Thursday, February 17th, 2011 at 6:13 pm  |  129 responses

500 Greatest: On Sale Now!

SLAM does the impossible with 120-plus pages of education, entertainment and names you forgot you forgot.

by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17

It’s well documented that my man Rick Telander is a better writer than me, so I let him handle the proper intro for this absolute beast of an issue that will be hitting newsstands in New York this weekend and should be nationwide in the next 10 days. You can read his words below now and start scouring your local bookstore/newsstand next week.

First, a few pertinent details:

Ranking the 500 greatest players in NBA history? And listing all of them with their years played, teams they played for, career averages, a photo and a sharply written mini-bio? Who would take on such a project? Your friends from SLAM, of course. Credit for the idea, and the rough list we built off of, goes to a gentleman named Al Stark and his cousin, Rick. Al is a SLAM subscriber and hoop fanatic while Rick works for our parent company. Together, they approached me about doing a list of the top 1000 (!) players of all time. That was too much, so we compromised on 500.

For the top 50 players, we stuck pretty closely to the rankings we did in SLAM 130 (August, 2009), which also lives on the site (and still generates comments!), since a group of us had worked hard on that list and not much has changed since then. For the rest of the list we took Al’s rankings and eventually considered about 650 players, moving guys around where people saw fit. How did Al get his list in the first place? “I perused the Basketball Encyclopedia and Total Basketball and filled out index cards [see some above] for more than 1,000 players,” he says. “I checked obvious stats, awards, honors, number of championships and All-Star appearances. Then, head spinning, I bounced my ideas off some basketball expert friends of mine—and then numbered the cards from 1 to 500. An exhausting exercise!”

To be included on this list, players had to have spent five seasons in the NBA. If a guy got hurt in his fifth season, that was OK, but current players who haven’t completed their fifth year were not eligible (there are sidebars in the back of the issue that cover the best players who couldn’t qualify). If guys excelled in leagues such as the BAA, NBL or ABA, that may have influenced our view of them as players, but years in those leagues did not count toward the five, nor did we include any of those stats.

SLAM Magazine and SLAMonline.com have an incredible team of freelance writers all around the globe, and each and every one of them would have offered valid and valuable opinions on this list. In the interest of time and convenience, however, the only people who got to see this list, cast an opinion on it and influence how the final project looked besides me are: Russ Bengtson, Michael Bradley, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Adam Figman, Ryne Nelson, Alan Paul, Khalid Salaam, Al Stark, Tzvi Twersky and Lang Whitaker. Sorry for the NY-area bias and hope our extended SLAM Fam understands!

At some point we’ll figure out a cool way to unveil the list online, but even in the web-obsessed times we live in, this issue isn’t about the internet. This issue—boasting 128 pages, a heavy paper stock for the cover and with only three advertisements (shout out to Mitchell & Ness, the NBA and Reebok for getting down) is something you need to buy, hold and absorb.

As Tzvi just said, “This is some coffee-table shit.” Hope you all have coffee tables.

by Rick Telander

Talk about an argument? I’m trying to cruise through this list of the greatest basketball players of all time, and I can’t get past No. 2! Wilt Chamberlain was better than No. 7, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? I mean, giant Kareem scored more points than anybody in NBA history, won six NBA titles, a record six regular season MVP awards, three NCAA championships at UCLA, and… OK, so giant Wilt scored 100 points in an NBA game, averaged over 50 points in a season, led the League in rebounding 11 times, shooting percentage nine times, and once led the League in…assists. Hmm…

Strap yourself in, boys and girls—this is an all-day sucker. Debate 101. Basketball History for Maniacs.

Can we all at least agree that MJ was the greatest ever? Yes? No? I hear the Kobe (No. 10) people grousing. I hear (No. 6) Magic’s choir yodeling. Even the Bill Russell (No. 3) brigade is shouting out.

Lord, how do you compare a panther to a giraffe, a cheetah to a grizzly, a marlin to a whale? You can’t, but we try to. We must, if for no other reason than that we humans love lists, rankings, comparisons, champions, the best—and the worst. We make declarations of certitude, even when we haven’t a clue. Which makes for FUN!

