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Layups: Stay Soft, Dirk Nowitzki

Posted by Neil Paine on June 16, 2011

Here's a great piece about Dirk Nowitzki from Deadspin's Luke O'Brien, wherein he examines the media narrative about Dirk's "soft" game. Although we were told that Dirk had acquired a tougher style of play, is that really even true?

"Instead of everyone casting about for ways to explain Nowitzki's transformation now that he has a ring, we should celebrate the fact that he hasn't transformed at all. In being exactly who he's always been, he defies the silly notion in American sports that an athlete has to don armor, psychic or otherwise, to win a title. Nowitzki has never been the guy who screams into the upper decks like a maniac after each and-one. He's never tried to be. He's one of the best low post scorers in the NBA, but you'd never know it because he doesn't play with his back to the basket like other seven-footers. Instead of dunking opponents through the rim, he's mastered a step-back shimmy to get off a soft jumper that nobody can defend and that often leads to a free throw that almost always goes in. Softly. Nowitzki doesn't charge into battle. He fades away. And he wins because of it, not despite it."

As O'Brien notes, real courage comes in sticking with an unconventional style despite high-profile failures and media criticism. Dirk's conviction in his own "soft" style eventually vindicated it, and in a perfect world the media would admit they were wrong instead of inventing a false narrative about how Dirk changed at their behest.


153 Responses to “Layups: Stay Soft, Dirk Nowitzki”

  1. BSK Says:

    At one point during the ABC telecast of Game 6, they talked about how the "old school" Mavs were fending off the "flashy" Heat... which ignored the fact that by most definitions of style of play, the Heat and their defensive first approach were far more old school while the Mavs, led by their 7-foot, jump shooting forward and barrage of 3 pointers, were far more flashy. But, that didn't fit the narrative the media attempted to construct, which was that the Mavs were doing things the "right" way and the Heat the "wrong" way. Which is why I hate when the media attempts to construct narratives.

  2. Justin Kubatko Says:

    That's a great piece. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Keith Ellis Says:

    I liked the article, too. Since LeBron's shown himself to be an abject loser w/ no excuses like teammates to blame it on, la popular media're comparing him to three players (not Michael Jordan anymore):

    1) Scottie Pippen -- this is payback for Pippen's unpardonable sin of saying MJ was merely the Greatest Scorer recently, & not necessarily Greatest Player. Scribes won't get away w/ likening LBJ to six-rings Scottie for long.

    2) Wilt Chamberlain -- this, again, is predictable territory for the Jordanphilic press. LeBron of course will never lead the majors in Assists nor Rebounds as Dipper did. Chamberlain's two titles were more than any other non-Celtic won from 1959 to 1972.

    3) Dirk Nowitzki -- I like this one. Like Dirk, LeBron may hang around long enough for one to fall his way. Reading this article's description of Dirk's fall-away shimmy shot (called "El Flamenco" by the ESPNLatino announcers) recalled Dipper's deadly fadeaway which sometimes earned him "soft" criticism.

  4. AYC Says:

    Interesting article, but I don't quite buy the premise. Dirk HAS changed his game the last few years. He takes fewer threes and more shots from the mid to high post (are you paying attention Lebron?) From 2000-06, he attempted over 3 threes per game in 6 out of 7 seasons; the last 5 years, he has shot under 3 per game, with just 2.3/G this year and a low of 1.5/G last year. He has also been more assertive in late-game situations; Dirk was always a good clutch shooter, but he often wasn't aggressive enough in those situations.

  5. Jason J Says:

    Webber and Payton discussed this on the air on NBAtv or TNT once, and they both agreed that the difference between winning and losing, and the accolades that come along with the former and not the latter, was about teammates and coaching. They felt that they were the same players in the up seasons and the down seasons and didn't really adjust so much as get a break when good enough teammates showed up.

    I don't know how true that is since most players get at least incrementally better up to a certain age, and there's got to be some internal changes that take place between the ages of 20 and 30, but that was their take.

  6. BSK Says:


    While I trust your analysis to be accurate, I don't know that we can say Dirk made the wholesale changes, both on the court and inside his head, that much of the popular opinion is saying he did. Our general problem as basketball fans is that we can comprehend that a "soft" player can win a championship or that a "hard" one can seemingly "choke" one away. When Dirk and the Mavs lost in '06, we had to find a reason, which was to affirm the stereotype that 7-footers (especially European ones) who didn't play back-to-the-basket were "soft". Rather than simply say that the Heat got hot and outplayed them or received some generous calls or whatever, we had to find a flaw in the losers. The next year, when Dirk's team came out and dominated and he won the MVP, much of the "soft" label was put aside... until they bowed out in round 1. Now that the Mavs have won, we have to figure out what is different now compared to then. It can't simply be that the matchups favored the Mavs this time or that the team around him was better or that they made an absurd amount of 3's... it had to be about the newfound hardness. Again, we often construct narratives and then look for or make-up evidence to suit that narrative after the fact. While I agree that there were some appreciable differences between Dirk's game now and then, much of the commentary acts as if Dirk played like Shaq in his prime, dominating the inside through sheer force of physicality and personality. He didn't. He's tweaked his game, as all players have, though I doubt Dirk-now would have turned the '06 team from chumps to champs or Dirk-'06 would have doomed the current squad. The difference simply wasn't that big and was mired in a slosh of a million other small but appreciable differences to hold up as THE ANSWER.

