On this blog we spend a lot of time studying “the great ones”, in business, of history and in sports. I believe that there is a lot that we can learn from other people’s success and what they do to get there.
Sports is a great place to study greatness because we all get a front row seat to watch a player’s teamwork, hustle, and heart. We can see a player’s rise and fall, and analyze what they did to get there.
I have a group of friends in my life that every time we get together we end up debating the great ones throughout NBA history. One of my friends, Steve, was the star of his high school basketball team. He took the same drive that averaged him 28 points a game in high school and channeled that into business, becoming the CEO of a multi-million dollar company. When Steve and I get together we talk about faith and philosophy, business principles and sports, but ironically, it’s only when we talk about sports that we get into heated debates.
I decided to share my thoughts on the best NBA players of all time, both those with and without rings, and let the debate begin. Athletes are our modern day gladiators, and most of us love watching and discussing our sports legends. We may not all agree on who’s best, but I hope we can find some common inspiration from these NBA warriors.
10. Isaiah Thomas– I had to choose Thomas over Dwayne Wade because it’s still too early to tell with Wade, but also because Isaiah made his teammates better. He was a fighter and a competitor. He also has two championships plus a season where he averaged 21 points, 14 assists, and 2.3 steals per game. For these reasons, he makes my top 10.
9. David Robinson– Some of you may argue this one, but I put him on this list for a few reasons. He was never the player who wanted a ton of attention. He has two championships, an MVP award, and scored 71 points in a game (yes, I know it was the last game of the season and he was trying to beat Shaq for scoring champion). It’s still a ton of points. What I’m very impressed with is the fact that Robinson passed the torch to Tim Duncan in the classiest way. He not only became a leader, but replaced himself when he left San Antonio to make Duncan the next name on this list.
8. Tim Duncan– He has four NBA titles. He was always dependable. Although he did it with no flash, Duncan always delivered when necessary.
7. Hakeem Olajuwon– He had the greatest foot work for a seven-footer in the history of the NBA. Kobe once visited Hakeem to improve his foot work. He’s a two-time NBA Champion. And he’s from my wife’s hometown, so I had to put in on the list to represent the great city of Houston.
6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar– He leads the league in points scored in his career. He’s also got six rings, and six MVP’s to go with that. He’s a given on this list.
5. Larry Bird – He couldn’t jump more than an inch, couldn’t win a dunk contest with an eight-foot rim, and you couldn’t get a smile out of him, but Bird was one of the greatest fighters the NBA has ever seen. This man knew how to fight and he worked his tail off.
4. Shaq– Like Madonna or Prince, he doesn’t need a last name. He is simply SHAQ: the most dominant center in the history of the NBA. If Shaq and Kobe could’ve worked it out, they easily could’ve had 7-9 championships together. Ego got in the way.
3. Magic Johnson – Some will argue that Magic is the greatest player of all time because he made everyone else on the team better. Also, Magic could play all five positions. Even though his career best points in a game was only 42, many times he almost averaged a triple-double in an entire season, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Magic was a winner all the way from high school to college, to the NBA and to the Olympics. This warrior was amazing. On a side note, he definitely wins the award for “Best Smile in the NBA”.
2. Kobe Bryant – You can’t take anything away from Kobe. His 81 points in a single game (1/22/2006) is by far much tougher than when Chamberlin scored 100; Kobe had to fight for it. Only two players in the history of the game have scored 50 plus points four games in a row (Kobe and Wilt Chamberlin). Kobe has five rings, which ties him with Magic. He’s been a Laker his entire career. He’s had five, 60-point games in his career (Jordan only had four). He’s a much better shooter than Jordan. There once was a time where Kobe had a shot at fighting for the position of #1 greatest player of all time, but he lost it when he lost twice in the NBA finals (Jordan never lost a final). Kobe had Shaq. Jordan had Scottie. Jordan won six titles with Phil Jackson. Kobe won five. If Kobe would’ve won this year, and then won one more without Phil, then we would have room to argue that he should be #1 on the list.
1. Michael Jordan – The reason that I put Jordan first on the list is that he can easily be argued as the greatest athlete of the 20th century. Jordan also had an incredible drive to win. If there was a leaderboard for players who hated losing more than the rest, Jordan would be #1 on that list. What impresses me about Jordan is not his six rings (he would have had eight, if not for his break), or his five MVPs (he would have had 8 if the NBA
didn’t have to share the love with other players). And it’s not the fact that he averaged 37.1 points per game in his 1986 season after coming off of a season-ending injury in 1985. All of these things are great accomplishments, but what makes Jordan #1 is that he became the new standard in ability and athleticism. That new standard extended to off the court as well. Jordan was the best at post-game interviews. He was the total package in the NBA.
Let the debate begin! I look forward to hearing who else you would suggest belongs on this list or who should be removed or put in a different order, and why.