This past week the NBA celebrated its 75th anniversary by naming 75 of the greatest players to ever play the game to commemorate the anniversary. The 75 players were unveiled in pools of 25 in an unranked shuffled order of current generational players and those of the past. Notable 21st-century players that headlined the 75th-anniversary team were Kevin Durant, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, Tim Duncan, and many more.
As hard as it is to tell someone the entire history of the game with just 75 of the greatest players to ever play, the committee seemed to generate this list by prioritizing longevity and accolades over overall players’ peaks. Consistency defines longevity in the NBA but what did the committee knit pick in order to place those above others? The committee of voters featured prominent credible media members/personalities, current/former players, and coaches. The main issue a lot of basketball fans had with the totality of the list was it felt as if the list was just the 75 greatest basketball careers hence longevity and accolades rather than the 75 best players to ever step foot on the court.
Guys like Dwight Howard, Kyrie Irving, Tracy McGrady, and even Paul George found themselves on the outside looking in and as a result created a frenzy on social media once the list was finalized and released. Dwight Howard’s snub was by far the biggest of them all. Howard was at one point the best big man in basketball for a substantial period of time. A three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year award winner, five-time All-NBA first team member, and one of the very few that got the best of Lebron James in a playoff series as the best player on the opposing team. Howard’s goofy persona depicted an image of him that voters seemed to use to weigh in when evaluating him as a player which is wrong.
The same can be said for Kyrie Irving. Irving’s “antics” over the past couple of years seemed to have rubbed some voters the wrong way and perhaps may have been used to leave him off the celebratory team. Andre Iguodala recently tweeted this past week “So y’all saying [Kyrie Irving] ain’t top 75. I agree … he top 20 at least”. In the 2017 NBA Finals Kyrie Irving averaged just under 30 points a game against arguably the most dominant NBA team to ever be assembled. Later on that summer, Kevin Durant went on sports personality Bill Simmons’ podcast saying “Kyrie is better than A.I. to me. I’m going from like skill to skill. His handle is better. We might have to cut that out. I don’t want no problems with A.I. Y’all might have to cut that one. I don’t want that to get out. I’m just saying I feel like Kyrie got more skill.” This is arguably the greatest scorer in NBA history speaking that highly of Irving. Irving outplayed Stephen Curry in back-to-back NBA Finals including hitting arguably the most clutch basketball shot in NBA history. All of us basketball fans have asserted that Kyrie Irving has the best handle in NBA history. Last year, Irving also joined the exclusive 50/40/90 club becoming the fourth player in history to do so while pouring in at least 27 points a night. Damian Lillard is a Hall of Fame player that has undoubtedly left his mark on the game already but having him on the team and cutting Kyrie Irving is pushing it. With all of that being said can we confidently say that Irving should be held back from the team simply because of his lack of “top 5 MVP finishes” and “All-NBAs” like Nick Wright deemed this past week on FS1?
“I always wish if I had one player to play with it was this guy, cause listen he could do everything I could do but he’s was taller. When I talk to kids about that, that’s what I tell them when they ask the hardest player I ever had to defend it was pretty easy one, it was Tracy ..”. An excerpt from the great Kobe Bryant back in 2019 during ESPN’s The Jump sit down interview with Tracy McGrady. McGrady was a seven-time All-Star and a seven-time All-NBA member so longevity couldn’t have been the reason to hold him off the anniversary team. A two-time scoring champion in 2002 and 2003 during an era where pace was much slower and scoring was harder to come by. An era that featured a prime Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce the list goes on (all Naismith Hall of Famers and NBA top 75 inductees).
Paul George is another player, for example, that has been one of the best small forwards of this generation. Very much well known for his days as an Indiana Pacer that pushed a Miami Heat squad that was led by an apex Lebron James and Dwayne Wade in both 2012 and 2013. These are first-ballot Hall of Famers. His consideration for the NBA top 75 may seem like a stretch to some but think of some of the contemporaries that challenged Michael Jordan during his prime that came up short; Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Gary Payton. We still think highly of those players enough to give them the respect they’ve earned even though they may not have the jewelry to boast on their resumes.
Usually, when people like to debate about who’s top 10 in this or that, we get so caught up in why this player is so deserving that we never articulate as to who’d we take off and why. Not to take anything away from those players who have paved the way for the players of today but it’s inevitable that the skill level and talent today is much superior to the generations that came prior. That’s not being disrespectful to those before but overall just shows how far the game of basketball has come. Sometimes, when evaluating players of today, the media which though very much deserving seems to have this level of respect for previous generations that they’re sometimes reluctant to place players of today above them. At the end of the day, you’re defining the National Basketball Association with 75 of the best players to ever step foot on the hardwood.
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