This is not an all time list. It’s not even a “my time” list. There are several players I watched that I did not include (Kareem. Moses, and more). I wanted to focus on those I felt I saw at their best. It’s a challenge not to list about 125 guys. Here are the 35 I’d claim are the best I’ve seen to date. Kyrie, Dominique, and Alonzo Mourning just missed the cut.
#35- TRACY MCGRADY – If you can score 13 points in 35 seconds to beat the Spurs, you’re hired.
#34- JAMES WORTHY– I picture him waving the ball around like it’s a grape fruit. First step, spin move, two points.
#33- PAUL PIERCE- I always thought of Paul as a grind it out, low-level superstar. In the end, he had a phenomenal career.
#32- GRANTHILL- He was such a big deal as a new age point forward. As an older player, Grant became a defensive guy.
#31- KEVIN MCHALE– Karl Malone and Charles Barkley both called McHale their toughest matchup. Kevin was a back to the basket stud.
#30- JASON KIDD- Pushing the ball with that hard dribble, J Kidd had eyes everywhere.
#29- CHRIS WEBBER – His hands were basketball magnets. Sensational passer. Chris hit the top five player level in the pros.
#28- GARY PAYTON – In his defensive crouch, Palms showing. Rocking his head side to side, and chewing his gum like the cockiest man alive. “The glove” was legit.
#27- JAMES HARDEN – Point flurry’s, step back threes, makes you foul him…Harden is an offensive witch.
#26- RUSSELL WESTBROOK- More than all these triple doubles, Westbrook’s competitive fire is the story.
#25- PATRICK EWING- Patrick had the size, rugged traits, and one of the most elegant shots from the baseline.
#24- SCOTTIE PIPPEN- On six title teams, Pippen ranged anywhere from the third to twelfth best player in the world.
#23- CLYDE DREXLER- Clyde was a classic aerial player and finisher at the basket. Rare Drexler note: He finished in the top ten in steals, seven times.
#22- STEVE NASH- He almost glided as he ran. Nash was a degree of difficulty shot maker, and his percentages are clean.
#21- KAWHI LEONARD- Before he went down with injury last May, I thought Kawhi was ready to challenge LeBron James as the best in the game.
#20- ALLENIVERSON- His blinding quickness, aggressiveness, and long arms made him so unique. Iverson mopped up the floor with his body.
#19- CHRIS PAUL- He competes like he wants to bite your face off. Chris has led the league in steals six times.
#18- JOHN STOCKTON- He destroyed bigger people fighting through picks. John’s precision and decision-making were an art.
#17- ISIAH THOMAS– Isiah played the game like he knew he was being watched. He was a showman, built for the big moment.
#16- CHARLES BARKLEY- He shot 58 percent from the field over his first six seasons. Chuck’s work on the boards is still baffling for his height.
#15- DIRK NOWITZKI- His Finals MVP performance in 2011, is etched in my mind as true greatness. Five players in history have more points than Dirk,
#14- DWYANE WADE- I remember those hesitation dribble moves, before he’d explode to the hoop. Wade was a closer from day one.
#13- DAVID ROBINSON – Robinson was chiseled, mobile, and cat quick. He owns the NBA’s last quadruple-double.
#12- KARL MALONE – “The Mailman” running the outside lane, and rattling the rim in his early days was a scary sight.
#11- KEVIN GARNETT- One of the most versatile players to live. KG wouldn’t even let the other team score, after the whistle.
#10-STEPHEN CURRY- He became the first player to attempt a three point shot from 29 feet….early in the shot clock…and it still felt responsible.
#9- KEVIN DURANT- Looking at Durant’s controversial move a couple years ago, he’s now covered himself by his June performances.
#8- TIM DUNCAN- Tim was a coaches dream. Poise. Brains. Worker. Unselfish. All time winner.
#7- SHAQUILLE O’NEAL- Shaq couldn’t be guarded in his prime. He was an automatic dunk, and led the NBA in field goal percentage ten times.
#6- HAKEEM OLAJUWON- At his apex, his offense and defense were both a ten. He covered space in the blink of an eye.
#5- LARRY BIRD– For all the attributes he brought to the game, Bird also had an intimidating swagger.
#4- KOBE BRYANT- For my money, the most over all skilled player in NBA history.
