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Saturday, October 23, 2021

The NBA's 75th Anniversary Team

The NBA's 75th Anniversary Team was selected from scratch, meaning that players included on the 1996 NBA 50 Greatest Players List were not automatically guaranteed a spot on the new, expanded roster. The 75th Anniversary Team was initially promoted as having 75 members, but because of a tie during the voting process 76 players made the cut. The NBA made three separate announcements, releasing 25 names on Tuesday, 25 names on Wednesday, and 26 names on Thursday.

Here is the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team (players are listed in alphabetical order):

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  2. Ray Allen
  3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  4. Carmelo Anthony
  5. Nate Archibald
  6. Paul Arizin
  7. Charles Barkley
  8. Rick Barry
  9. Elgin Baylor
  10. Dave Bing
  11. Larry Bird
  12. Kobe Bryant
  13. Wilt Chamberlain
  14. Bob Cousy
  15. Dave Cowens
  16. Billy Cunningham
  17. Stephen Curry
  18. Anthony Davis
  19. Dave DeBusschere
  20. Clyde Drexler
  21. Tim Duncan
  22. Kevin Durant
  23. Julius Erving
  24. Patrick Ewing
  25. Walt Frazier
  26. Kevin Garnett
  27. George Gervin
  28. Hal Greer
  29. James Harden
  30. John Havlicek
  31. Elvin Hayes
  32. Allen Iverson
  33. LeBron James
  34. Magic Johnson
  35. Sam Jones
  36. Michael Jordan 
  37. Jason Kidd
  38. Kawhi Leonard
  39. Damian Lillard 
  40. Jerry Lucas 
  41. Karl Malone 
  42. Moses Malone 
  43. Pete Maravich 
  44. Bob McAdoo 
  45. Kevin McHale 
  46. George Mikan 
  47. Reggie Miller 
  48. Earl Monroe 
  49. Steve Nash 
  50. Dirk Nowitzki 
  51. Hakeem Olajuwon 
  52. Shaquille O'Neal 
  53. Robert Parish 
  54. Chris Paul 
  55. Gary Payton 
  56. Bob Pettit 
  57. Paul Pierce 
  58. Scottie Pippen 
  59. Willis Reed 
  60. Oscar Robertson 
  61. David Robinson 
  62. Dennis Rodman 
  63. Bill Russell 
  64. Dolph Schayes 
  65. Bill Sharman 
  66. John Stockton 
  67. Isiah Thomas 
  68. Nate Thurmond 
  69. Wes Unseld 
  70. Dwyane Wade 
  71. Bill Walton 
  72. Jerry West 
  73. Russell Westbrook 
  74. Lenny Wilkens 
  75. Dominique Wilkins 
  76. James Worthy

The 75th Anniversary Team includes each player from the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List, plus 19 players whose entire careers took place after the 50 Greatest Players List was announced in 1996. Of the remaining seven players, four established their Hall of Fame credentials prior to 1996, while three began their careers prior to 1996 but did not enter their primes until later. The overall composition of the team is reasonable, and does not reflect a bias for or against a particular era. 

I posted my NBA 50 Greatest Players List in March 2021, so there is no need to update or change those rankings (players are listed in alphabetical order, with an asterisk denoting each player who was not selected in 1996):

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo*
  3. Charles Barkley
  4. Rick Barry
  5. Elgin Baylor
  6. Larry Bird
  7. Kobe Bryant*
  8. Wilt Chamberlain
  9. Bob Cousy 
  10. Dave Cowens
  11. Billy Cunningham
  12. Stephen Curry*
  13. Clyde Drexler
  14. Tim Duncan*
  15. Kevin Durant*
  16. Julius Erving
  17. Patrick Ewing
  18. Walt Frazier
  19. Kevin Garnett*
  20. George Gervin
  21. John Havlicek
  22. Elvin Hayes
  23. Dwight Howard*
  24. Allen Iverson*
  25. LeBron James*
  26. Magic Johnson
  27. Michael Jordan
  28. Jason Kidd*
  29. Kawhi Leonard*
  30. Karl Malone
  31. Moses Malone
  32. Pete Maravich
  33. Bob McAdoo*
  34. Kevin McHale
  35. George Mikan
  36. Dirk Nowitzki*
  37. Hakeem Olajuwon
  38. Shaquille O’Neal
  39. Bob Pettit
  40. Scottie Pippen
  41. Willis Reed
  42. Oscar Robertson
  43. David Robinson
  44. Bill Russell
  45. Dolph Schayes
  46. John Stockton
  47. Isiah Thomas
  48. Dwyane Wade*
  49. Jerry West
  50. Russell Westbrook*

My NBA 50 Greatest Players List added 15 players who were not on the official 1996 list (listed in alphabetical order): Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Kawhi Leonard, Bob McAdoo, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, and Russell Westbrook. McAdoo is the only player who was retired prior to the selection of the 1996 list but did not make the cut at that time who I retroactively added; the other 14 players competed after the 1996 list was compiled (Kidd began his career in 1994, but established himself as a Hall of Famer after 1996). Here are the 15 players from the official 1996 list who I did not include on my 2021 list (listed in alphabetical order): Nate Archibald, Paul Arizin, Dave Bing, Dave DeBusschere, Hal Greer, Sam Jones, Jerry Lucas, Earl Monroe, Robert Parish, Bill Sharman, Nate Thurmond, Wes Unseld, Bill Walton, Lenny Wilkens, and James Worthy.

Expanding the list from 50 players to 76 should not just involve adding 26 players who played after 1996; some of the players from prior eras who are no longer in the top 50 still deserve consideration for the top 76.

Here are the 26 players who I would add to my 50 Greatest Players List (in alphabetical order), followed by some comments and analysis about the differences between my 75th Anniversary Team and the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team (an asterisk indicates that the player was on the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List, but was not included on my 50 Greatest Players List):

  1. Nate Archibald*
  2. Paul Arizin*
  3. Dave Bing*
  4. Chris Bosh
  5. Adrian Dantley
  6. Dave DeBusschere*
  7. Alex English
  8. Artis Gilmore
  9. Hal Greer*
  10. Sam Jones*
  11. Bernard King
  12. Jerry Lucas*
  13. Tracy McGrady
  14. Earl Monroe*
  15. Steve Nash
  16. Robert Parish*
  17. Chris Paul
  18. Gary Payton
  19. Paul Pierce
  20. Bill Sharman*
  21. Nate Thurmond*
  22. Wes Unseld*
  23. Bill Walton*
  24. Lenny Wilkens*
  25. Dominique Wilkins
  26. James Worthy*

Thus, my list of players ranked 51-76 all-time includes all 15 players who made the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List but did not make the 50 Greatest Players List that I published a few months ago. My list of players 51-76 includes six players who were eligible in 1996 but not selected to the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List (Adrian Dantley, Alex English, Artis Gilmore, Bernard King, Gary Payton, and Dominique Wilkins); that does not mean that I think that those players were "snubbed" in 1996, but rather that I think that they rank among the 76 greatest NBA players of all-time as of 2021. My list of players 51-76 includes five post-1996 players: Chris Bosh, Tracy McGrady, Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Paul Pierce. As noted above, my current 50 Greatest Players List includes 14 post-1996 players, which means that my 75 Greatest Players List includes 19 post-1996 players--matching the number of such players on the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team, though the 19 post-1996 players who I selected are not the same 19 who appear on the NBA's list.

