Elgin Baylor

Born: September 16, 1934
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Minneapolis Lakers (NBA): 1958 – 1960
Los Angeles Lakers (NBA): 1960 – 1971

Elgin Baylor

The Lowdown: An exciting, acrobatic small forward, Elgin Baylor scored in ways few people had ever seen before. His array of gliding, hanging one-handers and contorting layups captivated opponents and fans for 13 NBA seasons. His prolific scoring average of 27.4 points per game – the fourth-highest career average in NBA history – speaks to his excellent offensive production. A fine passer and rebounder for his position as well, Baylor was selected to 10 All-NBA 1st Teams in a span of 11 years.

Despite his supreme gifts and determination, Baylor never played for an NBA champion. His Laker teams lost eight times in the NBA Finals – including four Game 7 heartbreaks. Nonetheless, his abilities cannot be denied or underestimated for the serious student and appreciator of basketball. Off the court, Baylor was a gregarious personality who also ushered in desegregation of player accommodations and stood up for players’ labor rights.
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The 6’2″-and-Under Champions Club


Life should be grand for Chris Paul. He delivered 22.5 points, 12 assists, and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 51% FG, 75% FT, and 45.5% 3PT in the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. His regular season saw some injury woes but he’s still likely to make another All-NBA 1st Team, which would be the 4th such selection of his career. Of course the Clippers losing their series against Oklahoma City is dispiriting, but basketball fans can bask in Paul’s great efforts.

Well, some can. Not all.

Roll that beautiful Chris Paul critique footage!

The criticism will start anew after the Clippers playmaker delivered more heartache during his team’s season-ending 104-98 loss to Oklahoma City in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals Thursday night at Staples Center.

Paul finished with 25 points and 11 assists but will be recalled mostly for the offensive foul with 3 minutes 35 seconds left that probably sealed the Clippers’ fate.

Paul was dejected after the loss and his continued failure to reach the Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals:

“It’s not just to get out of the second round. It’s to win a championship. I don’t know anybody in our league that plays for the Western Conference finals. That’s not enough.”

Well, given the circumstances of the NBA, having a 6’0″ tall player as your leading man rarely means winning a championship. Extending the height to 6’2″, only five NBA franchises have garnered a title with a player that tall reasonably, not unequivocally, considered their best player.

The Rochester Royals 1950-51

The first franchise was the Rochester Royals back in the 1950-51 season. Their best player was Bob Davies, a 6’1″ guard/forward who was one of the first players in the major pro leagues to dribble behind his back. The Royals, however, were a well-balanced machine with Bob Wanzer and especially Arnie Risen contesting best player honors. Indeed during the postseason, the 31-year old Davies had a miserable time averaging 16 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3 assists on 34% shooting over 14 games. However, Risen and Wanzer rose to the ocassion. Wanzer notched 12.5 PPG, 5 RPG, and 4 APG while shooting 47% FG and 91% FT. Risen was a beast in the post with 19.5 PPG and 14 RPG including a dominating NBA Finals against the Knicks which would have secured a Finals MVP for Risen had it existed then. There was also defensive ace Jack Coleman who threw in 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in the postseason.

Davies may have been the best player, but it was truly a full team effort.

The Boston Celtics 1956-57

The Celtics were the next NBA champ to exhibit a wondrous 6’1″ dribbler as their best player. Bob Cousy was the regular season MVP for the NBA and had appeared in the All-Star Game all seven seasons of  his pro career. The Celtics had also made the postseason every year of his career, but had never made the Finals. Finally, in 1957 Boston won the Finals as Cousy averaged 20 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds in the playoffs.

Don’t be too quick to give Cooz all the credit, though. His longtime running mate Bill Sharman averaged 21 PPG. Rookie forward Tommy Heinsohn dropped 23 PPG and 12 RPG. Oh yeah, another rookie – Bill Russell – contributed 14 points and 24 rebounds nightly. Russell would wind up winning MVP the very next season in 1958 quickly supplanting Cousy as the Celtics’ best player.

