In November 2009 after a 111-104 victory against the Miami Heat the former Cav Lebron James showed off his “youthful ignorance” when he suggested that the NBA retire Michael Jordan’s famed number 23. Lebron, believing that MJ is the greatest of all time is a belief that a lot of other basketball fans share. He being a fan in his youthful days and now as a 2-time MVP still thinks that MJ is a god in long shorts. Now this article is not about if Lebron was silly for his beliefs or the comments he made on TNT that night. Fans, Analyst even legendary players alike took turns beating the poor kid up enough. Even players that played with his Air’ness suggested that Lebron was off with his assessment. I think it’s a matter of opinion on what the viewer believes incorporates the “Greatest of all time” or G.O.A.T. Rather his overall talent, championships, stats, awards, revolutionizing the game, etc where the standard lies is in the eyes of the beholder. I have asked about 30 people randomly who they believe is the top 5 players to ever lace them up. I asked for top 5 only because if I asked for only one name, you know who would have popped up at least 90% of the time. You can only imagine how many times someone said Jordan number one but when they had to name four others they started to change their minds a little. Even when they originally named MJ there top guy. I heard ten players name more and more often as I kept asking: Russell, Wilt, MJ, Magic, Larry Bird, Dr J, the Big O, Jerry West, Kobe and Kareem. I will take the time to put together a slide show depicting why they should or shouldn’t be referred to the G.O.A.T. The slides are in order based on age because the last thing I want to do is rank these guys. Enjoy.
Of course, there were a few names that were mentioned only a few times here and there.
-Bob Cousy- PG
-Played college ball for the San Francisco Dons (1953-56)
- Drafted in 1956 by the St Louis Hawks and traded to the Celtics for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan.
-Played for Boston from 1956-1969
-PPG 15.1/APG 4.3/ RPG 22.5/FG .440/FT .561
Bill Russell is considered the greatest winner in basketball history. From 1954 to 1969, Bill Russell amassed two NCAA championships, one gold medal, and 11 NBA championships. He is a five time NBA league MVP. He dominated the court on the defensive end, allowing his teammates to flourish on the offensive end. Seriously some teams these days can’t average 22.5 rebounds a game. Not just the on the court fame is the reason you can mention Mr. Russell. What he did for Black American athletes in the segregated 60’s was a testament to his resolve and stature. One day the ballers of this generation will understand it takes more to be strong than just how high you can jump. These are some of the many reasons that the NBA finals MVP award was officially named after him in 2008.
Although he is a great player he was definitely not alone in his push for multiple championships. If anybody had help, Mr. Russell did. It was because of this his team dominated Wilt’s teams. However in the one on one between the two big men it was like watching a dad beat up on his son. Give Wilt a Bob Cousy, Give Nate Thurmond a Sam Jones. what if Red decided to leave the team after they lost the Hawks in 58'. Will we still be talking about Bill Russell being the greatest winner ever. Without all this help you will get a 60's version of Ben Wallace. Sad thing is we beat up the Shaq’s of today because of their terrible free throw shooting but, 56%. I guess most of his rebounds were his own FT’s.
“The idea is not to block every shot. The idea is to make your opponent believe that you might block every shot.”
William Felton Russell.
-Played college ball for the Kansas Jayhawks (1955-58)
-Played for the Harlem Globetrotters (1958-59)
-Drafted by the San Francisco Warriors 1959
-Played for the San Francisco Warriors (1959-1965), Philadelphia 76ers (1965-68), LA Lakers (1969-73)
-PPG 30.1/APG 4.4/RPG 22.9/FG .540/FT .511
Wilt Chamberlain is considered one of the best all around centers in league history. If not for the Boston dynasty of the 60’s Mr. Chamberlain would have had more rings then fingers and toes. Well, four MVP’s will have to do I guess. To understand Wilt Chamberlains dominance you would have to think about 100 points scored against other professional basketball players. We have all heard stories of players in small town high schools scoring 100 plus all the time. This man did it against other pro players, not 16 year olds. Averaging over 50 points in a season is nothing to laugh at either. He even lay to rest the myths that he is a selfish player when he led the league in assist the 1968 season with the Sixers. As a seven footer!
