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Monday, July 14, 2008

Julius Erving's All-Time Starting Five

Julius Erving told USA TODAY's Chris Colston that his all-time starting five "was, is, and always will be Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, with Connie Hawkins coming off the bench as my sixth man to play guard, forward and center."

Erving's choices are interesting for several reasons, though I'm sure that the first thing that will grab the attention of most people is that Erving did not include Michael Jordan. In my newest article for ProBasketballNews.com I discuss Erving's list and offer my thoughts about the challenges involved with selecting an all-time starting five (2/25/09 Edit: the link to my PBN story has been disabled, so I have simply pasted the text of that article into this post):

USA TODAY's Chris Colston asked Erving to select an all-time starting five and Erving replied, "My starting five was, is and always will be Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, with Connie Hawkins coming off the bench as my sixth man to play guard, forward and center."

Erving's list is interesting for several reasons: (1) he omitted Michael Jordan, who many people consider to be the greatest player of all-time; (2) Hawkins is a Hall of Famer but does not appear on most lists of the five or 10 greatest players of all-time; (3) he never played a regular season game with or against any of those players (Erving faced Chamberlain, Hawkins and Robertson in 1972 in the second NBA-ABA All-Star Game). Erving has said on several occasions that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar--winner of a record six NBA MVPs—is the greatest player he ever played against. Speaking of Abdul-Jabbar, he responded to Colston's question by saying that it is "impossible for me to narrow it down to five."

At various times I have considered several different basketball players to be the greatest of all-time but in recent years I concluded that in a team sport like basketball it is virtually impossible to single out one player for that honor. In my five part "Pantheon" series, I profiled 10 retired players who have at one time or another at least briefly been considered for that title. These are players whose accomplishments have stood the test of time (listed in alphabetical order): Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Earvin Johnson, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell and Jerry West. In the final article of the series, I mentioned four active players who have played at a Pantheon-worthy level: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal.

There are several reasons that it is difficult to cut that Pantheon list down to a starting five, let alone choose one player for the top spot:

1) Various eras had different rules, different styles of play and different challenges: The three point shot, the restricted area and the defensive three seconds rule are just three examples of how much the NBA game has changed over the years. Also, in the "old" days the league consisted of a much smaller number of teams who played each other over and over; virtually all of the players were born in the United States and long after the league was officially integrated there were (unofficial) quotas restricting how many black players each team had. Now, there are 30 teams and there has been an influx of talent from outside the United States. Expansion usually means that talent is diluted but the NBA is also drawing from a wider pool of players, so it is hard to say definitively whether or not the "old school" players faced tougher or easier competition than the current players do—but there is no question that today’s game is vastly different from yesterday’s game in many ways and that makes it very difficult to compare the statistics and accomplishments of players from different eras.

2) A player's statistics are influenced by the position he plays and his role on his team: Chamberlain set numerous all-time scoring records before completely changing his game to focus primarily on defense and passing (he was a great rebounder during both phases of his career). In the ABA, Erving's teams needed him to be a big-time scorer but when he joined the Philadelphia 76ers the team's management explicitly told him that they preferred to have three 20 ppg scorers as opposed to having one 30 ppg scorer. Johnson became a more prolific scorer to pick up the slack during the latter stages of Abdul-Jabbar's long career. There are similar examples in the bios of every one of these great players, which makes direct comparisons of their statistics very misleading unless one provides the context in which those players produced their numbers.

3) Greatness can be defined in various ways: When evaluating performers in individual sports like boxing or tennis, winning is the ultimate barometer, though even in those sports there can be arguments about levels of competition and other contextual issues. However, in a team sport like basketball, greatness can be manifested in many different ways. Is the greatest player of all-time defined by his ability to lead his team to championships, is he the player who was the most difficult to stop or is he the player who had the most complete overall skill set? Depending on how you answer that question, you could choose Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain or Oscar Robertson as the greatest player. Although Michael Jordan did not win as many championships as Russell, average as many points in a season as Chamberlain or average a triple double for an entire season like Robertson, he embodied a little bit of each of their traits: he certainly demonstrated the ability to lead his team to championships, he was the most difficult player to guard during his era and his skill set did not have any serious weaknesses during his prime.

Julius Erving’s all-time starting five (plus sixth man Connie Hawkins) is certainly formidable but one could select another starting five from the Pantheon—Abdul-Jabbar, Bird, Erving, Jordan, Johnson—that could give them quite a game: a battle between a young Chamberlain and a young Abdul-Jabbar would be epic, Bird was roughly the same size as Russell and usually guarded whichever frontcourt player was the least dangerous offensively, a Baylor-Erving matchup would be classic, the West-Jordan duel would feature two guards who were equally deadly at both ends of the court and the Big O versus Magic confrontation would pit the father of the triple double versus the man who made the term a regular part of the basketball lexicon.

Perhaps the best thing about Erving’s choices is that by selecting those players Erving paid homage to five legends who helped to build the NBA—and by mentioning Hawkins he reminded people of the feats of a player who would have put up much bigger numbers were it not for being wrongly banned by the NBA during his prime years. I think that Erving meant no disrespect to contemporaries of his such as Abdul-Jabbar, Bird, Johnson and Jordan but rather he wanted to acknowledge the greatness of the players who dominated the game during his childhood, adolescence and young adult years.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:14 PM



At Tuesday, July 15, 2008 10:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

there is no way on planet earth that jerry west and oscar robertson are better than jordan and anyone with a brain should no that i respect mr erving. but the all time starting five is magic jordan bird duncan wilt. not the five he said he must of been talking about his era of players and not all time everyone has a right to there opion but to say jerry west is better than jordan is like saying emmith smith is better than jim brown or mike scmdit is better than babe ruth ridicoulous.

At Tuesday, July 15, 2008 11:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


your pantheon is totally wrong let me help educate and put joe pantheon the real top 10 players all time on mine

1 jordan no debate here won 6 rings 10 scoreing titles 5 mvp 3 all star mvp 69 nba records 1000 straight games of 10 plus points or 800 and something. plus he carried his team and the players on his team check pippen stats after he left jordan 99-2003 people dont know how much jordan helped his career and averaged 20 ppg at 40 and scored 50 twice at 39 and averaged 23 ppg at 39 years old amazing

2. wilt chamberlin numerous records avg 30 ppg avg over 44 6 times 100 point game 4 mvp 2 titles led league in asists and rebounding over 10 times

3 kobe bryant all the scorecords records 10 all nba 10 all stars 8 all defnsive teams 3 rings greatest scorer ever took a team to finals with no great player next to him.

4. magic johnson 9 all nba teams 12 all star 5 rings 10,141 assits changed nba greatest point guard ever could score when had too 3 mvp and 3 finals mvp

5 bill rusell 11 rings in 13 years 12 time all star 11 all nba 1 all defensive 5 mvp all star game mvp greatest defender and rebounder of all time.

6 tim duncan 4 titles 11 all nba and all defensive 10 time all star greatest power forward how is he not on list. he dominated basketball last 10 years when did elgin baylor dominate basketball?

7. shaq 4 titles 14 all star 12 all nba 3 all defensivve teams 2 all star mvp 3 finals mvp nba mvp how is west and baylor better than shaq or dr j they all got one ring?

8. larry bird 3 mvp 2 finals mvp 12 time all star 10 all nba teams great shooter and greatest small forward and passer at forward all time 3 rings but was slow and not athletic but didnt stop him he was great.

9. kevin garnett 9 all nba 11 all star apperances championship mvp 9 all defensive most complete player maybe in nba history great shooting big man or one of them of all time.

10. 5 allen iverson i dont know how he not on list 4 scoreing titles 23,000 points 9 all stars 7 all nba 2 all star mvp and regular season mvp finals apperance greatset little guy ever if had another great player would of won 5 titles at least thet wasted 5 prime years in philly.

we agree on bird magic jordan rusell and wilt

oscar roberston jerry west and others were nice players not better than shaq or tim duncan whoboth won 4 titles kobe got 3 and none of them are in your top 10?

i defy you to show me a top 10 players in 2007 that wont have kobe shaq or duncan in it thats ludictous those 60's player except russell and wilt wouldnt even dominate today game i couldnt imagine shaq or jordan or kobe playing back then it would be a joke.

dr j was good player he won one ring in 4 chances he was a good offensive and defensive player he was no kobe bryant or allen iverson he would be my 15-20 not top 10.

you went with players of your era more than actual best players ever it was a okay list mine is based on skill and winning.

At Wednesday, July 16, 2008 2:39:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I agree with you that Erving appears to be paying tribute to the great players who influenced and inspired him while he was growing up.

Just curious, but who were the players you considered at various times to be the greatest ever before you arrived to your current conclusion that it can't be narrowed down beyond a pantheon of 10 or so?

I generally agree with the pantheon approach. If I had to choose, I would look at the players in the pantheon and consider the players who didn't have any major weaknesses. That leaves Chamberlain, Robertson, West, Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan. Since winning is a team concept which depends on numerous factors outside of a single player's control, I don't like the simple approach of counting a player's championship rings. A much more relevant matter, in my opinion, is the question "if I had to build a team from scratch, who would I choose?" I would go with size and flip a coin to choose between Wilt and Kareem. A big man can control games in which wing players just can't. As good as Jordan was as a defender, I don't think he could have as much impact at that end individually as a dominant shot-blocker like Russell or Chamberlain or Jabbar. (Of course, when you combine Jordan's defensive brilliance with a bunch of other great wing defenders, his defensive impact can go beyond containing his own man.)

A lot of people still like to take a very narrow view of this discussion and treat individual and team as if they were interchangeable. I truly believe that if Kareem played with as much talent in his prime as he did in his twilight, he'd have won even more championships than he did, and he would be getting a lot more credit for them than he appears to be getting these days from revisionists who think he rode Magic Johnson's coattails, and bitter old writers who didn't like the fact that Kareem wasn't fond of dumb questions and nagging reporters. I also believe that Wilt Chamberlain was extremely unfortunate in having to deal with 7 different coaches (many who were incompetent) in 8 different stints , poor team management and plain bad luck (injuries to himself and key teammates, close games that could have gone either way). If he played 9 or 10 years with an Alex Hannum or Bill Sharman on a well-managed team, he could easily have had 6 or 7 rings.

At Wednesday, July 16, 2008 9:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


We have already established that you cannot even conceive of the possibility that Jordan is not far and away the greatest player ever. Nevertheless, plenty of very knowledgeable basketball people say that Oscar Robertson is the best all around player ever. Robertson had absolutely no weaknesses in his skill set.

As I indicated, the more I think about it the more difficult I find it to cut the top ten down to a top five, let alone pick one greatest player. I might choose a different five than Erving did but his choices are not unreasonable.

At Wednesday, July 16, 2008 9:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My Pantheon represents a very informed opinion about this topic. You may disagree with me but an opinion cannot be "wrong."

