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Ten players to make you restructure NBA’s 50 All-Time greatest

Apr 30, 2013, 11:49 AM EDT

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Back in 1996 — the year the baby crawling on the ceiling in “Trainspotting” gave us all nightmares — the Association released its list of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players. It was undoubtedly a strong list. Nobody on the list is weak. We could quibble around the edges about who should have gotten in, but the list was good for it’s time.

But that time was 17 years ago. The NBA landscape has changed a lot since then.

What players now would push their way on to that list (and push out a Dave DeBusschere or Dolph Schayes)?

NBC’s Joe Posnanski took a crack at the additions and came up with 10 guys. Like the original 50, a strong list that we can debate around the edges.

To me, there is a group of five no-brainers at the top: Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki. I’m not sure how you argue against any of those (and if you try to with Nowitzki, think about his international impact as the greatest European player ever in the league).

But the next five get interesting.

Is Steve Nash one of the 50 greatest of all time? Posnanski makes this argument in favor.

That said, Nash’s combination as brilliant playmaker and brilliant shooter is probably unmatched in the three-point era of the NBA. Well, there’s no probably about it: Do you know how many players have made 150 three-pointers and dished out 800 assists in a season? One. Steve Nash. And he did it three times.

What about Ray Allen? He’s the greatest three-point shooter the game has seen, one of the best pure shooters ever, and he’s got a ring. Does he get in? If him, what about Reggie Miller, who Posnanski also has on the list? Personally I can’t put Reggie on there, although my distaste for his job as an “analyst” may play into my feelings.

What about Paul Pierce? He’s the most iconic Celtic since the Larry Bird era, but is he top 50?

Gary Payton? He’s a newly minted Hall of Famer who Posnanski says belongs.

I think of Payton as the Barry Larkin of basketball (or Barry Larkin as the Gary Payton of baseball). Payton scored, passed, rebounded, played defense so spectacular they called him The Glove. Like Larkin (who hit, stole bases, hit with power, played great defense, got on base), Payton rarely did things that jumped out at you. He just did everything.

I’d put Payton in, but that may be a personal bias as I love The Glove.

Thing is, you look at this list and you know that in 10 years Kevin Durant is going to have to be on it. And what about Chris Paul? The NBA is blessed with a lot of young talent that is going to make a Top 50 harder and harder to pair down every few years.

  1. realninerfan22 - Apr 30, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    It kills me how much you hate on d wade, he most definitely one, so is ray Allen best shooter this game has ever seen, not to mention he led his OWN teams to deep playoff runs, both with the bucks and Seattle, then was a major part of the big 3. You forgot j kidd, the best all around point guard this league has ever seen, magic played no defense! Paul pierce is to he’s better then a lot of the players on the current 50 top list. Durant has done anything yet to be in this discussion.. He’s a 6 11 scorer that’s it!

    • money2long - Apr 30, 2013 at 12:52 PM

      to piggy back off your last comment…

      tmac was also on his way to top 50 ever some would say, until some unfortunate events. so in that light, it’s hard to know that durant will for sure make it into the top 50 during his sorta adolescent stage of his career. we never know what can happen down the road, especially 10 years from now. but at this point, yes, i would think durant has his foot in the door. but we can’t say that we ‘know’, is my point.

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:02 PM

      Wade is not a transcendent player. Nor is Pierce.

      Kidd and Allen are, and Durant will eventually be, but you CANNOT put him there yet.

      • Mr. Wright 212 - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:04 PM

        McGrady would have been, if he never got hurt and was still going strong like Kobe was before the Achilles.

        Larry Nance did what Kevin Durant does now (didn’t expect the juveniles who shout down fact-speakers who they disagree with to even know that). Durant has more 3 point shooting ability, but he’s got to do it for at least 10 years before you can just throw him in there.

      • 1972wasalongtimeago - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:33 PM

        Prior to 2010, Wade was a transendant player. From 2005 to 2008, Dwyane Wade was the best if not among the top 3 players in the league besides Kobe. Kobe was better. But Wade was freaking incredible. The guy single handedly won an NBA championship. Would have taken Heat to 2005 Finals had he not been injured in ECFs.

