Thursday , Aug , 18 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

The NBA 59 Greatest Players

By Paul Benedict

It was a little over nine years ago that the NBA elected a committee of former players, coaches, managers, executives, and media members to help select the league’s 50 greatest players of all time. I’m not exactly sure how the NBA plans on expanding this list in the future (my guess is they add 25 players for the league’s 75th anniversary), but I thought it would be interesting to surmise which 9 players would be elected to the team if a committee were to convene today. Of course I could wait until next June when the league actually marks its 60th anniversary (June 6, 1946 was when the original NBA charter was signed), but this is a fucking blog and that allows us to throw relevance out the window whenever the hell we please. Before we reach the 9 new additions, let’s briefly take a look at the next 9 players who didn’t make the ’59’ cut, but still stand a chance of landing on the ’75’ team.

The NBA 59 Greatest Players

SG Ray Allen – The NBA’s premier shooter for the last decade was the last member chosen for this list. Allen still has more to prove if he wants to imprint his name on a Hall of Fame plaque, let alone a list of the NBA’s greatest players.
SF Grant Hill – Would have been a mortal lock for this team had he avoided the ankle injuries that have plagued his career. 7 All-Star appearances, 5 All-NBA elections, and career numbers of 20.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 5.7 APG still warrant him due consideration.
C Bob Lanier – Considered by many to be a snub off the original ’50 at 50′ team. The 1992 Hall of Fame inductee only once led a team past the Conference Semifinals, but averaged a 20 and 10 for his career, made 8 All-Star rosters, and has always been deemed as one of the toughest and most profound men ever to grace a basketball court.
PF Bob McAdoo – In many circles, you’ll hear McAdoo’s name come up first when discussing the NBA’s most underrated player of all time. The 6-9 PF won 2 championship rings with the Lakers in the 80’s, but enjoyed his greatest years in the 70’s with Buffalo and New York in which he posted averages of 25 and 12 in five consecutive seasons, including the league’s MVP Award in 1975 after averaging 34 and 14.
SG Reggie Miller – He was never considered a marquee player (only 3 All-NBA teams, all 3rd team), but Reggie consistently remained one of the league’s deadliest scoring threats and arguably its most clutch player– for 18 seasons. It also doesn’t hurt that he holds the record for most 3-pointers made (by a lot), ranks 7th all time in FT%, and 12th in career scoring.
C Alonzo Mourning – ‘Zo’ came around in the thick of the NBA’s ‘Big Man Era’, but that didn’t prevent him from being selected to 7 All-Star games and reaping in 2 Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Mourning’s career took a tragic turn for the worse when he was diagnosed with a kidney disorder in 2001 and he’s been forced to miss a lot of time thus limiting his production since. Nevertheless, he’s still a safe bet to become enshrined in Springfield even if his career accolades might not qualify him as one of the 59 greatest.
F Dirk Nowitzki – Although he still has his fair share of work cut out for him before he can be safely mentioned among the NBA’s greatest, the 7-foot sharpshooter from Germany has firmly entrenched himself as one of the league’s top players in the new millenium. Dirk has been elected All-NBA in each of the last 5 seasons and has finished in the top ten in scoring and rebounding 3 times (’02, ’03, ’05). Now at just 27 and coming off his strongest season ever in which he set career-highs in scoring, assists, and blocks, I think it’s safe to say the best is yet to come.
G David Thompson – Perhaps the ‘Skywalker’ doesn’t warrant mentioning in this column since he only played 5 productive seasons in the NBA. Harrowed by emotional and drug problems throughout his professional career, Thompson partied his way out of the L in 1984. Regardless, any basketball afficiando will tell you that Thompson is one of the 10 most talented players ever to set foot on a court. The fact that he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996 despite all of his troubles should tell you just that.
F Chris Webber – There’s never been another player whose stellar career has been as overshadowed for its shortcomings than that of Chris Webber’s. You can knock on him for being soft, you can rip him for not stepping up during the clutch, and you can tear him apart for his supposed lack of desire to be a champion, but you can’t change the facts that distinguish all that he’s accomplished– career averages of 21.8 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.6 BPG; a Rookie of the Year Award; 5 All-NBA selections; and a long-term relationship with Tyra Banks.

