Thursday, May 8th, 2008 at 4:30 pm  |  49 responses

Always a Bridesmaid, Never an MVP…

One list we’re glad Kobe’s not on…

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 ‘heart and determination‘. 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.

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  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ H to the izzo

    The banner makes me crave scotch and a cigar,great stuff,especially the Stockton part.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    LeBron hasn’t won one, either. Total bullsh*t.

  • Ken

    Salivating over this post. Way to pimp YT in it. I love technology improving experiences like this.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ H to the izzo

    Poor bait at best.


    Mr. Jones, and if he ever does, he won’t be the youngest to win it either. TOTAL BS! :P

  • Mike C

    It’s a damn shame that these guys never won, and yet Nash has two and even Dirk has one.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Great list fellas. Great banner, too.

  • WhaHuh

    nba.com did a similar list with- 5. Rick Barry, 4. John Havlicek, 3. Elgin Baylor, 2. Jerry West and 1. George Mikan

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    The thing about Clyde: He was not only not ever the best two guard in the League; he was also never the best guard in his own division. That makes winning MVPs tough. Still, consistency be damned, his 27 ppg, 8 rpg, 6 apg, and 3 spg (!) in ’88-89 was none too shabby. As always, though, he picked the wrong year.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Zeke just played in the wrong era.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    What other things are bourgeois???

  • http://www.mybleedingfingertips.blogspot.com/ Myles Brown

    Dunk contests, for one.

  • WhaHuh

    Only 2, two guards have ever won the MVP award- Kobe and MJ

  • http://www.mybleedingfingertips.blogspot.com/ Myles Brown

    Um, gated communities?

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Iverson was a two.

  • http://www.mybleedingfingertips.blogspot.com/ Myles Brown

    Hybrid vehicles?

  • nic

    @ khalid – performance outerwear is also bourgeois.

  • henry

    that pippen piece with the song and highlights was on point

  • http://firemitchkupchak.com Jackie Moon


  • WhaHuh

    Russ, nba.com lists him as a PG the year he won it, but they also list Duncan and KG as PFs

  • Boston Baller

    Nice list but each of those players played at a time when there were at least two other players having better years at the time they were wrecking havoc.

    Go Celtics!

  • Mavs thru thick and thin

    amazing article, nuff said

  • B. Long

    How did “The Logo” get snubbed?

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Incidentally, I wrote an entry for Kobe when we first started kicking this idea around a few weeks ago. Might as well share: “Despite the fact that he’s long been considered the best overall player in the NBA, Kobe Bryant has yet to finish higher than third in MVP voting. As a 23-year old, he averaged 25/5.5/5.5 for a 58-win team coming off two straight NBA titles and came in fifth. The following year he upped all those averages—and hit 30ppg—for a team that won 50, and finished third. If he doesn’t win this year (28.3/6.3/5.4, 57 wins), there’s a strong possibility that he, like West above and Elgin Baylor below, will wind up as just another Laker great with no MVP hardware. Which would be a goddamn shame.”

  • http://idunkonthem.blogspot.com/ albie1kenobi

    the banner is fantastic, the list is trash.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Also, I implore all of you to watch the Havlicek video. Truly amazing.

  • http://idunkonthem.blogspot.com/ albie1kenobi

    i kid i kid. love to see more columns like this, the stockton piece was masterful, just like stockton (whom i hate at the time but have tons of respect for now)

  • Bryant Reeves

    Orange names are bourgeois

  • AB_40

    wow elgin baylor unde Isiah Thomas? Dayum

  • B. Long

    They should’ve given Kobe two trophies last night to make up for the fact that it took so long to get his first one. Damn.

  • B_Easy24

    To B. Lang: Word, he should’ve gotten at least three MVP awards for the 06, 07 and 08 seasons. The things this man did with a mangled team is short of greatness but he got snubbed for Dirk and twice for Nash, sheehs! the day when Kobe retires the league will cring at it’s treatment of him, that’s why I’ll allways say that the league is rigged. BTW Russ that piece that you and Myles penned was sweet, poetry and technique at work.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    This is great stuff. Thanks, Russ and Myles. By the way, I implore all of you to read Russ’ article on Clyde the Glide in the new issue of SLAM.

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    Khalid Salaam says:
    What other things are bourgeois???

    The best shot blocking PG of all time. Definitely….
    Penny Hardaway?

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    Yeah that made for great reading.

  • Deuce21

    I’m curious now as to who is the best shot blocking guard ever?!? Penny could be one but just because he’s 6’7. Ummmm, I don’t know….. that block that Nate Robinson did on Yao last season was pretty nasty! I guess Magic got his fair share of blocks. Paul Pressey played a lot of point and filled it up in his bucks days. (I know, he’s a point forward) Any1 else?

  • FM

    the Pippen video is incredible! theres some talented kids on youtube.
    and the clip of Havlicek & co running around a department store could become the new Rickroll. Nellie-rolled maybe?

  • davidR

    great post. but damn, that paragraph to describe john stockton.. creative, concrete, and classic

  • http://www.nba.com hursty

    magic wasnt a great shot blocker. wade was good for the first 3 years averaging about 1.5 a game, Jordan was ok, Frazier?

  • Randy Brown

    Is Pat Ewing the best clutch centre ever? I can’t think of anyone else. And yes, I’m ignoring that finger-roll

  • Randy Brown

    And also, the Stockton section is classic

  • celtics=champs

    You know its a shame that Dirk and Steve Nash each have an MVP trophy in their cabinent while none of these guys got one even when they actually deserved it. I’m still at awe that CP3 didn’t win MVP I mean Chris Paul literally runs his team. He’s like the coach on the floor. Telling his team where to go, who to pass to, etc.

  • youngmuggsy

    who honestly cares who wins mvp? its just a trophy and it doesn’t change anyones opinion on who the best player in the league that season was.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    Another great piece by the two masters of mystism. If these were in order though, Isiah should be WAY further back in the top 10. The Logo at number 1 is exactly right.

  • Young Chris #3

    Jordan was an “ok” shot blocker? Wowwwww hursty. Are you serious?

  • Hot Pubes

    What about John Salley?

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    To the fan who cut the Pippen Video, i raise my hat to you my friend. Incredible work coordinating the lyrics for “big brother” to the actual scenes that are rolling (show in madison square and we see Jordan in No. 45 during his 55 Point comeback game? FANTASTIC)

  • http://www.mybleedingfingertips.blogspot.com/ Myles Brown


  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    Oh my goodness, just rewatched the Pippen Video again. Toooo damn good. One of the best Basketball clips i’ve ever seen on youtube, if not the best. The damn lyrics were perfectly amalgated to the scenes. I can’t stop drooling over the thing. Wish i had that much talent cutting videos. Jesus

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    And Ben, when is that new issue coming out, because apart from Jordan and Mitch Rich and my main man Akeem, Clyde Drexler was the shiznit back when i just got interested in the game of games. Hope i get my subscribed issue soon