Your Pantheon is interesting but I disagree with a few of your choices and some of your reasoning. Putting MJ and Wilt 1-2 is OK, though it would also be reasonable to flip flop them or even put another player in the top spot. Your comment about Pippen is misguided because Pippen had surgery for two ruptured disks in his back prior to the 1999 season and he was never the same physically, not to mention that he was already in his mid-thirties with a lot of mileage (long playoff runs, two Olympic Team appearances, etc.). Pippen led teams past the first round of the playoffs multiple times without Jordan but Jordan never got past the first round without Pippen.

Even though I have repeatedly stated that Kobe has been the best player in the NBA for the past several years I do not rank him as the third best player of all-time. He is in the top 15-20 for sure and with each passing year he moves up but I cannot put him third just yet.

In general, your rankings are based a little bit too much on subjective factors, such as how many rings a player won. A player can only win rings if he is on a great team. Baylor and West carried the Lakers to the Finals many, many times only to lose to superior teams. In 1969, West won the Finals MVP even though his Lakers lost to the Celtics. West was a great, great player.

Shaq won each of his rings while partnered with a great guard and he did not have to face a dominant team like Russell's Celtics. Check that, when he played the MJ-Pip-Rodman Bulls his Magic got swept. Shaq's teams got swept a lot, so I'm not putting him in the top 10. Maybe if Shaq had spent more of his career in shape and focused on playing defense then I would rank him a little higher.

Garnett is not the most complete player in NBA history; for the previous three years he could not even reach the playoffs. Garnett is not in the top 20 of all-time and probably not in the top 30.

Iverson is the most remarkable athlete I have ever seen in person--it is phenomenal that someone of his size can accomplish so much for so long and be so durable. That said, he is not as good of a basketball player as anyone in my Pantheon, nor is he as good as the four active players (Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron) who I cited as potential Pantheon members.

Erving won three titles (you forgot the ABA) and he retired as the third leading scorer in pro basketball history and the all-time leader in steals (that mark has since been broken). Erving was the first "midsize" player to score 30,000 career points and since he retired the only other "midsize" player to do that is Jordan. At his peak, many people considered him to be the greatest forward--if not the greatest player--ever. In the 1976 ABA Finals he led both teams in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots as his Nets beat the Nuggets, a team that had two HoF players (Issel, David Thompson), the best defensive forward in either league (Bobby Jones) and a HoF coach (Larry Brown). That performance is one of the greatest and most dominant in basketball history.

At Wednesday, July 16, 2008 9:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I find that the more that I learn about pro basketball the more difficult it is to pick one player and definitively say that he is the greatest. Each member of my Pantheon has been called the greatest player of all-time--or at the very least the greatest player at his position--at one point or another. At various times, I have thought that Wilt, Russell, Kareem, Magic and Jordan were the best players of all-time--but I am also not convinced that Jordan at his best was better than Erving was in the ABA. Again, the reality is that compelling arguments can be made in favor of every member of the Pantheon, so it really does not matter which order I would have ranked these players in at various times.

I agree with you that Kareem's demeanor has affected how he is portrayed and that Wilt would have benefited greatly from having a more stable coaching situation during his career.

At Wednesday, July 16, 2008 10:06:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

unless you have seen all of these players you cant give a real assessment of who is the best because it will be only stat based.

joe....iverson is not better than tiny archibald or isiah thomas. isiah had no weaknesses as a player and won championships. iverson didnt. tiny led the league in points and assists. iverson could never do that. and tiny won a ring. he is not the best little guy ever. he definitely is a remarkable athlete but you give him way too much credit to say he would win 5 titles. garnett definitely isnt a top player he showed that against the lakers. his only good game was in the blow out game 6. and he showed you hes not one of the greatest shooting big men of all time with his terrible display during the finals. hes not better than mcadoo, or sikma, or cowens, or even parish from the outside. or akeem. or ewing.

wilt chamberlain is the most disrepected and underappreciated player ever. kareem is too. chamberlain is basically babe ruth with the things he did in the nba.

when i watched bird play i didnt think he was slow or unathletic. he wasnt nique but i dont think he was slow at all. ive seen games when bird would reverse dunk in the paint. he sure got his shot off quick enough and ive seen him get plenty of big steals. i think the experts use that hes white and slow as a crutch to add to his lore and how can it be possible that he is so good but slow and unathletic. i dont buy it at all. like how chris mullin is deceptively quick with the hands. he was just quick.

and david how could you miss (you probably didnt but you didnt comment on it) how joe asked when did elgin baylor dominant basketball. unless joe is between 55 and 80 years old he should be banned for a day or two. elgin created doc, connie, and jordans game.

vednam...the revisionists are idiots to say kareem rode anyones coattails because magic would have no titles if it werent for kareem.

At Wednesday, July 16, 2008 10:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I understand that it is very difficult to rank players in different eras, because of the different competition faced, different set of rules, and the different ways of defining "greatness", all of which you have alluded to in your recent article. But what do you make of this attempt by the author named Elliot Kalb, who has written a book on ranking the best players in different eras, which is heavily based on statistics. The link is here:


He has ranked Shaquille O'Neal as the number one player in history. Personally, I find analysis that is based on statistics to be very one-dimensional because it is a team sport, and as Vednam pointed out, coaching situations, key injuries to teammates, and other factors can potentially hamper individual statistics.
Have you read this book?

At Wednesday, July 16, 2008 11:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with your comments about Iverson compared to Isiah, Tiny, etc.
and I also agree with you for the most part about KG, though I'm not sure I'd take Sikma over him unless you were talking purely about shooting ability.

I've said exactly the same thing about Bird and I made a similar point about Nash last season: people tend to think that jumping high is the only indicator of athletic ability. I also agree that many people downplay the athletic ability of Bird (and Nash) in order to make their achievements seem even greater. Bird blocked more shots and grabbed more rebounds that Nique and Bird was only one inch taller. Bird was quick and he had great hands. The only thing that he "lacked" was the insane vertical and broad jumping ability that a handful of NBA players--Doc, MJ, Nique and a few others--had.

I mentioned Baylor once in passing but I probably should have said more because he obviously was a dominant player: career averages of 27.4 ppg, 13.5 rpg and 4.3 apg, plus season-bests (in different years) of 38.3 ppg, 19.8 rpg and 5.4 apg. Baylor essentially played the second half of his career with no cartilage in his knees and he was still a force.

At Wednesday, July 16, 2008 11:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

S. Tiku:

I have Kalb's book and it is an interesting, entertaining read but I don't agree with his rankings. Shaq would struggle to get into my top ten, let alone rank number one, for reasons that I have mentioned here many times before. Briefly, the self-proclaimed "Most Dominant Ever" never won a rebounding title, was swept out of the playoffs far too often and he did not consistently focus on his conditioning and on playing defense. In his prime Shaq was a load to handle but he did not display the consistent dedication to high level all-around performance that the members of my Pantheon did. However, Shaq accomplished enough that I still included him with Duncan, Kobe and LeBron as the most Pantheon-worthy of the active players.

Kalb has Cousy 10th (too high) and Erving 15th (too low). He has Pettit 11th, West 12th and Baylor 13th. I'd put West and Baylor higher; Pettit is probably about where he should be. Kalb placed Duncan ninth. I don't have a problem with that but I limited my Pantheon to retired players. Of course, LeBron does not appear on Kalb's list because the book was published in 2004; for that reason, I also have no problem with him placing Kobe 18th. Presumably, Kalb would move Kobe up a few spots now and that sounds about right to me.

At Thursday, July 17, 2008 6:29:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Kalb's book is very interesting and has lots of neat information. I have a problem with the with some of his analysis though. I think there was one section where he was comparing Larry Bird and Julius Erving and he said said that in Game 7 of the 1981 ECF Bird had 5 steals (or something like that) and it's likely that several came at Erving's expense. Kalb is actually right, but there is no need to speculate since the game in question is shown frequently on classic sports programming and someone of Kalb's stature should be able to get ahold of it and watch it for himself.

David, what do you think of players like Hakeem Olajuwon or Rick Barry or John Havlicek or Moses Malone whose career accomplishments and consistency is comparable to players in your pantheon? What would keep them out in your opinion? I'm not trying to argue one way or another, I'm just wondering what you think.

One interesting thing about the "greatest player" discussion is that many former players and coaches have gone on record over the years as making several different picks as greatest ever at different times (and I'm referring to situations where the opinions were not affected by developments that occurred between the different times the picks were made). Oftentimes, players and coaches go on record with picks when the media comes out looking for quotes after a certain event takes place (retirement or HOF induction of a certain player, or the breaking of a record) and they usually end up saying supporting things for the player of the moment. All of this goes to show just how difficult it is to choose a single player and provides further support for considering a group of the best ever as opposed to just one player.

At Thursday, July 17, 2008 6:37:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

It's incredible that Baylor played half his career with bum knees. Jerry West gets a lot more appreciation from younger Laker fans since they remember him as GM, but Baylor is usually unfairly forgotten.

Baylor has been described by most as a subpar defensive player, but I wonder how much of that perception is influenced by his play during the second half of his career when his knees possibly got in the way. It'd be interesting to find out whether Baylor was a better defender during the first half of his career.

At Thursday, July 17, 2008 7:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Olajuwon and Malone would be the next two centers on my list. Malone was a ferocious rebounder and an excellent scorer in his prime but he did not have the all-around game--or sustained dominance--that the Big Three centers had. Olajuwon is very close to being in the Pantheon but I just can't take him ahead of Wilt, Russell or Kareem.

Barry and Havlicek were both excellent all-around players but Baylor, Bird and Erving exceeded them both in peak value and in sustained excellence: in other words, I'd take any of those three guys at their best over Barry and Havlicek at their best and I also think that the body of work produced by the Pantheon forwards exceeds the body of work produced by Barry and Havlicek. We are not talking about huge margins here and reasonable Pantheon cases could be made for the players you mentioned.

Also, although this is a subjective factor I don't believe that anyone who is reputable has seriously mentioned Hakeem, Moses, Barry or Havlicek as being the greatest player of all-time. Most if not all of the Pantheon members have drawn such consideration, even if only briefly.

You are right that players and coaches sometimes have differing answers when asked these kinds of questions and I agree that this goes to show how difficult it really is to narrow things down past a certain point.

I also agree that Baylor is largely forgotten today by casual fans. I don't think that it helps his cause that he has spent decades running the Good Ship Clipper while West won multiple titles while helming the front office of the Lakers.

At Thursday, July 17, 2008 8:31:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

I saw that Kalb had ONeal as number one and realized there was no way Im buying that book. David, you have always mentioned plenty of Oneal weaknesses and I agree with them. There is no way he is top ten...besides how can anyone who cant shoot free throws at the end of games be the best ever. I wont even mentions Kalb other errors that you just mentioned.

I think Sikma was a better shooter than Garnett but not a better player. It definitely is tough to but Akeem ahead of Kareem, Wilt and Russell. I would put Akeem number four.

At Thursday, July 17, 2008 4:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Wilt and Russell were not exactly great free throw shooter, either, but I still put them in the Pantheon. Shaq simply is not as good an all-around player as Wilt, Russell and Kareem, nor is he as dominant.

At Thursday, July 17, 2008 9:12:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

David, I share most of your critiques of Shaq, but I think you aren't giving him quite as much credit as he deserves.

