The NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team is a list. One thing we know for sure: Where there is a list, there is an argument.
Where is Artis Gilmore? Where is Alex English? Where is Chris Mullin? Where is Bob Lanier? Where is Bernard King? Where is Vince Carter? Where is Dennis Johnson? Where is Yao Ming? Where is Adrian Dantley? Where is Grant Hill? Where is Tracy McGrady? Where is Dan Issel? And, for me, where is (the woefully unappreciated) Pau Gasol?
They are all “others receiving votes.” At least I would assume so.
Just so you know, there were 88 voters. They included executives; coaches, past and present; players (male and female), past and present; and media folk. No referees? That would have been interesting. And, yes, I was privileged to be of the chosen 88.
As you may have heard, what we came up with was a top 76, because of a tie in the voting. Just which players tied for that coveted 75th spot has not been revealed.
OK, let’s get to it.
It’s a damn good list, one that properly reflects a league that began with players shooting two-hand set shots and hooks and now features routine 30-foot jumpers. I was pleasantly surprised to see that eight members of the 1971 silver anniversary team are represented, which means that the list includes two players — George Mikan and Dolph Schayes — who began play in 1946 in the National Basketball League, which merged with the Basketball Association of America to form the NBA we know in 1949. I was afraid for both Schayes and Paul Arizin, both selections of mine. I have a soft spot in my heart for Schayes, a 6-foot-7-inch forward whose repertoire included both powerful drives to the hoop and two-hand sets. I hesitated before voting for Arizin, my final rationale being that he, along with Joe Fulks (a silver anniversary choice), had done more to install the jumper as a permanent basketball weapon than just about anyone. A pioneer must be acknowledged.
Eight of my selections did not make the cut. I voted for Dantley, King, Issel, Lanier, McGrady, Mullin, Klay Thompson, and, yes, Gasol. I am disappointed for them all, but I can’t say I’m outraged by anyone who did get in.
I made a boo-boo. I thought I had done the requisite research, but after submitting my ballot I realized I had not voted for Bob McAdoo. It was just a horrible oversight. But I consoled myself by saying that he would probably get in, so I could stop beating myself up. And he made it. Whew!
But what I did feel badly about was dropping a couple of 50th Anniversary players from my list. I truly agonized over the candidacies of Bill Sharman and Lenny Wilkens. In the end, I left them both out. Again, I can relax. They both made it.
Closest thing to a controversial pick? I’m guessing Damian Lillard. I must admit: He was my last choice. I kept staring at the numbers and decided he had to be included.
Here are a few things we can unearth from the list:
▪ Not surprisingly, more players have worn a Celtics jersey than any other. There were 20 Celtics. I bet you forgot about Gary Payton, and possibly even Dominique Wilkins and Shaquille O’Neal. Of the 20, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Larry Bird, and Kevin McHale were Celtics lifers. What about Sharman, you ask? He began his career with the Washington Capitols.
▪ Next were the Lakers, with 15 players. Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kobe Bryant, and Mikan were all Lakers lifers, with Mikan, of course, having been a Minneapolis Laker. Don’t forget that Baylor began his own career in Minneapolis.
▪ Active players: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis.
▪ McAdoo and Payton played for both the Celtics and Lakers. Sharman played for the Celtics and coached the Lakers.
▪ Julius Erving, George Gervin, and Moses Malone are the only pure ABA alums. Rick Barry and Billy Cunningham jumped back and forth between leagues. I’m sure there will be howling about Gilmore’s exclusion. I’d be more upset about Issel.
▪ Dirk Nowitzki and Antetokounmpo are the only players who were developed completely outside the United States, never having played high school or college ball here.
▪ Other NBA one-team lifers (no ABA jumpers) aside from the Celtics and Lakers: Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee), Hal Greer (Syracuse/Philadelphia), Schayes (Syracuse/Philadelphia), Cunningham (Philadelphia), Bob Pettit (Milwaukee/St. Louis), Willis Reed (New York), David Robinson (San Antonio), Reggie Miller (Indiana), John Stockton (Utah), Nowitzki (Dallas), Arizin (Philadelphia), Tim Duncan (San Antonio), Isiah Thomas (Detroit), Wes Unseld (Baltimore/Capital/Washington), Curry (Golden State).
▪ The Lakers have four of the 76 on their current roster: James, Davis, Westbrook, and Anthony.
▪ Trae Young, Luka Doncic, and Nikola Jokic have my votes in advance for the 100th.
The NBA’s 75th anniversary team
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Ray Allen; Giannis Antetokounmpo; Carmelo Anthony; Nate Archibald; Paul Arizin; Charles Barkley; Rick Barry; Elgin Baylor; Dave Bing; Larry Bird; Kobe Bryant; Wilt Chamberlain; Bob Cousy; Dave Cowens; Billy Cunningham; Stephen Curry; Anthony Davis; Dave DeBusschere; Clyde Drexler; Tim Duncan; Kevin Durant; Julius Erving; Patrick Ewing; Walt Frazier.
Kevin Garnett; George Gervin; Hal Greer; James Harden; John Havlicek; Elvin Hayes; Allen Iverson; LeBron James; Magic Johnson; Sam Jones; Michael Jordan; Jason Kidd; Kawhi Leonard; Damian Lillard; Jerry Lucas; Karl Malone; Moses Malone; Pete Maravich; Bob McAdoo; Kevin McHale; George Mikan; Reggie Miller; Earl Monroe; Steve Nash; Dirk Nowitzki.
Hakeem Olajuwon; Shaquille O’Neal; Robert Parish; Chris Paul; Gary Payton; Bob Pettit; Paul Pierce; Scottie Pippen; Willis Reed; Oscar Robertson; David Robinson; Dennis Rodman; Bill Russell; Dolph Schayes; Bill Sharman; John Stockton; Isiah Thomas; Nate Thurmond; Wes Unseld; Dwyane Wade; Bill Walton; Jerry West; Russell Westbrook; Lenny Wilkens; Dominique Wilkins; James Worthy.
Bob Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.