Not that this list is wrong, stupid or lacking in deep introspection, even calculus, and philosophy. Every man on the list was, or is, a terrific player. By my reckoning, I have seen the vast majority play live on TV or in person at least once. I watched MJ play maybe 300 college and NBA games from within a few feet of the court. Once, he sat so close to me while on the Bulls’ bench that I had to crane my neck to see around him. And while watching MJ go for his six NBA titles, I saw everybody from Kareem to Dominique Wilkins (No. 43) to Quinn Buckner (No. 245) to Scott Skiles (No. 364) to barely-on-the-list David Wesley (No. 499) do their things. You might ask, Who’s No. 500? I’ll let you surf to the end at your own speed, but here’s a hint: His nickname was “Never Nervous.” And, other than Carmelo Anthony (No. 105), he’s the only college player ever to win an NCAA title and be named MOP as a freshman. And one time he broke his toe moving furniture and missed almost two NBA seasons because of it.

But, dang. This list messes with my mind. Every time I find one of my favorite players and say to myself, Now, why on God’s green earth isn’t Paul Silas (No. 138), the rebounding fool, ranked higher? I then have to admit: And move Michael Cooper (No. 137), the guy who played defense like a tree snake in your jock, down a notch?

It’s wild to think of a fivesome as spectacular as Patrick Ewing, Jerry Lucas, Gary Payton, Allen Iverson and Billy Cunningham, and then ponder the notion that they comprise not quite the eighth-best quintet on the list. And that could be correct. I mean, it probably is. Or not.

Which leads me to thinking: What if all these guys could come back for one day, in their prime, with fashion and styles of their era—crewcuts, Afros, ponytails, tube socks, tighty-whities, silky bloomers, Under Armour sleeves, headbands, buckle belts, black canvas hightops, Nike signatures, tats, sculpted biceps, and all of them jacked and ferocious and ready to make their mark for history—and they just go at it in a massive gymnasium for hours and hours until the cream has risen and the chaff has fallen and the numbers are pinned appropriately to the sweat-soaked jerseys.

Oh, it’s a dream and could never be done, not even with a time machine, because how do you fairly gauge an individual in a team game? A superstar who might be as tall as Yao Ming, as short as Spud Webb, as muscular as Karl Malone, as skinny as Tayshaun Prince, as athletic as Dave DeBusschere, as mechanical as Dikembe Mutombo, as lead-footed as Mark Eaton, as fleet as Mo Cheeks, as massive as Shaq, as Bambi-esque as Tiny Archibald? And with all the rules changes, the three-point shot, the palming, the hacking, the zone, the refs, the…

As I said before, you don’t. But you can try. And what a journey it is—more fun than a boatful of Dennis Rodmans. Which reminds me, why is the Worm only No. 48? Is somebody crazy here?

NOTE: We should also probably acknowledge that there are going to be errors in this issue. Hey, even as perfect as we are, we make mistakes sometimes, and sorting an avalanche of information, like we had to do in the making of this issue, means that somehow, someway, things can get screwed up. So as we find errors, we’ll add our mea culpas here on this post.

• Leading off, it was brought to our attention that we inexplicably left former Lakers (and Suns and Jazz) guard Gail Goodrich off the list. Goodrich, a two-time All-American and one of the greatest players in UCLA history, was a five-time NBA All-Star and scored over 19,000 points. His number, 25, was eventually retired by the Lakers. Goodrich deserves to not only be on our list, but to be way up high on the list. And he will be, either when we post the full list online, or in the next printing or any reissue we do of this magazine. But for now, there’s nothing we can say except Goodrich somehow slipped through. We screwed up. We apologize for the error.

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  • http://kb24.com Bigi


  • Ryanrapsfan

    where can i get this ish?

  • http://slamonline.com Susan Price

    This insane issue will be available at newsstands and bookstores, the same spots you can buy SLAM. It will eventually be on sale on our back issues site: simbackissues.com. This is the best special issue we’ve ever done, and I’ve been a part of pretty much all of ‘em. Go get it now.

  • http://kb24.com Bigi

    Fu*k Paul Pierce, this is the TRUTH!

