Unlike the Los Angeles Clippers, where nary a face of the franchise was readily visible, the Lakers are lousy with notable stars. But the Clippers are just L.A. The Lakers are Hollywood. In an arena where the most recognizable face belongs to Jack Nicholson, finding a player who epitomizes the rich history and legendary status of the Lakers may be splitting hairs.
Let’s start with who cannot be the face of the Los Angeles Lakers:
LeBron James- there are no rules to “Determining the Face,” but if there were, the first two rules would be that you can’t be the face of more than one team. Since Cleveland would be faceless without LeBron James, he is automatically disqualified.
Shaquille O’Neal- he may arguably be the greatest big man in basketball history. He did earn three Finals MVPs during the Lakers turn of the century three-peat. Ironically, two of the other arguably greatest big men in the history of basketball also played for the Lakers, nullifying that argument. As for the early century accolades, Shaq got all his while playing with Kobe Bryant, and no way Shaq can beat out Kobe for face of the Lakers. Kobe was there his entire career. Shaq was sent packing. Anyone beating out Kobe is going to have to come from a different ear entirely.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar- while possibly one of the greatest Lakers of all time and the only player to patent his own shot (the Skyhook) — like Shaq — his importance to the Lakers is overshadowed (pun intended) by a player who made more as a Laker at the exact same time. Plus, can the face of your franchise really also have been in Airplane!?
James Worthy- could have been the face of almost any franchise of the era except the one he was on.
Wilt Chamberlain- “The Still” simply spread himself too thin during his career to beat out any of the franchise players.
So, they are all out.
Elgin Baylor- played his entire career for the Lakers (albeit some of that time in Minneapolis). I know a lot of these discussions tend to skew away form historic players because their memory isn’t as fresh. Elgin transcends that. Whether it’s enough to surpass the players below...well, that’s why we do this.
Jerry West- dude is the silhouette of the entire NBA, he deserved to be in the mix as the face for one measly franchise.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar- I take back everything from before and throw KAJ (luckily NBA commentators didn’t “initialize” players back in the day) back into the mix. After all, he has scored more points than any other player in the history of the NBA. He won as many MVPs as Magic, he built Showtime from the ground up, allowing Johnson to flourish, and he was so darn funny in that Airplane! movie.
Magic Johnson- if this one has to be explained, you must go sit with your elders and listen real good.
Last but not least-
Kobe- two decades, two retired numbers. Enough said...
Or is it?
One thought- does having two numbers impact or diminish his legacy? Does it split his time into two eras instead of one entire career. Do the two then have to be examined on their own merits? Instead of five titles, it’s three, then two more. Do the rape allegations deteriorate his importance? Does his inability to play nice with others make him less likeable than, say, Magic Johnson? If so, would then Magic be closer to edging himself over the top as the face of the franchise?
Chick Hearn- 40 seasons as the Lakers announcer, y’all. 40. If he’s not the face, he is most definitely the voice. If it helps, he’s in Fletch (which also features the cinematic Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
By the way, if you feel the need to drop Alex Caruso’s name into the mix, expect to have your comments torched. :)
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