The conventional view on how one builds an NBA championship team has been that it is done in a manner similar to the NFL or MLB: you collect a bunch of good players, have a few All-Stars, get a good coach and with experience you eventually can contend. This is the view held by most fans and sportswriters and even many GMs.
This view on building a contender is comforting: it states that it takes good drafting and judgment, hard work and a little bit of luck, but every team has a shot. As one writer put it in assessing the rebuilding Boston Celtics future roster in June 2013: “First off, that's a solid, young (27ish) lineup probably a 6th seed in the East. Add in a couple of years together, they could compete for a ring in 3 years.”
And NBA officials (and sportswriters) have little incentive to dissuade people of this belief, as it encourages the notion that the league is wide open and competitive, and everyone has a chance at the title.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Winning, even contending, for an NBA title is all about having superstars. And by superstars I do not means guys who are really good and make lots of All-Star teams and maybe even get to the Hall of Fame. No, I mean definitional players like LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. These guys’ teams win all the titles. If that were the case in baseball or football, Barry Sanders and Barry Bonds would not have ended their mind-boggling careers bereft of a championship ring. They would have had three or four, at the bare minimum.
Lots of fans and teams have begun to appreciate this phenomenon, but it is even stronger than many of them suspect. In Part 1, I lay out the evidence for the thesis. In Part 2, I discuss what this means for an NBA team. It really changes everything.
The Superstar Theory is a matter I have been researching for several years, and it has been published in several incarnations. The response has been positive, including from people in and around the NBA. I also received some valuable criticism, so I have significantly refined and recalibrated the data. I tightened the argument so that the case is considerably more muscular now. If anything, by doing so the relationship between having a superstar and winning an NBA title is made that much stronger. The implications for how to build an NBA team could not be more dramatic.
My exercise is simple: First, I make a list of the very best players in NBA history over the past 58 years. Why do I begin with the 1955-56 season? That is when the MVP award was introduced and MVP voting is a key part of my evidence. I use objective criteria, not my personal opinion. I want the list to be made based upon regular-season performance, to avoid having a list of best players that rewards players for playing on championship teams.
Once I locate a list of the top NBA players over the past 58 years, I figure out who the two best players have been on each NBA champion, and the two best players on each team that lost in the Finals. I also determine the best players on the other two teams that lost each year in the conference finals. In other words I determine the best players on each of the NBA’s “final four” every season, as well as the second best player on the two teams in the finals. I then see how many of these best players are from the list of best regular-season players, and where on the list they can be found.
The results, as you will soon see, are astounding.
Determining the Best NBA Players since 1955-56
Who are the best players in NBA history? How can we determine it, without it becoming a battle of subjective opinions? In particular, for our purposes, we want to determine the best players in NBA regular season history. If we have a system that rewards players for playoff performances my overall argument will be circular, because players on championship teams will be far more likely to be at the top of the list of best players.
In the past decade a number of sophisticated systems for measuring player performances have been developed and are increasingly being used by teams. These often require breaking down game film. I have no doubt if one could do that for every NBA game since 1955 a superior list could be generated, but that is not an option.
Instead, I have tracked down the four most objective criteria I could find. The value of each of these is that they are determined every year immediately after the regular season and before the playoffs. I want this list to be based on the best judgment at the time, not on hindsight. None of these is perfect, but they are as objective a standard as we can hope to find that can extend back over 58 years. In a weighted combination, they will give us our list of superstars.
The first and by far the most important criterion is the MVP voting, because this is done explicitly to select the best players in the league for the season. Its strength is that it does not care about positions, so if the best players are all centers, they can get the most votes. The weakness is that it can be a bit erratic; players can have great seasons yet seemingly drop in (even disappear from) the MVP voting just because they are not in fashion. Sometimes, the players who finish 10-15 in the voting only get one or two fifth-place votes and they can seem like somewhat eccentric choices. I have gone through every MVP vote since the award was introduced in 1956 and allocated points to players on the following system:
MVP: 16 points
MVP 2nd: 14 points
MVP 3rd: 12 points
MVP 4th: 10 points
MVP 5th: 8 points
MVP 6th-10th: 6 points
MVP 11th-15th: 4 points
So if a player wins two MVPs, finishes third in the MVP voting one time, and finishes 7th and 12th on two other occasions, that player would get 54 MVP points.
