By Russ Bengtson and Myles Brown
10. Patrick Ewing
Over the course of his 17-year NBA career, Patrick Ewing was referred to as a warrior an NBA-record 3,874,009 times. How he never ended up in Golden State is one of the League’s true mysteries. He was perhaps the best jump-shooting center of all-time, which is both a great and odd accomplishment—like being the best shotblocking point guard. Ewing was never able to bring a title to New York, but he led multiple 50-plus win teams (and four 55-plus win teams). In 10 straight years as the team’s leading scorer, Ewing took the Knicks to the playoffs every year and only lost in the first round twice.
9. Dominique Wilkins
Perhaps the most under appreciated to don an NBA uniform, no player would deny Dominique Wilkins’ ability to amaze on a basketball court. But the ’88 Slam Dunk judges could. And the NBA Top 50 committee. And the MVP voters. As vigorous a scorer as he was, it all seemed for naught. Every graceful foray through the lane and violent explosion at the rim was in vain. Every 50 win season and Central division title led to post season torment. Wilkins spent his prime personifying excellence only to be trumped by excellent teams in Boston and Detroit. Division rival Michael Jordan endured similar travails in becoming The Human Trophy Case, but Nique had neither the front office nor the marketing team for such a metamorphosis. What he does have is the undying respect of his peers and a legacy etched on the minds of faithful fans just as he left Spalding imprinted on so many others.
8. Clyde Drexler
Clyde Drexler will always be remembered as one of the most complete two-guards to ever play in the NBA. His misfortune was playing at the same time as the MOST complete two-guard to ever play in the NBA. In 1990, Drexler was coming off a Finals appearance and led the Blazers to the best record in the L, averaging 21.5 points, 6.7 boards and 6.0 assists (consistent to a fault, his career averages were 20.4, 6.1 and 5.6). He came in sixth in the MVP voting. The following season he upped his scoring to 25.0, to go with 6.6 boards and 6.7 assists. He came in second to—well, you can guess.
7. Jason Kidd
No one can empathize better with Kevin Garnett this year than Jason Kidd. In the 2000-01 season, the New Jersey Nets won just 26 games. In 2001-02, after trading for Kidd, they went 52-30 and made their first trip to the NBA Finals (and they’d return the following season). Kidd’s personal numbers weren’t off-the-charts—his shooting, as usual, was more or less abysmal—but he turned around the fortunes of an entire franchise with his work ethic and enthusiasm. Sound familiar?
6. Scottie Pippen
Truthfully speaking, he only had one chance. No one knew who he was comin’ straight outta Hamburg and as long as big brother was around no one really cared. All good things outside of Michael were byproducts of his greatness, right? But for one full season, Scottie Pippen took over the family business and thrived under the added responsibility. No migranes, no hesitancy, just more points and somehow even more defense. Chicago may have missed it’s prodigal son in 1994, but the Bulls remained familiar with winning as Pip willed them to 55 victories and a second round appointment with New York. Facing an 0-3 deficit with 1.8 seconds remaining in a tie game, he stepped into his big brothers shoes only to be passed over. Again. Scottie reacted, well, like a child and that’s all anyone will ever remember. Which is a damn shame. He deserved that chance. An MVP too.
