Column: LeBron James thinks he belongs among Lakers greats. Fans think he needs to win a ring
LeBron James is undoubtedly one of the greatest NBA players of all time, and could go down as the greatest by the time he retires. However, he’s finding out that being an all-time NBA great doesn’t necessarily make you an all-time Lakers great.
James recently posted an artist’s rendering of himself, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Lakers uniforms, sitting courtside together as teammates. Under the illustration on Instagram he wrote, “SHEESH‼‼‼ So HONORED and GRATEFUL to be apart of GREATNESS. P.S. Man o Man that STARTING 5 vs any franchise All-Time. Let’s Get it!! #LakeShow #KingMe #Mamba #Diesel #Magic #KingSkyHook”
The post has nearly 2 million likes, but many of the more than 20,000 comments are from Lakers fans reminding James he hasn’t done enough wearing purple and gold to be included in that company.
This kind of backlash from Lakers fans is nothing new. A mural depicting James along with Chick Hearn, Bryant, O’Neal, Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain was vandalized last year when someone poured white paint over James’ image and left the others untouched. Another mural of James in a Lakers uniform was vandalized by someone who spray-painted over his face and wrote, “We don’t want you.”
Abdul-Jabbar, who played 14 of his 20 seasons for the Lakers, believes James deserves to be on the list of Lakers greats and will begin to show fans why this season.
“He’s already shown he’s still the complete player that the Lakers wanted so I don’t think he needs to worry about that,” Abdul-Jabbar said Monday during a phone interview while attending the grand opening of NBA Experience at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. “They just needed to put the right pieces in place around him. You can’t win a world championship with just one elite player. You need some help and I think he has that now.”
Abdul-Jabbar wouldn’t make any championship predictions, but he did say the Lakers with James and the additions of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins could win a championship. And he expects Lakers fans to warm up to James if the Lakers are playing meaningful games in May and June after missing the playoffs the last six seasons and failing to win a playoff game since 2012.
“If he plays well and the team is contending and in the playoffs and advancing late in the playoffs, that should be enough,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “He doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone, but Lakers fans are still hungry and that’s a good sign. They want to win and they want to support the team.”
The Lakers open the 2019-20 season against the Clippers and will play their Staples Center rivals again on Christmas Day.
O’Neal posted the same photo James did on his Instagram feed and said he would play power forward with Abdul-Jabbar playing center on that Lakers “dream team.” He also said he would put Abdul-Jabbar and Chamberlain over himself when ranking the best Lakers centers.
“It’s nice that Shaq would say that but I’ve always felt you can’t really compare eras,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “We don’t know how dominant George Mikan was in the late ’40s and early ’50s. It’s just hard to compare one era to the next.”
James is fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list behind Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Bryant. He likely will pass Bryant this season, which will create another interesting moment between Lakers fans and James, who is 5,844 points behind Abdul-Jabbar for first on the list.
If James, 34, plays four more seasons he would likely pass Abdul-Jabbar and could finish a 20-year career as the all-time leader in points and the only player to record at least 30,000 points and 10,000 assists. If he wins a championship with the Lakers, he should be thought of as an all-time Lakers great. The best comparison would be Chamberlain, who played the final five seasons of his hall of fame career with the Lakers and won one championship in Los Angeles before retiring.
The key is winning a championship, and that ultimately will determine how Lakers fans view James. The same goes for Davis, who is hoping to become the next great Lakers big man to win a title.
“Davis is a complete NBA player,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “He can do it all on both ends of the court. He’s going to be a great addition and the fact that he has played with Cousins before in New Orleans and they’ll be teammates again will be good. They have some history, and now they’re going to team up with LeBron James.
“They have the nucleus of a very good team. The Lakers have put the right pieces together to be championship contenders this season.”
All things Lakers, all the time.
Get all the Lakers news you need in Dan Woike's weekly newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.