The second criterion is All-NBA teams. There were first and second All-NBA teams until 1989, when a third team was added. (I went back and added an All-NBA third team for every season from 1977-88, the years following the ABA-NBA merger when the league had many more teams, so players from that period would not be penalized. I used the All-NBA voting I could find for some of those years and just made reasonable guesses otherwise.) The strength of these All-NBA teams is that they tend more than the MVP to reward players independent of a team’s success. The weakness of the All-NBA teams is that they are determined by position. This means that only one center can make first-team. We have seen the absurd situation of a center like Bill Russell or Dave Cowens winning the MVP award yet making second-team all-NBA. The All-NBA teams cannot accurately reflect how bigs dominate the sport. Great players like Nate Thurmond and Bob Lanier never made first or second team All-NBA in their careers, yet they often finished in the top 10 of MVP voting.
Likewise, there are periods where there are three truly great forwards or three truly great guards in the game, but only two can get first-team status. When healthy, for example, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul arguably are all top-5 caliber players, but only two can make first-team all-NBA. And that leaves other great players like James Harden, Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo on the outside looking in.
The scoring is pretty straightforward.
First team All-NBA: 10 points
Second team All-NBA: 6 points
Third team All-NBA: 4 points
The third criterion is the first and second All-Defense teams, which the NBA introduced in 1968-69. The NBA wisely understood that its standard All-NBA team tended to favor players with impressive offensive statistics, even though great defensive players won many games in their own way. Defense is half the game, and all-NBA teams do not tend to give it anywhere near half-weight.
First team All-Defense: 4 points
Second-team All-Defense: 3 points
Because the All-Defensive teams did not begin until 1969, I retroactively estimated how players who made these teams after 1969 but who had much or most of their careers before 1969 would have done had the All-Defensive teams gone back to 1956. This way players like Russell, West, Havlicek, Chamberlain, Gus Johnson and Thurmond were not slighted in the rankings. (I put their All-Defensive figures in parentheses to indicate they include my estimates.) Here I relied on recent research on the top defensive players from the 1955-69 era, and I have been conservative in my allocation of points.
I give an additional two points for the player selected Defensive Player of the Year. This award honors the truly dominant game-changing defenders, who were insufficiently recognized by merely being first-team All-Defense. Because this award began in 1982-83, I retroactively award points for it to players who would have been likely winners between 1956-1982. That means: Bill Russell, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and Dennis Johnson. (Again, where my estimates are added to the real totals, I use parentheses.)
So if a player makes the first-team All-Defense twice and second-team once, he gets 11 all-defense team points. If he was Defensive Player of the Year once, he gets 2 more points, for a grand total of 13.
I give a single point for every year a player makes an NBA All-Star team for the mid-season game.
Using these criteria, I tabulated a point total for every player in the league since 1955, assigning points for every time a player got one of these honors. (Thanks to an extraordinary website, this is not such an arduous task.) The more times a player gets in the top 15 in MVP balloting and the more times a player makes all-NBA and all-Defense teams, and plays in the All-Star game, the more points a player will accrue. The most points a player could get in a single season is 33: MVP (16 points), first-team All-NBA (10 points), first-team All-Defense (4 points), Defensive Player of the Year (2 points), and the All-Star game (1 point). In four of the past five seasons, for example, LeBron James, racked up 31 points.
One might quibble with how I weighted the categories, but after considerable debate and input this is the best I could do. I will say that after playing with these numbers for some time, the actual ranking does not change very much if the weighting of these four categories is altered marginally. It is pretty much the same cast of characters in pretty much the same order.
A Few Problems that needed to be addressed
There were a few issues I needed to sort out along the way. First, I decided not to include the ABA, because to do so would mean that there would be double the points given for players in the years from around 1968 to 1976, and that would give players from that era an unfair dominance in the rankings. At the same time, to not include those MVPs and All-ABA awards would disadvantage tremendous players like Julius Erving and Rick Barry who spent years dominating that league. They would have certainly dominated the NBA had they been in the NBA during those same years.
I solved this problem by doing the ranking not by the total number of points accrued during a career, but rather by taking a player’s total number of points and dividing it by the number of seasons they played at least 1,900 minutes. (For the two strike and lockout shortened seasons of 1998-99 and 2011-12, I prorated the minutes.) That way the rankings are based on yearly averages rather than total points and do not penalize players who had fewer seasons in the league because of the ABA. It still clobbers Dr. J and Barry because they had monster years in the ABA that would have raised their averages, but it does not clobber them as much as if we simply used raw totals.
Using season averages as the basis of rankings also has the beneficial effect of not penalizing players like Bob Cousy or Bill Sharman or Dolph Schayes who had several great years before the 1955-56 season.
