Hall of NBA Fame Part 4: Tier 1

By Josh Eberley #41

In case you missed it, last week we unveiled our NBA Hall of Fame project. For those that want to review the intro, synopsis and honorable mentions, you can find that here. If you missed Tier 3 and Tier 2, make sure to take a peek at those as well.

The NBA Hall of Fame collaboration asked 16 voters with considerable backgrounds covering the league to take on an extensive ballot with the end goal of creating a hypothetical Hall of Fame that was solely focused on the NBA. A fan favorite discussion that we’ve looked to add to. 

Following the template set by Bill Simmons’, The Book of Basketball, voters had to tier the players. (Reminder that you can see and even vote on the same ballot here.)

Taking away NCAA and international accomplishments helped narrow the field but the voting was still obviously subjective and terms like, “greatness,” are of course relative to each voter. 

The following was given to help voters differentiate between the three tiers:

Tier 3: Players worthy of remembrance for their individual accomplishments and team contributions.

​​Tier 2: Players who stood ​well above​ their peers and accomplished great feats.

Tier 1: The absolute elite. Franchise altering talents that raised the bar over their time in the league.

Without further adieu, the final echelon:

Tier 1 Hall of Famers

(Players acquiring enough votes to get into the first and top tier of a three-tier hierarchy. The absolute elite reside here, franchise altering talents that won’t ever be forgotten.)

*Remember, the vote took place summer 2018, recently retired stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, and Dwyane Wade were not on the ballot!

 

’00s
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Kobe Bryant: 5x NBA Champion, MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 15x All-NBA, 12x All-Defense, 2x Scoring Leader, 18x All-Star

The Mamba was the premiere scorer of his generation. He walked in the shadow of Michael Jordan but cloaked the rest of the League as he fought opponents and critics toward his destination as one of the best to ever do it. Bryant enjoyed early success as the second option on Shaquille O’Neal’s Lakers but blazed his own trail following O’Neal’s departure by winning two more titles for Laker Land in 2009 and 2010. 

Bryant’s 81-point bombardment of the Toronto Raptors in 2006 might be the most memorable individual performance of the millennium and the singular feat that has possibly overshadowed his other career achievements. His 43.4 PPG in January of that same year is the most ridiculous outpouring of buckets in a single month since the League added a 3-point line. While he was blessed with supreme athletic gifts, it was his work ethic, steely intensity, competitive drive and mamba mentality that are forever imprinted on the minds of his foes and spectators alike.

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Tim Duncan: 5x Champion, 2x MVP, 3x Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, 15x All-NBA, 15x All-Defense, 15x All-Star

An unheralded peak with minimal sound bites but maximum victories. One of only 11 players to win back-to-back MVP awards, Duncan ran a tight ship and had a clean résumé. Over his 19 years with the San Antonio Spurs, no boxes were left unchecked by “The Big Fundamental.” In the years following his departure, it has become crystal clear his impact on winning extended deep into the Spurs culture. 

An All-NBA first team selection, champion and Finals MVP in his sophomore season, Duncan set the tone for a wide-ranging dynasty early. Following in the footsteps of franchise fixture David Robinson, his honed skillset and leadership would eventually enable him to slide a ring onto each finger on his hand. His career spanned three decades and the Spurs were  a contender every single year he adorned the silver and black. 

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Kevin Garnett: Champion, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, 9x All-NBA, 12x All-Defense, 15x All-Star

When you think about passion and intensity, “The Big Ticket” should immediately come to mind. A fearsome trash talker and two-way beast, Garnett fleeced his competition both on the court and inside their head. 

Long before the League was obsessed with finding unicorns, Garnett looked mythical. Inside or outside, in the halfcourt or transition, running the break or facilitating the offense, switch on a screen or bang down low—there was no tool getting rusty in his bag. 