But in 1957 was Cousy or Russell the better Celtic? It’s debatable. Nonetheless, the point is still standing: a short star needs a some equitable talent.

The Los Angeles Lakers 1971-72

No one can still figure out who was better for the Lakers in 1972: Wilt Chamberlain or Jerry West. The team won 33 straight games on their way to 69 wins in the regular season. They trounced opponents in the playoffs breezing to the title with 12 wins and 3 losses. West and Wilt played vastly different but complementary roles. Wilt cleaned the glass, defended the paint like crazy, and produced highlight dunks here and there. West pestered the perimeter, ran the offense as the point guard, and drained long-range bombs.

Their regular season stats reveal their productive schism.
Wilt – 15 PPG, 19 RPG, 4 APG
West – 26 PPG, 4 RPG, 10 APG

Jerry West, however, played the worst postseason of his career that year. Prior to 1972, he had averaged 31 PPG, 6 APG, and 6 RPG on 48% FG and 81% FT shooting. In 1972 he bottomed out at 23/9/5 – still great for a 33-year old guard – but shot a miserable 37.5% from the field. It was even worse in the Finals where Mr. Clutch put up 20/9/4 on 32.5% shooting. The Big Dipper meanwhile feasted on the Knicks to the tune of 19.5 points and 23 rebounds a game on 60% shooting.

In the end, it’s likely a wash as to who was more instrumental for those Lakers.

The Seattle SuperSonics 1978-79

The champion oft-forgot, the 1979 Sonics were one of the most egalitarian teams to take the title. The youthful trio of Jack Sikma (23 years old), Dennis Johnson (24) and Gus Williams (25) did the heaviest lifting while veterans like Paul Silas, Freddie Brown, and John Johnson capably helped out the young bucks.

The splits of three contenders for Sonics’ best player don’t concretely solve the question, but it gives a tentative answer…

Regular Season

Gus Williams 19.2 3.2 4.0 0.4 2.0 49.5% 77.5%
Jack Sikma 15.6 12.4 3.2 0.8 1.0 46.0% 81.4%
Dennis Johnson 15.9 4.7 3.5 1.2 1.3 43.4% 76.0%


Gus Williams 26.7 4.1 3.7 0.6 2.0 47.6% 70.9%
Jack Sikma 14.8 11.7 2.5 1.4 0.9 45.5% 78.7%
Dennis Johnson 20.9 6.1 4.1 1.5 1.6 45.0% 77.1%

On balance, Gus Williams emerges as the premier, but not definitive, candidate for best player on the 1979 Sonics. The 6’2″ guard would lose out on Finals MVP to the 6’4″ Dennis Johnson. Guess that didn’t help settle matters.

The Detroit Pistons 1988-89 and 1989-90

The only time a multiple championship teams were led by a diminutive player. Still in his prime, but maybe a hair past his peak, Isiah Thomas was the linchpin of the Bad Boys Pistons. If ever a team won a title based on gang tactics, it was these Pistons squads. Bill Laimbeer, James Edwards, Dennis Rodman, and John Salley delivered body blows to frustrate opponents. But the real threat to Thomas’s claim to best player on these teams came from his young, stoic backcourt mate: Joe Dumars.

Dumars proved so valuable he snared the 1989 Finals MVP in a sweep over the LA Lakers. Put winning Finals MVP doesn’t automatically catapult you to best player on the team. When it’s all said and done, Isiah was the orchestrator of the Pistons’s assault even if the disparity between himself and his teammates wasn’t the chasm we like to imagine exists between a team’s best player and the secondary pieces.

So what does any of this mean for Chris Paul? Or for any future pipsqueak star?

It means that they can be the best player on a team that wins an NBA title, but the team has to be extremely well-balanced. And even if that short star plays the role of best player, it’ll be hard for contemporaries and future generations to easily discern that.

Pro Hoops History HOF: Jamaal Wilkes

Jamaal Wilkes
Jamaal Wilkes

“I would have the player be a good student, polite, courteous, a good team player, a good defensive player and rebounder, a good inside player and outside shooter,” [John] Wooden told the New York Post in 1985. “Why not just take Jamaal Wilkes and let it go at that.”