I might accept Russell being rated ahead of Shaq when you factor in consistency, desire, and work ethic. But do you honestly believe that Russell was a better "all-around player"?

Russell had the edge in rebounding and defense, but Shaq was always among the leading rebounders in the league, and for all his defensive shortcomings, he's been enough of a presence to make the all-defensive second team a few times. Shaq's superiority over Russell at the offensive end is by a far greater margin than Russell's superiority in defense and rebounding. For a guy that's praised a lot for getting his points by "outsmarting" his opponents and taking high percentage shots (through finishing on the break, offensive rebounds, feeds around the basket), Russell shot a pretty low percentage (.440). Compare that to Wilt Chamberlain, who shot .649 and .727 at the end of his career when he got his points by being active and "taking advantage" the way Russell did his whole career. That kind of difference is just inexplicable, and I think it illustrates how lacking Russell was in offensive skills. Going beyond the stats, compare the impact Shaq had on offense by drawing double and triple teams more regularly than probably any player in history to a guy who I've never heard of or seen drawing double teams. I'm not trying to knock Russell, and as I said I might agree with taking him over Shaq on when you look at the whole picture (including accomplishments and consistency and work ethic) but I just don't see how he had a better all-around game than Shaq.

Shaq's Magic were swept by the Bulls in 1996, but they actually had a 1-1 record vs. the Bulls in the playoffs.

At Thursday, July 17, 2008 9:33:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Thanks for the reply on some of the other players I mentioned. You make some good points. I think in terms of stats and consistency they are as good as anyone (check all the all-NBA appearances), but in the peak-value department they may be a notch below your pantheon players.

It's true that Hakeem, Moses, Havlicek and Barry have never really been brought up by any critics when discussing the greatest player of all time. In recent years it seems Baylor and West have been brought up when discussing the greatest players in general but never when discussing the greatest single player. In that respect they are treated much like the other guys I brought up. Erving often gets similar treatment. Opinions on him vary greatly depending on how much his ABA days are taken into account. I get the feeling that lots of former players and coaches and writers who obviously know a lot about the NBA but were never associated with the ABA tend to overlook Dr. J's early career and consequently leave him out of "greatest ever" discussions.

Aside from Baylor, West and Erving, the other 7 guys in your pantheon seem to be in every "greatest ever" discussion and universally regarded as better than guys like Hakeem and Moses.

At Friday, July 18, 2008 2:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In the mid-70s, Dr. J was mentioned as a candidate for greatest player ever in an article by Pete Axthelm and I don't think that was a radical sentiment at the time. Unfortunately for Erving, after the merger the Sixers management decided that it was better to have three 20 ppg scorers instead of having him average 30 ppg. Erving willingly went along with this, as he always tried to do whatever was in the best interests of the team. In time, though, the Sixers realized that it was a mistake to hold back Erving's talents. As Billy Cunningham put it, the team had "too many chiefs and not enough Indians." Cunningham added something to the effect that in the ABA Dr. J was the clear number one option and he led his team to championships. Thus, from '79-82 Dr. J became the focal point and though he was older and his knees were not as good as they had been in the ABA his scoring average went up and the Sixers made it to three straight Conf. Finals and two NBA Finals. Of course, when they added Malone in '83, Dr. J willingly became the second offensive option as the team rolled to the title; even then, at 33, he was still one of the top five players in the NBA. At his peak, Dr. J was a lot better than many people think and he was an All-League (ABA/NBA) performer for the vast majority of his career (12 out of 16 seasons).

For different reasons, Baylor is also underrated and, as you note, has essentially vanished from greatest player discussions even though he is a staple in most top 10 lists. It is probably hard for most younger people to even consider West for greatest player status in light of the achievements of Magic and MJ but West had no weaknesses: he was a great scorer, passer and defender and he rebounded well for his position.

At Friday, July 18, 2008 2:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Russell did not have a highly developed low post offensive game, while Shaq was a dominant scorer in his prime, albeit from close range. However, in every other facet of the game I'd take Russell over Shaq, so I do think that Russell was a greater all-around player:

1) Rebounding: This is not even close--Wilt and Russell are the two dominant rebounders of all-time, while Shaq was not even a dominant rebounder in his own era.

2) Defense: Russell was the greatest defensive center of all-time (though Wilt was a lot better than he is sometimes given credit for), while Shaq has spent a lot of his career indifferent to defense.

3) Passing: Russell sometimes ranked in the top ten in assists in the NBA. Basically, Russell contributed in every way offensively (passing, rebounding, screening, running the floor so that the defense had to account for him) except for low post scoring. Shaq has been a good passer from the post but not as good as Russell was.

Also, one has to give Russell an edge in the intangibles: work ethic, leadership, desire--he won championships in college, the Olympics and the NBA and he was always the hub, the centerpiece of those teams. Before Shaq had the good fortune of teaming up with Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, one of his priceless quotes was that he had won at every level except college and the NBA.

I respect Shaq's accomplishments and I rate him as one of the four greatest players of the post-MJ era (along with Duncan, Kobe and LeBron) but in a sense I think that Shaq is overrated because so many people (like Kalb) think of him as the greatest center and/or greatest player of all time.

At Friday, July 18, 2008 2:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As for Shaq's record versus the Bulls with Orlando, the Magic's victory in '95 came right after MJ came back and the Bulls did not have a power forward because Horace Grant had signed with, ironically, Orlando. During the playoff series the Bulls often had to use Pip at power forward.

The next year, after MJ got back into basketball shape and the Bulls added Rodman, the Bulls ran roughshod over Orlando and the "Most Dominant Ever." Shaq was at the height of his physical powers then, though he obviously became a smarter and more mature player a bit later under Jackson's guidance. However, the decisive nature of that series is a strong argument against Shaq's self-proclaimed MDE status, particularly considering that Orlando was a very talented team that had just gone to the NBA Finals.

At Friday, July 18, 2008 7:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


shaq got 4 rings elgin got 1 how is elgin baylor better he wasnt a better rebounder or more dominant than shaq same with jerry west they had each other shaq had kobe and was best player on lakers at that time.

iverson carried a team farther than isiah or tiny archibald they was good but no ai he got 4 scoreing titles he 5 11 isiah never averaged close to 30ppg in a season led a bad as team to finals or won mvp. he got more all stars by 3 iverson might catch him he played on better teams than ai he had 3 multiple all stars ai and philly best player ever was mutumbo.

dr j won 1 title aba doesnt count he was 1-3 in finals he was good not as good as ai was if you put they size in play. nonne has been as good as allen was in his prime he scored 60 points 40 points like 85 times. he never played with moses malone or bobby jones andrew toney and other all time greats the dr played with mo cheeks as well. he belongs top 10 all time

pippen was a good number 2 you could not build a team around pippen as your best player and win ring he needed jordan to win 6 rings jordan could of found a player like pippen before pippen could find a jordan is my point he was a great pro player no doubt he made all star all nba in 93 and 94 but he wasnt as good as jordan was or had the impact he had on a team. you could throw all the number bu they dont lie jordan was the man he helped create pippen jordan would of been a hall of famer if pippen never existed and had 3 or 4 rings.

your pantheon has too many old players that would get cramed by today players i agrre with 5 but no way shaq not in top ten or duncan or ai.

At Friday, July 18, 2008 11:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

theres no way anyone better than jordan sam jones played against robertson jerry west did bill russelll did as well all of them said they take jordan or jordan was the greastest player they ever seen billy cunningham bob knight dean smith as well alot of players in robertson era said jordan was better i bet if robertson was being real with himself he know jordan better.

i would only say wilt was more dominant than jordan but he only won 2 rings jordan won 6 if wilt got 5 or 6 rings then he would be best player ever jordan at worst 2 at very worst.

kobe is not number 3 and not better than shaq or duncan that is laughable and he DEFEINETELY isnt better than larry bird or magic johnson i could name 20 players better than bryant right now. jordan wilt john havlicek isiah thomas larry bird magic johnoson oscar robertson bill russell bob petite karl malone tim duncan shaq jerry west elgin baylor kareem hakeem dr j bob cousy moseses malone rick barry that would put him at 21 right now he is no where near number 3 he is one of the all time greats but to be number 3 he has to win 2 titles without shaq at least one to be up there with bird magic and jordan.

allen iverson? come on joe he is not top 10 all time maybe top 30 e has no rings mainly and dominates the ball too much.

garnett had some good playoff games but paul pierce was mvp of that team so theres now way he top 10 all time he lost 7 times in first round didnt make the playoffs 4 11 of 13 years he didnt play past may 5th.

mine is 1 jordan 2 wilt 3 rusell 4 magic 5 bird 6 robertson 7 kareem 8 shaq 9 jerry west 10 dr j so kobe iverson and garnett is crazy there not top 10 all time duncan is next 5 my top 15 not top 10 yet.

shaq wasnt most dominant ever when he played jordan in 96 he was in his fourth year he was most dominant player 99-2004 really 97 and 98 he was pretty good too. but shaq 96 wasnt shaq 2000-2002 that a weak comparison russel better than shaq because shaq said so and he won 11 times and he was better defender and rebounder, shaq was way more dominant offensively. but i give edge to ruseell he had a better work ethic as well.

phil jackson was big for shaq because he forced shaq to play d and shaq respected his 6 rings. im going to be bias toward shaq he won of my favirote players everyone loves shaq. but some points your right on him.

At Saturday, July 19, 2008 12:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You have made numerous errors in fact and logic. Baylor actually did not win a title--he retired nine games into the 1971-72 season--but of more relevance to this discussion is that he was a small forward who not only averaged more ppg than Shaq but he also averaged more rpg. The reason that Baylor never won a ring is he played in the same era that Bill Russell's Celtics won 11 championships in 13 seasons.

Isiah won two championships, so he "carried a team" farther than Iverson, who has made just one Finals appearance. Isiah was a better passer than Iverson and just as good of a scorer in terms of his skill set; Isiah scored fewer points because he was not as much of a gunner as Iverson (check out their field goal percentages). Tiny led the NBA in scoring and assists in the same season, the only player ever to do that. He was the starting pg on the 1981 Boston Celtics team that won a title--and he was not just along for the ride that year: he made the All-NBA Team and won the All-Star Game MVP.

Erving won two ABA titles, not one as you incorrectly stated. In the 1976 Finals, Erving led both teams in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots as his New York Nets beat a very talented Denver team that had two HoF players (Issel, David Thompson) and a HoF coach (Larry Brown). He was being guarded by Bobby Jones, the best defensive forward in either league at the time. The Nets' starting center was Kim Hughes and their starting power forward was Rich Jones. That season and playoff run by Erving is one of the great accomplishments in pro basketball history. I respect Iverson tremendously but no coach is going to take Iverson over Erving; look how Iverson cannot even get out of the first round with a very talented Denver team.

When MJ retired the first time, Pip led the Bulls to a 55-27 record, just two fewer wins than they had the previous season with MJ. Pete Myers was starting in MJ's place that season. Pip finished third in MVP voting and the Bulls would have made it to at least the Conference Finals if not for one of the worst blown calls in NBA playoff history. Later, Pip led Portland to the Conference Finals. Meanwhile, MJ had a 1-9 playoff record without Pip.