The 9 New Additions

SG Kobe Bryant
Career Stats:

9 Seasons: 22.4 PPG, 45.2 FG%, 83.1 FT%, 5.1 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.5 SPG
Career Highlights:
-Won Slam Dunk Contest and participated in Rookie Game in 1997
-2nd Team All-Rookie in 1997-Became youngest All-Star ever in 1998
-7 Time All-Star (’98, ’00-’05)
-2002 All-Star Game MVP
-Finished in the top 6 in scoring in each of the last 5 seasons
-3 Time All Defensive 1st Team (2 Time 2nd Team)
-Named to All-NBA Team each of the last 7 seasons (1st team ’02-’04)
-3 Time NBA Champion with the Lakers (’00-’02)
-Last season was the first time he ever missed the Playoffs
The Lowdown:
Bryant is the NBA’s the premier 2 guard and arguably the league’s most gifted player. Critics can come down on him all they want for his recent off-the-court troubles and for pushing Shaq out of LA, but the fact remains that Kobe already has 5 All-Defensive Team selections, 7 All-NBA selections, and 3 Championship rings– at the tender age of 26. Chances are, the best is still yet to come.

PF Tim Duncan
Career Stats:

8 Seasons: 22.5 PPG, 50.7 FG%, 12.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 2.5 BPG
Career Highlights:
1998 All-Rookie 1st Team
-1998 Rookie of the Year
-6 Time All-Defensive 1st Team
-All-Star in every single season he’s been in the NBA
-Co-MVP of All-Star Game in 2000
-1st Team All-NBA in every single season he’s been in the NBA
-Two-time Regular Season Most Valuable Player (2001-02 and 2002-03)
-Has reached at least the Conference Semifinals in each season he’s played except in 2000 when he missed the Playoffs due to a knee injury
-Member of Team USA in 1999, 2003, 2004
-Three-time NBA Finals MVP (’99, ’03, ’05)
-Three-time NBA Champion
The Lowdown:
It’s hard to top what Tim Duncan has accomplished thus far in his career. In fact, only Larry Bird and Bill Russell can claim to have won 2 regular season MVP Awards and 3 NBA Championships before their 30th birthdays. And only 4 other players– Bird, George Mikan, Bob Pettit, and Oscar Robertson, have been named 1st Team All-NBA in each of their first 8 seasons in the league. And with a selfless attitude and approach to the game that has him only concerned with adding to his growing collection of rings, you can expect TD to build on his already esteemed NBA legacy.

F Kevin Garnett
Career Stats:
10 Years: 20.2 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.7 BPG, 49.o FG%
Career Highlights:
-2nd Team All-Rookie in 1995-96
-Gold Medalist at 2000 Olympic Games
-4 Time All-Interview Team
-8 Time NBA All-Star
-MVP of 2003 All-Star Game
-6 Time All-Defensive
– 7 Time All-NBA
-2003-04 NBA MVP
-Led Minnesota to the playoffs 8 straight seasons (’97-04), but only once beyond the 1st Round (2004 Western Conference Finals)
The Lowdown:
KG introduced a new breed of player to the NBA–the do-it-all 7-footer–something the NBA had never imagined possible until Garnett started nailing 20-footers, running half-court offenses, guarding players of all sizes, etc. And to top it off, the talent he brings to the floor, the consistency with which he plays, and the desire he has to win have all arguably been the best in the league for the past decade.

 G Allen Iverson
Career Stats:
9 Seasons: 27.4 PPG, 41.8 FG%, 6.0 APG, 2.4 SPG
Career Highlights:
MVP of 1997 Rookie Game
-1997 Rookie of the Year
-Eastern Conference All-Star Starter in each of last 6 seasons
-MVP of 2001 and 2005 All-Star Game
– 3 Time 1st Team All NBA (’99, ’01, ’05)
-3 Time NBA Steals/Game Leader (’01, ’02, ’03)
-4 Time Scoring Champ
-2001 Regular Season MVP
-Led 76ers to Playoffs in 6 of last 7 seasons including NBA Finals appearance in 2001
– Co-Captain of 2004 Bronze Medal USA Olympic Team
The Lowdown:
A.I. is one of a kind– what he lacks in size and strength, he makes up for in mind-boggling quickness, extraordinary toughness, and a genuine passion for the game that you rarely find in players. Although he’s already ensured his own plaque in Springfield and a place among the best ever to play, Iverson’s career won’t ever seem complete until he’s wearing that ring. And because of what he’s accomplished both on and off the court, there’s no player out there that fans want to see win a championship more than A.I.