        He was explosive, clutch, smart, nasty; and he dominated despite being generously listed at 6’4. To all the bandwagon Heat Haters, the league didn’t form in 2010 you know.

        There’s a reason the reigning finals MVP, reigning and future league MVP, and greatest player who ever lived is on a team that has almost no chance to win the championship without him, but isn’t even “his” team.

        Wade’s in the top 50

      • melkipershero - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:40 PM

        Mr. Wright is right :) T-Mac was heading for a top 10-20 career, before injuries. I remember the game he scored 60 something (I think) that he was just hitting everything, including a half courter that didn’t count because he was fouled. I was young at the time, so the details are fuzzy.

      • infectorman - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:49 PM

        Allen over Pierce? Ah, no.

        Pierce has more points, a better scoring average and came out 2 years later than Allen. Also more points than Duncan as well.

        Careful, you’re showing your Boston hate in again…

      • asimonetti88 - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:52 PM

        Larry Nance averaged over 20 PPG twice in his whole career, and never more than 22 PPG. Kevin Durant has averaged over 20 PPG every year of his career (six times) and has only scored less than 25 PPG once, in his rookie season. Kevin Durant averaged 28 PPG this year on 50-40-90, Larry Nance shot 14% from 3 over his career, and 75% from the line for his career. They were both athletic big forwards, but there are not really many comparisons there. Especially considering Nance was a PF and Durant is a 3.

      • ibleedaquaorange - May 1, 2013 at 2:00 AM

        “Wade is not a transcendent player.”

        Wade has better (and more efficient) career reg season + postseason stats than Kobe Bryant. This is not arguable.

  2. zblott - Apr 30, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    Does the term “greatest players” mean guys who had awesome skills that can’t be replicated or guys who added the most value to a team trying to win games? The two lists are quite different — simply imagine Iverson or Maravich vs. Duncan or Pippen.

    • daddyghi - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:05 PM

      he may not have the rings to prove he’s great, but i think that Iverson should be in… not a fan, but just sayin… he still did made a difference on how the game is being played today…

      • melkipershero - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:41 PM

        Not sure if it was a positive impact, but he for sure made an impact.

  3. gd200799 - Apr 30, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    Jason Kidd should definitely get on the list.

  4. eagles512 - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    Ray Allen-no way. I’d say Iverson before him.

  5. daddyghi - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    (and if you try to with Nowitzki, think about his international impact as the greatest European player ever in the league)

    a skinny white guy that looks like a german drunkard hippie and at some time still dominated a game that is supposed to be dominated and is being dominated by african-americans…

    • 00maltliquor - Apr 30, 2013 at 3:05 PM


  6. slippyal2 - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    Wade is one of the 50 best ever and his resume speaks for itself. He is either the 3rd or 4th best shooting guard of all time depending if you think Jerry West is a SG. On this guy’s list Wade is ahead of Miller, Allen, Pierce, and Payton.

    • tuberippin - Apr 30, 2013 at 10:39 PM

      3rd or 4th best SG ever?

      His Airness, Black Mamba, Jerry “The Logo” West, George “The Iceman” Gervin, and Iverson makes five.

      • slippyal2 - May 1, 2013 at 12:18 AM

        Gervin didn’t do squat in the playoffs and Iverson lead his team out of a weak east.

        Wade’s resume

        2x Champion
        Finals MVP
        9x All Star
        2x First Team NBA
        3x Second Team
        FMR. Scoring Champ

        Compare that to those I mentioned and he has a better resume than Miller, Allen, Pierce, and Payton. Only SG ahead of him are Jordan, Bryant, and Jerry West if you place him a SG.

      • taktrevor - May 1, 2013 at 9:43 AM


        That is a great resume, no doubt. I just haven’t “seen” it when watching the games. It’s not baseball where everything is measurable, man against man (forget defensive metrics). It’s a team game, and while he’s absolutely a Hall of Famer and a great player, I don’t see when he plays that he’s even 4th (West as SG).

