be another Magic .....EVER.....FULL STOP......

Mr Edwin,

I hear you. I just used Kwame as an example of how a not-so-good center today would be a star in the past if he took the DeLorean for a spin. If it's Shaq or Dwight that time-traveled, we'll be talking GOAT here.

KBlitz had a couple of good criteria (skills, accomplishment), but for overall "greatness", I would expand this to include:
- Overall contribution to team success and degree of team success
- Degree of domination of his position in his area
- Skill set
- Accomplishments (includes championships and stats, but you know what they say about damned lies and stats)
- Intangibles
- Legacy

My head just explodes thinking about all this. I've been lurking in this blog since its inception, but this is the one topic that geeked me enough to post.

For what it's worth, based on the above criteria, I have the following rankings:
1. Jordan
2. Chamberlain
3. Russell
4. Abdul-Jabbar
5. Magic
6. Bird
7. Shaq
8. Duncan
9. Kobe
10. Oscar
11. West
12. Erving

So, yeah, I'd still take Magic over Kobe or The Logo.

Magic. With apologies to Cap, West, Wilt, Baylor, Worthy, Kobe and Miken*, Magic is the greatest Laker of them all. He's the unarguable All-Time NBA 1st Team PG. Greatest Laker leader, player and winner.

At age 20, West was in college, Kobe was losing in the 1st round, while Magic had the stones to sit in Cap's empty seat and then back it up with 42 and 15 ... on the road ... in a Finals closeout game.

I love Kobe and West (and I saw him play), however this choice really isn't close.

* Shaq's omission intentional.

I just read the interview with Derek Fisher. That guy is a pro. Speaking of charges Fisher has mastered drawing them and he is probably the all time greatest in that category. It wouldnt suprise me if he was the all time leader in charges drawn. A unique skill and nobody sells it like Fish.

Another close one. I look forward to every game and sometimes like this game, its disappointing but in the end all that matters is the dub. They are obviously still learning, those things take at least a full season. This is the growing stages of a potential dynasty.

BK: I think you miss the point as well. My intent was not to try to argue which of the three is more talented (as I said in my original post, I think their talents are comparable), but rather to focus on the differences mentally, which is where I think Kobe falls far short. (I'm not talking about "toughness," playing through pain. I'm talking about having a laser focus on doing what is necessary to help your team win the game.)

Think of all the times we chastise Kobe for all the stupid stuff he does: The wild shots, the selfishness, the turnovers, the failure to think team first.

You would never accuse Magic or Jerry West of this. (Well, maybe sometimes Magic for trying to make a pass too fine.) They were all about winning, first and foremost.

Kobe talks that talk as well, but anyone can see it's just not true. Yes, he wants to win, but he wants to win foremost for Kobe, to prove his own greatness. It's an attitude that played no part in Magic's or West's make-up. It was just not part of their genetics.

To me, this makes all the difference. True, the Lakers are the best team in the NBA now: But this should not be surprising, since they have the most talent. What is surprising, and is disturbing for many of us, is how poorly they play so much of the time. The Showtime Lakers didn't play down to their competition: They blew 'em out, because Magic made the Lakers play this way.

As for those who question Jerry West's skills or athleticism: There's a reason I made reference in my earlier post to Chick Hearn rolling over in his grave with laughter at this assertion, because Chick once addressed this very issue in a simulcast.

In that wonderfully scolding and dismissive voice he used whenever the Lakers did something really dumb on the court, he said (words to the effect): "You think Jerry West couldn't dunk (like Kobe)? You think that Jerry West couldn't make spectacular passes (like Magic)? Of course he could, he could make all those plays. But that wasn't his style. Those plays weren't necessary, and so he didn't make them that way." There was clearly no doubt in Chick's mind that athletically and skillwise, Jerry West took a back seat to no one. (This broadcast was in 2003 or earlier. I wonder whether anyone else on the board has the same memory.

As for the number of championships they won: I would note first of all that, unlike Magic and Kobe, Jerry West did not play with a dominant center until the end when WIlt Chamberlain arrived. Magic never won without Kareem; Kobe has not won without Shaq, and he has a dominant center on the current team. West's Lakers won the championship when he had Wilt after Wilt's prime. And surely I need not remind anyone about 33 in a row.

