Folks around the world would have you believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion. This is true for the most part; people can disagree when it comes to their favorite musical artists and sports teams and sex positions. But there are certain indisputable facts in life that make you sound like a real idiot when you disagree with hard evidence (looking at you Kyrie Irving).
Even when we look at NBA history, there are certain thoughts or inklings that just aren’t gonna fly. For example, there is no way in hell that Hasheem Thabeet can be considered a success story, and Damon Stoudamire belongs in nobody’s list of top ten players of All-Time.
Nevertheless, the CBS Sports Staff – who we all know is the absolute authority on all things NBA – has decided that after 20 years it’s time to update the original list of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players from 1996. (I mean, seriously? The significance of that list was the NBA’s 50th anniversary. What exactly is special about year #71?)
Temerity aside, I just don’t really understand why they felt the need to publish an article like this because there is nothing bold, controversial, or outrageous enough to make it worthwhile. Maybe if they’d said LeBron over MJ at #1, but that would just make them sound like an overzealous 15-year-old on Reddit who first started watching basketball in 2011. You can peruse their actual rankings here; I’m not going to bother listing them below because some are just plain incorrect.
Rather, I’d like to take this opportunity to rip their list to shreds.
*As a caveat, I’d like to mention that Bill Simmons listed his top 96 greatest players in his 2009 “Book of Basketball,” and I respect his opinion far more than whatever nameless amateur created CBS’ top 50 (even though he’s a useless homer who can’t get over the fact that Kareem beat his beloved Celtics in ’85 and ’87 and disrupted a potential four-peat).*
CBS’ top 50 isn’t completely off base, and I actually credit them for matching 9 out of my top 10, the only difference being they have Bill Russell (6th) over Hakeem Olajuwon (11th). I can respect this contrast; my position on Russell has always been that his individual talent pales in comparison to later generations, but his historical importance and legacy are undeniable. We’ll revisit the top 10 later.
My first qualm with the list is at the very beginning with two SF’s – Dominique Wilkins (#48) over Kawhi Leonard (#50). Granted, Kawhi is very young and it’s an honor to even include him in the top 50, but how can you say Wilkins was better when the guy never won a championship – or even played in the Conference Finals, for that matter – and only made the All-NBA First Team once? Leonard has already snagged two DPOY awards, one title, and one Finals MVP award, all within his first six seasons. Wilkins wasn’t even a part of the original top 50 list, so I’m not quite sure what he’s done since his retirement in ’99 to warrant this selection.
The first omission that gets to me is the lack of both Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace with Dwight Howard is listed at #49. Maybe defense is underappreciated these days, but these are three guys who combined for 9 total DPOY awards. On top of that, Rodman won 5 rings and Wallace anchored the greatest defense of this century en route to a championship, so how does the ring-less softy Howard make the top 50 over them?
The next problem I see is Paul Pierce (#38) over Rick Barry (#39). One of these guys once averaged 35 points in a single season, the other one needed a wheelchair to get off the floor in game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals. One of these guys carried the Warriors to two NBA Finals in ’67 and ’75, the other one needed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to make his Celtics relevant again. This is our first clear-cut case of recency bias, as I’m pretty sure the author is too young to have seen Barry play. And the fact that The Truth is currently rotting on the Clippers’ bench in his final season does little to back up this over-ranking. Moving on.
A little further down we see that Allen Iverson (#34) is above Isiah Thomas (#35). While I can’t stand Isiah and consider him to be a complete douche, racist, and pighead, this sort of disrespect cannot stand. Thomas won two titles as the leader of the Bad Boys Pistons and reached the Eastern Conference Finals five straight years from ’87 to ’91. Iverson, while iconic for his David vs. Goliath upset in game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals over the Lakers, only made it past the second round once. I respect The Answer for winning four scoring titles and an MVP, but Isiah paved the way for small guards to succeed in the NBA…and is a champion. Rings are forever.
*And whoever decided to make Iverson’s crossover on Jordan the featured clip instead of the Lue step-over is a dumbass. It’s literally the greatest disrespectful moment in NBA history.*
My next qualm is Patrick Ewing at #31. While I don’t disagree that he deserves to be on this list, how can you omit both Willis Reed and Bill Walton and keep Ewing this high? Patrick never won a ring; both Reed and Walton, though injury-riddled, carried their teams to championships in the ‘70s. Ewing may have peaked higher than these two, but once again, rings are forever.
Another guard debate comes along with Steve Nash (#28) over Jason Kidd (#29) – and technically Isiah, but we’ve already addressed that. My Absolute Player Value metric has established that Nash didn’t deserve his two MVP awards in ’05 and ’06, so we’re going to throw that evidence out the window. The two starred in similar situations in New Jersey and Phoenix alongside high-flying forwards in Stoudemire/Martin/Jefferson/Marion, but Kidd was able to reach consecutive NBA Finals in ’02 and ’03. Nash lost in the Western Conference Finals four times in his career. Kidd is one of the best defender in history at his position. Nash was a defensive sieve. And to harken back to my previous point, Kidd won a championship. Rings are forever.
I have a mini-qualm at #27 with David Robinson. While he fits perfectly in the pecking order of centers, I don’t know how you can say ring-less, MVP-less wonders in Chris Paul (#21) and John Stockton (#23) were better than The Admiral – especially given how freaking yoked Robinson was in the early ‘90s. (Seriously, Google “David Robinson prime.”)
With Dwyane Wade at #25 I have yet another conniption. Paul and Stockton never won a ring, and neither has Kevin Durant (#24). Wade has won 3, carried a past-his-prime Shaq to a title in ’06, and recorded one of the greatest statistical seasons of All-Time in ’09. Granted, Paul and Durant are still playing for contenders and may be champions someday, but I just don’t see how you can mortgage the past and historical evidence for what might be.
*Another note on Paul: putting him ahead of Stockton, Nash, Kidd, and Isiah (four guys who combined for 3 rings, 9 Finals appearances, and 17 Conference Finals appearances) is just criminal when he’s never been past the second round. I love the guy, but this is too much.*
Surprisingly, I’m not that miffed with Stephen Curry at #19. The supporting data is limited and incomplete, but his pull-up 3 is one of the most un-guardable moves of any generation, and his skill level is helping to change the way basketball is played. The choke job in both of his Finals appearances hurts (3-1, blah blah blah) so maybe 19 is a tad high, but I’m having trouble picking anyone from below to knock him down a few pegs. For now, he stays.
Like I said at the start, I’m pretty happy with the top 10/11. The author is probably a stats-hound or Spurs fan – hence Duncan (#7) over both Kobe (#10) and Shaq (#9) – and he’s likely honoring Russell’s playing number by slotting him in at #6. My last real qualm comes with Wilt (#3) leapfrogging both Magic (#4) and Kareem (#5)….
Some of my colleagues may see it differently, but to me Kareem’s 6 rings and 6 MVP awards > Wilt’s 2 rings and 4 MVP awards. Kareem also has the edge in career points scored and seasons played and dynasties formed. I don’t know, this debate is pretty damn close, but the room for error is slim to none in the top 5, and there are only so many combinations when #1 and #2 are set.
Now in my opinion, Kareem is still #2 above LeBron given the ring and MVP count, but I’m not going to kick up any fuss because Michael Jordan is still #1 and the Earth is still round. Some things in this world are indisputable.