Time for part two of my series about history's most awesome Lakers and the jerseys they wore. In case you missed part one, which can be found here, the goal is to name the all-time greatest Laker for each uniform number that's ever been worn. Last week we kicked things off with numbers zero through nine. Today we'll try sorting through the awkward, hormonal teens.
Numbers 10 through 19 proved more difficult to research than the single digits, simply because the former have appeared on Laker jerseys far more often. As I mentioned last week, single-digit jerseys were exceedingly rare in the early days of the franchise. Not until 1962, after the team had been around for 14 full seasons, did any Laker wear a solitary number. By contrast, the Minneapolis Lakers loved themselves some 10 through 19.
For instance: in the first eight years of Laker history, six different players wore number 18. After getting passed around like your sister backstage at a Whitesnake concert, however, the 18 jersey was mothballed for over three decades. When Kurt Rambis rejoined the Lakers for his second stint with the franchise in 1993, it was the first time anyone had worn 18 since Chuck Mencel in 1957. After Rambis retired in 1995, the number lay dormant for nearly another decade, until Sasha Vujacic proudly revived it in 2004.
But that's nothing. Numbers 11, 12 and 15 are tied for the honor of most frequently worn jersey number in franchise history. Each has graced the attire of a staggering 17 different players. This tells us not only that nobody who wore those numbers was ever good enough to have it retired. No one was even good enough to have worn the jersey for an especially long period. Hence the rapid turnover in ownership.
Number 10: It doesn't get much easier than this. Norm Nixon's the pick. I'm not a fan of his work in the studio alongside Bill McDonald, but he was a very solid two-way guard who won a pair of titles with the Lakers. His best season was in 1978-79, when he played in all 82 games, led the NBA in steals, finished second in assists and scored 16 points a game on 57% True Shooting. He deserved a better fate than being shipped off to the Clippers in 1983. That was a pretty interesting deal, though: the Lakers packaged Nixon with Eddie Jordan (last year's coach of the Philadelphia 76ers) and two second-round picks, and in return received Swen Nater and Byron Scott. One of those second-round picks became Jeff Hornacek.
Number 11: This one's trickier. The best player who's ever worn number 11 for the Lakers is Karl Malone, but you don't earn a spot on this wall by spending only one year with the franchise. Sorry, Mailman. The most distinguished Laker who's ever worn it is Gail Goodrich, but he wore it for only three of his nine years in the purple and gold, and it's not the number that the franchise retired in his honor. Goodrich was number 11 from 1965 to 1968, but he switched to number 25 when the Phoenix Suns took him in an expansion draft, and he kept wearing 25 when he was traded back to the Lakers in 1970. It's his number 25 that's hanging in Staples Center today.
So I'm giving the number 11 slot to Bob McAdoo. The Hall of Famer arrived in Lakerdom in 1981, with his All-NBA peak in the ‘70s already behind him, but for four years (including two championship runs) he was an invaluable bench player. In fact, he was a bench player in name only. McAdoo's per-minute numbers (including a 20+ PER in 1982-83) confirm that he was good enough to start for pretty much any team in the league. And he beasted in the playoffs. During the 1982 postseason, for instance, he averaged 17 points (on 59% True Shooting) and seven rebounds a game.
Fun fact! McAdoo's nephew, James McAdoo, is a top-10 player in the high school class of 2011. He has committed to play at North Carolina, his uncle's alma mater.
Number 12: The parade of Lakers who've worn the number 12 is a triumph of quantity over quality. As mentioned, there are 17 of them total, and the first eight I can promise you've never heard of. The last five (Jerome Kersey, Derek Harper, Mike Penberthy, Jannero Pargo and Shannon Brown) are nobodies in the big scheme of things. Sandwiched between those groups are three guys (Pat Riley, Don Chaney and Ronnie Lester) as well or more known for their coaching or front-office work, leaving us with a winner by default.
Vlade Divac, ladies and gentlemen! Hey, you could do worse than Vlade. He spent seven seasons as a Laker (fine, eight, if you count the 15-game Viking funeral the team gave him in 2004-05) and was generally good for 13 points, nine boards and a few assists every night. He could shoot a little, he could pass, he had a beard, he could chain-smoke like a mofo, and the franchise flipped him for Kobe Bryant. What more do you need?
Number 13: Perhaps out of superstition, the number 13 has been worn by only five players in Laker history. Their names were Tony Jaros, Jim Holston, Corky Devlin, Wilt Chamberlain and Dwight Jones. One of these things is not like the others.
