Throughout the last 70 or so years American basketball has seen a steady flow of some of the world’s top athletes.
From the lumbering George Mikan to the thrilling Julius Erving there are blueprints to satisfy every fan’s taste. Our aim is to give greater insight into the very best of these dynamic entertainers from the past, present and future (there is a movie quote in there somewhere) of US basketball, beginning with those premodern day titans.
Point Guard – Magic Johnson (5 time NBA Champion, 3 time NBA MVP, 3-time finals MVP, 12 time All-star, 9 time All NBA first team).
The epitome of the Los Angeles Lakers in the city of stars Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson was the centrepiece to the showtime Lakers that made Hollywood the basketball capital of the country. Entering the league as an NCAA champion and undisputed first pick Magic was thrown straight into the deep end; in his rookie season he reached the finals (obviously) and the 6”9 point guard got forced to play centre due to the injury for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. So, as the rookie point guard walked into to cover the most physical position on the court what do you think happened? That’s right, he scored 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists. He also cruised to winning the championship that rookie series and a finals MVP for good measure.
Magic combined his lovable and large personality with his flashy style of play to make some of the most memorable highlights the league has seen, unfortunately his career was cut short due to health reasons but that doesn’t detract from the reality. The league hasn’t seen such a flamboyant figure with such dominant physicality, his ability to pass is the synonymous trait of his game. Averaging over 11 assists a game in his career starts to tell this story, it wasn’t just the final pass that he could do but the defence splitting one to start off an instant score for his team. Essentially, we’ve never seen someone play like Magic Johnson and may never again be treated like that.
Shooting Guard – Michael Jordan (6 time NBA Champion, 6 time Finals MVP, 5 MVPs, 14 time all star, 10 time all NBA first team, NBA defensive player of the year, Rookie of the year).
Upon receiving his Presidential medal of freedom the then President Barack Obama made quite the statement. Obama announced that this individual’s name became synonymous with the best ever in someone’s field and I can’t disagree. Being “the Michael Jordan” of something means you have reached the pinnacle just like this man did. Six Championships and Six finals MVPs without ever reaching a game 7 is sheer dominance and harks back to the day’s of a smaller and much more Celtics orientated league. However, there is much more to the greatness of Jordan than just the rings on his finger.
The 1990s in the NBA were an incredibly talented era, let’s not forget the potency of the “dream team” that stormed the 1992 Olympics. The plethora of stars such as Ewing, Barkley, Karl Malone and John Stockton can all be painted with one harsh brush however: they didn’t win a title. How did this happen? Michael Jordan. The difference with Jordan to other greats is he made it a personal mission of his to prove his superiority over other massive personalities and talents, the story of him buying a ping pong table and practicing all summer by himself just because he lost a single game gives comical insight onto that drive.
Simply put, the statistics match the legend of MJ, he averaged 30ppg in his career and shot as near as makes no difference 50% from the field, his point scoring feats are so impressive that they’re only seen when new players have out of this world performances or seasons and get compared to being “close to what MJ did” (several times mind you). The dominance that shut down the league on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball for a full decade leaves one absolute truth, you can’t make an all time NBA team without Michael Jordan.
Small Forward – Larry Bird (3 Time Champion, 12 Time All-Star, 3 Time MVP, 10 Time All-NBA First Team, 2 Time Finals MVP).
Since LeBron James is still an active player there is only one real candidate for this position and that is the man known by many as Larry ‘Legend’. The Hick from French Lick made good on the promise of competitive rivalry with Los Angeles’ Magic Johnson which was a pot stirred relentlessly during their days at Indiana and Michigan State Colleges respectively. Lakers vs Celtics became the staple diet of many a basketball lover’s life during the 1980’s. This renaissance (covered in great detail in numerous books and documentaries) more or less saved the NBA from relative obscurity and in the process cemented Bird as one of the all-time icons of US sport.
It quickly became abundantly clear that Bird had one of the most well-rounded games the league had ever seen. A great shooter, with quick feet and an eye for a pass (again only rivalled among forwards by LeBron) Bird stamped his authority on the league and came up with a highlights reel of game winning shots that would be the envy of 99.9% of the league (real number may vary depending on source). Bird was an underrated rebounder (averaging exactly 10 per game for his career), was deceptively tough and played most of his later career with a near debilitating back problem.
Overall a tough, unselfish player who put the needs of the team above all else, an amazing natural hand-eye talent leading to some ludicrous clutch shots and legendary trash talk which saw his 3-point contest opponents melt before our eyes propels Bird into our best team of NBA’s past.
Power Forward – Tim Duncan (5 time NBA Champion, 2 time MVP, 3 time Finals MVP, 10 time all NBA first team, Rookie of the year).
Tim Duncan would be the poster boy of the best chemistry team of all-time .Like Russell before him and Curry after him, Duncan is one of the blueprints for an unselfish superstar who was not remotely bothered by personal accolades or statistics but will provide what is needed from him, for the team, at any given moment. This adaptability makes Duncan the best Power Forward of all time and all but ensures a championship if surrounded by semi-competent teammates.
Need a crunch time scorer to get you 10 points in the 4th quarter of a game 7? Duncan is your guy. Need someone to crash the boards and finish with a 20 and 20? Here he is again. Any occasion, offensively and defensively I can’t think of any other big-man I would throw to.
Not blessed with supreme athleticism, Duncan perfected an arsenal of go-to low post moves which became all but unguardable through his prime and ensured that when called for in the biggest moments, he was happy to oblige. This ability to perform in crunch-time combined perfectly with Duncan’s willingness and ability to bring teammates into the game and selflessly guard the opposition’s best big man have made Duncan one of the greatest players and teammates of all time.
Centre – Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar (6 time Champion, 6 time MVP, 2 time finals MVP, 19 time All Star, 10 time All NBA first team, Rookie of the year).
Entering the league as the greatest player the NCAA has ever seen Lew Alcindor embarked on what would be a mammoth career rivalled by no one in terms of sheer numbers. 20 seasons at the pinnacle of basketball. His gargantuan size and dexterity around the ring was an immediate attraction for fans of the sport as he wandered into a little team in Milwaukee with a certain Oscar Robertson. It took him one season of warming up before collecting his first ring in the second attempt, oh and a finals MVP.
Continuing his career Kareem entered the aforementioned showtime Lakers dynasty and played a vital role. Acquiring rings, MVPs and constant points whilst stopping others from scoring their own Kareem retired as a titan of the league, not only did he play the second most games in history, but he also scored the most points by some way. Kareem also created potentially the most iconic shot in the history of the league with the ‘skyhook’ that made him near un-guardable for two decades. Retiring as a man that didn’t just dominate the league but also made transcendent steps off the court for equality it would be difficult to leave this man out in what is potentially the most competitive position on this team.
By Michael Vince and Harry Booth