– NBA.com

Why not just take Jamaal Wilkes? Wherever he went, the small forward brought success with him, so you were bound to reap some high rewards.

Despite being taken 11th in the NBA draft, Wilkes showed no let down in the skills that made him an AP All-American in college and a two-time NCAA champion at UCLA. In his rookie year with the Golden State Warriors in the 1974-75 season, Wilkes took home Rookie of the Year honors as he averaged 14 points and eight rebounds per game. With Rick Barry the clear leader on that Warriors team, Wilkes settled into a needed role as secondary offensive threat and frustrating defender.

As the 1975 postseason began, Wilkes was somewhat erratic, as rookies can be. He had several games of single-digit scoring and in the Finals against the Washington Bullets he averaged just 11.5 points.

However, Wilkes had some well-timed hot streaks that kept the Warriors’ season alive. With Golden State tied two-games-to-two against the Seattle Super Sonics in the Western Semi-Finals, Wilkes helped capture the series with a Game 5 performance of 24 points and a Game 6 encore of 20 points.

Against the Chicago Bulls in the Western Conference Finals, Wilkes started off hot with 26 points in Game 1. However the Bulls’ tenacious defense hounded Jamaal into 11 PPG from Games 2 through 6. The slog-fest series came down to Game 7 in Oakland. The Bulls built a 14-point lead, but Wilkes kept Golden State alive with 21 points in the second and third quarters. In the fourth, Rick Barry then took up the slack and slung 14 points at the Bulls to win the game 83-79.

In the Finals, the 48-win Warriors swept the heavily favored 60-win Washington Bullets.

Jamaal Wilkes
Jamaal Wilkes

Those Warriors were in great position to repeat and control the Western Conference through the late 1970s. In 1976, Wilkes was named to his first All-Star Game and Golden State won an imposing 59 games, but they were the victims of a stunning upset. The 42-win Phoenix Suns deposed them in the Western Conference Finals. After another disappointing playoff exit in 1977, Wilkes become one of the first big name players to switch teams via free agency.

The three year veteran went down the California coast back to Los Angeles – the site of his college glory years with the UCLA Bruins – joining the Lakers. With the purple and gold, Wilkes averaged 19 points per game and was selected to two more All-Star games. His smooth shooting stroke and unassuming demeanor earned him the nickname “Silk”.

The good thing about Wilkes’ silky smooth play was that he could silently knock out opponents on the court. Sometimes you’d look up and wonder how Wilkes had so convincingly put you asunder. Silent assassins don’t cause much of a stir in the publicity department, though. The perfect example of how Wilkes could decimate the opposition without anyone really remembering is his Game 6 performance in the 1980 NBA Finals.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the league’s MVP dropping 40 points and 15 rebounds in Game 5 on the 76ers, but a severely sprained ankle kept him out of Game 6. Magic Johnson was the star rookie who famously started at center with a spectacular final stat line of 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists. Oh, and Jamaal Wilkes?  He scored a ho-hum 37 points that happened to be his highest scoring output of the season and clinched the title for the Lakers.

When you have three players going for those kinds of numbers (plus Norm Nixon and Michael Cooper), it’s unsurprising more championships followed in 1982 and 1985 for Wilkes and the Lakers. By that third title in ’85, however, Jamaal had been supplanted by James Worthy as the Lakers’ new scoring machine at small forward. After 13 games with the Los Angeles Clippers in the fall of 1985 that everyone would like to forget, Wilkes retired from the NBA.

His tough defense, his ability to score inside, outside, and every place in between with jumpers, slithering layups, and superb off the ball cuts – plus his unselfish enthusiasm – helped guide every team he ever played for to the playoffs. The exception of course the hapless Clippers. But let’s chalk up that tidbit to misfortune and leave it at that.

As for how good Wilkes was, let’s leave it at this: Rookie of the Year honors, four titles, and three all-star games plus a whole lot of silk-laden moves.