        Opinions are the fun part of sports, he’s always felt more like a piece to me than a centerpiece, perhaps I’m wrong.

  7. narrabeen23 - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:30 PM

    Iverson has to be on that list.

  8. cj1403 - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    He forgot Bosh, he’s a lock HoF and Chalmers, he’s a Top 3 pg.

    • ccshocktalk - Apr 30, 2013 at 2:09 PM

      I hope this was a joke…

    • cantonbound13 - Apr 30, 2013 at 3:21 PM


  9. ccshocktalk - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    We can answer this debate really quickly. Sure the new guys have talent, but they aren’t playing in the same league as far as rules are concerned. One hand check to LeBron and you’re hit with a foul. One good solid foul and you might get tossed from the game. If Michael drove on Charles Barkely he’d get thrown to the floor and it would just be a typical hard foul.
    If anyone tried to drive in Detroit you were sure to get hit, punched, pushed, kicked etc. and that wasn’t anything besides a foul…you’d be suspended for that kind of contact now.

    Point is, these guys are good and playing a lot more minutes, but we’ll never know if they would have held up to the abuse that Michael, Magic, Gary, Karl Malone and others held up to and dished out.

    I would like to see one series of 7 games with old school NBA rules and one series of 7 games with present rules.

    We’ll never know but it’s fun to think about.

    • melkipershero - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:43 PM

      With the way Lebron plays, I think the old rules would benefit him more than hurt him. Also growing up in that era would have made him tougher you’d think, since that was just the way it was. Now guys like Lebron, Melo, and Durant are babied since they’re very young since it’s pretty much a given they’ll end up in the NBA.

    • miamatt - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:54 PM

      The other thing we’ll never know is how players of yore would fare under today’s rules, with zone defense and all the restrictions regarding how individual players are allowed to defend.

      • ccshocktalk - Apr 30, 2013 at 2:07 PM

        To your point I don’t think defenses today have any kind of advantage on the old defenses. Possibly defensive three seconds of camping in the lane but that would be about it. Zone defenses aren’t as effective in the NBA as people think they are…it’s generally just defensive rotations.

        That being said, LeBron has the physical ability to handle the old school fouls, and I think he’s developing the mental toughness to handle it and dish it right back out. I think Kobe is probably the toughest and most tenacious player to come out after 1996 and he’d be fine with either set of rules. I think guys of old would have a hard time not hand checking, and not being able to body up another player…but maybe that would make them become more fineness with their game…doubtful, but possible.

        Not to get into present verses old player for player, but for rules in general we did see Jimmy Butler D up on LeBron pretty hard to end the Miami win streak at 27…and when they went to Miami and tried the same defense Jimmy Butler was hit with tech’s and wasn’t effective and the bulls lost by half a dozen points. Today’s rules are meant to create a much softer game….even the european and olympic rules are more intense.

      • melkipershero - Apr 30, 2013 at 2:15 PM

        I’m one of the biggest Lebron backers, and yes, he gets a lot of calls. He also doesn’t get some calls. Same goes for Kobe, Melo, and Durant. MJ got a ton of calls. People used to always joke around about not being able to touch him. The NBA is for sure, I dont want to say rigged, but predetermined. The Heat in the Finals is good for the NBA, because if you hate or love Lebron you’ll tune in to see him win or lose. That being said, I do think the Heat are the best team and probably make the Finals regardless of calls, but those call don’t hurt.

      • Mr. Wright 212 - May 1, 2013 at 1:10 AM

        Melo doesn’t get half the calls he should, you lost me there.

      • borderline1988 - May 1, 2013 at 9:41 AM

        People have way too much nostalgia for that greatest-50 list. More than Duncan, Garnett, Bryant, Lebron and Nowitzki – I think Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Dwayne Wade, Paul Pierce, Gary Payton and Kevin Durant should all get in (If you think Durant needs to be in the league for more time…remember that Shaq was already put on that 1996 list, and Durant has done more than Shaq over the same time period).

