The NBA Finals have just concluded and it turned out as I had predicted. Golden State had been down 2-1, with Game Four in Beantown. I prophesied that the Dubs would win in six. Chef Curry would be crowned Finals MVP. This marked Steph’s fourth championship ring and his first such MVP. For the naysayers, this also showed that he can win again without Durant. In other news, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole are in line for max extensions. Between the pair, I would keep Poole. Jonathan Kuminga would be a suitable (and still cheaper) replacement for Wiggins in the near future. Meanwhile, this week, allow me to name my all-time first five. Note that all greats featured in this list have been recently honoured on the NBA’s 75th anniversary team. These selections are by no means definitive.
Centre: Bill Russell. The man in the middle wasn’t hard to pick. Simply put, he’s basketball’s greatest defensive player ever. He’s also the greatest winner, with a record eleven rings as a player. No one grabbed more rebounds in the game’s history. Opposing coaches had to alter their game plans with Russell. He went a long way from being a third string high school centre to Boston’s sultan of swat. Unfortunately, statisticians did not keep track of blocked shots at the time but it wasn’t inconceivable that Russell would average double digit rejections.
At one point, the Celtics won eight titles in a row. Together with playmaker Bob Cousy and, later, John Havlicek, they dominated the field unlike anyone else. Given, the league was much more compact than it is today. However, Bill played in an era of legends like Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West. Wilt Chamberlain was much bigger and taller than Russell. He was also the better scorer. Yet when they went up against each other, Bill always had the upper hand. The moral of the story? Do not prepare balloons before Game 7 of the Finals.
Power forward: Tim Duncan. The Big Fundamental went 5-1 in the Finals. In his era, no four man was close to his resume. Karl Malone? Charles Barkley? Never won titles. Chris Bosh? Two rings. Kevin Garnett. One chip. Pau Gasol? Two rings. In fact, you add those last three, who are all great players in their own right. Duncan has as much as that trio of stars. Early in his career, Duncan was one of the league’s best scoring big men. His offence steadily declined after a high in 2002. Duncan was also known for his bank shots, which made him a fine pick and pop player. Most importantly, he was a very durable gamer who suited up for close to twenty seasons with the same outfit.
Duncan was the ultimate team player. He never missed the playoffs in his career. On the other hand, he never scored 30,000 points like Malone or led his team in all major categories like KG. However, he also did not go ring chasing like those two. Stars craved to follow him, not the other way around. He was a fine ambassador for the NBA and Tim operated quietly. He also benefitted from Coach Gregg’s guidance, one of the association’s premier tacticians. Another top 75 player is Dennis Rodman. Like Duncan, he also won five rings. He was never the main man and, unlike Duncan, did not shy away from controversy. However, with the Bulls, you could also say that he was a ring chaser.
Small forward: LeBron James. Could it have been anyone else? No one dominated the 2010s like King James. Eight straight Finals appearances, on two different teams. Four NBA championship rings, the first Finals MVP on three franchises. At one point, he was the regular season MVP four out of five years. Such is James’s talent that he could lead mediocre teams to the Finals. Recently, he also became the first active billionaire NBAer. He was a most hyped phenom who jumped straight out of high school to the big league. From humble beginnings in Akron, Ohio, he became the Cavs’s hometown superstar.
A title eluded him until his ninth year, where he would greatly improve his outside game and make opponents pay for leaving him wide open. His MVP haul is second only to MJ: aside from the regular four, he also has a quintet of Finals MVPs, and three All-Star game MVPs. He wasn’t the first player to execute the chase down block but he certainly made it cool. His rejection of Igoudala late in Game 7 of the 2016 chip series is one of the most iconic Finals moments. Simply put, LeBron is a winner in whatever he does. He changes a team’s fortune and culture the moment he arrives.
Off-guard: Michael Jordan. Air Jordan is often regarded as the GOAT and with good reason. In a brilliant NBA career, he accumulated fourteen MVPs, more than any other cager. He won six out of six championship series. Early in his career, he emerged victorious in back to back slam dunk contests. He transformed the Bulls from door mat to Finals favourites. In spite of this immense success, he did not win his first ring until his seventh season. When the game is on the line, MJ is the sure bet. No one is more clutch than number 23.
His Bulls were the first to three peat since the 60s Celtics, and they did so twice.He led the L in scoring a record ten times. He was the first geezer to win Defensive Player and MVP in the same season. He swept all three MVP awards in 1996 and 1998. In his prime, he was considered the league’s best all-around player. He also benefited greatly from teaming up with Scottie Pippen, who was widely regarded as the L’s second best cager. Despite the changing faces and times, MJ consistently won. He gave a hundred percent in every outing and altered the court for good. Aside from the sold out gyms, Mike made the NBA a global game. He carved Nike into a world beater. He likewise brought hoops to guys like Australia’s Andrew Gaze, Argentina’s Manu Ginobili, Congo’s Dikembe Mutombo, and Croatia’s Dino Radja.
Point guard: Magic Johnson. If MJ was the 90s, then Magic epitomised the 80s. He was the leader of LA’s historic Showtime. He made an instant ripple as a rookie, winning Finals MVP ‘ in Lew of Alcindor.’ The Magic Man was a fixture of the Finals, only missing out in 81 and 86. Magic was unique as he showed everyone that a 6-9 guy could play the point. His large frame allowed him to become the decade’s triple double machine, racking up 138 of them throughout his career. His megawatt smile and engaging personality made him a media darling and fan favourite. Spending his entire career with the Lakers, Magic would nab five titles. He also operated in the NBA’s golden age, with players like Mike, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, and Moses Malone scoring buckets.
One could even make the argument that Magic is equal to Jordan. While Jordan won six in the diluted era of expansion teams, Magic won five in a much tougher period. The latter regularly had to go through Larry, Hakeem, and Dr J. He never won a scoring title but he often led the league in assists. He was also the top rebounding guard. He did not win a regular season MVP until 1987, his eight year. Like Mike, Magic was a consistent winner, having won chips in high school, college, and the pros. He may not be the most prolific passer, scorer, or board man. However, Magic showed that you do not have to own the best stats to make an indelible impact.