Outside of possibly the wobbly passing evangelist Tim Tebow and the loud mouth soon to be felon Floyd Mayweather, Lebron James is the most polarizing athlete in all of sports. And as usual he has gotten off to a scintillating start to his second season as a member of the Miami Heat. If he wasn’t before, he now is officially on the championship clock.
Let me be clear, I think Lebron will win a ring in Miami, in fact I think he will win more than one. But until he does, and furthermore until he steps up and is an integral part of championship team the questions about his pending legacy will linger.
Out of all of the lists I have done, this may have been the most difficult to narrow down. So many times people only want to judge great players by championships, but the truth of the matter is most players will not win a ring. Therefore being singularly great guarantees you nothing.
I do think that in basketball versus football and baseball one player should get more blame or credit for his team winning a title. Having only 5 people on the court it obviously allows for one individual to have an incredible effect on the outcome of the game. Despite his 3 Superbowl rings, no one will ever convince me Emmit Smith is a better running back than Barry Sanders. And are you really going to try to tell me Derek Jeter is a better baseball player than Ken Griffey Jr? It takes a complete roster and a commitment from ownership to win championships in football and baseball because they truly are the ultimate team sports.
In basketball, more specifically when debating the greatness of individual players championships are a fair measuring stick or dividing tool in my mind because so many of these players actually played against each other.
When people are comparing Kobe, Lebron and whoever else to Michael Jordan, there are a couple things to consider. Half the people on this list are here because they lost to Jordan. Furthermore it isn’t just how many rings you ultimately collect, it is who you conquer to be a champion. MJ was meeting and beating all time greats like Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton in the NBA finals. And just think if he hadn’t been suspended, I mean gone to play baseball for 2 seasons, Hakeem Olajuwan and Clyde Drexler could very well be on this list as well. As far as all of the comparisons, fall back. Please. Let Kobe be Kobe, but for the millionth time already he is no Michael Jordan. As you were.
To the list: (As with all of my lists I only rank players that I have actually seen. I know there are great players like Elgin Baylor who never won a title but having never seen him play, I wouldn’t know how to rank him.)
1. Karl Malone
Arguably my least favorite NBA player of all time. When he went ring chasing and joined the Lakers, and my Pistons defeated them in the 2004 finals that was one of the most joyous moments of my sports fandom. He retired after 19 seasons, two losses in the NBA Finals with the Jazz (both to the Bulls), two MVP trophies, 13 All-Star appearances and second on the all-time points list (to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
Malone was voted one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, is a 14-time All-star, a 14-time All NBA selection (11-time First Team selection), and a two-time NBA MVP (one of nine players to win MVP of the league more than once). The Mailman is a career 25 points per game scorer who regularly finished top 5 in the league every year. He is the NBA’s second all-time leading scorer with 36,374 points.
2. Charles Barkley: Philadelphia 76ers
The chuckster, long before he was a weight watchers pitchman was one of the most ferocious players the NBA has ever seen. In his 16 NBA seasons with the Sixers, Suns, and Rockets, the Round Mound of Rebound reached one NBA Finals, in 1993 when the Michael Jordan’s Bulls beat Barkley’s Suns in six games.
Barkley was voted one of the 50 greatest players, is an 11-time All-star, a two-time Olympic Gold medal winner, a five-time All NBA team selection, and the 1993 NBA MVP. No one his size (listed as 6’6, but more like 6’4), calling themselves a power forward, played harder in the paint. Barkley regularly out rebounded taller opponents and was a double-double machine pulling down a league-leading and career high 14.6 boards per game in 1987. His ferocious dunks were a signature of his game in Philadelphia and Phoenix. Barkley fell short to Jordan’s Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals and missed out on his chance for a rematch as a member of the Houston Rockets in 1997 when the Rockets lost in the Western Conference Finals
3. George the Iceman Gervin,
Detroit’s own, George was one of the most incredible scorers in basketball history. Whether it was the ABA or the NBA he amassed 26,595 total points. Gervin won four scoring titles (only Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan have more), played in nine straight NBA All-Star games (12 straight if you add his three from the ABA), and finished second twice behind Bill Walton and Moses Malone respectively for NBA MVP honors. Known for his rain-making finger roll, effortlessly launched from his fingertips while gliding through the lane, Gervin averaged 26.2 points in his NBA career and made it to three conference finals over his Hall of Fame career.
4. Pat Ewing: New York Knicks
When the New York Knicks won the what some deemed a fixed NBA Lottery and in turn drafted Patrick Ewing NBA fans were outraged. Fans across the country felt the NBA Draft was fixed and the NBA had handed several NBA Championships to the New York Knicks. Although the New York Knicks made several impressive runs with Ewing, they were never able to achieve their ultimate goal of a NBA championship.