Before analyzing and comparing my list with the NBA's list, it must be emphasized that every player who is discussed in this article is a highly accomplished athlete and basketball player. Only 437 players have made the NBA All-Star team at least once, and there are 71 additional players who made the ABA All-Star team at least once but were never selected as an NBA All-Star. There have been fewer than 4400 players who played in at least one NBA game (I have yet to find a list of the exact number of ABA players), so ranking among the top 450-500 pro basketball players of all-time is a significant accomplishment: an All-Star is a player who is among the top 10% of players all-time, and the players who merit serious top 75 consideration are players who earned multiple All-Star selections (plus other honors).

Therefore, when I explain why a player should not be listed in the top 76, that is not meant in any way to diminish what that player accomplished. 

Further, player rankings are more subjective than most people are willing to admit, particularly after "stat gurus" keep insisting that they can rank every player with absolute accuracy to the tenth of a rating point (notice that when a "stat guru" posts player rankings you never see a standard deviation or a margin for error; we are supposed to assume that these human-created fantasy numbers are every bit as real, accurate, and precise as the score of a real game). Informed observers may generally agree about who the top 15-20 players are, even if they may rank those players differently within that group. The differences between many of the players in the next group of 60-70 are not huge, and are difficult to quantify: how can one definitively compare a shooting guard whose prime was in the late 1950s with a small forward whose prime was in the early 2000s? Ultimately, there is a lot of subjectivity involved in terms of how much weight is ascribed to various factors including but not limited to dominating one's era, longevity, rules changes, and championships won.

As I said about my 50 Greatest Players List, I put a lot of thought into this project and I was as objective as I could be, but I understand that someone else could thoughtfully and objectively disagree with my selections. There are not objectively correct answers to some of these questions, although there are some objectively wrong answers!

The NBA's 75th Anniversary Team includes seven players who I did not include on my 75th Anniversary Team: Ray Allen, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Reggie Miller, and Dennis Rodman

My list included the following players who are not included on the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team: Chris Bosh, Adrian Dantley, Alex English, Artis Gilmore, Dwight Howard, Bernard King, and Tracy McGrady.

I cannot say that the official list is terrible when I agree with 69 out of the 76 selections, but I will say that a few of the official selections that I disagree with were not even on my short list for consideration while one of the omitted players--Dwight Howard--is not only in my top 76 but he is in my top 50.  

First I will discuss the seven players who are on the official list who I did not select, then I will discuss the seven players who I selected who did not make the cut, and I will conclude by mentioning several players who deserve consideration but are not on the official list or my list.

Ray Allen is a high character person. I have tremendous respect for him. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have the opportunity to see him play in person on many occasions. His discipline and work ethic set a great example. His conditioning was fantastic: anyone who saw him up close in person knows that Allen has calves that look like they were sculpted out of marble. Allen is on the short list of greatest shooters of all-time, and during his early seasons he was also an explosive dunker. He was an essential member of Boston's 2008 championship team, and he hit arguably the biggest shot in NBA Finals history to help Miami survive game six of the 2013 Finals en route to winning that series in seven games.

However, Allen was never an MVP candidate, he never made the All-NBA First Team, and he only made the All-NBA Second Team once. He was a perennial All-Star, he was the third best player on a dominant championship team, and he was a key role player on another championship team. That is a great Hall of Fame resume, but it is not the resume of a top 76 player. It is not practical to compare Allen with every player on my list, but consider, for example, Tracy McGrady, an underrated player who played the same position during the same era. McGrady is bigger, more athletic, a better passer, a better rebounder, a better defender, and a more versatile scorer. McGrady finished in the top four in MVP voting twice, and he finished in the top eight six times overall. He made the All-NBA First Team twice, and he won two scoring titles.

The only category in which Allen beats McGrady is shooting. It appears that the official voters placed a higher value on outside shooting than I do, and this probably explains why they chose Allen, Harden, Lillard, and Miller over some of the better and more impactful all-around players who I chose.

I understand why Carmelo Anthony was selected. He ranks 12th on the ABA/NBA career scoring list, he made the All-NBA Team six times (but never on the First Team), and he finished third in MVP voting after winning his only scoring title in 2013. A complete and accurate assessment of Anthony's legacy looks beyond those numbers and accolades. Here is what I wrote about Anthony three years ago after the Rockets parted ways with him

Carmelo Anthony has demonstrated throughout his NBA career that he is a poor leader--he has enjoyed his best individual and team success when paired with one or more stronger personalities who ran the locker room--and that he has a limited skill set: at his best, he was a very potent one on one scorer from certain areas of the court, but he has always been a poor defender, a reluctant passer and an inconsistent rebounder who is more interested in offensive rebounding than defensive rebounding. None of the above factors suggests that Anthony in his prime could be the best player on an NBA championship team, and those issues have been compounded in recent seasons by the undeniable fact that Anthony retains unrealistic beliefs about his current capabilities even as his one dimensional skill set displays continuous, significant decline.

The above paragraph is what an "old school" scouting report summary of Anthony's game would look like. In my 2018-19 Western Conference Preview, I wrote, "Anthony has a career-long pattern of rarely advancing very far in the playoffs; he is a shoot-first (and second and third) player whose efficiency is declining and whose willingness/ability to contribute in other areas decreases each year. Even if they had stood pat, the Rockets would probably not have won 65 games again; that was an aberration and they are due to regress to the mean. Adding Anthony, though, will probably subtract about 10 wins, while also making this team a less potent playoff force."

What about Anthony supposedly reviving his career in Portland? Indeed, what about that? Here is my take on Anthony's second act:

Many commentators have expressed confusion--if not outrage--that Anthony was out of the NBA for over a year. There is nothing confusing or outrageous about what happened. At this stage of his career, Anthony is an inefficient, one dimensional player who does not draw double teams and does not provide much value other than scoring. He cannot be a starter or top scoring option on any team hoping to make a deep playoff run--but, Anthony initially scoffed at the notion that he should now be a bench player with a reduced role. In contrast, Vince Carter accepted such a role reduction gracefully, and he left the NBA on his terms after playing a record 22 seasons.

Anthony's absence from the NBA and his subsequent return are easily understood by anyone who objectively examines his declining skills, the role best suited to those skills, and his initial reluctance to accept that role.

Many media members who have had direct interactions with Anthony say positive things about him. That may explain why so many media members spoke up on Anthony's behalf when he was not in the league, and why they continue to speak up on his behalf now--but personal sentiment (whether positive or negative) should not play a role in player evaluation.