Most important, by basing it on yearly averages rather than total points, it means we can slot active young superstars right in the heart of the list. They do not need to play ten years to get on the list. We can see who the real up-and-coming studs are. (Active players are bold-faced.) Most young stars like Paul, James, Durant, Howard, Westbrook and Rose will see their averages shoot up in their late 20s as they rack up several 20-plus point seasons in a row.
What follows is the list, then, of the 117 best regular season players in the NBA since 1955. Why 117? I cut it off with players who averaged at least 4.0 points per season for their qualifying years. A player who averages 4.0 points per season is someone who over the course of his career is getting regular recognition as one of the 15 best players in the league a majority of his years in the league. That is the ante for admission.
This may seem like an easy target for a player to achieve, but it is not. Only 117 players made the cut. A lot of very good players, scores of perennial All-Stars, did not make the cut.
In the list of 117, there is a huge drop-off from the top to the bottom. Therefore, I break the 117 superstars into four groups: the platinum medal superstars, the gold medal superstars; the silver medal superstars and the bronze medal superstars. By doing so we can see who among the superstars are carrying the most weight.
There are three problems with basing the list on annual averages rather then career totals points: First, players with short but productive careers get favored over players with longer and almost as productive careers. This would distort the list. Without some qualification, Bill Walton would rank as the very best player in NBA history, because for two seasons Bill Walton was unstoppable. But does anyone think Bill Walton is the best player in NBA history?
So I solved this problem by making the number of qualifying seasons at eight for a player to make the top of the list. Those players whose annual totals qualify but who do not have eight qualifying seasons, like Bill Walton, are on the list, but they are ranked after those players who did have eight qualifying seasons.
I keep active players in the main list, under the assumption that they will all eventually get eight qualifying seasons, unless, like Jermaine O’Neal, it is obvious they will never play 1,900 minutes in a season again. Also, guys like Cousy and Sharman who had enough active seasons before 1955-56 to qualify make the main list. No reason to penalize their ranking.
Understood this way, the number 117 is misleading, because 22 of these superstars had short careers usually for health reasons. Only 95 of the players on this list had eight qualifying seasons or are currently active. These are the league’s dominant players. That is the heart of the list.
Second, players who extended their careers into their late 30s see their season averages decline, and this pushes them down the list below where they would have been had they retired on their 35th birthday. Does anyone really think Michael Jordan was any less a dominant superstar from 1984-98 because he came back for two seasons as he approached 40?
I solved this problem by not including as seasons those years players played after their 35th birthday, unless they were seasons in which the player received top-10 MVP or All-NBA points; in other words, seasons with over 1,900 minutes counted for players over 35 as long as the players were in or very near their primes. Players like Jordan, Kareem, Ewing and Havlicek are not penalized for having such long careers. At the same time, when a player has 17 qualifying seasons, like Kareem, or 16 like Karl Malone, it is a fantastic accomplishment. And those guys came into the league at age 22.
So just racking up a number of qualifying seasons is impressive in its own right. Players who play at superstar level for 12-15 years are better players than guys who play at a similar level for 8-10 seasons. For that reason, I give a point for every qualifying season over 10 seasons.
Third, players who come into the league young and remain teenagers at the end of their first and possibly second seasons do not have those seasons count unless they make an all-NBA team or get top-10 recognition in MVP votes. Why should LeBron or Kobe or Durant be penalized for a rookie season when they were 18 or 19 years old? What matters is how they fare from 20-35.
Even with these qualifications, I do not think the list is perfect. There are players not on this list who I think are better than some of the players on it, especially toward the bottom. Some of the druggies who make the list from the 70s and 80s seem out of place. But that is unavoidable. Part of the problem is that the four categories I use are not perfect. The voters are far from perfect. Players get penalized when they play in the same era as other great players at their position. Some players are dominant for a handful of years, like Moses Malone, Dave Cowens or Hakeem Olajuwon, and their career averages do not demonstrate exactly how incredible they were for their peak years.
That said, this list is as objective as it gets using the available resources.
Nor do I think this can be regarded as statistically the final word: that, for example, Larry Bird is necessarily a better player than Magic Johnson because he has a slightly higher score.
Or consider this: Had Oscar Robertson retired after 11 seasons in 1971 he would be among the top dozen players in the game’s history, on the platinum list below. And anyone who saw the Big O play in the 1960s, as I did growing up in Ohio, knows that is exactly where he belongs. But because he played three additional years with Milwaukee, he slides down to the gold list.