More generally: I have the good fortune to be old enough actually to have seen West in his prime and some of the Lakers defeats to the Celtics in the 1960s. I am by no means a Celtics fan, but to my mind the Celtics of the 1960s were the greatest dynasty in the history of sports, and Bill Russell was the greatest winner in sports, and likely the best basketball player ever. He dominated the game of basketball, but in a far more subtle way than players do today.

The Kobe-Shaq Lakers would not have stood a chance against the 1960s Celtics. The Showtime Lakers would have provided a fascinating matchup: The two greatest fast break teams of all time against each other. To those who think the Lakers would win in a walkover: Without having seen the Celtics play, you really have no idea what you're talking about.

It was certainly the source of Jerry West's greatest pain that his teams never beat the Celtics. And I'm sure to this day he can't believe it happened that way. But to doubt his ability and leadership based on that failure, well, I just wish Chick could have the last word on that. I have a feeling I know what he would say.

I'll take Eddie Jones over these fools any day of the week.

Anyway, does anyone know if Phil Jackson was able to sign his old North Dakota jersey that was featured during John Ireland's interview with that fan? I thought that story would be featured in the blog.

I've seen all three of them in their prime, having become a Lakers "junkie" at age 13 (1962). One on one, I'd have a real problem putting ANYONE above Elgin Baylor. Elgin was the template for what Dr. J. would become a decade or so later. I've seen him make shots while falling down, from seemingly impossible angles, sometimes while levitating horizontally an inch or so off the floor. Then, at other times, take the ball and rise above a multitude of other players, and just stay up in the air longer than anyone else (defying gravity) to make a shot.

Having said that, if I'm putting a team together, and I've got first pick......Earvin "Magic" Johnson, every time. As others before me have posted, Magic made those around him play better. Yes, he did have an amazing cast surrounding him, and even those greats,,Kareen, Worthy,Norm Nixon, McAdoo, Cooper, Mychal Thompsom, Byron Scott, all were greater with, and appreciated Magic. MAGIC MADE A.C. GREEN AN ALL-STAR...go figure.

Jerry West is one my favorite players of all time, and one of my favorite human beings in and around the game of basketball. All Lakers fans love him like family, hell, HE IS FAMILY to all true Lakerdom.

Kobe is our current champion, the closest player to Jordan that we may ever see, and strictly as a shooter, maybe even a little better.

Magic embodies all we love about the Lakers, and all we love about life. He is every Angeleno's favorite little brother, the one who is irrepressible as a kid, and you love him and want him to succeed.

I also firmly believe that just about EVERY ONE of the Lakers players I've named....would also choose ........ Earvin "Magic" Johnson.



"Los Angeles should construct a Lakers Hall of Fame Museum in the vicinity of Staples Center to honor all of the greats who've worn Purple & Gold. These giants of the game deserve more than just to having their jerseys hanging around the rim of Staples. A multi-media palace with game films featuring player audio narration looped throughout, autographed items, statues, personal momentoes and biographical material would be a fitting tribute to our Lakers icons." - Rick Friedman

AWESOME IDEA RICK!!! I hope that AK or BK can suggest this to Dr. Buss.

Laker Tom,

Nobody has ever won a title in February. The Finals are still nearly 4 months away. Lots can happen, and probably will. We`ll talk then.

Magic was by far the greatest Laker ever!

Nine trips to the Finals in twelve years. Had he not been injured, and came back out of shape in the `81 playoffs, it would`ve been ten trips.

Think about how many years went by without LA reaching the Finals BEFORE he arrived...{7}. Now think about how many years went by before they reached the Finals AFTER he retired in `91...{9}.

Take away the Magic era, and LA goes from 1973 to 2000 without ever reaching the Finals!

Kobe wins out over West.

Athletically, there is no comparison. You cannot compare a 6`6", 200 pound guy who works out religiously 365 days a guy who is 6`2", 175 pounds, and played in an era when year round weight training was unheard of.

Great players are those who redefined the game.

West introduced the long range jump shot (as opposed to the set shot of just a few years before).

West is the only player to win finals mvp for losing team. (He did it in nba and ncaa!)

He made defense a requirement for guards, not just centers.

He was the original Mr. Clutch.

Kobe is very much like West.
(Magic is a different kind of player altogether.) I'll take the original.

the don said:
"What I was saying was, if someone were to kidnap Kwame and time-transport him to the 60s, he'd be a top-10 center..."

He wouldn't even start ahead of Tom Boerwinkle!

