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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Making the case for the NBA all-time top 75 snubs

With some notable names being left off the NBA’s top 75 players of all-time list, did they have a case?

By OMAR NAVARRO — sports@theaggie.org

Making a list of any kind will surely result in controversy, and the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team is no exception. To celebrate the league’s 75th season, a group composed of current and former NBA players, coaches, general managers and team and league executives, WNBA legends and sportswriters and broadcasters all voted on 75 of the greatest NBA players of all time. They were not asked to rank them, and also, it did not matter the position they played. 

As expected, the list was headlined by names like LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and other all-time NBA greats. As the names continued to get announced, the honor of being selected to this anniversary list was one that they held in high regard. 

“From where I come from I’m simply LOST FOR WORDS!!” tweeted LeBron James after his announcement. “BEYOND HONORED & BLESSED!!” 

“Obviously it’s an amazing honor,” Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry told reporters in his post-game press conference following the announcement. “It’s something I never dreamed of […] I remember watching the top 50 list, those interesting jackets they had, and just the names that you saw and all that. Now, you think about 25 more in the last 25 years and what it meant. So, to be on that list, it’s amazing.”

As the congratulations continued to pour in for those in the top 75 (or 76 since two players tied), some people began to see some names being left off the list. By far, the most accomplished name left off the list was 8x All-Star Dwight Howard, who was not among the players selected. 

“Dwight Howard not being on the NBA 75th Anniversary Team is an indictment on the entire list,” First Things First host Nick Wright said. “It makes it seem like the cool kids lunch table rather than the most prestigious group in NBA history. His resumé is not borderline top 75, it’s borderline top 45.”

Along with his eight All-Star appearances, Howard also boasts an NBA Championship, is 8x All-NBA, 3x Defensive Player of the Year, 5x All-Defensive Player, 5x Rebound Leader and 2x Block Champ. A lengthy resumé indeed, Howard was left off the list for some reason. Whether it be his ugly exit from the Orlando Magic, his antics, or other things he has done in his long NBA career, it was enough for voters to keep him off the list. Antics or not, Howard’s resumé is one that deserves the recognition of the best 75 players in NBA history — especially considering some of the names on the list that are not even close to his accomplishments. 

Another big man who was left off of the list was former Toronto Raptor and Miami Heat star Chris Bosh. Despite the scary end to his career, the hall of famer accumulated 11 All-Star appearances, two NBA Championships — including the crucial rebound that led to Ray Allen’s famous three pointer against the San Antonio Spurs — and was one of the better big men in the game throughout his time. Although people saw him as the third fiddle of those 2010s Miami Heat teams with James and Dwyane Wade, he was an integral part of that team as well as those Raptors teams of the 2000s.

To continue on the trend of big men left off, a name that was never flashy but deserved some recognition was that of Pau Gasol. A crucial part of the Lakers’ back to back championships in 2009 and 2010, his play helped the late-great Kobe Bryant on his quest for greatness following the departure of Shaquille O’Neal. 

“The reality is I wouldn’t win those two championships without Pau,” Bryant said in 2018. “[Los Angeles] wouldn’t have those two championships without Pau Gasol. We know that. Everybody knows that.”

In addition to his two championships, he was a 6x All-Star, 4x All-NBA selection and also top 50 all-time in career points, rebounds, blocks and wins over replacement. Although he may not have had the longevity that some players had, neither do some on that list. Gasol’s peak resulted in championships, and his omission from the list of 76 players remains one of the misses. 

When looking back at the NBA’s history, injury is something that certainly takes over a lot of great players’ careers. That can be said about two players that did not make the list, Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill. While both players did have fantastic careers, it is likely that injuries were the number one thing that kept them off the list. Even then McGrady, a 7x All-Star and All-NBA player, lit up the league throughout his time where he was healthy. He won the scoring title twice, and had injuries not derailed his career prematurely, he would’ve easily made the list. Hill on the other hand, a 7x All-Star and 5x All-NBA member himself, was a victim of injuries throughout his prime years. His peak saw him dominate as a new era point forward, but as injuries broke his body down, he became less effective. Still, him not being on the list caught many eyes, as both Hill and McGrady were more than worthy of being on it. 

When looking at the active players that made it — LeBron, Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Paul — there are a couple of omissions that people have highlighted, and those are the absence of Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving and Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson. When looking at current players in the league, names like Paul George and Derrick Rose could have an argument on accolades alone, but Irving and Thompson stand out the most.

A 7x All-Star, 3x All-NBA player, rookie of the year and an integral player in the Cleveland Cavaliers 3-1 series comeback against the Golden State Warriors, Irving’s resumé speaks for itself. Despite the controversy that surrounds Irving at the moment, he is arguably one of the greatest finishers around the rim in league history as well as boasting one of the best handles ever as well. When looking at his counterpart Damian Lillard, it is possible to argue that Irving should be in over Lillard, as his career does not compare to Irving’s, yet he made the list.

While he hasn’t played in years, Thompson is hoping to remind people who he is when he returns from injury later this season. Still, him being left off the top 75 list did not sit right with the Warriors’ sharpshooter. 

“Maybe I’m just naive in my ability to play basketball, but in my head I’m top 75 all time,” Thompson said following the announcement of the list. 

A 3x NBA Champion and 5x all-star, Thompson will go down in history as one of the three best shooters of all time. His pure shooting mechanics and laser accuracy has led him to make his mark on NBA history, especially during the championship Warriors’ runs. Overlooked by many, his high level defense on opposing players is another part of his game that has been undervalued throughout his time in the league. Between Thompson and Howard, they might be the two players with the biggest argument to join the greats on that list.

Making a list is an imperfect science that will never make everyone happy. A lot of names were left off, but that should not diminish their greatness. For those who made the list, this will serve as a great accomplishment, knowing that their impact on the game has been felt at an all-time level. For those omitted from the list, this will be more fuel to the fire, as they will be out to prove why they deserved to be on the list of the 76 best players in NBA history. 

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org

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