I have said it before, and, for those who missed the first 200 times I’ve said it - basketball is my favorite sport. While the NFL draft is coming up, and I will be doing a first round mock draft in a coming issue, perhaps an online-only special due to its length, today it’s all about basketball.
This is going to be a fun basketball edition of View from the nose bleeds section as we are going to do one of my favorite things - rank players, starting at 10 and going down to #1 of the best ball players since 1992.
Why 1992? Because I don’t remember a lot of my first five years of life, outside of stepping on a nail at daycare. That one stuck with me.
10. Fred Hoiberg - I bet you’re thinking I am insane right now. Why Fred Hoiberg? Well, I ask you this. Why not Fred Hoiberg? The guy is a legend in Iowa. He starred at Ames High School and was such a legend at Iowa State, he got write in votes for mayor, getting his nickname of “The Mayor.”
I remember watching Hoiberg and the Cyclones upend Kansas once when I was a kid. I remember following Hoiberg’s career in the NBA and wondered why he never got more playing time after being a beast at Iowa State. He has a solid NBA career, and really peaked in Minnesota playing with Kevin Garnett.
Hoiberg was a great coach at Iowa State, and proved Cyclone coaches should never go on to coach the Chicago Bulls. Maybe the third time will be the charm if someone else tries it. This spot nearly went to Robert Horry, by the way. Best role player in NBA history and you can’t convince me otherwise.
9. Kawhi Leonard - One of the best two-way players in the NBA right now. I love watching this guy play and enjoyed seeing him help get two Iowa coaches NBA Championships. Granted, Leonard doesn’t have the eye-popping numbers of a guy like Steph Curry or James Harden, but I value defense and team play.
I value a guy who does what he can to help a team win. Not saying that a Curry or a Harden doesn’t, but playing on both ends of the floor certainly helps and Leonard does it. Plus, the guy does a fantastic job of stepping up in the playoffs. You cannot understate how important it is for someone to step up in the playoffs.
He does. Consistently.
8. Chris Paul - One of the best point guards of the modern era and a player who has had a somewhat-tragic career. We think of Chris Paul and how he complains to the referees and has a handful of other quirks which draw the ire of some fans.
Can you name better point guards in the league that have had such a solid career since he was drafted? It’s difficult. He’s consistent, suffered through being on a bad New Orleans team with no help, saw the Clippers fail regularly, got hurt for his best chance to get a ring in Houston and is now floundering on a young Oklahoma City team.
To think he was passed up by three other teams. The players that went ahead of him? Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams and Deron Williams. Two good players in Bogut and Deron Williams and one “what was Atlanta thinking player?” in Marvin Williams. Shame.
7. Hakeem Olajuwon - Can you name the one player that ate up Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal within the span of two years in three playoff series? Olajuwon did. In the mid-90s, he ripped through my then-favorite player-Shaq, in the 1995 NBA Finals, destroyed Ewing in the ‘94 Finals and roasted Robinson in the playoffs of Robinson’s MVP season.
Olajuwon was a menace on defense when I watched him and had a good post game. Tapes should be shown of his footwork to young centers. The guy was a phenom and I’ve grown to love his game even more as I’ve gotten older. As for 8 year old me? Hated him.
6. Scottie Pippen - The best Robin to someone’s Batman. There’s no way that Michael Jordan wins six championships without Pippen at his side. Pippen’s backstory made his rise to NBA star from humble beginnings. Remember, he didn’t even play NCAA Division I basketball. He came from the NAIA to be one of the most recognizable names of the last 30 years.
We remember Scottie as the guy who really grew beside MJ and even took over the Bulls for that year and a half that Jordan was off playing baseball. There were some who thought Scottie was actually a better all-around player than Jordan.
It was weird seeing Scottie in Houston and Portland uniforms after his years with the Bulls, but he still nearly got back to the finals with the Trail Blazers back in 2000. Not a bad career.