        I also think Chris Paul is a lock to get in, but not yet. I dislike giving Pierce the nod..but the playoff run in 2008 sealed it. Otherwise, he is just one of those ~23PPG guys who doesn’t do anything overly good (think about his career before Garnett showed up…we wouldn’t even be mentioning his name if that didn’t happen). Sort of like Chris Bosh on the Raptors…can consistently put up good PPG numbers, but overall is not that impactful unless he’s on a great team.

    • 1972wasalongtimeago - Apr 30, 2013 at 2:16 PM

      If you watch a game from 1989, I think you’d be surprised how violent the game wasn’t. I think you’d be bored. And I think by the time you got to the middle of the 2nd quarter, you’d be asleep.

      But there are a good handful of highlights from that era that give the inpression that players were committing felony assault and battery on a nightly basis. And players from that era are now the ones with the microphones, and none of them have any problem making self-serving statements about their games/eras.

  10. dirtydavis - Apr 30, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    Dwade does not deserve to be in the top 50 list. Whatever he has done I bet any player in the top 50 list can top it

    • cantonbound13 - Apr 30, 2013 at 3:23 PM

      He is the best flopper & drama queen. The only player ever to use a wheel chair after injuring his shoulder.

      • heat256 - Apr 30, 2013 at 4:29 PM

        You mad cause Raymond “Chubs” Felton didn’t make the cut?

      • cantonbound13 - Apr 30, 2013 at 8:17 PM

        @heat: I never said Raymond Felton was a great player, nice role player but not great or an all star. I’m not like the bandwagoners that praise the players on their team as if they are all great players.

      • borderline1988 - May 1, 2013 at 9:48 AM

        Guards/swingmen in the top-50 list whose stats and accomplishments don’t match up to Wade’s:

        Nate Archibald, Pail Arizin, Dave Bing, Dave DeBusschere, Sam Jones, Bill Sharman. There are some others on the list, but they would be more debatable.

        I’m not saying those players aren’t deserving. It’s also hard to compare players across time periods, b/c many of them played in the 1960s when it was a different game.

        But Wade’s numbers and accomplishments beat them all.

  11. inthearex - Apr 30, 2013 at 2:29 PM

    To even suggest ray Allen is comical. Great three point shooter. And…??

  12. trimaster1 - Apr 30, 2013 at 3:20 PM

    A better question is who would be taken OFF the list of “50 Greatest Players…”

    • tuberippin - Apr 30, 2013 at 11:00 PM

      Just some names that stick out as possibly being removed to restructure the list:

      * Hal Greer
      * Billy Cunningham
      * Dave DeBusschere
      * Bill Sharman
      * Sam Jones
      * Dave Bing (great scorer, but Nash was a better all-around PG)
      * Dolph Schayes (great for his era, but there are PF/Cs with better numbers now)
      * Tiny Archibald (though his Age-23 and Age-24 seasons have some eye-popping stats)

      What they should really do is just re-brand it and make it the 75 or 100 greatest players. Easier to add than to subtract. I couldn’t even come up with ten plausible subtractions from the list, as you can see.

      • kavika6 - May 1, 2013 at 4:46 AM

        Depends on the age of those that decide on who makes the top 50. Older people that watched the older greats would laugh at some of the younger player suggestions.

  13. realninerfan22 - Apr 30, 2013 at 3:20 PM

    Mr wright you sound crazy.. At 6 3 d wade is a shot blocker, he’s s great passer he actually played the pg position in the NBA. The abikty to dunk on people, the ability to hit big shot after shot. The leadership ability, if it wasn’t for d wade lbj wouldn’t have a ring. Wade does everything lbj does but gets no credit, rebounding, passing, great defender, attacks the paint better then anyone I’ve ever seen play. As a 6 3 guard I might add. 20 5 5 while shooting over 50 percent from the field and that’s a bad year.. D wade is the third best sg to ever play this game behind mj and kobe, Jerry west couldn’t keep up with a d wade in his prime at all. D wade wud break his ankles dunk on him then block his dunk lol. D wade has an complete arsenal. Post game, mid range jumper, drive game high b ball iq. Respect greatness.

