Now things get really juicy. While the entire list up until this point was highly contested, from here on out, you’re talking about a point, maybe two, separating players’ all-time ranks. How much better was Big O than Mr. Clutch? What does the Diesel have to say? Oh yeah, and the nicknames get way better too.
13. Jerry West
By Jeffrey Liu
He has quietly been the official figure of the NBA since 1969 and deservedly so. He has shaped the past, present and future of the league with contributions as a player, general manager and executive. Without West, Shaquille O’Neal may never have been a Laker or won three straight titles. Without West, the Warriors maybe don’t land Kevin Durant this offseason.
But we’re here to talk about Jerry West, the player.
Starting his NBA career in 1960 after capturing an Olympic Gold Medal with Team USA, West would go on to have one of the most tortured careers that a player of his caliber could. West led his Lakers to the Finals nine times in his 14-year career, losing six titles before finally capturing that elusive ring in 1972. To this day, he says his 1-8 Finals record still haunts him.
West is still the only player to win the Finals MVP for a losing team in 1969. Playing on a bum leg in game seven of the 1969 NBA Finals, West put up 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in defeat, prompting the great Bill Russell to recognize West as a champion anyways.
Perhaps if Bill Russell weren’t around, West might have captured a few more titles and gotten a higher ranking on this list. But even so, his accomplishments as a player are no less impressive.
He’s also a 14-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA Team, five-time All-NBA Defensive Team and a Hall of Famer. His jumper was his go-to weapon, his shot as pure as can be. Even at the ripe age of 78, he’s still teaching the youngsters how to shoot after all these years.
And as The Logo, he won’t be soon forgotten.
12. Oscar Robertson
Playing most of his career in a league dominated by Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, “The Big O” competed with Jerry West and Bob Cousy for his place as the greatest point guard of his generation.
Robertson was the league MVP in 1964 with the Cincinnati Royals but was only able to win a championship in 1971 with the Milwaukee Bucks, in tandem with burgeoning star Lew Alcindor. Sadly, his inability to carry the Royals to a championship — the ‘60s Celtics proved to be just too much — is clearly his limiting factor in all-time ranking. His contribution to the game of basketball, however, and especially to the two-way greats of today’s game, such as Jason Kidd, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, cannot be overlooked.
To help put Robertson’s achievements into context, LeBron James has 58 career triple-doubles. Russell Westbrook had 18 triple-doubles just this past 2015-16 season, an astounding number. Jason Kidd finished his career with 107 triple-doubles. Oscar Robertson, in 14 years, put up an incredible 181 triple-doubles, including averaging a one for the entire 1961-62 season. That year alone, he had 41 triple-doubles in 79 games played, and these numbers all came before the NBA recorded stats for steals and blocks. Who knows how many more he may have had?
Admittedly, statistics aren’t everything, and Robertson’s early-career playoff troubles have shot his chances at a top-10 ranking. But we must not ignore the importance of Robertson’s game, which paved the way for so many greats, a few of whom lie above him on this list. You can see flashes of Oscar in Magic Johnson’s game and, likewise, those of Magic in LeBron’s. Oscar has clearly left his legacy in this game, barely slotting in above his rival West.
11. Shaquille O’Neal
By Alex Quintana
It’s not difficult at all to describe the effect Shaquille O’Neal had on the game of basketball.
During his prime, he was simply the most dominant force in the history of the game, as defenders were unable to stop him from getting the ball into the rim. It was his sheer size and ferocious athleticism that allowed him to average 23.7 points per game, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks over his storied 19-year NBA career. He also finished his playing career as a four-time NBA Champion, an MVP, eight-time All-NBA first team and 15-time NBA All-Star.
But as a basketball fan growing up in Los Angeles, what I’ll always remember him for are the three championships he brought to the city. It was him and Kobe Bryant that gave the Lakers the one-two punch they needed to three-peat as champions from 2000 to 2002. One of my fondest childhood memories came in Game 6 of the 2000 NBA Finals, when Bryant gleefully jumped into Shaq’s arms after they secured their first title together. A beautifully rare sight for fans considering the admittedly up-and-down relationship they had while in L.A.
With the Lakers in a state of rebuilding, it’s now very easier to appreciate everything Shaq did for my hometown. And as far as I’m concerned, he will go down as the best big man in the history of the game. It’s very unlikely that we’ll ever see another personality or force like him again.
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