The media's adoration for Carmelo Anthony is the main reason that I am not surprised that he is on the 75th Anniversary Team. Anthony will be selected as a Hall of Famer based not only on his NBA productivity but also based on leading Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA title and winning three Olympic gold medals (his Hall of Fame highlight reel will omit his role for Team USA's bronze medal winning squad in 2004). I considered him for top 76 honors but his limited all-around skill set, his poor leadership, and his inability--despite his considerable talent--to establish himself as an elite player during his prime made it easy for me to leave him off of my list.

Anthony Davis' selection surprised me. He was not one of my final cuts for the top 76 (though he does rank somewhere in the top 100), nor did I think that he had cultivated the level of media adulation that Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, and Damian Lillard have. Honestly, after his name popped up on the list, I had to pause for a moment to figure out why Davis made the cut. For most of his career, he has justifiably been known as a highly talented player who is injury prone, who seems reluctant to play through the kinds of nagging injuries that do not sideline all-time greats, and whose numbers do not seem to have much impact on winning. Davis played very well as the second best player for the Lakers' 2020 championship team, but he regressed last season and, frankly, he has seem disinterested in playing hard ever since the Lakers won the title. Is Davis the 2020s version of Pau Gasol? Davis is more talented and accomplished than Gasol, but the similarity is that Gasol was not on a Hall of Fame trajectory prior to joining the Lakers and he lacked the ability to lead a team to a title--but being the second option behind Kobe Bryant as Bryant pushed and prodded him to be aggressive helped elevate Gasol to Hall of Fame status. James has had a similar impact on Davis' career--but should winning one title alongside James be enough to lift Davis into the top 76 all-time? 

Davis' career numbers are gaudy: 23.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, six straight seasons averaging at least 20 ppg and at least 10 rpg. However, most of that productivity took place while playing in New Orleans for teams that were not championship contenders, and those statistics have a "looter in a riot" feel to them: TNT's Kenny Smith often says that players who put up big numbers for mediocre teams are like looters in a riot, obtaining things that they could not obtain under normal circumstances (to be clear, he has not applied this tag to Davis). 

I cannot say that it is crazy to put Davis on the 75th Anniversary Team, but I am comfortable with my decision to leave him out. 

When the 50 Greatest Players List was selected in 1996, it was reasonable to suggest that every player who had won a regular season MVP should make the cut. Bob McAdoo was the only MVP who was not chosen, and he should have been selected. However, MVP voting started to go off the rails around the time that the media voters determined that it was supposedly boring to keep giving the honor to Michael Jordan, and the voting completely went off of the rails in the 2000s when Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant--two members of my pro basketball Pantheon--won just one regular season MVP each. The general quality of journalism has significantly declined during the past several decades, so it is not surprising that people who struggle to write well also struggle to make good decisions regarding MVP voting: if you cannot think clearly then you will not be able to write clearly.

That is a perfect segue to James Harden, who has been so overrated for so long that to objectively evaluate his career you have to throw out MVP voting/All-NBA voting and just focus on skill set, mindset and team results. His statistics are skewed to a greater extent than any other multiple-time All-Star. How does one objectively evaluate a player who scores more than 30 ppg by flopping, shooting almost no midrange shots, and relying heavily on a three point stroke that consistently fails him (and his team) during the playoffs? If you just rank Harden based on MVP votes, All-NBA votes, and per game numbers then he would rank ahead of many players who are not just better than he is but are vastly superior. It is surprising that even commentators who should know better have succumbed to the Harden hype. Harden is an All-Star level player. He is more durable and physically stronger than I realized/projected early in his career--but his impact on team success, and the value of his skill set compared to the value of the skill set of legit MVP candidates, are vastly different from how they are commonly portrayed.

I would take Damian Lillard over Carmelo Anthony and James Harden just because Lillard has a much better mindset. Lillard displays great leadership qualities and--at least up to this point in his career--he has not demanded a trade so that he can create or be a part of a so-called "Super Team." Here is what I wrote about Lillard after his Portland Trail Blazers lost to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2021 playoffs:

I respect Lillard's work ethic, his skill set, and his mentality of trying to win in Portland as opposed to going somewhere else to form a "super team." It is not disrespectful to Lillard to state the truth: an undersized player is not going to lead a team to an NBA title, especially when that undersized player relies on long jumpers for a team that is subpar defensively and cannot survive high variance shooting. Even if Lillard can make 40% of his "logo shots"--and he clearly cannot do that late in a series when he is worn down--that would still mean that 60% of the possessions during which he shoots those shots are empty possessions (not including a few offensive rebounds or defensive fouls). A poor defensive team cannot survive that many empty possessions.

The reason that I do not rank Lillard among the 76 greatest players of all-time is simple: TDS (too darn small). My top 76 list includes six players who are 6-1 or under: Nate Archibald, Bob Cousy, Allen Iverson, Chris Paul, John Stockton, and Isiah Thomas. 

Archibald is the only player to lead the NBA in scoring and assists in the same season, and he was the starting point guard for Boston's 1981 championship team. 

Bob Cousy won six championships, led the league in assists eight straight times, and won the 1957 regular season MVP after ranking first in assists and eighth in scoring. Cousy led the NBA in triple doubles four straight seasons (and five times overall) during an era when that statistic was not even tracked or thought about, and he still ranks 12th in NBA history with 33 career triple doubles (one more than Rajon Rondo, two more than John Havlicek, three more than Draymond Green, and five more than Michael Jordan, to name just a few familiar names who are behind Cousy on that list). Cousy was very much ahead of his time: he was an elite passer and ballhandler who was also a big time scorer who finished in the top three in scoring for four straight seasons. 

Allen Iverson won the 2001 regular season MVP (Shaquille O'Neal should have won the award that season, but Iverson did play at an MVP level) and he led the 76ers to the 2001 NBA Finals. Iverson was an explosive scorer whose stamina and durability are underrated; he led the NBA in mpg seven times (second all-time behind only Wilt Chamberlain's nine times as the mpg leader), and he ranks fourth on the career mpg list behind only Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Oscar Robertson. Pound for pound, Iverson is the greatest athlete I have ever watched in person (not the greatest basketball player, but the greatest athlete: what he could do in terms of speed, agility, toughness, jumping ability, and strength at his size is unparalleled). 

Chris Paul had an extended run as the best point guard in the NBA, and he played a major role in Phoenix reaching the 2021 NBA Finals. 

John Stockton set a career assists record that likely will never be broken, he was incredibly durable, he was elite at both ends of the court, and he was the starting point guard for two Utah teams that reached the NBA Finals (1997, 1998).  

Isiah Thomas led the Detroit Pistons to two NBA titles, he won the 1990 Finals MVP, and for most of the 1980s he was the second best point guard in the NBA behind 6-9 Pantheon member Magic Johnson.

Damian Lillard is a wonderful player, but his skill set and accomplishments place him below those six players, and outside of the top 76 players of all-time.

