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There have been a whole bunch of great Lakers. You don’t get to 16 championships without them. Shaquille O’Neal says he knows who the best one is, though. And it’s not himself.
Shaq thinks Kobe Bryant is the greatest Laker ever, and he said so during Inside the NBA‘s segment on TNT discussing each of the analysts’ favorite Kobe moments.
Here’s what O’Neal had to say on Bryant’s legacy:
Number one: The greatest Laker player ever. It was amazing that he played one franchise for 20 years, did it his way. He accomplished everything he set out to accomplish. I remember when he first came in, he said he wanted to be better than Michael Jordan — like, young fella, hold up — but passed him up in points. One championship less than what Mike has. But to be the greatest Laker ever, I think that’s an amazing accomplishment.
They got Kareem. They got Wilt. They got Magic. So, I think him going out as the greatest Laker ever, going out the way he did, I think it’s remarkable. Plus, you’ve got a guy that didn’t go to college, came from high school. And to accomplish all that from high school, not going to college, I think it’s great.
Kenny Smith had a more distinct favorite Bryant memory:
We’re on the bus, Enie. True story. And this is a benefit for Hurricane Katrina. All day we’ve been giving out all kinds of gifts and all kinds of things to make people’s lives better. So, I’m getting on the bus, and I’m thanking everybody for coming, and we’re about to play the game, and I appreciate you coming. He gets up in the middle of it and says, “But I’m just letting y’all know I’m playing serious tonight. And if you’re not playing serious, I’m gonna hand it to you.” I’m like, there he is. Who does that with 12 other All-Stars sitting on the bus but Kobe Bryant?
Barkley later busted out some shoes to bid Bryant adieu.
Let’s go back to Shaq’s comments, though, because it’s tough to say Kobe is the greatest Laker. And to O’Neal’s credit, he readily admits that while referencing some other Hall of Famers.
The team history is rich with all-time greats. Magic normally holds the title of best ever, though many can reasonably disagree and argue Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a better career. Now, Bryant has entered the mix, but it’ll be interesting to see how much of that debate holds up over the years, how much of it has to do simply with recency bias.
Is Kobe better than Jerry West? Or Elgin Baylor, who was the most cursed all-time Laker great when it came to winning rings, but whose numbers were unquestionably dominant? Was he even better than O’Neal or Chamberlain, whose careers in L.A. were far shorter, but arguably more potent?
Either way, Bryant is going down as one of the few best Lakers and few best shooting guards ever. You have to imagine that even with his competitive spirit, he’ll take that.