Nevertheless, I think we can use this system to separate these players from the other really good players in NBA history and the balance of the league, and then among these 117 players, to create four general clusters: platinum medal, gold medal, silver medal, and bronze medal superstars.
The 95 Greatest Players in NBA History since 1955-56
(plus a 22 man injured reserve of players who would qualify if they has played at least eight qualifying seasons):
Platinum Medal Superstars
|1. Michael Jordan||106 +||156 +||39 +||14 =||316||/11 =||28.7|
|2. Bill Russell||78 +||163+||(74) +||12 =||328||/12 =||27.3|
|3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar||130 +||202 +||(47) +||20 =||406||/17 =||23.9|
|4. Larry Bird||96 +||138 +||9 +||12 =||256||/11 =||23.3|
|5. LeBron James||82 +||120 +||20 +||9 =||231||/10 =||23.1|
|6. Magic Johnson||100 +||138 +||0 +||12 =||251||/11 =||22.8|
|6. Bob Pettit||96 +||108 +||(14) +||10 =||228||/10 =||22.8|
|8. David Robinson||68 +||94 +||30 +||10 =||222||/10 =||22.2|
|9. Kobe Bryant||130 +||130 +||45 +||15 =||325||/15 =||21.7|
|9. Tim Duncan||122 +||134 +||50 +||14 =||325||/15 =||21.7|
|11. Jerry West||112 +||102 +||(49)+||14 =||280||/13 =||21.5|
|12. Wilt Chamberlain||88 +||138 +||(29) +||13 =||271||/13 =||20.8|
|13. Bob Cousy||72 +||66 +||(14) +||7 =||162||/8 =||20.3*|
* Cousy gets three points for playing 13 qualifying seasons (one point for each season over 10) even though five of the seasons were before 1955-56.)
Qualify But Below Eight Season Minimum:
|13a. Bill Walton||16 +||30||(12) +||2 =||60||/2 =||30|
COMMENT: I made the platinum medal cut-off at averaging 20 points per season. Only 13 players in NBA history since 1956 qualify, 14 if one includes Bill Walton, who basically owned the NBA for two seasons in the late 1970s. If Julius Erving’s five ABA seasons had been in the NBA, he would have made the cut and joined the platinum team. These players are the NBA’s Mount Rushmore, the Gods of the Arena, the legends of the game, the guys people will still talk about in a hundred years. Pettit is unknown to all but the old-timers, but he was a dominant player in his era. These players basically ranked as among the top three-five players in the game virtually their entire careers, or until injuries took their toll as with Bird and Robinson. They were invariably MVP candidates every year. They personify the term “franchise” player.
Gold Medal Superstars
|14. Karl Malone||140 +||132 +||15 +||14 =||307||/16 =||19.2|
|15. Kevin Durant||40 +||50 +||0 +||4 =||94||/5 =||18.8|
|16. Elgin Baylor||100 +||82 +||(9) +||11 =||203||/11 =||18.5|
|17. Oscar Robertson||102 +||100 +||(32) +||12 =||250||/14 =||17.9|
|18. Shaquille O’Neal||108 +||130 +||9 +||15 =||267||/15 =||17.8|
|19. Dwight Howard||58 +||48 +||25 +||7 =||138||/8 =||17.3|
|20. Hakeem Olajuwon||90 +||98 +||36 +||12 =||240||/14 =||17.1|
|21. Julius Erving||70 +||70 +||0 +||11 =||151||/9 =||16.8|
|22. Chris Paul||40 +||18 +||18 +||6 =||112||/7 =||16|
|23. Bill Sharman*||46 +||14 +||(14) +||5 =||79||/5 =||15.8|
|24. Kevin Garnett||66 +||84 +||47 +||15 =||217||/15 =||14.5|
|25. Moses Malone||72 +||104 +||7 +||12 =||199||/14 =||14.2|
|26. Dolph Schayes*||44 +||48 +||0 +||7 =||99||/7 =||14.1|
|27. George Gervin||66 +||64 +||0 +||9 =||139||/10 =||13.9|
|28. Dirk Nowitzki||82 +||84 +||0 +||11 =||180||/13 =||13.8|
|29. John Havlicek||82 +||36 +||(53) +||13 =||188||/14 =||13.4|
|29. Charles Barkley||84 +||88 +||0 +||11 =||187||/14 =||13.4|
|31. Walt Frazier||52 +||26 +||(32) +||7 =||117||/9 =||13|
Qualify But Below Eight Season Minimum:
|31a. Sidney Moncrief||34 +||34 +||23 +||5 =||96||/6 =||16|
|31b. Maurice Stokes||43||/3 =||14.3|
COMMENT: This rounds out the NBA top 30, more or less, since 1955, counting the players with at least eight qualifying seasons. I made the cut-off for gold-medal status at 13 points, because a player who averages that during his career is basically going first-team all-NBA and/or getting top 10 MVP votes a majority of the years when they are healthy. If Rick Barry’s four ABA seasons had been in the NBA, he would be firmly entrenched in the gold medal group. These players were/are among the seven or eight best players in the league throughout much of their careers. Many of these guys gave multi-year stretches where they are arguably the best players in the league. Durant will likely be leaving the gold team for platinum status in a year or two; he is the only probable prospective platinum player in the league today. Paul and/or Howard may follow if they stay healthy, but time is definitely not on their side. That is probably it for current NBA players.