I never said that Pip was as good as MJ; I said that MJ never won anything without Pip and I refuted your idea that MJ was "carrying" Pip. MJ needed Pip to win titles.

You are overly impressed by the highlight reels of today's players. There are some Pantheon-worthy players playing now--Shaq (in his prime), Duncan, Kobe, LeBron--but not as many as you seem to think. Iverson is an all-time great but not a Pantheon-level player. It is funny that you think that the Pantheon players from previous decades would be "cramed" (sic) by today's stars. Perhaps you can explain why LeBron, Wade and Melo could not beat Greece in the 2006 FIBA World Championship and why Iverson was unable to lead Team USA to the gold medal in the 2004 Olympics. Do you think that the teams that beat Team USA have any players who are even close to being as good as Elgin Baylor? Elgin, West and the other old school greats would do just fine in today's game.

At Saturday, July 19, 2008 1:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


A good case can be made that MJ is the greatest player of all-time. My only objection to what you are saying is when you make declarations like "There is no way anyone (is) better than Jordan." Magic, Robertson and West can all be compared to MJ in terms of their skill sets. You are entitled to pick MJ and I might be inclined to pick that way as well but the other guys are worthy of being in the discussion.

We agree that Kobe has not yet established himself as a top 10 player all-time.

Your top 10 is perfectly reasonable but an equally reasonable top 10 could be made with the same players in a different order.

Shaq was calling himself "MDE" back in '96 and his physical skills were at their peak back then. He was lighter and quicker but still tremendously strong. Point blank, you cannot be on good teams that were swept as many times as his teams were and then brag that you are the "MDE." The "MDE" should at least be able to get a game. Shaq's teams were not losing due to key personnel being out because of injury (like Magic's Lakers in 1989). Shaq was dominant at times but not "MDE."

At Saturday, July 19, 2008 8:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


come on elgin baylor was a gunner he shot 33 times a game one year and 30 and 29 another thats why he averaged 40 no one with a brain is going to say he is more dominant in his prime than shaq. he had jerry west and still couldnt win a ring and shaq got 4 bill ruseell teams were good but when your in like 8 finals and win 0 you are a loser and there is no excuse for that.

youre going to say tat iverson teams in philly were as good as the bad boys were? he played with a hall of famer in dumars another should be in rodman laimbeer and aquiree made 3 and 4 all star teams. all ai had was mutumbo who was defensive player he did not have 2 hall of famers and 2 multiple all stars like isaih he was just as good a passer and better scorer check they points per game out. isah was a great player im takeing ai over isiah any day of the week isiah couldnt carry philly to the finals ai could win 2 rings with the bad boys and wouldnt choke 2 away like he did in 87 and 88 and walk off the court before the game end like a baby in 91 like he did vs bulls.

tiny was great ai was better he won in 81 because larry bird was on that team if ai play with larry he would win a title and a few more. tiny was not as good a scorer he got 85 40 point games? and ai could pass just as good as tiny archibald could. dude got 5 allstars ai 9, 5 all nba ai seven, and he couldnt get to the finals with that sixer team either.

dr j won one nba title and he had moses malone give ai moses malone in 83 he would win the title too he lost the previous 3 finals he played. ai isnt in his prime anymore david come on now anyone nows that he 33 years old, he just a good player now im talking bout prime ai vs prime dr im going to take ai over him dr j was good but not better than the little guy, ai got to the finals with good center. dr had one of the greatest of all time put dr j on that 2001 sixers team he wouldnt get to the finals and he wouldnt score 50 on the lakers like ai did he averaged 36 in series amazing.

ray allen won 50 games and got to second round as well pau gasol won 50 games too there still good number 2 guys pippen was a great number 2. but you cant build a team and win a ring with him as best player. we seen other teams have amazing season or over acheive in a given year before.

jordan would of been just as succesful without pippen and probably got a round farther in 94. and in 95 they wouldnt of made playoffs if jordan didnt come back and went 13-4 when jordan came back.

the best player on portland was sheed and pippen couldnt stop the lakers with a 15 point lead in the fourth quarter in game 7 2000 west finals. that was a clear example he needed a player like mike too win rings and close games out because he was not good enough to do it himself, plus in 94 he quit in game 3 aginst knicks just because he didnt get the last shot and toni kucoc did another example he didnt have the leadership to be best player on team and also his migraine quit in 1990 game 7 vs pistons also showed a lack of toughness, look jordan played in game 5 97 finals sicka nd could barely stand thats leadership.

all im saying players like west and baylor are not as good as shaq and time duncan and dr j is not as good as ai and pippen was a good number 2 option player i feel i proved i was write on all counts.

At Saturday, July 19, 2008 9:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

there all not better than mike they can be compared but my point is there simply not better west said jordan was best ever so did magic i like magic west and robertson in my top 9 all time as i noted. some people say magic is i dont think so his skill set quite not as good as mike west was great great player but not all around as good as mike and robertson was good as well i pick mike over all 3 of them is my point.

my top 10 cpuld be shifted and kobe in top 20 not top 10 yet maybe e will maybe we wont we have to see.

MDE was from 99-2004 i never heard shaq say anything about that in 96 he had no feet to stand on back then shaq in 2000 was all around much better than shaq back then he had developed a jump hook and soft bankshot in 96 he was just brute power and force in 2000 he was finesse and force jordan and bulls would have a hard time beating them in 2000-2004 no matter if kobe or wade with him shaq was mde those years plus a better defender never was great on pick and roll but phil forced him to play d and e was better than.

At Saturday, July 19, 2008 11:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Shaq has been calling himself "MDE" for longer than just eight years but let's forget that for a moment. According to you, he was "MDE" for just five or six years in a 16 year career. Wilt won 11 rebounding titles, including one as a rookie and one as a 36 year old veteran. Wilt also won nine field goal percentage titles, seven scoring titles and one assist title. He was dominant from the first day he set foot in the NBA until the day he retired. Shaq simply does not measure up. The Bulls swept Shaq in '96 and the '96 Bulls would have beaten the later version of Shaq as well. Vlade Divac and the Kings could take Shaq to seven games but you don't think that a 72 win Bulls team could beat them? Be serious.

I would be interested to hear you explain in what specific way Magic's skill set is not as good as MJ's. We know that MJ could jump higher but I'm talking about shooting, rebounding, passing, defense, ballhandling and so forth. Again, MJ is certainly on the short list for greatest player of all-time consideration but he is not some god who we dare not compare with anyone else.

At Saturday, July 19, 2008 11:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Baylor is a small forward who averaged more rpg than Shaq even though Baylor played the second half of his career with bad knees.

Russell's Celtics had multiple Hall of Fame players plus a Hall of Fame coach; the Lakers could not match that firepower. It is ridiculous to call Baylor a loser.

I didn't say that Iverson's teams were better than the Bad Boys. Please pay attention. What I said was, "Isiah was a better passer than Iverson and just as good of a scorer in terms of his skill set; Isiah scored fewer points because he was not as much of a gunner as Iverson (check out their field goal percentages)." In other words, Isiah's skill set was better. By the way, Isiah also won a college championship.

Bill Russell never scored 40 points in a game and he is one of the greatest players of all-time. There is a lot more to being a great player than just racking up 40 point games. I have said many times that Iverson is the most remarkable athlete who I have ever seen in person; it is amazing that someone who is so small can accomplish so much and be so durable--but he is a cut below the Pantheon-level players and he is not quite as good as even some of the non-Pantheon players.

Erving led his teams to at least the Conference Finals nine times and never missed the playoffs in 16 seasons. He was a much more consistent winner and a more dominant player than Iverson. The only thing that Iverson does more prolifically than Erving is score and if you think that Baylor was a gunner then what do you call Iverson?

If you think that Ray Allen or Pau Gasol are even close to being the all-around player that Pip was then you have serious basketball comprehension issues. Pip could score, rebound, pass and defend. Allen is primarily a long distance shooter. Pau can score, rebound and pass but he has a soft streak and is a one-time All-Star, while Pip was a perennial All-NBA and All-Defensive Team member.

MJ had multiple chances to win a round without Pip and never did it. The Bulls were above .500 and on course for the 1995 playoffs without MJ, despite enduring some injuries early in that season. Their winning streak was snapped when MJ came back, though of course they closed the season on a good run with him.

How exactly is Pip supposed to singlehandedly "stop" the Lakers? Anyway, the problem was not defense so much as the fact that Portland could not make a shot. The Blazers took the same shots that they had throughout the series but they did not fall in the fourth quarter. Without Pip's steadying influence and knowledge about how to defend the Triangle that series would not have lasted seven games. Phil Jackson wanted the Lakers to sign him for just that reason and he felt very fortunate that the Lakers got by Portland, because not signing Pip almost turned out to be a huge mistake.

Have you tried to do anything with a migraine, let alone play pro sports? Ask Kareem or Terrell Davis about trying to play with a migraine.

Pip wanted to shoulder the responsibility of taking the last shot. He did not go about that the correct way but the point is he wanted the ball in the clutch. Why do you think that one moment outweighs his essential contributions to six championship teams? Do you think that all of the mistakes that MJ made before he won his first title outweigh what he later accomplished? (Read Sam Smith's Jordan Rules if you don't know what I am talking about--you can start with the passage in which Bill Cartwright says that MJ is the greatest athlete he's ever seen but that MJ does not understand how to play basketball, a reference to the selfish way that MJ played at the time and his refusal to pass the ball).

My Pantheon consists of 10 retired players. I nominated Shaq, Duncan, Kobe and LeBron as the most Pantheon-worthy active players, so I'm not putting Shaq far below West and Baylor but they were greater all-around players who had better work ethics. That said, a dominant center in his prime is extremely valuable, so the Jackson-coached Shaq of 2000-02 was formidable but from an overall career standpoint I'd take West and Baylor.

Dr. J is a significantly better and more accomplished all-around player than Iverson.

Pip is one of the 20-25 greatest players of all-time; he was much more than just a good second option. Gasol, who has made one All-Star team in his entire career, is a good second option and you cannot compare a guy like that with a future Hall of Famer.

At Sunday, July 20, 2008 4:45:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I completely agree with giving Russell the edge over Shaq in intangibles.

I don't quite agree with some of your other assessments.

1. Rebounding: I agree that Russell was the better rebounder. I don't know precisely what you mean by dominant rebounder, but I think Shaq was a very good rebounder. He usually averaged 11-13 rpg which placed him among the league leaders every year. Of course he was well behind Rodman most years, but so was every other elite rebounder in the league. So Shaq wasn't a dominant rebounder if he must have led the league on a regular basis and/or separated himself from the pack to qualify. But by any measure, he was an elite rebounder until his twilight. Let me add that most years Russell was 2-4 rpg behind Chamberlain, and I certainly don't think that means Russell wasn't an elite or dominant rebounder those years.

2. Defense: Clearly Russell was superior (though if Wilt Chamberlain were alive he might argue about the "greatest defensive center" tag). The point though is that Shaq has been enough of a presence to make the all-defensive second team a few times.