Remember when you were playing basketball in middle school and everybody fought to have the first pick. Because everyone wanted the abnormally big kid in class and knew all they had to do was just throw it up to him (or her in my case) and watch everybody being drug up and down the court by them. That is what Wilt Chamberlain was in the early NBA. When the average size center is smaller than Tayshon Prince, you’re not working with much. Yes Wilt had athleticism but let’s face it he didn’t need much of a low post game because he was taller than everybody else. His best move was the turn-around layup.
“Everybody pulls for David, nobody roots for Goliath”.
Wilton Norman Chamberlain
-Played college ball for West Virginia Mountaineers (1956-60)
-Drafted by the Minneapolis/LA Lakers (1960)
-Played for the Lakers franchise (1960-1974)
-PPG 27.0/APG 6.7/RPG 5.8/FG .474/FT .814
Jerry West, the Logo or Mr. Clutch whatever nickname you may have for him it all sums up one of the most clutch players in the history of the game. At 6’2” and 180lbs soaking wet Jerry West made himself a hall of fame player. Starting with winning a gold medal for the US in 1960 with fellow HOF the Oscar Robertson he has been the guru of clutch ever since. He was the Lakers; before Jack Nicholson was famous this guy was making winning shot after winning shot. Crazy thing is in his time there was no three point shot in his day. Because if there was one he would still be the NBA’s all time leading scorer with room to spare. He averaged 37.9points a game in the 1969 finals in a losing effort becoming the only player to win the finals MVP on a losing team. He only missed the NBA finals 5 times in his career. Incredible!
If you wanted to see what kind of player Steve Kerr would have been in the 60’s look up some Jerry West films. He was a clutch player in a league that flourished on NBA type defense (No Bodies Around). You cannot consider Mr West as the G.O.A.T. when he never even won the league MVP award for a season. I like the jump shot like everybody else but you cannot be considered the greatest when that is all you’re known for.
“You can't get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good.”
Jerry Alan West
-Played college ball for the Cincinnati Bearcats (1956-60)
-Drafted by the Cincinnati Royals (1960)
-Played for the Cincinnati Royals (1960-70), Milwaukee Bucks (1970-74)
-PPG 25.7/APG 9.5/RPG 7.5/FG .485/FT .838
The “Big O” is probably one of the greatest nicknames ever that fit one of the greatest of all time. There is actually some youngsters in the world that thinks Kenyon Martin is the best ever Cincinnati Bearcat of all time. If there was a stat to be filled Oscar Robertson filled it, usually in double figures as well. Even in today’s game a “triple double” is a big thing. Players these days have to play in the fourth quarter of blow outs just to get a cheap rebound or a meaningless assist just to record their first and probably last ever ‘triple double”. There were games, especially in college, where Robertson would finish his tri-dub by halftime. Imagine averaging that same feat for an entire season. During his prime in the 60’s Mr. Robertson was the only non-big man that won a MVP award (1963-64) in the sixties. He is generally known as the one player that really could be a dominate player in today’s game. A 6’5” guard with all-around skills is almost a guaranteed lottery pick in today’s game.
Big misconception is that Oscar Robertson was a really versatile player. Could one of the reasons be he wasn’t really that great at anything. If Jerry West was the Steve Kerr in the sixties then Robertson was the Antonio Daniels. A star player with the ball in his hands at all times. You can’t help but accumulate all the career stats when he was done. You can name a plethora of players that can do an awful lot of stuff better than he did. Every team he played for was typically handicapped by the fact he needed the ball in his hands 24/7. No wonder he didn’t win a ring until Lew Alcindor came and demanded the rock. You can call him the most versatile player of all time, but I can’t call him the greatest.
“I think that everyone should be able to dribble. Everyone should be able to pass. Otherwise, why are you out there”?
Oscar Palmer Robertson
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the lead player in three different “Jabbar” dynasties in the NBA. The first in the early 70’s with him and an older Oscar Robertson took a Milwaukee team to the finals twice, sweeping the Bullets in 1971 for their only championship. The second dynasty period was the late 70’s after a robbery, oh um, trade with the Lakers he won 3 of his 6 MVP trophies in a 5 year span. What is with teams just giving their franchise big men to LA? The last dynasty came when he teamed up with a young Magic and traded in his MVP’s for championship rings. Kareem revolutionized basketball from the college level straight to the pros. When you have the NC-status quo-AA changes their rules to contain you that mean something. He entered the NBA while incorporating the world’s first and only impossible-to-stop shot. The “sky hook” a move that not only kept him in the league for about 3 years past his prime it also, if used today by anybody, would still be hard to stop. He dominated in high school, college and the pros.
