- It is rare that I will venture off into a topic that is not truly Denver sports related, because of course we are here to focus on the local sports scene. However, there will be times when something gets my mind heading in various directions and I feel compelled to discuss larger topics or issues. Last night this happened. While watching the Spurs dismantle the Thunder in game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, it occurred to me that in a way we are watching the changing of the guard out west. San Antonio, who has been led by Tim Duncan for so many years, was methodically dissecting Oklahoma City, led by young stud Kevin Durant. It is obvious to see that Duncan is on the downside of his career, and that Durant is just entering his prime. So it got me thinking….who are the best players I have ever seen? I really began watching the NBA in the early 80′s, just as Magic and Bird were about to take the NBA to levels it had never seen before. This “Top 7″ list will not include guys like Chamberlain, Russell, or anyone else before around 1980, because it would be unfair to comment on players I never saw play live. I guess this topic could be somewhat Denver sports related, as most if not all the guys on my list torched the Nuggets here and there…;)….so here are the “Top 7″ NBA players I have ever seen…..
7 – LeBron James - Say what you will about LeBron not getting a championship yet, or that he hasn’t shown that he is a clutch 4th quarter player. I agree with those critics who say he needs to do some serious damage in the post-season in the next few years to be considered an all-time great. LeBron will have to win at least a couple titles to enter the Mount Rushmore of NBA legends. Keep in mind though, that James is still just 27 years old, and has already put up some amazing numbers. Can you believe this is his ninth NBA season already? He has career averages of 27.6 pts/game, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. In other words, he does it all and plays hellacious defense as well. His skill set is unbelievable, especially at his size. James is #7 on my list right now, and could easily be top 3 when he hangs up his sneakers about a decade from now.
6 – Larry Bird - I hated Bird when I was a kid, and I hated the Celtics. I am not really sure why, other than they were just so good, and Bird was the leader. Larry was an amazing shooter, and although not overly athletic, he had an enormous basketball I.Q.. He always seemed to be a step ahead and knew the game inside and out. You always knew he gave it his all, and his hustle was contagious. Bird was so clutch, and wanted the ball down the stretch during tight games. A bad back forced him to retire a few years too early, but he was still one of the true greats.
5 – Kobe Bryant - Kobe is a confusing player to me, and I have not liked his body language at times during his career. I have always felt like he has tried too much to look and act like Michael Jordan, who he has been compared to all too often. What is obvious though, is that Kobe has that killer instinct, which has helped him win 5 rings as a Laker. Bryant, like LeBron James, can do it all….score, rebound, pass, and play great defense. He has also been extremely clutch, and the moment never seems to be too big for him. I don’t have Kobe higher on my list because I don’t think he has made his teammates better over the years, and has at times thrown guys under the bus. With that said, he still has amazing talent and there is really not much the guy hasn’t done throughout his career.
4 – Tim Duncan - Simply put, this guy is terribly underrated when it comes to the all-time greats. Duncan has 4 championships under his belt, and a fifth may happen in a few weeks. He is such a smart player, and has a low post game that is truly old school. His back to the basket or face up game is textbook, and he has a huge repertoire of offensive moves in the paint. It is obvious he is not as dominant as he once was, but he still has spurts where he can get it done. The fact that he has not been flashy or very outspoken has kept him under the radar to a certain extent. Tim Duncan is one of the greatest big men of all time, with skills at his size we may never see again.
3 – Hakeem Olajuwon - Talk about a guy who was so raw when he entered the NBA, and developed into an impossible player to defend. By the time he won 2 championships with the Rockets in the mid-90′s, Hakeem was unstoppable. He had so many moves down in the post, and his fade-away jumper was impossible to stop. I recall his matchups against David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal turned into complete embarrassments. Olajuwon made other all-star centers look silly, as they attempted to defend his ridiculous amount of offensive moves. There was about a three year stretch where Hakeem was the greatest player in the NBA. For those who are too young to remember, go check out his highlights from the NBA Finals against Orlando and Shaq….school was definitely in session.
2 – Magic Johnson - Showtime…Magic brought a life and an energy that the NBA had never seen before. His size, combined with the fact that he was a point guard, was an unbelievable combination. But it was the fact that he made every single teammate better, and he knew who to get the ball and where on the court to get it to them. Magic wasn’t a great shooter, but did improve his shooting as time went on. His basketball smarts were off the charts though, and of course his passing was unlike anything we had ever seen. The intangibles Magic brought to the game were unmatched and he has 5 championships to show for it. Bottom line, he is my favorite player of all time.
1 – Michael Jordan - What else is there to say about him? The stats alone just simply don’t do him justice. Jordan won 6 rings, and it could have easily been more had he not taken a few years off to play baseball. The thing that is so hard to find nowadays is a player with amazing skills, a crazy work ethic, and a killer instinct. Jordan had all of this, and found great pleasure in ripping opponents hearts out and stomping all over them. Again, I don’t know what else to say about him that hasn’t been said a thousand times already. Simply put, he is best.
- An honorable mention goes out to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Patrick Ewing and Dominique Wilkins to name a few. For various reasons, these guys didn’t make my list, but maybe they or others make yours. Let me know what ya think!
Denver Sports by J Simp