This past offseason, LeBron James shocked the basketball world by joining the Los Angeles Lakers, teaming up with young, potential-filled players like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma. The Lakers are one of the most dominant franchises in NBA history because of all the basketball legends that have played for them, including names like Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Shaquille O’Neal, and more. The list goes on and on. However, out of all the great LA stars, the player who is widely regarded as the best Laker ever is Kobe Bryant, who devoted 20 years to the organization, bringing them five NBA championships. However, with the acquisition of James, who many say is the best player to ever play the game of basketball, will Bryant’s title be put into question?
Some already say that ‘The King’ is the greatest Laker ever—regardless of the fact that he hasn’t even played a regular or postseason game for the team—because he’s the best player that’s ever worn the purple and gold. This is incorrect, and disrespectful to the other all-time Lakers, especially Bryant. The debate isn’t about the best player to play for the Lakers. It’s about which player has had the biggest impact on the organization. That’s what makes the greatest Laker. Otherwise, that’s like saying that Michael Jordan is the best Washington Wizard of all-time.
So that argument is eliminated. What will put Bryant’s legacy into question all depends on how James performs over the next four years (the amount of years on his contract with LA). For number 23 to surpass number 24, he needs to not only be dominant himself, but also bring LA success. It’s unlikely that he’ll match Bryant—who, again, led the team to win five titles in 20 years—but he needs to do as much as he can in less time.
It will be difficult for James to win even three or four championships because of the stacked Western Conference that consists of absolute powerhouses like the Warriors, Rockets, and Thunder. One or two championship runs would be more than enough for James to establish his greatness. However, it doesn’t rely on the number of titles he wins; what’s more significant is what he’ll be able to bring out of his teammates. James (obviously) isn’t on a super-team. Instead, his surrounding pieces are comprised of young, inexperienced players with potential, as well as some NBA veterans (Michael Beasley, Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, Javale McGee) as many are uncertain in what they can still bring to the table.
If LeBron can bring out the best in his teammates, rack up wins for the Lakers, bring them to the top of the rankings, and make a deep postseason run, then—and only then—will James be considered the greatest Laker of all-time. Specifically, what James would have to do to really make a case for himself as the ‘GOAT’ Laker is make Brandon Ingram into the lethal scorer that many expected him to be in his first few seasons, turn Lonzo Ball into a more aggressive playmaker and potential scoring option, and perhaps even heighten Javale McGee’s basketball IQ in having him make quality decisions and position himself in better places on the court at better times. He could also shape Lance Stephenson into a stronger defender and strengthen chemistry between himself and Rajon Rondo.
Pushing teammates to reach their full potential is what made Kobe Bryant so fantastic. That was the primary reason the Lakers had so much success throughout his reign in the NBA. James, who has historically had the image of being impatient with teammates and running “a one-man show,” can elevate his game to the next level by achieving these tasks. If the 6’8” forward is able to do this, then success, and possibly even championships, are bound to follow, which will indubitably make James the greatest Los Angeles Laker to ever lace ‘em up.