#3-MAGIC JOHNSON- Most fitting nickname in all of sports.
#2- LEBRON JAMES- Think of the career he has had. LeBron will dominate for at least five more years and it’s mind-blowing.
#1- MICHAEL JORDAN – From what I’ve seen over 32 seasons, Jordan is the clear standard by which basketball excellence is measured.
Think about how often Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard are ripped on. They now seem to be people’s punching bags more than they are ball players. Both are Polarizing men whose flaws have been the bigger part of their stories.
The following is understood. Carmelo hasn’t won enough. NBA insiders almost refer to him as the “he can’t win guy.” He will always be seen as a non defender. It’s too late in his journey to be among the VERY best to play. Today, he’s over paid while his game is failing. The media loves his struggle and proves it by piling on.
From a capability stand point, Anthony is one of the 15 greatest scorers to come along. The mid range game was butter, and he was clutch. Melo is an Olympic basketball hero. When he was on “my team”, I trusted him. He will score point 26,000 this winter, and has ten All-Star games on his resume. For all the grief Carmelo gets, don’t forget he will end up in the Hall of Fame.
Howard is a more extreme case. He’s better than Melo, and is disrespected a level worse. Dwight’s reputation has struggled because his results seem less than his body and talent suggest they should be. His light-hearted nature and demeanor do not help. Kobe Bryant calling Howard “soft” was another blow to his image. Many of you tell me he never turned into the scorer you thought he’d become. We know he can’t shoot free throws. Dwight is going through teams at a rapid rate. Stephen A. Smith just called him “irrelevant.”
Howard once led a team to the NBA Finals. He finished second for league MVP in 2011. What he lacked in offensive structure, he made up for by being a special athlete. For a window of time, he was a true superstar. He will never be Hakeem or David Robinson. With that said, he’s better than Dikembe Mutombo and as good as Alonzo Mourning (I like Zo’s game more, but it’s close). Howard HAS accomplished things that suggest he did work.
Three time Defensive player of the Year.
Led the NBA in total rebounds six times.
Averaged 20 points or more four times.
Finished first or second in field goal percentage six times.
In 95 playoff games… Howard averages 18.4 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks.
Last year, four seasons after being called “finished”…Dwight was on the floor 81 times. He delivered 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds. He had 32 points and 30 boards in a game last March. Nobody had done that in seven years. That’s as good as irrelevant gets.
A common challenge often handed out in pro basketball chatter is to name your “NBA Mount Rushmore”. I assume this means the four players you think were the best, who won the most, and had the largest impact on the sport. I’d ask who you would choose, but it doesn’t work anymore. Too many legends have come through to fill just four spots.
I believe there are ten guys with a case SO STRONG, they can’t be left off this massive South Dakota sculpture.
SHAQUILLE O’ NEAL
Smart arguments could also be made for Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Dr. J, and Hakeem. Elgin Baylor or Havlicek would be legit choice for an older fan. I’d get your pioneer angle if you just had to add Mikan or Cousy. Give KD and Steph some more years of domination, and wow. I know it’s just for fun, but we need a bigger mountain.
It’s been 20 seasons since Michael Jordan added his sixth ring and retired as a member of the Chicago Bulls. From that time to today, there has been a dramatic shift in how people perceive MJ.
Jordan is the greatest player I’ve ever seen, in any sport. The first 10 years after hitting that shot at Utah, he was actually overrated. Really!
Fans said he was WAY better than Magic and Bird. I had to explain it was closer than that.
They said Pippen was a joke. The focus was on how he was NOT a top 50 player. They talked about how in his first few years he was essentially a nobody. I was told how Michael had to push him physically and challenge him mentally. It was said Michael created Pippen. I had to tell them regardless of that, Scottie was anywhere from the 4th to 13th best player in the world on six championship teams.
People said Rodman was a detriment. They said he was a distraction, Apparently all he could do was rebound, and was not worthy of the Hall of Fame. I would talk about the energy he created to change crowds and games nightly.
Hakeem and his Rockets still don’t get enough credit for their back to back titles in the mid 1990’s, because Mike was playing baseball.
