NBA: Dirk Nowitzki and the 15 Greatest Players of All Time
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And so, Dirk’s place in history is forever changed. No longer can we discuss the NBA all-time greats without tossing Dirk’s name into the ring.
The only question is, where does he land in that discussion?
In today’s locked-out atmosphere, we could wallow in sadness and worry about the possibility of losing next season, or we could have a little fun.
So today we’re going to have some fun, as I reveal the NBA’s all-time 15 greatest stars and let you know exactly where Dirk falls.
15. Julius Erving
Julius Erving, Dr. J. the NBA's first high-flyer
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Julius Erving (AKA "Dr. J") was MJ before MJ.
Erving was an unstoppable scorer, an underrated defender and had he not lost years to the ABA, his statistics would be gaudy.
Still, because of his ABA years, his NBA stats don’t tell the whole story.
Erving brought an electricity and athleticism to the NBA that it had never before seen. His high-flying acrobatics, foul-line soaring dunks, unstoppable post moves and ridiculously unbeatable one-on-one defense made him a complete player. He changed the game and created a path for guys like Jordan, Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant to follow.
Had Erving won one or two more championships, he’d be higher on the list, and were we to construct a list of the most entertaining players of all time, he’d be in the top three with Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
Erving was decades ahead of his time and will always be a fan favorite.
Stats/Accomplishments: 11 NBA seasons, one NBA MVP, five-time All-NBA First-Team, one NBA Championship, 11-time NBA All-Star, 18,364 career points and 2,067 offensive rebounds.
14. Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade... shot maker.
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Dwyane Wade is only 29 years old, and while many may believe he is too high on this list, those same people will have him ranked in their top 10 when his career is all said and done.
Wade is a shot-maker; his athleticism and strength allow him to create and make shots that only a few other greats like Julius Erving, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan could even dream about.
2008-2009 was one of the greatest statistical years a player has ever had, and his PER rating that season was one of the top-10 single-seasons in history.
Wade can take it to the hole, shoot from outside, defend, get to the line, block shots, rebound and come up with the big shot at the end of the game. He is the most complete two guard ever who isn’t named Michael or Kobe, and in time he may be comparable to the both of them.
Wade won his first championship in 2006 at the young age of 24, making himself one of the youngest NBA Finals MVP’s ever. In that series, he came up with clutch shot after clutch shot and single-handedly took the series from Dallas, who was up 2-0 and poised to run away with the title.
With the possibility of another decade of hoops ahead of him and playing with LeBron James, we could see Wade challenge Kobe’s five titles. And while the media darling of the Miami Heat may be LeBron James at the moment, those in the know realize Wade is the team’s most important piece.
Stats/Accomplishments: two-time All-NBA First-Team, one NBA Championship, one NBA Finals MVP, one-time NBA Scoring Champion, seven-time All-Star and one-time All-Star MVP; 25.4 PPG, 6.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 3.8 RPG and 1.0 BPG averages
13. Bill Russell
bill russell, class act.
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Bill Russell, though an all-time great and champion, is the most consistently overrated player of all time. I’ve seen him ranked by prestigious sports journalists as high as No. 2.
Russell was one of the NBA’s greatest rebounders, defensive players and passing centers of all time, and yes, he beat Wilt Chamberlain for title after title.
However, in a statistical comparison of head-to-head competition, Wilt got the better of Russell.
In 142 head-to-head matchups between Russell and Chamberlain, Russell's team won 88 and lost 74 (not the domination people are led to believe). In those games, Wilt averaged 28.7 PPG and 28.7 RPG, while Russell averaged only 14.5 PPG and 23.7 RPG.
Russell also had a vastly superior supporting cast, which must be factored in.
Concerning his 11 NBA titles, there is no doubt this is impressive; it’s the only reason you can argue to put Russell in the top 10.