Garnett toiled in Minnesota, but his labor was rewarded in Boston where he led them to his lone championship ring his first season with the team. As it stands, Garnett is top 20 all-time in points, rebounds, steals and blocks, and was the “6-foot-13”  (his former head coach Flip Saunders would use that measurement to describe his non-center) wonder who would revolutionize his position, which was none.

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Allen Iverson: MVP, Rookie of the Year, 4x Scoring Leader, 7x All-NBA, 11x All-Star

The No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft was an irrepressible symbol of change for the League. He is one of perhaps five players to have a claim as the coolest guy to ever cross one over in the Association, his legacy equally touching the game and the culture. 

Iverson challenged everyone—legends, coaches and commissioners alike. Small in stature but huge in style, there was no mountain too tall for Iverson.

His MVP campaign and run to the 2001 Finals is well documented but step-overs aside, his Sixers were the only team to take a game off those Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal Lakers—no small feat. Iverson’s handle and ability to get buckets amongst men who towered over him will never be forgotten.

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Shaquille O’Neal: 4X Champion, MVP, 3x Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, 2x Scoring Leader, 14x All-NBA, 3x All-Defense, 15x All-Star

The Diesel might’ve  been the greatest Finals performer ever. Even when his team lost, his individual play was spectacular. At O’Neal’s pinnacle, there was no scheme that could neutralize him and he reminded us each and every time he had the world’s attention. Like Wilt Chamberlain during his era, Shaq just dominated the field; like the Big Dipper, Shaq also backed it up with nimble feet and a bit of touch around the rim (while both had the same Achilles heel at the charity stripe).

It’s almost tragic that despite a 10-year prime where O’Neal averaged 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 assists per contest, he only walked away with one MVP. Fred Hickman and to some extent Iverson, also deprived O’Neal the honor of being the first ever unanimous MVP back in 2000 when a highly motivated and in-shape Shaq put up an absurd 29.7 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3 BPG, 3.8 APG and 30.6 PER (all career highs) in 79 games.

O’Neal’s Orlando Magic were the only team to send Jordan and his Bulls home in the playoffs during the eight-year Bulls’ dynasty. O’Neal’s Lakers join only the legendary likes of Mikan, Russell and Jordan to lead teams to a threepeat. 

Perhaps the greatest testament to his humongous legacy, even with all he accomplished and all the unbelievable numbers he accrued, he was unable to sate his audience. To this day, people ponder what he could’ve achieved had him and Bryant co-existed better, had he taken better care of his body, had he polished his free throw shooting. O’Neal’s magnificence, in spite of the nitpicking, will never be in dispute.


’90s
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Patrick Ewing: Rookie of the Year, 7x All-NBA, 3x All-Defense, 11x All-Star

Timing is everything. Had Ewing entered the League 10 years later his accolades would exceed the page space available here. However, unfortunately for Ewing, he had to compete with a golden age of bigs as his career overlapped with Hall of Fame big men—Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone all jumped ball against Ewing. 

Ewing’s game was equal parts brute force and finesse. On defense he brought his Hoya Destroya reputation to patrol the paint and on offense, had one of the sweetest touches from outside for a 7-footer.

Ewing did what he could. He was the best player on multiple scrappy and celebrated Knicks teams that left it all out there. Everyone loves a fighter and Ewing was a bare knuckle brawler; his Knicks teams scratched, clawed and dug their way deep into fan lore and opponents alike. His team reached the Finals twice and were thwarted on both visits (against teams that featured elite centers) but had Ewing been right in 1999 (he missed the entire Finals due to an Achilles tear), the story might’ve been different.

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Michael Jordan: 6x Champion, 5x MVP, 6x Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, 10x Scoring Leader, 11x All-NBA, 9x All-Defense, 14x All-Star 

Every achievement of his Airness became armor for a legacy that not even the entire Fast and the Furious cast could dent. The perfect 6-of-6 Finals record, the shoe empire, the shots, Space Jam. Jordan exceeded the game and became a movement. Widely considered the best to ever touch a ball, Jordan dazzled and destroyed his competition over a bizarre but glorious career.

