75 Greatest NBA Players on the League's 75th Anniversary

Nick HansenCorrespondent IISeptember 6, 2011

75 Greatest NBA Players on the League's 75th Anniversary

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    The NBA's 50 greatest players list has been cause for some controversy among fans.

    Of course Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are no-brainers, but where is Dennis Johnson? 

    It's been 15 years since the original list has been made. There has been an emergence of some of extremely talented players (James, Bryant, etc.), and statuses have been solidified (Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett).

    This has led to more questions as well. 

    Does Chris Paul deserve elite status? Is Chris Webber a "greatest" player?

    Here is what a possible version of this list could look like in 2021 when the NBA turns 75. As a twist, the list has been expanded to 75. 

    Some of the players who could be ensconced on this list may be just be tearing up their JV teams.

    This is not a ranking, but a potential list. 

    Let the debate begin. 

Michael Jordan

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    Does this one really need to be explained? Jordan is the platinum standard for all NBA players.

Bill Russell

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    The Celtics' great has more rings then fingers. His killer defense tore up the league in the 1960s.

Wilt Chamberlain

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    The other half of one of the greatest player rivalries in sports history.

    Averaging 50 points and 48.5 minutes for a season are numbers we're never likely to see again. A 100-point game is not likely to happen again either. 

Magic Johnson

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    A complete physical freak who helped resuscitate the league in the 1980s; a dominating passer and scorer who revolutionized the NBA.

Larry Bird

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    One of the greatest shooters of all time, "The Hick From French Lick" had a killer instinct to make shots when it counted.

Oscar Robertson

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    "Big O" has 181 triple-doubles on his career. Robertson is the only player to average a triple-double for a season.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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    Longevity plus Continued Greatness equals Kareem.

    The former Bruin, Buck and Laker has more points than anyone in NBA history. He also has a fair share of rings.

    (Not to mention his jaw dropping career at UCLA.) 

Elgin Baylor

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    The first player who defied the "size equals dominance" rule of the early NBA; case in point, he averaged 19.8 rebounds in 1961. He stood at 6'5". 

Julius Erving

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    Dr. J may not have been the most complete player of all time, but he was the first player to show fans what it's like to fly. His best numbers were put up in the spunkier ABA. Erving led a talented cast to a four-five-four Finals win in 1983. He also won the NBA MVP in 1981.

    Erving's also captain of the pre-Internet YouTube all-stars.  

Moses Malone

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    "Fo', Fo', Fo'" remains one of the greatest playoff predictions in sports history (if only slightly off).

    Moses was the first player to jump directly from high school. Three MVP awards, 12 All-Star games and the best offensive rebounder all time. He also played in the league for more than 20 years.  

Bob Cousy

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    Cousy orchestrated and perfected the passing-centered offense after the shot clock was instigated.

    Pete Maravich may be the Jimi Hendrix of point guards, but Cousy is surely the Les Paul.

    He created what others tweaked, and he also owns a pretty impressive stat line of 19.1/5.1/7.9. Cousy played a pivotal role in shaping the Celtics' steamroller of the 1950s and 1960s. 

George Mikan

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    The first true NBA superstar. Mikan dominated scoring in the paint and led the first basketball dynasty.

    He also wore glasses better than any player. 

Bob Pettit

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    Pettit was the first dominating scorer not to live in the low post. He had career averages of 26.4/16.2, and was the MVP in 1956 and 1959.

    Pettit was also one of the few players who could beat Bill Russell and the Celtics.  

Sam Jones

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    Sam Jones is an under-the-radar star. He was like the bass player of the Celtics' dynasty; not the flashy frontman, but nevertheless extremely important.

    Jones averaged more than 18 points per game and owned a wicked bank shot.    

Jerry West

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    "The Logo," "Mr. Outside" and "Mr. Clutch" was an all-around scorer, defender and cutthroat team leader. West worked his butt off to try and win, finally earning his ring in 1972.

    He owns a 29.3 PPG average in the playoffs—not bad for 153 games.  

Walt Frazier

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    "Clyde" had style, quirk and a knack to swindle to ball. Frazier was the leader of the mod-squad Knicks (who won the team's only two rings). 

Billy Cunningham

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    "The Kangaroo Kid" was the sixth man for the 1967 76ers. He has a career average of 21.2/10.4.

    Cunningham also coached the 76ers' 1983 championship team. 

Dave Cowens

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    The 1973 MVP was a ferocious defender. He averaged 13-plus rebounds for eight-straight seasons.