Boerwinkle could:
move his feet
catch the ball
grab a rebound
shoot a free throw
walk and chew gum

likes pie

Best center and best shooting guard of this generation (Shaq and Kobe) won 3 titles.
How many titles would Russell and West have won? (Answer: more than 3.)

Ex is right - in fact theres been a lot of research done that says just that - You can only judge a player in relation to their peers - one of my friends a very talented economist was asking me questions about basketball a few years back when doing his PHD as it is a prime sport to study these questions- and that was basically the gist of academic research.How dominant were they against their peers.I'd ask him to clarify for us but he's currently and tragically enjoying a long stay in the big house at the moment.

Things just evolve...If West was born in this era then who knows? he might not make an NBA team or maybe he would still be great... but supplant him straight into todays NBA as he was and he wouldnt keep up.

This is why I would argue that Kobe is probably physically greater than MJ it just stands to reason that things evolve but MJ dominated his peers in a way Kobe hasn't yet done.Michaels natural athletic gifts gave him more of an advantage in a less athletic league.Thats one of the things that is seldom taken into account when people go on about Kobe and hand checking rules...Michael swooped in and just athletically embarrased the league - didnt even need a jumpshot.Now he's the greatest becasue of winning but he was so far ahead of the curve pretty much from the start

I think Larry Bird would be much more limited in what he could do...His brain would still serve him but he would not be one of the top 5 or ten players today no matter how much he worked out.theres no set rule though each player is different depending on what their individual strengths and weaknesses were - we have all seen how a rule change can suddenly make certain players more effective.Its a different game.

Magic had the benefit of always having a great team around him.A great team!...give Kobe a team of that quality for ten years and Im not sure he doesn't have as many titles.The thing about magic is he was incredibly unique as a player - this means we remember him as special but does it mean he was actually more effective?

At the time Jordan was considered in a league of his own and that was before he started dominating the NBA in terms of championships ie Bird and Magic openly admitted he was a better player.There was nothing else they could do and that was before he started winning.

By that logic I'm not sure you can say that Magic was necessarily more effective than Kobe nor that Kobe's era is easier than MJ's.I think comparisons between current and former players is a bit unfair on both in different ways...I also think people will judge guys like Bird and magic and even west in regards to what they meant for the league ,personality etc.Its too nostalgic to be balanced.

Okay, this is like eating your own here because in order to defend my pick, I have to punch holes in my current Lakers. Not something I like doing. In any event, here goes:

MAGIC! He is the reason I love basketball. Magic PERSONALLY. He was our leader on a team with a huge ego like KAJ. Kareem was THE MAN! The undisputed big man in the league.

Magic was VERY close to his teamates. When Magic was out because of injury, he hated being away from "The Fellas".

I don't think you can compare individual stats, because Magic brought to the game what was needed. If they were deficient in scoring, Magic would penetrate, and go to the line. If they needed rebounding, he would crash the boards, etc.

Magic had a whole season to gel and to elevate his teamates and to prepare for the inevitable appearance in the finals.

Kobe is a close second to Magic. Kobe is simply fantastic. He is an amazing athlete and Kobe brings it every night! He is driven and never backs down. His drive is endless.

I admire Kobe. I appreciate Kobe. I am amazed by Kobe. But Magic captured our hearts and our imagination. Magic was/is a king. Kobe is an astounding machine. But Kobe is a bit aloof. I'm not knocking Kobe at all. Magic was simply a one of a kind.

In a pressure situation, I actually like both Kobe and Magic. Neither one of them have ever disappointed.

The day Magic told us he had aids was one of the worst days of my life. I am so happy he is still with us.

My final observation is this. The question is: If you had to pick one of them to start a franchise, which one would you pick?

My choice is Magic. Magic would draw the crowds, help develope the players into a winning team, and perform well consistantly. Magic made every player look good whereas Kobe is seen as a ball hog (not so much anymore).

In order to make my point, look at the Spurs. They win alot and over a long period of time. YET, no one seems to LOVE them. Magic would seduce the media, the fans and his teamates and weave together a winner.

Magic is the MAN! My favorite sports hero of all time.

A formula is impossible every player would be different depending on rule changes and the subtle specifics of what made them could beef up larry Bird but if he's too slow defensively to get off the bench then he'll never play....some of the previous era guys would benefit from different rules,styles of play,technology and others wouldnt.They had the advantage in that era but their advantages would be nullified now - you cant argue that they would necessarily hold the same a guy that could jump 3 inches higher than everyone else,now everyone jumps that cant argue he would jump three inches higher than everyone else with the benefit of the same some point there is a ceiling - hes lost his advantage or at the very least it is minimised and only a centimetre advantage

You can't compare them. Period.


