The Greatest Player Not Named Michael Jordan Is...


For the most part, we can all agree that Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time. However, rarely do we acknowledge or even discuss who is in fact second on the list. Die hard Lakers fans today would argue that Kobe Bryant should hold that spot, or at worst perhaps Magic Johnson. In reality, they could not be further from the truth. One player seems to always be forgotten and undervalued despite being arguably the most decorated player in NBA history not named Michael Jordan. I think it’s just about time that we looked back at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (by the way, every time you see a player's name highlighted as a link, it's because I've written a feature about him, so feel free to click on it and check it out).

The Most Dominant Ever?
At the start of the millennium, Shaquille O’Neal told us to call him the most dominant force ever because of how he dominated his opponents. No one throughout the course of NBA history has ever been able to combine such brute force with great footwork and quickness on their way to destroying opposing players. With that said, was the self-proclaimed most dominant ever actually more dominant than say Abdul-Jabbar?

My one knock on Shaquille O’Neal is that although he has been incredibly productive and destructive against opposing teams during his peak years, he never had to face a series of truly great big men during his prime. Have a quick look at the best centers that the Diesel faced during his career:

Patrick Ewing
Yao Ming
Alonzo Mourning
DikembeMutombo
David Robinson
AmareStoudemire
Ben Wallace

Once the likes of Olajuwon, Ewing, Robinson and Mourning started to decline (around 2000), O’Neal’s production started to climb. Have a look below:

Season
PPG
RPG
APG
BPG
FG%
1999-00
29.7
13.6
3.8
3.0
57.4
2000-01
28.7
12.7
3.7
2.8
57.2
2001-02
27.2
10.7
3.0
2.0
57.9
2002-03
27.5
11.1
3.1
2.4
57.4
2003-04
21.5
11.5
2.9
2.5
58.4

Conversely, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played against some tough opposition throughout his career. When he entered the league, he faced off against some Hall Of Fame type big men, and by the time he exited, the same could be said. Have a look at the list of players that Cap played against:

Wilt Chamberlain
Dave Cowens
Elvin Hayes
Spencer Haywood
Moses Malone
Bob McAdoo
Hakeem Olajuwon
Robert Parish
Willis Reed
Bill Walton

All the players listed above except for Spencer Haywood have been inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame. As you can see, Abdul-Jabbar played the bulk of his career against some great adversaries that could potentially match him or play him to a standstill. And yet, look at what he produced from his rookie year all the way to his 12th season (when decline began):

Season
PPG
RPG
APG
BPG
FG%
1969-70
28.8
14.5
4.1
 -
51.8
1970-71
31.7
16.0
3.3
 -
57.7
1971-72
34.8
16.6
4.6
 -
57.4
1972-73
30.2
16.1
5.0
 -
55.4
1973-74
27.0
14.5
4.8
3.5
53.9
1974-75
30.0
14.0
4.1
3.3
51.3
1975-76
27.7
16.9
5.0
4.1
52.9
1976-77
26.2
13.3
3.9
3.2
57.9
1977-78
25.8
12.9
4.3
3.0
55.0
1978-79
23.8
12.8
5.4
4.0
57.7
1979-80
24.8
10.8
4.5
3.4
60.4
1980-81
26.2
10.3
3.4
2.9
57.4
1981-82
23.9
8.7
3.0
2.7
57.9

Would you feel comfortable giving the title of most dominant ever to Shaquille O’Neal after comparing him head to head with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? I know I don’t. Hell, if we post their best playoff seasons head to head, Abdual-Jabbar who faced better competition at center still found a way to outdo the Diesel:

Player
Season
PPG
RPG
APG
FG%
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
1969-1970
35.3
16.8
4.1
56.7
Shaquille O'Neal
1999-200
30.7
15.4
3.1
56.6

A truly dominant player in my opinion is one that can take on opponents of equal or greater talent and tear them apart like nothing; and well that’s exactly what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did.

The Batcave
Batman is one of my favorite characters and super heroes. In his Batcave, he houses a collection of artifacts that he has picked up throughout his years of crime fighting. These items helps tell the story of the caped crusader and help explain why he bears the title of world’s greatest detective.

The same can be said of every great athlete. They have their own Batcave where they list their accomplishments that help tell the story of their career. So what does the former Lakers’ center cave have in his. Thought you’d never ask….

-Six championship rings
-Six NBA League MVP trophies
-Two Finals MVP trophies
1969-70 NBA Rookie of Year
-19 NBA All-Star selections
-Selected 10 times to All-NBA 1st Team
-Selected five times to All-NBA 2nd Team
-Selected five times to All-Defense 1st Team
-Selected four time All-Defense 2nd Team
-Scored the most points in NBA history (38,387)
-Most made field goals in NBA history (15,837)
-Most attempted field goals in NBA history (28,307)
-3rd all time in NBA history in blocks (3,189)
-4th all time in NBA history in total rebounds (17,440)
-5th all time in NBA history in free throws attempted (9,304)
-7th all time in NBA history in free throws made (6,712)
-10th all time in NBA history in field goal percentage (55.9%)
-16th all time in NBA history in points per game (24.6)
-26th all time in NBA history in rebounds per game (11.2)

After reviewing all of his accolades, it’s clearly evident that the player formerly known as Lew Alcindor was truly an unstoppable player that dominated multiple facets of the game of basketball on his way to winning multiple championships. As I mentioned earlier, he is quite possibly one of the most decorated players in NBA history given all the records and hardware he has accumulated. But does the Batcave tell the whole story? Not quite…

The Fortress Of Solitude
I know you must be getting tired of the comic book references, but believe me; they were just too good to pass up. The Fortress Of Solitude is the palace where Superman occasionally goes to, when he needs to get away from his every day life. Given the fact that it’s located somewhere in the Arctic, it takes some fairly amazing people just to get to the doorstep of the Fortress. Entering it is a privilege reserved for few.