  7. AYC Says:

    He's replacing one dubious narrative with another of his own choosing. Dirk stuck to his guns and refused to change his game? I don't think so. He did change his game in the ways I mentioned before. They weren't wholesale changes, but then, he was already a great player. I don't remember anybody saying Dirk should try to be Tim Duncan on the low block. The "soft" label had less to do with being a shooter, and more to do with allowing himself to get manhandled in his first finals appearance.

    Both narratives have an element of truth to them. Dirk HAS improved, but the biggest difference between now and 06 is all the Mavs players who weren't there then: JKidd, Marion, Chandler, Barea, Peja, etc.

  8. huevonkiller Says:

    I disagree with the premise of the article. Not playing elite defense does hurt teams. The reason Tim Duncan is in Dirk's league is because of D, and usually defensive oriented teams win titles. The media is always too reactionary after a win or loss.

    #3 Keith that was a pretty factually inaccurate post.

    Keith you need to pace adjust, Wilt isn't in the same league with Assist %. He averaged 8.6 once at a much faster pace and significantly more minutes. LeBron is the more well-rounded and dominant player at their peak. And he played in a much more integrated era, not an opinion.

    I didn't know Jordan won anything before 28 years of age, LeBron has had a superior career to ringless Jordan, I know that for sure. He's 27 next year and I don't see the Heat going away.

    Teams that win 50+ games for a decade should win multiple titles. One is a disappointment, one isn't even LeBron's goal. The Colts are a disappointment to me and I say this as a long time Colts fan. Peyton Manning is my favorite NFL player too.

  9. huevonkiller Says:

    #7 The biggest problem with the Mavs was defensively, superstar perimeter players continuing to go off on them in 2006.

  10. BSK Says:


    Great point. But which narrative is closer to the truth? Dirk is fundamentally the same player and person as he was in '06 or Dirk has reinvented himself inside and out to become a champion? Part of the reason Dirk was manhandled in '06 and not in '11 was because the earlier version of the Heat had tons of size and strength and this one didn't. So, yes, he didn't get manhandled, it is hard to immediately jump and conclude he didn't allow himself to be manhandled.

    The truth lies somewhere in the middle. But our media in particular and society in general doesn't like the middle. It doesn't like gray areas or nuance. It wants heroes and villains, good guys and goats. It wants a reversal of output to be the result of a reversal of input... A Dirk-led Mavs team lost to the Heat in '06 and a Dirk-led mavs team beat the Heat in '11... something must be vastly different about Dirk! It is not unique to basketball but is exceedingly frustrating no matter where it is. If a couple of Dallas's off balance 3's clang off the back iron or Dirk has 2 or 3 4th quarter free throws rim out, it is very possible that Miami is the champion now. Does that change anything about Dirk? No. Would the media be fawning over the "new Dirk" in spite of the loss? Hell no.

  11. AYC Says:

    The difference between great teams is marginal, so small improvements in a star's game could be the difference between winning it all and losing. But of course, the improvement of the rest of the roster mattered more. That's not the part of O'Brien's article that I disagree with; I don't buy the whole "Dirk defiantly refusing to change his game" narrative

  12. k Says:

    Dirk, soft? Yes.

    But the good thing is -- for Dirk, mind -- that this is only a microcosm of today's NBA.

  13. k Says:

    From the article: "No, when it comes to that necessary yielding quality, Nowitzki has them all beat. Without question, his is the greatest triumph of softness in NBA history. And in the end, isn't that the really successful American story? You know, the one about how the immigrant assimilates and changes us for the better, not the other way around."

    Yes, watching the NBA move away from 90s defensive balance -- where hard fouls and defensive enforcers weren't verboten -- in a ploy for a bigger worldwide market-share, dependent on becoming a Flagarant Touch Foul league, has been captivating.

    But is this an American Success Story, or just more Keynesian outsourcing?

  14. Jerrod Says:

    I really don't get everyone's love for Wilt. Statistically he was dominant and he was, absolutely, the most athletic and explosive player in the league. But his statistics are inflated because he vaingloriously played to put up big numbers. He has good assist numbers simply because he decided he wanted to lead the league in assists, not because he wanted to win.

    Besides, he was dominated by Russell, who actually played for his TEAM, not himself.

  15. Keith Ellis Says:

    #8 Huevon wrote: "you need to pace adjust, Wilt isn't in the same league with Assist %. He averaged 8.6 once at a much faster pace and significantly more minutes. LeBron is the more well-rounded and dominant player at their peak. And he played in a much more integrated era, not an opinion."

