Professional sports are fun and yet so tricky given all of the never ending debates that stem from them. Indeed, arguments usually come in the form of “Kobe or Magic is better than so and so because…”and from there others chime in and add fuel to the fire by adding or simply refuting points with in depth analysis; or perhaps outlandish statements.
The juiciest ammunition that fans and media members alike love to use when comparing greats is the amount of championships won by the players being compared. It’s one way to go about hammering a point home, but not necessarily the best.
Because simply comparing the amount of titles between two great players from different eras or even perhaps the same completely trivializes the contributions of role players.
And make no mistake, they matter. If evidence is needed, think back to the 2012 NBA Finals, where players such as Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Mike Miller all played a huge part in the Heat winning the title.
Far too often, we throw a lot of praise and admiration at the feet of superstars and fail to recognize just how important the “other guys” are…
The Forum Blue and Gold staff went back and looked at every role player in the history of the Lakers’ franchise and voted for all of them in order to rank the 10 best role players in the rich history of the franchise.
Mind you, before we could get to voting, it was important that we decide early on what we meant by role player. For instance, in the eyes of some, Pau Gasol and Jamal Wilkes could fit the description of one, while others might completely disagree. So we figured, anyone that could potentially make the list of top 20 Lakers ever had to absolutely be off the list of role players. So guys like Worthy, Goodrich, Gasol and the like had no shot of making our rankings.
With that idea firmly entrenched, we voted and came up with a list of 10 role players that we felt were the best at being just that during their time with Lakers franchise.
Before beginning the countdown, let’s quickly run through the players that almost made the cut and thus can be cited as being honorable mention: Mychal Thompson, Nick Van Exel, Metta World Peace, Glen Rice, Brian Shaw, Vlade Divac and Happy Hairston.
And thus our countdown begins…
10. A.C. Green
A.C. Green joined the Los Angeles Lakers as a rookie and played just a shade under 19 minutes per game and came off the bench to give the team some rebounding and frontcourt versatility. Indeed, the 6’9’’ power forward could run the floor, defend in open space as well as on the interior and finish around the basket when given opportunities.
It wasn’t long before Green was starting for the Lakers in his second season (1986-87 season) at power forward on the greatest Los Angeles Lakers team in franchise history. On a team with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper, it’s easy to take Green for granted but truthfully he was essential to the team’s success.
Green’s contributions may not have stood out given that they did not come in the form of scoring or gaudy rebounding figures, but his defense was a big part of what made the Lakers — an offensive juggernaut — a team capable of getting key stops and speed up the tempo to run the opponent off the floor.
The Oregon State product had quick feet for his size and thus could do two things that most modern NBA big men struggle to do today: defend pick-and-rolls by hedging or even switching onto smaller defenders and deter them from going to the basket; and defend areas of the court in a half-court trap.
Pat Riley employed a zone trap that he loved to use to force opposing teams to use all of the shot clock, but also to change the dynamic of the offense of his opponent given that some teams occasionally got excited and rushed their possessions and took low percentage shots or simply turned the ball over, which fed the Showtime fast break.
Consequently, whenever Kareem went to the bench, Riley loved to employ his zone trap with Green playing a prominent role in it given that he was an effective helper in the scheme, but also because he recovered and defended most positions should the trap get broken and players had to scatter back to defend whichever man was open.
With Green on board, the Lakers won two NBA titles and made three NBA Finals appearances in the Magic Johnson era.
After the superstar guard retired, Green eventually left the Lakers a couple of seasons later but then returned at age 36 for one final run with the purple and gold. During the 1999-00 season, the 6’9’’ big man split time with Robert Horry at the power forward position and defended arguably the deepest position in the Western Conference — Chris Webber, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett all played at high level in the conference that season — and found ways to make it work.
A.C. Green was still a solid rebounder although he was less athletic and couldn’t cover as much ground defensively as he had done prior. Nonetheless, his contributions on defense as well as his ability to blend into the triple-post offense helped the Los Angeles Lakers win the first of many titles in the Shaquille O’Neal era.
Consider this: A.C. Green was part of championship teams with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson and then later on with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
And yet, perhaps the most impressive tidbit about the Oregon State product’s stint with the Lakers is that he only played nine seasons total with the franchise and yet shows up in the team’s record books because he suited up for almost every Lakers game. Indeed, in his time in L.A., he missed a total of three games. That’s it.
Consequently, he is 10th all time in franchise history in games played (735 games), 10th in steals (657 steals), eighth in total rebounds (5,632 total rebounds), sixth in defensive rebounds (3,543 defensive rebounds) and second in offensive rebounds (2,089 offensive rebounds).
A.C. Green never came close to being an NBA superstar, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, he played his part as a defender and occasional offensive contributor and helped the Lakers win three titles because he helped complete the championship puzzle.