By Chris Le
ESPN.com’s top five:
- Magic Johnson
- Oscar Robertson
- Isiah Thomas
- John Stockton
- Bob Cousy
Check out the rest of their list here.
- Magic Johnson – An anomaly at the point guard position being 6’8”, Johnson revolutionized basketball and pushed the game to its limits. Though he was somewhat limited as a scorer — definitely no slouch however, as he averaged 19.5 points for his career — no one was better at running a fast break. And when the half-court offense needed to be ran, Magic made a living posting up smaller opponents. He was as versatile as they come, even playing the center position. More than that, though, there was a certain flair with which he played. The excitement of the up-tempo offense Magic conducted was unparalleled, with no-look passes being his bread and butter. His Los Angeles Lakers remains the only team to earn a championship playing that type of style. And in all honesty, there won’t be another (sorry, Phoenix Suns fans). Ultimately, Johnson was a winner. From his rookie season on, the Lakers were perennial contenders for the championship, making the NBA Finals 9 times (winning four) in the 13 seasons Magic played. His passion for winning was rivaled only by the elite – Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Bill Russell. There will never be another.
- Oscar Roberston – His name is synonymous with triple-double. Nobody did it better. In fact, “The Big-O” remains the only player in history to average a triple-double for a season. Want a fantasy line? Check out Robertson’s 1962 season: 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 11.4 assists. In today’s game, these numbers could easily lead the league in each category. In that year alone, Robertson recorded 45 triple-doubles. By contrast, it took Jason Kidd, a triple-double machine in his own right, 9 seasons to match that number. The reason why he does not supplant Magic at the top of this list is he didn’t win as often. Robertson’s lone championship came in 1971, when at 35 years old, he was only a shell of his former self. He also had the help of a young stud named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Ultimately, though, there was no better all-around player than Robertson — Jordan, Johnson, Kidd and Wilt Chamberlain wished they could do as much as Oscar.
- Bob Cousy – You wouldn’t think a short white guy with little athleticism would dominate in the NBA, but Cousy could ball with the best of them. Don’t let his modest career numbers (18.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists) mislead you; “The Houdini of the Hardwood” was one of the greatest scorers and facilitators of all-time. As the years have passed since his retirement and the evolution of the game, his career numbers have slipped down the ranks — his 6,955 assists is 13th all-time and his 16,960 points is 71st all-time. However, these low numbers were the product of his era. In those days, dribbling the ball negated an assist. It was a totally different game from today’s. Yet, at the time of Cousy’s retirement in 1963, he was the all-time leading assist man and the fourth-highest scorer in NBA history. You can’t get much better than that.
- John Stockton – The purest point guard of the bunch, Stockton was the quintessential floor general. As fundamental as they come, his style of play was more substance than style, but that didn’t keep him from producing some ridiculous numbers. He holds the all-time record for career assists (15,806) and steals (3,265). Talk about unbreakable records; the next best mark in career assists is 10,334 by Mark Jackson, that’s 5,591 less assists than Stockton. Not many players in history have accumulated 5,000 assists, and that’s how big of a lead Stockton holds. To put things in perspective, Steve Nash has 5,659 career assists; combine that total with Mark Jackson’s and it barely beats out Stockton’s record. No one executed the pick-and-roll as perfectly, and I can’t even begin to describe how he elevated Karl Malone’s play. What Nash has been doing these past three years, Stockton did for over a decade, yet he was never in the top five of the MVP Voting.
- Isiah Thomas – As tough as they come and the perfect leader of “The Bad Boy” Pistons, he wasn’t too shy to bust opponents on their asses and would run through a brick wall if it meant winning a championship. He has some nice career numbers (19.2 points, 9.3 assists, 1.9 steals) and accomplishments (two NBA Titles, one Finals MVP, and five All-NBA Selections), but Thomas’s real value as a player is seen in his postseason performances. Very few rose to the occasion the way he did. You won’t find a grittier performance (with the possible exception of Jordan’s flu game) than Thomas’s in the 1988 NBA Finals against the Lakers. Despite a severely twisted ankle and obvious pain, Thomas entered the 4th quarter with a mission and dropped 25 points—an NBA Finals record.
Honorable Mentions: Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Walt Frazier, Nate Archibald, Steve Nash.