My top 10 NBA players of all time

Posted: June 22, 2011

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell writes a weekly sports column for the Daily News from a fan's perspective. His column appears Wednesdays.

THE NBA DRAFT is tomorrow and our Sixers are in no-man's land - not good enough to have gone deep in the playoffs and not bad enough to get a lottery pick.

I believe when your pick is in the middle as ours is (No. 16) you should roll the dice and take a chance rather than a safe, predictable choice (Markieff Morris). To me, given the field that's available I would pick the best European on the board. It might not pan out (Marko Milic) but, who knows, it could turn out that you have the next Dirk Nowitzki.

And speaking of Dirk, after his incredible run this season and in the playoffs, his coach, Rick Carlisle, opined that he belongs in the "top 10 NBA players of all time." If you're like me, that gave you reason to pause and think about who should be in the top 10. At first I thought it would be impossible to pick just 10, but then I decided to delve into it and see for myself.

To my surprise I found it far easier than I imagined. I thought there would be 20 to 25 real contenders and that it would be impossible to pare them down to a mere 10.

I found 10 players whose accomplishments clearly stood out, individually and for their teams. And, I found four others who could be considered close. Now my guess is a lot of you will vehemently disagree with me. Candidly, it would be hard to get nine out of 10 Philadelphia sports fans to agree that today is Wednesday. I really believe my analysis is correct (shockingly, I rarely disagree with myself) but I would be very interested in hearing from you if you feel my top 10 leaves out a worthy player or more than one. So here goes (they are listed in alphabetical order):

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: A no-brainer. A very close second to Michael Jordan, Kareem played in 19 All-Star Games and was league MVP six times. He shot an amazing 55.9 percent from the field and a very good 72.1 percent from the line. He dominated and led the Lakers and the Bucks to six NBA championships.

Larry Bird: A 12-time all-star, three-time NBA Most Valuable Player, and two-time NBA finals MVP. An incredible career shooter (49.6 percent from the field, 88.6 from the line) and great scorer (24.3 points per game) who could do everything (10 rebounds per game, 6.3 assists and 1.7 steals).

Kobe Bryant: The only active player on the list because of his individual and team achievements. A 13-time All-Star, two-time Finals MVP, league MVP in 2008, and a four-time All-Star Game MVP. Like Bird he has done it all - shooting 45.4 percent from the field for his career, 83.7 from the line, averaging 25.3 points, and 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. In short, he is a flat-out winner.

Wilt Chamberlain: Not to make a pun, but a slam dunk. He averaged 30.1 point and 22.9 rebounds per game - 'nuff said. In the 1961-62 season he had the greatest year in NBA history averaging 50 points and 25.7 rebounds per game. He was a 13-time All-Star and a four-time league MVP.

Julius Erving: His numbers are skewed because of his five seasons in the ABA but who can argue that this most graceful player deserves to be in the top 10. He played in 16 All-Star Games (five in the ABA) and was the ABA MVP three times and the NBA MVP once. A very fine shooter (50.6 percent from the field, 77.7 percent from the line) and an amazing scorer (24.2 points per game) he was truly an all-around great player (8.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game). The doctor is in!

Magic Johnson: A 12-time All-Star, a three-time league MVP and a three-time Finals MVP, Magic could, and did, do it all. An excellent shooter (52 percent from the field, 84.8 from line) and rebounder (7.2 per game). And he averaged an incredible 11.2 assists per game. It is not an exaggeration to say that Magic and Bird saved the NBA.

Michael Jordan: Need I explain? He is the all-time leader in NBA scoring per game by a hair over Wilt (30.12 vs. 30.07) and second in career steals (2,514). He shot 49.7 percent from the field and 83.5 from the line. Michael was a 14-time All-Star, a five-time league MVP and a six time Finals MVP. Six rings is his greatest achievement.

Oscar Robertson: The "Big O" could do it all. He averaged 25.7 points per game without the three-point shot (Jerry West had the same handicap) and was a great shooter (48.5 percent from field, 83.8 from line), rebounder (7.5 per game) and passer (9.5 assists per game). This made him a 12-time All-Star and a very great team player.

Bill Russell: The greatest defensive player ever! They didn't keep statistics on blocked shots in those days, but he surely would have been the all-time leader. Russell was also a terrific rebounder (22.5 per game) and fine passer (4.3 assists per game). His battles with Wilt were legendary and he won far more than he lost.

Jerry West: Perhaps the greatest outside shooter of all time. He averaged 27 points per game and if he played in the three-point era he would have averaged 32 or 33, and easily bested Jordan for highest career points-per-game average. He shot 47.4 percent from the field, mostly on outside shots, and averaged almost six rebounds and seven assists per game. These accomplishments helped make him a 14-time All-Star.

There are four other players that I considered for the top 10: Hakeem Olajuwon, Elgin Baylor, Shaquille O'Neal and Bob Cousy. The hardest to leave out was "Hakeem the Dream." He was a 12-time All-Star, a league MVP, and a two-time Finals MVP, driving his team to two NBA championships. He averaged 21.8 points per game shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 71.2 from the line. He garnered over 11 rebounds each game as well. But what made him tough to leave out was the fact he leads the NBA in career blocks, was 11th in career rebounds and, amazingly, is eighth in career steals.

I didn't consider Dirk, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Tim Duncan because they have years ahead of them, and their total careers will determine their eventual rating.

So let me hear from you. Should Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, Bob Pettit, Patrick Ewing, Bill Bradley and John Havlicek or George Gervin be included? Who else? Darryl Dawkins?

Email your picks to me at asktheguv@phillynews.com.

Have a question or topic for a future column? We want to hear from you. Send an email to asktheguv@phillynews.com.

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