If there is a single achievement in Jordan’s immense library that isn’t talked about enough, it’s the 10 scoring titles. GOAT wannabes Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant combined have seven! Other than Chamberlain (7), not one other player has five or more scoring titles. Jordan’s burst with the rock and hang time made him virtually unstoppable, but it was also his legendary thirst to be the best, his maniacal ability to find slight in anything to stoke his fire and his lack of a need to rest. Jordan is one of the few guards to win Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) but even more impressive is the fact that only he and Olajuwon own an MVP, Finals MVP, and DPOY. 

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Karl Malone: 2x MVP, 14x All-NBA, 4x All-Defense, 14x All-Star

Many players transcend the game and become spokesman or totems of various facets moving forward. Together, John Stockton and ‘The Mailman’ will forever be the face of the pick-and-roll. No duo accomplished more while failing to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy but fortunately for Malone, his name remains across many other leaderboards.

Eighth all-time in rebounds and second all-time in points, Malone had a long and decorated career. He’s far from the only Jordan victim and it’s hard to hold that against his legacy. For example, being the best player on 18 straight playoff teams is nothing to scoff at. On 11 consecutive occasions voters made him first team All-NBA despite sharing an era with indomitable Charles Barkley. 

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Hakeem Olajuwon: 2x Champion, MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 2X Defensive Player of the Year, 12x All-NBA, 9x All-Defense, 12x All-Star

The Dream has a claim as the League’s most impactful defender of all-time and is without a doubt the most polished post-scorer to ever seal anyone on the low block. Only he and Jordan have an MVP, Finals MVP and DPOY trophy sitting on the mantle. If we expand the criteria, only he, Jordan, Garnett, and David Robinson have an MVP and DPOY award. 

It’s an utter shame Jordan and Olajuwon never met at the summit but it’s one of the best hypotheticals of all-time, what would’ve happened if the Dream’s Rockets met Jordan’s Bulls between the threepeats? Sadly, we will never know. What we do know, is when the giants came to play king of the hill, it was the Dream who didn’t surrender the high ground. Neither Ewing or O’Neal could overpower Olajuwon’s Rockets.

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Scottie Pippen: 6x Champion, 7x All-NBA, 10x All-Defense, 7x All-Star

Pippen was a virtually unimpeachable second option. An elite defender who spared Jordan from the game’s toughest assignments when needed, he was perfect complement to the greatest ever. He was not elite at any specific skill (although if you had to pick one, it’s be defense), but Pippen’s greatness was  not having a single 99 in 2K, but possessing a 90 across the board. 

Don’t ever let Pippen be undersold; he was more than the token jack-of-all-trades and stayed content in his vital role for the entirety of Jordan’s prime years. The only exception coming during the years Jordan was on hiatus, where he showed he could hold his own.

Many still question whether Pippen was more benefactor than contributor and it’s an insane topic to even broach. Pippen, who got his name on an MVP ballot in 1994 (his one prime year as the man) and who was also on a Conference Finals team in Portland after Jordan had left, gets shortchanged by the inquiry. Make no mistake, Pippen was the second-best perimeter player of the era and without his steady contributions the Bulls would not have bucked near as many hurdles and the Jordan mystique would never come to be.

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David Robinson: 2x Champion, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Scoring Leader, 10x All-NBA, 8x All-Defense, 10x All-Star

Robinson wasn’t built like a mortal man (he appeared to look like a Greek god chiseled out of granite) and his advanced numbers (peep all the bold-faced numbers in his advanced stats on Basketball-Reference) don’t depict an ordinary man. A sneaky playmaker at this size and a defensive menace, Robinson started something special in San Antonio that would set the stage for Tim Duncan.