Silver Medal Superstars
|32. John Stockton||68 +||58 +||15 +||10 =||153||/12 =||12.8|
|33. Gary Payton||58 +||54 +||38 +||9 =||162||/13 =||12.5|
|34. Dwyane Wade||50 +||54 +||9 +||9 =||122||/10 =||12.2|
|35. Tracy McGrady||46 +||44 +||0 +||7 =||97||/8 =||12.1|
|36. Steve Nash||50 +||72 +||0 +||8 =||131||/11 =||11.9|
|36. Patrick Ewing||46 +||64 +||9 +||11 =||131||/11 =||11.9|
|38. Scottie Pippen||50 +||42 +||38 +||7 =||139||/12 =||11.6|
|39. Rick Barry||60 +||34 +||0 +||8 =||102||/9 =||11.3|
|40. Paul Arizin*||77||/7 =||11|
|40. Derrick Rose||10 +||20 +||0 +||3 =||33||/3 =||11|
|42. Jason Kidd||56 +||52 +||31 +||10 =||153||/14 =||10.9|
|43. Nate Archibald||42 +||38 +||0 +||6 =||86||/8 =||10.8|
|44. Dave Cowens||22 +||52 +||(12) +||7 =||93||/9 =||10.3|
|45. Bob McAdoo||24 +||50 +||0 +||5 =||79||/8 =||9.9|
|46. Elvin Hayes||56 +||50 +||6 +||12 =||127||/13 =||9.8|
|47. Grant Hill||34 +||36 +||0 +||7 =||77||/8 =||9.6|
|48. Allen Iverson||52 +||58 +||0 +||11 =||124||/13 =||9.5|
|49. Isiah Thomas||50 +||38 +||0 +||12 =||101||/11 =||9.2|
|50. Ben Wallace||26 +||18 +||31 +||4 =||79||/9 =||8.8|
|51. Alonzo Mourning||16 +||34 +||12 +||7 =||69||/8 =||8.6|
|52. Sam Jones||18 +||24 +||(20) +||5 =||67||/8 =||8.4|
|53. Dominique Wilkins||42 +||46 +||0 +||9 =||99||/12 =||8.3|
|54. Dennis Rodman||8 +||18 +||35 +||2 =||63||/8 =||7.9|
|55. Spencer Haywood*||32 +||18 +||0 +||4 =||54||/7 =||7.7|
|56. Amar’e Stoudemire||34 +||28 +||0 +||6 =||68||/9 =||7.6|
|57. Billy Cunningham||36 +||20 +||0 +||4 =||60||/8 =||7.5|
|58. Blake Griffin||12 +||6 +||0 +||3 =||21||/3 =||7|
Qualify But Below Eight Season Minimum:
|58a. Willis Reed||34 +||40 +||(9) +||7 =||90||/7 =||12.9|
|58b. George Yardley||16 +||22 +||0 +||5 =||43||/4 =||10.8|
|58c. David Thompson||24 +||24 +||0 +||4 =||52||/5 =||10.4|
|58d. Gus Johnson||24 +||6 +||(20) +||5 =||55||/6 =||9.2|
|58e. Neil Johnston||16 +||4 +||(3) +||3 =||26||/3 =||8.7|
|58f. Paul Westphal||(40) +||6 +||0 +||5 =||51||/6 =||8.5|
|58g. Mark Price||22 +||24 +||0 +||4 =||50||/6 =||8.3|
COMMENT: This group rounds out the NBA top 60, more or less, since 1956, not counting the players with under eight qualifying seasons. Generally the silver medal players, averaging between seven and 13 points per season, were first or second (or third) team All-NBA much of their careers and received frequent recognition in MVP voting. During much of their careers, these are players who would be considered among the 10 best in the league. Several of the silver medal players have periods in their careers when they rank in the top 3-5 in the league; they simply do not have this status extend for their entire careers, like the gold and platinum medal superstars. These are all sure-fire Hall-of Famers, legends, and all-time greats who had stellar careers.
