What defines greatness? Is it the ability to win regardless, being an exceptional talent or a mixture of both? Does not having one or the other of these elements exclude one from being truly considered amongst the immortals. As many of the individuals in part 3 of this countdown show, both factors go into consideration.
Many great players become so by having spectacular numbers and accomplishments, such as multiple scoring titles or highlights that are so amazing that they ascended to the heavens of the sport. However, others just keep winning…and winning…and winning, until they also join these same players in the hierarchy of greatness. It’s a multi-faceted road to the same place. Does a combination of both help? Of course, but the players who have successfully woven both elements together, especially as the focus player themselves, is small. Also, there are some who are exceptional talents that simply never overcome other amazing players of the same caliber. It happens, somebody wins and somebody loses.
However, to draw a line in the concrete about who qualifies and who doesn’t based on one criteria or the other is a major overstatement. And as this list progresses it has, and will continue, to show why this is. Of course as it goes along, the number of players with no, or even just one, championship will diminish, but that’s simply a result of being the greatest. But these guys below took it too those guys quite often, so they are deserving of respect in their own right as well.
With no more delay, the best of the next, numbers 40-31…
40. PETE MARAVICH-Guard-1970 to 1980-New Orleans Jazz, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics
THE NUMBERS: 24.2 ppg, 5.4 apg, 4.2 rpg, 1.4 spg, .441 FG %, .820 FT %
THE HONOR ROLL: 5 x All-Star, 2 x All-NBA, 2 x All-NBA 2nd
THE +/-: One of the greatest showmen in the history of sports….but did little more than get solo numbers
“Pistol Pete” simply did things with the ball that nobody else could. He was one of the most all encompassing scorers of time, and did so without a three-point line that could have made his numbers even more impressive to look back at. Maravich entered the NBA after becoming the all-time leading scorer in college basketball history, averaging over 44 points per game at LSU. He went over 50 points six times and over 40 another 35 times in his brief, but memorable career.
39. DWYANE WADE-Shooting Guard-2003 to present-Miami Heat
THE NUMBERS: 25.4 ppg, 6.3 apg, 5.1 rpg, 1.8 spg, .484 FG %
THE HONOR ROLL: 1 Championship, 7 x All-Star, 2 x All-NBA, 2 x All-NBA 2nd, 1 All-Star MVP
THE +/-: Explosive scorer and finisher….who may have his career achievements watered down by association
It’s still early for D. Wade, but his place in history still can do nothing but go up. Known for his slashing and creative scoring style, Wade is a match up problem for either guard spot. He entered the League as a sleeper of sorts, but quickly became one of the best guards in all of the game. In his third year he stepped into the spotlight of the NBA Finals and pulled the Heat back from a 3-1 deficit to win their first championship, with Wade averaging 34 points per game along the way.
38. NATE THURMOND-Center-1963 to 1977-San Francisco/Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls
THE NUMBERS: 15 ppg, 15 rpg, 2.1 bpg, .421 FG %
THE HONOR ROLL: 7 x All-Star, 2 x All-Defense 1st, 3x All-Defense 2nd
THE +/-: One of the most dominant rebounders ever….wouldn’t could dominate both ends to the extent his peers could
One of the most dominant rebounders in the history of the game. Thurmond is praised by his peers (named Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabber and Russell no less) as the toughest match up they had to endure in their careers. He holds the record for rebounds in a quarter, with 18 in 1965. His averages of 21.3 and 22 rebounds per game in 1966-67 and 1967-68 are stand as the high totals ever compiled that aren’t Russell or Chamberlain seasons. His 22 point/14 rebound/13 assist/12 block quadruple-double in 1974 was the first recorded instance of this mark in NBA history.
37. WES UNSELD-Center-1968 to 1981-Baltimore/Washington Bullets
THE NUMBERS: 10.8 ppg, 14 rpg, 1.1 spg, 3.9 apg, .509 FG %
THE HONOR ROLL: 1 Championship, MVP & ROY (’68), 5x All-Star
THE +/-: One of the most intimidating presences ever….that wasn’t a threat to win games himself
Despite being only 6’7 at his tallest, Unseld is one of the most aggressive and successful rebounders in NBA history. He made little time making his impact felt, as he pulled the Bullets from last to first in rookie season, where he became the second player to take home both MVP and Rookie of the Year honors in the same year. He averaged better than 15 boards per game for his first five years and was a dangerous offensive weapon with his quick and accurate outlet passes.