Years Played: 1974-1985


4x Champion (1975, 1980, 1982, 1985)
Rookie of the Year (1975)
2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1976-’77)
3x All-Star (1976, 1981, 1983)
All-Rookie Team (1975)


NBA – 828 Games
17.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 49.9% FG, 75.9% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1974-75 through 1984-85 season)
11th Points, 34th PPG
4th FGs Made, 33rd FTs Made
10th Steals, 26th SPG
25th Rebounds, 38th Assists
4th Games Played, 3rd Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Jerry West

Jerry West
Jerry West

Perhaps more than any other player, Jerry West demonstrates that in life what you earn isn’t what you get.

Despite being greatness personified, West won just one NBA title in his career. Not that he lacked for chances. Under his watch, the Lakers made the NBA Finals nine times in 14 years. And in a fit of irony, the one time that West came out as a champion was when he put together the worst Finals series of his career.

It was the 1972 Finals and West averaged 20 points on a putrid 33% shooting. Luckily that Lakers team showed the resolve that led it to 69 regular season wins and they dispatched the Knicks in 5 games.

For years prior, West had time and time and time again proved himself unstoppable in the playoffs generally, and in the Finals particularly. In 1965 when he practically led the Lakers to the Finals single-handedly. With his long-time partner Elgin Baylor out for the playoffs and West stepped up with a playoff average of 40.6 points in 11 games. The Baltimore Bullets in the Western Division Finals got West’s fury particularly bad that postseason as he averaged 46 points… forty-six points… in the six-game series.

In 1969, the Lakers battled the Boston Celtics in the Finals for the final time in West’s career. Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor struggled in the series, but West was magnificent. He averaged 38 points and 7.5 assists in the seven-game series. In Game 7, the Lakers lost 108 to 106, but Mr. Clutch poured in 42 points on a bad hamstring and a busted ankle.

It was the kind of performance that even made his opponents sad to beat him. Celtics players interrupted their own celebration to console West, who was named the first-ever Finals MVP for his efforts. He remains the only player from a losing squad to win the Finals MVP.

Again, what you’ve earned isn’t always what you get.

Jerry West 2What West earned and received is still remarkable even if it amazingly isn’t close to all that he deserves.

Standing just 6’2″ tall, Jerry West achieved his greatness through a hard-nosed demeanor. He relentlessly attacked the basket. He has a litany of nose fractures as evidence of this tactic. The fouls he racked up on opponents earned him a tremendous amount of free throws throughout his career. He still has the 6th most free throws made in NBA history. His drives were made more effective by the fact he was a deadly jump shooter. The deadly jump shot was made more lethal by the fact he was a tremendous passer.

His extremely long arms coupled with his hellish, relentless nature made him a staggering defender. Steals weren’t recorded until West’s final season (1973-74) but the old and hampered West still averaged 2.6 steals per game. Despite his height, he was also a very good rebounder. The same attitude that made him drive the lane on offense compelled him to crash the boards on defense.

His versatility allowed him to lead the league in scoring in 1970 and in assists in 1972. His zeal to win and his brilliant mind, ensured that he could transition from shooting guard of the 1960s to point guard of the 1970s without sacrificing much, if anything, in his effectiveness.

Simply put he was a flawless player who in the end received something no one else can match. The shy West certainly didn’t set out to be the most recognizable player in the history of the NBA, but well, he is…


Years Played: 1960 – 1974

Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers


Champion (1972)
Finals MVP (1969)
10x All-NBA 1st Team (1962-’67, 1970-’73)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1968-’69)
4x All-Defensive 1st Team (1970-’73)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1969)
14x All-Star (1961-’74)
All-Star Game MVP (1972)


NBA – 932 Games
27.0 PPG, 6.7 APG, 5.8 RPG, 47.4% FG, 81.4% FT
PPG Leader (1970), APG Leader (1972)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1960-61 through 1973-74 season)
3rd Points, 6th PPG
3rd FGs Made, 26th FG%
2nd FTs Made, 19th FT%
3rd Assists, 6th APG
10th Games Played, 5th Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain

The individual success of Wilt Chamberlain is undeniable and legendary. The first man to average over 30 and 40 and 50 points per game. The first to shoot over 50% and 60% and 70% from the field for a season. The first to score 30,000 points. The only man to average over 48 minutes per game for a season, even though there’s only 48 minutes in a regulation game.

