Just my personal list in no particular order. List your favorites in the comments section.
1. Shaquille O’Neal- He’s one of the few players with nothing left to prove. Championships, MVPs, Finals MVPs, All-Star MVPs, Olympic gold, broken backboards, serious charity work. His first album, Shaq Diesel, even went platinum. Age is slowing him down, but no one can really stop him.
2. Isiah Thomas- I grew up in Detroit in the 80s, so I will always love Isiah Thomas for his exploits as a player. He was fueled by anger. When he got mad, he could make a shot from anywhere on the court. He could even dunk, but only when he was really fired up. It’s common now, but he was one of the first to get his head split open in a game, get stitches, and return to the same game as an impact player.
3. Larry Bird- I hated him as a kid because his Celtics always got the better of my Pistons. Once the Pistons eliminated him in the 1988 playoffs, I was able to start liking him. He had a certain fearlessness as a player that many of our favorites possess. He could make a clutch shot as well as anyone ever, and wasn’t afraid to fight. If “white boy swagger” was a politically correct term, I’d apply it to him.
4. LeBron James- The singularly most entertaining player to watch right now. “Harder, better, faster, stronger,” as those rap guys say. I often find myself hoping to be that great at something one day. Then I remember, he’s like 7 years younger than me. One of a few to come straight out of high school, and one of even fewer to live up to the hype. Scary fact: his best days on the court are still ahead.
5. Magic Johnson- The tallest guy who never dunked. But when you average 11.2 assists per game over your career (#1 all time in that category), you don’t have to do much scoring. Except he did his share of scoring at will, too. Having Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a teammate didn’t hurt, but Kareem didn’t make Magic a 12 time All-Star. And, honestly, whodathunk at that press conference in 1991 that he would live to see his 50th birthday this year?
6. Kobe Bryant- On the court, Kobe is one of the very best to ever do it, inside and out, offense and defense. Arguably the most dominate active player. His career is on the wane (sad but true), so I really hope the Lakers win it all this year. Without a doubt, the best teim player in my lifetime. Have you ever noticed him get a technical foul for whispering something crazy to a ref? He does it a lot.
7. Michael Jordan- Like I said, this list is in “no paticular order,” but you know Jordan is my favorite player. Jordan is your favorite player. Jordan is your favorite player’s favorite player. I admit, at least 2 of his commercials have moved me to tears. Commentators invented the term “mental toughness” to describe him. Michael Jordan was better with the flu than the other 9 men on the court were healthy. Seriously.
8. Bill Russell- A little before my time, I admit. Still, he was the centerpiece of a Celtics team that won 11 championships in his 13 year career. Sure, his FBI file says he was “an arrogant Negro who won’t sign autographs for white children,” but maybe that was because he faced segregation on the road and had his home vandalized by unapologetic racists. If you think Boston is a racist town now, imagine it in the 1950s. Bill’s the man.
9. Dennis Rodman- OK, forget the reality shows, bad movies, professional wrestling, Madonna, and Carmen Electra. When it comes to basketball, he was great. 5 NBA championships, 6 consecutive rebounding titles (7 overall), 2 time defensive player of the year. To me, he was the definition of what it meant to “play with hustle.” He was never a scorer, but he could feed off of a home crowd and hit 3 pointers at the darnedest times.
10. Spud Webb- At 5’7″, he won the 1986 slam dunk contest. He defeated Dominique Wilkins, one of the greatest dunkers of all time. Wilkins was his teammate at the time, and had no idea Spud could even dunk. Imagine Wilkins’ surprise at Webb’s 360 helicopter dunk, or his 180-degree reverse 2 hander from a lob-bounce off the floor. The odd thing is, no one I’ve talked to ever remembers seeing him dunk before or after that day.