Some Belated Hoops Talk.

Since Bean snagged his fourth title, there’s been a lot of conversation about where he ranks among the game’s all-time greats. During the postgame, the ABC panel took it as a given that he was in the top 10. But I’m not so sure.

In my absolute top 5 (and not necessarily in any order): Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain.

Is Kobe better than Erving or Tim Duncan? Maybe. But better than Kareem West,  Robertson, Olajuwon or Shaq (all of whom would probably pop up uncontroversially in someone’s top 5)? I just don’t know.

Also, for all the hand-wringing over how the prep-to-pro cohort was ruining N.B.A. basketball, it bears mentioning that the NBA’s final four teams this year had high schoolers in major roles. Dwight, Kobe and LeBron are all among the league’s very best players, and J.R. Smith might yet get there.  (And the Celtics, on the outside looking in, are anchored by a high schooler of their own.) Even the high schoolers without the crazy upside of those guys have mostly managed to be solid contributors who have stayed out of trouble.

7 thoughts on “Some Belated Hoops Talk.

  1. Jeremy June 17, 2009 at 2:42 pm Reply

    Oscar Robertson is one of the most underrated NBA players of all-time, in my opinion. People just don’t give him enough credit.

    As for the prep-to-pro arguments, I’m not sure if there isn’t some sort of selection bias here with Kobe and Lebron. These dudes came into the league with some serious wisdom beyond their years–Kobe with his international background, and his pro-ball playing dad, and Lebron had been in the spotlight since middle school (remember when he was on the front page of Sports Illustrated as a junior in high school?). I think their wisdom positions them as outliers compared to, say, Tyson Chandler. ‘Bron’s always been a really smart kid (he had some great guys around him at st vincents st marys), and I’m not really sure all prep-stars have that strong, stable background.

    And, maybe I’m just personally biased against Kobe (the whole alleged rape thing never sat well with me), but I think the conversation of Top 10 all-time begins with Lebron well before we start talking about Kobe, 4 rings or not.

    • G.D. June 17, 2009 at 2:48 pm Reply

      Wow. LeBron is in the top-10 conversation even as a fifth-year player with no rings?

      You’re right: Kobe and Bron are outliers, but outside of, say, Telfair, Kwame Brown and Korleone Young, I never got the idea that the “wayward” prep-to-pro thing had much merit. Chandler may not be All-World, but he’s an above-average player and a good locker room guy. Eddy Curry is fat and lazy, but so were Derrick Coleman and Benoit Benjamin.

      • Winslowalrob June 17, 2009 at 3:41 pm Reply

        Preach GD Preach!

        Kobe got four rings, but he lost in not one but TWO finals where he was the dominant player. I still get the feeling that he is streaky good rather than all-world good (game 1? I mean when he is on he is unstoppable, not going to lie, but he is not on that consistently). I put him in the top 20 maybe but the top 10? I dunno, I could go on and on about this.

        PS ALL year I said if the lakers were healthy they were going to win. Magic get hot I switch my pick after months of sticking with the Lakers. I do not deserve to talk about basketball anymore!

  2. Ron June 18, 2009 at 12:38 am Reply

    The whole prep-to-pro thing is a pejorative argument concocted by jealous people who have no semblance of athletic talent, coupled with racial undertones of “poor colored kids from the hood who can’t handle big time money and will wilt under pressure” and couple that with the whole “a bit of finishing school in college would do these kiddies good.”

    No one complains when baseball players leave their homes at 16 to go pro from foreign countries, when European kids do it in basketball or legions of tennis players who’ve been dropping out of school forever to pursue the odds of success on the circuit.

    Stopping people from pursuing their athletic ability in a marketplace where they’d otherwise thrive is surely the right of the leagues, but the leagues just need to call it what it is.

    As for Kobe and his greatness quotient, that whole celebration felt contrived, but I feel he’s either a boy genius that doesn’t get his props if he could manage to orchestrate what he’s managed to in his post-Shaq career or he gets a ridiculously bad rap.

    I think history will have to judge it to properly give it context. The starts of yore had not to contend with the 24/7 digital media culture that today’s stars have to play in, so while they play for comparable peanuts to today’s benchwarmers, I’d say that to survive the scrutiny of a no-holds-barred invasive media culture that’s following your every move and reporting on it via multiple platforms, to pursue success at a high level and to achieve it takes a special person.

    I think he’s better than gets credit for, though.

  3. Spaceman's Hairdo June 18, 2009 at 11:12 am Reply

    GD, that’s crazy–I read your “outliers” comment while listening to Mr. Gladwell himself. Got the chills. Seriously. At any rate I have a hard time of comprehensively judging players I have not experienced per se. I didn’t really start paying attention to the game until the first three of MJ’s six. So I will go ahead and offer up a top five of my era. All nicknames and in no particular order, here we go–Sir Charles, The Dream, The Mailman, MJ, and The Admiral. Now the current top five “should” be obvious. Once again, all nicknames and in no particular order–Mamba, King James, D-Wade, Superman, and Melo. You also have those cusp players like Shaq and Duncan who were great during the transitional period between the old guard and the new.

    You know what could be fun, listing by decade the top five players at their respective positions. Then we could speculate which team would kick the most ass.

    And Ron, money on the prep-to-pro argument. That whole system is a joke. What they essentially tell these kids is that before you can make any money you need to fatten the wallets of CBS, ABC, ESPN, Nike, Electronic Arts, your school, and countless others first. But don’t worry, it’s only going to be for a year. I remember at one point the top three young players in the league were all straight out of high school (Kobe, KG and TMac).

  4. rleerlee June 23, 2009 at 11:59 am Reply

    Interesting discussion. Thanks. I invite all pro hoops historians to join the Association for Professional Basketball Research, the leading historian’s group. Go to & click on register on the landing page.

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