Small foot note; he was in a Bruce Lee movie (Game of Death) and gave Bruce all he could handle until he eventually lost. Who does that?
Kareem Abdul Jabbar is probably the luckiest player in the history of the NBA. To be drafted the year Bill Russell retired and come into the league when Wilt Chamberlain is 33 years old, that is perfect timing. Then your only competition in the 70’s is a few glorified power forwards. Then he leaves right before Hakeem, Ewing and Robinson really get into their prime. Luck, luck, luck. Kareem usually got his defensive credits because he was the last line of defense. “Stand there and just swat them away big fella”. Kareem was never known for a one on one type of guy. Just asked the media when they asked him a question.
“I can do something else besides stuff a ball through a hoop. My biggest resource is my mind”.
Julius “Dr. J” Erving
-Played college ball for the University of Massachusetts (1968-71)
-Signed by the ABA’s Virginia Squires as an undrafted free agent (1971), drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks (1972), and signed as a free agent by the Atlanta Hawks (1972).
- ABA: Played for the Virginia Squires (1971-73), New Jersey Nets (1973-76)/NBA: Philadelphia 76ers (1976-87)
-PPG 22.0/APG 3.9/ RPG 6.7/FG .507/ FT .777
Many would say the word “smooth” was created with Dr J in mind. Of course that is not true but when you think of the words elegance, dignified, poetry in motion and yes smooth Dr J always comes to mind. Stats are just an afterthought when thinking about the Doctor. The ABA slam dunk contest against David “Skywalker” Thompson is still talked about thirty plus years later. Even the dunk contest in which he lost as a 34 year old too Larry Nance is still talked about. So many iconic shots in the history of Dr J it’s hard to pick one. You can start with the “rock the baby to sleep” dunk that put Michael Cooper on his first poster or the behind the back board lay-up that not many can do now if they tried. He transcended the aerial era of basketball that helped create the Kobe’s and Lebron’s of today. The ABA was put on the map by the showmanship of the original human highlight film. Even though he is remembered for his dunks the Doctor was one of the most clutch performers as well. He was never given credit for having and all around game because everything he did was so effortless it seemed as if he didn’t care at times about any other part of his game. He had a low post game, a mid range game, rebounded huge for a swing player and hit a few game winners from time to time. Smoothest player of all time.
The greatest dunker? Check. The greatest showman? Check. The greatest ever? Nah, sorry. His stats compared to a lot of the other player’s in league history leaves a little something to be desired. If it wasn’t for Bobby Jones and Moses covering up his many defensive deficiencies he would be known has a good athlete who can score a little. If Jerry West shouldn’t be the greatest because he is only a shooter then Dr. J shouldn’t be either.
"If you get depressed about being the second-best team in the world, then you've got a problem."
Julius Winfield Erving II
-Played College ball for Indiana State (1976-79)
-Drafted by the Boston Celtics (1978)
-Played for the Boston Celtics (1979-1992)
-PPG 24.3/APG 6.3/RPG 10.0/FG .496/FT.886
A slow footed white boy with no athletic ability what so ever. OK we got that out of the way, Larry Bird is the most skilled, versatile and gifted 6-10 stiff ever. Three time MVP (1884-86), Three time NBA champion,(1981,1984,1986) 12 times NBA all star (1979-92). No matter how you cut it he is a winner. From taking a mid-major to the NCAA finals to revitalizing the failing NBA as a franchise Bird is a historic figure in the game of basketball. He was a trash talking three point killers that made what Reggie did against the Knicks shooting practice. He dominated games with his insane will to win and competitive drive. He took on Dominique tic for tac in the 1987 playoffs, while not having any easy put back dunks or cherry picking freestyles like Mr. Wilkins did. Scoring is not that easy in the NBA when you don’t have the god given leaping ability like some players so for Larry Bird to score more clutch shots as effortlessly has he did was amazing. He would also let you know he was going to do it as well. Which also gave the big hick street cred as well.
If Larry Bird switch teams with KiKi Vandawhe or Kelly Tripuka then America would have a new great white hope in the eighties. Larry Bird might have been a good jump shooting big man on other teams. He could average around 15 to 20 points a game maybe. Another good shooter surrounded by 2 HOF’s (McHale and Parish) that took a beating down low while this 6-10 Small forward took set shots against guys a half of foot smaller than him. That sounds a little weak if you ask me.