Magic was a PG and West/Kobe are SG's.
Magic never had to make Smush & Kwame better.
[ I continue to read "makes players better" and it is
mostly a lie. A LIE! How on earth is Magic
responsible for making KAREEM better??? ]
The rules are different.
Salary Cap.
Basketball players had a better grasp of the fundamentals.

That being said: You start a team with either a C or a PG.
Since you didn't give me Kareem as an option I start with

I choose Kobe over West because:

Kobe is bigger, stronger & faster.
Kobe has a more varied offensive game.
I *think* Kobe is better on defense, when he chooses.
[ not sure about that ... ]
Kobe is "clutch". West may have been slightly more
clutch, but you can starve a fly on the difference.

Johnny P,
"Did Kobe elevate his team as much as Magic?"

So, how much did Magic elevate his team? Considering his teammates were people like James Worthy, Kareem, Jamaal Wilkes. Did Magic ever play with a roster as weak as the two that Kobe dragged into the playoffs a couple of years ago? No.

Was West the best guard of his era? I would put Oscar Robertson ahead of him.

Was Magic the best PG of his era? You could make an good argument that Isaiah was better.

Is Kobe the best SG of his era? No question.

MAGIC (BUCK) WITH A SMILE ANY DAY OVER mental, selfish Kobie!!!

I get the feeling that whomever you watched while you're in high school/college years is who you'd pick ...

It's like music ... lil wayne is blazing right now but I'd still go with biggie/2pac/jay-z ... and if you asked someone who was a teenager when run dmc n co where running the show they'd go with that, but to me it'd be like umm ok whatever ....

Bottom line in most cases, each generation will stick with their own ... hence this is a pointless debate

Good morning Mamba24 & morning CRUE!!


AK/BK - this is a connundrum wrapped in a riddle. It makes my head hurt just thinking about it. There's no right answer - just an opinion - and you know what they say: opinions are like a-holes - everyone's got one. That said, the majority appear to be choosing Magic, and I will throw my hat in that ring too. However, I'm loving the play of the Bean right now and with more years to go in his stellar career, you never know how our voting will change after it's all said and done!

Quiet the Thunder! (That's the best I could come up with - stupid name for a team....)


"Los Angeles should construct a Lakers Hall of Fame Museum in the vicinity of Staples Center to honor all of the greats who've worn Purple & Gold. These giants of the game deserve more than just to having their jerseys hanging around the rim of Staples. A multi-media palace with game films featuring player audio narration looped throughout, autographed items, statues, personal momentoes and biographical material would be a fitting tribute to our Lakers icons." - Rick Friedman

AWESOME IDEA RICK!!! I hope that AK or BK can suggest this to Dr. Buss.

Posted by: Kaye | February 24, 2009 at 12:56 AM

Completely agree!

The Don,

Your list is well thought out. I'm not sure I agree 100%, but props for carefully setting out a cohesive theory and honestly applying your criteria to the league's best. I particularly like that you have weighted in favor of repeated success.

It would interesting to look at the market to help us compare West v. Magic v. Kobe. Controlled for varying cap rules, inflation and the success of the NBA, how much of the league's salary did each receive? Adjsting for the broader economy, how much of the league's increased value did each create?

As a lot of you B-schoolers probably have some time on your hands of late, please have at it.

PS: You're welcome.


While I usually forego these impossible and futile arguments over player rankings, there were a lot of great comments by bloggers over Jerry, Magic, and Kobe. The entire process is made even more difficult because all three are Lakers greats. No surprise that you don’t see arguments about the three greatest Clipper guards.

I am another poster that was able to watch Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in their prime, even though I was not a Lakers fan at the time. Back then, I was a Wilt Chamberlain fan and thus followed first the San Francisco Warriors and then the Philadelphia 76ers. Only when Wilt came to the Lakers, did I finally break down and become a home town SoCal Lakers fan.

But I remember Jerry West clearly and always loved and admired the way that he played. Far as I am concerned, he was the greatest stop-and-pop jump shooter that ever lived. I remember copying his pull-up jumper hundreds of times in my driveway and in gyms across SoCal. That was my shot, especially going right just like Jerry. The thing I remember most about Jerry was the totally effortless way that he would post up big numbers. You would look at the box score and realize surprisingly that Jerry already had 20 points and the half was not over.