Even from people who hated MJ, his reputation became inflated. It’s like he never missed a shot, never lost a game, and never failed in the clutch. The idea was “Air Jordan” couldn’t possibly have a flaw or have done anything wrong on the basketball floor. As a Washington Wizard, he was still a legit All-Star (top 24 to 30 player). He was viewed as a mythical figure, even as he now had cracks. I had to bring up the mistakes, and the failures. Jordan was not perfect, he’s just the closest thing to a perfect player I have seen.
Now its two decades later and a shift has occurred. Time has passed and new greats have emerged. Many lovers of the game did not see MJ at his apex (1990-93). Jordan has actually become, underrated. I never thought I’d see it. I never thought I’d say it.
Kobe was a sobering figure in some ways. Not only did he play like Michael, he came awfully close to being as good. His career reminded us, legends keep coming and number 23 was probably a human being. LeBron James is the real deal. He is worth the noise he creates in sports. He also has legions of fans (who never saw prime Mike) making up lies and trying to alter the narrative on Jordan.
All of the sudden in 2018, being undefeated and never being pushed to seven games in the Finals is not that big of a deal.
There is now this hilarious take that “Jordan never beat great teams in the Finals.”
Some TV personalities say with a straight face that Michael had help on his early Chicago teams, and underachieved.
The once ultra criticized Scottie Pippen is now said to be among the VERY BEST to ever play, and MJ could never do anything without him.
There is this idea brewing that Michael was mostly a scorer, and may have lacked a complete game.
I’ve heard his numbers somehow have flaws compared to others.
I saw Jordan. He was the most complete, fundamentally sound player I have watched (he hit his free throws too). He was the most fierce, the most athletic, and creative. His ability to close games and choke teams out was THE KEY to his biggest victories.
No Michael could not average 50 points if he wanted, and he could not win games simply by using the force. If you are invested in LeBron’s climb up the ladder, put your focus on him. If you are trying to diminish who Jordan was, you are playing the fool.
When Tim Duncan said goodbye to the game of basketball two summers ago, the focus should have been on his brilliant career. Instead, it was an opportunity for the media to take shots at Kobe Bryant. Both players are now retired after a combined 10 NBA titles and 33 All-Star games. Many claimed “Duncan was the best player of his generation.” They said it so nonchalant, as if it was common knowledge. I heard “at least Tim didn’t take 50 shots in his last game.” There was, “Duncan retired with so much more class than Kobe.” Everyone kept bringing up the amount of money Bryant was paid his last two seasons. These takes are meaningless to the argument. You not liking Kobe, doesn’t change that he’s exactly, on the Tim Duncan level.
MY TAKE ON BRYANT
Kobe had as much skill, balance, and competitive heat as anyone who has played the game. His desire to be a student, ability to make difficult shots, and fundamentals were as good as it gets. He had Hakeem Olajuwon trained footwork and his handles have gone under the radar. Above all else, “the black mamba” was a spectacular performer. He excelled in pressure. Scoring 50 in a game is a dream for most guys. Kobe once dropped 55 in a half. The Lakers star poured in 50 plus points ten times….in one season. I remember a week and a half stretch where he hit the game winning bucket each night. Kobe not only bailed out Team USA in the clutch for a gold medal, the best players in the world were begging him to do it. He was close to “Michael Jordan good.” Let that sink in.
MY TAKE ON DUNCAN
It was memorable to watch Tim Duncan be so poised and capable of being the best, on the biggest stage, as just a youngster. He later grew up battling Garnett, Webber, Rasheed Wallace, and Elton Brand every night. Duncan was the man among those men. His brains, his array of post moves, back to the basket game, cool use of the glass, and unselfishness stand out. Tim had terrific hands and was a precise passer. He is likely one of the five best defensive players of my lifetime. The guy was still protecting the rim well as an older player. “The big fundamental” was a winner his entire career. His teams won 50 or more games in 17 straight seasons. Tim was the face of consistent, humble dominance.
SO WHO WAS BETTER?