Robinson getting bested in the Conference Finals by peak Olajuwon in 1994 has unfairly blanketed what was a Hall of Fame career well before the Spurs tanked in 1996-97. The Spurs won 55 or more games from 1992-1994 and Robinson was a DPOY and MVP over that three-year run. From 1991 to 1996, Robinson had a better player efficiency rating (PER) than any player in the League not named Jordan.

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John Stockton: 11x All-NBA, 5x All-Defense, 10x All-Star

Stockton quietly has some of the League’s best kept records. Chris Paul and James are the two closest to his all-time leading 15,806 assists and neither has reached the 9,500 plateau to date. Stockton’s 3,265 career steals are also the most all-time. Paul, who is the closest active player just eclipsed 2,000. Much of this stems from his longevity (19 seasons) and durability (he played in 1,504 of a possible 1,526 games in the regular season).

Stockton’s peak is hard to identify, not because it wasn’t special, but he was just so damn consistent. He led the League in dimes nine straight times. While he scored at a steady, if not spectacular rate, his efficiency was always elite. Stockton led the League in true shooting percentage three times and falls into that rare zone with Steve Nash where he may have been too selfless. Stockton doesn’t get revered because he man detested the limelight, played in Utah his entire career and displayed flash as often as he dunked, but make no mistake, he challenges Magic Johnson for the best to have ever played the point guard spot.

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Isiah Thomas: 2x Champion, Finals MVP, 5x All-NBA, 12x All-Star

Jordan might’ve held Thomas off of the Dream Team but sending Jordan home three straight years feels like a far more devastating blow, if you ask us. Zeke and the Bad Boy Pistons kept the MJ mythos from being even bigger (if that’s possible) by serving as a gatekeeper in the East during Jordan’s nascent years. Had an unfortunate ankle turn in 1988 not hobbled Thomas, the NBA’s exclusive threepeat club might’ve had to make room for a fourth member. Thomas doesn’t have the individual accolades of Nash, nor the numbers of Paul but he’s the most accomplished guard not named Magic or Curry. 

Thomas led the Pistons on a five-year run where the worst they’d finish was the Conference Finals, while winning it all in consecutive years. Thomas’ Pistons ended Larry Bird’s Celtics and Magic Johnson’s Lakers dominance, and staved off Jordan’s Bulls for as long as they could—take that for data. 


’80s
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Larry Bird: 3x Champion, 3x MVP, 2x Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, 10x All-NBA, 3x All-Defense, 12x All-Star

Forget pound-for-pound or year-for-year, Bird’s three-year peak is as good as it gets. From 1984-1986, Bird won three straight MVP awards and the Celtics won 62 or more games each year en route to three Finals trips and two titles. 

Bird’s game has been distilled to just being an all-time great shooter, but as good as his jumper was, it doesn’t compare to the volume of today’s marksmen. More overlooked was Bird’s overall game and dominance without any superb physical advantage. Bird’s instincts on the court was unrivaled; he made up for any lack of foot speed or vertical to always beat his man to the spot or the ball.

His glow emblazoned more than the Celtics, the combination of star power and the noted rivalry with Magic Johnson has been credited with saving the League. The NBA isn’t close to where it is today without Larry Legend.

Bird was a savage in the absolute best way. Whether he was telling the opposing bench where he was scoring from next, sharing some Christmas spirit, or stealing the Celtics scoring record from his own teammate just two weeks after it was set—Bird was always the marquee event.

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Magic Johnson: 5x Champion, 3x MVP, 3x Finals MVP, 10x All-NBA, 12x All-Star

Winning a championship in a rookie campaign is special but winning while filling in for one of the greatest players to ever do it is beyond the imagination of most. Magic was a writer’s dream, his career started like a Hollywood screenplay. Magic is the best point guard to ever play the game and he did it by making fantasy reality.

The commander of nine Finals teams, the Showtime superstar redefined his position and the game, turning basketball into a what looked like a choreographed routine. Along with Bird, Magic altered the course of the League, drawing viewership the Association previously thought impossible. There was no part of the game Magic couldn’t alter, evidenced by his vault of triple-doubles. Magic is behind only the Big O (181) all-time with 138 to his name.