  • miller126

    If JWILL aka White Chocolate aint in this ish it aint official

  • http://slamonline.com Chris O’Leary

    The SP endorsement should be all you needed to hear.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    This looks incredible. Although, I’m wondering how much of the top 50 could have changed since the last one? Has it even changed at all?

  • http://slamonline.com/ Tzvi Twersky

    Labor of love. Tip my hat to all who were involved in this massive undertaking.

  • http://www.kylestack.com Kyle Stack

    Yeah, baby. Can’t wait to get it.

  • http://kb24.com Bigi

    Teddy boy, I’m pretty sure a former #8 has climbed some steps…just a hunch.

  • http://google c_cantrell

    im so buying this! you guys are great SLAM!!

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    We’re effing nice.

  • http://nobulljive.com/ Enigmatic

    Wow. Just…wow.
    Oh, and having grown up in Chicago’s northwest ‘burbs, and reading his columns in the Sun Times for as long as I can remember, I’m so glad Rick Telander is now down with the Slam fam.

  • http://twitter.com/soulonice6 Kenny


    One for the coffee table, one for reading purposes, and one that will stay wrapped in plastic that will never be touched. Can’t wait to get this joint. Great job.

  • http://google c_cantrell

    dont forget one for the bathroom lol

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ niQ


  • http://www.twitter.com/TheDiesel Anton

    Any chance of a full issue of SLAMUps making its return?

  • http://google c_cantrell

    i sure hope so

  • http://www.twitter.com/TheDiesel Anton

    Where is Allen Iverson ranked in this one it should be much higher then the 36th or was it 38th? spot that he got last time, at least top 30 and how much could the rankings have changed in just 1 year?

  • http://www.nba.com/celtics lightsout

    Awesome! Is this in stores right now? Like tonight? Thanks guys, can’t wait to read it.

  • http://slamonline.com Eldon Khorshidi

    SLAM is straight serving the fiends right here.. it’s pretty much what every hoop head needs… an overwhelming issue to say the least. phenomenal.

  • http://slamonline.com The Ambassador


  • http://www.stonesthrow.com Michael NZ

    Wonder where Penny ranks…

  • JTaylor21

    Kareem better be #1 or at least higher than MJ.

  • http://www.michaelcho.com m cho

    AWESOME. I’ll be on this as soon as it drops. Well done, SLAM.

  • Rashaan

    128 pages DAMN this issue is thick. I cant wait to pick this up. im in nyc 2mrw. definitely reading this on the train. thanks SLAM

  • Michael

    will this ship to Australia?

  • Jer Boi

    daaamn 8 bucks for a magazine? but i realllly want itt

  • http://sdfklf.com Jukai

    I bet that Mark Eaton is 348!!!!

  • martey


  • http://slamonline.com The Ambassador

    $8 I thought it would be more!!!

  • http://sdfklf.com Jukai

    Gilbert Arenas better not be rated higher than Allen Iverson, btw.

  • str8 from samoa


  • JTaylor21

    I’m betting that Brian Scalabrine’s rated higher than Bird.

  • izzo

    Is there a blank box at the end of every article so we can write about how much we disagree and think that Kermit Washington should be at 468 rather than 497?

  • http://sdfklf.com Jukai

    Uhhhh, Kermit Washington should be higher than that Izzo, (idiot).

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    Hell fu$king yeah!!!

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Ha… I like the subtle but not-so-subtle inclusion of Pistol Pete’s name on the cover… Sort of like making amends to the biggest omission on last year’s Greatest 50 List.

  • izzo

    Jukai: I will punch you to near death.

  • http://slamonline.com The Ambassador


  • Thegfunk

    I’ll read the print off of the pages, or so my mother says I do

  • http://twitter.com/soulonice6 Kenny

    @ c_cantrell – Yes, one in there as well!

  • leabostero4

    i’m from Argentina, sorry my bad english. i get the slam from a subscription on zinio. any chance for a digital version of this number? please, do it for non usa residents!! it’s a must have!! thanks!!

  • http://twitter.com/smileyoufckers Bryan

    Izzo you are really hilarious.