3. Passing: I don't know how we can conclusively say one is better than the other. Shaq has been an excellent passer, and Russell was also known as an excellent passer. I don't believe that assists are necessarily the definitive word on passing skills. You yourself have observed many times on this blog how good passing can oftentimes not lead to assists.

So if you break down the comparison into a bunch of categories and say Russell was superior in two of them, at least even in one, and weaker in one (scoring), it's tempting to conclude Russell was a better all-around player.

I don't think it is that simple though. If you are rating four categories on a scale from 1 to 10, for instance, 10, 10, 8, and 3 sum to 31 while 8, 6, 8, and 10 sum to 32. These numbers are just an example meant to illustrate the point that margin of superiority can make up for superiority in fewer categories. I'm not saying these are my ratings for this particular comparison.

Shaq was above average in every area (except for free-throw shooting, which we aren't discussing). Russell was average in scoring abilities while Shaq was very dominant. As I said before, I think the difference in this category is HUGE. Russell's field goal percentage was somewhat embarrassing for a guy who supposedly got his points by being smart and taking advantage of defenses by getting "easy" baskets. Shaq has always been among the league leaders in scoring and field goal percentage. On top of all that, Shaq has routinely been double and triple teamed in his career. The impact that has on the game should not be overlooked. You yourself have correctly observed many times how many opportunities Kobe Bryant creates for teammates by demanding a huge amount of defensive attention. The same thing applies to Shaq. The amount of time, energy, and manpower exerted by other teams to try to contain Shaq was stunning. I think comparing Shaq to Russell in scoring ability, along with the impact that ability has on the game with regard to double teaming and pressure on the defense, is like comparing Kobe Bryant to Derek Fisher. I hope the basketball gods don't strike me with lightening for indirectly comparing Russell and Fisher, but hopefully you get my point.

In conclusion, I think Shaq's all-around game (when he was fit and motivated) was superior to Russell's. It's the fact that Shaq was not always fit and motivated (the intangible stuff) that makes me rank Russell ahead of him, not all-around game.

At Sunday, July 20, 2008 5:19:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I acknowledge that Shaq's teams have been swept too often, and I don't think of him as the MDE or whatever.

I don't understand why the 1996 Bulls-Magic series counts but the 1995 one doesn't. I think there is a double-standard being applied here. Jordan was good enough to play at a superstar level and put up superstar numbers in 1995 (including three games vs. Orlando, two of which the Bulls lost, where he put up 38-40 points). The Bulls lacked a power forward in 1995, and the Magic lacked a power forward in 1996 (with Grant injured).

Were the 1995 Bulls the best incarnation of the team during the decade? No. But I challenge you to find any team which won a title at some point and lost a playoff series in some other year in which they were as good or better than when they won the title. So if Shaq's teams never beat a dominant team, then no team in NBA history has ever beat a dominant team.

A team loses because it has flaws, not because it is perfect. Virtually every team which won a championship eliminated a team along the way which suffered from injury, a hole at some position, the departure of a player who used to be on the team, or a superstar playing at a superstar level but not at his absolute peak. This includes the Bulls. Whenever someone alleges that the 1995 Bulls-Magic series doesn't "count" , it would be great if they also pointed out that the 1991 Finals don't "count". After all, James Worthy and Byron Scott were injured, Magic Johnson looked tired and wasn't his "normal self" down the stretch during some games, and the Lakers were playing a second-year guy from Serbia in a position which used to be filled by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

At Sunday, July 20, 2008 2:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


When did I say that the 1995 series "didn't count"? I simply explained the context of what happened: not only had MJ just come back after a year and a half absence but the Bulls had lost their power forward to the very Orlando team that beat them. It is not necessary for me to explain the context of every other playoff series that involved MJ and/or Shaq.

My point about the 1996 series is that the so-called MDE should not have been swept so many times, particularly with the highly talented teams that he led into the playoffs. The 1996 series is just one example, not the entire case.

MJ's Bulls beat a 62 win Phoenix team in the 1993 Finals, a 64 win Seattle team in the 1996 Finals, a 64 win Utah team in the 1997 Finals and a 62 win Utah team in the 1998 Finals. The Bulls' 1993 and 1998 opponents had the best record in the NBA and thus enjoyed homecourt advantage in the Finals. Any of those four teams would likely be viewed as "dominant," except for the fact that the Bulls beat them. So I don't agree with your point about "dominant" teams.

My primary point in this particular thread is not about MJ, though; my point is that it is absurd to assert that Shaq is the MDE when his teams were repeatedly swept out of the playoffs when he was at his physical peak. That would not happen repeatedly to someone who is truly the MDE.

At Sunday, July 20, 2008 2:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


What I mean by "dominant" rebounder is that Russell and Wilt were far ahead of the other rebounders of their era. Shaq never won a rebounding title and he only finished second three times, third twice, sixth once and eighth once. That means he has spent more than half of his career not even ranked in the top ten in rebounding. Of course, some of that is because he missed a lot of games in various seasons but part of being "dominant" is being in good enough condition to be on the court; you can't be "dominant" while you are sitting on the bench.

Shaq is a very good passer but he never once averaged four apg in a season. Russell averaged 4.3 apg during his career and ranked in the top ten in assists four times. That is a pretty significant difference and I don't think that vagaries in scorekeeping alone account for it. In any case, assists are awarded more liberally now than they were in Russell's era, so the gap is probably even greater than the numbers indicate.

Shaq clearly had the superior low post offensive game and Russell's low field goal percentage is a bit hard to explain. Still, I believe that Russell's defensive advantage over Shaq was at least close to being as large as Shaq's offensive advantage over Russell. Making three All-Defensive Second Teams in a 16 year hardly proves that Shaq is much of a defender. Larry Bird also made three All-Defensive Second Teams. Do you consider him a great defensive player, let alone on par with Russell and Chamberlain?

I'd call the defensive/offensive difference between Russell and Shaq a draw and thus Russell's advantages as a passer and in the intangibles elevate him over Shaq.

At Sunday, July 20, 2008 5:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


cleary shaq was more dominant than baylor who was a gunner and it was easier to rebound back then because it was a smaller league and baylor was bigger than most power forward and they didnt have specialty players like rodman ben wallace marcus camby etc. oscar robertson and alot of guards and forwards avg alot of boards back then he wouldn not average that today in a bigger more athletic league at 6 ft5 noway he getting 13 boards he would gun his way to the 27ppg.

you said isiah carried his team farther that was only because he had a better team than ai did. did isiah carry a team as weak as 2001 sixers to the finals no? he cant score with ai and iverson could pass as good as isiah, isiah dribbled better thats it realy im takeing ai over him anyday. ai played on alot worser teams so he had too shoot alot to keep his teamin the game e didnt play with dumars johnoon laimbeer rodaman and aquiree like isiah did put isiah on those teams ai was on they wont make finals once and he doesnt have nowhere near 2 rings.

dr j was bigger was his advantage e was not more dominant than ai was he played on better teams is why like isiah he seemed more dominant he averaged 24 8 5 for career alot of that was aba not as dominant in nba ai averaged 28 6 4 not far off of doc number at 6ft when doc like 6ft7 ai is 160 pounds soak and wet come on he was just as dominant if not more dr j and isiah had advantage of being on better teams than the little guy ai was better.

have you ever ran up and down the court with the flu and could barely stand like jordan did? come on migraine wasnt that bad too play with and i know, i had one it hurts but if i got a game 7 im playing look at isiah in game 6 vs lakers in 88 with that terrible ankle he had no buisness out there he running up and down the court hurting it even more becuase he wanted the ring so bad pippen lacked toughness.

when did i say allen and gasol was better than pippen all around? please dont put words in my mouth to make argument sir. i said they won 50 games in a season too teams overacheive that was what the 94 bulls did and historically phil jackson teams overacheive the 2005-2006 lakers did as well. reality set in the next season and everybody knew they needed 23 back they was 3 games over 500 and wasnt going to make the playoffs.

pippen was a great number 2 you couldnt build a team around pippen and they win the ring he needed jordan to win rings i agree he hall of famer top 20 all time no way top 35 maybe between 30-35 he is def not top 20 might not been top 5 players of his era.

west and baylor is behind shaq too me you would be very few who put them in front of shaq. he was best player on his team his accomplishments were greater than those two guys, they would be 11 and 12 on mine not top 10 with one ring in 8 finals apperances winning is ultimate to me shaq got 4 they got one.

dr j would be top 15 i still think individually ai was better and for his size more dominant compareing 6ft 7 guys too dr j and 6ft guys too ai alot of 6ft 6 guys have similar stats too dr j very few if any have that at 6ft under like ai.

you said it's retired players than that a whole diffrent argument.

At Sunday, July 20, 2008 6:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

i disagree he only been saying it for like 4 years but anyway i agree wilt was more domninant i rank wilt number 2 and shaq 8 so i dont know why your bringing up wilt for. he was mde wilt was i guess youre trying to say he had no buisness saying mde in first place when wilt was more dominant player. but size and nimble ness and brutal strength shaq is like the biggest physical player i ever seen one on one with wilt would be a great battle i think wilt has too much for him.

the 96 bulls were better than 02 lakers when did i say they wasnt? i said shaq was at his best in 2000 not in 96 anybody will tell you that so that bulls team would have a harder time with shaq then. 01 lakers would give 96 bulls run for money they only lost one playoff game and that was strongest bulls team and you pick the weakest laker team bulls were taken to seven games in 92 by knicks and 98 by pacers. so they was pushed as well and it is not a knock that a good sacramento team pushed them they only lost 4 playoff games that year.

easy david better scorer by far passing even magic had more assists because he played point guard and played with better players but theres not a pass he could do mike couldnt do.rebounding magic because he 6ft 9 jordan was 6ft 6 defense big edge jordan defensive player of the year 10 all defensive teams. ball handling magic as well but jordan killed him in accomplishment and mike was a better shooter than magic johnson was magic percentage is high because he took far less shots. he took 12 a game jordan 23 and they about same percentage 50 to 52 so of those 6 skills i got it 3-2 and tie jordan plus jordan got 5 mvp magic 3 6 rings to 5 he played with 2 hall of famers and better role players mike only one and pippen no kareem and worthy was way better than grant or rodman.

all star game mvp 3 2 all nba 10 to 9 and jordan missed 3 prime years the mvp could easily be higher rings higher all star games higher as well. he missed 85-86 93-94 94-95 so please no comaprison magic said "it's micheal and the rest of us" he was right

it's a joke really nonone did more with less and was as dominant as mike people compare kobe and lebron but there simply not as good as this man was bird west robertson as well.

At Sunday, July 20, 2008 6:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is a little tricky to compare a strong, low post center like Shaq with great all-around players like Baylor and West. Many years ago, a writer made the point early in Larry Bird's career that Bird was the best player on the Celtics but Robert Parish might be the most valuable simply because he was an outstanding center who provided a presence in the paint offensively and defensively. That is a little bit like the discussion that we are having now.