While we are talking about small point guards, it must be said that the people who suggest that Cousy could not play in today's game are--and there is no polite way to put this--speaking foolishly (I am trying to avoid labeling people, and instead just labeling their behavior). I think that there is more than a little reverse racism that rears its ugly head when assessing Cousy, and I also think that far too many people who speak about him have little to no knowledge of NBA history. Amin Elhassan--who does a solid job of analyzing current NBA players--has made it a running gag during his Sirius XM NBA Radio appearances to mock Cousy's career field goal percentage (.375) and suggest that Cousy is vastly overrated. Cousy's career free throw percentage is .803, so we can dismiss the notion that he was a bad shooter. By the way, the league's free throw shooting percentage during Cousy's career was .734, and in the middle to latter portion of his career it was right around .750, which is comparable to the league's free throw shooting percentage now. Put young Cousy in a shooting contest with today's NBA players and I think that the results would surprise many people. Back to Cousy's field goal percentage: Did Cousy have horrible shot selection and/or was he incapable of scoring when closely guarded? 

The NBA's average field goal percentage during Cousy's career was .391, so a .375 field goal percentage was not terrible at that time. Why were field goal percentages so low during that era? Keep in mind that during basketball's early days players were called "cagers" because the courts were surrounded by wire cages to keep the players inside and the fans outside. Yes, the cages were gone by the time Cousy played in the NBA, but that rough and wild mentality still pervaded the league. The game was much more physical than today's game. Yes, the players were smaller, but not by as much as you may think, and if a 6-4, 220 dude elbows you in the face it is going to hurt a lot and it may dissuade you from driving to the hoop (and may affect your field goal percentage not only after you have been hit but also prior to that because you are keeping your head on a swivel to avoid being hit). The early NBA arenas had worse lighting, worse playing surfaces, worse temperature control, and just worse conditions in general than NBA arenas today. Also, it is my understanding--but I cannot find the archival articles to confirm this--that during some of the NBA's earliest seasons a missed field goal attempt when a player was fouled was counted in the statistics, which would obviously have a negative effect on a player's field goal percentage, and that effect would be more pronounced for a player like Cousy who drew a lot of fouls (now, when a player is fouled while shooting the attempt only counts if the player makes the field goal attempt). Also, NBA half court sets and strategies had to evolve after the 24 second shot clock was introduced. 

During Cousy's era, players traveled by train, not private airplanes, and the scheduling was brutal. Cousy's physical attributes--6-1, 180, wiry strong, exceptional peripheral vision/ballhandling--are no worse than John Stockton's or Chris Paul's. Put Cousy in today's game, and he would have a field day playing under modern conditions with defensive players not being allowed to touch him. Put Stockton or Paul in the 1950s, and their numbers would not have been any better than Cousy's. 

Another difference between the 1950s and subsequent eras is that as time passed a greater focus developed on individual statistics and efficiency. Modern players hesitate to shoot long shots at the end of the shot clock or end of the quarter because such shots hurt their field goal percentages. Shane Battier talked about this in the highly publicized interview that he did about so-called "advanced basketball statistics" many years ago. He was dubbed the ultimate team player because he did not care about his individual numbers, but even he admitted that he declined to take shots at the end of the shot clock or end of the quarter that could only help the team but might hurt his individual field goal percentage. 

Red Auerbach is rightly considered one of the greatest coaches of all-time, if not the greatest, and he led the Celtics to nine NBA titles. If he thought that Cousy's shot selection was hurting the team you can be sure that Auerbach would have done something about it.

Comparisons between eras are fraught with peril and should be done with great care and thoroughness. The ignorant way that Elhassan (and his co-host Zach Harper, whose qualifications to be on the show remain a mystery to me) mocks Cousy is disgraceful. Based on listening to other segments of the show, I realize that Elhassan understands how to analyze basketball players that he has seen, so I wish that he would restrict his commentary/analysis to what he understands, and leave the historical comparisons to those who are better informed.

Regarding Lillard, he has not had the impact on his team, the league, or the sport of basketball that Archibald, Cousy, Iverson, Paul, Stockton, and Thomas did. Put it a different way: line up Lillard in his prime next to Chris Bosh, Adrian Dantley, Alex English, Artis Gilmore, Dwight Howard, Bernard King, and Tracy McGrady (the seven players who I selected in my top 76 but who the voters left off) in their primes. Would any informed and unbiased basketball talent evaluator take the 6-0 Lillard over any of those guys?

Reggie Miller hit some of the most iconic and oft-replayed shots of the past 30 years or so--and those replays are a big part of why he was selected. Miller is one of the best shooters in NBA history, but he was not exceptional in any other major skill set areas such as ballhandling, passing, rebounding, and defense. I saw Miller play in person many times, and I often arrived early to watch his pregame shooting routine. He always started close to the hoop and then worked his way back. He shot from every key area of the court. Miller was disciplined, focused, and meticulous. He squeezed every ounce out of his talent. I respect that. However, there is a reason that Miller looked so surprised during his TNT appearance last week when the studio crew told him that he had been selected to the 75th Anniversary Team: he knows that he does not belong on the list, as I discussed in my series of articles about the NBA's 50 Greatest Players:

In a 1998 interview, Miller told Dan Patrick that there were only a few great players in the NBA, including Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Grant Hill and Shaquille O'Neal on that list. Miller included himself among some "very good" players who are in a separate category underneath the great players. Patrick asked Miller why he was not great and Miller replied that he did not have the same athletic gifts and that he worked very hard just to establish himself as a very good player. That is a more objective assessment of Miller's ranking than one generally sees in the media. Miller was a great shooter, he was very durable--remarkably so, considering his slight frame--and he had some memorable playoff moments but there is no way he should be seriously considered for listing among the top 50 players of all-time.

The interesting but seldom noted thing about Miller's famous clutch shots is that many of them happened in playoff series that his team eventually lost. Miller's career record in playoff series is 14-15, and that includes a 3-2 mark in his final two seasons when he was a role player and no longer the best player on the team. We so often see the image of Miller flashing the choke sign to Spike Lee, but Miller's Pacers went 3-3 in playoff series versus the New York Knicks, including 1-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Miller's Pacers went 1-5 overall in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Miller extracted the most from his talent and he is a Hall of Fame player, but he is not a top 76 player of all-time.

Dennis Rodman was a tremendous rebounder and defensive player. He was not a prolific scorer or shooter, but he understood how to set screens, pass to the open man, and function effectively on offense (and his incredible offensive rebounding provided great value and prevented teams from ignoring him completely at that end of the court). However, Rodman was not an MVP level player and he is not one of the 75 greatest players of all-time.