“As far as playing, I didn't care who guarded me - red, yellow, black. I just didn't want a white guy guarding me, because it's disrespect to my game.”
Larry Joe Bird
Erving “Magic” Johnson
-played college ball for Michigan State (1977-79)
-Drafted by the LA Lakers (1979)
-Played for the LA Lakers (1979-91, 96)
-PPG 19.5/APG 11.2/RPG 7.2/FG .520/ FT .848
More than any other player Erving Johnson revolutionized his position, the game of basketball and the world as we know it. He made making the unselfish play cool. Magic was a special player with skills that was not natural. A 6’9” player that can handle and pass the rock was un-heard of in is day. Players today with his size and decent ball skills are always called “the next Magic Johnson” or “He has Magic type of skills” so on and so forth. He could play every position on the court, coach the game, sell tickets at the front door and even give the court a good mopping after the game. Winning at every level possible high school, college, the pros, and even leading Dream Team 1 to a dominating gold medal performance in 1992 after contracting HIV. The NBA however is definitely where he was truly magical. He played 12 seasons and ended all but three of them in the final series. Winning league MVP honors 3 times (1987, 89, 90) in the process. During the 80’s fans wasn’t wondering if anybody could defeat the Lakers out of the West, they was wondering if any other team played in the West. Magic along with Isaiah Thomas made the All Star game worth watching again as they would wage a string of personal “one up” battles against each other. Greatest performer ever, someone who made the game feel more like, well a game.
Magic Johnson was the biggest personality on a larger than life basketball team. There was times when the Showtime Lakers won games before they took the purple and gold warm ups off. That is the sign of a good “team” a dominate “team”. Maybe they didn’t win every game, like the choke fest in the 1984 finals against Larry Bird’s Celtics. You remember the series in which he turned the ball over countless times and also missed his share of free throws. That’s conduct definitely un-becoming of a “GOAT” candidate. He was talented but most of his talent you could asses to his physical stature. Take a look at the stats, not the basketball stats the physical stats. Magic was 6’9” tall, 255 lbs! He was playing PG people; because his team was so good teams had to let their PG’s guard him at times. He was defended by John Stockton, Isaiah, Kevin Johnson, Terry Porter, and Dennis Johnson (RIP), Seriously? I hope he can score at least 20ppg’s a game and get some assists. When teams went to their bench and inserted taller players he was sometimes exposed for not being the quickest player on the court. Also, defensive liability is an understatement.
“Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates.”
Erving Johnson Jr.
-Played college ball at North Carolina (1982-84)
-Drafted by the Chicago Bulls (1984)
-Played for the Chicago Bulls (1984-93, 95-98), Washington Wizards (2001-03)
-PPG 30.1/APG 5.3/RPG 6.20/FG .497/ FT .838
Magic Johnson said one time, "There's Michael Jordan and then there is the rest of us." When other HOF’s give you this kind of credit what else is there to say? There are probably not many players to have so many clutch shots called….the shot. The last minute basket to win the NCAA championship vs Georgetown in 1982 as a freshman, “the shot.” The basket where it looked like he literally kicked Craig Ehlo and the Cavs out of the playoffs, “the shot.” The hand switch in mid air against the Lakers in the 91’ finals, the many shots versus the Knicks, and of course the top of the key against Byron Russell and the Jazz. All of them at one time or another was called the shot. Amazing verticals added with the amazing will and determination of being the best at what he does. He changed the way basketball is played today from types of defenses used to stop him, to the length of basketball shorts. Just think were the uniform would be if John Stockton was more famous then MJ! There is no one with the cut throat, take no prisoners, win at all cost type of attitude that MJ posses in the game today. He only won five MVP trophies (1988, 1991-92, 1996, 1998) and honestly he could have won the MVP every year he played. So many accomplishments in the basketball world and outside of it to really and try to mention all of them. One crazy fact is no one else in basketball could average 20 pts as a forty year in 2003.