If you haven't done so, you really need to read my complete Pantheon series to see how I explain why I chose the players that I did. I certainly don't intend to post five articles' worth of information here in the comments' section but a lot of the points that you are making are addressed/refuted in those articles. The fact that you were not even aware that my Pantheon consists entirely of retired players indicates that you are disputing my conclusions without even taking the time to read them.

As for Iverson, the main point that you keep repeating over and over is that his teams were worse than Dr. J's and Isiah's. That hardly seems to be a selling point in Iverson's favor. Dr. J and Isiah had a lot to do with the fact that their teams won titles and were perennial contenders.

Perhaps you should consider how much Iverson has to do not only with some of his teams' successes but also with some of his teams' failures. He can be a defensive liability at times due to his size and he shoots a poor percentage. He is not easy to coach and at times it is not easy to play with him because he monopolizes the ball. I think that he is a remarkable athlete and I really enjoy watching him but he is simply not as great as the Pantheon-level players, nor does he rank with Shaq, Duncan, Kobe and LeBron, the four active players who I deem to be most Pantheon-worthy.

If you don't think that Gasol and Allen are as good or better than Pip then why bring them up in a discussion of all-time great players?

Go back and look--the '95 Bulls had won six of their last seven games and were 34-31 before MJ came back. They were going to make the playoffs despite suffering key injuries early in the season and despite being without the departed Horace Grant.

As for Pip, he played with two ruptured disks in his back in the '98 Finals and he was taking charges from Karl Malone so it is absurd to question his toughness. Pip led teams to playoff series wins without MJ while MJ never did so without Pip so your argument in that regard has no legs on which to stand. Clearly, they needed each other to win titles but Pip was perfectly capable of being a franchise player in his own right.

At Sunday, July 20, 2008 6:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I brought up '02 because that falls within the time frame that you say Shaq was MDE. Again, do you think that Kings team would push any of the Bulls' championship teams to seven games? I'd take the '90s Knicks that you mentioned over those Kings.

You think that Shaq has only been calling himself MDE for four years? Since 2004? That is not correct. He's been saying that for much longer. I can't find the article at the moment but he was certainly saying it before 2004. Anyway, it's an absurd claim no matter when he said it.

As you said, MJ shot a lot more often than Magic did because they had different roles on their teams. Magic finished with a better fg%, a better ft% and almost as good of a 3fg%. In other words, he was just as efficient of a scorer as MJ. Magic could post up, he could drive and finish and he had a decent midrange jumper. Magic could also play more positions than MJ.

MJ was the superior defensive player but Magic was an excellent team defender who twice led the league in steals. He could guard more positions than MJ, which is valuable in terms of switching screens, etc.

However, putting aside whatever differences we may have in our evaluations of their skill sets, it is interesting that even by your count of six skills you score it 3-2 in MJ's favor with one tie. If the result is that close then why do you find it so objectionable to at least compare Magic to MJ? I'm not saying that Magic was greater than MJ but I'm saying that this is a worthwhile topic to discuss. It's not like comparing MJ to the 12th man on some sorry team.

You insist that MJ is far and away the greatest player but when you look at things based on skill set you see that things are a little closer than you were suggesting.

At Sunday, July 20, 2008 6:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

lets address oscar robertson

shooting jordan he shot 50 percent robertson 48 percent

robertson he averaged 7.5 jordan 6.2 its close roberrtson edge.

passing im going to say even because robertson had more assist 9 to 5 but they played 2 diffrent postitions and point guards get more assists than shoting guards jordan could pass right with the big o probably better roberston was known as a ball hog.

defense jordan by a wide gap 9 all defensive and defensive player of the year. robertson was not great defender

scoreing jordan easily 30 to 25 career but jordan got 10 scoreing titles robertson none.

ball handling robertson was good point guard in 60's jor3 to 2 even dan was okay ball handler.

so i got 3 to 2 even jordan

mvp 5 to 1 mj
rings 6 to 1
robertson played with karrem and bobby dandrige jordan just had pippen and kareem was by far best player on 70-71 team he averaged 31.7 robertson 19.7 and he got 16 boards.

im a fan of jordan david but not a idiot clearly robertson bird and magic were great great player i think you took what i was saying wrong im not saying jordan was way better than any of them or they are 12th men of anything breaking them all down i would give jordan edge from totality prespective but i think the biggest case could be made for wilt a case could be made for bird magic dr j etc just a stronger for case to me and most could be made for jordan. basketball doesnt start and end with micheal jordan david theres been alot of great players over the years.

but magic and sam jones and jerry west all said jordan by far thats saying something to me ive never heard robertson or bird even though i someone once said bird said magic was but then changed it now to mike. all the people from jordan era say jordan but theres some from wilt era that say jordan too and bob knight said jordan by far as well.

At Sunday, July 20, 2008 7:42:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Sorry. You never said the 1995 Bulls-Magic series didn't "count". I should have been more clear. It appears as if you implied that the series doesn't count as an example of the Magic beating a dominant team.

Anyway, I agree that context is very important. What I don't understand is why you explain the context of the 1995 series but then neglect to do so for the 1996 series. Just like the Bulls in 1995, the 1996 Magic were sorely lacking the production they had gotten in the past from the pf position, and they also had plenty of inner turmoil to deal with. I admit that the Magic still should not have been swept. The point though, is that if 1996 counts as an example of Shaq's inadequacies when facing a dominant opponent, shouldn't he get some credit for what his team did in 1995? I think the Bulls-Magic battles in 95-96 were essentially a draw. Each year, one of the teams was peaking while the other had some holes and internal issues. I guess if you want to emphasize the sweep, that sort of illustrates why MJ was better than Shaq.

On a side note, I think MJ's retirement probably adversely affected the Bulls more in the chemistry area than in what MJ was individually able to do. It wasn't his best series, but as an individual performer he was still able to play at an elite level. Sam Smith's book Second Coming has a very good discussion of the chemistry issues and turmoil the Bulls faced with Jordan's comeback. The revised story of the comeback that lots of people like to repeat would have one believe that Jordan was out there playing like a shell of what he used to be and embarrassing himself.

You said earlier in a comment:

"Shaq won each of his rings while partnered with a great guard and he did not have to face a dominant team like Russell's Celtics. Check that, when he played the MJ-Pip-Rodman Bulls his Magic got swept."

Later you gave examples of the Bulls beating dominant teams like the Suns, Sonics and Jazz. Do you think that the Trail Blazers of 2000 or the Spurs of 2001, 2002 or 2004, or the Kings of 2002 weren't dominant? Maybe I am misunderstanding you.

Your examples were to counter my claim that if a team is eliminated in the playoffs (like the Bulls in 1995) there are going to be several factors which explain why they lost (similar to the extenuating factors the 95 Bulls faced) and IF those factors show that the team wasn't dominant (as you implied regarding the Bulls), then no dominant team is ever beaten. I don't believe that dominant teams are never beaten. I think they are. What I'm saying is that just as explaining the context of the 1995 Bulls-Magic series can suggest that the Magic didn't beat a dominant opponent, explaining the context enough in any series can suggest that the defeated team was flawed and not dominant. The Bulls in 1995 featured Jordan and Pippen individually playing at elite levels, as well a HOF coach, and a core which (along with the addition of Rodman the next year) would go on to win 3 titles in a row. They may not have been at their peak, but they featured most of what was an all-time great team. In my opinion, the Magic beat a great opponent that year. I think of it in the same way as I think of the Spurs beating the Lakers in 2003, the Rockets beating the Lakers in 1986, and the Bucks beating the Celtics in 1983.

At Sunday, July 20, 2008 7:48:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I don't think Shaq was the MDE and I agree with you that he has underachieved in many ways. Getting swept many times in the playoffs is a legitimate part of the case. I agree with 90% of what you are saying, and mostly just think Shaq deserves a little more credit than you are giving him.

At Monday, July 21, 2008 7:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Robertson retired as the all-time assists leader so you are being very generous to MJ in calling that category even.

The NBA did not select All-Defensive Teams or a Defensive Player of the Year for most of Robertson's career. Robertson perhaps was not quite the defender that MJ was but Robertson was considered to be a good defensive player.

Robertson was annually a 30 ppg scorer in his prime. He did not win scoring titles because his prime years coincided with Wilt's prime years. Put MJ's best years up against Wilt's and MJ would not have won a lot fewer scoring titles.

Robertson was the only non-center to win an MVP between 1964 and 1981, so his lone MVP is actually a very significant accomplishment in that era.

Like many great players in the 60s, Robertson had to battle Russell's Celtics in order to get rings.

Robertson did not play with Kareem until late in his career. They battled against great teams in L.A., Baltimore, New York and Boston, teams stacked with HoFers.

Anyway, it is good to see you trying to consider this objectively instead of just repeatedly saying that MJ is far and away the greatest. The accomplishments of several other all-time greats deserve to be acknowledged.

At Monday, July 21, 2008 7:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My main point about Shaq's alleged MDE status is not how many times his teams beat dominant teams but rather how many times his teams got swept. One player can have a lot more impact in basketball than in football or baseball and I think that the most dominant basketball player ever would not get swept over and over unless he was repeatedly carrying completely depleted teams to the playoffs.

For example, Kobe took some pretty bare Lakers teams to the playoffs in 2006 and 2007 and neither of them got swept.

I explained the context of the '95 series because I don't really think that the Magic's win was as significant as a win over the 91-93 or 96-98 Bulls would have been. The '95 Bulls were a flawed team that was not going to win the title. The '96 Bulls and '96 Magic were both title contenders. Frankly, I think that beating the '94 Bulls was more significant than beating the '95 Bulls.

Grant played 28 minutes in game one of the '96 series, though he was not productive. Of greater interest is that Shaq had six rebounds in 40 minutes as his team was outrebounded 62-28 in a 121-83 loss. I don't think that even a fully functional Grant was going to turn that around but Grant could have made a realistic difference for the Bulls in '95. Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Kukoc and Harper each at least matched Shaq's rebound total in that '96 game one.

Obviously, each season has its own dynamic but the Bulls' opponents that I listed all won more than 60 games and some of them had the best record in the league. The 2000 Blazers did not win 60 games or have the best record in the NBA. None of those Spurs teams won 60 games and only the 01 Spurs had the best record in the NBA. The 02 Kings had the best record in the NBA. Those teams were good but, again, I am not disputing that Shaq's teams beat some good teams along the way but rather questioning how the alleged MDE could be swept so many times. Perhaps I confused the issue by also opining that Jordan's Bulls would have more easily dispatched some of the teams that Shaq's teams faced, which is of course simply speculation on my part.

Now I see more clearly that your point is that the '95 Bulls were a great team. I have to disagree with you on that one. They were a flawed team, which is different from being an injury riddled team. They had to put Pip at power forward in the playoffs because they had no other viable option. I don't think that too many teams have won championships when playing a future HoFer completely out of position for an entire series. That showed the desperate straits that the Bulls were in. Also, Harper was in his first season as a Bull, struggled to learn the Triangle and thus hardly played versus Orlando. Longley was in his first full season as a Bull. I think that it is more than a reach to assert that this was the core of the upcoming championship teams. Yes, MJ, Pip and Jackson were there but Rodman was a big addition plus several of the role players played better in '96.