5. Shaquille O’Neal - Let me take you back to 1994. I was seven. I was watching a highlight show on TV and I remember a clip of Shaq bringing down the entire basket. The game was delayed for an hour to fix it. As an impressionable kid, that’s all I needed to be a Shaq fan and a fan of the Orlando Magic.
Then he left Orlando for L.A., breaking my heart in the process, and suffered through his career being beat on for the next 15 years. Shaq took a lot of abuse in the post but he still ate most centers alive for breakfast when healthy and focused. After Hakeem got older in the late 90s, Shaq had no one that could keep pace and that’s how he won four titles.
Should have been at least six, but hey, he had a great career that showcased his abilities but still might’ve left a title on the table. Regardless, seven-year-old me will always be in awe of his power.
4. Kobe Bryant - You might be thinking to yourself “How isn’t Kobe a top three player of the last 30 years.” It’s simple. The mid-2000s. In the late 90s, early 2000s, Kobe was getting along well with Shaq and winning championships together. He was a great player for a series of great Laker teams that suited what they did as a team.
After he was accused of sexual assault, and was rumored to snitch on some stuff Shaq did, the partnership began to fall apart, leading to Shaq going to Miami and Kobe losing about four years of his career playing with a bunch of scrubs and generally being a pain in the you-know-what.
Around 2007 Kobe finally got it back together and won another championship in 2010. Then he hung around a few years too long, ate up L.A.’s cap while being hurt for the tail end of his career. Still, Kobe came close to grasping that next Jordan mantle but fell short because of his own demons.
He will still be missed and may he rest in peace with his daughter.
3. Tim Duncan - Why doesn’t Duncan get remembered more in greatest player lists? Because he was so consistent it was at times boring to many fans. Duncan came into the league and really owned being the best power forward from the time he stepped on the court. He never wanted to leave the Spurs and stayed there his whole career.
He won four rings in different eras of rules and play styles and fit into every single one. He was a great defender, clutch player, could rebound, got his teammates involved and could get you 30 points if needed.
Watch his game sometime and appreciate the fact that we got to see the best power forward of all time for 16 years or so.
2. LeBron James - Everyone so badly wanted James to be the next Jordan when he came into the league. As the years passed by, we remember his failures and label him as not being the clutch player he needed to be to help win a championship. James was never going to be Jordan. Instead, and I’ve seen others use this label, he was the next Magic Johnson. A guy who can play any position, defend any position, score at will, get his teammates involved and leave you with a lot of highlight reel material.
So what if James went to Miami to play with a couple of friends? When you look at what he had to play with his first tenure in Cleveland, and how they weren’t getting him help, you’d want to go somewhere with better teammates. Instead, he was killed for it on TV and social media. He went back to Cleveland and won a title anyway.
Now he’s in L.A. with more superstar teammates. Just remember that Boston in 2008 started the whole Big Three Era in the first place. He was just doing what they did with Miami. Get over the hate.
1. Michael Jordan - Do I need to explain this one? I don’t think I really have to. Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. You can put him in today’s era, in his prime, and he fits in. He fits in better than anyone else from the 80s, 70s or 60s. Wilt and Russell would struggle in today’s game.
Jordan? He would thrive in 2020. No one was more clutch, except maybe Robert Horry. Jordan was a lockdown defender most of the time, even the greatest of defenders can get crossed up, and took games over when he needed to. We remember that last shot he had for the Bulls in the 98 NBA Finals.
We remember the Shrug Game in the 1992 Finals. We remember him dropping 55 points against the Knicks three weeks back from his baseball stint. We know now what a jerk he was to his teammates, his massive gambling problem, and we still don’t really care. If he was in his prime now, he’d still be the best player ever, but wouldn’t be remembered as fondly because of his demons.
So there you go. The top 10 players of the last 30 years. Any hate over the placements, omissions or anything else? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @SLPilotSports. I welcome discussions.