By Chris Le
(Original post on 3/10/07)
- Michael Jordan – What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? The consensus greatest basketball player of all-time, His Airness, was Finals MVP in each of his 6 titles, a 5-time regular season MVP, a 9-time selection to the All-Defense First Team, a 10-time All-NBA First Team, and he did all this while missing two years in his prime. As the game’s most prolific scorer and stingiest defender, Jordan did anything and everything he wanted on the court. He was the epitome of a perfectionist and was as ruthless as they come when it comes to winning. It didn’t matter who was in his way, MJ would leave his opponents beaten and battered. No one was even close. And he remains the lone exception to the rule that a dominant big man is needed to win championships. I just feel sorry for the likes of Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, Gary Payton, Karl Malone and John Stockton—those that possibly could’ve won titles had they had the fortune of playing in another era.
- Jerry West – In many ways, “Zeke from Cabin Creek” was Jordan’s equal. Okay, maybe not equal, but definitely not far off. Like Jordan, West combined expert ability to put the ball in the hoop with a stifling defense that gained him five All-Defense selections. Just look at their career numbers—Jordan: 30.1 pts, 6.2 rebs, 5.3 asts, West: 27.0 pts., 5.8 rebs, 6.7 asts. Those look pretty close to me. But when you talk about Jerry West, you have to bring up his postseason play. They didn’t call him “Mr. Clutch” for nothing. In 55 Finals games (a ridiculous stat in itself), West averaged 30.5 points a night, and who can forget his famous half-court heave as time expired against the Knicks in 1970? It is unquestioned that West is the greatest player to never win an MVP, placing 2nd four times to Wilt Chamberlain in 1966, Willis Reed in 1970 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971 and 1972. Perhaps he can take solace in his 1969 Finals MVP, a series in which his team lost—the first time a Finals MVP was awarded to a member of a losing team. That’s how great West was. Even in a losing effort, he was the most valuable player on the court.
- Kobe Bryant – The closest we’ve ever seen to Jordan athletically but maybe with better range on his jump shot. The comparisons are inevitable. Bryant shares Jordan’s position, all-around athletic ability and even his flair for the dramatics. However, it has only been recently that Kobe has shown a true potential to reach Jordan’s level. He always had the capability to put on a show by himself but with a young cast that includes Smush Parker, Andrew Bynum, Kwame Brown and Ronny Turiaf, it seems that Kobe has learned to make his teammates better. The points and spectacular plays are still there, but now he is making sounder decisions with the ball in his hands. This season, Bryant has turned an extremely inexperienced team into a viable playoff contender. In order to be on par with Jordan and West though, Kobe has to jump to the next level, display his newfound understanding of the game in the postseason and win a championship.
- Sam Jones – Okay, his career numbers (17.7 pts, 4.9 rebs and 2.5 asts) aren’t spectacular. And I know what you’re thinking: “He played with Bill Russell and Bob Cousy!” Well, even while playing alongside basketball gods, Jones never failed to shine through. He made his presence felt in the postseason and particularly, in the waning seconds of a game. In clutch situations, Jones was the go-to guy, not Russell or Cousy, and he rarely missed. He was an integral part of his 10 championship teams, and the most impressive stat of his career may be his record in Game 7’s: 9-0. Before Jordan, before Robert Horry and before West, Sam Jones was “Mr. Clutch.” He may have been overshadowed by his two Hall of Fame teammates, but his value to the Celtics’ dynasty will always be remembered by Boston fans. Plus, he used the glass like no other. I just love guys who utilize the bank shot (ahem, Tim Duncan).
- George Gervin – Few scored as easily as “The Iceman,” and even fewer looked better doing it. Smooth as silk is a fitting description when seeing him glide down the court and to the hoop, setting free the most gorgeous finger rolls you’ll ever see. And his rail-thin frame only added to the aesthetic. But what separates Gervin from other slashing scorers was his efficiency and deadly mid-range shot. He had every offensive move in the book, and they were all in full force on April 9, 1978, when Gervin scored an NBA-record 33 points in a quarter against the Jazz. He would go on to amass 59 points in a mere 33 minutes. What keeps Gervin behind the four men ranked above him was a lack of defense. All of his efforts were made on the offensive end of the court.
Honorable Mentions: Hal Greer, Clyde Drexler, Bill Sharman, Allen Iverson.