I like millions of others who have been enjoying every minute of “The Last Dance” the past few weeks. Many in the media are quick to ask who was the best ever Jordan or Lebron? I did a deep dive into not only both players but all of the top players all-time and have come up with a different synopsis. Mind you I had no idea ESPN would be dropping their top all-time players. I think it’s great to have a comparison. While we may agree on a few, there are a few we have ways apart. I will do my best to explain why I felt these players deserved their ranking.
Most look at the obvious, the titles won. After all winning is the easiest way to judge a player’s success. But there are so many other factors that go into a player’s performance on any given night. Who is covering him? How good are his teammates? How much better did he make his team every night? Did he play in meaningful games?
I wanted to look at every factor I could to determine who are the best players all time. I figured out even after looking at stats, playoffs, titles, advanced stats, performance every 36 minutes, performance every 100 possessions I still was torn on a few positions as to who was the better choice. Different eras, different criteria no matter who is on this list many will say I am wrong. And to many, they will be correct. But I factored in every single piece of information I could find to come up with my all-time NBA team and then the top 5 of all time.
I went into this with no preconceived line-up. I let the information lead me to my conclusions. After reading about so many of these previous generations of players I realize as time goes on people forget just how talented their predecessors were. I didn’t see three of these players play. But I am confident listening to those who did they are right where they should be.
Starting Point Guard
Oscar Robertson: While doing research about Robertson I came across something not talked about enough today. Triple Doubles are something you hear about every night. Robertson is the all-time leader still by a large margin and has almost 90 more then Lebron does in fewer years service. Oscar was the first to average a triple-double for an entire season (1961-62) 30.8 PTS, 12.5 REB, 11.4 ASST When you look closer he missed it another three times by a few rebounds. One year by a single rebound! Robertson was rookie of the year in 1960-61 and a 12-time all-star. He only won one MVP but again you have to look deep as he played in both Chamberlain and Bill Russell’s prime. His career averages of 25.7 PPG, 9.5 AST, and 7.5 rebounds made him number one over Magic. Magic shot the ball at a higher clip but if you needed a basket Robertson was the only option on many of his teams where Magic has a bit more help. I have a feeling Robertson’s numbers would have been even better with a three-point line as well.
Back-Up: Magic Johnson
Starting Two Guard:
Michael Jordan: Like there is any question? The thing we wish we could add to Jordan’s entire career like Robertson’s was the three-point shot. Jordan never averaged more than 3 and a half three point shots in any season. James Harden tossed up over 1000 three-point shots in 2019. Impossible to know how Jordan would have made it more of a weapon in today’s game but it was not even necessary. Jordan still averaged 30 PPG over his career. But there has never been a more dynamic player. He played every minute like it was his last. Few if any can say that in today’s game. 6 Titles, 5 MVPs. 10-time scoring champ 9 NBA’s all-defensive team . Jordan is the best player ever and to compare him to Lebron makes no sense. There is no comparison.
Back-Up: Kobe Bryant
Please don’t give me Steph Curry just dig behind ESPN highlights you will see
Wilt Chamberlain: If you asked me Jordan or Wilt now at least you have a conversation where I could see both sides. Chamberlain was the most dominant player in history. Jordan may be the best but Wilt was the most dominant. Chamberlain had a nemesis that I feel made him better in Bill Russell. Russell had more of the team hardware but Chamberlain had the more impressive game. He averaged over 30 PPG as well as 22.9 Rebounds while finding time to dish out almost 5 assists per night. Seven-time scoring champ 11-time rebounding champ, rookie of the year (1959-60) 4 time MVP finals while going up against one of the best teams of all time during his playing days.
Back-up: Kareem Abdul -Jabbar
Lebron James: I didn’t say I wouldn’t give Lebron his props. He belongs on the All-Time team. But when comparing him to Jordan I don’t have him in my top selections. James had many dominant moments none more than coming back from a 3-1 deficit winning the 2016 World Title. Yes could things have been different with Draymond Green it’s possible but not definite? James also was on the right side of a miracle Ray Allen 3 a few years before leading him to another title. So there are two ways to look at this. One he is 3-6 in finals or a Ray Allen Miracle and Draymond Green suspension from being 1-8 in finals appearances. Still, he was there. Still, he won 3.