36. KEVIN McHALE-Power Forward-1980 to 1993-Boston Celtics
THE NUMBERS: 17.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg, .554 FG %
THE HONOR ROLL: 3 Championships, 7 x All-Star, 3 x All-Defense, 3x All-Defensive 2nd, 2 x Sixth Man of the Year
THE +/-: One of the greatest post defenders ever…who was never more than a super compliment guy
Both the best bench player and arguably the best interior defender of his time. McHale was just as capable of defending away from the rim down low as he was pressuring and contesting shots at the rim. In his career he had two nine block single game efforts. He was far from a one trick pony however, as his field goal percentage ranks 13th all-time, and he shot under 50% only once in his career, during his final season.
35. GARY PAYTON-Point Guard-1990 to 2007-Seattle Sonics, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat
THE NUMBERS: 16.3 ppg, 6.7 apg, 3.9 rpg, 1.8 spg, .466 FG %
THE HONOR ROLL: 1 Championship, 9 x All-Star, 2 x All-NBA, 5 x All-NBA 2nd, 9 x All-Defense, Defensive Player of the Year (’96)
THE +/-: One of the most shutdown defenders of all-time….that had to hang around well past prime to get a ring
If there is ever a nickname that says it all, Payton’s does the trick. “The Glove” was a smothering defender who is the only point guard to ever win Defensive Player of the Year honors. His nine first team All-Defense selections tie him for the most ever with Michael Jordan. His 2,445 steals are the fourth most of all-time, but his offensive game also stands out among any point guard ever, as he averaged at least 20 points per game seven times and is the only player to total 20,000 points, 8,000 assists, 5,000 rebounds and 2,000 steals in his career.
34. WILLIS REED-Center-1964 to 1974-New York Knicks
THE NUMBERS: 18.7 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 1.1 bpg, .476 FG %
THE HONOR ROLL: 2 Championships, MVP (’70), 5 x All-Star, 2 x Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year (’65)
THE +/-: Brutally tough competitor….who had a single moment speak louder than his longevity
The centerpiece of perhaps the best teams of the 70’s, Reed was a brutally tough two-way player who enforced his will on any match up. He averaged at least 20 points and 13 rebounds for five consecutive years from 1967 to 71. He suffered multiple knee injuries, and his career was shortened as a result, which may have cost the Knicks a few more championships. However, his entire approach was epitomized by his legendary return during the 1970 NBA Finals to lead the Knicks to their first title.
33. WALT FRAZIER-Point Guard-1967 to 1980-New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavs
THE NUMBERS: 18.9 ppg, 6.1 apg, 5.9 rpg, 1.9 spg, .490 FG %
THE HONOR ROLL: 2 Championships, 4 x All-NBA, 7 x All-Star, 7 x All-Defense, 2 x All-NBA 2nd
THE +/-: Big game killer and lock down defender….who could never replicate his early team success individually
A master of both flash and dash, “Clyde” was one of the greatest big game players in league history, as well as a tenacious defender. While Willis Reed’s return to Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals is the most memorable story, Frazier’s 36 point, 19 assist effort is what won it for them. Few players played the passing lanes better than Frazier did, and he pioneered how steals are now calculated. His pairing with Earl Monroe was one of the greatest backcourt combos in history, with both being equally capable distributors.
32. PATRICK EWING-Center-1985 to 2002-New York Knicks, Seattle Sonics, Orlando Magic
THE NUMBERS: 21 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 1 spg, .500 FG %
THE HONOR ROLL: 11 x All-Star, 1 All-NBA, 6 x All-NBA 2nd, 3 All-Defense 2nd, Rookie of the Year (’85)
THE +/-: Agile big man, capable of point and block outbursts….who never lived up to his expectations or potential
It’s often easier to look at what Ewing didn’t do as opposed to what he was, but don’t sleep on Big Pat’s career. He came into the League with a world of expectations after his amazing run at Georgetown, and answered quickly with a Rookie of the Year nod after being the first player taken in the Lotto Draft era. While he never got over the hill to snatch that elusive championship, he did have a unique combinations of shooting touch, shot blocking and rebounding prowess of any center ever, and was the 10th player to compile both 20,000 points and 10,000 rebounds.
31. GEORGE GERVIN-Shooting Guard-1972 to 1986-San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Virginia Squires (ABA)
THE NUMBERS: 25.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.2 spg, .504 FG % .840 free throw %
THE HONOR ROLL: 9 x All-Star, 7 x All-NBA, 3 x ABA All-Star, 1 x ABA MVP
THE +/-: Tremendous scorer in two leagues….who’s numbers never transitioned to wins
The master of the finger roll, the long and gangly Gervin was one of the greatest scorers in the game’s history. “The Iceman” went over 40 points 68 times in his career with a high of 63 in 1978, which also secured him a scoring title. He followed this effort up with 2 more scoring titles to follow-up that one up, and until Michael Jordan arrived he held the record for most scoring titles by a guard. Upon his retirement, he had the most blocks all-time by a guard as well.
Follow me on Twitter for this and much more at @CheapSeatFan