For those who did not see Jerry play, he was a great all-around player. He could put the ball on the floor with the best of them and drive to the hoop with great speed despite his size. That silhouette that defines the NBA logo is exactly what West looked like taking the ball to the hoop. Defensively, Jerry was quick as a cat and famous for playing the passing lanes and stealing balls for coast-to-coast romps. As was custom back then, I cannot ever remember Jerry dunking.

As for whether Jerry was better than Oscar, that is really a tough one to tackle because Oscar was awesome. The first point guard to AVERAGE a triple-double. Robertson was perhaps the biggest and strongest point guard to come along and a precursor to the great Magic Johnson. At 6-5 with a body like today’s players, the Big O was maybe a better point guard than anybody who ever lived not named Ervin Johnson. He would not have had to be bigger or stronger to match today’s players. He was truly the MJ or his era who dominated every guy he played against.

As for Magic, he is in my mind the clear cut G.O.A.T. Anybody who says that Isaiah could hold a candle to Magic was a blind fool. It took a hamstring injury to both Magic and Byron for the Pistons to finally unseat the Lakers. Otherwise, Magic was a far superior player than Isaiah. Frankly, I always thought that Joe Dumars was a better opposing guard than Isaiah Thomas. Obviously, he has also proven that he is a far superior basketball executive than Isaiah. When it comes to nicknames, there is and will always be only one Zeek from Cabin Creek and it ain’t that Zeke.

As for Kobe, we still are viewing a work in progress. Who knows how great Kobe will end up being in the universe of Lakers superstars? He could surpass the titles won by Magic and even Jordan. That is why you cannot compare him to Jerry and Magic, whose Hall of Fame careers are now over. For now, Magic is the G.O.A.T. but who knows, in 10 years Bean may overtake him. Jerry did not win until he got Wilt and Magic was lucky enough to have Kareem, the greatest center in history. With Andrew Bynum emerging as this generation’s Next Great Lakers Center, there is really no limit on high Kobe Bryant can soar. He could become the G.O.A.T.

As always, JMNSHBO!


Great points EXCEPT I dont think you can make the argument that Isaiah is better than Magic.

Even if you try to confine it to pure "PG", then still Magic is better.

Maybe you could see Isaiah is a better pure scorer than Magic, but that's not what your original premise was in the first place...

I would really like to see how you could justify anybody taking Isaiah over Magic because I dont think that is going to fly buddy!

The one person who has seen it all up close from 60s to the 00s was Chick Hearn. Whenever he was asked as to the greatest Laker of all time, his steady answer, without hesitation, was Elgin Baylor.

the don,

OK, you win let's wrap up Kwame & bring him back to 60's, I think the size of his calves would be competitive.


What you've just challenged Laker Nation to do is part of the infurirating joy of being a sports fan.

It is extraordinarily difficult to compare players of different generations with any real accuracy. And, you are right, players like Wilt Chamberlein, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West would be that much better if they played today due to improved training and nutritional technology (which is a little scary, quite frankly).

But they would also be playing a differently styled game against stronger competition.


Comparing Jerry West to Kobe is a little like comparing Shazam! to Superman.

Techincally speaking Shazam! is more powerful than Superman when he's at the full range of his powers, BUT Shazam! seems like a superhero of old bygones, so on a gut level everyone's going to pick Superman as a more powerful and more attractive superhero.

Also, with comparing Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant...

Jerry West had a full career.
Magic Johnson had his career cut tragically short.
Kobe Bryant still has 5-9 years left on his career.

I think a more reasonable question instead of "which player is best" is "which player is historically more important to the NBA" and we can't answer that question honestly until Kobe's career is over.

Jon K.'s Historically Most Important Players In The History Of The NBA:

1. Bill Russsell
2. Michael Jordan
3. Magic Johnson
4. Larry Bird
5. George Mikan
6. Wilt Chamberlein
7. Jerry West
8. Julius Erving
9. Shaquille O'Neal
10. Kobe Bryant

What do we play for? RINGS!!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.


The Snake,

You're right. Chick Hearn stated without hesitation that Elgin Baylor was the greatest NBA player he ever witnessed.

I trust Chick implicitly. Unfortunately, I've seen 12 times more highlight reels involving Jerry West or Wilt Chamberlein than Elgin Baylor.

I hope ESPN Classic does a one-hour story on the life and skills of Elgin Baylor.

