With the acquisition of Dwight Howard this season, the Los Angeles Lakers have once again added a superstar center to their storied franchise. Starting with George Mikan back when they were still in Minneapolis and on through the success enjoyed by Wilt Chamberlin, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers have seldom lacked for a quality big man. How Howard compares to some of these NBA greats still remains to be seen, but to become the greatest Lakers center of all-time here are the top five players Howard will have to beat out.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1975-1989)
A 13 time All-Star for the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar was already the premier center in the NBA before being acquired from the Bucks in June of 1976. While his first title with the Lakers did not come until he was teamed with Magic Johnson in 1980, Abdul-Jabbar nevertheless would go on to win five NBA titles with the team. Along the way he added three more NBA MVP awards to the two he had already won with the Bucks. A defensive force as much as an offensive one, Abdul-Jabbar’s 2,694 block shots as a Laker are more than twice the amount of any other player in team history.
George Mikan (1948-1956)
The first great center in franchise history, Mikan played his entire career in Minneapolis where he led the Lakers to its first five BAA and NBA titles. The Hall of Famer from Depaul enjoyed a stellar career for the team, winning three straight scoring titles (1948-1950), and six All-BBA/NBA First Team selections. At his best in the postseason, Mikan average 24 points and 13.9 rebounds per playoff game.
Shaquille O’Neal (1996-2004)
Though his career was spread over six different NBA teams, O’Neal was probably at his best when he was the starting center for the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA’s MVP in 1999-00 after leading the league in scoring, O’Neal would also lead the league six times in field goal percentages. An NBA All-Star all eight seasons he played with the Lakers, O’Neal would lead the franchise to three NBA titles during his tenure with the team.
Wilt Chamberlain (1968-1973)
An unstoppable scoring and rebounding machine earlier in his career, Wilt Chamberlain’s stay with the Lakers was limited to his final five seasons in the league. Nevertheless, Chamberlain would earn All-Star honors each of his seasons on the team while leading them to an NBA title in 1971-72. That same season he would be voted the MVP of the NBA Finals, averaging 21 rebounds and 46.9 minutes per playoff game. Among his other accomplishments as a Lakes, were four NBA rebounding titles and a league single season field goal percentage record when he scored on 72.7 percent of his shots in 1972-73. His 19.4 rebounds per game is still the best career mark in team history.
Elmore Smith (1973-1975)
Yes, he only spent two years on the team and he is better remembered for being part of the package deal that brought Abdul-Jabber to the Lakers, but Elmore Smith was nevertheless a quality pivot man that led the NBA in block shots twice. In fact, so proficient was Smith at blocking shots that his 393 block shots during the 1973-1974 season is still a team record, which is saying a lot on a franchise that boasts the likes of Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar.
Andrew Bynum (2005-2012)
Drafted 10th overall in 2005, Bynum went to work for the Lakers as an 18 year old rookie that season and in seven seasons on the team he was part of two NBA titles. Selected to the All-Star game in 2012, Bynum twice finished in the top ten in the NBA in block shots and once in total rebounds. The big seven footer closed out his stay on the team with career totals of 3,076 rebounds and 628 block shots.
Darrall Imhoff (1964-1968)
Nicknamed “Big D”, Imhoff was an All-Star for the Lakers in 1967. Though he was not much of a force on offense, Imhoff still holds the tenth best single season rebound total in team history having pulled down 1,080 boards in 1966-67. Dealt away in the deal that brought the team Wilt Chamberlin, Imhoff would go on to enjoy a successful 12 year career in the NBA.
Elden Campbell (1990-1998)
Built more like a power forward than a center, Campbell still manage to hold his own in the paint ranking third in career shot blocks (1022) and eight in offensive rebounds (1207). Though he would not be part of an NBA championship until he was a backup for the Pistons later in his career, Campbell did suit up for 59 postseason games for the Lakers. His best playoff game came in a losing effort to the Spurs on May 8th, 1995 when he stayed on the floor for 51 minutes and collected 18 rebounds and 25 points. The game came two days after a 29 point performance against the same team.
Vlade Divac (1989-1996 and 2004-2005)
A first round pick of the Lakers in 1989 (26th overall), Divac enjoyed some of the best seasons of a long NBA career with the Lakers. In eight seasons for the team, the 7-1 center scored 6,531points and 834 blocks (4th most in team history). Often at his best in the playoffs, Divac led the postseason in scoring percentage in 1990 (72.7%) and block shots (41) the following season while with the team.
Pau Gasol (2007-Current)
Though a three-time All-Star as a forward for the Lakers, The 7-0 Spaniard has often started at center in the absence of Andrew Bynum. This included a 31 game stretch to open the 2010-11 season, where he grabbed over 10 rebounds in 20 games and had six games in which he collected four or more blocks. Always a threat to score, Gasol added fave games in which he scored 28 or more points during that span.