  • http://youtube/use/Uncle05Sam Earl

    “On Sale Now” means it’ll be for sale Hy-Vee in a week. :)

  • http://youtube/user/Uncle05Sam Earl

    And it better have a poster or two. :) :) :) Just kidding.

  • http://eyelovejerseys.blogspot.com bob

    I must get this tomorrow.

  • http://www.twitter.com/hurstysyd Hursty

    Amaaaazing. Looks excellent.
    Ps – 500 is Pervis Ellison.
    And Tiny Archibald better be top 50.

  • pistol

    Yo SLAM, is this being sent out to subscribers or should I ride to my local to pick it up?????

  • http://jayemmbee23.tumblr.com Clutch Performer

    This needs to Drop in Canada ASAP

  • rob stewart

    OK so if David Wesley is on here I expect to see BJ Armstrong on this list too, right?

  • jarrett

    SICK. would be better if u guys created a hard cover so it can last longer.

  • ryan

    Joe Dumars and Mitch Richmond need to be on this one and in double digits.

  • Zabba

    I’m so getting this. I can just imagine the arguments I’m gonna get on the court when I bring this…and that’s only after who’s gonna read it next. haha

  • http://slamonline BossTerry

    Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this..

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Loving all the comments. Other than New York City I don’t expect this to be anywhere for a week or so, but we couldn’t risk having someone else break that it was coming out. Eventually it will be in newsstands everywhere (like around the golbe everywhere). Not sure about Zinio. We are trying to get some financial backing to do a true hardcover version, stay tuned. Thanks for all the curiosity and support.

  • http://www.imdb.com TgeBigL

    Loving the cover. ‘cept for LeBrand. Even tho he deserves a spot.
    He makes Shaq look like a dude who is all about basketball and that pisses me right off. The talent is undeniable tho.

  • Logan

    i’m going to have to take a few of these and take them to India for the basketball camp we are having there….they love their basketball

  • MikeC.


  • http://www.nba.com/celtics lightsout

    my boy Ray better be ahead of Reggie. and take it easy there, izzo.

  • jerome

    @Ben Osborne: Of course I do not know all of the details of stuff like this, but with all due respect and from the outside looking in, it seems that with the way the mag has gone commercial (ads everywhere) over the last 5-8 years as well as now the website, you all would have all of the financial backing you need. I mean mag prices have gone up, coverage has gone down. No disrespect, but that’s true. Prob why many people no longer buy the mag who used to. Still love SLAM and appreciate it, but from someone who bought the 1st issue and every one for about 6 years, its changed quite a bit and I refuse to pay 5-6 bucks for advertising.

  • http://www.kb24.com The Seed

    Kobe better be top 7 or higher for now until his career is over and he better be above Duncan, Shaq, West, Hakeem, Big O and Bird. Kobe has been named the greatest player of his generation according to Sports Illustrated, TNT and others. So if Slam has any of his current peers above him. This mag is a joke. BOOK IT!!

  • http://crohoops.com Tomislav

    I hope Drazen Petrovic is included. And several other European players.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Stepfan

    need this in hardcover.

  • cramzy

    i already know ima be pissed about Dwade’s ranking lol. Dude wasn’t even on top 50 list

  • http://www.yahoo.com The Fury

    Did Pervis Ellison made it at least 5 yrs in the L?? Hope this mag reaches here in the Philippines. The Glove must better be still in the Top 50.

  • http://google c_cantrell

    id love to get this in a hard cover.. im goin to have one for every room in the house!

  • http://www.yahoo.com The Fury

    This list will give justice for the All Time Underrated players in the NBA.

  • http://www.yahoo.com The Fury


  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    Hardcover would be gangsta……

  • ian

    Top 500!!! Damn Slam you guys set the benchmark For all Magazines. Congrats and I look forward to reading, debating and arguing all of your choices!

  • http://slamonline BossTerry

    Just hope guys aren’t added based on potiental.. Blake Griffen, Westbrook for example..

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    I’m down for a hardcover to go with my collection of other significant basketball “literature”

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    @Jerome: No, you do not know all the details of this stuff. Nor do you want to.

  • bambe

    would love to find it here in Belgium.

  • paul

    If you don’t have Russell at one or two, you aren’t even worth taking seriously.

