You wanted it. You asked for it. You lusted for it. Now here it is.
Actually, I have no idea if you wanted it, but here it is anyway. Back for reasons completely unrelated to popular demand is my epic series listing the greatest Lakers of all time by the jersey numbers they done wore. I began this project as an offseason time-waster last August and have been meaning to dust it off, but you know, the regular season... she's a fickle beast. Tracking Derek Fisher's missed field goals and the number of consecutive games the Lakers have played without an overtime period occupies nearly all my waking hours, so only now, when the champs have hit a three-games-in-eight-days lull, have I found the time to resume my historical research. (*lights pipe, adjusts bow tie*)
If you need to get caught up or just feel like reliving the golden age of Anthony Peeler, here's the first installment of the series, in which I covered numbers zero through nine. The teens are discussed here and the twenties, including Cedric Ceballos's rap video, are here. Today we tackle the thirties, repository of names both intriguing and instantly forgettable. Let the tiresome lecture begin!
Number 30: George Lynch. Huh... OK. Not really kicking things off with a bang here, are we? Lynch had a promising rookie season in 1993-94, when he carved out a 25-minute-a-night role as a defense, hustle and rebounding type. He did particularly sweet work on the offensive glass, pulling in three to four offensive caroms a game. It soon became clear, though, that his overall offensive game was subject to some crucial limitations - in other words, he couldn't shoot - and his production declined in his second and third seasons. His most important contribution to the Lakers came in the 1996 offseason, when he got shipped off to Vancouver to make salary-cap room for Shaquille O'Neal.
Never would he become much more than a journeyman, but let's not feel pity for George Lynch. He got to be a McDonald's All-American, win a national title at North Carolina and spend nine seasons in the NBA, two of them in Vancouver, a place as close to Utopia as exists on the planet. Also, he made it onto this list! Aside from Lynch, the number 30 has been passed hither and yon among a pretty undistinguished crew, including the boringly named Steve Hamilton, Roger Brown, Bill Turner, Marv Roberts and Brad Davis.
Number 31: Kurt Rambis. Before he became the best coach in the NBA, Rambis won four championships as a Laker. On offense, he didn't boast an expansive skillset, but that's fine: his moustache, rebounding, taste in eyewear and general willingness to bang heads with opposing bigs were a perfect fit on some otherwise finessey Showtime teams. His defensive skills have, I feel, been underrated by history. Though he was just 6'8", Rambis had sound man-to-man technique and used his brute strength to good effect.
A few other interesting dudes have worn the number 31 over the years. Zelmo Beaty, who wore it for one season as a Laker, made five All-Star Games (three in the ABA) and was the playoff MVP in 1971, when he won an ABA title with the Utah Stars. It was also worn for one season by an even more highly decorated ABA legend, Spencer Haywood. In 1970, Haywood was Rookie of the Year and league MVP. But here's what's really wild: for 10 years, Haywood was married to the model Iman. They divorced in 1987, and Iman is now married to David Bowie. And you know who else wore number 31 for the Lakers? Sam Bowie! It's the circle of life, people.
Number 32: Magic Johnson. Nobody reading this needs to be told why Magic is awesome, so let me indulge in some personal recollections.
Magic is the first athlete I remember being totally entranced by. I never saw him play at Michigan State, and I was too young to be aware of him during his rookie season of 1979-80, but within a couple years thereafter he began to permeate my consciousness. At the time, I was living in northern Wisconsin (and yeah, that's every bit as bad as it sounds), and the only NBA team I saw on TV with any regularity was the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks were actually really good back then - these were the Marques Johnson and Sidney Moncrief squads - and I was OK with following them. Again, it's not like there was a lot to choose from. It was either watch the Bucks or shovel snow.