However, Russell played at a time when there were only eight NBA teams. Winning 11 NBA Championships when you have a one in eight chance of winning isn’t nearly as impressive as UCLA’s string of NCAA Championships, Jordan’s six championships in six seasons or the Lakers' six three-peats and 17 repeats coming under much more dense competition.
The bottom line is Russell was a giant playing amongst boys, but he couldn’t make himself into a dynamic offensive threat. Though many will argue that defense wins championships, I’d bet Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Larry Bird and others would argue that it also requires an unstoppable offensive force. You couldn’t count on Russell to get the big bucket at the end of games; for that, the team went to John Havlicek.
For this reason, it is impossible to put Bill Russell any higher on this list.
Stats/Accomplishments: 11 NBA Championships, five NBA MVP's, three-time All-NBA First-Team, four-time Rebounding Champion and 12-time NBA All-Star; 22.5 PPG and 15.1 RPG averages
12. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki- Champion.
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This is where the newly-minted champion lands.
Though he’s outside the top 10,—where his coach proclaimed him to be—with another championship or two he may cusp that barrier.
Dirk Nowitzki validated his career this year by winning a championship against the vastly more talented—and heavily favored—Miami Heat, vindicating himself for Dallas’ collapse in 2006.
Not only did he win a title against a team many experts deemed "unbeatable," but he did it as the only superstar on his team during the back-end of his career in what was the most exciting NBA Finals in recent memory.
Nowitzki’s outside shot is unmatched by any power forward in history, and in this NBA Finals, he proved to have the post-up game to complement it.
Most importantly, to be an all-time great, you need to perform when the game is in the balance; Dirk did this with amazing consistency in this year’s Finals by hitting huge shot after huge shot.
Dirk Nowitzki has always been excluded from the discussion when speaking about all-time greats, but with a NBA MVP, a NBA Championship and a NBA Finals MVP, he can no longer be excluded.
I'm excited to see how much more this man can accomplish.
Stats/Accomplishments: one-time NBA MVP, one NBA Championship, one-time NBA Finals MVP, four-time All-NBA First-Team and 10-time All-Star; 23 PPG and 8.4 RPG averages
11. Moses Malone
Moses Malone- Beast.
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Moses Malone is an often forgotten man when it comes to discussing the all-time greats, and I’m not sure why.
Just like Kurtis Blow, "I like Dr. J and Moses Malone," and will never forget the way those two dominated the NBA during my childhood.
Malone is one of the greatest rebounders to ever play the game, and other than Shaquille O’Neal and Wilt Chamberlain, he was the biggest, most dominant physical low-post presence the game has ever seen, parting interior defenses the way another Moses parted a particular sea.
If it’s the final possession of Game 7 of the NBA Finals, we have the ball and we're down by one, I want Michael Jordan taking the shot, and Malone in the paint to scoop up a potential miss and slam it home for the victory.
Malone was one of the most unstoppable post-players ever, and despite his extraordinary size and strength, he beat the odds and played 19 professional seasons (starting for 16 of them).
They don’t make them like this man anymore.
Stats/Accomplishments: three-time NBA MVP, four-time All-NBA First-Team, one NBA Championship and Finals MVP, 11-time All-Star, 27,409 career points and 16,212 career rebounds
10. Kobe Bryant
kobe bryant... loved, hated, superstar
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Kobe Bryant is tough man to rank.
This year, Blake Griffin of my beloved and pathetic L.A. Clippers became the NBA’s posterizing champ. People forget this used to be Bryant’s forte, which is a testament to how much his game has evolved over the years.
Kobe is now a prolific scorer who can kill an opponent in innumerable ways (still including posterizing dunks). He's an underrated distributor, a good three-point shooter and one of the game’s greatest all-time perimeter defenders.
Kobe has won five championships for two very different Los Angeles Lakers teams. Many people may rank him as the No. 2 man on his own team during the three-peat of the Kobe-Shaq era, and while that may be an accurate ranking, they wouldn't have won any without Kobe. He is a player in the vain and mold of predecessors Julius Erving and Michael Jordan, and like them, Kobe has often been criticized for being selfish and difficult to get along with.
