Lists always generate discussion. People love comparisons. This week ESPN provided excellent talk show fodder by releasing its list of the Top 100 all-time NBA players.
I always expect the worst in these matters, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Sort of. Partially.
They got 1 through 8 correct.. That’s a start. But. of course, it wasn’t perfect because the order is a bit skewed.
The big boo-boo was quite predictable. Too many people think basketball began with Larry and Magic or Dr J or Michael You-Know-Who. But the fact is there were many skilled and, yes, athletic players back in the 60s. I believe strongly that I could assemble a 12-man team comprised of people who played at least half their careers in the 1960s that could compete favorably with the best we have today. Leading that list is the man the ESPN list has as the 8th best player of all-time, and I am speaking of the great Bill Russell, the greatest winner in the history of North American team sport.
Bill Russell should be number one.
Here is what Bill Russell would do if parachuted into the contemporary NBA exactly as he was when he played from 1956 through 1969. I am talking about the entire physical and mental package, because a great deal of what made him so special was what went on above the neck.
1. He would, without question, lead the league in rebounding.
2. He would, without question, lead the league in blocked shots.
3. He would, without question, be the annual winner of the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
4. He would, without question, win a bunch of championship rings.
What some voters apparently don’t understand is that he was way ahead of his time athletically. The two most important players in shaping the game of basketball into what it became in the final 40 years of the 20th century, and into the 21st,. were Elgin Baylor on offense and Bill Russell on defense. Baylor took a game that was essentially horizontal and occasionally vertical and made it diagonal. He gave us the basic elements of today’s individual offensive game with his innovative stutter steps and body control moves that enabled him to get off shots the world had never seen. He made up-and-under moves people never knew existed.
Russell played in the air, changing the concept of what a center could be. He was an extraordinary 6-9 athlete with phenomenal lift and truly frightening quickness attached to a superior aptitude for the game and an anticipation possessed by no one else. On so many of his blocks he really did seem to come out of nowhere.
I guess you had to see him to appreciate him, because there is really no one who has come along in the past 47 years who equates to his total package.
As far as the winning goes, consider this: he played 21 what I would call winner-take-all games in his college, amateur and pro career. That includes every NCAA tournament game, every Olympic medal round game, every NBA best-of-five and every NBA best-of-seven. His team’s record in those 21 games?
You think there might have been a little cause and effect?
The rest of the Top 8 has the right people: Michael, Kareem, Wilt, Magic, Larry, LeBron, and Duncan. They had Shaq 9 and Hakeem 10, and that’s close, but not correct. You MUST have Oscar in the Top 10. Then we can argue Kobe vs. Jerry.
There’s so much more to talk about, and so little time. I will say that putting Steph Curry at 23 is a bit rash. Make him play a little longer, OK?
Shaq is a mortal lock. He is a Top 6 all-time center. He’s not Russ, Kareem or Wilt, but he’s right there with Moses and Hakeem in the next tier.
My other player choice is Allen Iverson. He doesn’t need any defense from me, either. His accomplishments speak for themselves.
I can’t wait to hear what Shaq will say and what Iverson will wear.
That’s it for NBA players. Kevin Johnson? Nah. He goes in the Hall of PDG (Pretty Damn Good), but not the Hall of Fame. Intriguing coaching possibilities includ Lefty Driesell, Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan. Lefty deserves a close look, being the only man to win 100 games at four different schools. He also coached in the ACC when only one school could go to the NCAA tournament. Izzo will get in, if not on the first try but very soon. Bo is interesting. He did win four national Division 3 titles at Wisconsin-Platteville, remember.