It’s close! It’s a real debate. Their careers are equal. Taking each guy at their very best, it’s Kobe. His greatness was more jaw-dropping. Choose Duncan for the work on the floor. Don’t be clouded by him being the guy who should lead boy scouts, while Bryant is the teeth grinding villain. This is how we would go back and forth. You’d say Timmy has one more MVP than Kobe. I’d tell you Bryant has been the Western Conference player of the month 16 times to Duncan’s 3. You’ll say Duncan has one more Finals MVP. I’ll bring up Bryant averaging 29/7/7 on a record-setting 15-1 playoff run where Kobe was not MVP. You’ll say Kobe had Shaq. I’ll say the Spurs were awesome and Shaq had Kobe. You’ll say Duncan was a better teammate. I’ll say Kobe had the aggressive confidence of a lion. You’ll say Duncan had a better regular season winning percentage. I’ll add Bryant played in one more NBA Finals than Tim. You’ll bring up the big mans tremendous defense. I’ll agree, but we all know Kobe was a super defensive player. You’ll say Duncan took less money to give back to his franchise. I’ll say Bryant was more compelling and helped globalize the game. If you think Tim Duncan was the best player of his generation, it’s a legit take…It’s just not a fact.
It was only 26 months ago. Kobe Bryant’s final game was a bit more than another one of his gems. I know this is a guy who has played in the NBA Finals for a living. He’s bailed out a team in an Olympic gold medal game. He once scored 55 points in a half. Because of some unique circumstances, I believe this was the finest moment of his illustrious career.
These are the factors I’m considering:
WHO WERE KOBE AND THE LAKERS IN 2016?
The Lakers were horrible. This was a 16-65 group stuck in mud. Kobe had his moments that year. Just moments. There were eight or nine games where he played very well. Facts are his body was shot from injury and basketball mileage on his legs. He had become what I’d feared most…a gunner who could no longer shoot well. Bryant’s efficiency was disgusting for an NBA starter. Two days before his last game, he shot 4-12 and scored 13 points at Oklahoma City. He sat after 19 minutes with his body covered in bandages and ice. This had become a typical scene.
THE UNIQUE STAGE THIS GAME PROVIDED
Not everyone knows whether or not it’s their last game. In this case, we all knew for the majority of the season when Kobe would lace them up one more time. If healthy, he would finish April 13th 2016, in Los Angeles playing Utah. As the date approached it was obvious this was going to be an epic happening. This was a rare, high-profile evening built around seeing a specific player in a swan song. The stage was bigger than the game. It was like the Oscars at a pro basketball game. It felt like the Super Bowl of Kobe.
THE LAKERS OPPONENT THAT NIGHT
The Utah Jazz had known for just a short while that they had been eliminated from the playoff race. With injuries and resting guys, this was certainly a short-handed Utah team. It’s still the Utah Jazz. They are one of Kobe’s fiercest rivals and are well coached by Quin Snyder. This crew from Salt Lake City handed Bryant his biggest ever loss just two weeks earlier. Utah rocked the Lakers by 48 points while Kobe scored one lonely bucket. Utah and L.A. fans agree, this matchup is always personal.
MY EXPECTATIONS FOR KOBE IN THE FINALE
The scenario I’d hoped for Bryant was to score 21 points on poor shooting. I thought the Jazz would win by 16 or 17. My biggest goal as a fan, was that he did not embarrass himself. We learned later, that Shaq (sitting court side) challenged him to score 50.
HOW KOBE PLAYED AND HOW THE GAME TURNED OUT
Number 24 came out swinging and missed his first five field goal attempts. The Jazz were controlling the game and it looked like a familiar sight for these Lakers. Bryant kept firing like never before and something awesome happened. Things went from everyone wondering how many points he would score in this loss, to the realization that he had pushed the Lakers to a stunning come from behind victory.
In the last three minutes of the game he scored 15 points hitting his final five shots, four free throws and added a dime. In total he scored 60 points (38 in the second half), had 4 rebounds, 4 assists, a block and a steal. He out scored the Jazz himself in the fourth quarter 23-21. With intense pressure to perform, he was prime Kobe because the occasion called for it.
WHY THE IMPACT OF THIS GAME IS EXTRA SPECIAL
I’m not being a prisoner of that last moment. I saw Kobe play more than 1,300 times. He’s done way bigger and badder things over his journey. There was something different about this one. Did you see Kobe at the podium after the game? He was giddy like a child at recess, but he was in actual shock. Even with all the player has done, knowing he had a group of guys spoon-feeding him shots, he could not believe how things had turned out. It was like the “sports Gods” doing a major favor, for a guy that did not need one.
