Kareem vs Shaq: Who’s the Greatest Center in Lakers History?



The storied Los Angeles Lakers franchise has hosted some of the NBA’s all-time great centers throughout the years. The crown of “best Lakers center ever” is a never-ending battle between Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for Laker fans.



Photo Credit: NBA

Because of his pure dominance and brute force, one would believe Shaq is the better player and had a better Lakers career, or at least equal to Kareem’s. That isn’t the case here. Kareem is by far the best Lakers center, and when comparing his Lakers’ career to Shaq, it becomes clear that the battle isn’t even close. The obvious case for Shaq would be his three Finals MVPs to Kareem’s one.

This argument is simple and weak. Kareem only had one Finals MVP, but he had two back to back league MVPs to Shaq’s one, and he has five rings in his last eight seasons to Shaq’s four rings in his total eight. Obviously, Kareem’s core accolades are far more significant and superior than Shaq’s for the sake of this argument.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can look at a detailed analysis to compare the two. If you ask someone why Shaq is the best Lakers center, they’d probably tell you he was more dominant than Kareem was. Couple this statement with his statistics and an argument for Shaq seems logical. 

But it isn’t.


The usage rating represents how involved a player is in the flow of the offense.


Specifically looking at playoff runs, Shaq’s usage rating average during his three championship runs was around 30%. On top of that, over that same time span, only three players averaged at least 10 points per game for the season and playoffs. Simply put, Shaq and Kobe were the only ones scoring. Because they three-peated, this method of offense was worth their while, but when looking at how Kareem fared with the same parameters, you can see Kareem’s efficiency, and this is what puts him ahead of Shaq.

Photo Credit: Kim Haggerty Zylius

During Kareem’s championship runs with the Lakers, his usage rating average was around 25%. And when looking at the team scoring averages, every run, Kareem led the team in scoring four of the five years, and five to seven players averaged double digits. 

Although he didn’t have the greater or equal individual averages that Shaq did, Kareem was still able to get his teammates involved and dominate with the Lakers as the focal point of the offense. This alone validates the argument that Kareem is the better Lakers center.

Most people consider championship rings as the judge and jury when it comes to debating who the better player is, but for this argument, we’re going to take a look at how competition factors into that argument.



By comparing the powerhouse teams in the league during each player’s run, we can get a clear look at who each player played to compare the level of competition and talent.



Photo Credit: NBA

During Shaq’s run with the Lakers, the biggest threats included Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, Karl Malone with the Utah Jazz, Reggie Miller with the Indiana Pacers, Jason Kidd with the New Jersey Nets, Allen Iverson with the Philadelphia 76ers, and Chauncey Billups with the Detroit Pistons. While these teams were good, they weren’t even close to the level of competition Kareem faced.

Kareem played the Dr. J led 76ers; Larry Bird led Celtics and the Bad Boy Pistons during his championship runs with LA. Just looking at who Kareem beat in the Finals compared to who Shaq beat in the Finals alone shows the difference in the level of competition between the two. Kareem’s opponents were superior over Shaq’s, and Kareem was able to win five championships against them while Shaq only won three. Without question, Kareem’s ability to win against the level of competition he did only strengthens his case for the best Lakers center. 

Just looking at the stats, Shaq might seem like the clear favorite, but it’s the exact opposite. The evidence for Kareem’s case is there, brighter than the sun. Numbers aren’t everything, and this dissection of Kareem and Shaq’s careers as Lakers validates that theory.


When it comes to deciding who is the best Laker center, Kareem is and should be the one sitting on the throne.

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-Mike Dancy II – Franchise Sports Media

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