Despite these criticisms, Kobe has always been a winner, always guarded the other team’s best defender and always taken the big shot.
Much like LeBron James, Kobe is one of the best and most hated players in the current NBA.
Unlike LeBron though, Kobe is a champion who has proven himself able to make the game-winner. If he wins one or two more titles, he’s top-five of all time, and no matter how much you hate him, you won't be able to argue that ranking.
Stats/Accomplishments: eight-time All-NBA First-Team, one-time NBA MVP, five NBA Championships and two-time Finals MVP, eight-time All-NBA Defensive First-Team, 13-time All-Star, four-time All-Star MVP and two-time Scoring Champion; 25.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.7 APG and 1.5 SPG averages
9. Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem... The Dream
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Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon is the smoothest big man to ever play the game. He was coordinated and skilled, quick, athletic and fundamentally sound.
Olajuwon won two championships when Jordan was playing baseball, which validated him as one of greatest, and had Jordan chosen baseball full time, Hakeem would likely have five or six total.
Olajuwon was the best shot-blocker to ever live, and combined with Ralph Sampson, the Rockets made for the most impenetrable interior defense in NBA history. Along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and oft-overlooked Kevin McHale, Olajuwon provided the NBA with some of the sweetest post moves of all time.
Never before Hakeem had we seen such a large man move with such fluidity and grace. It’s a shame he had to come along in the Jordan era; I believe Olajuwon, more than any player in history, was deserving of more championships.
Stats/Accomplishments: two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, one-time NBA MVP, two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, five-time All-NBA Defensive First-Team, six-time All-NBA First-Team, 13-time All-Star, three-time Blocking Champion, two-time Rebounding Champion and 3,830 career blocks (3.1 BPG average); 21.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG and 2.5 APG averages
8. Oscar Robertson
Oscar Robertson... the walking triple-double
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Oscar Robertson, much like Kobe Bryant, is difficult to rank.
He’s the only man to ever average a triple-double for a season, which is as impressive as it gets, and he was one of the greatest rebounding forces ever at the point guard position.
The man statistically dominated the game, and though I’ve never seen him play, two older journalist friends of mine call him the greatest of all time. I won’t disrespect my predecessors who saw him play by putting him any lower than eighth, but there’s no way I can put him higher.
The likes of Oscar Robertson's statistical domination will likely never be seen again; guys like him and Wilt set records that will never be broken.
However, he won only one title in a very weak era, and that can’t be overlooked.
Stats/Accomplishments: NBA Rookie of the Year, one-time NBA MVP, nine-time All-NBA First-Team, six-time NBA Assists Champion, one NBA Championship, 12-time All-Star and three-time All-Star MVP; 25.7 PPG, 9.5 APG and 7.5 RPG averages
7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Adbul Jabbar- sky hook, US patent pending
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer, was a tower of a man who invented the most indefensible shot of all-time: the "sky-hook."
Abdul-Jabbar stood 7'4" and had a wingspan like Batman. When he leaped off that left foot and held his defender at bay with a left forearm, his right-handed hook shot could not be stopped by anyone. Ever.
Kareem is also the owner of six NBA MVP's and six NBA titles.
So why then is he not No. 1 on this list?
Well, for one, there are a lot more great players yet to be named.
Also working against him is his reputation as a bad teammate and the fact that he wasn’t the most important player on his own team (he won only two Finals MVP's).
There is no doubt Kareem belongs on this list, he just doesn’t belong in the top five.
Much like Shaq-Kobe, Kareem-Magic should’ve won more titles together, and had they not had such poorly-matched personalities, they could’ve won more than Jordan and Pippen’s six.
Stats/Accomplishments: NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, six NBA titles and two Finals MVPs, 19-time All-Star, six-time NBA MVP, 10-time All-NBA First-Team, five-time All-NBA Defensive First Team, Rookie of the Year and two-time Scoring Champion; 24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG and 2.0 BPG averages
6. Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan... Winner.