I knew Kobe would be a legend the second I saw his eyeballs. He took over a Finals game as just a 21 year old in 2000. Shaq fouled out in overtime and Bryant said, “I got you”. I was not surprised. When he out scored the Mavericks 62-61 through three-quarters in 2005, I felt it brewing the day before. For the first time, this guy did something I did not think he was capable of. I was a “Kobe doubter” for one night and he burned me. I was in shock with you Mamba. People always talk about first impressions. Kobe just proved how you say goodbye matters as well.
On his last basketball breath, in a game that called for him to be high-caliber regardless of circumstance…,he pulled off maybe his smoothest trick. He then got on the microphone, to give a speech that ended with “What can I say-Mamba out!” Even at his worst, Kobe pulled off his best.
I’M ONLY RANKING THE PLAYERS I HAVE SEEN IN MY TIME OF OBSESSIVELY WATCHING NBA BASKETBALL (1987-2015). The years noted next to the players are the span of time they played, not necessarily the exact seasons. Guys that are active are still climbing an ever-changing list like this one. There are a handful of players I saw play, but count them for this list. I did not see them enough or at their best.
PLAYERS I WATCHED THAT I DID NOT COUNT FOR THIS LIST: Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Moses Malone, Adrian Dantley, Bernard King, Mark Aguirre, Alex English, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish, Rolando Blackman, Fat Lever , Ricky Pierce, Xaiver Mcdaniel, Tom Chambers & Larry Nance.
HONORABLE MENTION: Gilbert Arenas, Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Tim Hardaway, and Derrick Coleman.
THE 60 BEST PLAYERS I’VE SEEN AS OF JULY, 2015:
#60- ANTHONY DAVIS (Active) I’m giving Davis an early ticket on this list. Like Shaquille O’Neal being voted a “top 50 player” too early, sometimes you can give credit for upside. Most NBA insiders think Davis is THE next guy. It’s obvious he’s going to be in the conversation.
#59- JAMES HARDEN (Active) For all that he has yet to do, it’s clear Harden’s impact level is here to stay. His step back jumper allows him to get shots off with little space. James is a master at drawing contact. I did not think he would ever end up second on an NBA MVP ballot.
#58- KEVIN JOHNSON (1987-2000) Many think of the images of the 6-foot-1 Johnson hammering it on Hakeem Olajuwon and Mark Eaton. The mayor could ball! In 105 playoff games KJ averaged 19.3 points and 8.9 assists per game.
#57- DERRICK ROSE (Active) Derrick is the youngest player to ever be named NBA MVP (22). It may be difficult for Rose to get back to that level again. I’ve seen enough to know he’s one of the most explosive, determined guards to play the game.
#56- LARRY JOHNSON(1991-2001)If healthy, Larry Johnson would have been a Hall of Fame player. He had elegance in his power game. Johnson hit one of the biggest shots and free throws in New York Knicks history.
#55- RUSSELL WESTBROOK (Active) Russell charging at a defense makes me think of back peddling in a panic. Former player Antoine Carr described his reason for liking Westbrook, “He seems to play angry every night man.”
#54- CHRIS BOSH(Active) After his last season in Toronto, I thought Chris peaked as the 12th best player in the NBA. His contribution was a huge reason the Heat went to four straight Finals and brought home two rings. Bosh plays outstanding pick and roll defense.
#53- MANU GINOBILI (Active) The 57th overall pick of the 1999 draft has become an unforgettable gem. Manu is the perfect combination of showtime and grit.
#52- CHAUNCEY BILLUPS (1997-2014) Basketball people love Billups. He went from a hard-working journeyman to a five time NBA All-Star and a Finals MVP. With a name like “Mr. Big Shot” we can assume this guy did alright.
#51- BUCK WILLIAMS(1981-1998)Before I saw him play Buck had five 1000 plus rebound seasons. I remember when he competed in 58 playoff games with the Blazers over a few year stretch. He could bang with someone like Karl Malone and make it a fair fight in the toughness category.
#50- DIKEMBE MUTOMBO(1991-2009)Mutombo made his name with smothering defense and a cool finger waggle. He was an eight time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year.