  • dsleepy

    this is going to be AMAZING :-D can’t wait to buy it

  • Detroit Dave

    Curious about Sprewell, Grant Hill, CWebb, Jalen Rose, Allan Houston, Vernon Maxwell, Joe Johnson, Lindsey Hunter (yes I expect him to be on the list if David Wesley is there), Rod Strickland…….man I could go on for days. Slam you could have atleast listed a random 15 guys.

  • http://http//portlandfan1203.blogspot.com Karley

    Where to find this ??i definetly want to read this. these are the kind of magz i like. and if slam is doing top players you know its gunna be sick and they gunna produce a fresh mag.. XCant wait to read

  • http://eyelovejerseys.blogspot.com bob

    So this won’t be available nationwide for at least week? I would totally love a hard cover. That’d be dope.

  • http://thephotoriot.com davidR

    hardcover would make it the ultimate coffee table book. can’t wait to pick this up in the bay

  • http://slamonline BossTerry

    @ DetroitDave, I agree, glad its top 500, and not just 100. Will be fun to reminisce about some of these guys that were not quite all stars, but above average players..

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    I’ll predict Kobe’ll be at least Top 15

  • Idrees

    subscribers gettin’ this?


    Got me drooling like homer simpson over here. Have 2, no, f*ck that! GOTS 2 get me this one! LONG…LIVE…SLAM!

  • lockon

    read the letters on the john wall issue. i saw one of your responses, stating that you are preparing for something really big when someone wrote that you make a top 20 players or something. and this issue was the one you were to talking abt. nice one slam!

  • Mark James


  • raven2005

    if Sasha Vujacic isnt top100, HEADS WILL ROLL.

  • Manumaniac

    Scott Skiles & David Wesley??? I mean… Seriously???

  • http://slamonline.com donnyboy86

    What date is this special edition issue gonna be nationwide? Anyone know if subscribers (like myself) will be getting this? And I agree a hard cover would make it just that much greater and more of a collectible than its already gonna be in my eyes.

  • jbsmooth

    @BossTerry hopefully theyll do a separate section of maybe 3 to 4 pages of players who most likely will end up on this list when it’s all said and done. (westbrook, blake, drose, john wall)

  • Leonardo

    will i get with my subscription??

  • joe

    how much money does it cost?

  • Matthew H.

    do I get that with my subscription?

  • Arturo

    when would this be out in LA?

  • penny


  • penny


  • mark

    I can not seem to find gail goodrich on the list was he just missed accidentally

  • jerry2lou

    This list was a piece of Crock. Names that should have been on there were omitted and names that were on there shouldn’t. Skip took the Magic all the way to the NBA finals, after joining them mid-season. Jameer makes the list and has yet to lead them back to the finals.this was a popularity lis slam created to sell magazines.

  • jerry2lou

    I misspelled list.This was a popularity list created by Slam to sell magazines.

  • mark

    ron boone should have been picked he played 5 years in the nba and averaged 13 points and dominated in the aba

  • MATT

    Will this issue come out in New Zealand?and when if it does?

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @mark: See the note we added below the cover.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    @penny Drazen didn’t play five years he’s in one of the sidebars.

  • blake saiontz

    ill read 5 every day during the lockout

  • http://dodgers.com Joey E.

    is this out now?

  • Penny

    @Ben Osborne: thanks for clarifying that, is this ish available in the UK??

  • Wayne W

    Fun to look at, Gail Goodrich omission hurts your credibility, having said that at least you had the guts to put it in print. Glad to see you mentioned Wayne Estes, he could have been great, his senior year it was Bill Bradly, Cazzie Russell and Estes for top college player.

  • Mark R

    As mentioned,the Goodrich omission puts doubt on the overall credibility of any list that leaves off the leading scorer of the 69-13,33 straight win Lakers and includes such names as PJ Brown.

  • http://dodgers.com Joey E.

    ok i got it. love it. but where is Detlef Schrempf? maybe i missed him, i looked in the glossary, but i could have missed it

  • ADM

    Why is Billy Ray Bates not included?