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Tim Duncan, a victim of his level temperament, is arguably the most underrated player ever. He’s a great post player and along with Hakeem and Russell, one of the top three interior defenders to lace them up.
Duncan won four championships in an era that should’ve been completely dominated by Shaq and Kobe, and he won those championships without a superstar partner; only David Robinson could be considered a superstar, and he was present for only one of Tim's championship years. Only this year’s Mavericks and Chauncey Billups’ Pistons have been able to pull off championships without multiple superstars, and Tim did it four times.
Though his stats are not as gaudy as other players on this list, they are solid. Duncan's intangibles, integrity and leadership cannot be measured statistically and must not be undervalued. His unassuming nature allows the public to forget him in these discussions, but Tim Duncan—along with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson—is the epitome of what it means to be a champion.
Stats/Accomplishments: Rookie of the Year, two-time NBA MVP, four NBA Championships, three Finals MVP's, eight-time All-NBA Defensive First-Team, 13-time All-Star and one All-Star MVP; 20.6 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 3.0 APG and 2.3 BPG averages
5. Larry Bird
Larry Bird... Living Legend.
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Larry Bird (AKA "Larry Legend"), along with Magic Johnson, saved the NBA from disappearing into anonymity and possible bankruptcy. That alone poises him as one of the all-time greats.
Of course, Bird’s greatness doesn’t end with his popularity.
Standing at 6'10", Bird had passing skills of a great point guard, and his court vision is unequaled in NBA history. His shot was as pure and sweet as they come; he could score at will, he was one of the game's great closers and was an underrated rebounder.
What Larry lacked in athleticism, he made up for with smarts, technique and drive. Nobody played harder than him. Nobody dove for more loose balls, and nobody ever—maybe in all of sports—did more with their God-given ability.
A three-time champion and the most fundamentally-sound player to ever take the court, Bird's only detriment was his less-than-great defense and the fact that he couldn’t beat Magic’s Lakers on a consistent basis.
Larry Bird was a champion who put everything he had into the game. His confidence, swagger and drive could literally will his team to win in the final minutes.
If LeBron James had one-half the gumption and passion of Bird, he’d have won multiple championships already and would find himself on this list.
Stats/Accomplishments: three NBA Championships, two-time Finals MVP, three-time NBA MVP, nine-time All-NBA First-Team, Rookie of the Year and four-time FT Percentage Champion; 24.3 PPG, 10 RPG and 6.3 APG averages
4. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlin... 20,000? maybe. 100? definitely
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Wilt Chamberlain was a freak of nature, a statistical machine and a walking icon.
Two numbers will forever define him: 100 and 20,000.
Though he won only two NBA Championships, Wilt dominated the game like no man before him or since, manhandling his opponents and putting up statistics that are comparable only to Babe Ruth in their absurdity. It is only his lack of more championships that keeps him from being No. 1 on the list.
Wilt was the most prolific and unstoppable scorer to ever play, and once he decided to become a team player, he made himself into the greatest passing big man ever, once leading the league in assists. He once averaged 50 points per game for an entire season, and even more impressively, he’s the real "Iron Man of sports (take a seat, Cal Ripken). Chamberlain play an ENTIRE SEASON without missing a single play, averaging 48.5 minutes per game.
Someday, the game may see another player like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan, but there will never be another man to completely dominate the way that Wilt Chamberlain did.
Stats/Accomplishments: Rookie of the Year, four-time NBA MVP, two NBA Championships, seven-time All-NBA First-Team, 13-time All-Star, one All-Star MVP, seven-time Scoring Champion, 11-time Rebounding Champion, nine-time FG Percentage Champion and one-time Assists Champion; 30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG and 4.4 APG averages
3. Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson... Champion
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Magic Johnson, the man driving the bus of the “Showtime” Lakers, revived the NBA with the help of his cam padre, Larry Bird.