Dave DeBusschere

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    A blue collar bruiser from the Motor City, DeBusschere played the role of enforcer for the championship Knicks. His career numbers don't tell the whole story though, due to the fact the three-point line was not established until after he retired. 

Wes Unseld

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    Another all-around hustle player during the 1970s.

    Voted MVP and Rookie of the Year during his first season in 1969, Unseld played tough as nails and always did the nitty-gritty work to help his team win.  

Rick Barry

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    A notorious jerk who could shoot the ball, but personality aside, Barry averaged 35.6 PPG during the 1966-1967 season.

    And say what you will about his free-throw style, his career average is third-best all time (89.3 percent).

Elvin Hayes

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    Elvin played more than 80 games every season of his career.

    A member of the 25,000/15,000 club, he also averaged a double-double for 12-straight seasons. 

Earl Monroe

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    "The Black Jesus" brought streetball style to the professional level. His twists, turns, shimmies and shakes made him an absolute delight to watch.

Pete Maravich

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    A magician who was ahead of his time, the "Pistol" set the tone for today's point guards.  

Willis Reed

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    Part of one of the most seminal moments in NBA Finals history, Reed owns a career average of 18.7/12.9 rebounds. 

Bill Walton

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    Walton had the unique ability to improve his teams (when he was healthy). His passing, low-post scoring and dogged work ethic made him into a legend.

Bob McAdoo

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    McAdoo was the original outside shooting power forward.

    Plus, the 1975 MVP grew one of the best mustache-beard combos in league history.

John Havlicek

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    "Hondo" was the engine of the post-Russell Celtics. His playoff average was 22-7-5, and he also starred in one of the most iconic calls in NBA history.

Alex English

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    English is a member of the 25K point club and led the NBA in field goals three different times. 

George Gervin

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    The Ice Man has one of the coolest signature moves (and nicknames) in league history. He earned three-straight league scoring titles. 

Bernard King

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    A career 51 percent FG shooter with with 10 20-plus PPG seasons, but King was unfortunately overshadowed by Bird and Magic.  

Hal Greer

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    Greer was an instigator of the jump shot. He helped interrupt the Celtics' championship streak with the 76ers in 1967 and was a member of 10 All-Star teams.   

Nate "Tiny" Archibald

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    Archibald was the first player to lead the league in points and assists. "Tiny" had flash and was unfortunately injured before he could truly mesh with the 1980s Celtics. 

Kevin McHale

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    The low-post enforcer of the 1980s Celtics, McHale had an arsenal of dominating moves in the paint.

    Six appearances on All-Defensive teams and three rings solidify McHale's presence on this list. 

Isiah Thomas

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    The leader of the "Bad Boy" Pistons, Thomas was one of the best pure point guards of the 1980s and 1990s.  

Robert Parish

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    The all-time leader in games played in NBA history, "The Chief" could always be counted on to grab at least 10 boards when it counted. 

James Worthy

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    Worthy helped end the Showtime era with style. He was a solid starter for three championship teams, and he averaged 19-plus points and five-plus rebounds while playing with Magic and Kareem. 

Shaquille O'Neal

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    Shaq is one of the few players who can be called by one name.

    "Unstoppable" seems to be the best adjective to describe him. Shaq led the league in FG percentage nine times during his career.

    His kryptonite was his free-throw percentage, but how many players have a defensive strategy ("Hack-A-Shaq"), named after them?

Karl Malone

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    "The Mailman" is the second all-time leader in points scored. He's also the greatest power forward of the 1990s who perfected the pick-and-roll with John Stockton.

    Unfortunately, he's one of the defining members members of the "Wish We could have Seen Him Win a Ring" club. 

John Stockton

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    Stockton will probably continue to own the all-time assist record in perpetuity with 15,806. 

    (The closest active player, Jason Kidd, trails by more than 4,000).

    Stockton and Malone are the most entertaining duo of the last quarter-century. 

Scottie Pippen

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    The gold standard for "the second star" teams need to win.

    However, Scottie was ultimately more than just a good No. 2. He was a fixture on All-Defensive teams and always could be counted on to contribute.

Charles Barkley

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    "The Round Mound of Rebound" is one of the most domineering rebounders (and personalities) in NBA history.

    Barkley's career numbers were 22.1/11.7 with 54 percent FG. He is also a member of the prestigious 20,000 points/10,000 rebounds club. 

David Robinson

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    David Robinson was always in the conversation as one of the best players of the 1990s.

    "The Admiral" had eight-time All-Defensive team honors. Robinson also led the league in points, rebounds and blocks on different occasions.

    The Spur dropped 71 points in one game and pulled a quadruple-double in another. 