  14. sportsnut101 - Apr 30, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    Iverson n Kidd def. that’s easy

    Pierce no.

    Allen no

    Dwade no

    Lebron Kobe durant melo yes

    Bosh no

    • borderline1988 - May 1, 2013 at 9:50 AM

      I don’t see how you take Melo over Pierce. Wade also belongs in there.
      But I agree with everything else.
      Ray Allen is the greatest 3pt shooter of all time, but he simply wasn’t good enough. Not even close to an MVP-type player.

  15. scalfor3 - Apr 30, 2013 at 5:09 PM

    Jason Kidd > Nash

  16. ccshocktalk - Apr 30, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    Anyone suggest Allen Iverson should look at the quality of ball players on that top 50 list, there is no way he cracks the top 100. Was he talented? sure. Could he score? yeah, if he shot 50 times he might have got 50 points. He was Carmelo Anthony in a point guards body…he had heart to do what he wanted when he wanted and that was about it…I mean…we’re talking about the top 50 man, the top 50…ie: we’re talking about practice man, practice.

    Ray Allen is a great scorer but a liability on defense. Best pure shooter from the 3 point range and beyond without a doubt, and that will land you in the HOF but it wont land you in the top 50 conversation. Basketball is two ways; if you can’t play on both ends you don’t deserve to be in the same breathe as those other 49 athletes who made it in the top 50.

  17. scottydetroit - Apr 30, 2013 at 7:26 PM

    Trimaster is correct. You are all missing the point – answering half the question. If you think Jason Kidd should be on the list, who does he replace? Oscar Robertson? Jerry West? Magic?

  18. realninerfan22 - May 1, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    Dude Paul pierce in his early years led Boston to deep playoff runs before Garnett and Allen got there.. To say he’s no impact player is plain ignorant. The alltime poiyb leader for Boston and is as clutch as anybody in the league. Garnett in Minnesota got out of the first round 1 time wen he played for the wolves, to say pierce is only great because of ray Allen and kg tells me your young snd haven’t watched a lot of b ball kid.

  19. realninerfan22 - May 1, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    Taketrevor.. D wade is one of the best to do it.. He was the centerpiece in 06 and one of the 2 centerpieces right now, so what are yoy talking about?? Haha jerry west couldn’t do half the things d wade does on the court.. Wades a better finisher, better leader, better playmaker, more rings, and a better scorer. Jerry west has a better jumper that’s it! D wade has been a force from day 1. You sir are clearly hating, if it wasn’t for him lbj wud still be ringless..

  20. realninerfan22 - May 1, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    To be honest j kidd was a better overall pg then magic to be honest. Magic had the luxury of playing with hofs as soon as he got drafted. Kidd could control the whole floor with just his passing and head alone.. Not to mention wen he was younger he would dunk on you!! Magic wish he could defend on the same level as j kidd.. If kidd wudda played in a LA with shaq and kobe, like magic played with kareem and worthy, kidd would helped shaq, kobe win a few more, that’s how great of a player he was.. You young pups no nothing about b ball

    • newmac99 - May 22, 2013 at 4:01 PM

      You migh be oldr and hav seen a lot of bball, but specialists don’t agreewith you. Magic Johnson is considered the second best player of all time averall in the NBA, and way further the best PG. Not t say the bets passer which his top assists record can ratify. Kidd is a great PG, but let’s not get carried way for him beig the best…

      • newmac99 - May 22, 2013 at 4:23 PM

        Worth mentioning Magic carried the Lakers to the title (his first title in HIS ROOKIE season ) without Abdul-Jabbar who sprained his ankle in Game 5 and could not play in Game 6 in 1980, Magic playing all positions in the court alternating from 1 to 5 in different periods during the game. Johnson started at center in Game 6, recorded 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals in a 123–107 win, while playing guard, forward, and center at different times. He then became the only rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award and his clutch performance is still regarded as one of the finest in NBA history.

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