Number 14: Here's where I started to wonder whether this series is really such a great idea. I didn't exactly dive into this hoping to learn all about Earl Gardner, Bud Grant, Paul Walther, Joe Hutton, Larry Foust, Ray Felix and all the other scrubs who've worn number 14 for the Lake Show. I'm sure they were all hale and hearty fellows - maybe they fought the Nazis or whatever - but come on, guys... I need someone decent here. You can't follow up Wilt the Stilt with Brad Holland. (No offense, Brad.)
So please put your hands together for the Big Smooth, Sam Perkins. Merely two-and-a-half years he spent in Lakerland, but in that time he did above-average work at the power-forward posishe. We'll always remember him fondly for his set-shot threes and his splendid '91 postseason, in which he averaged 18 points and eight reebs a game while rocking a 17.0 PER.
The second-greatest Laker who's ever worn number 14? Slava Medvedenko. No joke.
Number 15: Quick, name your favorite number 15 in franchise history. Go ahead, I'll wait.
That was a trick question. Pretty much anyone who's ever worn 15 for the Lakers has sucked. In fact, only one managed to hold down a starting gig for any length of time. That's right: I'm referring to the great Dick Schnittker.
What? Why are you giggling? That was his name. Dick Schnittker. I don't see what's so funny.
As you undoubtedly know, Dick Schnittker was a 6'5" forward out of Ohio State who played for the Minneapolis Lakers from 1953 to 1958. Dick Schnittker was a terrific free-throw shooter, finishing top 10 in free-throw percentage three times. Dick Schnittker twice (in '53 and '54) won an NBA championship ring. Dick Schnittker Dick Schnittker Dick Schnittker.
Number 16: The number 16 has been worn by only six players in Laker history. Their names are Johnny Jorgensen, Bob Harrison, Dick Garmaker, Nick Mantis, John Salley and Pau Gasol. One of these things is not like the others.
If this were a list of the all-time greatest Lakers with the last name "Mantis," I'd give the award to Nick Mantis. If this were a list of the all-time greatest Lakers who went on to host TV talk shows, I'd give the award to
Magic Johnson John Salley. But it's neither of those things, so: Pau Gasol.
Number 17: Jim Pollard is a name you should know and remember, so listen up, you oafs. He won a national title at Stanford in 1942, and then spent the war in the Coast Guard. (He's why the Japanese never invaded Los Angeles.) In 1948, Pollard joined the Minneapolis Lakers, for whom he played seven strong seasons. He, George Mikan and Vern Mikkelsen, whom we'll come back to in a moment, formed the dominant frontcourt of the NBA's early years. Together they won five titles. Pollard was All-NBA three times and is now in the Hall of Fame.
Someday, Andrew Bynum could take over this spot, but only if he serves in the Coast Guard in World War III. Also bribing me would be a good idea.
Number 18: Someone help me out with this one. Here's what's on the menu Chez Numero 18.... Ray Ellefson, Arnie Ferrin, Pep Saul, Bob Carney, Dan Sunderlage, Chuck Mencel, Kurt Rambis and Sasha Vujacic. That's it. Those are the options. We have to choose one of those names to enshrine forever in the halls of Silver Screen and Roll.
You'd think Rambis is the obvious selection, yes? Problem is, he only wore 18 during his second, career-ending stint in Lakerdom, from 1993 to 1995. All of your really good memories of Rambis are from when he wore number 31, in the Showtime era. He wasn't bad in 1993-94 (a 14.0 PER in 50 games played), but he was uncomfortably awful in 1994-95 (a 9.4 PER in 26 games played). That's just not good enough, and in any event, presumably we'll get around to honoring the man when we climb our way up to 31.
So we're left with... Sasha Vujacic. He was good in 2007-08, right? Right?? And he hit those two free throws at the end of Game Seven! And, um... yeah. I can't believe Sasha ended up on this list. Let's just keep moving.
Number 19: It's Vern Mikkelsen in a cakewalk. Yeah, his only competition is Jack Dwan and Tony Campbell, but make no mistake. Mikkelsen's one of the all-time greats. He spent his entire 10-year career as a Laker and made the All-Star Game six times. For a few seasons he was among the half-dozen or so best players in the league. He's in the Hall of Fame and won't be knocked off this list anytime soon.
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
Follow Dex on Twitter here. All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference.