The Raisin Review/Landon T. Horstman
Sports provide fans with a variety of varying excitement. Whether it’s the melodrama of an athlete’s personal transgressions, or simply the game itself, athletics consistently present spectators with a smorgasbord of fascination and intrigue.
One aspect of sports fandom especially enthralling is the hypothetical scenario (i.e. a theoretical premise only possible within a parallel universe). I’m sure every fan has indulged in some form of hypothetical debate at least once in their lives; whether with friends, strangers at a bar, or even morons on the internet — arguing emphatically with a computer screen in retaliation to something somebody senselessly stated (Michael Jordan would absolutely own Kobe Bryant one-on-one, by the way).
One hypothetical scenario quickly becoming a fan favorite is the “greatest starting five ever” debate. It’s a simple premise: Pick five players throughout NBA history — specific or non-specific to position — and compose the greatest starting five of all-time. Of course, this could never come to fruition, for obvious reasons, but it’s still an amusing argument between commercial breaks.
I’ve had this discussion numerous times before, always concluding with the following lineup: PG Magic Johnson, SG Michael Jordan, SF Larry Bird, PF Tim Duncan, C Bill Russell. That sounds like a damn good lineup, and a team many people would respect. But I have never examined said lineup with sharp statistical analysis; only utilizing the knowledge simply swimming within my head. So I have decided to do just that, and continue to open a large can of worms in no way possible to observe, purely subjective, and an argument fire-starter that elicits a passionate debate between combatants with no right or wrong answer.
To provide some context into my evaluation process, selections will be decided position-by-position. Meaning, a starting five cannot consist entirely of one position (e.g. five power forwards, five point guards, etc). The team must consist of a player representing each standard position, and someone who predominately — or at least substantially — played that position throughout their career (modern basketball tends to sometimes disregard or stray away from this classic model, but by selecting players according to specific position, the model becomes not just best starting five ever, but best player at their position ever, which adds to the fun).
Each category will have five initial nominees (players that I have predetermined for consideration), and from that five one starter and one reserve will be selected. Since an NBA roster is generally comprised of 12 players, two additional reserves regardless of position — selected strictly on the basis of talent, merit, success, and personal preference — will also be chosen. As an additional bonus, an honorary head coach and assistant head coach will also be added to the team.
With that said, and without further ado, let the debating commence!
Point Guard (PG)
Magic Johnson; John Stockton; Oscar Robertson; Isiah Thomas; Bob Cousy
Jason Kidd; Steve Nash; Gary Payton; Walt Frazier; Nate Archibald
Point guard is arguably the most valuable position in the game of basketball. Assuming the role of floor general, the point guard is typically responsible for driving the ball down court, establishing tempo, signaling play calls, and providing teammates with exceptional passes in optimum scoring position. The ideal point guard is quick, intelligent, savvy, tenacious, perceptive, and proficient. The appointed nominees are often regarded as the premier players at their respective position — but only one can be crowned the best of the best.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson: Not only was Magic Johnson a sensational passer, but he was also an exceptional scorer, and one of the most versatile athletes to ever play the position. In fact, during Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, Johnson played not only guard, but all five positions due to significant injuries afflicting the team (let that sink in for a moment). At 6′ 9″ and 220 pounds, Johnson possessed the physical attributes and abilities necessary to play a variety of different positions; especially phenomenal considering the bruising physicality of the era. Johnson led the league in assist four times, steals twice, and averaged nearly 20 points per game throughout his stellar career. He is also fifth all-time in assist, a remarkable feat for a man his size.
John Stockton: Stockton wasn’t just remarkable at his position — he exemplified the standard. If the prime objective of the point guard position is to readily recognize available options and distribute the ball to teammates in premium position to score, than nobody was ever better than Stockton. He lead the league in assists nine seasons in a row, rivaling fellow greats competing during the same time-frame (e.g. Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson, etc). Never a particularly great scorer — averaging only 13.1 points throughout his career — he was still a high-percentage shooter, and played his position exquisitely. Stockton is still currently the league leader in assists, above the second closest player, Jason Kidd, by nearly 1,000 assists. It doesn’t get much better than that folks.
Oscar “The Big O” Robertson: “The Big O” wasn’t just versatile, but damn near unstoppable. If audiences are currently impressed by the total number of triple-doubles amassed by Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook this season, than consider this: Robertson averaged a triple-double for two entire seasons, only marginally failing to complete the feat three additional seasons by mere fractions of statistical points. Not only could he pass (he led the league in assist seven times), but at a relatively paltry 6′ 5″, he averaged double-digits in rebounding during three separate seasons, and averaged near or above 30 points throughout his first eight campaigns. As a point guard that could rebound, score, and pass, “The Big O” was a true anomaly.
Isiah Thomas: A perpetual All-Star nearly his entire 13 year career (12 out of 13 seasons), Thomas is considered by many as one of the fiercest and toughest competitors to ever streak the hardwood. Standing at a modest 6′ 1′ and weighing a meager 180 pounds, Thomas wasn’t exactly the heftiest man, but that didn’t stop him and his teammates from establishing a bruising and physical brand of basketball that earned the Pistons of the late 80s the moniker “Bad Boys” of the league. An exceptional scorer and passer, Thomas was the “little tough guy that could” long before Allen Iverson emerged, and is still highly considered one of the greatest at his position.
Bob Cousy: “Cousy the Doozy” (a nickname I totally made up) is considered one of the first elite point guards in early league history. Nicknamed the “Houdini of the Hardwood” (an actual nickname) for his exceptional control and ball handling skills, Cousy won 6 NBA titles throughout his career as member of the illustrious Boston Celtics. A formidable scorer and notable passer — consistently averaging around 20 points per game and leading the league in assists eight consecutive seasons — Cousy swiftly set the standard for the point guard position, as well as establishing himself as a bona-fide legend in the process.
A tough decision, indeed, but lets be honest: It was always going to be Magic. Although Stockton’s passing prowess is virtually unmatched, alongside his extraordinary court vision, he simply didn’t have the physical characteristics necessary to parallel Johnson’s versatility. Stockton would have been an undeniable selection had his passing abilities been decisively better than Johnson’s, but Magic was a phenomenal passer himself, and a more prolific scorer. Oscar Robertson certainly has the stats, and was arguably the most versatile and complete player the league has ever seen, but he played during an era with limited and condensed talent, allowing stats to be padded, sometimes by significant margins. Isiah was tough, gritty, and undeniably talented, but Johnson displayed a size and skill set that succeeded more than deflated, throughout a career that largely coincided with Thomas. Bob Cousy may have set the standard, but those standards have been considerably elevated since then. Cousy led the league is assists several times, but none of those averages surpassed double-digits, and his career field-goal percentage was modest at best. Magic Johnson, simply put, was the whole package, and an athlete who could not only play in the modern era, but dominate as well.
Starter: Magic Johnson
Reserve: John Stockton and Oscar Robertson (too tough to call)
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Shooting Guard (SG)
Michael Jordan; Kobe Bryant; Jerry West; Clyde Drexler; Allen Iverson
Reggie Miller; Earl Monroe; Georg Gervin; Pete Maravich; Dwayne Wade
There’s no reason to exhaustively evaluate this position, considering the obvious decision. But for the sake of providing empirical evidence and overwhelming proof, lets evaluate the greatest
shooting guard ever (i.e. Michael Jordan) in correlation to his closest “comparison,” (i.e. Kobe Bryant); hopefully providing some significant insight into the paramount career that was “Air” Jordan.
Offense: Kobe Bryant entered the league as an energetic, electrifying, and prolific scorer, averaging a modest 19.9 points per game concluding his third season in the league (his first two years were less than stellar, but promising). By season four, Bryant had extended that average, scoring 22.5 points a game (his second season as a full-time starter). What did Jordan average his third season in the league? Try 28.2 points per game — his rookie season. What did Jordan average his fourth year, around the time Kobe had finally begun averaging 22.5 points per game? Try 35 points per game, leading the league in points throughout the next six consecutive seasons! Kobe didn’t average 30 points per game until his seventh stint in the league; in contrast, Jordan averaged 37.1 points per game by year three, and would continue to average above 30 points consistently over the next seven seasons.
Kobe has recently surpassed Jordan on the NBA all-time scoring list, currently boasting nearly 200 points more than his heir apparent. Although Jordan retired frequently, and played well past his prime, he only played 15 seasons, which sounds like a lot, but when compared to Bryant’s 19 years in the league, it’s modest at best. Not only did Bryant enter the league straight from high school, but he needed an additional four seasons to surpass his idol on the scoring charts, rendering his impressive feat — in comparison to Jordan — less than extraordinary.
Defense: “The Defensive Player of the Year Award” is typically bestowed upon a league “Big Man;” commonly a center or power forward who consistently racks-up defensive stats (i.e. rebounds, blocks, etc). But that didn’t stop Jordan from stealing the award during the 87-88′ season, his first year as league MVP. Jordan lead the NBA in steals three separate seasons, accumulating enough steals to rank him third all-time in the category (only John Stockton and Jason Kidd have more). Not only has Bryant never won Defensive Player of the Year, but he has never lead the league in a single defensive category, although considered a phenomenal defensive player.
Overall: Michael Jordan is a five-time league MVP, as well as a six-time Finals MVP. Kobe Bryant has only one league MVP attributed to his resume, which he acquired after his 12th year in the league (Jordan won the award after his fourth season). Out of Bryant’s five league championships, he was only awarded Finals MVP twice, as the three previous awards were granted to teammate Shaquille O’Neal. Jordan averaged 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals, and 30.1 points throughout his career. Bryant currently maintains career averages of 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals, and 25.4 points per game.
Obviously, it isn’t as much a contemplation as it is a complete and utter annihilation. Michael Jordan possessed every characteristic, ability, and intangible necessary for epic greatness, and has the accolades to prove it. In no other category is the competition so overwhelmingly lopsided, and by comparing the nearly unanimously regarded top two shooting guards in league history — and examining the superior results — it’s not hard to ascertain who is the clear-cut selection at the position.
Starter: Michael Jordan
Reserve: Kobe Bryant (because even a cheap imitation is still a viable option)
Small Forward (SF)
Larry Bird; Julius Erving; Elgin Baylor; Scottie Pippen; LeBron James
Dominique Wilkins; Rick Barry; James Worthy; John Havlicek
Small forward is typically considered the most versatile position in basketball, as athletes at the position typically range in size, can score in a variety of numerous ways, and typically rebound admirably. Small forwards are commonly distinguished sharpshooters, and provide teams with scorers from beyond the arc. Essentially a “jack of all trades,” the small forward possess multiple intangibles valuable to a teams success. The appointed nominees are often regarded as the premier players at their respective position — but only one can be crowned the best of the best.
Larry “Legend” Bird: “The Hick From French Lick” did more with less than virtually anyone else in league history. Sure, he was tall (6′ 9″), and carried considerable girth (220 pounds), but Larry “Legend” was never considered exceptionally athletic, and could even be described as gangly and gawky. But what Bird didn’t posses in physical ability, he more than made up with refined skill, fundamentals, hustle, and an unparalleled competitive desire. For starters, he could shoot, and shoot effectively. Bird averaged above 50 percent in field-goal percentage throughout five various seasons, and boast a respectable .496 lifetime shooting average. His three-point percentage wasn’t consistently stellar, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t set the rim on fire from beyond the arc. Bird also lead the league in free-throw percentage four separate seasons, and scored nearly 25 points per game lifetime.
Bird exemplified the small forward prototype; a regular “renaissance man” on the court. Larry “Legend” averaged double-digits in rebounds his first six seasons, with a career average of 10 boards per game. His rebounding prowess even excelled that of teammate Kevin McHale, who is an NBA Hall-of-Fame power forward! Bird was also an above-average passer, with the ability to make timely steals with his unrivaled hustle and work ethic (see Bird’s late game steal concluding the 87′ Conference Finals for reference). If that wasn’t enough — just to add icing to the cake — Bird was also a renowned trash-talker, deflating his opponent’s psyche well before tip-off, and establishing a mental advantage with every swoosh through the nylon. Larry Legend consistently defied all logic, and made hicks everywhere look good (a difficult feat to accomplish).
Julius “Dr. J” Erving: Before there was Dominique “The Human Highlight Reel” Wilkins and Michael “Air” Jordan, there was Julius “Dr. J” Erving, the original king of the slam dunk. A three-time ABA MVP and 81′ NBA MVP, Erving electrified and captivated audiences, teammates, and rivals for nearly two decades. His leaping ability is well-documented and highly revered, inspiring athletes such as Michael Jordan into imitating his iconic baseline dunk from the free-throw line. Erving lead the ABA in scoring on three separate occasions, and is currently fifth all-time on the NBA scoring list. He is considered one of the most, if not the most, creative, inventive, and incendiary scorers in league history, with an afro too legit to quit.
Elgin Baylor: Considered by many as the greatest 6′ 5″ rebounder in league history, Baylor is another legend who epitomized the position. He played before steals, blocks, and three-pointers were a statistic, but in regards to categories already recorded, he was nothing short of sensational. With his limited size, Baylor still managed to average over 13 rebounds throughout his career, and nearly averaged 20 boards per game two separate seasons. He was also a suitable passer, averaging near or above five assist per game six different years. Baylor maintained 27.4 points per game throughout his career, and is regarded as one of the 50 greatest players of all-time.
Scottie Pippen: Often considered the Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman, the Chicago Bulls almost certainly never win six NBA championships without Scottie Pippen. An exceptional defender and reliable scorer, Pippen played his role to perfection. As a seven-time All-Star, perpetual first-team All-Defense selection, and dependable starter — leading the league in games played three separate seasons (tied) — Pippen was a utility man with all the tools necessary to compete for greatness.
LeBron James: Although his career is far from finished, the accomplishments and accolades LeBron James has already accrued could cement him as one of the greatest players ever, even if he retired today. At 6′ 8″ and 240 pounds, “King” James is truly a freak of nature, with physical abilities possibly never seen previously before. At the tender age of 30, James has already earned league MVP honors four times, NBA All-Star honors 11 times, and NBA Finals MVP twice. If he resigned today, his career stat line of 7.1 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 27.4 points per game would be considered simply astonishing. James should continue to play at a superior level for several years to come, but without any further seasons, he may still be one of the 10 best players to ever grace the court.
Although Pippen, Baylor, and Erving were certainly great, this position was always destined to be decided between legends and kings. Pippen was phenomenal, but hardly a franchise centerpiece. Baylor has the stats, but it’s no surprise a man listed at 6′ 5″ was able to become such a dominant rebounder (i.e. slim talent, soft competition, etc.), and he never won a championship to boot. Erving was prolific, but his best years came and went with the ABA, as once he entered the NBA his point totals and rebound averages dropped dramatically.
Bird and James are the premier choices at the position, but at the end of the day only one can be crowned the best, and that honor goes to Larry “Legend”. Jame’s career is still unfolding, and his mental wherewithal and playoff inconsistency make him a step below Bird. Not only did Bird win three NBA titles during a decade consisting of two incredibly gifted heavyweight teams (i.e. the Pistons and Lakers) — both of which he had to frequently battle and defeat — but he also played during an era of heightened physicality and toughness. James has displayed an uncomfortable disposition when defending the post and playing a physical brand of basketball, prompting former All-Star Tracy McGrady to state “[Before] you had men. You played with men. Now it’s a bunch of boys,” in regards to a statement by Dennis Rodman suggesting James would be an “average player” in another era (because of the physicality). James, or more accurately his teams, have been notably lackluster in the Finals. He is currently 2-3 in championship series, and would be 1-4 if not for a last-second buzzer-beater by Ray Allen against the Spurs in 2013.
