The Five Most Influential Players in NBA History, Position-by-Position
With the newest wave of "Who's better than who" blog entries and "Greatest (Fill in the Blank) of All Time" lists regarding sports, especially the NBA, I thought it would be a much more interesting and more challenging idea to formulate a list of the five most influential NBA players in history.
This list is a starting five; each player, in my opinion, reshaped the expectations commonly held for his respective position.
Read the list, form your opinions, and definitely leave your comments. And with that, let the debate begin...
PG - Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati Royals 1960-1970, Milwaukee Bucks 1971-1974)
I had a lot of trouble deciding between Robertson and Magic Johnson.
I mean, Magic had a point guard's mind in a small forward's body.
But at 6'5", it was The Big O that laid the original blueprints for the "combo guard" position.
An equal part scorer, rebounder, and assist man, Robertson showed coaches, players and spectators alike that point guards could fill up the stat sheet with the best of them.
Oscar was better than Magic and even current incarnations like J-Kidd, Brandon Roy, or D-Wade.
SG - MIchael Jordan (Chicago Bulls 1985-1998, Washington Wizards 2002-2003)
Put aside the Jordan mystique for a second and reflect on Jordan's effect on the shooting guard position. The 2 had been a spot for gunners of all types before Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born, but it wasn't until he entered the league that people focused on shooting guards as game-changers.
Before Jordan, it was always thought a big man and point guard were the necessary keys to a team's success. Now we focus on the Kobes, Iversons, and T-Macs of the league.
SF - Elgin Baylor (Minneapolis Lakers 1959-1960, Los Angeles Lakers 1961-1972)
Sure, compared to LeBron James, Elgin Baylor's size (6'5", 225) seems pedestrian. But the way Baylor used his size to get into the lane and score is surely reminiscent of what we have come to expect from King James.
Likewise, his influence on the wingmen of modern times is evident in how teams value the slashing abilities and rebounding prowess of NBA draftees.
PF - Karl Malone (Utah Jazz 1986-2003, Los Angeles Lakers 2004)
Every shooting big man should send a thank you note to Karl Malone.
Malone clearly was a load on the blocks, but it was his ability to face the basket and hit the 12 ft. jumper, as well as beat slower defenders to the hole with a couple of dribbles. Tim Duncan, Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, all of them owe their face-up games in large part to Malone.
Before him, the league never had thought guys 6'9" or taller could move with such agility and athleticism; now it's downright expected.
C - Bill Russell (Boston Celtics 1957-1969)
Easily the most divisive position on this list. Why not George Mikan? Why not Wilt Chamberlain?
Mikan was the first dominant big man but he wasn't the best. Wilt literally changed the game.
But what Russell lacked in offense, he more than made up for in defense, averaging 22.5 rebounds for his career. Additionally, Russell is largely responsible for the advent of the block as an official statistic.
Thanks to Russell, modern big men are expected to anchor the team's defense.