Best of All-Time?
After watching LeBron James and a bunch of guys named Joe out-last Boston in Game 7
of the NBA Eastern Finals on Sunday, followed by Steph Curry third-quartering Houston in Game 7 of the Western Finals Monday, I thought it might be a good time to revisit the two questions every true basketball fan likes to debate.
Who’s the greatest player of all time?
What’s your all-time all-NBA team?
First, a few disclosures. I grew up in New Jersey, back in the 1950s and 60s. I was a Celtics fan. My favorite players were Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and John Havlicek.
So I may be slightly biased toward the guys from the parquet hardwood.
Then again, they won 11 NBA titles in 13 years, including eight in a row from ’59-’66. So a few Celtics should justifiably show up on anyone’s all-NBA teams.
People who dismiss the old-timers tend to argue that they couldn’t compete against the bigger, stronger, more well-conditioned and explosive athletes of today. That may be true in some cases, but players should be judged by their dominance and accomplishments in their own era, unless the level of competition was diminished by either war or player strikes.
Russell was the dominant player of his generation. He won more titles (11) than any player in the history of the NBA…and he was the main reason the Celtics won all those championships against some very tough opposition, including the Lakers (with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor), the Hawks (with Bob Pettit and Lenny Wilkins) and the Wilt Chamberlain-led Warriors and 76ers.
Though only 6’9”, Russell consistently out-played and out-rebounded much taller opponents. He averaged 22.5 rebounds per game for his career and turned shot-blocking into an art form. Not interested in swatting the ball out of bounds, Russell would keep the ball in play, grab it out of the air, and start a fast break the other way.
Havlicek is sometimes omitted from all-time teams because he started out as a sixth man. But “Hondo” was an eight-time champion, averaged 20.8 points for his career, was named All-NBA 11 times and All-Defensive nine times. He also had an uncanny knack for coming up with the big basket or the big steal in clutch playoff moments.
Cousy defined the point guard position. He was a wizard as a ballhandler and also a major scoring threat, averaging 18.4 points over his career. The league MVP in 1957, Cousy was named first team All-NBA 10 straight seasons. His signature one-handed push shot from 25-30 feet was only worth two points during his time; with the three-point rule, he’d have averaged closer to 25 per game.
As for the GOAT, until this year, I was always a Michael Jordan guy. But given what LeBron has done over the last few years with an inferior supporting cast, he’s definitely in the conversation. I still give Michael a slight edge, because he was six for six in NBA Finals, but if LeBron can win a championship this year with that Monte Vista High School cast around him, we might have to call for another vote.
With that background, here’s a look at one man’s all-time All-NBA teams.
Guards—Steve Nash, Walt Frazier, Isiah Thomas
Centers—Shaquille O’Neal, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Willis Reed
Forwards—Karl Malone, Rick Barry, Bob Pettit, Charles Barkley, Kevin Durant
Rising with a Bullet