Standing 6'9" and sporting that iconic smile, Magic was a pioneer at his position as a physical freak of nature who was years ahead of his time.
Magic was as versatile as they come, and he demonstrated this by switching to the center position to beat the Celtics for the NBA Championship.
Though Jerry West is the official logo, Magic and Larry are the icons of the NBA.
It’s hard to separate the two; Magic was the better defender, and he got the better of Larry in head-to-head competition. He also won two of the three Finals they faced against each other (five overall).
Magic was the ultimate point guard, directing a team filled with talent and egos, and keeping them all in check long enough to win five titles. It’s tragic his career was cut short, because there’s no telling how many this man may have won otherwise.
Stats/Accomplishments: three-time MVP, five NBA Championships, three-time Finals MVP, 12-time All-Star, four-time Assists Champion and two-time Steals Champion; 19.5 PPG, 11.2 RPG and 7.2 APG averages
2. Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquielle O'Neal... Monster.
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I expect this is where I will meet the most resistance from readers, so allow me to present my case.
Shaq is a physical specimen like none other in any sport—ever. Standing 7'2" and more than 350 pounds (conservative estimate), Shaq had the size and strength to do as he pleased with the other centers of the NBA. O’Neal led three different teams to the NBA Finals and won four titles in all.
Though he may have been a difficult teammate, Shaq is one of the all-time great personalities of the league, and you can't argue with his dominance.
During Shaq’s prime, there was not a more dominant performer—not even the man who is No. 1 on this list.
Shaq is criticized for being dispassionate about the game, but despite his freakish size, Shaq managed to keep his body healthy enough to stick around in this league for 19 seasons.
To me, this shows quite a bit of passion.
I chose this picture for Shaq because, sadly, the rivalry between he and Kobe broke up what may have been the greatest duo in history. The two of them should've won at least three more together.
Love him or hate him, Shaquille O’Neal was a monster, and he was the most unstoppable force the game has ever seen not named Wilt Chamberlain. Since Shaq won twice as many titles as Wilt,—and in a more competitive era—that sets him apart.
Stats/Accomplishments: Rookie of the Year, one NBA MVP, four NBA Championships, three-time Finals MVP, eight-time All-NBA First-Team, four-time All-Defensive First-Team, 10-time FG Percentage Champion, two-time Scoring Champion and 28,596 total points; 23.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG and 2.3 BPG averages
1. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan... Flying Machine
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Michael Jordan is the greatest player to ever play the game.
I don't like Michael, I rooted against Michael and I wanted to find a reason to put someone else No. 1 on this list.
I failed in that endeavor.
No matter how you measure greatness—titles, scoring ability, "wow factor", leadership, statistics—Michael is the greatest.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson saved the NBA, but Michael made it a worldwide phenomenon, and the Bulls became the sport’s version of rock stars.
Michael could do it all: score at will, make the impossible pass, lock down a defender and soar through the air to defy gravity on his way to dunking on your head. If Dr. J invented the showmanship of the dunk, Michael perfected it.
He may not have been the greatest person to ever play in the NBA, but he was the greatest player, and it was a gift to grow up watching this man; I feel bad for all the youngsters born after his time.
Michael is the greatest. That simple.
I don't believe a fair argument can be made for any other player. The other spots on this list may be debatable, but No. 1 is not.
Had Michael not spent two years trying to hit baseballs, he'd be looking at eight successive championships in an era when Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon were trying to get their own—only to be shut out by Jordan’s dominance.
Stats/Accomplishments: six NBA Championships, six-time Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, five-time NBA MVP, 10-time All-NBA First-Team, 10-time Scoring Champion, nine-time All-NBA Defensive First-Team, one-time Defensive Player of the Year, three-time Steals Champion, 14-time All-Star, three-time All-Star MVP, 32,292 career points; 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG and 2.3 SPG averages