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Thursday, June 2, 2011

He said WHAT????

“In my opinion, he’s (Dirk Nowitski) a top 10 player in NBA history because of the uniqueness of his game and how he’s carried this franchise on his back for over a decade.”
-          Mavs Coach Rick Carlisle

“Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play the game. I may go so far as saying LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game.”
"Jordan?  SmH"

-          Former Bulls’ great Scottie Pippen  

“Kobe Bryant could probably beat Jordan, Magic, Bird, Kareem, and Jesus Christ by himself.  SmH!”

-          My friend, Casey Butler

All of these spectacular claims brought two thoughts to my mind.  First of all, have Scottie Pippen, Rick Carlisle, and Casey Butler all gone absolutely crazy? 

Secondly, and more importantly, who are the top 10 players in NBA history?  It is an intense debate that rages on around bar rooms and water coolers throughout the country.  So with that, I have compiled my list of top 10 NBA players of the past 35 years, regardless of position, with one qualifier:  I did not consider any player whose career finished before the ABA-NBA merger in 1976.  Therefore, you will not see any Bill Russells, Pistol Pete Maraviches, or Wilt Chamberlins on this list.  So here’s my list:  After all, there are two things that men can’t resist:  Arguments and Lists.

10.  Hakeem Olajuwon C – Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors (1984-2002) 

2x NBA Champion
1994 NBA MVP
2x NBA Finals MVP
12x All-Star,
2x NBA Defensive Player of the Year
12x All-NBA (6 First Team)
9x All-Defensive Team (5)

Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon was drafted #1 overall in the 1984 NBA draft, two picks ahead of one Michael Jeffery Jordan.  However, at the time, this pick was a slam dunk.    He led the Rockets to two championships, and was a dominant force on both ends of the court.  He retired as the NBA all time leader in blocked shots and with averages of 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game.  He had unbelievable grace, agility, and footwork for a 7’1, 260 lb man, which allowed him to be possibly the most polished low post player ever.  My lasting image of Olajuwon was him spinning the Spurs’ David Robinson in circles during their win in the 1995 Western Conference Finals over San Antonio.

9.  LeBron James – F – Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat (2003-) 

2x NBA MVP (09-10)
7x NBA All-Star
2008 NBA Scoring Champ
7x All NBA (5)
3x All Defensive Team (3)
NBA Rookie of the Year (2004)
2x Eastern Conference Champion

“The King” may be enemy #1 after his unceremonious departure from Northern Ohio, but this is one legacy still in the making.  The NBA has never seen such a combination of size, speed, athleticism and versatility that James possesses.  Originally compared to elite scorers such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, James reminds me much more of Magic Johnson.  A 6’8, 260 lb point guard in a power forward’s body, James has wowed the league with his ability to make those around him better with his outstanding passing skills, all  while being dominate on the defensive end.  A double-double machine, James sports career averages of 27.7 ppg (3rd all-time), 7.1 rpg, 6 apg, and 1.6 spg in just 7 seasons.  Possibly on the cusp of his first championship, James is poised to make a run up this list very soon.

8.  Kobe Bryant G – Los Angeles Lakers (1996-) 

5x NBA Champion
2x Finals MVP
2008 NBA MVP
13x NBA All-Star
2x NBA Scoring Champion
13x All-NBA (9)
11x All-Defensive Team (9)
1997 NBA Slam Dunk Champion

Dealt from the Charlotte Hornets to L.A. on draft night 1996, Kobe Bryant burst onto the scene straight out of high school by garnering 2nd team all rookie his first year and winning the 1997 slam dunk contest in his second season.  Bryant went on to establish himself as one of the best pure scorers in NBA history.  He sports averages of 25.3 points and 4.7 assists per game in his 15 seasons, and has been a key player on five NBA Championship teams with the Lakers, including two Finals MVPs.  Also an elite defender, Bryant has secured his position as one of the most dominant wing players in NBA history.  

