When Kobe Bryant passed Shaquille O'Neal to become the NBA's fifth all-time leading scorer, it prompted a flurry of debates about his place in basketball history, but also his ranking among great Lakers, as in this video with ESPN's Tim Legler.
I don't love his list -- Wilt Chamberlain (Legler's #4) fits better among the five greatest players in NBA history than the five best greatest Lakers -- and Jerry West, excluded by Legler, should be in the top 5. Still, there are two big notables. First, Legler has Magic Johnson ahead of Kobe Bryant for the top spot, but admits there is subjectivity and historical bias in play. Namely, Magic is elevated not just by his accomplishments but also Legler's respect for the NBA though the 1980's.
Johnson tops my list, too, but I've long thought the G.L.O.A.T debate is generational. For fans, say, 35 and over, it's tough to put anyone ahead of Magic, just as it was likely tough for the previous era to put Magic ahead of West. In time, though, I suspect more often than not Kobe will land at the top, because more "voters" will come the pool of fans who grew up watching him, and only know Magic from highlight reels.
Second, lists like these reinforce the almost absurd levels of success and star power of the Lakers' franchise, historically speaking. Pundits and fans alike routinely assemble Top 5's like this one, and Hall of Famers James Worthy and Gail Goodrich don't get a sniff. For many -- maybe most -- there's no room to squeeze in Elgin Baylor. Elgin Baylor!