One-on-one LeBron James conceivably dismantles Bird, but when talking about a collective team, Larry Bird is hands-down the best, and one of the best team players ever.
Starter: Larry Bird
Reserve: LeBron James
Second Reserve: Scottie Pippen (his defense, teamwork, and role awareness is paramount to team success)
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Power Forward (PF)
Tim Duncan; Karl Malone; Sir Charles Barkley; Kevin Garnett; Kevin McHale
Elvin Hayes; Dirk Nowitzki; Dennis Rodman; Bob Pettit; Dave DeBusschere
Power forwards, like centers, are typically lane enforcers but with more finesse. They gobble rebounds and play the post, relying on footwork and fundamentals to score. The prototypical power forward possesses a variety of skills, akin to the small forward, but ordinarily use their girth and large frame to succeed underneath the basket as opposed to further away. The appointed nominees are often regarded as the premier players at their respective position — but only one can be crowned the best of the best.
Tim Duncan: What really needs to be said about “Timmy” Duncan? He’s won five NBA championships (including three in three different decades), he’s a two-time NBA MVP, a 15 time All-Star, and has registered career stats of 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.2 blocks, and 19.5 points per game. His longevity is indicative of his superior fundamentals, conditioning, and work ethic. Still active, the Spurs continue to be relevant and competitive nearly two decades after drafting the big man. If you want a role model and a consignment professional, look no further than Tim Duncan.
Karl Malone: He never won a championship, but then again, not many players did during the 90s — besides the Bulls of course. Nevertheless, Karl Malone still managed to cultivate a sensational career, ranking second all-time in points scored, and averaging 10.1 rebounds and 25 points throughout his career. Nicknamed “The Mailman” because of his phenomenal scoring ability, Malone delivered every night and twice on Sunday, averaging near or above 25 points per game for 15 straight seasons. He never won a scoring title, but he should have won many, if it wasn’t for that damn Jordan! Not only is he one of the 50 greatest players of all-time, but he’s arguably one of the ten greatest to ever play the game, regardless of position.
Sir Charles Barkley: Before he was everyone’s favorite crazy uncle on “Inside the NBA,” Charles Barkley was everyone’s favorite crazy cousin on the court, and an insanely great player at that. Only listed as 6′ 6″ — no taller than the average guard — Barkley is arguably the greatest height-for-height rebounder in league history. He only lead the league in total rebounds once (with an incredible 14.6 average), but he lead the NBA in offensive rebounds three times, an impressive and important stat teams appreciate. He finished his career averaging 11.7 rebounds and 22.1 points per game, and would have certainly won a championship if it wasn’t for that damn Jordan!
Kevin Garnett: KG was always more finesse than fundamental, but when he was at his best there was nobody better. Averaging double-digits in rebounds nine consecutive seasons — leading the league in boards four times — Garnett could do it all, as he was even a proficient passer, shot-blocker, and stealer (remarkable for his position). His stats have declined over the past several seasons, but considering he has played nearly 20 straight years, his longevity is a marvel in itself.
Kevin McHale: Playing alongside the legendary Larry Bird, Kevin McHale may be the best low-post scorer to ever play the position. He had finesses and refined fundamentals, making him a nightmare match-up problem for most teams to defend. McHale lead the league in field-goal percentage twice — with a career .554 average — and consistently averaged near or above 20 points per game lifetime; he was also an adequate free-throw shooter, not common for players at his position. Fundamentally sound and with a remarkable basketball IQ, Kevin McHale will always be the first Hall-of-Fame Kevin to play at the Boston Garden, and arguably the best.