I didn't wholly fall in love with the Bucks, who were just a convenient default option, but watching them taught me to hate the one team that they just... kept... losing to: the Boston Celtics. OMFG did I hate the Celtics, from the first moment I became aware of what the Celtics even were. Over and over they knocked the Bucks out of the Eastern Conference playoffs and in the process only deepened my contempt. I thought every one of their players was obscenely ugly, I hated their stupid parquet floor, I thought Red Auerbach looked like a senile child molester, and even at a young age I sensed that their fanbase was prone to casual racism and horrible taste in music. Before I loved any sports team, I hated the Boston Celtics.
Soon enough, that led me into the arms of the Lakers. It could've been anyone. Had the Portland Trail Blazers been the top challenger to the Celtics' reign, I probably would've grown up a Blazers fan. (*shudders, takes scalding hot shower*) I would've rooted for the East German Olympic team had they been up against Boston. But as it happened, it was the Lakers who won my heart by standing up to the deplorable green scourge.
The Lakers' loss to the Celts in the 1984 Finals was the first time I ever cried over a sporting event. (Fuck you, I was a little kid. I thought God was punishing me for yoinking my brother's Return of the Jedi cards.) The 1985 Finals victory redeemed my faith in Magic and the Lakers, and when he hit the baby skyhook in 1987, well... that's how a fan becomes a lifer. The point is: the Celtics can blow me, and Sunday is going to rule.
Number 33: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. My elementary-school library had, like, 30 books in it. I guess the printing press had yet to make substantial inroads into northern Wisconsin. Anyway, three of the books were sports biographies: one about Roger Staubach, one about Richard Petty, and the other about Kareem. The other 27 books were all about dinosaurs.
The Kareem bio I read at least a dozen times. The backstory of his NYC upbringing and how he ended up at UCLA was all fascinating to me, even though I didn't have a firm concept of where NYC and UCLA were, exactly. They might as well have been Narnia. But Kareem sounded badass, which of course he was. I was hoping to find an image of that old biography, but since I can't, here's what Kareem looks like on an Etch-a-Sketch.
If you're too young to know what an Etch-a-Sketch is, just think of it as the iPad of the ‘80s.
Number 34: Shaquille O'Neal. I have a confession to make to you guys. We're all friends, right? You won't mind if I open up a little? OK, here goes.... (*deep breath*)
I don't hate Shaquille O'Neal.
I know, I know. I'm aware that this runs counter to present-day Laker fan orthodoxy. And believe me, I'm aware of the reasons people dislike Shaq.
I realize he's a buffoon who's susceptible to displays of unbecoming vanity. I know he's pulled some petty shit toward Kobe. I know he didn't keep himself in top physical condition while he was a Laker, that toward the end he whined about money and generally doesn't show a lot of gratitude to the franchise that paid him a kazillion dollars in the prime of his career. I get all that. But in my worldview, he's got a "get out of jail" free card that mitigates everything, and that card reads: three championships.
Three championships! There are three GD championship banners hanging from the Staples roof that would not be there were it not for Shaq. Most NBA fans won't get to experience three NBA titles in their lifetime, and with Shaq on board we got three in a row. Yes, he could've been better while he was in town, but he was still pretty fantastic. I'm not saying you need to love the guy or anything, but from where I'm standing, all the other noise surrounding his personality and feud with Kobe is just trivial blather next to the fact that he brought us THREE NBA CHAMPIONSHIPS. (And no, I'm not saying that he was more responsible for them than Kobe was. None of the title runs would've happened without the combined force of their talents.)
Last summer, there was a fairly riotous debate here over whether we should be irked that Shaq signed with Boston. I'm not hugely anxious to rehash it, but I suspect it'll come up again in the coming days, so let me go on record with my thoughts:
1. None of us has the right to tell anyone else what to do with their professional lives. If Shaq wants to keep playing ball and can find a team to employ him, God bless the man. He should keep on ballin', because real work sucks.
2. Claiming that Shaq somehow tarnished his Lakers legacy by signing with their blood enemies would be more persuasive if the Lakers had shown any interest whatsoever in signing him. They didn't. Loyalty can't be unilateral.