I also think that it is clear that MJ was in vastly superior condition in '96 than he was in '95.

So, all of the series "count" but I don't think that a healthy Grant would have change the outcome in '96 but he could have changed the outcome in '95 if he had been a Bull instead of a member of the Magic.

At Monday, July 21, 2008 7:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As for giving Shaq more credit, he is one of only four active players who I said are Pantheon-level performers, I am not sure how much more credit you think that I should give to Shaq.

At Monday, July 21, 2008 1:54:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

My disagreement as far as credit is concerned is not in the general place you have ranked Shaq. Like I said, I mostly agree with you. Where I think Shaq deserves more credit than you gave him is in the specific topics I brought up, especially in beating "dominant" teams.

Even with all of the times his teams got swept, it's worth noting that Shaq was part of a team that rolled through the playoffs with a 15-1 record. So while Shaq lacked consistency, he proved that at his best he could be part of a very, very dominant team.

At Monday, July 21, 2008 5:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I understand what you are saying but I never disputed that Shaq played on teams that displayed dominance and/or beat some very good teams. I focused on the other end of the equation, the fact that Shaq's teams have been swept out of the playoffs on far too many occasions for him to claim MDE status. When healthy and motivated, Shaq has certainly been a dominant player, particularly in the Finals from 2000-02.

At Tuesday, July 22, 2008 9:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

nobody better than mike david look at everything offensively and defensively

oscar vs jordan

offensively= jordan averaged 30ppg robertson 25ppg jordan could score im more ways and was more dominant scorer had more 40 and 50 point games avg better in playoffs.

defensively= jordan was clearly better one here he has more defensive first teams in a row than anybody he is 2nd all time in steals he was a lock down defense of player big o was good defender not as good as mike.

larry bird vs micheal jordan

offensively= jordan was better offensivley bird avg 24 ppg jordan 30 ppg jordan shot more and he shot a better percentage won more scoreing titles scored more 30 40 and 50 point games every way you look at it jordan was better. bird was great offensive player but not better than mike he shot better from long range and free throw but that it far as dominance in scoreing in every way it's mike here

defense= nuthing to discuss bird had 3 second all nba defensive teams jordan had 10 and dpoy bird was solid individual defender and good team but mj was clearly better here.

mj vs mj

offensively= jordan averaged more ppg could score in more ways magic could play more positions but he was not the offensive threat mike was. magic had some moves highest ppg was 23 in 87 but he could not score offensively jordan was more xplosive and had better midrange game and outside shot

defense= agian no comparison here magic was another solid defender and great team one jordan was great team and individual defender magic never made all defensive team so that tells you he was not great indivdual defender jordan had more steals so magic leading the league twice is good but not better than mike haveing more steals for career.

mj vs kareem

this is closer mike was better he averaged 24 a game mike of course 30 his best season was better than kareem avg 35 a game jordan did it twice in 87 jordan avg 27 shots on 37 points karrem took 25 shots too get 35 points karrem avg 18 shots jordan 22 23 so it's not like jordan was chucking more than kareem. jordan had better jump shot better midrange and better outside shot karrem was more dominant in post im going jordan he was more dominant.


jordan agiain kareem was a good defender jordan great one he made more first team both made 10 all defensive jordan had more steal karrem had more block shots but jordan won dpoy year kareem never did that

mj vs bill rusell

offensivley= mismatch jordan way better offensively than russell and shot better fg percentage actually he was simply bettter period rusel was great defender rebounder. russell score 14,000 points mj 32,000 avg 30 of course rusell 15

defensively+ russell over mj here he probably greatest defensive player ever but mj offense was far greater over ruseell than his d over mj so mj better than rusell.

mj vs west

offensively= mj scored more points in career in less seasons than west 30 to 27 scoreing avg more 40 and 50 point games had better midrange game than west could score in more ways and had more versatile skill set and assault

defeense= mj all day here west was good defender but not mj in d i never heard any old timer say west could d people up he was solid defender not great like mj was. there was no all defensive team back then he wouldnt make too many thogh.

mj vs wilt

this is tough

offensively wilt
wilt played every mintue most of the seasons he played so he played in garbadge time and padded his stats. the 50ppg season if you do it at 40 min a game like mj did in 87 he avreaged 39ppg alot closer to mj 37 ppg and he took 12 more shots a game than mj in 87 so if mj took 40 shots hell average more than 50 ppg but wilt had great low post moves that rival mj on permiter he had a nice layup dip shot he did a 5ft bank shot and good up and under moves and power dunk when neeeded too it's i lean wilt they both avreaged 30ppg for career wilt changed his game number went down scoreing titles 10 to 7 mike but wilt got more 40 50 and everything else he was better

defense mj

wilt was good defender heard he was a good shot blocker but mj was more dominant at his position than wilt was jordan locked down guys like nooone else wilt isnt as good a defensive player as mj he was good mj was great.

so it's 1 to 1

mj wins easily in intangibles rings mvp's more dominnat in playoffs etc he has a 33ppg avg in playoffs to wilts 22ppg he was better than wilt as a player even though offensivley wilt was a little better.

if you count offense defense rings mvp all stars all nba defense dpoy all nba teams mj isa clearly greatest player ever plus he won with less than ll of them guys they all had at least two hall of famer on there championship teams to mj 1

At Wednesday, July 23, 2008 6:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Two main points that you mention repeatedly are MJ's scoring average and the number of All-Defensive Team selections that he received.

1) MJ had the highest career scoring average in NBA/ABA history, so obviously he averaged more ppg than everyone else in the Pantheon--but if picking the greatest player of all-time consisted of nothing more than scoring average than I simply could have published a list of the players with the top ten scoring averages in history and been done.

2) The All-Defensive Team was not created until the 1968-69 season, which means that half of the members of my Pantheon--Russell, Wilt, Oscar, West, Baylor--played their prime years prior to when it existed. Also, the Defensive Player of the Year was not awarded until 1982-83.

You also fail to consider that the rules were different in different eras. Handchecking was prevalent in the NBA's early days but has since been outlawed. Also, assists are awarded more liberally now. These things make it hard to say how MJ would have done in the 1960s or how the 1960s players would have done in the 1980s and 1990s.

A good case can be made that MJ is the greatest player of all-time--but simply repeating over and over that he averaged more ppg and made more All-Defensive Teams than certain players is not the best way to make that case.

Let's look at the players you listed:

1) Oscar Robertson

Offense: Oscar had no weaknesses offensively--he could shoot, drive, draw fouls, make free throws, handle the ball and pass. Most fans know that in 1961-62 he averaged a a triple double but if you tally up his numbers he AVERAGED a triple double for the first five seasons of his career overall. It is important to mention that these were not 10-10-10 triple doubles, either. In four of those five years he scored more than 30 ppg while also leading the league in assists. He would have won multiple scoring titles while leading the league in assists except for the fact that fellow Pantheon member Wilt Chamberlain was active at the same time.

MJ was great offensively but I don't know how you can compare Oscar's numbers with MJ's and determine who was better, let alone be so sure that you are correct.

Defense: Oscar was a good defensive player. Was he as good as MJ? Maybe not--but Oscar was clearly a better rebounder and better passer.

2) Larry Bird

Offense: Bird was without question a better shooter than MJ. That cannot even be debated. Bird averaged more assists as a small forward than MJ did as a guard. Bird rebounded better but that is to be expected considering the size difference and the fact that Bird played forward.

Defense: MJ was obviously a better defender than Bird.

3) Magic (you said MJ versus MJ but I assume you meant Magic versus MJ)

Offense: MJ was a more explosive scorer but Magic was a far superior passer. Magic could play multiple positions and could post up just about anyone other than elite centers.

Defense: MJ was clearly better.

4) Kareem

Offense: His scoring average was dragged down by his latter years; for the first several years of his career his career average was over 30 ppg. Kareem had the single most unstoppable shot in the sport's history, the skyhook. He shot a very high field goal percentage but was also an excellent passer. I don't know how you can conclude that MJ was more "dominant." MJ scored more points but Kareem was an unguardable low post scoring threat. It makes no sense to talk about shooting range because there was no need or reason for Kareem to shoot from long distance; no one could stop him in the post.

Defense: Kareem was an awesome defensive presence who blocked and altered many shots. You also have to consider his defensive rebounding, because a possession does not end until the defense controls the ball. Kareem was 35 the first time the DPoy was awarded. He led the NBA in blocked shots four times prior to that and likely would have won multiple DPoYs had the honor existed.

5) Bill Russell

Offense: MJ was obviously a greater scorer.

Defense: Russell was the greatest defensive player of all-time and his defense and rebounding transformed Boston from a good team into a dynasty. Russell instantly turned Boston into a championship team and they won 11 titles in his 13 seasons. I don't know how you can conclude that MJ's offensive advantage outweighs Russell's defensive and rebounding advantages. I mean, how can you even measure that? They played different positions in different eras.

6) Jerry West

Offense: Did you ever even see West play? What are you talking about when you say that MJ had a better midrange game? West may be the greatest jump shooter of all-time. I don't think you'd want to see a jump shooting contest between the two of them with West in his prime. Also, West led the NBA in scoring and assists (in different seasons). West had a complete offensive game with no weaknesses.

Defense: Your commentary here is even more off base. West is one of the greatest defensive guards of all-time. Contrary to your assertion, he made the All-Defensive Team every full season that he was eligible, even though that was at the back end of his career.

7) Wilt Chamberlain

Offense: Wilt was the most dominant scorer of all-time, period. He still holds the single season and single game scoring marks, neither of which will be broken any time soon. In his first seven seasons he averaged more than 38 ppg, better than MJ's best single season average. Wilt's scoring only slowed down because he decided to shoot less and pass more--and then he led the NBA in assists.

Your thinking about the minutes is faulty. Wilt played the whole game, so his team never had to replace him with a weaker player--and since he retired as the all-time scoring and rebounding average leader, he was not coasting. When MJ and other players sat out, lesser players were on the court in their places. Also, if MJ had played 48 mpg he would not have averaged 50 ppg--he would have gotten hurt, because no one other than Wilt had the strength and stamina to do that.

Defense: Contemporary accounts suggest that Russell and Wilt often blocked 10 shots per game. The impact of a great defensive center is going to be more significant than that of a great defensive guard. Wilt, Russell and Kareem impacted the entire opposing team in a way that MJ could not.

Perhaps MJ is the greatest player of all-time but you cannot "prove" this with straw man arguments. Your comments--particularly about West--indicate that you are not really that familiar with how these players played. You can't just read numbers out of a book and rank players that way.