7.  Tim Duncan – PF – San Antonio Spurs (1997-)

4x NBA Champion
3x Finals MVP
13x NBA All-Star
13x All-NBA (9)
13x All-Defensive Team
1998 NBA Rookie of the Year

Tim Duncan may be the most underrated, boring superstar and league history, but he is also one of the most decorated.  In his first 13 seasons, Duncan has been an All-Star, All-NBA, and All-Defense 13 times.  He led the San Antonio Spurs, who had never been to an NBA Final before his arrival, to 4 NBA Championships and 14 playoff appearances.  His 3 NBA Finals MVPs tie him with Shaquille O’Neal and Magic Johnson for 2nd most all-time.  Duncan’s simple but effective play has left him with a game, and resume, with no holes in it.  “The Big Fundamental” is probably the most fundamentally sound superstars in the history of the game.  Duncan’s career averages of 20.6 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 3.1 apg and 2.3 bpg, along with his prowess as an elite post defender on some of the best defensive teams in NBA history, lock up his status as a top-10 all time player. 

6.  Shaquille O’Neal C – Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics (1992-2011)  

 4x NBA Champion
3x NBA Finals MVP
2000 NBA MVP
15x NBA All-Star
2x NBA Scoring Champion
14x All-NBA (8)
3x All Defensive Team
1993 NBA Rookie of the Year

O’Neal entered the League possessing possibly the most impressive combination of size, strength and athleticism ever seen from a big man.  The #1 pick in 1992 by the Orlando Magic, O’Neal entered the league with a bang, earning Rookie of the Year and the first of his 15 All Star game appearances in his first year.  He led the Magic to the NBA finals in his third season, losing to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets in a four game sweep.  After four years in Central Florida, O’Neal signed with the Lakers in 1996 as a free agent.  Shaq won four NBA championships in his career, 3 in a row with the L.A. Lakers – including 3 finals MVPs – from 2000-2003 and one as a member of the Miami Heat in 2006.  During his 3 NBA Finals with the Lakers, O’Neal averaged an unprecedented 36.1 ppg, 15.2 rpg, and 3.2 bpg.  Known for his outgoing personality as much as his on court exploits, O’Neal dominated the league in a time when some of the best big men in NBA history - such as Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Dikembe Mutumbo, Alonzo Mourning, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley – all were in their prime.  O’Neal also racked up 13 seasons averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, most in NBA history, and finished his career with a field goal percentage of 59%.

5.  Kareem Abdul Jabbar – C – Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers (1969-1989) 

6x NBA Champion
2x NBA Finals MVP
19x All-Star
15x All-NBA Team (10)
11x All Defensive Team (5)
1970 NBA Rookie of the Year

Kareem Abdul Jabbar was one of the most dominant and transcendent players in the history of basketball.  After a stellar three year career at UCLA which included more NCAA Championships (3) than losses (2), Abdul Jabbar won his first NBA title with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971.  Kareem was traded to the Lakers in 1975, where he was a part of 5 more NBA championship squads in the 80’s.  Kareem’s infamous sky hook, which was virtually un-blockable, allowed Abdul Jabbar to to finish his career as the NBA’s all time leading scorer with 38,387 points.  Relatively slim at 225 lbs, Abdul Jabbar dominated the NBA by using his exceptional agility, footwork, and skill to make him an unstoppable low-post weapon throughout his career.  He is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated players in NBA history.  Many believe this is so because of his often sullen personality, extreme political and social views, and his conversion to the Muslim faith (and changing his name from Lew Alcinder).  

4.  Julius Erving – SF – Virginia Squires (ABA), New York Nets (ABA), Philadelphia 76ers (1971-1987)

1983 NBA Champion
2x ABA Champion
 2x ABA Playoffs MVP
1981 NBA MVP
11x NBA All-Star
5x ABA All-Star
7x All-NBA Team (5)
5x All-ABA Team (4)
1976 ABA All Defensive team

“Dr J,” Julius Erving, may be the single most important player in the history of the NBA.  His impact almost directly led to the ABA-NBA merger in 1976, creating the NBA that we know today.  Erving chose to sign with the ABA out of UMass, spurning the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.  After completing 5 ABA seasons, Erving was sold to the Philadelphia 76ers after the ABA-NBA merger.  Erving was a high-flying wing player who was ahead of his time, laying the foundation for other players of his ilk such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James while leading Philly to the 1983 NBA Championship.  Erving won the NBA’s first ever slam dunk contest, and produced some of the most memorable highlights in NBA history such as the “Rock the Baby” dunk over Michael Cooper of the L.A. Lakers in 1983 and “The Baseline Move,” his signature move in which he was forced completely under the basket on the right baseline and somehow reached back to score on a layup over Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the 1980 NBA Finals.  Erving’s career was not all sizzle, however, as he is 5th on the ABA/NBA scoring list with 30,026 points.  For his career, Erving finished with averages of 24.2 ppg and 8.5 rpg.  

