During the 1996-1997 season, a list of the 50 greatest players was released. The list, taken from NBAuniverse.com, is as follows
This is the list of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, ordered alphabetically:
Here is a quick list of players who played in the last 15 years who aren't on this list who I feel might have a place on it.
- Tim Duncan
- Kevin Garnett
- Allen Iverson
- Kobe Bryant
- Lebron James
- Dwayne Wade
- Ray Allen
- Dirk Nowitzki
- Alonzo Mourning
- Gary Payton
- Missed someone? Leave who in comments
Now who to cut? This isn't an easy task. For one, a lot of these players (ones from the 50s, 60s,) I haven't even heard of- I have no frame of reference for how they played, yet on paper they're resumes are generally iron clad. I feel it would be unfair if, in say 50 years, someone doing a similar exercise cuts Karl Malone because they have never heard of him. Having "never heard" of someone does not in any way diminish greatness. So, I kept my cuts to only players I have more familiar with- this significantly shrank my pool. It also weeded out from the list above guys like Ray Allen and Alonzo Mourning. Even so, it is not an easy task. For instance, I spent a good deal of time debating Iverson vs Pistol Pete. Ultimately, I couldn't straight up cut Pete for AI- yet I feel Iverson belongs on this list somewhere. I did nail down, however, 3 cuts I would make. Again, I am making this deliberately controversial to a) spark debate and drive away the lockout dulls and b) to get of the woodwork some of you who can better chip in on the older generational players.
My first round of cuts:
- Patrick Ewing vs Tim Duncan- He is ringless. Now, he never had a superstar sidekick- this is true. But he lacked a quality of leadership- there was always something missing with Patrick. I wouldn't cut him for Wade or James at this point. But Tim Duncan? Sure. See, like Ewing, Duncan carried a franchise essentially alone for the bulk of his career without a second superstar. Duncan started with Robinson, sure, but I don't think his later supporting casts were significantly better than the ones Ewing got. Yet, Tim has the rings. And the MVPs.
- Bill Walton vs Kevin Garnett- Can he really be among the greatest 50 with Kevin Garnett not? Being injury riddled is not a players fault. But let's face it, he missed a lot of games. And given that he was no more brilliant than Garnett, I'm cutting him. He does have an MVP, like Garnett. I won't give props to Garnett for his DPOY, since the award didn't exist for most (if any) of Walton's career. But simply longevity is the reason Garnett should get the nod over Walton.
- Cylde Drexler vs Kobe Bryant- He'll be one of my more controversial cut picks. Simply put: he wasn't a mind blowing scorer, and his only ring comes when he teamed up with Hakeem. Kobe has 5 rings to his name (sorry, but Pau is no Hakeem), is a better scorer and rebounds and assists at roughly the same clip. Disagree? Comment why.
Before ending this, a few lessons I want to point out. 1. The history of the NBA is rich. Researching guys like Dave Cowens, Tiny Archibald and Dave DeBusschere has shown how rich and exciting the history of the NBA is. We may not have basketball right now, but there is a full list of legends from the past that many of us may not be familiar with. Don't limit your fandom to the present only.
2. We can fall into 2 fallacious thinking about past players: the first is immortalizing them. It was hard for me to cut Ewing and Drexler- these guys are legends. But greater players have come since their time. In another 50 years, an honest greatest 50 compilation will look completely different than our current one. The second fallacy is overstating current players against legends. I quickly realised James, Wade and Ray Allen had no place on my list just yet. It makes me think of a line from Tennyson's Ulysses: "and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are..."
3. What value do we place on achievements? We tend to look at achievements in a sort of hierarchy. Scoring is viewed as very important. Championships are- but not so much "team up" championships in the waning years of a career (see, Payton, Gary) MVP awards play a role, efficiency, etc. We can't get to one dimensional in our evaluating a player or we risk missing out on the larger picture (for instance does multi ring Luke Walton warrant any discussion, or scoring fiend Monta Ellis? No)
Who would you add to the list of the greatest 50? Who would you cut? And why?