Now that the king finally has his crown and everyone is happy, maybe the NBA can go back to some sense of normal basketball. Maybe in 2012/13, the officiating will be decent and the central focus won’t completely be about LeBron James’ jewelry collection. It got me to thinking about some of history’s greatest players who never won the big one. I wonder why the NBA and ESPN’s priorities weren’t with some of the former stars?
Here’s the format – a bunch of guys who were good enough to be memorable followed by above average and then the true greats, all in no particular order until the top 5 of all-time.
Anfernee Hardaway: Closest year was 1994/95 season when his Magic got swept by Houston in the Finals. “Penny’s” career just never recovered from a 4th season rattled by knee injuries. However for me, he’ll always be best known as Butch McRae from the Western University Dolphins as a standout in the 1994 film “Blue Chips.” I wish Pete Bell was my coach.
Jeff Hornacek: Hornacek was always a very underrated player and a fierce competitor. He complimented John Stockton and contributed to those great Jazz teams that fell short to Chicago. Don’t be surprised if you see a few of his teammates on this list.
Vlade Divac: It seemed like Divac was in the mix on every single team not Chicago in the 90’s. His closest efforts and his career died with Sacramento who just couldn’t get past Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers in the 2001/02 Western Conference Finals.
Kevin Johnson: You want a snapshot of a great PG always overlooked in all-time discussions, it’s this guy who coupled with Barkley in Phoenix provided four seasons of close but no cigars.
Shawn Kemp: If you’re too young to know who the “Reign Man” was, watch Blake Griffin for half a second and you’ll understand. Extremely talented and highlight worthy but unreliable and never fully developed. Six time All-Star and three times an All-NBA teamer, who like many others, couldn’t beat MJ.
Tim Hardaway: Maybe the most historically underrated guard in the last twenty years. Hardaway averaged 18.1 points, 8.3 assists and 1.7 steals for his career. <---His team couldn't beat Jordan's team. (See a trend developing)
Dikembo Mutombo: Known for the 'No-No' or 'I don't think so' finger wag. Mutombo was an all-time great defensive player with a vicious shot block.
Chris Mullin: Member of the '92 Dream Team, 5x All-Star and 4x All-NBA who finished his career with a shooting percentage above 50%.
Nate Thurmond: Thurmond was already ten years deep before blocks were factored into his career statistics and he still finished with 553. He's widely regarded as one of the best defensive players to ever suit up.
Bernard King: King's career might go down as a gigantic "what-if" because the talent was there, the rest of his teammates never were. His closest chance at greatness came with the Knicks in a game 7 loss to the 1983/84 Celtics who went on to win the Finals.
Dominique Wilkins: Wilkins might always only be remembered for his jaw-dropping, MJ rivaling dunks, but this guy was a pure scorer and he was also pretty good defensively. As of now he's 13th in all-time points and 51st in steals.
Now for the countdown.
8.) Pete Maravich: Pistol Pete was one of the most influential players for the game of basketball, especially at the PG position where he revolutionized the fast-court pass and spawned the definition of what a true point is supposed to be. Maravich’s legacy runs through guys like Steve Nash and Tony Parker on a nightly basis.
7.) Reggie Miller: Arguably the best all-around pure shooter the game has ever seen and notorious for his run-ins with Spike Lee. Now he does a fantastic play-by-play job for the evil 4-letter and he can still beat 90% of the league in a game of horse.
6.) George Gervin: The “Iceman” led the NBA in scoring on four different occasions and finished top 3 in MVP voting only to never win. Gervin was one of the best scorers to ever play, and if he played today he’d give Durant a run for his money.
5.) John Stockton: 10x All-Star, 5x All-Defensive team and 11x All-NBA team. The best pure PG of all-time, without question! Sorry to the Magic Johnson supporters, but I used the word “pure.” Stockton is #1 in assists, which will never be broken.
4.) Elgin Baylor: Outside of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, Baylor was the best player on any court during his time. Obviously he wasn’t as tall as Wilt and Russell, but he played bigger than everyone else at 6’5 because his speed and hops was before its time.
3.) Patrick Ewing: It’s rare to find a player who finished their career in the top-25 in three major statistical categories, Ewing is one of them. The big Knick finished 21st in points, 25th for rebounds and 7th in blocks.
2.) Karl Malone: It could be argued that the “Mailman” was and is the best to ever play the power forward position. I bet you didn’t know Malone is the 2nd all-time leader in total points scored next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
1.) Charles Barkley: The common denominator between positions #6 and #4-#1 is they all lost to Michael Jordan at some point in their respective careers. But there’s no one else that when you think of one, you can’t but help think of the other. Jordan’s success was Barkley’s daily motivation. They gambled together, they both went through the struggles of instant of super-stardom, and became best friends as a result of competing with each other on the Dream Team. Sir Charles is the only guy on the list who was also an NBA MVP and at an undersized 6’6 was one of the best defensive forces and rebounders of all-time.