3. Larry Bird – F – Boston Celtics (1979-1992)

3x NBA Champion
12x NBA All-Star
2x NBA Finals MVP
10x All-NBA (9)
3x NBA All Defensive Team
1980 NBA Rookie of the Year
3x NBA 3-Point Shootout Champion

Larry Bird had the most immediate impact of any player in NBA history, joining a 29-53 Celtics squad and helping them to a 61-21 record in 1979-80 and a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals in his rookie season.  Bird beat out rival Magic Johnson, whose Michigan State team defeated Bird’s Indiana State team for the NCAA National Championship in 1979, for the 1980 Rookie of the Year Award.  Bird and Magic would go on to meet three times in the NBA finals (’84, ’85, ’87), with Johnson’s Lakers winning 2 of 3.  The Bird-Magic rivalry would spark a renaissance period in the struggling NBA, lifting the league to unprecedented prosperity and popularity.  Bird would finish his career with career averages of 24.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg, and 6.3 apg, all for the Celtics, until a back injury pre-maturely ended his career in 1992.  Known for his competitiveness and legendary trash talking, Bird ended his career as one of the most respected and decorated players in NBA history.

2.  Magic Johnson – PG – Los Angeles Lakers (1979-1991, 1996)

5x NBA Champion
12x NBA All-Star
3x NBA Finals MVP
10x All-NBA (9)

Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the catalyst for the 5 time NBA Champion “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers.  Johnson, a 6’9, 255 lb point guard, was the #1 pick in the 1979 NBA draft out of Michigan State.  After winning the 1979 NCAA Championship with the Spartans, Magic picked up where he left off by leading the Lakers to the 1980 NBA Championship over the Dr. J led Philadelphia 76ers.  He was the first rookie named Finals MVP, and in the deciding game 6 he recorded 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals while starting AT CENTER for the injured Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  Possibly the most exciting player in NBA history, Magic finished his career with averages of 19.5 points, 11.2 assists, 7.2 rebounds, and 1724 career steals.  Johnson stunned the world in 1991, retiring in the prime of his career due to contracting the HIV virus.  When he retired, Johnson was the NBA career leader in both assists and steals. 

1.  Michael Jordan – SG – Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards (1984-1993, 1996-1998, 2002-2003)

6x NBA Champion 
14x NBA All-Star 
6x NBA Finals MVP
1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year
11x All-NBA (10)
9x All Defensive Team (9)
1985 NBA Rookie of the Year
2x NBA Slam Dunk Champion

Jordan is widely regarded as the best basketball player in NBA history.  In 6 NBA Finals, Jordan averaged 33.6 ppg, 6 rpg, 6 apg, and 2 spg, all of which earned him MVP recognition.  Jordan’s average of 41 points per game in the 1993 NBA Finals vs. Phoenix is still a record for the Finals, and his 63 points versus the Boston Celtics in 1986 still stands as the most points scored in a playoff game.  His regular season averages of 30.1 points is tied for first all-time, and his total points rank 3rd behind only Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Karl Malone.  After winning his first three championships from 1991-93, Jordan enjoyed a brief retirement to pursue a short-lived baseball career.  After 1 ½ seasons away from the game, Jordan returned to the Bulls in 1995.  A rusty, yet effective, Jordan led Bulls team was bounced by the Orlando Magic in the 2nd round of the 1995 NBA Playoffs.  Jordan would return with a vengeance, leading his Bulls to a second three peat from 1996-98, including an NBA best 72-10 record in 1995-96.  That Bulls team is widely regarded as the best NBA team ever.  Jordan’s legacy on the game is ongoing.  Still as popular as ever, Jordan transformed Nike into an industry standard, produced his own “Jordan Brand,” sold everything from Coca-Cola to McDonald’s to Ball Park Franks and even Haynes underwear, and revolutionized the sports endorsement business strategy as we know it.  

So that's it.  Let the debate begin, but just remember:  It's my blog, so I win.  

P.S.  The next list I was going to put up was the top 5 teams of all time, but I think we all know who that is, the new Big Three:  

The Miami Heat!


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