5. John Stockton
wordsarepricelesstheabilitytoclearlyexpressourselvesisparamounttohumanexistence wordsgiveourthoughtsshapearticulateouremotionsanddeclareourpurpose exchangedoftenenoughwordsmakethemselvesclearwithoutescapingnaryamouthwordsarepowerful butinprintwordswithoutstructurearecrippledpoepletakepunctuationforgranted withoutitvitaltimingandinflectionarelostwordsthenbecomestrengthwithoutdirectionfuriouslymangled soundssignifyingnothingthisisaparagraphwithoutpunctionationthisiswhatkarlmalone atwotimemvpwouldbewithoutjohnstocktongotithewasdirectlyresponsibleformorethanhalfofmalones thirtythousandpointsconsistentlymadefiftypercentofhisfieldgoalsfortypercentofhisthreepointers andcementedhimselfamongstassisstsandstealsleadersifstocktonwereembodiedbyanysinglesymbol itwouldprobablybesomethingnondescriptlikeaperiodbutbelievemeitwouldfollowanemphaticsentence
(Translation: Words are priceless. The ability to clearly express ourselves is paramount to human existence. Words give our thoughts shape, articulate our emotions and declare our purpose. Exchanged often enough, words make themselves clear without escaping nary a mouth. Words are powerful, but in print, words without structure are crippled. People take punctuation for granted. Without it, vital timing and inflection are lost. Words then become strength without direction, furiously mangled sounds, signifying nothing. This is a paragraph without punctuation. This is what Karl Malone, a two time NBA MVP would be without John Stockton. Got it? He was directly responsible for more than half of Malone’s thirty thousand points, consistently made fifty percent of his field goals, forty percent of his three pointers and cemented himself amongst assists and steals leaders. If Stockton were embodied by any single symbol, it would probably be something nondescript like a period, but believe me, it would follow an emphatic sentence.)
4. John Havlicek
You don’t think of John Havlicek (sorry this can’t be embedded) as a scorer, yet if you look at the all-time lists, there he is near the very top—13th in NBA history, the Celtics all-time leader. You want team success? John Havlicek won eight NBA championships. Individual accolades? He was named to 11 All-NBA teams and eight All-Defensive teams. A tireless worker on both ends of the court, he was just like Scottie Pippen, only better. He started as the ultimate sixth man, but went on to average 28.9 and 27.5 ppg (his career numbers were 20.8, 6.3 boards and 4.8 assists) at 30 and 31 while leading the League in minutes per game. With all that, you’d think John Havlicek would have won at least one MVP. And there you’d be wrong.
3. Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor never could catch a break. He never won a championship, despite playing in eight Finals. He retired nine games into the Lakers’ 69-win ’71-72 season, the year they finally won it all. He got hired by the Clippers. Widely considered as the stylistic forefather to high-flyers like Jordan and Erving, the 6-5 Baylor averaged a Herculean 27.4 points, 13.5 boards and 4.3 assists for his career. But he played during an era when centers were king; first Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, and then Wes Unseld, Willis Reed and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Small guys just didn’t get the hardware, even if they had the game.
2. Isiah Thomas
He was so much more than this. Has anyones playing career been more overshadowed by their managerial years than Isiah Thomas? Baylor? Jordan? Bird? McHale? Why do their highlights get the string music while Isiah’s has a laugh track? He used to play this game too, you know. Fact is, Zeke-like Nique-is used to being disrespected. (Note to Deke: Maybe that’s the problem?) No Rookie of the Year, no Dream Team and only two total points on the MVP ballot in back-to-back championship seasons. However, the same characteristics that made Isiah Thomas a legendary front office fuck up-stubborn pride and shortsightedness-are the same traits that made him a legendary player. But back when I was a kid they called it ‘heartanddetermination‘. He had good reason to believe he could turn anything around. Through trial and error, he’d done it before.
1. Jerry West
Nothing defines greatness like winning and nothing saps the will to win more than losing. But coming in second more than anyone else made Jerry West one of the greatest ever as he laid the blueprint for modern shooting guards in the process. You never beat him, your team just had more points when time ran out. Having lost seven championships to Boston (three of those times in seven games) with the last loss in ’69 on his own floor, the added insult of a Finals MVP should have broken him completely. The entire lexicon was exhausted pontificating his greatness, except ‘winner’. But he’d come back the next year, strong as ever, only to lose another seven game Finals to the Knicks. West would finally get over the hump two years later in record breaking fashion along with fellow Celtic pincushion Wilt Chamberlain, but somehow he left the sport without an MVP along the way. It’s not a logo, but we hope this helps make it up to him.