#49- AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE (Active) Amar’e was an exotic talent. He was a better Blake Griffin. Stoudemire was at his best during the Western Conference Finals versus San Antonio in his second season. He dropped 37 a game in dominating fashion. I thought then he was the third best player on the planet.
#48- SHAWN KEMP (1989-2003) Kemp was the first player I ever thought of as a “man child”. Even raw and young, he would explode off of the television. Shawn helped the 1996 Seattle Supersonics to 64 wins and the NBA Finals. As an older player in Cleveland he started burying the outside shot from the elbow.
#47- RASHEED WALLACE (1995-2013)Rasheed had great extension on his shot and range that stretched deep. Wallace was unstoppable when he was aggressive. He is the most gifted, reluctant player of his time (Odom is number two).
#46- TONY PARKER (Active) The longer Tony keeps his dribble alive, he seems to get more dangerous. His 17 foot jumper and his floater are staples that have helped his teams win four World Championships.
#45- CARMELO ANTHONY (Active) The media loves to talk about the holes in Carmelo’s game. I gained my respect for Melo watching his Olympic play in 2008. When he’s on your side it’s easy to see his scoring prowess. His mid range game is butter, and he can be trusted in crunch time.
#44- VINCE CARTER (Active) Vince was an aesthetically pleasing player to watch. His aerial game left you waiting for his next new move. Carter became a weapon from the three-point line and has a 50 point playoff game to his credit. His transition to excellent role player in his later years is a the bow on his Hall of Fame caliber career.
#43- JOE DUMARS (1985-1999) Rolling with a group of “bad boys”, Joe was the face of class and integrity. He shot it well, passed with precision, and was cool late in games. Dumars deserves the label of “combo guard.” Michael Jordan admired the challenge Joe presented him.
#42- PAU GASOL (Active) His mix of length and skill are transcendent. Gasol was the lead guy in Memphis on a 50 win team. He was the difference maker for Kobe’s Lakers teams that played in three straight Finals series. As a Chicago Bull in the 2015 campaign, he had the most Double doubles in the NBA with 54.
#41-DWIGHT HOWARD (Active) Dwight has become so overrated, hes underrated. His body and athleticism have aided him in being a historic defender. Howard has been the league leader in blocks five times. For all of those that dump on him the last few years, don’t forget Dwight is a 19.5 point, 14.1 rebound, and 2.6 block guy in 84 playoff games.
#40- MITCH RICHMOND (1988-2002) Richmond’s great play was a little under the radar in Golden State and Sacramento. Mitch finished strong at the cup. He scored 21 points per game or more in 10 straight seasons and hit 85 percent of his career free throws.
#39- CHRIS MULLIN (1985-2001) Chris watched the 1988 All-Star game from rehab. A year later he was playing in the 1989 All-Star game in Houston. He went from 30 pounds over weight to being part of “Run TMC” and leading the league in minutes twice. Mullin had super vision.
#38- DENNIS RODMAN (1986-2000) Rodman made hustle sexy. His energy seemed tangible and it drove his teams and his home crowds. Dennis led the league in rebounding over seven consecutive years, pulling down an eye-popping 16.7 a night.
#37- RAY ALLEN (1996-2014) When Ray Allen was in town I would always show up early to watch his pre game shooting routine. It was more than spectacular. It was a front row seat to the reminder that being great does not happen on accident.
#36- CHRIS PAUL (Active) He wears how bad he wants to beat you on his sleeve. Chris has led the league in steals per game five times in his 10 seasons. Although CP3 has not advanced to a Conference Final, the shot he hit to beat the Spurs in game seven (2015) should validate him the same.
#35- PENNY HARDAWAY (1993-2008) Penny had it all in his game. He was a big guard who had hops, could post, and was a suburb show passer. On a desperate Orlando team in 1997, Hardaway scored 42 and 41 points in back to back playoff wins.
#34- REGGIE MILLER(1987-2005)His constant motion was as much his staple as his long distance shooting. He was so difficult to chase it consumed teams. Miller would embrace pressure. He was always willing to dare the moment, which made for great theater in the clutch.
#33- TRACY MCGRADY (1997-2012) In his Orlando days, Tracy was an athletic phenom. He was like “Kobe East.” As a Rocket he remained a scoring expert, while his ability to pass the ball cross court was on full display. McGrady was a two-time scoring champion.
