The Los Angeles Lakers are a storied franchise that has been the gold standard of the NBA for much of its existence. With so many outstanding players and Hall of Famers to choose from, carving out the top eight is no easy task. However, these select few players emerged as a cut above the rest.
To make things simple, the "Elite Eight" is divided into two regions that split up into two eras. The '60s & '70s Region comprises of many outstanding players that didn't make the final four of their time such as Rudy LaRusso, Happy Hairston and Wilt Chamberlain. But in the end, it was the four below that made the cut.
The '80s and Beyond Region is the era where Showtime was built and the Lakers became the NBA version of a Hollywood reality show -- for better or for worse. Again, there were many players deserving of consideration. A.C. Green, Byron Scott, Vlade Divac and Cedric Ceballos were just some of the "bubble" players from this abundantly-talented group.
But enough of all that -- it's time for the Big Dance, Lakers Edition:
'60s & '70s RegionNo. 1 Seed: Jerry West
When it comes to the NBA, West needs no introduction. All any fan needs to do is look at anything branded with the league's name and his likeness is there as the logo. He earned the prestige that comes with such an honor, however, as his 27.0 points per game and 6.7 assists over 14 seasons, all with the Lakers, set him apart.
He was an NBA All-Star every year, and the inspirational leader of the 1971-72 championship squad that conquered the New York Knicks. He remains the only NBA Finals MVP from a losing team. Needless to say, he's going to be tough to beat.
No. 2 Seed: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The fact that the NBA's all-time scoring leader for a career and someone so dominant could be second on in this region is a testament to the quality of players in Lakers franchise history. Abdul-Jabbar is a testament to what happens when longevity, natural ability and hard work come packaged in a gifted 7-foot-2 frame.
The resumé speaks for itslelf. With 38,387 career points, six MVP awards and 19 All-Star appearances, he has no equal.
No. 3 Seed: Elgin Baylor
The Lakers got it right when they selected Baylor with the No. 1 overall selection in the 1958 draft out Seattle University. In 824 career games with the Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers, he averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds as a 6-foot-5 swingman and appeared in 11 All-Star games.
No. 4 Seed: Gail Goodrich
Gail Goodrich isn't just a Lakers legend, but he's a Southern California institution as a native of the L.A. suburb of Sun Valley, Calif. and former star at UCLA.
He cemented himself as one of the L.A.'s greats at the professional level, too, by winning a title with the famous '72 squad. He's a five-time All-Star and was enshrined in the NBA Hall of Fame in 1996.
'80s & beyond Region
No. 1 Seed: Kobe Bryant
The Black Mamba needs no introduction. Bryant is still building his legend as he continues to star in Los Angeles. Despite the 2012-13 squad's current struggles as they fight for a playoff spot, Bryant is having a vintage season. He is the Lakers' all-time leading scorer. A feat that carries a lot of weight considering talent that's donned the purple and gold.
No. 2 Seed: Magic Johnson
No one player is more responsible for bringing Showtime to Los Angeles than the great Magic Johnson. He orchestrated the Lakers' most dominant years in the '80s and continued to be involved with the franchise long after his playing days. His name alone invokes the idea of a winner.
No. 3 Seed: Shaquille O'Neal
Where Abdul-Jabbar was skillful, Shaquille O'Neal was dominant and incredibly athletic. It can be argued that no player in history has been more unstoppable and able to impose his will on opponents. He won three titles in Los Angeles alongside Bryant in the Lakers' latest era of dominance in the early '00s.
No. 4 Seed: James Worthy
Worthy wasn't just the "Batman" to Magic Johnson's "Robin". A champion in every sense of the word that reached the pinnacle of both the NCAA and professional ranks, the former North Carolina Tar Heel made a name for himself by showing up biggest on the grandest of stages.
"Big Game" James deserves the jersey that he has immortalized in the rafters at Staples Center.
'60s & '70s
(1) Jerry West vs. (4) Gail Goodrich -- West advances
(2) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. (3) Elgin Baylor -- Baylor advances
'80s & beyond
(1) Kobe Bryant vs. (4) James Worthy -- Bryant advances
(2) Magic Johnson vs. (3) Shaquille O'Neal -- Johnson advances
First Round Recap:
Despite Goodrich's will to win, West was too much in the first round and defeated the Southern California legend handily. Abdul-Jabbar had a little tougher time with Baylor, simply because of Baylor's status as one of the founding fathers of the franchise. Abdul-Jabbar loses out because of Baylor's stature as one of the franchise's founding fathers.
In the '80s & Beyond Region, both matchups were tight. Bryant edged Worthy, who again showed up in a big matchup and wouldn't go down without a fight. Bryant is already cemented as perhaps the greatest Laker ever from a statistical standpoint, and in the end, that's too much for Worthy to compete with.
Ironically, Worthy is now an analyst for Lakers' network Time Warner SportsNet and regularly sings Bryant's praises.
On the other side, Shaquille O'Neal ran into the worst first-round draw he could imagine as he had to take on the great Magic Johnson. Shaq could easily make the final four based on merit, but it was Magic's intangibles that ultimately allowed him to prevail.
'60s & '70s
(1) Jerry West vs. (3) Elgin Baylor -- West advances
'80s & beyond
(1) Kobe Bryant vs. (2) Magic Johnson -- Johnson advances
Final Four Recap:
West and Baylor carried the Lakers legacy through the '60s and '70s. Without them, the Lakers would just be another better-than-average basketball team from that era. The same determination that made each of them hang on to be a part of the '72 team that won it all made this matchup extremely close. West advanced because of his ability to come through in the clutch, in addition to his national notoriety as the man on the logo.
In the tournament's first upset, Magic Johnson took Bryant to school. Johnson may not have the numbers or longevity that Bryant does, but he made players around him better and was the man behind the well-oiled Lakers teams of the '80s that looked unbeatable. On top of all that, he did it with a smile on his face and made an entire metropolitan area get excited about the NBA.
The Purple and Gold Championship
(1) Jerry West vs. (2) Magic Johnson
In the end, it was Johnson who deserves the edge here. Though his accomplishments on the court have been trumped by others in Lakers' history, he's as big of an icon as the franchise itself. West is such a gracious competitor and a stand-up guy, that he'd probably volunteer to hand Magic the trophy himself.
Lakers. Showtime. Magic Johnson. Those words go together as well as any in the purple and gold lexicon.
Congratulations, Magic. You are the greatest Laker ever.
(all statistics via Basketball-Reference.com)
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California sports journalist and editor. In addition to contributing to Yahoo! Sports and SB Nation, he is the Managing Editor and Founder of Sports Out West.
Catch up with him on Twitter@MikeJonesTweets
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Magic Johnson
- Kobe Bryant
- Gail Goodrich
- Jerry West