ESPN recently unveiled its latest project, the NFL’s ‘Any Era’ Team, in which they attempt to name 20 current football players who would be capable of playing in any era.
I thought this was an interesting premise and it immediately inspired me to think about which NBA players would be effective had they been a product of a different era. Here’s the catch—whilst ESPN is listing current players, I decided to list former players who I think would still be effective today.
There’s no question that the game has changed, so I’m looking for the best of the best - players who transcend era and would still be dominant in today’s NBA.
Reggie Miller is one of the greatest shooters the league has ever seen. When he retired in 2005, his 2,560 three-pointers ranked as the most in history.
During his career, he became a part of two exclusive clubs by scoring 25,000 career points and shooting 50-40-90 in 1994. Shooting is a skill that is extremely important in basketball and that's why Reggie would be great in any era.
However, I think he would be less effective in the 60s and 70s because the NBA first adopted the three-point line in the 1979-80 season. Having said this, Reggie's longevity and ability to perform in the clutch simply transcends era.
You probably know Kevin McHale as the current head coach for the Houston Rockets. However, he did enjoy a very productive career with the Boston Celtics as a player. McHale is quite possibly the best low post player in league history and this is why he'd be great in any era.
Defenders guarding McHale were commonly referred to as being stuck in McHale's "torture chamber." He had a devastating up-and-under move which would still embarrass the best players in today's NBA. McHale was also a solid rebounder and was regarded as one of the best defenders in the league in his prime.
Elvin Hayes is one of the most overlooked players in NBA History. Despite recording over 27,000 points in his 16-year career, he is almost never mentioned amongst the greatest players to ever play.
His signature shot, the turnaround jumper, was a brilliant weapon, and is the main reason why he'd be dominant in any era. Hayes led the league in scoring in his rookie season and is one of the most durable players ever.
Although Walton's career was sadly cut short by injury, the few healthy years he enjoyed were simply phenomenal. Walton is perhaps the best passing center the game has ever seen and his basketball IQ was off the charts.
Walton was a talented all-around player, adept at all the fundamentals of the game, and he remains the only player to win both the MVP and the Sixth Man of the Year award.
He led his Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the title in 1976-77, and was a key part of the 1986 Boston Celtics—arguably the greatest team ever assembled. His intelligence on the court and overall command of the game would serve him well if any era, even if it was only for one or two good years.
There are those who think Larry Bird would not be effective in today's NBA because of his general lack of athleticism compared to today's stars. As you could probably guess, I completely disagree with those people.
Bird played basketball the way it should be played. It's as simple as that. He was selfless, clutch and is one of the toughest competitors the game has ever seen. Larry is often praised for his shooting and rebounding skills, but I always thought that the best part of Bird's game was his passing.
He was an extremely creative playmaker and sometimes it seemed like he had eyes in the back of his head. His selfless style of play was completely infectious.
Larry was the kind of guy you wanted on your team. He won back-to-back-to-back MVPs in the mid-80s and added three championships and two NBA Finals MVPs to go along with them.
I've always maintained that if Bird played in today's NBA, he'd be terrific. His passing skills, combined with his shooting touch and leadership would all carry over in the modern game.
How could we mention Larry and not bring up Magic? Johnson is the best point guard of all time and his rivalry with Bird helped to bring the NBA back to popularity. There's a reason his nickname was "Magic," for he could see passes that no one else could and his style of play was so incredibly entertaining to watch.
But Magic was more than just a showman, he was also a phenomenal all-around player whose 138 triple-doubles rank as the second most in history. His career mark of 11.2 assists per game rank as the highest in league history.
Like Bird, he won three league MVPs, but he also won five championship rings and picked up three Finals MVPs. He was the leader of one of the most efficient and productive offenses the game has ever seen and his versatility is unmatched.
In Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, Magic played all five positions on the court and recorded 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists in his teams victory. Everything Magic did on the court would translate into any era of the NBA—he was simply that good.
Very few players can claim to have dominated the game to the extent that Shaquille O'Neal did when he was in the prime of his career. I'm talking about a guy who was deliberately fouled night in and night out because he was so good.
I'm talking about a guy who dropped 29.7 PPG and 13.6 RPG in the regular season, and then upped that to 38 PPG and 16.7 RPG in the Finals. Shaq was an underrated passer, a great shot blocker and a big time performer.
He was one of those rare players who could go off for 40 and 20 on any given night. Shaquille O'Neal was the definition of domination and he would've been tearing down backboards in any era.
Although the game changes regularly, two things are constant in every single era. Those two things are height and athleticism. Naturally, the tallest, strongest and fastest players are going to be the most dominant.
Standing at 7'1" and weighing in at 275 lbs, Wilt Chamberlain was a beast. But he was also a freakish athlete who rewrote the record books by imposing his indomitable will on the NBA. Put him in today's league, with full access to modern medicine and technology, and he would still be an imposing force.
He might not average 50 points or score 100 in a game, but he'd still blow away the competition. Many people (myself included) question the quality of competition that Wilt faced, but the reality is, that wasn't his fault. There's no denying that he would be a monster in any era.
As the owner of the most unstoppable shot in leauge history, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was always going to be a lock for this list. Put him in any time, against any defender, and he's a huge threat to score.
That kind of talent is the type that transcends era. But Kareem was more than just the Sky Hook. He was a supremely well rounded player who also happens to be one of the most decorated athletes ever. His longevity is simply astonishing and his impact on any team is undeniable.
In 1970, a rookie Kareem (then known as Lew Alcindor) joined the 27-55 Milwaukee Bucks and transformed them into a 56-26 juggernaut. One year later, they won 66 games and the NBA Championship as one of the greatest teams of all time.
'Cap' went on to win five more championships and won a record six MVPs in his outstanding career. His total of 38,387 career points may never be surpassed.
Michael Jordan was always going to be No. 1 on this list. You want to talk dominance? This is the guy who won three championships in a row, retired, and then came back two years later and won three more championships.
What separates him from the rest of the pack is his unique athletic talents combined with his unparalleled desire to win. No one wanted it more than MJ. That defines who he was as a player more than anything.
Jordan took home 10 scoring titles, five MVPs, six championship rings and six Finals MVPs in his career. He is the only player to win the scoring title and the Defensive Player of the Year award in the same year. He never lost in the Finals and he always saved his best performances for big games.
Put him in today's game and he would wreak havoc on the perimeter. Put him in the 60s and his athletic ability would overwhelm his opponents. In my opinion, Michael Jordan is the best basketball player ever. And quite frankly, we should stop trying to replace him.