The Los Angeles Angeles Lakers boast the second most titles in NBA history, their 16 championships second only to the 17 claimed by their arch-rival Boston Celtics. The next closest team is the Chicago Bulls with their six NBA titles of the Michael Jordan era. The Lakers have spoiled their fans with success over the years.
The Lakers have attained that level of success mostly by being fortunate enough to almost always have teams stacked with great players. 21 Hall-of-Famers have spent at least part of their careers suiting up for the purple and gold, and the team has retired 9 players' jersey numbers to the rafters, never to be worn again in honor of those players' accomplishments.
Both of those numbers are set to increase within the next few years after Kobe Bryant retires at the conclusion of the Lakers' 2015-16 season. The five-time champion who won an MVP in 2008 and was MVP of the NBA Finals the next two years has had enough success during his time in the purple and gold to prompt the team to consider retiring both of the jersey numbers he has worn throughout his career.
Despite all of this success, NBA executives and coaches polled anonymously by Chris Broussard of ESPN still rank Bryant as tied for second-best Lakers player of all-time:
ESPN asked NBA executives and coaches who they believed was the greatest Laker of all time, and it wasn't close. Magic Johnson, who along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar formed arguably the greatest duo to ever play the game, received 69 percent of the votes. Of the 65 respondents, 45 said Johnson was the greatest Laker ever.
"Magic without a doubt," said one executive who also played in the league. "I love Kobe, but Magic brought more to the table."
Bryant and Abdul-Jabbar tied for second with seven votes apiece, and Jerry West, who followed his terrific Lakers playing career with an unparalleled career in the team's front office, received five votes. Wilt Chamberlain, the greatest statistical force the game has ever known, played only five seasons with the Lakers and was named by one voter.
Magic Johnson had plenty of success over his time as a Laker and is by no means a bad choice as the best player to ever play for the franchise. When comparing two guards who have attained as many accolades and victories as Bryant and Johnson, it really is a matter of personal preference, and likely depends on one's generation.
For Lakers fans who grew up in the 80's and 90's, Johnson or Abdul-Jabbar are likely to to top this list. Fans older than that may choose West or Chamberlain, just as fans raised more recently are almost sure to pick Bryant or even Shaquille O'Neal. The argument just illustrates how lucky Lakers fans are to have so many great players to choose from as the best they have ever seen.