It’s tough to come up with a consensus on whom the top 10 NBA players of all time are, but we generally all have the same names in some type of order. I won’t list the players in order, but I will however give you a list of the 12 players (I went with 12 because I felt that although Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal are still active players, they should nonetheless be part of the debate) that should get past the entrance of the Fortress Of Solitude. In other words these are the NBA’s Supermen (listed alphabetically).

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Larry Bird
Kobe Bryant
Wilt Chamberlain
Tim Duncan
Magic Johnson
Hakeem Olajuwon
Oscar Robertson
Bill Russell
Jerry West

After viewing the names above, you should come to the conclusion that those players help tell the story of the NBA. If someone knew nothing about the NBA and asked you for crash course in its history, the names above would have to mentioned.  So we can all agree that no name is there by accident.

I am however left with this question: if Michael Jordan goes into the Fortress first, can anyone potentially challenge Abdul-Jabbar from entering second? Let’s have a look:

Larry Bird
Arguably the best small forward in NBA history and also a lethal assassin with the ball in his hands at the end of games. No one could stop Bird or even slow him down given his exceptional scoring prowess as well as uncanny court vision. Mind you the former UCLA star was a far more impressive scorer as well as defensive force during his playing days. Furthermore, the former Bruin won six MVP trophies to Bird’s three.

Kobe Bryant
Despite not even being remotely close to retirement, many view the Black Mamba as the greatest Laker of all time. Bryant’s accomplishments bring him to the entrance of the Fortress but he is not yet at the point where he can make it in before Abdul-Jabbar. The Hall of Fame center never once averaged less than double figures in his career (even in the twilight of his career) and his playoff production is superior to Bryant’s.

Wilt Chamberlain
Chamberlain is still revered today as arguably the most destructive offensive player in NBA history thanks in large part to his 100 point game and his 50.4 points per game average during the 1961-62 season. His four MVP trophies confirm that he was in fact one of the best the league has ever seen; however his two championships (compared to Kareem’s six) keep him at least behind Kareem in the line up to enter the palace.

Tim Duncan
The best power forward of all time has collected MVP trophies, All-NBA and All-Defense accolades because of his abilities as a truly great and dominant player; and he is also one of the few players capable of saying that he beat both Shaq and Kobe when they played together. Although he has won four championships, he still is short of Abdul-Jabbar in that respect and also does not have the numbers to match him.

Magic Johnson
Magic made his star center a better player, the same way Cap made him better. Mind you, Magic never won a title without the help of Abdul-Jabbar, while the Lakers center can make the claim that he actually won one ring without the help of Johnson, in his second season in the NBA no less.

Hakeem Olajuwon
Quite possibly the most skilled center in NBA history and he never let you forget it when you watched him play. “Hakeem The Dream” had a series of devastating post moves that drove defenders crazy but he was also an incredible defensive force. On his way to back to back titles, Olajuwon defeated Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal. The lone MVP trophy that the former Houston Rocket center collected though tell me that although he was great, he wasn’t necessarily always the greatest during his prime. Consequently, it’s tough for me to put him ahead of Abdul-Jabbar.

Shaquille O’Neal
We’ve already covered him.

Oscar Robertson & Jerry West
Two of the greatest guards in the history of the NBA. Robertson holds the distinction for being the only player to ever average a triple double while West earned the nickname Mr. Clutch because of his ability to rise to the challenge at the end of games. Also, West was so good that they made him the NBA logo; a logo that still stands today. With that said, I chose to put both players together because they both “only” won one championship. Tough to put them ahem of Kareem.

Bill Russell
Russell is by all accounts the best defensive player in NBA history. He grabbed all the rebounds, blocked all the shots, and changed everbody’s shots because he scared players by his mere presence underneath the basket. The Celtics legend won an NBA record 11 championships and will always be known as the greatest winner in sports. Although he comes close, he has to take a slight step back and allow Abdul-Jabbar to walk before him into the Fortress because he was a one dimensional player as opposed to Kareem who dominated the scoring, rebounding and defensive aspects of the game.

Conclusion
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is perhaps one of the most underrated players in NBA history. His quiet and humble nature have made us forget just how great he was on the court.  The Lakers legend took no prisoners and managed to dominate opponents with a legendary shot (the skyhook) that we have not yet seen replicated on a consistent basis. His productivity, longevity (think about this for a second: by his 20th and final season, he was posting Greg Oden numbers) and championships have made him second to none all time…..well except to Michael Jordan. 

1 Comments:

Anonymous said...

I concur.

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