If they retired today, Kobe and LeBron would both be Hall of Famers. But who ranks above whom at this time?
“People come, people go,” said author Nicholas Sparks. “They’ll drift in and out of your life, almost like characters in a favorite book.”
What applies to life and chick flicks—believe it or not—applies to basketball as well.
Some players take the NBA world—and our own—by storm, but then fade away—sometimes slowly, sometimes almost as quickly as they arrived. How and why these characters have “drifted” can vary, be it injury (Grant Hill), personal issues (Shawn Kemp) or simply being overhyped (Derrick Coleman).
Hill remains a valuable role player who could have been so much more if his body held up. Coleman was a serviceable player who, as a former No. 1 overall pick, was compared favorably to Karl “The Mailman” Malone, but instead just seemed to mail it in. And, with all the baby mama drama, it’s a gross injustice that Kemp doesn’t have his own reality show yet.
(And that, folks, is my quick homage to the 1990s.)
But then there are those who are transcendent enough to leave a legacy that will last a lifetime. A handful of them were displayed on center stage—er, court, during Sunday’s All-Star Game. Eventually, those men, among other active ballers, will most assuredly find themselves on an even grander stage, albeit in a much less grand location: The Basketball Hall of Fame in tropical Springfield, Massachusetts!
The following legacy-leavers, if they were to retire today, would leave no doubt of their inevitable inductions. FYI: “If they were to retire today” are the key words, which is why the Kevin Durants and Dwight Howards and Chris Pauls of the world are not included.
The criteria for inclusion are simple and fair: duration (at least 10 seasons in the league), transcendence (what mark they will leave on the game, including individual stats and accolades) and team success (championship rings help, but impact on an organization is key).
Agree or disagree with the rankings or omissions? There’s a comment box below. Indulge the webosphere with your words of wisdom.
With five All-Star Game selections, three titles (there are only three on this list with more than one) and a Finals MVP to his name, Tony Parker should be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. As an honorable mention, he nudges himself just ahead of Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks as well as the Miami Heat's Chris Bosh. Yet, all three somehow find themselves on the outside looking in with this group.
What does this tell us? Either that I have it out for the French or that the league is currently blessed with a LOT of historic talent.
A 10-time All-Star with one of the sweetest strokes the league has ever seen, Ray Allen has left his mark on three franchises: the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics (RIP) and Boston Celtics—and now is working on doing it with his fourth.
The former gold medalist and owner of an NBA championship, Allen is also the all-time leader in three-pointers made. And with a career average of over 40 percent from beyond the arc, he’s proven that sometimes quantity can equal quality!
From Russell to Cousy to Havlicek to Bird, the timeless faces of the Boston Celtics franchise are plenty. “The Truth” is this: Paul Pierce has earned the right to be in that discussion.
He's become as much to Boston as baked beans, chowder and its obnoxiously loyal fans.
In 15 seasons with the C's, Pierce has also garnered 10 All-Star nods as well as a Finals MVP to his repertoire, is one of the most feared players in the clutch and still looks to have at least a couple quality years left in him.
The resume is impressive and only looks to be growing lengthier for Dwyane Wade.
In just his 10th season, the man they call Flash is already the proud owner of two NBA titles, one Finals MVP, one All-Star MVP, nine All-Star selections, a couple Olympic medals, one scoring title and more than a couple nods for his keen fashion sense.
Hoping to trade individual glory for team success, Wade willingly sacrificed statistics as well as the Miami spotlight two years ago and, well…so far, so good.
Perhaps the greatest European (as well as the greatest Dallas Maverick) to ever pick up a basketball, Dirk Nowitzki has been able to shoot the rock like no seven-footer before or since.
With 11 All-Star selections to go along with both a regular-season and Finals MVP award, Nowitzki has significantly influenced an era of Euro-style big men who can stretch the court and play beyond the perimeter.
It is entirely conceivable that once Jason Kidd hangs up his jersey, it may ultimately hang from the rafters of three different franchises: The Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Brooklyn (via New Jersey) Nets.
An average-sized guard who still found a way to outmuscle the competition on both sides of the floor, the versatile Kidd ranks third all-time in regular-season triple-doubles and second in the playoffs in the mold of Hall of Famers such as Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson.
Even at 39, the 10-time All-Star, five-time assists leader and two-time gold medalist is still finding ways to produce and make his teammates better.
Sure, we can penalize Steve Nash for being ringless (the only bridesmaid on this list), or even currently playing for one of the greatest underachieving squads in recent history. But one look at his body of work and the proof is in the "poutine" (it’s Canadian—look it up).
In 16 seasons, Nash has corralled eight All-Star appearances, led the league in assists five times and has been named MVP twice. Being named the greatest Canadian basketball player of all time may have the same resonance here as being the greatest American curler, but in his case, the accolade comes warranted.
Currently, Kevin Durant is getting attention for his efforts to remain in the 50-40-90 club (percentages for field goals, three-pointers and free throws, respectively). Meanwhile, Nash has practically averaged those numbers for his career!
One of the fiercest competitors the league has ever known, credit Kevin Garnett for spearheading an unprecedented era of successful high school-to-pro players. Eighteen years later, KG will go down as one of the greatest all-around big men to play the game.
He’s also on the short list of greatest defenders, getting a nod for All-Defensive First Team nine times and Second Team an additional three. The 15-time All-Star led the league in rebounds four consecutive seasons and can block, steal and taunt with the best of them too.
In his 10th season—thus just making the cut—it can be argued that LeBron has dominated the competition like no other in his first decade playing. Nine All-Star appearances, two All-Star MVPs, three regular-season MVPs, six First Team All-NBA selections and a scoring title help support this.
Finally attaining that elusive championship in Year 9 helped bump King James up a few notches here. That he, nor his team, hasn’t even reached a ceiling yet is just downright scary.
Collecting a few more trophies and padding a few more stat lines will solidify future arguments when posing GOAT (Greatest of All Time) discussions.
It’s never been flashy for the Big Fundamental, but substance over style has proven to be quite fruitful for Tim Duncan.
With four titles, three championship MVPs, two regular-season MVPs and a partridge in a pear tree to his name, Duncan, one of the most intelligent—and consistent—players to don a uniform, is good enough for No. 2 on this list. He is also behind just Garnett and an as-of-yet mentioned certain someone among active players in All-Star appearances, with 14 of them.
When discussing the top power forwards in NBA history? He just may be No. 1.
There can be no denying the Black Mamba the top spot on this list.
Love him or hate him—and it’s usually one or the other—Kobe Bryant took the torch from His Airness himself, Michael Jordan, as the face of the NBA and, five titles and more than a few soap opera storylines later, has maintained that reign for 17 years and counting.
Besides the titles, the resume is irrefutable: 15 All-Star Games (including a record four MVPs there), two Finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP, two scoring titles and nine First Team All-Defensive selections.
Now, could LeBron James eventually supersede Kobe as a better, more transcendent player when all is said and done? Absolutely (and probably). But with a seven-year head start in dominance and an entire hand’s worth of rings, Bryant’s spot at the top is safe—for now.