#32- ALONZO MOURNING(1992-2008)After a December 2007 game in Salt Lake City, I asked Mourning “what is the number one thing you have learned about yourself over the last few years?” He took his time cutting his last toe nail, looked up and said, “that I’m a tough son of a bitch.”
#31- GRANT HILL (1994-2013) Grant burst onto the scene as the new age point forward. He was a smooth and dynamic ball player. Late in a career full of injuries, Hill developed a reputation as a good defensive player.
#30- JAMES WORTHY(1982-1994)He would wave the ball above his head, palming it like a grapefruit. If Worthy didn’t get you with his first step, he would feel the defenders and quickly spin to the rim. “Big Game James” went 15 for 22 from the field in game seven of the 1988 NBA Finals.
#29- STEPHEN CURRY (Active) He’s only a puppy, and showing us things we have never witnessed before. His handles and shot are arguably the best we have seen. His ability to shoot off the dribble and the pass is seemingly effortless. This makes him the leading man in the long distance shooting era.
#28- JASON KIDD (1994-2013) Kidd was the unselfish play maker of the day. His ability to pass and hit the boards made him a triple double threat every night (his 107 is 3rd all time).
#27- PAUL PIERCE (Active) Pierce thrives in pressure moments. He is in the closer’s club. Paul is a Boston Celtics legend whose playoff career will be the roots of his legacy. Defensively Pierce created a hurdle for LeBron James. His nickname “The Truth”, was given to him by Shaquille O’ Neal.
#26- GARY PAYTON (1990-2007) When I think of “the glove”, I picture him in his defensive crouch. His palms out, his head rocking side to side, and chewing his gum like the cockiest man alive. Gary Payton was also awesome at basketball.
#25- KEVIN MCHALE(1980-1993) His odd framed body combined with all of his pet moves made McHale a back to the basket wizard. Charles Barkley said about Kevin, “He was almost an impossible cover. I would just stand there with my arms raised up as high as I could get them. Then you just hoped he missed.”
#24- KEVIN DURANT (Active) He has the unique physical tools, the strong mental makeup, and the drive that makes him a lock for greatness. KD will begin his prime years of play this winter. Durant has already been the league MVP. He has finished in second place in the voting three times.
#23- DOMINIQUE WILKINS (1982-1999) Dominique Wilkins was left off the NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team in 1996. Wilkins became the popular name missing from the top 50 list. Magic, Bird, and Jordan quickly made the point Nique deserved the same honor that they did. His 1988 playoff performance with 47 points remains a record for a game seven.
#22- CHRIS WEBBER(1993-2008)In my opinion, Webber was the top player in the NBA for the first half of the 2000 NBA season. Chris had good patience under the rim. He had amazing hands and caught everything. At the time C Webb was the best front court passer since Larry Bird.
#21- SCOTTIE PIPPEN (1987-2004) Pippen is the most disrespected star of my lifetime. He is perceived as a player that was carried to his success. The reality is, Scottie won six Championships while ranging between the 3rd and 12th best player on earth. He was a lock down defender and as well-rounded as they come.
#20- PATRICK EWING (1985-2002) He was the prize of the 1985 draft and did not disappoint. Patrick had all of the rugged traits with an iconic turn around shot from the baseline. Ewing was named “Player of the Month” 5 times.
#19- ALLEN IVERSON (1996-2010) Iverson destroyed defenses with his relentless play and blinding quickness. He was constantly on the floor sacrificing his body. Allen led the league in average minutes seven times. A guy that scores 30 points in the opening half of his first NBA Finals game, is obviously not scared.
#18- STEVE NASH (1996-2014) Steve had excellent balance and footwork. He was a degree of difficulty shot maker, and did it shooting elite percentages. His style could seem chaotic but Steve was in complete control. Teams were built around his unique abilities.
#17- DIRK NOWITZKI (Active) I’ll never forget his 2011 Finals performance. It was among the greatest efforts where one man carried a group. You could see his experiences paying off in the fourth quarter. Dirk slowly out matured the Miami Heat when it mattered the most.
#16- CLYDE DREXLER (1983-1998) I can see Drexler dribbling full speed ahead with his head down. Clyde was traded to the Rockets in 1995. Some teammates resented him because they missed Otis Thorpe. After dropping 41 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists in a playoff game down two games to one to Utah, ended questions over the trade. Kenny Smith said, “we remembered quickly he was special.”