Barkley was great, and in a different era — with slightly more height — possibly the best, but his lack of accolades and championships are his ultimate objection. McHale was a prolific scorer and consignment teammate, but his rebounding was less than stellar. Garnett during his prime was the best ever, but his fundamentals pale in comparison to Duncan, who happens to be a position above KG on both all-time points and rebounds, and ten slots above Garnett in blocks.
Karl Malone provides a compelling case with his impressive credentials: Second all-time in points scored, sixth in rebounds, and tenth all-time in steals — all stats considerably higher than Duncan’s. I wanted to give Duncan the undisputed affirmation considering his supreme fundamentals — possessing a polished skill-set allowing him to continue playing exceptionally well late into his twilight. But at age 38 — the same age Duncan is now — Malone still averaged 22.4 points and nine rebounds per game, in comparison to Duncan’s current totals of 13.9 points and nine boards per game.
Many people will cite Duncan’s success, accolades, and championships as reason to bump him above “The Mailman,” but I can’t fault Malone for never winning a ring, considering he played during an era where a plethora of notable names never won — all because of that damn Jordan (e.g. John Stockton, Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, etc)! Duncan also benefited from playing in the modern era, where the average big man has slimmed down, become less physical, and forgotten the prestige of the post. Duncan also benefits from a coach that limits his minutes of play, allowing him to have fresh legs late in the season, and thus increasing his longevity. When Malone was 38 he still averaged 38 minutes per game, opposed to Duncan’s 28.9 minutes per contest.
But with that said, the definitive decision must be Tim Duncan, as his defense raises him a mere step above Malone. In eighteen seasons, “Timmy” has been selected to the NBA All-Defensive committee 14 times; an overwhelming accomplishment that vastly overshadows Malone’s four selections. Duncan is also a superior rebounder and shot-blocker in comparison to “The Mailman;” distinguishable traits that cannot be taken for granted.
Karl Malone poses a convincing edge over Tim Duncan offensively, but it is the astounding defensive separation that makes this difficult decision a swat in the park.
Starter: Tim Duncan
Reserve: Karl Malone
Hakeem Olajuwon; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Bill Russell; Wilt Chamberlain; Moses Malone
George Mikan; Shaquille O’Neal; David Robinson; Patrick Ewing; Willis Reed; Robert Parish; Bill Walton
Center is arguably the most domineering position in basketball. With sheer power, strength, and force, the above-average center possesses the ability to overwhelm opponents, while expanding opportunities for teammates alongside the perimeter. The center also assumes the role of lane enforcer, forcing opponents to execute difficult shots and blocking them as well. The appointed nominees are often regarded as the premier players at their respective position — but only one can be crowned the best of the best.
Hakeem Olajuwon: Nicknamed “The Dream” for a reason, Olajuwon possessed an array of remarkable skills that made him a vision to witness and a nightmare to defend. Gifted with nimble feet and considerable size, Olajuwon had the unique versatility to play like a “little guy” offensively but like a “big man” defensively. Take a moment to absorb these career statistics: Tenth all-time in points, thirteenth in rebounds, eight in steals (the second closest center in this category is far down the ladder at 42), and first in blocked shots. Nearly a the top ten performer in every quintessential category, Olajuwon played both ends of the court, and was awarded defensive MVP twice as well as NBA All-Defensive team nine times. “The Dream” was a fantasy come to life, and arguably the most gifted center in league history.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Many people regard Michael Jordan as the greatest NBA player of all-time — including myself — but it becomes increasingly difficult to justify that opinion when you examine the legacy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. As a six-time league MVP (the most ever), six-time NBA champion, and all-time league leader in points scored, it’s hard to argue against the dominance and ability of Kareem. “The Big Fella” lead the league in points three times, rebounds twice — averaging above 16 rebounds per game four separate seasons — and blocks four distinct seasons. He is a 19 time All-Star, and among being the league leader in points, he is also currently third in both rebounds and blocks. If Jordan is the greatest, than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar isn’t far behind.
