Posted by Neil Paine on December 21, 2009
Required reading material:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ("The Captain")
Already the greatest college basketball player of all time, Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. made the transition from NCAA fame to NBA superstardom with as little difficulty as any player ever, landing with the Bucks in the '69 Draft and instantly establishing himself as a Top-5 player in his first season (by comparison, LeBron James -- granted, 3 years younger than KAJ when he came out -- was merely the 20th-best player in the NBA by these metrics as a rookie, waiting until his 2nd year before joining the Top-5). Changing his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ("Generous Servant of Allah") the day after the Bucks won the 1971 championship, his game remained the same, and he was a fixture among the 10 best players in basketball every season from 1970 to 1986. The stats in particular love Kareem, as he ranked 1st overall by the metrics a downright UCLA-like 9 times in 10 seasons between 1971 and 1980 (years in which he was unfairly denied a number of MVP awards). Oh, and I forgot to mention that Jabbar also won 6 NBA titles as a player and is the league's all-time leader in points scored. If that's not a full basketball resume, I have no idea what is.
Julius Erving ("The Doctor")
As has been customary since this post, I penalized Erving's ABA performance by 25%... And he still comes out as an Inner-Circle legend. Instead of waxing poetic about Dr. J, I've found the best way to appropriately pay tribute to his career is through the good, old-fashioned mixtape (BTW, he has to be the first great player you can say that about):
John Havlicek ("Hondo")
Havlicek's enduring trait (beyond 8 career championship rings and an indefatigable perpetual-motion style on the floor) is his durability and longevity. By these metrics, only Kareem, Karl Malone, Dr. J, and Shaquille O'Neal had more years among the game's Top 25 players than Hondo's 14; he was a Top-25 guy in all but two of his seasons. He peaked relatively low for an Inner-Circle legend -- in the early 1970s, when the media ranked him 3rd overall -- but he had a sneaky long, consistent career as one the best all-around (offense + defense) players ever, and was arguably the best Sixth Man in league history as well (if nothing else, he certainly defined the role during the sixties). Admittedly, he's probably one of the most doubtful of the "no-doubters", but I think there's something to be said for consistently very good (if not great) production over a long period of time, as opposed to players with high peaks that only last a few years at most.
Elvin Hayes ("The Big E")
Hayes' career is an interesting study in contrasts: He was underrated for a great deal of his career, yet for some I'm sure it "feels" like he's being overrated here by being named to the Inner Circle. He has a rep for shrinking away in clutch situations, yet he was the most dominant player in the 1978 playoffs (despite the memory of Wes Unseld being named Finals MVP while Hayes fouled out of Game 7 vs. Seattle with just 12 points). In fact, for the majority of Hayes' tenure with the Bullets, he -- not Unseld -- was their best player, and on top of that he had just as many playoff Win Shares as Unseld over the same span. Pretty outlet passes or not, history has unfairly overrated Unseld at Hayes' expense over the years, which is bizarre because Hayes is the clear member of the Inner Circle, and Unseld has as much claim to the honor as do Tim Hardaway and Jack Sikma.