#15- ISIAH THOMAS (1981-1994) Isiah played the game like he knew he was being watched. He was a crowd pleaser and was a difficult player to upstage. His 1,123 assists remain an Eastern Conference record that will be hard to touch.
#14- KEVIN GARNETT (Active) KG was an animated character. At his best, he could guard every player on the court. Garnett was so wound up in his early years, he would not let the ball go in his teams hoop even after the whistle had blown.
#13- DWYANE WADE (Active) The self security Wade showed in how he handled James and Bosh in Miami was vital to the bond and the winning. His hesitation dribble sets up his beautiful drives into the paint. The 6-foot-4 Wade has 717 blocks in only 781 games.
#12- CHARLES BARKLEY (1984-2000) There was nobody quite like Charles. For his size, his rebounding numbers are epic. He shot 58 percent from the floor over his first six seasons. Being the standout player on the original “Dream Team” is his coolest accomplishment.
#11- JOHN STOCKTON(1984-2003)Stockton was so good at making decisions he made me think and guess the game as a viewer. John scored 19, 711 points shooting 51.5 percent on field goals. On the side, he was busy crushing opponents physically in the pick-setting part of the game. Only three players have produced a 1,000 assist season. John accomplished that feat seven different times.
#10- DAVID ROBINSON (1989-2003) “The Admiral” was chiseled, mobile, and cat quick. The last quadruple-double in the NBA was February 17th, 1994. Robinson had 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 blocks against the Pistons. After the height of his individual glory, he tutored Tim Duncan which paid off with two Championships.
#9- KARL MALONE (1985-2004) One of the most impressive sights in modern basketball was the 6-foot-9 inch, 260 pound “Mailman” running the outside lane on the fast break. Backing his guy down in the paint, Karl would seal the player on his hip and it was over. Nobody was stronger and he was not going to be outworked. Malone made the ALL-NBA First Team 11 times.
#8- HAKEEM OLAJUWON(1984-2002)At his apex (1993-97), Hakeem had the most impact on offense and defense in harmony than anyone else I’ve seen in the NBA. He mowed down beasts of the game to win his two titles. “Dream” remains the only player with over 200 blocks and 200 steals in the same season.
#7- LEBRON JAMES (Active) James is the finest combination of power and finesse the game has seen. He is as unselfish as an elite scorer can be. His defense is wildly versatile. LeBron’s on the level where being the best ever has to be his goal.
#6- SHAQUILLE O’NEAL (1992-2011) Phil Jackson coaching Shaquille O’Neal in his prime created a monster. The motivated, refined version of Shaq was so dominant, it made us all think of Wilt. O’Neal was the most automatic bucket in the NBA. He led the league in field goal percentage 10 times.
#5- TIM DUNCAN (Active) Tim is arguably the best player during his time in pro basketball. Duncan is a five time NBA Champion whose teams have won 50 or more games in 16 straight years. He’s everyone’s favorite model of poise and consistency.
#4- LARRY BIRD (1979-1992) Bird had an intimidating swagger about himself. He seemed to be playing cat and mouse with his opponents. He made an art form out of crafty play. Larry was the leader of arguably the greatest team of all time, the 1986 Boston Celtics (40-1 at home).
#3- KOBE BRYANT (Active) I believe Bryant is the greatest, fundamentally sound offensive player in the history of the game. His footwork and tough shot making ability are incomparable. Kobe once out scored the Dallas Mavericks 62-61 through three quarters. Dallas had played three more minutes than him.
#2- MAGIC JOHNSON (1979-1996) Magic smiled while he humiliated people. He always seemed to have his four offensive teammates on a string. Johnson had an incredible feel for what his team needed. He played in 9 NBA Finals. If you needed a 50 foot shot to win the game, Magic would give you a solid chance. He has the most fitting nickname in sports.
#1- MICHAEL JORDAN (1984-2003) Jordan is the best team sports athlete I’ve ever seen. He often owned the game and seemed to take what he wanted on the floor. He was asked to live up to “Jordan standards” every night. It’s amazing how often he would match or exceed those expectations. Michael scored 40 or more points in a game 37 times…in 1987 alone.