Hakeem Olajuwon

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    Hakeem filled in as the league's best player during the Jordan baseball experiment. Olajuwon averaged 27.3/11.9 and 3.7 blocks during the 1993-1994 season.

    A member of the 25,000 points and 10,000 rebounds clubs, the "Dream Shake" is one of the most commanding low-post moves ever. 

Clyde Drexler

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    Clyde "the Glide" was sometimes forgotten due to his emergence the same time as Michael, but he could score and led a Blazers team to the NBA Finals.

    He was also an original Dream Team member. 

Chris Mullin

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    The St. John's product was a member of the original Dream Team. Mullin was the heart of the flashy Golden State "Run T-M-C" teams of the early 1990s as a dead-eye left-handed shooter. 

Patrick Ewing

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    A great scoring center, his crowning achievement was leading the Knicks to the brink of the 1994 NBA Championship.  

Kevin Garnett

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    The Celtic and Timberwolves legend defined ferocity, especially as the emotional leader of the 2008 Celtics.

    "The Big Ticket" plays every game like its his last.  

Tim Duncan

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    He may just be one of the greatest power forwards of all time.

    The Spurs' forward led his team to four championships, all the while having career averages of 20 points and 11 rebounds.

    Some people may have forgotten this, but Duncan also won Rookie of the Month for five consecutive months.

Allen Iverson

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    Swagger, a killer crossover and harbinger of the hip-hop generation.

    Plus, one of the greatest scoring point guards of all time.

    Perhaps Iverson's most iconic moment is his ankle-breaking crossover of Michael Jordan.

Jason Kidd

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    An old-school point guard with solid defensive credentials, Kidd is second all time in assists and has become a remarkably resilient point guard in his later years (played at least 80 games in the last six seasons).

    He's also developed a three-point shot during his second stint with the Mavericks.

Dirk Nowitzki

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    The greatest European-born player in NBA history, he's also one of the greatest shooters in NBA history.

    Part of the elite "50-40-90" club, Nowitzki elevated his status to elite after finally winning an NBA championship in 2011.  

Kobe Bryant

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    The only current player who can realistically challenge Jordan's status as greatest basketball player ever.

    The Black Mamba has a trophy shelf full of MVP awards, Defensive Player of the Year achievements and a handful of championship rings. As of 2011, Kobe is the NBA's active leader in scoring and has a decent shot to crack the 30,000-point club.

Dwyane Wade

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    Wade has an audacious ability to score points. He's a guard who can disappear in a flash and score when it counts.

    His performance in Games 2-6 of the 2006 NBA Finals puts him in an elite category of clutch performers.

LeBron James

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    Anointed as "The Chosen One" at an early age, fans have been enthralled by James' awe-inspiring performances.

    James carries the whole package of scoring, rebounding, passing and defense. He's already picked up a number of individual accolades and will solidify his place in the NBA pantheon once he earns a few rings.

Gary Payton

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    The "Glove" is the best defensive point guard ever. The former Sonic played hard on both ends of the court.

    Payton is also one of the few players in NBA history to frustrate Michael Jordan.  

Ray Allen

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    A gifted pure shooter who leads the NBA in three-pointers, Allen is also one of the best free-throw shooters of all time.

    He is also part of Boston's "Big Three" that brought a championship back to Boston Garden in 2008.

    (Allen also is probably the only NBA player who could act; see: He Got Game).

Paul Pierce

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    One of the best forwards of the 2000s.

    Pierce is the heart of the 21st Century Celtics. He can rebound and is a consistent threat from the outside.

    Pierce also shut down LeBron James and the 66-win Cavaliers in 2008.

Steve Nash

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    Nash is one of the great passing point guards of the 2000s and one of the few players to win MVP awards two years in a row.

Dennis Rodman

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    The most physical and ferocious rebounder of all time, Rodman was a pivotal part of two different dynasties (the "Bad Boy" Pistons and post-MJ Baseball Bulls). Rodman consistently shut down quality players.

    And did we mention his unique personality? 

Dennis Johnson

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    An underrated shooting guard who was a pivotal part of three different NBA championship teams, DJ was a lock on all NBA defensive teams. He provided a consistent spark behind Bird and McHale.

    And it doesn't hurt that Larry Bird said he was the, "greatest player he ever played with." 

Dominique Wilkens

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    A gifted dunker who unfortunately never won a ring.

    "The Human Highlight Film" was a consistent scorer (seven seasons scoring 2,000-plus points). During the 1980s, his exuberant finishing was matched only by Michael Jordan.