  • Gio

    Hi from Greece.
    I totally agree with MJ no1 and no one will ever top him. Le bron to high on the list and Dwight howard the same.Not fair.
    I m still reading this ultimate issue. Another 400 to go… good job slam.

  • truthteller

    Kobe bryant #10. Nice

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    @Penny: definitely will be for sale in UK and should be by today at any newsagent that regularly sells SLAM
    @Mark R: Gail Goodrich was not ommitted in favor of PJ Brown or anyone else. We lost his index card and no one caught the error. Will be rectified in future issues.
    @Joey E: Detlef Schrempf is right in the middle (almost literally)

  • Sigurður Einar (Iceland).

    Well i got it to Iceland this is a fun read and should just be about that. I am a NBA nerd and you made so many bad call, but that is what you get when trying to put 500 players in order.
    I dont have time to write what i think was wrong but just one thing.
    You are doing a top 500 why start doing somthing stupid at number 4.
    Shaq in his prime was the best player i have seen(but that was just one season 1999-2000, then he has been fat,lazy and ring chasing). You put Shaq over Magic, Jabbar and Bird. That is just wrong and i am a Shaq fan but i understand history and some things dont show on stats. I will have Shaq in the top 10 but not number 4. I put Magic, Jordan, Jabbar, Wilt, Bird and Russel over him easy.

  • Thomas

    as a subscriber to SLAM i have to say that was one of the worst issues i have read. The top 10 was completely jacked up and most of the guys who were designated to be in the next issue could have easily made Top 50 if not Top 20. Definately Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo…

  • knicksvet82

    ^^Spoiled subscribers. Love it and I’m only halfway through it. Keep doing it Slam! Oh and about the hardcover- Make it happen,Walsh!

  • Suckydog

    Uh, so who was #1?

  • Damir

    somebody is out of their f**kin’ mind..where is Dražen Petrović???????

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    @Damir: Drazen didn’t play five years. He’s in our “What if?” section of the magazine. @knicksvet82: thanks!

  • http://chriswardbasketball.com chris ward

    Thank you for realizing the oversight on one of my boyhood idols Gail Goodrich.Very Happy you caught it! Thank You! Coach Chris Ward

  • CJN

    why is Wilt No.2 and Jordan No.1? And why is Kobe all the way down No.10?

  • http://balancedsports.blogspot.com Matt

    A disappointment – completely dependent on statistics and reputations, rather than a player’s impact on their teams and the league (and titles) as a whole.

    And look! Run T-M-C right there, one after the other! How cute. Basketball may be many things, but cute? No thanks. Another example – Tom and Dick Van Arsdale right next to each other in 300s, inseparable, an example of a lack of drive.

    I could cope with rankings I disagree with – we all have opinions. Analysis should lead to the ability (and stones) to make decisions, something this issue is clearly lacking. Just Seeing names and throwing them all together makes for “cute” solutions but is, in fact, just lazy journalism.

    As an avid SLAM reader, I’ve been turned off and am hoping for a Bernard-King style comeback in your next special issue.

  • Colin

    Why is Jordan 1? Because he’s the greatest player of all time! That’s why. And Kobe at number 10 is fair if you look at all the players ahead of him.

  • Sebastian

    Hey guys, completely understand that this is a huge project and some mistakes will be made, but WHERE WAS AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE!? He was forgotten completely. Otherwise a good list.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    @Matt I’d say fun more than cute
    @Sebastian Amar’e is #144

  • young jay

    No Dennis Scott or Rick Mahorn?

  • SmuhzzyDC

    Kobe should be top 5 but he will be top 2-3 by his retirement. This list isnt that great honestly. Jordan isnt number 1, you guys are overdoing that 1 spot position. What about magic, karrem, russell and wilt? Great idea but list is kinda mediocre lacks credibility and kinda pointless cus their is no such thing as a g.o.a.t. Great idea tho

  • Andrew Berger

    Slammmmm you of all people should know that Isiah Rider belongs on this list despite his character flaws… The guy could PLAY! And probable made the play of the decade with that crazy 3 point shot he hit (you know the one). He finished his career with a 16.7 points per game average and invented a dunk! You can say what you want about his character but his game was tight! I’ll take him over Drew Gooden any day.