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Moses Malone: Champion, 3x MVP, Finals MVP, 8x All-NBA, 2x All-Defense, 13x All-Star

The Chairman of the Boards gobbled up rebounds better than anyone else to ever do it. Size, strength and fire—Malone had it all. He led the League in rebounds six times and finished his career third all-time in rebounds but even more impressive was his offensive rebounding dominance. 

Offensive rebounds lead to easy money and Malone was a robber. His 7,382 snatches off the offensive glass are 2,500 more than the next closest player (Gilmore) and 79 more than Ben Wallace and Duncan accrued combined. 

Traveling across two leagues and nine teams, Malone’s career could’ve been that of two separate Hall of Famers. He sits ninth all-time in scoring and is one of only a few select candidates to have two arenas with his jersey hanging from the rafters.


’70s
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 6x Champion, 6x MVP, 2x Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, 2x Scoring Leader, 15x All-NBA, 11x All-Defense, 19x All-Star

The greatest of all time isn’t an objective title. Several players have an argument and amongst them is Kareem. Six titles and six MVP awards are genuinely staggering to think about. The game’s all-time leading scorer, also dipped his toes into leading the League in rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage at various times during his illustrious career.

Icons have memorable moments, skills and personalities. Abdul-Jabbar didn’t have to settle for one. Finals sweeps, name changes, and of course—no one forgets the skyhook. The shot was relatively untouched for two decades and still, it remains perhaps the most memorable signature shot of all-time. Not only was it relatively unblockable, it’s been inimitable; there’s been variations of it, but no one has unfurled it with the same sweeping effect like Cap.

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Rick Barry: Champion, Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, Scoring Leader, 10x All-League, 12x All-Star

One of the best Finals performers ever, Barry isn’t mentioned enough for his desecration of defenses at the largest stage. Barry averaged 36.3 points per game in the Finals, a mark that all of Durant, James, and Jordan can look up to.

Putting pride aside, Barry was all about sending that ball home by any means necessary, including free throws, where his underhanded technique (which hasn’t been mimicked in any seriousness since) led to him leading the League in free throw shooting percentage six times. The 24th all-time leading scorer didn’t mess around and to this day he’s one of only six players to score 50-plus in a Finals game (Baylor, James, Jordan, West, and Pettit are the other five).

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Julius Erving: 3x Champion, 4x League MVP, 12x All-League, All-Defense, 16x All-Star

Dr. J was Jordan before Jordan. An extraterrestrial flyer who exuded equal amounts of confidence and style while hooping at the highest level, Erving won the first professional Slam Dunk Contest in the ABA with a never-before-seen (for most), take-off-from-the-free-throw-line dunk. So crazy was the move that it’s become the standard bearer for slam dunk greatness. Beneath the dazzle, Erving was a lethal player who started his career in the ABA, where he won two rings and three straight MVP awards in just five seasons. If you totaled his ABA and NBA careers, he cracked the 30K points club.

Erving’s only title in the NBA came in a near equal partnership with Moses Malone, but many forget his Sixers were a contender before Malone got there. In fact, Erving’s Sixers won 58 games or more from 1980-82, only losing in hard fought series to either the Magic and Kareem-led Lakers, or the Bird-led Celtics. At the time of his retirement, Erving was the League’s third all-time leading scorer. 

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John Havlicek: 8x Champion, Finals MVP, 11x All-NBA, 8x All-Defense, 13x All-Star

Hondo, like Pippen, was the perfect second option for two, arguably three different championship eras. Whether it was Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Dave Cowens, Sam Jones, Bailey Howell or Jo Jo White—it didn’t matter. There were two constants: Havlicek and winning. 