I REALLY want to see what Elgin Baylor was capable of.

And I know that Chick Hearn would not have stated "Elgin Baylor" if he didn't mean it.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.


Hey Guys,

I still say Magic.

Though Kobe MAYBE the best Player at his position for his era, it does not mean his era was the best. Kobe shines above all truly. But I would say Magic's era (even his retirement period) was more fundamental and had a greater player skill set.

Magic's era came with players that played from both ends. Let's just use the Centers for example: Kareem, Hakeem, Patrick E, The Admiral, Gonzo, Parish to name a few. These guys came with a skill set that had something to offer on both ends of the floor. This was the era where even shooting from 10-15 feet was worked on just as much on the low block. If they weren't the banger type defensively, they blocked shots.

On the other hand Kobe's era has more of the specialty type players. More offensive minded. For example: T-Mac, Vince Carter, Kevin Martin, Jamal Crawford, Corey Magette, Jason Richardson to name a few. This is the reason why someone like Ron Artest who is crazy, but is still coveted because he has both offensive and defensive skills.

For this generation, I would say Shane Battier, Ron Artest without the crazy, Raja Bell, Joe Johnson, Kirk Hinnrich, Jason Kidd are noteworthy examples that have fundamental offerings on both ends. (Let's not forget #24, and I wish he would roam less on defense)

Plus most of these new players have used the greats from the 80's to the early 90's as an offensive template, over the defensive skill set.

Athletic perimeter players of today have patterned their Dazzle from Elgin Baylor, Dr. J, and his Airness. It would be impossible to conclude how Kobe would have done unless we get a Delorean that goes 88 mph and let him youth up in in the 70's and get in the NBA around the mid 80's when the players had dexterity.

Magic was part of the showtime era. An era where, the Legends set the bar.

In the end, Kobe is a bad Mofo. Jerry West was a Mercenary, and Earvin was pure MAGIC.

Jon K,

Chick would mention that during one season, Elgin was actually an active Army reservist based in Washington state. He would fly in from the army base on weekends, without the benefit of team practice, and score 30-50 points.

Isaiah was a better scorer and defender than Magic, not as good a rebounder and probably not as good a playmaker. So overall, you could make a case for him being better overall.

The point guard position is more than just playmaking when your team has the ball: scoring, defending, and rebounding are part of what a point guard does.

If someone is going to include marketing, fan likeability, etc. then Magic would be a clear choice. But if you are looking at on-court performance, then it's not so clear.

So is Drew on the bike or the Alter-G yet?

Ex - Good way to look at it but also the thing with Kobe is he's been the best for so long...In 2002 they were comparing him to Mcgrady and now it is Wade.Of the players today that could be on the shortlist in an argument for the leagues best player only Duncan and Kobe were in the same argument 6 or 7 years ago...with one off year each in the meantime ...but they have multiple titles AND are on contending teams currently.When you think of the guys that have come and gone from the argument of top 5 players in the meantime that is clearly no small feat in this day and age.

I think the percentage of time a guy spends on a contending team could be considered more when greatness is being assessed - some guys are just not going to be on bad teams year after year no matter where they play or who they play with.Jordan,Magic,Kobe,Shaq,Duncan...none of these guys just lucked out on one great team.they've all had contending teams built around them at least twice with different core players as well as role players.

You know? its not just that Webber,Iverson and Barkley couldnt win a championship...its just that it seems like they only really got one look at it in one specific window.

To me that means something.

Its not just that Vince Carter has never had an opportunity,,,its just that well he never had an opportunity...Its not that Mcgrady cant get past the first round its just that this doesnt happen to great players for a whole decade.Its not yao's fault he's injured every year its just that hes injured every year.Nowitski pretends he's contending but he chokes the finals becasue he doesnt belong there.He throws away an MVP season becasue he knows he doesnt deserve it

lebron made the finals by accident,Look at Miamis resurgence this year? These guys are great players Why were the pacers always so good when reggie Miller was around? Ok he didnt win a chip but the guy was a winner.He made sure they got the most out of their talent every year - at least until they forced him to rely on career losers like Artest and jermaine o'neal.

Great players contend for the greater proportion of their career.Thats why this celtics squad needs at least another championship or two and even then its not quite the same.

Magic. As far as I'm concerned, his knowledge of player movement, court awareness, and game awareness is thus far unsurpassed by both generations before him and the generations after him.