What’s less known, or acknowledged, is Wilt’s team success. The Big Dipper’s teams had a long stream of close calls in dethroning the Boston Celtics with losses in Game 7 to Boston in 1962, 1965, 1968 and 1969 all by a combined 9 points.

When his teams did win the championship they did so in typical Wiltonian fashion, which means they did it in record-breaking ease. The 1967 Philadelphia 76ers won a record 68 games en route to demolishing the NBA. In 1972 the Los Angeles Lakers set a new record with 69 wins and strung together 33 straight victories in the process.

Of course, such success was expected of Chamberlain. He was after all listed at 7’1″ but closer to 7’3″ and by the end of his career was pushing 300 pounds. His dominance is mistakenly chalked up to the competition which was stiff, short, and white… the last of those unfortunately used as a pejorative on the basketball court.

The Big Dipper

Yeah, Wilt was bigger than everyone else, but not everyone was a Liliputian. He went up against Bill Russell, Wayne Embry, Clyde Lovellette, Johnny Kerr, Willis Reed, Walt Bellamy, Zelmo Beaty, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Nate Thurmond. These guys were strong and athletic, but weren’t capable of going one-on-one with Wilt Chamberlain in his heyday. The refs, feeling sorry for the opposition, allowed egregious beatings of Chamberlain to take place down low to even out the score.

But Wilt wasn’t just bigger. He was stronger, he was faster, and he was more agile. These are things God gives but that man refines. Wilt trained to improve all of those attributes and more. He was a skilled passer, in his younger days had exquisite footwork, could nail a fall away jumper flawlessly, was a defensive terror blocking shots that were 12-feet above the floor, and as you can see above could rise up high and throw down heinous dunks.

But for all of that, Wilt’s greatest basketball flaw was that he didn’t believe basketball was the end-all, be-all of life. He trained religiously (albeit on his terms), wanted to win, would feel bad after losses, but didn’t feel as though winning a game excused or absolved everything, or that losing meant all of your effort was for naught.

And his career, despite all of the  winning, still doesn’t get lovingly absolved of its failures. His play was so impressive that it seemed to flow naturally and therefore deserved no human praise. In the end, Wilt Chamberlain is a fascinating, often perplexing man, and an always-mesmerizing basketball player. In ways only he could, the Big Dipper has always forced us to examine, and re-examine, what we think we know about the game of basketball.

Years Played: 1958 – 1973


2x Champion (1967, 1972)
Finals MVP (1972)
4x MVP (1960, 1966-’68)
Rookie of the Year (1960)
7x All-NBA 1st Team (1960-’62, 1964, 1966-’68)
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1963, 1965, 1972)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1972-’73)
13x All-Star (1960-’69, 1971-’73)
All-Star Game MVP (1960)


NBA – 1045 Games
30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG, 54.0% FG, 51.1% FT
7x PPG Leader (1960-’66), 9x FG% Leader (1961, 1963, 1965-’69, 1972-’73)
11x RPG Leader (1960-’63, 1966-’69, 1971-’73)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1959-60 through 1972-73 Season)
1st Points, 2nd PPG
1st FGs Made, 2nd FG%
3rd FTs Made
1st Rebounds, 1st RPG
5th Assists, 16th APG
3rd Games Played, 1st Minutes Played

Pro Hoops History HOF: Bob McAdoo

(Sports Illustrated)
(Sports Illustrated)

There was something elegant about the way Bob McAdoo played basketball. Although a center, he was slender, sinewy, and slippery. His way to dominate a game wasn’t through sheer power, but through irrepressible ability.

McAdoo’s run from 1974 to 1976 is one of the greatest three-year stretches in NBA history. The twig-like center led the league in scoring every season. He paced all players in FG% in 1974. He finished runner-up for the MVP award in 1974 and 1976. In 1975, he won the honor.