Lucky for the Celtics, the Cleveland Browns let Hondo walk. It’s hard to imagine what Celtics history would look like without, “Havlicek steals it!” A career Celtic and all-around forward who had nothing left to accomplish, it’s crazy to consider what could’ve been with the 1973 Celtics. The ’73 Celtics won more games (68) than any other Celtics team in history, had Havlicek not hurt his shoulder in the Conference Finals they might have yet another banner.


’60s and back
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Elgin Baylor: Rookie of the Year, 10x All-NBA, 11x All-Star

If Dr. J preceded MJ, then Baylor was the granddaddy of hops. Baylor was the first to player in the NBA known for his bunnies, using it to elevate over the opposition to rim. And like the those he would pass the torch to, Baylor also paired his physical abilities with equal skill. Baylor was an insane rebounder for his size, averaging nearly 20 a game in 1961 and over 13 for his career. That’s in spite of him standing just 6-5 tall. His athleticism and shooting touch would’ve served him well in any era.

Baylor played in eight NBA Finals, but had the misfortune of meeting the juggernaut Celtics seven times and an energized Knicks team (see Willis Reed and Walt Frazier) in 1970; each of those Finals resulted in an L for Baylor’s Lakers. During the 1962 Finals, he set the then-Finals points record with 61 points in Game 5. Military service and knee injuries hampered his career numbers but powering through real life obstacles, the 11-time All-Star still sits top 35 all-time in scoring. Baylor is also one of only six players to ever score 70 or more in a single game. (Devin Booker, Bryant, Chamberlain, Robinson and Thompson are the other five.) In a final cruel stab, Baylor’s Lakers would finally break through with a title victory in 1972, except Baylor retired nine games into the season.

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Wilt Chamberlain: 2x Champion, 4x MVP, Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, 7x Scoring Leader, 10x All-NBA, 2x All-Defense, 13x All-Star

Wilt the Stilt could do anything he wanted on a basketball court (and really anything else as he was also an accomplished  track & field star at Kansas) and if you questioned otherwise, he’d have no problem proving you wrong. He never won at the clip his nemesis Bill Russell did, but he has an abundance of records that are unlikely to ever be dethroned. 

Amongst numerous jaw-dropping numbers, his 100 points in a single game are 19 higher than Bryant’s already implausible 81. He has the most rebounds ever and 10,000 more than the closest active player (Dwight Howard). His 50.4 PPG in 1962 set the bar and were 13 more per game than Jordan’s 1987 campaign but between the two record years—there are three other Chamberlain seasons—1963, 1961, and 1960—where he averaged 44.8, 38.4, and 37.6 PPG. Many of these records were a result of insane pacing and playing in a time that predated the concept of “load management” (Chamberlain once averaged 48.5 minutes per game and averaged 45.8 in 14 seasons). Chamberlain’s name is splashed on so many pages, he’s in no danger of ever being forgotten.

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George Mikan: 5x Champion, 3x Scoring Leader, 6x All-League, 4x All-Star

The League’s first superstar was imperative to its growth. While future players have surpassed Mikan, his footsteps laid out a path for them to follow. He lives on through the Association’s success and the immortal Mikan drill.

Mikan played in the pioneer days but was as dominant as any athlete across any sport. He won five titles in six seasons, leading the League in points four of those years. Prior to the formation of the NBA, he won two other pro titles. Mikan worked as equal parts celebrity, athlete, and spokesman—a true ambassador of the game.

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Bob Pettit: Champion, 2x MVP, Rookie of the Year, 2x Scoring Leader, 11x All-NBA, 11x All-Star

Remembering that Russell’s Celtics won 11 rings in 13 years, it’s not hard to ponder just how special the two teams that snuck through the green empire’s blockade. The latter team, the 1967 Sixers were championed by Hal Greer and Chamberlain, but the first team to slip through was Pettit’s 1958 St. Louis Hawks. 

In 1957, the Hawks who finished under .500 during the season gave their best Rocky impression, taking Apollo to seven in the Finals, earning the Celtics’ respect in the process. In 1958, Pettit upped his play and taking advantage of a hampered Russell, went for a then-record 50 points in the series-clinching Game 6. Pettit and the Hawks would never win again but neither would anyone else outside of Boston for damn near a decade.

