My ability to judge anyone prior to 1982-ish is not good enough to
discuss the greats of Bill Russell, Wilt, Walton, Cousy, West and many
others. I was simply too young. Those are left for the era prior to mine
to sort out. What I can do though is tell you about the best I ever saw
play, and I can tell you why.

1. Amongst the educated and unbiased, one man stands alone as the
G.O.A.T. We love him, we admire him, and we are in awe over him and his
accomplishments on the hardwood: Michael Jordan, AKA MJ, AKA Air Jordan,
AKA His Airness. This guy is the top of the food chain and why I started
with #1. I don’t need to go through his stats or his trophy’s (personal
or as a team), as those are all well known. What I will say is NEVER has
anyone been more tenacious or fierce on the hardwood than MJ, at both
ends of the floor. This guy could and did do it all. NO ONE ever won a
title on his watch. In other words, when he broke through in 1991, and
until he finished in 1998, the only guy to win chips was another ALL
TIME GREAT, “The Dream,” when Michael was on “vacation,” and didn’t play one
season, and only played 17 games another. Jordan simply said “Not on my
watch,” and that was the end of it. His Airness put his name on the top
— everyone else has been playing for second, and likely always will be.
This is where it gets interesting. 2 though 6 are pretty
interchangeable, IMO. I can make an argument for many in any of the
positions, as can most of you, it really comes down to what you put the
most credibility into, but I will stand by my list on any stage.

2. Lew Alcindor, AKA Kareem Abdul Jabbar. This is the ONLY guy in the
history of the league that had an unblock-able and unstoppable shot. The
Sky Hook was deadly from two feet, 12 feet, or beyond. He would simply
get the ball, and with his back to the basket, turn to his left and
float the most beautiful shot this world has ever seen. The best
defenders the league has ever seen tried to stop this shot for 20
seasons, and NO ONE ever did. I remember as a 12-year-old, and my older
brother and his friends would constantly pound me on the court, so I
developed my own SKY HOOK. At 16 I played on a mens city league team
with my brother, his friends, and my Uncle Charles (the best basketball
player I ever played with). At 6’6″ and 175 lbs, I couldn’t back down
your mother to get to the rim, so I had to just shoot over them with my
own sky hook. It frustrated men two-to-three times my age, and it was as
deadly on that level as Jabbar’s was in the NBA. Kareem Abdul Jabbar has
all the team and personal hardware to go with the most unstoppable shot
this world ever has and ever will see. As of now he is the all-time
leading scorer, and will probably end up being second all-time when all
is said and done. (We will talk about the guy likely to pass him down
the list). Longevity and durability play into these rankings. Jabbar
gets the nod as a solid #2 on my list.

3. Larry Bird, AKA Larry Legend. My favorite player of all time, and a
guy that took a backseat to NO ONE, including MJ, when he was at his
best. Larry Bird’s best was as good as MJ’s. No, he didn’t do it as long
and didn’t acquire as many trophies, but Bird’s peak was as high as
Michael’s. He was an assassin, backed down to no one, would always make
all around him better, and had as dominant of 3 year run as any of these
guys we will discuss. From 1984 to 1986, Larry Joe Bird was the best
player in basketball, and everyone knew it. He was in a league of his
own. He would tell you where he was getting the ball, when he was going
to shoot it, how he was going to shoot it, and you could do nothing but
become a victim. Bird wasn’t fast and certainly didn’t jump that well,
but he did EVERYTHING else. If the game were to be played under the rim
and nowhere else, Bird would be the best ever. There was no skill Larry
didn’t have. If you were to build a ballplayer on skills alone, Larry
Bird would be the mold.

4. Kobe Bryant, AKA The Black Mamba. People loved to hate him, hated to
love him, and he embraced it like a true champion. Kobe is the only
other player besides Bird that I thought reached MJ’s level for a while.
Yes, those three reached a level none other ever did. ASSASSINS this
league has had only three, and Kobe was one of them. He was never
outworked or out-hustled. He didn’t take plays off, and he left it all
on the court. He will be immortalized by many because of his tragic
death with the eight others in a helicopter crash, and I totally
understand that. But he was #4 on my list before that tragic event, and
it was because of his ability and drive to be the best. He literally and
figuratively wanted to “be like Mike,” and he came closer than anyone
before him and likely any after him. The Mamba is my 3rd favorite player
ever, behind Bird and MJ respectively. I would have liked to sat across
the table from him, and listen to him break down a game. I don’t think
there was a better student of the game. Kobe Bryant earned his place in
history.

5. Earvin Johnson, AKA Magic. The name he was known by says it all — he
was magical. From his magical final season, to the legendary battle with
Larry Bird while at Michigan State in the NCAA Championship game, to his
first year in the NBA and on, he simply created magic like no one ever
had, like no one to this day ever has, and my money says ever will.
Magic was full of life and was the first player to be able to play all
five positions with ease. Titles and awards litter his trophy room. His
legacy is cemented, and no one questions it. Magic truly made everyone
else better. He ripped my heart out in the finals against Bird with his
“junior sky hook.” I remember it like it was yesterday. Magic is the best
point guard this league has ever seen. He passed better than anyone, and
he made no excuses when he failed. Magic is a guy you would have over
for dinner.