At Wednesday, July 23, 2008 8:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

i never seen west i never seen magic and bird only on old games and highlights clearly those guys were great but none of them all when you combine winning and skill set scoreing defense etc was better than mike

i know west was better jumpshooter than mike mike had more moves and could score in more ways and moves were alot better than west robertson magic and bird all of them were unathletic all west and robertson did was dribble around conventially back the guy down and take a shot i never seen them dunk or make a reverse layup? or anything like that they would have a hard time in todays game because it is alot more athletic magic and dare i say bird was more athletic than them.

rebs assists histroically are big and smalls you expect karrem wilt and rusell to grab more boards robertson and magic to have more asisits bird dr j more boards as well. every position youre suppposed to be dominant in scoreing or could be dominant in scoreing why i use scoreing alot.

defensive team when you are a great defender you are recognized by all defensive team rodaman dumars etc bowen etc i understand that it didnt come into 69. perhaps west was better defensive player than i thought was he better than mj no nor was robertson or magic and bird as you said. karrem and wilt and rusell defense is diffrent for a center than guard my point was for his position he was just as good in d as they was he cant have more impact than them because he is smaller than them like he cant rebound more than them or they arent going to get more asists than he is.

mj is to me the greatest because he was great all around had no wekanesses won more than those players and had less around him than everyone in the pantheon and he misssed 3 prime years as well he would of widended it even more.

At Wednesday, July 23, 2008 8:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

i agree with you on that vednam shaq was superior to rusell at his peak problem was rusell peak was longer and he had better work ethic and was more in shape than the big fella. he beat mike in 95 even though mike missed a year and a half off if mike never left bulls would of won 8 straight rings.

At Wednesday, July 23, 2008 8:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


right ai didnt have great impact on his team? i know dr J and isiah had great impact on there team i didnt question that, there teams did better than ai because those teams were BETTER and had multiple hofamers not becasue anything ai couldnt do.

Ai drag a weak team to final dr J and isiah never had a team that weak in finals thats a weak argument to say they took teams farther than Ai when those teams were way better than any he played on plus laary brown is unreliable and moves at drop of hat i havent heard any other coach but larry say Ai was tough to work with and isiah and AI lead league in steals 4 times he is small so bigger guys can post him up they could do it on isiah as well ai plays aginst smaller guys anyway it's not like they put him on 6ft 7 guys and they post him up.

I went back and looked nuthing changed they were 34-31 before mike came back 13-4 after mike came they wouldnt of made playoffs without him reality had set in that they was really a 500 team without him.

i used allen and gasol to show teams overacheive i never said they were better than pippen i dont know where you got that from. but that shows that that team overchived as i put it gasol and allen led 50 win teams too.

pippen could not and would never lead a team to a championship he couldnt win without mike the wizards won 19 games the next year mj came back they won 39 and he was 39 he could win without pippen just the teams around him in is first couple years werent good enough and by the way jordan basically did in 87-88 pippen came off the bench he wasnt in the starting lineup and the bulls won 50 games. pippen was on the team but barely he was barely the 6th man that year he was not a big contributor than or anywhere close to it. so te notion jordan couldnt win without pippen is laugable.

At Thursday, July 24, 2008 3:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are not giving the older players nearly enough credit and you are showing that you are not at all familiar with their skill sets and abilities. To cite just two examples:

(1) Elgin Baylor was the father of hang time and he was renowned for his ability to soar to the hoop and dunk over people.

(2) Contrary to what you wrote, at 6-3 Jerry West could easily dunk two handed. I don't know how frequently he did this but I have seen pictures of him doing so in NBA games. West was an outstanding athlete. If he were playing today it would be neck and neck between he and Kobe for best all-around player in the game honors (with LeBron behind them until he improves his jumper).

Just like MJ, West blocked a lot of shots for a guard. He would sneak behind the big men and get blocks, just like MJ used to do to Patrick Ewing and others. West made the All-Defensive Team in every full season for which he was eligible and if selections had been made throughout his career then he likely would have surpassed MJ's total (MJ only leads West 9-5 and West played eight seasons before the creation of the All-Defensive Team).

You are wrong if you think that the 60s Pantheon players would struggle in today's game. The truth, in fact, is the opposite; the players of today who rely on athletic ability more than basketball skill would struggle against guys like West, Robertson and Baylor who had athletic ability and basketball skill (obviously, I'm not talking about guys like Kobe, LeBron, Paul and the other All-NBA players but some of today's "stars" who aren't really stars who you apparently think could outplay the game's all-time greats).

One thing that you need to keep in mind about the players from the 60s and 70s is that only a tiny amount of footage from that era has been preserved and much of it comes from the latter portion of West, Robertson and Chamberlain's careers.

If you are trying to make the case that MJ is the greatest scorer of all-time that is different than saying that he is the greatest player. Greatest scorer of all-time probably comes down to Kareem (longevity), MJ (versatility) and Wilt (sheer dominance). Guys like West, Baylor, Rick Barry and George Gervin deserve mention as well.

MJ is a very good candidate for greatest player of all-time but you should open your mind to the fact that there are some other candidates as well and that this issue is not cut and dried.

At Thursday, July 24, 2008 4:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


How many HoFers were on the two Nets' teams that Dr. J led to ABA titles? How many HoFers were on the first three Sixers' teams that he led to the NBA Finals? Why can't Iverson get Denver out of the first round despite having an All-Star sf, the Defensive Player of the Year, a Sixth Man Award candidate and a coach who has taken a team to the NBA Finals?

I love watching Iverson and I think that he is an amazing athlete but he simply is not as good as the Pantheon players. Also, as I explained more than once, my Pantheon consists of RETIRED PLAYERS. That said, I would not rate Iverson above Duncan, Shaq, Kobe and LeBron, the four active players who I consider to be most Pantheon-worthy.

For his career, Iverson attempts 22.6 field goals per game but he shoots just .426 from the field, including .314 from three point range. Iverson has attempted nearly four three pointers per game, which is a high number considering his percentage.

When Erving and Isiah played, the three point shot was not used that frequently--it was not even part of the game for three of Erving's seasons. Most of Erving's NBA three pointers were end of quarter, half court heaves--but when the shot was a regular part of his repertoire in the ABA he ranked fifth (1975) and sixth (1976) in three point field goal percentage. More significantly, he shot .506 from the field on his 18.8 FGA/game, which is far more efficient that Iverson.

Isiah was not a great three point shooter but he only attempted 1.4 threes per game during his career and in the playoffs he shot a robust .346 from three point range. Isiah's career field goal percentage was .452, much better than Iverson's.

Erving and Isiah were more efficient scorers than Iverson and they did not monopolize the ball.

If you think that Brown is the only coach who had problems with Iverson then you were not paying attention when Chris Ford, Randy Ayers, Jim O'Brien and Maurice Cheeks coached the Sixers. Iverson is a difficult player to coach because he monopolizes the ball, is a defensive liability at times due to his gambling for steals and because his practice habits are questionable.

Go back and try your 1995 math one more time. Figure out what winning percentage 34-31 is and check out the winning percentage of the teams that made the playoffs. Also, as I noted previously, the Bulls won six of seven games before MJ came back; they were finally healthy and starting to play the way that they did the previous year.

The 1994 Bulls did not "overachieve." Pippen had an MVP-caliber season and carried the team. He finished third in the MVP voting that year. Allen and Gasol have never been serious MVP candidates, so again I must question why you even brought their names up. Pip is one of the 50 greatest players of all-time; Allen is a future Hall of Famer but not close to being a Top 50 player and Gasol is a one-time All-Star.

Pip could lead a championship caliber team to a championship. He could not lead a non-championship caliber team to a championship but neither can anyone else. MJ won championships playing with Pip--a Top 50 player--plus a top power forward (Grant, then Rodman) and a cast of excellent role players. The Bulls also had a HoF coach.

A great player is typically worth 15 wins, so it is not surprising that the Wiz were better with MJ.

Pip's role increased throughout the '88 season and in the playoffs he averaged 29.4 mpg and was a key contributor offensively and defensively. He became a starter and made several key plays during the first round series victory over Cleveland. The Bulls would not have won that series without his contributions. Coach Phil Jackson noted several times during Pip's career that numbers alone did not show Pip's value. You may recall one playoff game versus Indiana when Pip only scored four points but he defended Indy pg Mark Jackson and completely disrupted Indy's offense.

Pip was a great player and MJ never won a playoff series without having Pip by his side.

At Saturday, January 23, 2010 12:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



No disrespect DOC, but the newer guys are faster, smarter and more skilled. I know the history of the all time greats, and I don't believe they were better than the current guys. Evolution and skill
sets are totally different. Can you imagine Hawk trying to be as consistent as Bird shooting three's, West trying to guard Kobe, Oscar trying to rebound against the six I've picked or guarding 6'9 Magic. What about Wilt and Kareem, that may be a wash or Wilt may win, however, Jordan is gonna clean Baylors clock. P.S. As good as Russel may have been he is not gonna have the refs of the Boston Era to help him with DUNCAN ;-) Come on folks, much love to the old greats, but lets move over for the new. Anyone try's to argue KOBE off this thing is nuts. I've watched highlights of the cat all the way from Highschool and he gave everybody the BUSINESS. P.S. Who expects him to outjump LeBron right now, thats like telling Jordan to outjump Kobe when Jordan started to lose his legs a little.

At Tuesday, July 09, 2013 4:07:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Idiot. Just because there "old" doe's not mean they can't be better than todays players, bill russell did not have preferential treatment, it was the 60's you know the decade filled with racism? Elgin would take jordan back to school in his prime, jordan never had a rival, an equal so to say had kobe played from 85-02 or lebron I would consider jordan g.o.a.t but fact of the matter is no shooting guard in the 90's was as good as kobe lebron west baylor robertson dr.j so on so forth, jordan is a definite g.o.a.t contender my imo he doesn't make top 5, competition wise he had it made no one guarded him you got 3 inches near him and it was a foul you should see some elgin baylor footage that guy could finish invented the euro step dunkin with style before people added style to dunks he is the originator and wilt is the g.o.a.t no comparison imo my top 5 would be 1.Wilt 2.Elgin 3.West/Robertson (they're were equals) 4.Russell 5.Magic/Bird (equals) im sure i make some people cringe with that list but i know of people who agree (Can't decide whether to put jordan or kareem at 6.)

At Saturday, November 15, 2014 4:07:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doctor J is the best basketball player ever. Sometimes statistics are just rubbish.1 ring in Philadelphia is more difficult than 5-6 in Boston or Los Angeles.

At Tuesday, December 23, 2014 2:31:00 PM, Anonymous rick said...

Okay, first of all there are too many of you that go by hype. Every generation says the player or players in THEIR generation are the greatest ever. I am an old man and back in the day of the early 60's, jerry west , bill russel, wilt , elgin and of course oscar were the greatest. Then later it was lew alcindor, then all of a sudden , its Dr. J. and so on and so on. by stats, you would have to say Wilt chamberlain is the best player ever ! But if you are going to assemble the best ever, than lets doit ! chamberlain at center. bill russel at power forward. Larry bird at small forward, oscar robertson at point guard and jerry west at shooting guard. Why jerry over michael jordan ? because if you look, their individual stats are very close . both had no weaknesses. and jerry west would had averaged more than his 27 points a game if there was three pointers at that time. a lot of his shots were from 3 point line , but they were only counted as 2 points back then. and jerry was a better team player than jordan any day of the week. So get off the hype, and look at the stats, will you ? championship rings do not count as much as you think. Steve kerr has a whole bunch of rings .


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