PG Jason Kidd
Career Stats:
11 Years: 14.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 9.3 APG, 2.1 SPG
Career Highlights:
-1994-95 Co-Rookie of the Year
-NBA leader in assists 5 times
-Selected to 7 All Star Games, 4 as a starter
-Gold Medalist at 2000 Olympics
-Named to All-NBA 1st team 5 times; All-Defensive 1st Team 3 times
-Led Nets to 2 straight NBA Finals Appearances
The Lowdown:
The quintissential point guard of this generation. Kidd will undoubtedly go down as one of the 5 greatest floor generals of all time and be elected into the Hall of Fame on his very first ballot. With his creativity and playground-style of basketball from the point guard position, J-Kidd has bridged the gap between two generations of basketball, and most importantly, kept the pass-first point guard from going extinct.

G/F Tracy McGrady
Career Stats:
8 Seasons: 22.0 PPG, 44.4 FG%, 6.4 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.1 BPG
Career Highlights:
-Participated in 1998 Rookie Game
-Named NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2001
-Named to the All-Star Team in each of the last 5 seasons
-Named to an All-NBA Team in each of the last 5 seasons (1st Team in ’02, ’03)
-Led NBA in scoring twice (’03, ’04)
-Scored 99 points in back-to-back Playoff games at Detroit in 2003
The Lowdown:
McGrady has proven himself as arguably the NBA’s most dynamic athlete and its most prolific scorer, yet there remain questions abound concerning his attitude and willingness to become the kind of leader that refuses to let his team get pushed out of the 1st Round of the Playoffs yet again. T-Mac showed signs of maturity in his first season with the Rockets this past year, but it’s going to require more than just "signs" if he is going to imprint his name among the NBA’s all time greatest when all is said and done. Of course he’s only 26 years old, so there’s still plenty of time.

PG Gary Payton
Career Stats:
15 Seasons: 17.6 PPG, 46.9 FG%, 4.1 RPG, 7.2 APG, 2.0 SPG
Career Highlights:
-1991 All-Rookie 2nd Team
-Selected to All-Star Team 9 times
-1996 Defensive Player of the Year
-9 time All Defensive 1st Team
-9 time All NBA (1st Team in ’98 and ’00)
-Has missed just 12 games in his entire career
-Reached the NBA Finals with the Sonics in ’96 and Lakers in ’04
-Member of Gold Medal-winning 1996 and 2000 U.S. Men’s Olympic Teams
The Lowdown:
‘The Glove’ might not have been the flashiest of players during his prime, but if you were looking for a player that could give you consistency, durability, and leadership from the point guard position, then GP was your man. What else more can you ask from your floor general than for him to score 20+ points, distribute the ball exceptionally, play some stifling defense, and be the vocal leader of your squad…every single night out?

 F Dennis Rodman
Career Stats:
14 Seasons: 7.3 PPG, 52.1 FG%, 13.1 RPG, 4.8 ORPG
Career Highlights:
– 2 time NBA All-Star
-8 time All-Defensive Team (7 time 1st Team)
-2 time All-NBA 3rd Team
-2 time Defensive Player of the Year
-Led NBA in rebounding 7 straight seasons (’92-’98)
-5 time NBA Champion (’89, 90 with Detroit; ’96-96 with Chicago)
The Lowdown:
You know what? I don’t care that he didn’t come close to averaging double-digit points for his career. There’s a lot more to basketball than putting the ball through the hoop and Dennis Rodman defines that notion better than any other player in the history of the NBA. At least in my book, you just can’t leave off the best hustle player of all time, arguably the greatest rebounder ever, the stingiest defenders of his time, and a 5 time World Champion.

  SF Dominique Wilkins

Career Stats:
15 Seasons: 24.8 PPG, 46.1 FG%, 81.1 FT%, 7.5 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Career Highlights:
-1983 All-Rookie Team
-9 time NBA All-Star
-7 time All-NBA
-2 time Slam Dunk Contest Winner
-Finished in the top 5 in scoring 5 times
The Lowdown:
First he gets left off the original ‘Dream Team’; then he fails to make the cut as one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest; and this year, most shockingly of all, he is not voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in the first year he becomes elgible. Allow me to be blunt– what the FUCK?! ‘The Human Highlight Film’ has somehow been overlooked his entire career, but because he happened to be simulataneously redefining the way basketball is played in the NBA at the same time someone named Michael Jordan was as well, he spent his entire career overshadowed by his airness. Don’t kid yourself– ‘Nique is easily one of the 59 greatest ever.