50 Greatest Players- 15 years later

    During the 1996-1997 season, a list of the 50 greatest players was released. The list, taken from, is as follows


This is the list of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, ordered alphabetically:

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  2. Nate Archibald
  3. Paul Arizin
  4. Charles Barkley
  5. Rick Barry
  6. Elgin Baylor
  7. Dave Bing
  8. Larry Bird
  9. Wilt Chamberlain
  10. Bob Cousy
  11. Dave Cowens
  12. Billy Cunningham
  13. Dave DeBusschere
  14. Clyde Drexler
  15. Julius Erving
  16. Patrick Ewing
  17. Walt Frazier
  1. George Gervin
  2. Hal Greer
  3. John Havlicek
  4. Elvin Hayes
  5. Magic Johnson
  6. Sam Jones
  7. Michael Jordan
  8. Jerry Lucas
  9. Karl Malone
  10. Moses Malone
  11. Pete Maravich
  12. Kevin McHale
  13. George Mikan
  14. Earl Monroe
  15. Hakeem Olajuwon
  16. Shaquille O'Neal
  17. Robert Parish
  1. Bob Pettit
  2. Scottie Pippen
  3. Willis Reed
  4. Oscar Robertson
  5. David Robinson
  6. Bill Russell
  7. Dolph Schayes
  8. Bill Sharman
  9. John Stockton
  10. Isiah Thomas
  11. Nate Thurmond
  12. Wes Unseld
  13. Bill Walton
  14. Jerry West
  15. Lenny Wilkens
  16. James Worthy.
In these days of lockout induced basketball boredom, I propose we look at this list, now 15 years old, and see where we can fit in current players who deserve mention in this list--and who we would eliminate from the original list to keep it at 50.

  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.

There are other players who may someday find themselves in this conversation. Howard, Durant, CP3, Rose, Griffin and D Will come to mind. But for purposes of this discussion, I am only including players who have resumes that currently are comparable to the original 50. I realize in saying this, that James and Wade will come under immediate fire. So be it. If you think those two, or anyone else on my list, lack sufficient resumes, explain why in the comments. For the record, I think Jame's overall game and talent already put him in the discussion; Wade is another uniquely gifted player, and he does have a ring.
  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.
All right, we still need spots for guys like Iverson and Payton. They surely are among the 50 greatest are they not?  
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?

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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