What if...? We ask ourselves these types questions all the time, delve back into the recesses of the past while armed with the power of hindsight: What if I didn't break up with her? What if I switched majors in college? What if I didn't get this job? What if...?
We all do this. You, me, The Twitterverse, The Blogosphere and The Media included. Everything is second-guessed this way; every mistake and triumph and split-second decision with a tangible impact is put to this test. Especially in sports, especially in basketball.
Jordan, Johnson, Chamberlain -- some of the all-time greats will always have these types of quandaries surrounding their lives and playing careers. It's why they're among the biggest "What ifs" in NBA history.
Scenes like this are what we remember about basketball's greatest player: Jordan, tongue out, driving the lane in his red and white Chicago jersey with the matching sneakers. Kids all over the country emulated it, dreamt they were like No. 23 leading the Windy City to all those titles.
Sorry, Portland. It should have been "The City of Roses." Fans know the cringe-worthy-in-retrospect-backstory: They had a chance, and picked Sam Bowie instead. With the second overall pick, the Blazers passed on Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft (Houston nabbed future Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon first, so they get a pass of sorts).
The rest is a sad, thorny, championship-less-since and repeated history for the Pacific Northwest metropolis.
We all know Jordan rocks six rings, maybe even bought the poster, too. We know Bill Russell has 11 in his jewelry box. But among these greats at the top is Robert Horry with seven. He's obviously not as talented, but he's wearing so many thanks in part to his wickedly clutch jumper.
Without Horry, the Sacramento Kings would have likely won the NBA title, forever altering that francise's path. Without Horry, Phil Jackson's and Shaq's and Kobe's legacy would have a little less luster; same goes for Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich.
NBA championships came via his shots, and the game's history would be different if he wasn't so nails in crunch-time.
Gather 'round for a history lesson if this tale of on-the-court violence and its consequences doesn't breach the walls of your memory banks. This instant, this one punch, went on to define the lives of two NBA stars.
The Cliff Notes of the Cliff Notes: In 1977, Washington slugged Tomjanovich with a vicious hook shot that mangled his face and irrevocably altered both of their playing careers. Washington has been forever labeled a pariah, and Tomjanovich's time as a player was cut short.
Try Googling either one of these players and the "punching" will pop up first. That's especially substantial considering Tomjanovich is a championship-winning coach.
Face-palm. Eye-roll. Screams of disbelief.
All three will forever be appropriate reactions for when you remember who the Pistons passed on in the 2003 draft. It didn't take a decade to know this was an all-time flub. It didn't even take half-a-season to know they misfired picking the "Human Victory Cigar" in lieu of Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
No need here for play-by-play, this video covers that rather legendarily. This is one of the seminal moments of NBA history, one that helped shape the legacies of Bill Russell and Red Auerbach and Wilt Chamberlain (he came up on the losing side).
John Havliceck's name doesn't have the same cachet, but without this play, the Celtics' run isn't as grand, which in turn dilutes and changes the history surrounding the league itself for decades to come.
Sure, you can say jokes and write snide comments all you want about everyone's favorite NBA villain. I'll get it out of the way now so we can move on: "He'd still be a bum/choke in the the fourth quarter/be ringless/etc..."
OK, now that we've gotten it out of the way, his "decision" has to be examined. LeBron is such a star, such a talented player, that he had the ability to forever improve whatever franchise landed his talents. If he chose New York, it could have altered the NBA.
Leading the Knicks back to prominence would've been the preferred route of the David Sterns and Staten Islanders and Manhattanites of the sporting world...but it didn't happen.
On the court, Johnson is one of the all-time best. We all know this; it's not news. In 1991, that's how the world perceived Johnson. Then came his November announcement. It shocked. It astounded. It became a moment that transcended sports and made him more than just a superlatively talented ballplayer.
Johnson opened up to everyone about HIV. He became the face of a movement. He changed perceptions. He became an icon and a role model for those around the world dealing with and affected by HIV and AIDS.
He was a torch-bearer on a taboo and scary subject that needed to be brought to light, and it definitely brings up questions about his own career and society if he stayed silent.
Whenever a player gets hurt in the NBA Finals and comes back—even if it's a little bo-bo that a children's size Band-Aid can make all better—some member of the media will blow their intelligence gasket and reference Willis Reed.
Expected not to play because of a severe hip injury, Reed came back in 1970s Game 7 for the Knicks and helped will the team to victory, which in turn helped add to New York's vaunted reputation as a hallowed franchise even though they've been terrible for a long time now.
One of the all-time sports tragedies, no doubt. There's been myriad stories and biographies and documentaries dedicated to Len Bias, the super-talented, second-overall pick by the Celtics who died two days after the 1986 draft from a cocaine overdose. They all cover it well, are in depth, and are scrupulous with the details of what could have been.
College star at Maryland. Lottery pick. Then, nothing but sadness and forever lingering thoughts about how far Bias' talent had the ability to take him.
The best way to address this is to simply answer a question with an unavoidable question: How many more championships would he have won? He stepped away in the prime of his career to play minor-league baseball, and there's no doubt Chicago would have had at least a couple more victory parades and cigar-lighting parties had No. 23 been around.
What if Jordan stayed? What if he didn't chase his baseball desires in 1993? Questions like these will forever be asked by the fans.