Think about it this way: remove Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen from the roster of Chicago's 1996-98 championship teams, and replace them with an average shooting guard and an average small forward. How good would those teams be with Rodman as the best player? I would argue that under those circumstances the Bulls would struggle to make the playoffs. Now do the reverse thought experiment: remove Rodman from those teams, and replace him with an average power forward. I would argue that under those circumstances the Bulls would still be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, and would be a threat to any team in the league in a seven game playoff series. Rodman was no doubt a very important member of those championship teams, but he was the third best player on those teams. Similarly, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars were the two best players on Detroit's back to back championship teams. It would be a stretch to say that Rodman was even the third best player on those Detroit teams; at that stage of his career, he was often platooning with former All-Star Mark Aguirre, with Coach Chuck Daly inserting Aguirre for offense and then inserting Rodman for defense/rebounding.

Turning our attention to the seven players who I selected who are not on the 75th Anniversary Team, Chris Bosh is an underrated player who is often mocked by ignorant fans and even some media members. Intelligent players who are not flashy and not self-promoters are too often not appreciated or understood. Bosh had a complete skill set: he could score inside or outside, he rebounded well, he could defend his matchup while also being an effective team defender, he was a good passer, and he was a good ballhandler. For several years, he was the best player on a Toronto team that was not good enough to contend for a championship, and then he shifted seamlessly to the third option role as Miami advanced to four straight NBA Finals while winning back to back titles in 2012-13. 

Adrian Dantley seems destined to be underrated and underappreciated. He was not selected to the 50 Greatest Players List in 1996, and even with the addition of 26 more roster spots he did not make the cut for the 75th Anniversary Team. He also waited a decade to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. The lack of respect for Dantley is mystifying. His numbers speak for themselves (23,177 points, 24.3 ppg, .540 career field goal percentage), but Dantley also had a tremendous and versatile skill set. His step back move was poetry in motion, and he executed it without traveling. There is no way that I would rank James Harden over Dantley as a scorer or all-around player.

Alex English played a different style than Dantley did, but English is from the same era and he is similarly underrated. I interviewed English over 15 years ago, and I titled my profile of him Alex English: A True Basketball Artist. He was the NBA's leading scorer for the 1980s decade, and he played at least 80 games for 10 straight seasons. English was durable, productive, and efficient. English scored 25,613 points during his career, the third highest total among players who were not selected to the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List behind only Dominique Wilkins (who is on the 75th Anniversary Team) and Dan Issel. English was a good rebounder and passer who thrived in Denver's fast-paced, record-setting offense. If he played today, he would no doubt add the three point shot to his repertoire, and he would easily score 30-35 ppg. 

Perhaps Dantley, English, and Bernard King (see below) get lost in the shuffle because some of their prime years overlapped with the prime years of Pantheon forwards Julius Erving and Larry Bird, but that is no excuse for failing to give Dantley, English, and King the recognition that they deserve. 

Artis Gilmore dominated the paint in the ABA for five seasons before having a great 12 season NBA career during which he was an elite rebounder and shotblocker who was also a potent low post scorer (17.1 ppg in the NBA, plus four straight NBA field goal percentage titles). For many years before Gilmore was finally selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011passionately and publicly advocated on his behalf. The Basketball Hall of Fame encompasses all levels of the sport, so it was inexcusable to wait so long to induct him after he played at such a high level in college and the ABA before his NBA career, but figuring out where to rank Gilmore on a purely NBA list is a little tricky. There is a separate ABA All-Time Team (of which Gilmore is a deserving member), so for the purposes of this discussion I am just looking at NBA statistics. Gilmore deserved consideration for the 50 Greatest Players List even without including his ABA numbers, and he would have been a lock if his ABA numbers were included. I rank Gilmore among the 75 Greatest NBA players even without considering his ABA numbers. It is good that several players who split their careers between the ABA and the NBA are on the 75th Anniversary Team, including Rick Barry, Billy Cunningham, Julius Erving, George Gervin, and Moses Malone. If ABA numbers were factored into the 75th Anniversary Team selection process, then Roger Brown, Mel Daniels, and George McGinnis at a minimum would merit consideration, along with possibly Spencer Haywood and Connie Hawkins. 

My "finalists" for the final 26 slots included about 40 players, so I did not expect to agree with all of the official selections, but one egregious omission is Dwight Howard. I rank Howard in the top 50 all-time, so in my estimation the official voters have signficantly underrated him by not even placing him in the top 76. Forget what you may think about the back half of Howard's career, because that is of minimal relevance (though it should be noted that he was a key role player on the Lakers' 2020 championship team, and being a key role player after being a superstar is a difficult adjustment to make), and just remember how great Howard was for the better part of a decade, as I wrote when explaining why I rank Howard in the top 50:

It is easy to forget--and many people seem to have forgotten--how dominant Dwight Howard was during his prime. Howard won three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards (2009-11), the only player to accomplish that feat. Only Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo have won more Defensive Player of the Year awards (four each) since the honor's inception in 1982-83 (it is safe to call Bill Russell, whose 13 season career ended in 1969, the unofficial career leader in this department). Howard finished in the top five in MVP voting for four straight seasons (2008-11), including second place in 2011.

He has made the All-NBA Team eight times, including five consecutive First Team selections (2008-12). Only two centers in NBA history have earned more consecutive All-NBA First Team selections than Howard: Shaquille O'Neal made the All-NBA First Team seven straight seasons (2000-2006), and George Mikan made the All-NBA First Team six straight seasons (1949-54, including one All-BAA First Team selection prior to the merger of the BAA and NBL to form the NBA). Artis Gilmore made the All-ABA First Team in each of his five ABA seasons (1972-76).

Howard has made the All-Defensive Team five years in a row (2008-12), including First Team selections from 2009-12. Howard has made the All-Star team eight times.

He has led the league in rebounding five times (2008-10, 2012-13); the only players who won more rebounding titles are Wilt Chamberlain (11), Dennis Rodman (seven), and Moses Malone (six). Howard averaged at least 10 rpg in each of the first 14 seasons of his career, and his career average of 12.1 rpg ranks 17th in ABA/NBA history. The only player active in the past 20 years who has a higher career rpg average is Andre Drummond (13.8 rpg). Howard has ranked in the top 10 in rebounding 13 times.

He has led the league in blocked shots twice (2009-10), and he has ranked in the top 10 eight times. Howard led the league in field goal percentage in 2010, and he has ranked in the top 10 12 times. He has averaged at least 20 ppg four times, including a career-high 22.9 ppg in the 2010-11 season.

Howard was the best player for the 2009 Orlando Magic team that defeated the LeBron James-led, league-best 66-16 Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs en route to losing to Kobe Bryant's L.A. Lakers in the NBA Finals (side note: James' 3-6 playoff record versus teams led by Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, and Dirk Nowitzki raises the interesting question of how many titles James would have won if his teams had faced squads led by Bill Walton, Elvin Hayes/Wes Unseld, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Robert Parish, which is the challenge Julius Erving faced in the late 1970s/early 1980s). Howard played a key role for the Lakers' 2020 championship team, including starting seven of their 18 playoff games.

Howard was a dominant rebounder, defender, and scorer in the paint for over a decade. There is no question he belongs on the 50 Greatest Players List.