James has been extremely consistent and his 27.1 PPG, 7.79 rebounds and 7.4 APG can not be denied. The runner up ( Bird) had him beat big time in clutch moments. What sealed it for me was his value over replacement player number which despite playing more total seasons already then Larry Bird was significantly higher. Then you have to circle back and see Bird had better talent off the bench which affected that number but in the end its James who gets the starting slot.
Back-Up: Larry Bird
Tim Duncan: This by far was the hardest position to come to a conclusion. There are up to 5 players that deserved serious consideration. Duncan did not have the best stats but if you are starting a team it would be hard to choose anyone else to play the position as the first choice. After this, it gets really tough. Tim Duncan was the focal point for FIVE Championship teams. His numbers were solid 19PPG 10 REB, 3 ASST but he had an intangible that many do not. He was the definition of a two-way player. A 15-time all-star and a 15 time NBA all Defensive team member which is just astonishing. Rookie of the year (1997-98) 2 time MVP 3-time Finals MVP. He deserves the slot in this All-Time team line-up.
Back-Up: Bob Pettit
I feel I want to explain this one as there easily could have been the name Barkley, Malone, Garnett in this spot. I feel players like Robertson, Chamberlain, and even Pettit get looked over the more time goes on. I dug in and looked at a ton of stats and advanced stats. Watched some film on him, looked again and compared him by the 100 possession stat numbers and in the end, honestly, I was ready to drop him due to his poorer shooting percentage than the 4 above. But in the end, I kept him here because he deserved it. I was really close to writing Barkley or Malone’s name down as he was the more athletic and probably more talented player. But Pettit got the most of what he had. 26.4PPG, 16.2 rebs, 3 assists, 11-time all-star, 2 time MVP, and he unlike Barkley or Malone led his team to an NBA title.
I also think he gets a few more if a few players like Chamberlain and Russell are not a part of such good teams. Petit did get his title with Russell in the league. If Barkley squeezes that one over Jordan I think he sits at #2 maybe number one. But being the 3rd best power forward of all time should not be considered a knock. Barkley was a top 25 players all-time maybe top 20.
Best of All-Time
Now it comes to tossing out the positions who was the best of all time? Remember the search for the answer to who is the greatest Jordan or James came from watching the Last Dance. It is what all of the media has been asking. Almost all interviews with a few exceptions have included only those two in the conversation. My answer is its not even close and there are a few players that I’d put in that conversation ahead of James. Edge of Philly, good or bad, is not for the guy who listens to ESPN every day . In fact, I look at ESPN a lot like the WWE these days. Started with a believable product but found that entertainment gets more advertising dollars then substance.
ESPN lost its way 10 years ago and I am not saying its all bad. Game Day in the fall is one of my favorite shows. Many of the other shows have turned to have a liberal agenda and it has turned even more people off. I turn into ESPN or used to because sports is what I love. Yes, social justice is important but if I want coverage of the Super Bowl I don’t go to CNN or Fox News. Local radio in Philly is the same way. I turned down what most would call a dream job when I found out I would be forbidden to talk wherever the conversation took me. It was always told to bring it back to a Philly Subject. Deep down the station managers agree it is boring to discuss the Eagles during football or just the Phillies during baseball but they said that is what sells. The real x and o sports fan is a dying breed but at least my role at EoP will continue to talk to you. The people who love the games on a more national scale.
So when it comes to the best of all time I think it is fair to label a Mount Rushmore in a 1 to 4 direct order with 1-3 to me being clear. The 4th being its own Mount Rushmore of another 4-6 players which you can make a sound argument for any and probably be correct. A lot of these calls are so razor-thin even after looking at 12-15 different variables. I also did not have the eye test on a few just what I found on film and studied but I feel I was as fair as anyone who put in weeks of research. So with that said my Mount Rushmore of all-time players beginning with:
Mount Rushmore of All-Time Players
Michael Jordan: Honestly I wish I saw Wilt play. Not saying I would have finished with a different order but especially because he literally changed how the game is played today. I don’t think many today go back and look at how good Wilt Chamberlain was. And he had some really good competition at his position. He was not the only dominant bug man like people think. But when it comes to the greatest of all time I watched Jordan’s career. There is nobody in the world in any sport (aside from Tiger in his prime which is a fair comparison) I want in control with the game on the line. Lebron is not in this conversation. This is not a shot at James. He is on the all-time starting five. So that should tell you just how good Jordan was.
