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Friday, May 27, 2011

NBA All-Time

A few weeks ago, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle argued that his star Dirk Nowitzki is among the ten greatest NBA players of all time. Recently, none other than Scottie Pippen suggested that Michael Jordan was merely the greatest "scorer" (which, itself, is debatable) and that LeBron might end up being the best player ever.

So, for the record, here's how I see the discussion.

First of all, your top four names can be interchanged within the group as anyone cares to deem fit, but these top four names - each one #1 in a category - are the only names in the discussion for the title of greatest ever:

1. Kareem Abdul Jabbar - six championships, six MVPs, career total points leader
2. Bill Russell - career 11 championships in 13 years, (including one as player-coach!)
3. Wilt the Stilt Chamberlain - 50 ppg season average, 100 pt game, 4th in career points
4. Michael Jordan - six championships, six MVPs, career ppg leader, 3rd in career points.

The next two are... 

...locked and, although arguably interchangeable, I think most will agree with how I've ranked them:

5. Earvin Magic Johnson
6. Larry Bird

Now, 7-12 becomes interesting and includes arguments for names such as

- Oscar Robertson (The Big O)
- Julius Irving (Dr. J)
- Jerry West (the NBA logo)
- Hakeem Olajuwon (the Dream)
- Shaquille O'Neal (I'll go with Big Diesel for this post)
- Tim Duncan (the Big Fundamental)

Kobe really only led for two championships (Shaq led the first three, hence Kobe's lack of MVP hardware). Anyway, check out this statistical comparison of Duncan vs. Kobe...

13-20 will have names such as
- Karl Malone (2nd in career points)
- John Stockton (career assists leader)
- Moses Malone
- Isiah Thomas
- Bob Pettit
- George Gervin
- Elgin Baylor
- Pete Maravich
- Charles Barkley
- George Mikan
- and I would put Kobe in this section of the list, personally, even though most people today try to jam him into the top 10 or, more ridiculously, the top 5. Because Kobe was such a great scorer, people want to put him higher, but check the top ten - whom do you bounce to make room for him? Look at the names in this 13-20 section, these are great names, there's no shame in showing up amongst these greats at all.
- Dirk Nowitzki could fit into this section, but more likely the one below, 20-25

20-25 will have names such as
- Reggie Miller
- Kevin Garnett
- knock yourself out (Pippen? Iverson? David Robinson? Jason Kidd?...)

There's how it stacks up for me. In order for Lebron to climb this list and even begin to enter the conversation for top five, he's going to need at least five rings (Wilt doesn't have five but, c'mon, is anyone ever going to average 50 points per game for a season? Alllllrighty then).

Kobe? A great scorer (2nd highest game total in history, right?). Terrific. Rings? Two! Who are we kidding? His first three were given to him by Shaq. Kobe has lead his team to the finals three times post-Shaq and has won two. Remember, Robert Horry has a bunch of rings (7) and isn't even in the top 50, so when it comes to the greats and hardware, we're talking about leading in the acquisition of hardware. Although, hardware weighting is not the biggest thing - hence Wilt can be right up there even though he "only" won two championships.

Read about the greats and discover how thick this list is. Lebron, Kobe, Dirk - these guys will all be in the Hall of Fame, no question about it, and that itself is proof of great careers. There's no need to start talking about "greatest of all time" beyond that, especially before their career is over and we can see it in context.

If, however we must, I think LeBron will show himself the most complete player of the three (LeBron, Kobe, Dirk, that is). LeBron is closer to the Magic-type that he wants to be than the MJ-type that Kobe wanted to be. Any way you slice it, any conversation about who belongs amongst the greats should, at this point in time, have Tim Duncan ahead of any of the other active players mentioned above...leaving that much less room to shoehorn any of these into the mix.


  1. Dirk is the sixth member of the 30,000 career points club, joining Kareem, Karl Malone, MJ, Kobe and Wilt Chamberlain. That's pretty awesome.

    So, in terms of career scoring, he has earned his place as one of the top-ten greatest of all time.

    But career-scoring isn't the single factor determining "greats of all-time". Larry Bird managed to reach "just" the 21,000 pts club; Magic reached "just" the 17,000 pts club, but I rate them both within my top 6 all-time.

    Is Dirk even the greatest non-American NBAer? I don't know, Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria) was the #1 draft pick the same year Michael Jordan was picked 3rd, and he won back-to-back championships, holds career blocks record, and made it into the 26,000 pts club. This list places Olajuwon firmly #1, and Nowitzki in 3rd, being mentioned as a "top five all time power forward", behind Tim Duncan in #2 and being called "the greatest power foward of all time". However, since Duncan is from the US Virgin Islands, it's debatable whether he belongs on a list of non-American players; deleting Duncan fairly easily slides Dirk into #2, but the gap between that slot and Hakeem is, perhaps, uncrossable.

    Is Dirk even the greatest European? Tony Parker (France) is a considerable mention, but it's much easier to argue for Dirk as top of this list, and I would actually do so.

    As already mentioned, Dirk will walk into the Hall of Fame - he's had a great career in which he set himself apart by a few measures, including climbing the all-time scoring list with consistency.

    Yet, Karl Malone is #2 on that all-time scoring list, behind only Kareem, and ahead of MJ, but I have never (repeat, NEVER) heard anyone argue the Mailman was "greater" than MJ, because there's more to this conversation than just all-time scoring.

    So, congrats to Dirk, a Hall of Famer, among the great all-time scorers,

  2. arguably greatest European NBA player of all-time.