With NBA Hall of Fame inductions taking place this past weekend, I found a certain ESPN personality taking shots at one of my favorite ball players growing up, Scottie Pippen.
According to this person, Pip didn't belong in the NBA's 50 Greatest. He said Pippen simply benefited from playing with Michael Jordan and wasn't as good as he was given credit for being.
Although I disagree with his sentiment, everyone has an opinion, and this person just has a larger platform to share his ridiculous ideas. I will say the list itself was flawed. However, rather than argue the merits of players I never saw play, I decided I'd comprise a list of the greatest 50 players in my lifetime.
Here are the ground rules: 1) I have to remember seeing the guy play. I was born in 1981, but I honestly don't remember seeing the Bad Boy Pistons of the 80's & 90's. 2) Some players were great for a time, but played beyond that time. I am taking them at their best. 3) I looked at the player without regard for position. If the list ended up with 50 centers, so be it. (It didn't.) 4) I did my best to be objective and think on my own, but remember when I grew up, there wasn't as much exposure to these guys; I just had a lot of whatever NBC wanted to give me (I swear the Knicks were on EVERY weekend). Kids nowadays don't know how good they have it with multiple media outlets. 5) There will be three parts, but no player will get an individual ranking. Top 50 is good enough for me. I won't split hairs over who is number 1, but the players will get progressively better from now to part three. Without further ado, and with all due respect to Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, and the like, here is part one of my NBA 50 Greatest.
Derrick Rose & Rajon Rondo: They're both great in their own right, but they're still linked because of the classic seven game series between the Bulls and Celtics in the 2009 first round. Both of these guys understand how to play the game and make their teammates better. More than any other position, I expect point guards to make their teammates better and not just fill their own stat sheet, and both of these guys do that.
Mark Jackson: He is so good at making people look good, he can almost make Jeff Van Gundy look good on the sideline...almost. 10,334 career assists without the help of the pick and roll and a Hall of Fame power forward are pretty impressive.
Pau Gasol: He's pictured above getting a jumper splashed in his eye, but his impact on the Lakers is evidenced by the rings. He might be the second best second fiddle ever behind the aforementioned Scottie Pippen, of course. I mean that with the utmost respect. There are guys all over the league that are their team's alpha when they really need to be a beta. There is no shame in being a number two if your number one is a big enough star (ie Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant).
Ray Allen: Have you ever seen Ray Allen shoot a basketball? The only thing as pure in sports in Ken Griffey Jr's swing. Enough said.
Dennis Rodman: If you're thinking all he did is rebound, ask yourself this question: "What else on a basketball court can you never do too much of?" You can shoot, dribble, and pass too much, but you can never ever rebound too much. When it comes to rebounding, he was the best I ever saw do it.
Mitch Richmond: He might be the poster boy for the so-called East Coast Media bias. While he was putting up great numbers with West coast teams like Golden State and Sacramento, thousands of basketball fans never knew who he was. If he played in New York, he would have gotten exponentially more publicity. As it stands, he was still amazing player despite his lack of hype.
Alonzo Mourning: Before people gawked at how big Dwight Howard's shoulders are, there was Zo. He was always a force at both ends, and he was an absolute warrior.
Paul Pierce: To everyone not associated with the Celtics, his antics whenever he could possibly be even considered slightly injured are most likely way over the top. So is his game though. His game is not flashy at all (how many highlights of 15 foot jumpers do you really want to see?), but Pierce has put himself among some of the Celtics greats as far as stats. Considering the history of that franchise, it is all the more impressive.
Kevin Johnson: We all remember the dunk when he posterized Olajuwan, but his career was more than just that play. Before there was Steve Nash, there was Kevin Johnson. He was the heart and soul of the Suns, and although his numbers are impressive, they don't do justice to his impact on the game.
Dikembe Mutombo: Sorry to any Sonics fans who remember him laying on the court holding the ball after his Nuggets beat the Sonics in the 94 playoffs, but you have to give respect where respect is due. The reason everyone got so excited to try and dunk on him was because so many tried to scale Mount Mutombo only to be rejected at the summit. While he was never a huge offensive threat, he played in the league almost 20 years, blocking shots and rebounding. The longevity of his career tells you how important his talents were, and when you consider he didn't have to actually block the shot to make his opponent miss, his impact on the game was just as big as a guy scoring 20 points a game.
Chauncey Billups: Mr. Big Shot, and with all due respect to Robert Horry, his career numbers show he was more than a guy who hit big shots in big spots. He made any team he played on better with his leadership, court sense, savvy presence, and all around skill set. The championship Piston teams he played on were gritty and tenacious, and he was their leader showing what a real point guard can do for a team.
Amar'e Stoudemire: Living in Phoenix, we all heard about whether or not he was a max player ad nauseam. While the debate was tiresome watching his highlights never gets old. Stoudemire has had some of the sickest dunks ever seen on the planet. The only thing keeping him from being listed in a higher tier is his tendency to disappear on the defensive end. If a point guard has to make his teammates better to truly be great, a power forward has to rebound to be an all time great. With that being said, he did average 8.9 rebounds per game and is an undeniable offensive talent.
Parts II & III are coming soon!