Back in 1996 — the year the baby crawling on the ceiling in “Trainspotting” gave us all nightmares — the Association released its list of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players. It was undoubtedly a strong list. Nobody on the list is weak. We could quibble around the edges about who should have gotten in, but the list was good for it’s time.
But that time was 17 years ago. The NBA landscape has changed a lot since then.
What players now would push their way on to that list (and push out a Dave DeBusschere or Dolph Schayes)?
NBC’s Joe Posnanski took a crack at the additions and came up with 10 guys. Like the original 50, a strong list that we can debate around the edges.
To me, there is a group of five no-brainers at the top: Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki. I’m not sure how you argue against any of those (and if you try to with Nowitzki, think about his international impact as the greatest European player ever in the league).
But the next five get interesting.
Is Steve Nash one of the 50 greatest of all time? Posnanski makes this argument in favor.
That said, Nash’s combination as brilliant playmaker and brilliant shooter is probably unmatched in the three-point era of the NBA. Well, there’s no probably about it: Do you know how many players have made 150 three-pointers and dished out 800 assists in a season? One. Steve Nash. And he did it three times.
What about Ray Allen? He’s the greatest three-point shooter the game has seen, one of the best pure shooters ever, and he’s got a ring. Does he get in? If him, what about Reggie Miller, who Posnanski also has on the list? Personally I can’t put Reggie on there, although my distaste for his job as an “analyst” may play into my feelings.
What about Paul Pierce? He’s the most iconic Celtic since the Larry Bird era, but is he top 50?
Gary Payton? He’s a newly minted Hall of Famer who Posnanski says belongs.
I think of Payton as the Barry Larkin of basketball (or Barry Larkin as the Gary Payton of baseball). Payton scored, passed, rebounded, played defense so spectacular they called him The Glove. Like Larkin (who hit, stole bases, hit with power, played great defense, got on base), Payton rarely did things that jumped out at you. He just did everything.
I’d put Payton in, but that may be a personal bias as I love The Glove.
Thing is, you look at this list and you know that in 10 years Kevin Durant is going to have to be on it. And what about Chris Paul? The NBA is blessed with a lot of young talent that is going to make a Top 50 harder and harder to pair down every few years.