Old Air vs New Air
I know what you’re all saying how I could possibly have something negative to say about the case of MJ being the greatest. When we say greatest we mean the best of the best. He couldn’t get everybody involved like Magic, he couldn’t shoot nearly as good as Bird, there wasn’t any monster rebounding like Chamberlain, Russell or even Barkley for that matter. He needed an almost carbon copy of himself (Scottie Pippen) to even compete with the Pistons and the Celtics. Michael Jordan was Mr. Sport Center way before Richard Jefferson. Full of highlight reel material night in and night out but no substance at all. During his failed playoff appearances he must have had nightmares of Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman when he went to sleep. Yes some may complain that he did not have help, but even Allen Iverson went to the finals with Eric Snow, Tony Hill, George Lynch, Larry Mo and Curly! Also, the record of victories in a season was a great feat when the Bulls accomplished this in 96’ but honestly the watered down NBA was only a little better than the Big East that year. He may be one of the most talented players but I still like nominating the more all around players as the greatest.
“I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.”
Michael Jeffrey Jordan
-Never played college ball (Lower Merion HS)
-Drafted by the Charlotte Hornets (1996), Traded to the Lakers on draft night.
-Plays for the LA Lakers (1996-present)
-PPG 25.3/APG 4.7/RPG 5.3/FG .455/FT .838
The only active player on this list is one of the most unstoppable players of all time. You take away the dunk, he hits a reverse lay-up. You pack in the lane; he pulls up and swishes a light twenty footer. He only has a few seconds in the clock left; he hits a fade-away three with a crowd of hands in his face. You finally get the stones to guard him straight up like a man then he crosses you and dunks the ball like he is mad at the rim. Now your center is pissed at you because you allowed the “Black Mamba” to put him in the Sports Center top ten that evening. Then if you’re lucky he will just get his thirty points at the free throw line so your kids won’t laugh at daddy to much when you get home. The leading scorer in one of the most storied franchises history. He scored 81 points in a non-overtime game. He once posted 60 on a team and decided to sit down the entire fourth quarter. 5 time NBA champion (2000-02, 2009-10), league MVP (2008), Gold Medal winner (2008). There are countless other accomplishments that I can write here but there is one that no one really understands. Kobe has to be one of very few dunk champions that can dominate a game from start to finish without even attempting a dunk. He can (and probably will) be a big time scorer even after he loses all of his leaping ability. He is one of the nastiest swing men that rule the low post on a nightly base.
Air ball Kobe
We as fans remember the 81 against Toronto, but seem to forget all three of his shots vs. the Suns in game seven in 2006. I know us fans forget the way the Celtics treated him like a second class citizen all series in the finals in 2008. The sad thing is Kobe was not hurt in none of these games; there wasn’t any special type of defense deployed towards Kobe either. Especially by the “Defense is the devil” Phoenix Suns. The best defense for Kobe is the ego of Mr. Bryant himself. That ego would have made him a Chicago Bull eventually if Mitch Kupchak didn’t trade a couple pieces of rubies and fabric to the Grizzlies for a franchise Spaniard PF. Kobe will go down as one of the greatest scorers in the history of the league, but right now I don’t even believe he is the most important player on his team. Pau for MVP!
“I'll do whatever it takes to win games, whether it's sitting on a bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate, or hitting the game-winning shot.”
Kobe Bean Bryant
The Black Top
I started playing ball in the street parks with my dad who is born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He actually watched Earl Manigault play in person. He told me that Lew Alcindor couldn’t do anything with this guy. My Dad is a harder critic than me, so if he gives the original GOAT these kinds of props I got to believe him. In the earlier days the term the greatest was used to represent the top baller in your neighborhood. The one were you knew if he could just make it out of the ghetto he could be something big. He can jump higher than Michael, pass better than Magic, out shoot Larry any day. He could even grow a better afro than Dr. J. If he could just make it out. Some made it but, some, unfortunately didnt make it out of the neighborhood. All we have is our stories that we got handed down to us from generation to generation. So maybe it isnt a player that should be labeled as "Greatest of all Time" but the memories should.
In closing, I understand if there was some anger with this article. Some may say I was too harsh or to easy on some of these guys. Only because I was trying to be objective and not show any bias. I honestly can’t tell you who should be considered the GOAT or not. Everyone’s idea of the greatest is different. In boxing there are the Ali fans, and there are the Marciano fans, for some reason there is even a few Tyson fans (huh?) The point is that nobody really can state 100% why there guy is the greatest in basketball. Most will quickly jump up and say MJ, MJ, and MJ some more. But as you can see by my slide anyone can find issues with even his game.
Thanks for reading and please place your comments as you see fit thank you.