Reggie Miller

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    A clutch shooter who could always be counted on to hit the big shot, Miller was a three-point bomber who still holds the ire of Knicks fans.  

Joe Dumars

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    A combo guard who was a key part of the "Bad Boy" Pistons championship teams; Dumars always stepped up his game when it mattered. 

Chauncey Billups

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    A controversial pick.

    Billups may not have the flash of some of his contemporaries, but he wins, performs in the clutch and has an extremely good work ethic. The verdict is still out on how good the 2004 Pistons actually were, but Billups carried that team and has a Finals MVP to show for his work. 

Derrick Rose

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    Rose is a scoring machine with fantastic court vision.

    The Bulls point guard joins LeBron James and Michael Jordan as the only two players to record 2,000 points and 600 assists in a single season. Rose also earned the Most Valuable Player award at age 22.  

Chris Paul

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    The Hornets point guard consistently puts up freakish numbers. He's the poster boy of the new generation of point guards with a career line of 18.7 PPG, 9.9 APG, 4.6 RPG and 2.4 SPG.

    Paul iss efficient and a nightmare to defend.

Dwight Howard

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    The most vibrant personality in the game today.

    Howard is a multi-time Defensive Player of the Year and has the potential to dominate the paint for years to come. The Atlanta Christian High School product annually contends for the rebounding and blocked shots title.

    If he moves to a contending team (like the Lakers), his potential to solidify his place on the list increases 10-fold.

Kevin Durant

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    The current face of the post-Decision NBA, Durant is a lanky small forward who can score at will.

    He is also the leader of one of the most exciting teams in NBA.

Blake Griffin

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    The Oklahoma product came in to the NBA like an atom bomb and is the most forceful dunker since Darryl Dawkins.  

Manu Ginobili

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    One of the best Euroleague imports to the NBA game, Ginobili can always be counted on to make the clutch shot. He is one of two players (along with Bill Bradley) to win a Euroleague title, NBA championship ring and gold medal. 

Carmelo Anthony

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    'Melo was on the cusp of not making the list. Fans know he can score, and if he can lead a New York renaissance, he will solidify his place on the list.  

Pau Gasol

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    Possibly the best Spanish player in the history of the game.

    Gasol is a solid No. 2 to Kobe and an athletic big man who has a fantastic mid-range game.

Rajon Rondo

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    Could he be the best passing Celtics point guard since Bob Cousy?

    President Obama's comments about his jump shot aside, Rondo will carry the torch for the Celtics once their "Big Three" retires. 

Harrison Barnes

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    The sleeper pick on the list.

    Barnes has a load of potential in the league. His 40 points in the ACC tournament is a freshman record.

    Tar Heel fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when Barnes decided to return to North Carolina for another year. 

The Snubs

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    Now comes the hard part. Here are the guys who just didn't make the cut. 

Shawn Kemp

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    His career became squalid after the 1999 lockout. Kemp was an exciting player who didn't have the discipline to become elite.

Chris Webber

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    A great power forward, yes.

    But elite?

    Webber was a fantastic passing big man and a great finisher at the rim, but anything else?

    He doesn't have the clutch performances other HOF power forwards do.

    (Although, he did make the transition from court to broadcast booth better than other former NBA players.)

Yao Ming

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    Yao helped globalize the NBA brand. His career was unfortunately cut short by numerous injuries.

    Yao was a great ambassador, but one of the greatest players? No. 

Vince Carter

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    A high-potential guy who never seemed to care about becoming the best. Carter is a fantastic dunker, but his career seems to have nose-dived in to semi-decent role-player.

Amar'e Stoudemire

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    An extremely exciting player to watch, but his lack of defensive prowess hurts him here. 

Tracy MacGrady

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    A player with an extremely talented skill set. McGrady's injuries have robbed fans of some great teams.

    And his messy end in Houston doesn't help his case either.

The Unknowns

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    It was a tough call with some of these guys. History will show where they belong:

    • Deron Williams
    • Russell Westbrook
    • Kevin Love
    • Tony Parker

    And there are a number of guys who were on the original Top 50 list who didn't make the cut the second time around:

    • Bill Sharman
    • Tom Heinshon
    • Paul Arizin
    • Lenny Wilkens
    • Dave Bing
    • K.C. Jones

    And many other guys just plain lost to history.

In Summary

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    This list is pretty speculative. There is no argument for at least 50 guys on this list, and there is still 10 years until the NBA turns 75. 

    Are there players who should have made it instead of others?

    Have some of the "unknown" guys proven themselves?

    Anybody who made the list who shouldn't have?

    Am I forgetting my history?

    Any current college players who could crack this list?

    Let's debate.