Bernard King had an excellent case to be included on the 1996 list: 1985 scoring champion, the players' choice as the 1984 MVP (Larry Bird won the offical vote, conducted by the media), first player to play in an All-Star Game with a reconstructed ACL, posted at least one 20 ppg season in three different decades. With the list now expanded to 76, King must be included.

I mentioned Tracy McGrady above, so I will just add a few more thoughts about him. During his prime, it was not crazy to suggest that he was on par with Kobe Bryant. Think about that for a moment. Bryant is a Pantheon-level player, and McGrady at his peak had the talent to go toe to toe with Bryant. Injuries limited McGrady later in his career, and he never had the fortune while he was elite and healthy to play with another elite, healthy player. McGrady could score from anywhere, he was a great passer, and he could be a great defender (admittedly, he may not have always been fully committed at that end of the court, particularly when he was on mediocre teams that needed him to score over 30 ppg just to be competitive).

It is natural to ask why I included McGrady but not Penny Hardaway, a similarly sized player with a similar skill set. The answer is simple: Penny essentially had two healthy elite seasons as an All-NBA First Team player (1995 and 1996). He was very good as a rookie in 1994, but he was not yet elite, and he was elite in 1997 before he got hurt, but after 1997 he never made the All-NBA Team again, he never averaged more than 17 ppg and even as a role player he missed a ton of games due to various injuries. In contrast, McGrady was an elite player for the better part of eight seasons, during which time he won back to back scoring titles (2003-04) and earned seven All-NBA Team selections (including two First Team selections). Perhaps peak Hardaway was as good as peak McGrady (though I tend to think he was not), but McGrady maintained his peak for far longer. 

Penny Hardaway was not on my "finalist" list, but I have heard his name mentioned by others, and the comparison between Hardaway and McGrady provides straightforward evidence for not including Hardaway.

I will conclude with thoughts about some of the players who rank in my top 100, but did not make the cut for top 76 status. These players are listed in alphabetical order.

It was tough for me to leave out Walt Bellamy. There was a good case for putting him on the 1996 list, but the voters did not choose him at that time. I did not include him in the 50 Greatest Players list that I published a few months ago, but I indicated that in 1996 I would have been inclined to choose him. As it turns out, to include him on my top 76 list would have involved one of several options that I find unpalatable: (1) removing one player from the original 50, (2) not including Dantley, English, Gilmore, King, McAdoo, Payton, or Wilkins, or (3) not including one of the 19 all-time greats who emerged in the post-1996 period. Even if the 1996 list is not perfect, I have kind of warmed up to the idea of not removing anyone to create the 2021 list; it is one thing to remove players to keep the list's size at 50, and quite another to remove players after expanding the list to 76. After much deliberation, and even though this may somewhat contradict a position that I took in Part II of my series about the 50 Greatest Players, I decided to not include Bellamy.

It is too early to include Luka Doncic. Perhaps in 10 years we will look back and wonder why he was not on the list, but if that happens then he can be added to the next list, much like Jason Kidd and Gary Payton were not on the 1996 list that was released early in their careers but then they earned their way on to the 2021 list. 

Manu Ginobili was an excellent two-way player for four San Antonio championship teams (2003, 2005, 2007, 2014) but his career averages were 13.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, and 3.8 apg. I believe in the value of intangibles, and I commend him for sacrificing individual statistics for the betterment of the team, but production matters. He only twice averaged more than 30 mpg during the regular season; essentially, he was able to conserve his energy, and have the advantage of often playing against either reserves or tired starters. I would take him over someone like Harden in a heartbeat--Ginobili had the type of career that Harden should have had (or wanted to have, as opposed to seeking out individual glory under circumstances that were never going to lead to championship success)--but Ginobili is not one of the 76 best players in NBA history. After you list the MVPs, the All-NBA First Teamers, and the perennial All-NBA members, Ginobili is at or near the top of the next group. He's probably top 100 now, but of course as new MVPs and All-NBA First Teamers emerges his ranking will drop.

As the Golden State Warriors' coach, Steve Kerr almost is compelled to advocate for Draymond Green, but Green is not as good of a rebounder or defender as Rodman, who did not make the cut for my team (but Rodman is on the official list). Put Green on a team that does not have Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (let alone Kevin Durant), and Green would not even be noticed or discussed. That is not to say that the things Green does are not significant, but he needs to be surrounded by great players to be at his best. How much impact did Green have on team success the past two years? Green was not a "finalist" in my book, but I mention him briefly mainly because his name is being brought up by others.

Grant Hill is a better and somewhat healthier version of Penny Hardaway, and he was a "finalist" for top 76 consideration but I left him off for the same reasons that I left off Hardaway.

Nikola Jokic is intriguing, and one of the last players who I "cut." He is the reigning MVP, and he is not one of those players whose MVPs do not count in my book. Jokic is an elite scorer, rebounder, and passer. He has been a productive playoff player. It is not difficult to picture him winning another MVP, nor is it difficult to picture him leading Denver to a championship at some point. So why did I leave him off? If he retired tomorrow, would he be on the list? I would have to say that he would not, though he would be in the discussion. Shaquille O'Neal made the 1996 list largely based on potential, and he more than fulfilled that potential, but in general I think that these lists should not be made based on potential (which is not to say that I disagree with choosing O'Neal, but he was a unique case because he was so dominant and he showed no signs that he would break down physically at a premature age). Jokic is well on his way to qualifying for the next list.

Bob Lanier established himself as one of the NBA's best players while competing against the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens, Artis Gilmore, Moses Malone, Bob McAdoo, Willis Reed, Wes Unseld, and Bill Walton. How many players from one position from a given era should be selected? Lanier never made the All-NBA Team--though he did twice finish in the top five in MVP voting--and he never won a championship. Each of the centers listed above won at least one title (Gilmore led the Kentucky Colonels to the 1975 ABA title), and each of the centers listed above won at least one MVP (Gilmore won the 1972 ABA MVP).

Regarding Tony Parker, refer to my Damian Lillard/small point guard analysis. Yes, Parker won the 2007 Finals MVP--though I thought that Tim Duncan should have received the award--and he played on four championship teams alongside Duncan and Ginobili, but Parker was not as good of a shooter, passer, rebounder, or defender as the small point guards who I ranked ahead of him. Parker was a "finalist" for my top 76 list, and I would rank him ahead of Ginobili based on having a greater impact while playing more minutes over a longer period of time.

Klay Thompson is definitely better than several of the players on the official list, including each of the guards taken ahead of him who are not on my list (Ray Allen, James Harden, Damian Lillard, and Reggie Miller). From that standpoint, I can understand why he has publicly expressed his diasppointment about not being chosen. However, he is not better than the seven players who I chose who did not make the official list: Chris Bosh, Adrian Dantley, Alex English, Artis Gilmore, Dwight Howard, Bernard King, and Tracy McGrady. So, yes, Thompson was snubbed in terms of lesser players being selected ahead of him, but if the list had been constructed correctly then Thompson still would have missed the cut. 