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Oscar Robertson: Champion, MVP, Rookie of the Year, Scoring Leader, 11x All-NBA, 12x All-Star

“The Big O” put up befuddling numbers long before Russ was crashing the glass. Unfortunately, beyond the eye-popping triple-doubles—which weren’t even a thing at the time Robertson played (they were retroactively acumulated)—the elite numbers were often not enough or did not line up with team success. In his 10 years with the Royals, Robertson and company failed to eclipse a .500 record four times, never once reaching the NBA Finals. Understandable to some degree as Robertson’s Royals were eliminated by the clubs of Chamberlain or Russell five straight years.

Joining Abdul-Jabbar and the Bucks in 1970, everything changed. Robertson had instant chemistry with the man formerly named Lew Alcindor and they won a title in their first year together. And though they wouldn’t win another title together, the Bucks won 60 or more games in each of the next two seasons. Robertson’s numbers remain nearly untouchable as he sits 14th all-time in scoring and sixth all-time in assists. 

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Bill Russell: 11x Champion, 5x MVP, 11x All-NBA, All-Defense, 12x All-Star

Russell was the heart, soul and heavy-lifter of the greatest dynasty in sports history. Russell might’ve played in a smaller league and during a lesser era of NBA talent, but he ruled it with an iron fist. You can only play who is in front of you and for over a decade, Russell lined them up and knocked them down. Nobody plays for second and Russell was the best winner the game has ever seen. 

Unlike his goliath counterpart in Philadelphia, the only stat Russell sought after was the W. Russell’s numbers paled in comparison to those of Wilt and that has often been misconstrued for a lack of ability, but when the Celtics needed their champion to find another gear, he did. In Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals, Russell had one of the most memorable games in history, totaling 30 points and 40 rebounds.

In 1961, something was in the water and the League’s talent was erupting. Chamberlain averaged 50.4 PPG; Robertson averaged a triple-double; and Baylor averaged nearly 40 PPG to go with nearly 20 RPG; yet it was Russell who was awarded the MVP. Bill always won. 

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Jerry West: Champion, Finals MVP, Scoring Leader, 12x All-NBA, 5x All-Defense, 14x All-Star

The Logo’s legend has only grown. In the years following his on-court days, everything he’s touched has turned to gold, specifically the one found on the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Long before West was a respected executive, he was the best shooter in the League. Perhaps the League’s first model of current Curry, though, West wasn’t rewarded in the same way. Renowned for his shooting range, West hoisted many of his deep balls behind a non-existent 3-point line. West finished with 25,192 points, a sum that would’ve easily been much more if aided by the bonus point.

The combo guard is the only player ever to receive the Finals MVP on a losing team and like everyone else in the era, struggled mightily to usurp the Celtics rule. Smart fans know that the 1-8 Finals record is a testament to consistent greatness rather than some sort of deterrent to his legacy. 


Thank you for following along with the Hall of Fame project and make sure to check in on all our voters as they put out fantastic content of their own.

Thanks again to our list of voters who volunteered their time, you can find them here: Harvey Araton, The New York Times. Howard Beck, Bleacher Report. Tom Byrne, SiriusXM NBA. Sean Deveney, formerly of Sporting News. Vincent Goodwill, Yahoo Sports. Benjamin Golliver, Washington Post. Erik Horne, The Oklahoman. Adi Joseph, CBS Sports. Mitch Lawrence, Forbes. Roland Lazenby, author, ‘Michael Jordan, The Life’. Michael Lee, The Athletic. Matt Moore, The Action Network. Sekou Smith, NBA.com and NBA TV. Phil Taylor, The Athletic. Justin Termine, SiriusXM NBA. Ming Wong, HOOP Magazine. And a special thank you to Craig Norris for the artwork.