Kobe, Jerry, Wilt, Shaq, Elgin, etc, are unparalleled at what they are and what they do. However, Magic's combination of size, strength, passing, and the complete awareness on where everyone is and will be on a floor cannot be underestimated in this clash of the titans. Those other guys can beat you, but with Magic, you start believing the whole team will beat you.

On sheer success, the other Laker greats haven't won as many finals as Magic. That's gotta count for something right? To get to the finals 8 out 10 years, and to win 5? Sure Kobe won it with Shaq 3 times in a row, but Shaq was pretty good back then. Magic won it with an aging KAJ (no slouch, but still). Jerry won it but once with an aging Wilt.

I hold each of these guys in high esteem, but seriously, Magic has and always had the most complete game of these 2. Look at it this way, if all 3 were on the same together, who would be "setting the table" for who? Kobe and Jerry would be part of Magic's offense, not the other way around. Not that those guys would be unhappy, because they'd receive each pass at the right time and place to get a very easy bucket.

I agree - it's unfair to criticize those who won less titles when they were on noticeably less talented teams. Probably the best example of that is the Wilt-Russell comparison.

There is one simple solution to all these questions....

We go to Brazil and clone them....we raise them in a lab the exact the same way... same meals same training..we make them stronger we make them better....except when it comes to basketball we let them develop their own game.

Then we throw them all on to the same court for a game of 21 and let them sort it out because as we all know....THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!


Jon K,

I will add more names in your list like:

11. Bob Cousy
12. Gail Goodrich
13. Elvin Hayes
14. Pete Maravich
15. Hakeem Olajuwon
16. Calvin Murphy
17. Earl Monroe
18 Moses Malone
19 Dave Bing
20 Walt Frazzier

with asterisks* Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Kurt Rambis, Mike Dunleavy and Danny Ainge

Laker Tom

I was watching an All-Star game from way back when, it was the end of the game the West was down by 1, Jerry West drills a deep two (this was before the 3 point line) and the West wins. The game didn't matter but three things about watching Jerry play struck me:
1 He was in it to win it. he was competing like it was going out of style.
2 He was leading a team of All-Stars, the way Kobe does when he plays in the game, like it was war.
3 that hair never moves, what did he use, rubber cement?

One of the reasons it's so hard to compare players from eras is that up until 1979 there was no 3 point shot. Imagine the numbers some of those silky-smooth shooters could put up if there was a 3 point line.

I'd have to go with Magic, West, then Kobe. mainly because the first two guys made their mark by making the team better while scoring and rebounding. Kobe has just started to play that way the last 3 years or so.

But we'll have to see how the numbers end up because I do believe that when Kobe retires he'll be among the top five in many statistical catagories. The dudes got game.

I gotta say, the more I read of this thread, the more I like it... greats comments, jimjoyce, Lfulcher, Tom, on and on and on... so great to see greats remembered so clearly... nice to read all the Chick references, etc.. Awesome stuff.

Ok I am a old man.

I watched them all.

Easy call.

Ervin Magic Johnson.

I was on the freshman team at WVU (we couldn't play varsity) when Jerry was a Junior and Cal-Berkeley edged us out 71-70. Jerry had a 6'6" center (Bob "Horse" Clausson) against 6'11" Imhof and we still almost won.

Magic was more fun to watch; Kobe does more amazing things; Jerry made it look easier than any, before or since. Jerry's only show-stopping moments were when he hit the shots that won the games...and he made that look easy too. No one valued winning more and no one hated losing worse.

Jerry is the only player in Basketball history to hold both the NCAA finals scoring record and the NBA finals scoring record...SIMULTANEOUSLY!

Jerry is in a class by himself.

Last night I posted that I would pick Magic even though I wanted to be Jerry West when I was in 2nd grade.

After giving it more thought I really wanted to be Wilt-the- Stilt more than Jerry. Don't remember Wilt much before he was a Laker but all those dunks, rebounds and finger rolls made me want to be "The Big Dipper".

ScottCamp: I'm sure we would all be happy for you to fill up pages and pages of this blog with Jerry-West-in-college stories.

What year was that photo taken?



In Case You Missed It...


All Things Lakers »

Your database for all things purple and gold.

Find a Laker

Search a name

Select a season

Choose one of our lists



About the Bloggers

Bleacher Report | Lakers

Reader contributions from Times partner Bleacher Report

More Lakers on Bleacher Report »

Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists:

In Case You Missed It...