Thompson is not only a great shooter but he is also a top notch defender. He is a below average rebounder and passer, so he is not quite the all-around player that his supporters make him out to be. It is also not clear how well he would do if he had to be the number one option; of course, he has been very successful on championship-winning teams as the number two option and as the number three option. So, I can understand him looking at the official list and being upset, but in the big picture it is correct that he did not make the cut. Thompson is in the top 100 all-time, but he is not in the top 80 or 85.


posted by David Friedman @ 7:27 PM



At Sunday, October 24, 2021 11:02:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

If I had to make a list of top 75 or Top 100, there's no way that I would rank Bosh over Anthony Davis, James Harden, Reggie Miller, Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard and Steve Nash.

What I agree with you about is McGrady and Howard being snubbed.

I agree with your selection of Artis Gilmore. Some people ignore his ABA career, which is wrong to me. Based on his ABA career he should have been selected to the original 50. Dr. J is probably considered top 15 all time by some. I think his ABA days have a lot to do with it. Otherwise he may not be ranked as high if his ABA career was not took into consideration.

I agree on Rodman is a hall of famer but not a great player.

When it comes to Parker and Ginoboli, I don't they should be on the top 75. The thing bout those two is people talk about how good they were. They're hall of famers, but were not truly great players to me. People say how good they would have been on other teams outside of the Spurs. If they were as good as people think they were then maybe Duncan retires with more than five rings. Duncan would not have to have went seven years to win his fifth title after 2007. When Duncan was no longer a mvp/superstar calibur player, that would have been the perfect time for them to prove themselves. Do you agree?

At Sunday, October 24, 2021 12:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You rightly mentioned that Shaq should have won MVP over Iverson in 2001. But you also noted that Iverson did play at an MVP level that season. More egregious was Steve Nash's robbery of Kobe of the MVP award during the 2005-6 back-to-back seasons. There may be "reverse racism" concerning the notion that Bob Cousy was overrated. But seems to me like there's straight up racism with the mostly white MVP voters choosing Nash over Kobe, who was the manifestly superior player. I think that you agree that Kobe was way better than Nash. As you mentioned, Shaq and Kobe deserved more than one MVP award each.

At Monday, October 25, 2021 1:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Both Bosh and Nash are on my 76 Greatest Players List. I did not rank the players on my list, so I never said that I would take Bosh over Nash (or vice versa). They are both in my 51-76 group.

Regarding the other players you listed, a case can be made for Davis over Bosh. I explained in the article why I prefer Bosh.

What exactly have Anthony, Harden, and Lillard accomplished that impresses you more than Bosh's accomplishments?

At least Miller led his team to one NBA Finals and six Eastern Conference Finals (though his team went just 1-5 in the ECF and he was not the best player on the team during his last ECF appearance). I would rather have a versatile, mobile 6-11 big man than a one dimensional shooter, even if that shooter is one of the greatest shooters of all-time.

As I stated in the article, there is not one definitively correct list once you get past players 15-20. I had a pool of about 40 players that I narrowed to my final 26, so there are at least 14-15 players who I did not select who are reasonable choices in my estimation.

At Monday, October 25, 2021 1:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, I would say that in 2001 Iverson was an MVP level player but that O'Neal was the superior player that season (and throughout their careers).

We agree that Nash's back to back MVPs are worse than Iverson's lone MVP. Racism may have played a part in Nash's selection, but I think that "sizeism" explains not only Nash but also Iverson and Derrick Rose: when the voters feel that they can in any way justify selecting a "normal-sized" player they do it.

Cousy won a close 1957 MVP race over Bob Pettit, with the players doing the voting. Historically and statistically, Cousy's selection looks reasonable. The disparaging way that Elhassan and Harper speak about Cousy is very disrespectful.

There are many misconceptions about the level of play in the 1950s and 1960s. Even so-called experts like Bill Simmons cannot tell the difference between film clips of student athletes and film clips of NBA players, and that is why we often hear ignorant statements not only about Cousy but even about Wilt Chamberlain: there is a persistent stereotype that Chamberlain set his records by dunking on a bunch of small white guys. In fact, Chamberlain played in a league full of future Hall of Fame centers, many of whom were as big, strong, and fast as modern players. Check out this video: Top Six NBA Centers of the 1960's - The Truth About Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell's Competition The video focuses on the 1960s, but similar fallacies are uttered about the 1950s. I would say that the competition in the 1960s was better than it was in the 1950s, but the 1950s players were better than most people realize or acknowledge.

At Tuesday, October 26, 2021 3:04:00 AM, Anonymous Maurice Lucas said...

Hello, David,

I congratulate you for not being afraid of writing long articles, instead of three small paragraphs with reading time at the beginning.

There is no exact way to determine a ranking of all NBA players that have played since the beginning of the NBA. By the way, did you realize that, contrary to what most people believe this is actually the 76th season and not the 75th?

Do you really believe the voters decided to retain all members of the 50th Anniversary Team plus the two biggest omissions (Nique and McAdoo)or the NBA modified the results? I have asked many writers about Arizin, Joe "Jumping" Fulks, Pettit and most of them couldn't even tell me the teams they played for. For many "experts", the ones that scream instead of analyze, basketball in the US started with Larry vs. Magic in the 1979 NCAA Final, and international basketball started with the Dream Team in 1992...

Do you really believe the voters put AD, Lillard and Harden?

Knicks in 85 Draft(Ewing)... Magic in 93 Draft (Webber, then traded for Penny)... Spurs in 97 Draft(Duncan)... Wizards in 2001 (Kwame Brown)... Cavs in 2003 (LeBron)

I never believed luck played a part in those "lotteries". What do you think?

Keep up the good work!

At Tuesday, October 26, 2021 7:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


“One quick last thing, there were guys on this panel who said to me when we were having confidential conversations, they said, ‘look, here is the one thing you shouldn’t do, don’t take people off who have been voted onto the top 50 in decades past, you dishonor them by doing that, don’t take those people off.’ I was going to take two or three guys off. I didn’t take anybody off! It (per)suaded me.” — Michael Wilbon (Oct 22, 2021)

At Tuesday, October 26, 2021 7:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

good article. one question: how is it that McAdoo (pre-96) got promoted into top 50, when other pre-96 players got replaced (by McAdoo and more recent players)? how did McAdoo pass those other pre-96 players?

At Tuesday, October 26, 2021 8:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Maurice Lucas:

Thank you for appreciating the value of long, in-depth articles.

I agree with you that there is no way to make a definitive greatest players list, and I said as much in this article. Of course, some choices are not supported by much evidence, or at least not supported by as much evidence as can be provided to support alternative choices.

