There are certain things you can count on every NBA season. One
of them is a week-long debate in late January surrounding which
players should and shouldn’t have been named All-Stars.
We can’t even agree on who the top-12 players in each conference
are, so how on earth were we supposed to somehow figure out who the
top 75 NBA players in history were?
Fact of the matter is that we never were.
On Thursday night, the NBA completed its three-day-long process
by which it named the members of its 75th anniversary team. It’d
been 25 years since the league named its 50 greatest players in
history in 1996, so — as has been tradition since the league named
its 25 greatest players in 1971 — it was time to serve up some
Heading into the season, it was unclear whether the league would
simply add 25 more names to its top-50 list or effectively start
from the beginning. Although there would have been significant
overlap, starting anew would have given more players from previous
generations a chance at cracking the list.
It wasn’t meant to be, though.
As it turns out, the NBA 75 included all 50 of the NBA’s Top 50
Players and 26 more (due to a tie).
Bob McAdoo and Dominique Wilkins were the only two nominated
players who were snubbed from the top-50 list, with Dennis Rodman
and Gary Payton making the cut this time. The other 22 are
contemporaries, the great majority of which are no-brainers.
Of the 22 contemporary players named to the 75th anniversary
team are 14 with whom the general public can’t take issue: Ray
Allen, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, Kevin
Garnett, James Harden, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Jason Kidd,
Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade.
To varying degrees, credible arguments could be advanced against
the eight others: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony
Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Reggie Miller, Paul Pierce
and Russell Westbrook. And for Giannis, Davis, Leonard and Lillard,
the arguments against them are mostly with respect to their pitch
count, which a voter could reasonably decide to go either way when
determining whether that should be a factor or not.
At the end of the day, we ended up with a list of players who
can rightfully lay claim to being one of the top 75 in
As is always the case, there are some notable omissions, with
Vince Carter and Dwight Howard being the two contemporary players
who have the best argument as snubs. That’s just the way the cookie
crumbles. And that’s kinda the point.
Whether it’s All-Star selections or where a player is drafted in
the All-Star draft, the conversation and controversy that surrounds
these lists and distinctions is what has made the NBA a
multibillion dollar industry. And that’s not to say that there’s
any nefarious or malicious intent on the part of the NBA for
bestowing these honors — the league named 25th, 35th and 50th
anniversary teams before the 75th team — it’s just a fact. Our
opinions are formed mostly by what we see and a bit of what we
hear. As a basketball community dispersed across the world, we have
varying degrees of values and exposures that help us formulate our
It’s important that we keep that in mind.
Somewhere in Barcelona, there’s a 24-year-old basketball fan
who’s shocked that Pau Gasol didn’t make the cut. RJ Barrett and
Dillon Brooks are probably texting Vince Carter as we speak. Chris
Bosh is probably looking at his career profile on Wikipedia and
comparing it to Reggie Miller’s and trying to make sense of it all…
Klay Thompson came out and posted an IG story wondering why he
didn't make it. It’s the nature of the beast.
Where we can all find common ground and some understanding when
it comes to these kinds of exercises is that the league itself
doesn’t unilaterally bestow any honor — it doesn’t choose its own
MVP or name its own All-Stars, so it certainly wouldn’t take the
liberty of keeping a responsibility with this magnitude to itself.
As it always does, the league carefully selected a panel of 88
individuals to vote for their top 75 players and Ernst & Young LLP
— the independent accounting firm the league entrusts most of its
matters to — tabulated the results.
Those entrusted with votes included former NBA and WNBA greats,
select members of the media and team personnel. As a class, they
can rightfully be entrusted to know the game of basketball, and at
the end of the day, this was the most fair way to come to a
conclusion, even if Tracy McGrady, Chris Webber or Grant Hill don’t
As the NBA begins the 75th season in its long history, the game
has continued to thrive and has grown tremendously. Three of the
league’s teams have received valuations north of $5 billion
and the league is hoping to leverage our curiosity, attention and
willingness to watch and debate into another television deal that
may see its revenue triple once again.
If you go back and evaluate the tenure of the late, great David
Stern, it will become obvious that his desire was to help the
league expand and to grow the game of basketball. When he took over
the league in 1984, it had 23 teams. By the time he stepped down as
Commissioner in 2014, it had increased to 30, including expansion
For Silver — whether his intention or not — the hallmark of his
reign has been the expansion of the league’s bottom line. Merely
months after assuming his role, he came out in support of legalized
sports gambling in the United States and shortly thereafter oversaw
the league’s negotiation on a TV deal that tripled the league’s
From minimizing the back-to-back games to reducing travel
schedules and revising the All-Star game to implementing rule
changes, Silver’s tenure has seen the league focus on improving the
quality of games and making them more fun to watch. We as fans
So does the league’s bottom line.
In the end, to a large extent, pro sports will continue to be
about debating. That didn’t begin with the NBA’s 75th anniversary
team, and, obviously, it won’t end with it, either. We’ll continue
to talk about it, and for sure, we’ll continue to argue among
ourselves. Just like the league intends.
It's no coincidence that Silver kicked off his annual
start-of-season presser by saying, "In terms of our 75th
anniversary, we look forward to celebrating the players and teams,
both past and present, that have helped shape the league... Many of
you I know have created your own lists, and several of them I’ve
been reading. There’s no doubt that the various rankings will
generate a season-long debate and conversation among fans and all
Somewhere, Silver is smiling, even if Vince Carter isn’t.