Patrick Ewing was voted one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all-time, is a two-time Gold medal winner, 11-time All-star, and the owner of one of the sweetest jump shots by a 7-footer. Unfortunately for Ewing who can forget missing a finger roll vs the Indiana Pacers and Reggi Miller (who is on this list as well) in 1995?
5. Allen Iverson
The answer was a cultural icon. Outside of Michael Jordan and the FAB 5 (as a collective) I cannot think of any in the modern era of the NBA who had a greater impact on how fans and younger players carried themselves and dressed. Love him or hate him, his influence was undeniable.
After being the first overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft and revolutionized the NBA. With a killer crossover not seen since Tim Hardaway‘s heyday, A.I. went on to win Rookie of the Year, crossed up Michael Jordan, won four NBA scoring titles, was an 11-time All-Star, and the 2001 NBA MVP. In 2001 Iverson led the Philadelphia 76ers to his only NBA Finals appearance against the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers. In a Game 1 for the ages, Iverson carved up the Shaquille O’Neal-led Lakers for 48 points giving L.A. their only loss of the post season.
6. Pete Maravich (RIP)
“Pistol” Pete was a college legend (averaged over 40 points a game in all four seasons at LSU) who brought his all-aound game to the NBA in 1970. He was a five-time All-star, four time All-NBA selection, and was voted one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest players. In 10 full seasons playing for the Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Jazz in the NBA, Maravich was a magician. In 1977 he lit up the court with playground moves, circus passes and shots you would find on the And 1 tour today. Maravich scored a career high 68 points and scored over 40 points in a game numerous times in his career en route to a 24.2 points per game career average. Knee injuries cut his career short in 1980 and sadly he died of a heart attack in 1988 while playing a pick up game.
7. John Stockton
One of the best Point guards of all time, in fact I have him #3 on my list of all time greats, which is an even a greater accomplishment when you consider how short his shorts were. When he retired last year after 19 seasons in Utah, Stockton had played in 182 playoff games — but none of them were a clinching game of the NBA Finals. One of the 50 greatest players, Stockton is the NBA all-time assists and steals leader with over 15,000 dimes and 3200 thefts. He led the NBA in assists in nine consecutive seasons. Stockton is a 10-time All-star and 11-time All NBA selection. Regarded as one of the best pure point guards in the league, Stockton led the Utah Jazz to the postseason in 18 consecutive seasons.
8. Dominique Wilkins
“The Human Highlight Film” was the best two foot jumper I have ever seen. Period. He was a nine-time NBA All-Star who was the face of the Atlanta Hawks in the 1980_s. With a career average just under 25 points per game ‘Nique is one of 12 NBA players to score more than 25,000 points in his career. Wilkins’ won the 1996 scoring title when he averaged 30.3 points per game. Despite being a career 32 point per game scorer in the postseason, Wilkins never reached the NBA Finals or the Conference Finals for that matter, but was part of an epic Game 7 battle in 1988 versus Larry Bird in the Conference Semifinals.
9. Reggie Miller
Arguably the greatest shooter of all time and one of the greatest clutch players in NBA history, Reggie Miller spent his entire 18-year NBA career with the Indiana Pacers. Miller led the Pacers to the 2000 NBA Finals against the Lakers. Even though his form was obviously not text book, no one could argue with the all net results. Reggie is 2nd all time to Ray Allen with 2,560 made three pointers. Miller played 47,619 minutes in his career. Only fiver players in NBA history played more minutes than him. But what makes him the greatest shooter I have ever seen is the fact he was skinny as hell, couldn’t dribble, and struggled to finish in the paint, yet he still made himself into an all time great. And almost all on the strength on his shooting prowess.
10. Bernard King
Bernard King is one of my all time favorite players and someone who I think is drastically underrated all time. Evidenced here. and here. He was one of the best small forwards of the 1980′s. As a rookie in 1977 he broke the NJ Nets franchise single season scoring record and reset it again in 1984 with 2,027 points. The next year he won the NBA scoring title with 32.9 ppg. After being traded to the NY Knicks in 1984, he was the first player in 20 years to score 50 or more points in two consecutive games. A month earlier on Christmas day he became only the tenth player in NBA history to score 60 or more points in one game. At the prime of his career, injuries struck. He was never the same. King retired with 19,665 points in 874 games, averaging 22.5 ppg.
11. Lebron James
He is only at 11 on this list because he is still playing. (read twice before leaving a comment) If he continues to play at his surefire Hall of Fame pace and never win a ring, then he will sky rocket to the top of this list. He is simply the most talented player in a league full of genetic freaks. He is Bo Jackson in high tops. But unfortunately for Mr. James for as imposing as he is physically he mentally falters at the biggest moments. I can’t quite explain it but IF and when he breaks through that mental ceiling I think he will emerge as the incredible player he has shown flashes of being.
Who did I miss?