Bronze Medal Superstars (abbreviated format)
|59. Dennis Johnson||90||13||6.9|
|60. Rajon Rondo||34||5||6.8|
|61. Pete Maravich||53||8||6.6|
|62. Chris Webber||72||11||6.5|
|62. Clyde Drexler||85||13||6.5|
|64. Carmelo Anthony||63||10||6.3|
|64. Jerry Lucas||63||10||6.3|
|66. Russell Westbrook||31||5||6.2|
|67. Kevin McHale||60||10||6.0|
|68. Tim Hardaway||59||10||5.9|
|69. Dave Bing||64||11||5.8|
|70. Alex English||63||11||5.7|
|70. Bernard King||63||11||5.7|
|72. Norm Van Lier||50||9||5.6|
|72. Nate Thurmond||67||12||5.6|
|74. Tony Parker||53||10||5.3|
|74. Anfernee Hardaway||48||9||5.3|
|74. Tommy Heinsohn||42||8||5.3|
|77. Marques Johnson||47||9||5.2|
|78. Dikembe Mutombo||56||11||5.1|
|79. Bobby Jones||39||8||4.9|
|79. Robert Parish||59||12||4.9|
|81. Hal Greer||61||13||4.7|
|81. Jack Twyman||42||9||4.7|
|81. Richie Guerin||42||9||4.7|
|84. Shawn Kemp||46||10||4.6|
|85. Kevin Love||18||4||4.5|
|86. Chauncey Billups
|86. Joe Dumars
|86. Wes Unseld||51||12||4.3|
|86. Dave DeBusschere||47||11||4.3|
|86. Manu Ginobili||26||6||4.3|
|92. Bob Lanier||42||10||4.2|
|93. Paul Pierce||53||13||4.1|
|94. Chris Mullin||41||10||4.1|
|95. Gus Williams||36||9||4.0|
|95. Paul George||8||2||
Qualify But Below Eight Season Minimum:
|95a. Kevin Johnson||55||7||6.9|
|95b. Cliff Hagan||35||6||5.8|
|95c. George McGinnis||29||5||5.8|
|95d. Yao Ming||39||7||5.6|
|95e. Mich. Ray Richardson||28||5||5.6|
|95f. Gilbert Arenas||27||5||5.4|
|95g. Gene Shue||37||7||5.3|
|95h. Ralph Sampson||16||3||5.3|
|95i. Brandon Roy||19||4||4.8|
|95j. Jermaine O’Neal||32||7||4.6|
|95k. Bob Love||32||7||4.6|
|95l. Artis Gilmore||31||7||4.4|
COMMENT: Here, too, we see a list of Hall-of-Famers and legends though there is a notable drop from the platinum, gold and silver medal categories. Averaging at least 4.0 points means that these players all got recognition annually of being among the 15 best players in the game during a majority of their careers.
So there we have as close to an objective list of the best players in the NBA since 1955-56 as I can imagine.
To provide some sense of how elite this list is, consider this: Fully 18 NBA players from the post-1956 era who have been inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame did not qualify for this list. Eighteen! That Hall of Fame list includes NBA stalwarts like Adrian Dantley, Bailey Howell, Calvin Murphy, Gail Goodrich, Lenny Wilkins, Dan Issel and Earl Monroe.
Or consider this: Since 1956, some 390 different players have qualified to play in the annual mid-season NBA All-Star game. To discount players who may have made the team on a fluke, there have been some 263 players who made the NBA All-Star game at least twice in their careers since 1956. Yet around 60 percent of those wonderful multiple All-Star players do not qualify for this list. Eight players who have made the NBA All-Star team at least seven times – Ray Allen, James Worthy, Lenny Wilkens, Jack Sikma, JoJo White, Chris Bosh and Vince Carter – do not make the cut for this Glorious 117 list.
This is rarified air, and this is where you must go if you want to find the key to winning NBA championships. You are about to discover there is an enormous difference between having the best player on your team being led by a genuine superstar than one or two or three very good all-stars, much more than you might have imagined.