It’s the stuff arguments are made of. And barroom bets. And blackened eyes.
If you and your friends were to try to rank the Top 10 in anything, how much consensus would there be? Now broaden that across not one, not two but 22 categories, all under the umbrella of the Best This and Most That in NBA history.
That’s what the writers and editors at Sports Illustrated did with “Basketball’s Greatest,” a formidable 288-page volume released Tuesday that’s suitable for the coffee table, usable as a home-defense weapon and certain to rankle merely in the reading. But that’s OK, same as with the brand’s “Baseball’s Greatest” last year and “Football’s Greatest” from 2012. They’re full of history, stats and evaluation, but mostly they’re full of opinions.
Theirs just happen to be more credible than yours. (Nah, just stirring the pot.)
“What was interesting about basketball,” said editor Bill Syken, who worked on all three books, “was that, in football you can compare Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and they’ve played at the same time, but they don’t directly compete against each other. Not the way Russell and Chamberlain did, or Magic and Stockton did.”
The rankings – by the way, this is all-NBA/ABA, all the way, despite the generic title – came from an actual balloting of the magazine’s (and now Web site’s) NBA writers. Seven voters – Chris Ballard, Mark Bechtel, Lee Jenkins, Chris Mannix, Jack McCallum, Ian Thomsen and Alexander Wolff – chose their personal Top 10s, with a point system used (10 for a No. 1 mention, 9 for a No. 2 and so on) to create the overall lists. Every player who got even a single point is listed near the end.
The meat of the book is the position-by-position rankings, including comments from the voters and, at each spot, a feature story from the SI archives on one of the players. There also are categories such as Best Sixth Men, Best Defenders, Best Coaches and Best Clutch Performers. Fans of the Miami Heat will have thoughts on the Best Single-Season Team list.
There are some lighter lists in the final pages, including Best Slam Dunks (contest variety) and Best Quotes. And of course, there are tremendous photos. Many rarely have been seen. Even the familiar ones pop in the 13 x 10.5-inch format.
Syken spoke with Hang Time HQ this week about the book. Here’s a Q&A edited from a longer conversation:
The culture is saturated with Top 10 lists and slideshows. Where does your book bring its value?
Bill Syken: I think there are three ways where this book offers value different from a typical slideshow: the expertise, the photos and the writing. It’s not one person – this was a panel of seven people who have great experience covering basketball. We polled them all and got their collective wisdom on these topics. We have pictures from the SI archives that are displayed in a big coffee-table format where … there’s a lot more to look at. And beyond the pictures, each Top-10 finisher gets a clip from a classic SI story. So you have writing from Frank Deford, Jack McCallum, Lee Jenkins and other interesting writers who might be known for other sports but dropped in on basketball once in a while.
Did you learn anything you didn’t know?
Syken: I’m a pretty big NBA fan but I learned some details, especially about some of the games, that were before my period of memory. About the ’57 Finals and the drama there. And some of other details – we have an excerpt from Frank Deford about when Moses Malone jumped from high school to the [ABA]. His meetings with [Maryland coach] Lefty Driesell and how that went. Or 20 years later, we have a story about Kevin Garnett’s tryout in front of all these scouts when he was considering making the jump to the NBA. (more…)