3. By all accounts, Shaq had two teams to choose from: the Celtics and the Hawks. The Hawks offered more money, so to some, Shaq's decision to sign with Boston was an example of "chasing another ring." To be honest, I'm not sure why that's a bad thing, but whatever. I just don't get how his unwillingness to sign with Atlanta represents a failing of character. Dudes, it's the Atlanta Hawks! A franchise utterly without tradition, with one of the worst fanbases in the league. They draw, like, 50 people a night and are a dead lock to get blasted out of the second round of the playoffs in humiliating fashion. Had you been in Shaq's position, would you have wanted to play in Atlanta? When the alternative is playing for a powerhouse Boston team? In these circumstances, no one with a functioning brainstem would give five seconds' consideration to Atlanta's offer.
4. Finally, to those who thought, "He's too old, he's too fat, he can't play anymore, he should just retire".... no. Incorrect. He is old and fat, but he's having a perfectly respectable season. I mean, if Theo Ratliff and Joe Smith can still draw paychecks in the NBA, Shaq has a long, long way to fall before he's no longer employable.
OK, so that's my longer-than-intended rant about Shaq. Again, I'm not arguing that we should all be singing folk songs about him. I hope Andrew Bynum schools him ferociously on Sunday. I just can't join in all the hate toward the guy. My attitude toward Shaq is one of great respect for his contributions to Laker history combined with indifference to his latter-day career path.
Number 35: Rudy LaRusso. The first man ever to wear 35 for the Lakers puts all who followed to shame. A 6'7" forward-center out of Dartmouth, Rudy was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1959. In the eight seasons he spent as a Laker, he averaged in the high teens in points per game and up near 10 boards a night. He appeared in five All-Star Games and had a cameo role in an episode of Gilligan's Island. I'm not sure which episode it was, but it might've been the one where the castaways had a plan to get off the island but Gilligan botched it.
Though Rudy never won a title, he was an excellent player, one of the stars of his day. He died of Parkinson's in 1994. Outrageously, I can't find his Gilligan's Island episode on YouTube, so instead please enjoy this clip of another notable 35.
Number 36: No Laker has ever worn number 36. Hey, don't look so surprised. It's not as unusual as one might think. Attentive readers will remember, for instance, that no Laker has ever work number 29 either. (Haha, just kidding. I don't really expect anyone to have remembered that.)
Number 37: Ron Artest. Not much competishe for Ron-Ron here. None at all, actually, as he's the only Laker in history to rock the 37. Even so, I think it'll take long time for anyone to dislodge him. His one and only season as 37, he, uh... he made it count.
Number 38: Nope. No one. I told you it's not that unusual.
Number 39: I know what you're thinking. You think I emptied the chamber on Magic and Shaq, so I'm just pretending that no one wore these numbers to avoid having to write any more. I'm totally not above doing something like that, but in this case I swear I'm innocent. It does seem like Chris Mihm or Joe Kleine should've worn 39, but they didn't. They had the good sense to pick something normal. It takes a lot of self-confidence, hubris even, to dance with something in the high thirties.
Coming soon/whenever I get to it: 40 through 49!
Number 0: Orlando Woolridge
Number 1: Anthony Peeler
Number 2: Derek Fisher
Number 3: Sedale Threatt
Number 4: Byron Scott
Number 5: Robert Horry
Number 6: Eddie Jones
Number 7: Lamar Odom
Number 8: Kobe Bryant
Number 9: Nick Van Exel
Number 10: Norm Nixon
Number 11: Bob McAdoo
Number 12: Vlade Divac
Number 13: Wilt Chamberlain
Number 14: Sam Perkins
Number 15: Dick Schnittker
Number 16: Pau Gasol
Number 17: Jim Pollard
Number 18: Sasha Vujacic
Number 19: Vern Mikkelsen
Number 20: Brian Shaw
Number 21: Michael Cooper
Number 22: Elgin Baylor
Number 23: Cedric Ceballos
Number 24: Kobe Bryant
Number 25: Gail Goodrich
Number 26: Danny Schayes
Number 27: Art Spoelstra
Number 28: D.J. Mbenga
Number 29: -
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.