Wilt Chamberlain: Again I’ll say it again Jordan was the greatest, but Wilt was the most Dominant. His numbers are just not believable when you look at today’s game and I am not saying he would have done any better with the three-point shot due to his size but it would be foolish just to wash it out. One year someone challenged him saying he was not passing the ball enough. The next year ( 1967-68) all he did was lead the league in assist with 8.6 per game. He is my clear #2
Kareem Abdul Jabbar: Truth be told I had to go back and rewrite this entire article after sitting on it for a few days before posting. After studying Jabbar I just cannot deny how good he was. I originally walked away saying wow Jabbar was the most underrated player I have seen. Then I realized I was a part of the problem. Both the team and individual accomplishments stand alone. So after careful thought, I went back and inserted Jabbar as the #3 player of all time and am 100% comfortable with that. His legend started before the NBA with THREE National Championships. Then goes from rookie of the year (1969-70) so a 15-time all-star, also an 11-time all-defensive team. 6-time MVP, 6 NBA titles, 2-time scoring champ, 4 times leading the league in blocks. 24.6PPG 11.2REB 3.6 ASST. Kareem is in the top 3.
The 4th on my Mount Rushmore is its own Mount Rushmore if that makes sense? There are so many great players from different eras that may deserve a spot way up high.
The players all holding a piece of the 4th spot
Oscar Robertson: As I said I went back and changed my original article after deep thought. I originally had Robertson at #3 and I cannot believe he is as low as #11 on ESPN’s board. Robertson put up Russell Westbrook numbers but shot 5% higher from the floor. Westbrook was far more athletic but it’s impossible to translate one forward or one backward. As I said above, Robertson almost had 4 seasons where he averaged a triple-double when they were on no one’s radar.
Ervin Magic Johnson: It was tough leaving Magic off the starting 5 but I had to put him where the facts took me. I grew up watching Magic first when he beat Larry Bird in the NCAA finals to where he started at Center in his rookie year to win a title. Magic was 3-time MVP, won 5 titles, and he owns a spot in the all-time top 10.
Kobe Bryant: Bryant was electric. A scoring machine. 15-time all-star, 5-time champion, his only flaw was having MJ play the same position. But he only won one MVP. Also, he truly was a scorer and didn’t get a ton of assists. The 12-time time all-defensive keeps him up there solid though. I will say this, he had as much talent as anyone to ever play the game.
Larry Bird: As a lifelong Sixers fan and current season ticket holder I should not say Bird was my favorite player of all time. Although he was. To me, he seems like one of the smartest players I had ever seen. Numbers put him in the all-time conversation but he was the lead dog on those Celtic teams that won 3 titles in the ’80s.
Lebron James: The thing about James that impresses me the most is how long he has been at the top of his game. When its all said and done I think he could own the 4th spot . The thing that bothers me is the teams he has played on to get his rings. Also, this stood out and I have heard no one reverence it as they mainly focus on his offensive game. Of ALL players that have played more than 15 minutes per game, James ranks the 13th WORST in defensive. (rating 112.9). Also going back to the 2006-07 season, James is 5-47 in regular-season shots to tie or take the lead on the final 5 seconds. Also, he can make a claim for the worst free-throw shooter in the final 15 seconds. When you are talking about Mount Rushmore you have to look at the entire package. ESPN needed to dig a little deeper
Tim Duncan: Duncan let’s face it was not exciting. He just won and performed. Played both ends of the floor better than most, won more championships than most, more all-star games than most. Get the picture?
All-Time Top 25
1) Michael Jordan
2) Wilt Chamberlain
3) Kareem Abdul- Jabbar
4) Oscar Robertson
5) Tim Duncan
6) Magic Johnson
7) Kobe Bryant
8) Lebron James
9) Larry Bird
10) Bill Russell
11) Shaquille O’Neil
12) Bob Pettit
13) Jerry West
14) Karl Malone
15) Elgin Baylor
16) Moses Malone
17) Kevin Durant
18) Julis Erving
19) Charles Barkley
20) George Mikan
21) Isiah Thomas
22) Dirk Nowitzki
23) Kawhi Leonard
24) Giannis Antetokounmpo
25) Dwayne Wade