In Five Players Who Led the NCAA and the NBA in Scoring I discussed the NBA's historical revisionism regarding its origins and its relationships with other leagues:

"The NBA practices an interesting form of inconsistent historical revisionism, counting the 1947, 1948, and 1949 BAA seasons as NBA seasons but ignoring the NBL's records from those seasons. The NBA considers the 1949 deal between the BAA and NBL to be an NBA expansion, not a merger of two competing leagues, and the NBA pretends that NBL statistics do not exist, even though the NBL has a longer history (1937-49) than the BAA (1946-49). Despite the NBA's attempt to wipe the NBL out of the history books, the BAA was not clearly superior to the NBL or even other rival leagues; the 1948 and 1949 BAA titles were both won by teams that had been members of other leagues in the previous season but then proved to be better than all of the original BAA teams.

Similarly, the NBA has spent decades pretending that ABA statistics do not exist, even though ABA players dominated the NBA for several years after the 1976 ABA-NBA merger. It is noteworthy that even though the NBA does not count ABA statistics it did not classify former ABA players who had no NBA experience as rookies in 1976-77; if the NBA had done that, three-time ABA MVP Julius Erving might have added NBA Rookie of the Year honors to his trophy case (or the award might have gone to David Thompson or George Gervin, two other ABA veterans who made the All-NBA Team in 1976-77, their first NBA season). It makes no sense to ignore Erving's ABA numbers but then not classify him as a rookie during his first NBA season. The point is NOT that the NBA should have considered Erving to be a rookie in 1976-77; the point is that Erving's statistics from his first five professional seasons should be afforded equal status with his NBA statistics, much like the NFL affords equal status to AFL statistics."

There is apparently an evolutionary, scientific, and biological basis for the human tendency to believe in conspiracies and/or be a bit paranoid/cautious: organisms that have a heightened sense of potential danger are more likely to survive long enough to have offspring.

That being said, I tend to dismiss conspiracy theories unless there is proof. I am also skeptical of so-called conspiracies that could actually fit any scenario that happened. For example, LeBron beginning his NBA career in Cleveland is supposedly a conspiracy plotted by the league to place him in (or, more precisely, near) his hometown--but you can bet that if LeBron had ended up in a big media market like L.A. or New York that would also be viewed as being the result of a conspiracy. If whatever happens could be called the result of a conspiracy, then the conspiracy is just made up, unless there is credible evidence to support the conspiracy. The same is true of Patrick Ewing beginning his NBA career with the Knicks. If he had ended up with the Lakers or the Celtics, that would have also spawned conspiracy theories.

That is my response to every conspiracy that you mentioned in your comment. Unless you have credible proof, I am a skeptic.

By the way, do you understand that if the NBA were caught doing any of these conspiracies then the league would face multi-million dollar lawsuits, and possibly criminal charges? Why risk killing the goose that is laying golden eggs? How exactly would the conspiracy operate, and how would it be kept secret? Most conspiracy theories fall apart after a few simple questions are asked.

At Tuesday, October 26, 2021 8:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, Mike Wilbon has publicly acknowledged that he and other 75th Anniversary Team voters took the position that no one from the 50 Greatest Players List should be removed. This is not some kind of league-mandated conspiracy, but just the personal choices made by voters. I am not aware of any rule prohibiting the voters from seeking input from other voters.

At Tuesday, October 26, 2021 8:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not sure that I follow your question, or even if your question is about my list or the official lists, so I will just explain what I did.

In March 2021, I published the final part of my multi-part series about the 50 Greatest Players List. In that final part, I listed who I consider to be the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history now (not as of 1996, when the official list was created). In my estimation, Bob McAdoo clearly belonged on the 1996 list, and I still consider him a top 50 player even now.

In my top 76 list, I "reinstated" some players from the official 1996 list who I removed from my 2021 top 50 list to make room for Kobe, LeBron, Duncan, etc. Also, I added some players like Bernard King and Dominique Wilkins who I would not rank as top 50 players now but who I still consider to be top 76 players.

I think that most informed observers would agree about who the top 15-20 players of all-time are, even if we ranked the players within that group differently. After that, there are dozens of players who could credibly considered for top 76 status. I explained the rationale supporting my choices, but I realize that a valid rationale could be provided for some alternate choices.

At Tuesday, October 26, 2021 9:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, I misunderstood re McAdoo; didn't see that you were referring to NBA's official '96 list. My bad.


At Tuesday, October 26, 2021 11:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


No worries! There are a lot of lists at this point between the official lists (25th Anniversary, 35th Anniversary, 50 Greatest, 75th Anniversary) and various lists by others, so it can become confusing.

At Monday, November 08, 2021 6:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Great analysis as always. I'm curious which era of basketball you enjoy the most? I can't say I'm the biggest fan of the latest "everyone shoots 3s" era although this year is much more memorable after they cut out the foul-hunting.

At Monday, November 08, 2021 4:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you!

I enjoy many basketball eras, but this current one is not my favorite. My favorite era is mid-1970s to mid-1980s, spanning Dr. J's peak ABA years through his great rivalries with the Celtics and Lakers. From 1980-83, Dr. J's 76ers made four straight ECF appearances, winning three times (including two wins against Larry Bird's Celtics).

It seems largely forgotten that the biggest rivalry in basketball--if not all of sports--in the early 1980s was 76ers versus Celtics, embodied individually by Julius Erving versus Larry Bird. Here is part of what I wrote in The Best of Rivals: Julius Erving Versus Larry Bird:

"In the early 1980s the biggest NBA rivalry was Julius Erving-Larry Bird. Magic Johnson versus Bird was a great college showdown for the 1979 NCAA title but after they entered the NBA Johnson and Bird only faced each other twice a year until Bird's Celtics defeated Johnson's Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals.

Erving's Philadelphia 76ers played Bird's Celtics six times in each regular season and faced off in four Eastern Conference Finals between 1980 and 1985. Erving and Bird frequently guarded each other, while Magic and Bird played different positions and only guarded each other on defensive switches.

The Erving-Bird rivalry captured the public's imagination. In 1983, Electronic Arts produced Julius Erving-Larry Bird One-on-One, the forerunner of NBA Live and all the other sports video games; it would have been unimaginable to choose any other matchup at that time. Erving and Bird actively participated in the creation of the game and as a result the final product incorporated real life aspects of each player’s style."

Watching Erving annually battle Bird in the ECF, and then watching Erving battle the Lakers' galaxy of stars in the NBA Finals is watching basketball on a higher strategic and aesthetic level than anything we see in basketball today.

The 1990s dominance of the Jordan-Pippen Bulls would be my second favorite era.

I enjoy "modern" basketball as well, and have had the privilege of seeing many of the greatest "modern" players in person--including Shaq, Kobe, Duncan, and LeBron. The great players of the past 20 years or so are tremendous, but the overall game is not as enjoyable to me now as it was in the eras that I listed above.

At Monday, December 05, 2022 2:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without Dan Issel, they're all a damn dirty joke!

At Monday, December 05, 2022 2:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am a big fan and supporter of the ABA, and there is no doubt that Dan Issel deserved being inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame--but he was not consistently a top 10 player, let alone an MVP-caliber player, during his career, and I just can't put him on the 75th Anniversary Team.


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