6. LeBron James, AKA King James. A better athlete I don’t think I have
ever seen play basketball, and maybe not any sport. James is simply the
standard for durability and ability in a game played by the best
athletes on the planet. James has evolved over his 17-year career. He
can now shoot the 3, has pretty much silenced the crowd on not wanting
to take the last shot. He has always been as good as any attacking the
basket, takes a backseat to only Magic in his passing skills and court
awareness and, of course, has lots of hardware. I have criticized James,
more than any other athlete in any sport I have ever seen play, with my
good friend Jay Brandriet. I have been so hard on James at times that
Jay (a James hater) actually has to defend him. And though Jay doesn’t
really “hate James,” he definitely is tired of the comparisons to the
true GOAT MJ. The reasons are valid even if you don’t want to hear them.
He came in and named himself King in a league full of Kings. He chased
his championships rather than the five above them who won them all with
one team. And still to this day you can’t count on him at the free throw
line under any circumstances, especially in crunch time. A top five
player he is not IMO, but I see why many of you will make him #2. We
will likely never see another athlete like James, He will be the
all-time leading scorer, barring some catastrophic injury. He will
likely get at least one more championship, and every team he went to and
played with contended for the title. That is impressive. Go ahead and
rank him 2 if you must, but make sure you stop it there.

7. Tim Duncan, AKA The Big Fundamental. Tim Duncan is just a guy you
could plug into any team and any system, and that team and that system
would be better and not disrupt a thing. A better offensive post player we never
saw, and a nicer guy may have never played in the NBA. Tim has all the
awards and hardware and did it against some of the best post players to
ever play. He would take it to Malone, Garnett, Wallace, Shaq, Hakeem,
Dirk, and many others. On the post Tim was deadly, and the bank shot was
the undoing of many of the all-time greats. Tim Duncan would be on any
starting five team I ever had. He was THE BIG FUNDAMENTAL.

8. Hakeem Olajuwon, AKA The Dream. Man, the Dream Shake was just nasty.
His dominance on both ends of the court is as impressive as anyone, and
probably better. He got back-to-back titles (albeit when MJ was on a
break), and he was the best player in the league those two years. Dream
was a joy to watch. His footwork was unbelievable, his defense was all
time great, his peak was better than most, and he was the best
all-around post player I ever saw. There was nothing he couldn’t do on
the block or baseline, and the smoothness with how he did it was
breathtaking. The Dream was just that, a dream to watch.

9. Shaquille O’Neal, AKA SHAQ or SHAQ DADDY was pure power and that was
just the reality of it. He could, would, and did dunk on everyone at
anytime and anywhere. Dominance was what he was, and a more physical
force has never been seen on the hardwood.  He never could make a free
throw, but it didn’t really matter. When he was in the paint it was
almost a guarantee he would make the basket, and then we would just
watch if he would make his free throw with it. Of course, he was just as
likely to air ball it or brick it. He would hurt anyone that tried to
guard him just on a routine (for him) drop step to the hole. People
would foul him, and it wouldn’t be called because they got hurt instead
of him.  He was pure power, and thus ranked in the top 10. He has plenty
of awards and trophy’s that he earned and deserved.  Shaq Daddy was the
most dominant force to ever play the game. That will never change.

10. Karl Malone, AKA The Mailman. Well, Karl set the standard for
durability and longevity. He would be the current all-time points
leader, but injury while chasing a ring in LA ended that. The
back-to-back NBA finals experiences were overshadowed by the GOAT. The
Mailman and Stockton and Sloan ran into the GOAT, and there was nothing
they could do about that. Stockton to Malone may be the most well-known
phrase in all of basketball. It was the staple of the league for years.
The pick and roll was mastered, and it was as much Karl as it was
Stockton. Karl morphed his game into a great mid-range shooter, but yet
could always go to the hole. He greatly improved his free throw
percentage, and thus made him a force his entire career. It was a
pleasure watching and getting to know Karl. He is a gentleman and
charitable. Karl Malone, though never winning a chip like the nine on
the list ahead of him, will always be a guy I like to talk about. He was
polarizing and simply outworked everyone. His work ethic should be the
standard for all athletes.

The most likely to be in the top 10, or probably 5, not mentioned.

Kevin Durant, AKA The Slim Reaper. This guy is the most impressive
offensive player I have ever seen. He has every shot in the book and is
smooth and deadly. He can shoot over you, take you off the dribble, bang
3’s, post up, run the break, and like Mike, has the best mid-range
jumper ever and it’s not even close. This guy, offensively, is the best.
Foul him and he will kill you at the foul line. Play off he will rain
3’s. Double and he shoots over you. There is nothing offensively KD
can’t do. I wish he would have gotten his titles in OKC, but like James,
he had to leave and team up with some other greats to get it done. His
career is far from over, and my money says it has another title or two
in it. His proneness to injury is a concern but moving forward for the
next 5 to 7 years, this is KD’s league.  We will see soon enough if the
East coast is kind to him.

This is not a slight to Stockton, Doctor J, Steph Curry, or many of the others. I
loved Doctor J and Steph, and Stockton.

John is the all time leader in 2 of the main statistical categories. Their accomplishments speak for
themselves. But in a world where we have to rank players, someone is
bound to be left out. This list is fluid and as of now KD and LBJ can
make up some ground, but unless they win more rings, their rank is right
where they belong.