The NBA GOAT (Part 2)

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - November 2, 2020 - 12:00am

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential...these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” – Confucius

In this column, we continue giving the appropriate accolades based on the outstanding traits that make individual NBA greats distinct, to avoid getting embroiled in the contentious Greatest of All Time (GOAT) debate.

The Greatest All-Around Player: LeBron James. As acknowledged by Magic Johnson, James is playing phenomenally in so many areas. Two years ago, this would have been a tie between LeBron and Oscar Robertson, but the Los Angeles Lakers forward has already surpassed the number of career games the Big O played. And while Robertson still has a higher assists average, LeBron has a higher scoring average and is putting even more distance between the two of them.

The Fiercest Competitor: Jerry West. This is a tough one because of the intangibles. West is a pathological winner. Losing games made him physically ill. Two unique feats set him apart. In 1969, after the Lakers lost to the Celtics by two points in Game 7, West was named the first ever Finals MVP from a losing team. That was also the year that the NBA logo was redesigned by Alan Siegel in West’s image. Who can match that? Kobe Bryant is a runner-up in this category.

The Greatest Overachiever : Larry Bird. Mind over matter. They said he was slow, white, and couldn’t jump. Yet he shot excellently even with a broken finger, rebounded well even with a bad back, and willed the Boston Celtics to excellence. He even called the result of more games and game-winning shots much more than Babe Ruth. I thought about Charles Barkley, who made a huge impact on the NBA as a power forward despite standing below 6’4”. Or one-time champion Tiny Archibald, who at 6’1” led the league in scoring and assists. But Bird has more championships, with three.

The Most Enjoyable: Magic Johnson. The NBA is one giant grind. Constant travel, games and practices in quick succession. It can feel just like work. But Magic Johnson sparked joy in the league like no one before or since. Though he had early issues with coaches, he lit up the court with infectious enthusiasm for the game. Johnson also found a way to win five championships by playing every position and making creative plays no one else could at his size. All this with a broad, toothy smile on his face. Other players, we watched with awe. The kid in all of us had fun watching Magic just play.

Most Ahead of His Time: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. You know the numbers. All-time NBA leader in scoring and blocked shots. Six championships with two different teams, six MVP Awards in 20 seasons. The most unstoppable shot in all of basketball, the sky hook. Even in his last playing year at age 42, he averaged double figures. It was all thanks to a training and recovery regimen that no one else was doing then, which included yoga, meditation, martial arts (under Bruce Lee), and a modified diet. If Kareem had played just one more year, he would have been the first to play in four different decades, ahead of Vince Carter.

The Greatest Game-Changer: George Mikan. There are few who have caused rule changes in the NBA. Bernard King caused the league to adopt a 0.3-second limit on last-second shots. Darryl Dawkins forced improvements on goal supports by shattering backboards. Julius Erving was one reason the NBA “merged” survivors teams of the ABA. But Minneapolis Lakers center Mikan caused the widening of the three-second area, which in turn changed the game forever. He also forced changes in how teams played defense, which propelled innovation.

Of course, this list is just this writer’s opinion, and is far from complete. There may be others from the far past and near future who make their own mark, and perhaps even supplant some of those already listed here. Time will be the greatest judge of that. Follow this writer via billvelasco1 on Instagram and @BillVelasco2 on Twitter.

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