I created a bit of a stir in the B/R community recently by having the audacity to suggest Kobe Bryant was not only the next Michael Jordan, but that he has surpassed him. At least through age 30. That great debate rages on!
The subject of looking for, in some cases longing for, the next version of something we love is as human a characteristic as is breathing air. How else can you explain BioArts?
BioArts is a company that clones dogs. Although out of the business now in part due to the high cost of the procedure that shrunk their available target market they did successfully clone several of man's best friends.
"Mom, Rusty isn't moving!"
"Oh, he is fine sweety, just sleeping"
To husband, "Quick, call BioArts and order another Rusty!"
Understandably, we hate to say goodbye to any good thing in our life. Short of a cloning rebirth, when the end does come we long for a replacement.
In sports, we begin to place the dreaded "next" tag on players even before the original has left. Brandon Jennings has already been dubbed Allen Iverson 2.0 even while the original A.I. continues to find employment wearing an NBA jersey.
Which got me to thinking, which NBA great have we not seen reborn? Which current players have a shot at being that players "next"?
The following are my thoughts on the subject based on a top ten list of the greatest NBA players of all time. I know the addition and omission of some on this list will cause great strife with some, but remember the idea is to see if we have seen that players "next". I'm not proclaiming these the top ten players of all time. I might save that for another article!
He played at the highest level of basketball until he was 42. Everyone in the arena knew what he was going to do (swing left, shoot right) and yet no one could stop him.
I remember watching the Laker battle the 76ers years ago. The ball came into Kareem and Dr. J glanced at him as the ball came in. As soon as the Laker center began his patented move Erving left his man unguarded (the Lakers had a huge hole at power forward back then - not a real danger leaving Mark Landesberg, Jim Chones or other) and jumped high for where he knew the ball would be -- about 10 feet high or higher in the palm of Kareem's hand. He swatted the ball away and out of bounds. He was called for a foul. That was the only clean block of the skyhook I ever saw. Sure, there was a foul but I'm pretty sure Tim Donaghy missed the call. Maybe he had money on the game?
Safe to say we haven't seen anyone with Kareem's longevity and skill to date.
Who comes closest? Andrew Bynum. Bynum was taught by the master himself and has the closest thing to the skyhook since the skyhook.
(Note: I was just kidding about Donaghy officiating that game. He was likely ripping off his fellow 3rd graders with a double headed quarter when that game took place)
He couldn't jump. He had a porn star mustache. He was slower than molasses left out in a snow storm. He wasn't flashy. Yet, he is undoubtedly one of the best who ever played the game. He had a tenacity about him that made it fun to watch him play. Bird was a winner.
Like Kobe Bryant today the last place you wanted to see the ball if your team was up by a point with time winding down was in Bird's hands. A classic cool customer at crunch time.
It's easy to tab a Caucasian player as the next Bird, but lets look beyond that. Who else in the NBA has taken limited skills and somehow worked that all the way up to All Star status? Who in the NBA currently or since Bird was close to Larry Bird?
Ya, I hear the crickets too.
Hard work, which was the root of Bird's success, seems to have gone the way of the Dodo Bird. I don't believe we have seen the Birds "next" and I see nothing in the horizon.
I recently got to watch him play on ESPN Classic. He was older in this particular game but his agility for someone that size was still evident. I can't imagine what his game must have been like ten years earlier than when this classic game was played.
For most of us all we have to go on with Chamberlain is the stories we heard and the stats he left behind. Most amazing of course is the 100 points he dropped on the Philadelphia Warriors in 1962. Centers like Chamberlain are rare in today's NBA. Every G.M. is looking for a seven footer who can shoot the three. Wilt couldn't make three free throws in a row much less a shot from 23 feet 9 inches away. Have we seen Wilt's "next"? Sure we have.
Shaquille O'Neal was Wilt 2.0. The size, the dominance and he even added the skill (or lack there of) from the free throw line. This was an easy one.
By all accounts a lighting quick guard, adept passer, .803 percent free thrower and a winner. A 13 time All-Star and two time MVP. I only wish I got a chance to watch him play. Maybe we all have.
Cousy's "next" has to be Steve Nash . Another slam dunk.
Dr. J was unique for so many reasons. He could make the mid range jumper one minute and dunk on you with ferocity the next. He had that combination of finesses and power that was unheard of back in his playing days. He would jump and stay up in the air longer than a Mike Scrifes punt. He was a great player and he did it with style.
Dr. J's "next" was undoubtedly Michael Jordan . This is too easy.
Earvin "Magic" Johnson
Well, now it gets interesting. 6'9" and could handle the ball like it was attached to his hand. He would look one way and pass the other. The NBA had never seen a man with a forwards body playing point guard. When you add his smile, his competitive nature and his knack for winning you have the make-up of someone the NBA hasn't seen since.
I have to throw a shout-out to Shaun Livingston however. Livingston was drafted as a 6'7" point guard out of High School who could handle the ball. Early in a still very young career he was a better defender than Magic and thrilled Staples when he played for the Clippers with flashes of brilliance. We all thought it; some had the strength to whisper it, could Livingston be Magic's "next"? I believe he could have come close if not for a devastating injury.
Other than Livingston I don't believe we have seen Magic's "next" although I have dubbed CP3 "Mini-Magic".
One final shout-out which I feel obligated to throw out. Outside of basketball it seems Tiger is Magic's "next" but for all the wrong reasons. Let's hope Tiger rebounds as well as Magic did.
30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists. Enough said. That has to qualify as the single best season any player has ever played in the history of the NBA. How can anyone argue with those numbers? Add 12 time All-Star, NBA MVP and a Championship ring to his resume and you have some big shoes to fill.
LeBron wears a size 18. He is "next".
One could argue, and many have, that Russell was at the right place in the right era. He was a tall man playing against small competition. If height was all it took to excel at the game of basketball however Shawn Bradley would of been a 5 time MVP. There is more to this game than being tall.
Specifically, there is more to playing defense and getting rebounds in this game than having a vertical advantage. Defense is about desire and defense is were Russell excelled.
He had 51 rebounds in one game and 49 in two others. He averaged 22.5 rebounds per game. That's not 22.5 in one season, that's his CAREER average! Oh yeah, he also won an NBA Championship for his big toe. There was no room on his fingers when he took home number 11. Russell only played 13 seasons. 13 seasons, 11 Championships.
Russell was listed at 6'9", was a defensive force and winner. He didn't do much on the offensive side and wasn't expected to. Russell's next was Dennis Rodman . Rodman just decided to add some flair to the role.
Lets hope Greg Oden comes back next year and has a say in this debate as well.
An accurate shooter and great defender. West played in nine NBA Finals and led this team to a still unmatched 33-game winning streak. West was a leader and a winner and his silhouette is the current logo for the NBA.
My knee-jerk was to tab Larry Bird as West's "next". Bird wasn't a lock-down defender but he was a smart one. Of all the players listed here West seems to be the most ordinary. Sacrilegious, I know, but think about it. A great shooter, good defender and leader could describe a few players today. The nine championships appearances are impressive, but he won only one. Is Mr. Clutch overrated?
Other than the already mentioned NBA studs I yearn for these NBA "nexts".
- A rivalry to match Magic vs. Bird.
- A player with the jump shot of Jamaal Wilkes. There have been plenty of shooters as good as Wilkes but none with the same quirkly over the head, around the ear, twirling masterpiece of a shot that Chick Hearn called "a 20 foot layup".
- A player with the combination of personality, charisma and skills of Darryl Dawkins. The NBA misses you Chocolate Thunder.
Who did I miss? Who is your "next"?