He certainly deserved all of that appreciation as he averaged 32 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.5 blocks, 51% FG and 79% FT during this mid-70s heyday. McAdoo’s high scoring average came on remarkable consistency, however. During these years he scored 50+ points only four times. His Buffalo Braves also proved consistent in winning 42 then 49 and then 46 games in this stretch.

Certainly, those aren’t juggernaut win totals, but the Braves were a formidable squad. All three years McAdoo led the Braves to close and gut-wrenching losses against the Celtics (twice) and the Bullets. And Big Mac was a big game performer:

Game 4 1974 Eastern Semis vs. Boston: 44 points in a 2-point win
Game 6 1974 Eastern Semis vs. Boston: 40 points in a 2-point loss
Averaged 32 points for the series (6 games)

Game 4 1975 Eastern Semis vs. Washington: 50 points in a 6-point win
Averaged 37(!) points for the series (7 games)

Game 1 1975 Eastern 1st Round vs. Philadelphia: 36 points in a 6-point win
Game 3 1975 Eastern 1st Round vs. Philadelphia: 34 points in a 1-point win
Averaged 30 points for the series (3 games)

Game 2 1976 Eastern Semis vs. Boston: 40 points in a 5-point loss
Game 4 1976 Eastern Semis vs. Boston: 30 points in a 2-point win
Game 6 1976 Eastern Semis vs. Boston: 28 points in a 4-point loss
Averaged 27 points for the series (6 games)

When 27 points is the least a player averaged across four playoff series, he’s a bona fide star. But the Braves were in desperate straits as a franchise and couldn’t afford to keep McAdoo. He was shipped to the New York Knicks midway through the 1976-77 season, and thus began the vagabond phase of McAdoo’s career.

In February 1979, New York traded McAdoo to the Celtics. In September 1979, the Celtics traded McAdoo to the Detroit Pistons. In March 1981, the Pistons waived McAdoo. He was then signed by the New Jersey Nets. In December 1981, he was sent to the Los Angeles Lakers for a 2nd round draft pick.

From MVP to waiver wire fodder… that’s a helluva fall.

However, when McAdoo left the Los Angeles Lakers after the 1985 season, he had helped the team capture two NBA titles. By then in his 30s, McAdoo was certainly not the irrepressible force he once was, but he could still summon that inexorable quality from time to time. In the 1982 Finals, for example, he eviscerated the 76ers with 16 points a game on 57% shooting.

No player who had been an MVP, Rookie of the Year, and 3x scoring champ in his first four years had ever endured such a precipitous fall or a more determined rise from the ashes. However, one can only suppose that no other phoenix had ever possessed such a soft, looping jumper as that of Bob McAdoo.

Years Played: 1972 – 1986


2x Champion (1982, 1985)
MVP (1975)
Rookie of the Year (1973)
All-NBA 1st Team (1975)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1974)
All-Rookie Team (1973)
5x All-Star (1974 – ’78)


NBA Career (1972-73 through 1985-86)
Peak Career Production
(1973-74 through 1979-80)

Average and Advanced Stats

Stat Career Playoff Peak Peak Rank
Games 852 94 503 28th
PPG 22.1 18.3 28.2 1st
RPG 9.4 7.6 12.2 8th
APG 2.3 1.4 3.1 78th
SPG 0.97 0.77 1.2 68th
BPG 1.49 1.61 1.86 11th
TS% 0.551 0.531 0.561 27th
2PT% 0.504 0.492 0.513 26th
3PT% 0.081 0.25 0.125 134th
FT% 0.754 0.724 0.752 144th
PER 20.7 18.5 22.5 5th
WS/48 0.151 0.11 0.174 15th
Ortg 104 103 104
Drtg 100 102 98

Aggregate Stats

Stat Career Playoff Peak Peak Rank
Games 852 94 503 28th
Minutes 28327 2714 20360 4th
Points 18787 1718 14186 1st
Rebounds 8048 711 6160 5th
Assists 1951 127 1535 47th
Steals 751 72 602 36th
Blocks 1147 151 937 6th
2PTs 7417 696 5569 2nd
3PTs 3 2 3 77th
FTs 3944 320 3039 1st
WS 89.1 6.2 73.8 2nd

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

(Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)

For someone who accomplished so much for so long, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can rightfully make the claim to being the best player to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. Personally, I’m not in the business of trying to suss out such arguments, but if someone picked Kareem how could you doubt them?

