When talking about the best centers in Los Angeles Lakers history, the first name that will likely come to mind is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — and understandably so. In his prime, the 7-foot-2 Lakers center was a dominant force with one of the most iconic shots in NBA history.
Nevertheless, there are still a number of big names that make up the list of the greatest centers in Lakers history. Today, we take a look at the historic careers of a handful of them.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis’ time with the Purple & Gold has been brief. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to the Laker center’s debut season with L.A. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that Davis has been extremely impressive in the short span we’ve seen him as a Laker.
In 55 games in his debut campaign, the 6-foot-10 big man averaged 26.7 points (on 51.1 percent shooting), 9.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.4 blocks, and 1.2 triples per contest. His arrival during the previous summer propelled the Lakers into instant title contention, and they have absolutely lived up to the high expectations, ranking first overall in a ruthless Western Conference before the pandemic put a stop to the season.
Now, Davis has played the majority of his minutes at the 4 during his short tenure with the Lakers, but he has still played a good chunk at center and the Lakers often go to him at the 5 when it really matters. He has also played more center over the course of his career. The sample size for AD with the Lakers is undoubtedly small, but we’re pretty sure that he will be up there with the best of them once it is all said and done.
Honorable Mention: Pau Gasol
Another player we had to put on here is Pau Gasol, who was pivotal during L.A.’s back-to-back title run in 2009 and 2010. Technically, Gasol played more at center even with Andrew Bynum around (per Basketball-Reference), which is why he makes it as an honorable mention on this list.
Nonetheless, we also ranked the Spaniard as one of the best power forwards in Lakers history, and a more in-depth analysis of his contributions to the franchise can be seen here.
George Mikan played for the franchise — then the Minneapolis Lakers — between 1948 and 1956. Mikan revolutionized the game with his sheer size and dominance. He was so good that many consider him to be the reason why the 24-second shot clock was put in place, only to level the playing field a bit.
He was the top scorer in the league during his first three years in the BAA/NBA, averaging 28.0 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists during this span. Mikan was a four-time All-Star and won five championships with the Lakers.
The 1960s belonged to the great Wilt Chamberlain, and he has the credentials to prove it over the course of his illustrious career: Rookie of the Year, 13-time All-Star, seven-time scoring champion, 10-time All-NBA team member, two-time All-Defensive Team member, one-time Finals MVP, and four-time regular-season MVP.
There’s no doubt that Chamberlain was one of the greatest big men this league has ever seen, but the caveat here is that he joined the Lakers in the twilight of his career. He was already 32 when he signed with L.A., but still, he was able to win one of his two championships with the Purple & Gold. In his best year as a Laker, Chamberlain still averaged 27.3 points and 18.4 rebounds per game, but it was a far cry from his 50.4-25.7 average as a 25-year-old.
Shaq was the most dominant force in the NBA in the few years after Michael Jordan retired. Shaq had eight glorious years with the Lakers, and he was part and parcel of that historic three-peat from 2000-2002. Alongside the great Kobe Bryant, these two are considered by many not only as the most formidable pairing in Lakers history, but in the entire NBA as well.
As destiny would have it, though, O’Neal’s disputes with Bryant would lead to their infamous breakup in 2004. Shaq would make his way to the Miami Heat to pair up with the up-and-coming Dwyane Wade, with the two joining forces to win Shaq’s fourth and final NBA title in 2006. We’ll never know how many more championships the Shaq-Kobe duo would have won had they just gotten along.
The great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tops our list for one simple reason: sustained dominance. L.A. struck gold with the 7-foot-2 big man when they got him in a trade from the Milwaukee Bucks in the summer of 1975, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Abdul-Jabbar finished his career as Rookie of the Year winner, 19-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA member, 11-time All-Defensive Team member, two-time Finals MVP, and a six-time regular-season MVP.
Nonetheless, his most impressive feat would have to be the five championships he won with the Lakers. Playing alongside fellow Lakers legend Magic Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and the “Showtime Lakers” won the title in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988. He also won one championship with the Bucks in his sophomore year, making him a six-time NBA champ in total.
As a Laker, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 22.1 points (on 56.7 percent from the field), 9.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.9 steals, and 2.5 blocks per contest. These numbers are only that “low” because they’re brought down by the final seasons of his career, but he was a double-double machine to start his Lakers career and remained pretty effective into his 40s.