Dave Bing and Billy Cunningham may not mind at all. Bill Walton, Dave Cowens and James Worthy stay pretty busy and might not have time to worry about it. A few others – Dave DeBusschere, Pete Maravich, Bill Sharman – are peacefully past the point of fretting.
None of which means the Boston Globe will get no grief from the family, friends and fans of the former NBA players it is hypothetically ousting from the NBA’s well-known 50 Greatest Players list. The Globe, and specifically columnist and longtime NBA writer Gary Washburn, became the latest outlet this weekend to “revisit” the better-than-Hall-of-Fame fraternity put together by the NBA in 1996-97 to celebrate the league’s 50th anniversary.
In updating and accounting for players whose careers continued past or have unspooled entirely since that season, the Globe identified 13 current or more recent greats to add. Which, of course, meant shedding an equal number to maintain that magic number of 50. In addition to the fellows mentioned above, these five were unceremoniously dumped by the Boston newspaper: Sam Jones, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond and Wes Unseld.
That’s a tough purge.
In truth, obviously, there really was nothing magical about 50. It offered a nifty 50-for-50 hook for the exercise, same as the league’s “silver anniversary” announced in 1971 produced a roster of 25 legends. The most logical way to update the list of 50 would be to wait for the next notable anniversary – say, the 75th in 2021-22 – and bump the number of honorees by 25.
That way, even with a few revisions and (ahem) dis-invitations, there would be plenty of room for newbies such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant Kevin Durant, Allen Iverson and Kevin Garnett without requiring a whole squad of Hall of Famers to head to the lifeboats.
Then again, no one attempts a re-visit like this without understanding the consequences, in terms of Web site comments, nasty emails and wholesale second-guessing and even mockery. Washburn and the Globe seemed to anticipate as much in laying out the parameters for what might seem to some to be shameless click-bait but is hard to resist for hardcore NBA fans:
It was not easy. Some Hall of Famers had to be removed to make room for new players. Production in one era had to be compared with production in another. Players who accumulated great individual statistics had to be compared with those who were great winners and had more team success.
In addition, the Globe did what the NBA didn’t do 19 years ago: We ranked the players, 1 to 50, which should prompt even more debate.
This was an even more arduous task.
Where do you rank someone such as George Mikan, the first dominant center? Do you rank one player over another because he won more championships? Where do you place those whose careers were shortened by injury or who decided to retire in their prime?
Hopefully, this exercise will offer an opportunity to appreciate the greats of the past as well as acknowledge the current players who have achieved greatness.
So check it out and feel free to use it as sports bar conversation.