Bill Russell: If not considered the greatest, Bill Russell is certainly the winningest. In his 12 year career, Russell won 11 championships — you read that correctly: 11 championships. Known more for his defensive prowess than his offensive abilities, Russell lead the league in rebounds four separate seasons, with a career average of 22.5 rebounds per game. If your head hasn’t exploded quite yet, wrap your brain around this: Russell’s lowest rebounding average throughout his illustrious career was a whopping 18.6, proving that even at his worst he was still a class above the best. Russell played well before blocks were an official statistic, but many “experts” still consider him to be one of the most prolific shot-blockers to ever play the game. “The man. The myth. The legend” begins and ends with Bill Russell.
Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain: If Bill Russell didn’t blow your mind, prepare to have your head shattered after reviewing Wilt Chamberlain’s career. If stats never lie, than behold the truth: A seven-time scoring champ, eleven-time rebound leader, and lead the league nine times in field-goal efficiency. Throughout his lifetime “The Stilt” averaged 22.9 rebounds and 30.1 points per game, cultivating a career double-double average that will never be eclipsed. Chamberlain currently ranks fifth all-time in points, and first all-time in rebounds, succeeding second place (i.e. Bill Russell) by more than 2,000 boards. “The Stilt” was a remarkable freak that would have made even Barnum & Bailey proud.
Moses Malone: With a name like Moses, this big man was destined to become a legend of the hardwood. Malone quickly established his presence underneath the basket, garnering the nickname “Chairman of the Boards” in regards to his exceptional rebounding dexterity. Malone lead the league in rebounds five separate seasons; an exceptional accomplishment considering the era and increased competition. His career average of 12.3 boards per game helped him secure fifth all-time in the distinguished category — cementing his legendary status everlasting. A three-time NBA MVP, Malone also boast an admirable 20.3 lifetime average in points scored, which is just another incredible accomplishment attributed to his resume.
Hands-down the toughest position to choose from considering the immense talent, as the selection for best center comes with thorough reflection.
Nothing against Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain, but their mind-boggling stats can easily be ascribed to the era, inflating their inventory to astronomical margins and unfathomable feats that could not be accomplished in future decades. Moses Malone could be considered the greatest ever considering his dominance, accomplishments, and accolades; that is, if Olajuwon and Kareem never existed.
A heavy-weight bout between two esteemed, revered, and accomplished athletes, my decision comes with great contemplation, ultimately selecting “The Dream” as my all-time starter.
Obviously, a great case could be made for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — which has been chronicled above — but no big man possessed more variety and versatility within their skill-set than Olajuwon. Abdul-Jabbar mastered the “sky hook,” but Olajuwon mastered the “Dream Shake,” which has been translated and utilized at numerous positions, and taught to players such as Kobe Bryant (SG), LeBron James (SF), and Dwight Howard (C), just to name a few.
Olajuwon’s nimble feet yet large frame made him an absolute nightmare to guard — an anomaly never more potent or obvious than in 95′ Western Conference Finals against Reigning MVP David Robinson. As starting center for the San Antonio Spurs, Robinson had secured league MVP honors that year, and was prepared for a supreme match-up against Olajuwon, ultimately proving too much for “The Admirable”. Olajuwon wasted no time making Robinson look foolish, averaging 35.3 points per game, 12.3 rebounds, 4.2 blocks, and five assists throughout the bout, subsequently winning the series in six games. But Robinson wasn’t the only esteemed center to fall victim to Olajuwon’s prowess, as “The Dream” dismantled various league big men in an era of great centers, which included Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutumbo, just to name a few.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was no slouch on the defensive end either, but it is Olajuwon’s vast skill-set that lands him atop my list.
Starter: Hakeem Olajuwon
Reserve: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Added Bonus: Coach
Head Coach: Phil Jackson
Assistant Head Coach: Gregg Popovich
Agree with this? Disagree? Make your opinion known in the comments below — and let the debating begin!
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