His career ran a remarkable 20 years, which only a handful of players have approached, especially prior to the 2010s. It took Kareem until his 39th year on this earth, his 18th in the NBA, to finally dip below 20 PPG. The only time he shot below 50% from the field was in his final season. At age 37 he spearheaded the Los Angeles Lakers to the title and captured a Finals MVP in the process.

In his younger days, he teamed with Oscar Robertson and Bob Dandridge to deliver the Milwaukee Bucks a title in 1971 and a rollicking 66-wins in that regular season. During his six seasons in Wisconsin, Kareem averaged an astounding 30 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3.5 blocks a game on his way to three MVP awards.

Even after a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, which left the Lakers gutted, Kareem kept up the assault. The Lakers “stumbled” to a 40-42 record during this first season (1976), but Jabbar was a one man wrecking crew with 28 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks per game that season on his way to yet another MVP. These 1970s years were Kareem at his absolute finest but given the lack of exposure the NBA had in general, and Kareem’s sometimes aloof personality, they aren’t as easily relived and beloved as other NBA stars and eras have been.

And his signature move was an unstoppable shot dropped in from the heavens. The skyhook was a foregone conclusion. It operated with ceaseless predictability and effectiveness. Its perfection became mundane.

Then came Showtime in the 1980s.

The highlight clips we most often receive of Kareem came in this era and Magic Johnson’s bubbly personality allowed the public some belated appreciation for Kareem’s greatness. Indeed, Magic receives rightful credit for igniting Showtime, but when that fast break attack wasn’t humming, Kareem was the go-to safety valve. He wasn’t quite the force he was in the 1970s, but Kareem’s second act in his mid-and-late 30s was better than most men ever dream of in their youthful 20s.

At age 38 in 1986, Abdul-Jabbar was still producing 23.4 PPG for the Lakers and just the previous year had earned the NBA Finals MVP award averaging 26 PPG, 9 RPG, and 5 APG in the series.

The sheer weight and volume of his numbers have such gravity that we’re dumbfounded at its absurdity: 6 MVPs, 19 All-Star Games, 15 All-NBA Teams, the all-time leading scorer in NBA history… And all of this still hasn’t revealed the defense of the basket, especially in the 1970s, he provided with his long, lanky frame swatting shots. Nor has it touched on his deft passing and offensive arsenal (dunks, drop steps, and turn around jumpers) beyond the skyhook.

Using his endless skills, Kareem battled Wilt Chamberlain, Wes Unseld, Willis Reed, Dave Cowens, Bill Walton, Bob McAdoo, Bob Lanier, Jack Sikma, Hakeem Olajuwon, Artis Gilmore, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Patrick Ewing, and got the best of all of them at one time or another.

So, if someone indeed comes around arguing for Kareem as the greatest of all-time, the argument is about as dependable and solid as Jabbar’s skyhook.

Years Played: 1969 – 1989


6x Champion (1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987-’88)
2x Finals MVP (1971, 1985)
6x MVP (1971-’72, 1974, 1976-’77, 1980)

10x All-NBA 1st Team (1971-’74, 1976-’77, 1980-’81, 1984, 1986)
5x All-NBA 2nd Team (1970, 1978-’79, 1983, 1985)
4x All-Defensive 1st Team (1974-’75, 1979-’81)
6x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1970-’71, 1976-’78, 1984)
19x All-Time All-Star (1970-’77, 1979-’89)

Rookie of the Year (1970)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1970)


NBA – 1560 Games
24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 2.6 BPG, 0.9 SPG
55.9% FG, 72.1% FT