It may be too early to talk basketball but in my world it is never too early to fantasize about it.
I like to play a game with some of my buddies. It's called "Who would you pick first for your all-time, all-world basketball team?
There are surely many players who come to mind but only a very select few who warrant consideration.
MJ, Kareem, Larry, Wilt, Shaq, Kobe...what about Bill Russell, the winningest player of them all?
There is one player I forgot to mention, so read on and see who I would pick as the focal point, leader and most important player on my team of teams.
Who would you pick?
Michael Jordan didn't invent basketball...he reinvented it. He also elevated it into the stratosphere of global financial worthiness with his enviable Nike contract and "Air" trademark.
As a player, few can deny his unmatched competitive spirit. Here was a guy who came into a league as a great shooter and left as one of the best defenders of all time. He was the greatest individual player, capable of single-handedly taking over a game...winning a game. I once saw him score 20+ points in the fourth quarter to win the game...he must have done that scores of times.
I wouldn't put anyone, not Labron, Kobe, Bird, Baylor or Dr. J - each of whom has stellar physical and acrobatic talents - ahead of MJ when it comes to sheer basketball ability.
He might be number one in the hearts of most fans, but he is number Two on my team.
Kareem is my favorite player of all time and the best center to ever play the game. I am not talking about statistics, although his 6 MVP's and 6 Championships speak pretty loudly about his ability.
I am talking about sheer presence, athletic ability, competitive drive, winning attitude and possessor of the most devastating offensive weapon in the history of the game, a shot he perfected and mastered - the virtually unblockable and ridiculously reliable hook shot.
That alone should be enough to make Kareem the most necessary cog in the all-time team wheel. Add to it his amazing shot blocking ability and superior passing and you have basketball perfection.
Still, while I love him, he cannot be my first pick as that is reserved for someone so fantastic, if I had never viewed him, I would have thought he was made up.
Next to my all-time first pick is the best team player and purest shooter and passer of all time.
Larry Legend played for my arch-enemy Celtics but you can never deny is inate ability to win, win and win.
If you have never seen video of Bird playing, you are missing out on a guy who would dive head first into the crowd and onto the floor to get an errant ball, whose sense of what to do on the court - whether making the behind the back pass, stealing a ball, switching hands to evade a block or falling away for one of his thousands of baseline three-pointers - was second to none.
Larry came to every game with a grudge and and a desire to win every game no matter what that game meant in the course of the season.
A great player and necessary addition to my all-time team, but still not the one.
He is the only contemporary player I would ever consider as a possible first pick.
Although a guy like Time Duncan might warrant a call, Kobe has 5 championships to his name and I think there will be more to come (watch out Michael!)
They say he has the greatest work ethic of all time, that nothing will stop him once he heads to the rim and that he has turned himself into the consummate shooter.
There is no question, Kobe knows how to create. Whenever his team needs a score, he is there, ruthless to the core, corkscrewing his body on a reverse lay-up or shedding a defender, shifting gears and quickly elevating for his shot.
The best shooting guard ever...still to be decided.
If defense is what you want in your first pick, then you have to go with Bill Russell...who also has 11 Championships to his name.
Not Wilt, nor any other big man playing against him, could top him or stop him from winning.
But, it wasn't just him on the starting five and Bill knew it perhaps better than any other basketball player who ever played.
He was the ultimate team player and he showed it time again, more times than anyone has or will.
Russell elevated winning to a new level in sports. He is the winningest team player of all time and showed what it meant to be a member of a team, not just the star of the team.
Put team and defense first, and winning will naturally follow.
Russell, though, is only a back-up to my first pick.
One man struck fear in every player he faced. One man, one name...Wilt!
Arguably the strongest man ever to play the game, Wilt was a bit of a fish out of water on the court - he shot free throws - badly - underhanded!
But, he was a dangerous man in the paint who wheeled and dealed then slammed the ball through the hoop. In his later years, he became an awesome passer and team player, learning how to rely on his teammates to create points and wins.
The only man to score 100 points in a game, Wilt also once averaged 50 points per game and almost always was above 20 rebounds a game...no one can come close to those stats today.
Somehow, he was never a big winner, but what an athlete!
He's really not someone I would want on my team but plenty of people love and admire him and his three titles and amazing girth definitely warrant discussion.
Shaq fills so much space in the post, he must be impossible to guard. I often imagine how he would do against the lithe Kareem and vice versa. The man can slam and he is scary.
Maybe only Wilt would match up to him physically and in his heyday with Penny and a young Kobe, he was unmatch-upable. He simply dominated the court like no big man on the planet.
Unfortunately, he may be remembered for being the Hack-a-Shaq, then anything else...so he sure is not my first pick.
Quite simply, before you can have a great shooter, imposing center, wizardly defender or wicked passer, you need a leader, a quarterback, someone who can see the whole court at once and dictate the outcome of the game.
You need Magic Johnson.
At 6'9", he peered over his lesser guard defenders and picked his spots. Whether on the move, or in the half-court set, he orchestrated his way to every win.
Like Terry Bradshaw hitting Lynn Swann on a post pattern, he scooped a full-court underhanded pass to James Worthy or Jamal Wilkes as they flew to the rim turning each of them into all-star receivers.
He understood the big man's needs and as Kareem set-up in the post, you can see Magic lobbing it into him in a rhythm that guaranteed a made hook shot.
When the time came, he turned from passer to shooter to ultimate winner.
Whenever my friends say "Michael" or "Larry" or even the nubile "Labron", all I say is give me Magic and almost any five guys and watch me win.
Who would you pick?