    Assists aren't credited thanks to "pace" or what's normally labelled Tempo. They happen Per-Game & not Per-Minute. They also occur on a shifting set of circumstances. Time was if a player took a dribble before hitting the J, Uncle Wiltie got no dime. Huevon, you need to era-Adjust. Examine Assists-per-Bucket nowadays compared to 1967. LeBron's well-roundedness never extended to the Off Glass; Dipper routinely snagged double-fig O-Rebs each nite. The Sixers' ball went thru the post; Cunningham, Greer, & Chet weren't standaround ho-hums hoping for a catch-&-shoot whilst The Man juked & jived.

    Simple math tells us the pre-ABA NBA indeed was a blackballing league, but it had just ten or so teams in an era boasting of a much deeper talent pool than we enjoy today. Here's some ancient history -- the cusp of the Baby Boomers were starting school when Brown took on the Board. Russ, Bellamy, Reed, Thurmond, & Zelmo were there along w/ Dippy when the Boomers washed into the bigs & Chamberlain's game as well as his contemporaries' remained none the worse for wear. I haven't heard anyone deride Jackie Robinson's ROY & MVP for having played against white guys before, but shortsightedness about our past knows no bounds; why not extend it to basketball? One reckons future generations will chuckle over the present-day notion that LeBron's league is "more integrated" because it has Dirk Nowitzkis instead of Bob Pettits or Larry Birds, AK-47s instead of Dave DeBusscheres & Bobby Joneses.

  16. AYC Says:

    "Keynesian outsourcing?"

    Apparently your grasp of economics is even worse than your basketball knowledge....

  17. anonymous Says:

    It would be hard to argue that the league isn't 'softer' than it was in the 90's, but I think there's another reason for this besides the rule changes. Are we to believe that Stern jumped on the steroids issue before it even entered the league? We may never know, but judging from the way it progressed in other sports, and from the fact that no one today is as buff as certain guys were in the 90's, I'd say it's quite likely the league was juiced then (at least more so than now).

    I wonder what the average weight is today versus 1997?

  18. P Middy Says:

    read this earlier this morning. Glad to see it shared here. My favorite post-finals piece of writing thus far.

  19. Mike F Says:

    Dirk did change his game.

    In those closing moments this year he was most successful going to the glass. In '06 those would have all been jumpers.

  20. Keith Ellis Says:

    Anon asks -- "I wonder what the average weight is today versus 1997?"

    Haven't checked this for some years now but can attest that in 2003 the average height of an NBA player was one-half inch taller & a dozen lbs heavier than in 1973, the year Wilt shot 73% & led the bigs in Rebounding.

    "Nineties brutality" was nothing compared to the goings-on of Sixties-thru-Eighties. Once the arc was shortened in 1994 (MJ hit nearly half his career HRs over the short fence), the NBA firmly became a stand-around jumpshooter's league, hence "softer."

    The Mavs must be the slowest-footed champs since 1953. Dwyane Wade is no DT-SkyWalker, but he blocked as many shots as the big guys in the Finals. You keep wondering watching these games -- where are the windmills who used to protect the paint?

  21. AYC Says:

    Excellent point Mike. I mentioned that Dirk plays the post more, but I didn't mention that the quick dribble drive has become a big part of his more aggressive post game. Though not known for quickness, Dirk is an excellent ballhandler, and has a lot of success with scoring inside off the dribble because defenders have to play the jumper.

  22. AYC Says:

    "Dwyane Wade is no DT-SkyWalker"

    Are you sure about that Keith?

    "Once the arc was shortened in 1994 (MJ hit nearly half his career HRs over the short fence), the NBA firmly became a stand-around jumpshooter's league, hence "softer."

    The league moved the line back to the old distance by 1997.

  23. Mike F Says:

    They should move the arc back even further.

    The 3pt shot is too valuable currently

  24. Keith Ellis Says:

    AYC (#21) -- D-Wade blocking Nowitzki's bunnies in both the '06 & '11 Finals indeed recalled DT rejecting Bill Walton down low, but Wade doesn't have a 44- (or 48-) inch vertical leap a la Thompson.

    Re the shortened arc -- when it was fiddled with in 1994 all of a sudden Louis Dampier's 25-year-old HR marks went by the wayside. Michael Jordan, who shot 50%-43%-37% from the shortened arc, dropped to a woeful 24%-19%-29% in his last three years but the league never looked back on its heave-habit, even after returning the arc to its ABA distance.

  25. AYC Says:

    If Thompson was a better leaper, it wasn't by much....



  26. Kyle Says:

    Dirk has changed his game quite a bit. In 2006, he wouldn't have had the dunk where he went around Bosh to give them the game winning lead, or have two layups for game winners. He'd shoot a 3 right after missing one in the clutch part of the game. He matched both LeBron and Wade point for point in the 4th quarter, that's insane.He rebounds less(which is one reason for his longevity.) He has players around him like Tyson Chandler, Marion, and Kidd all who attack the glass, and Dirk gets big ones. He actually developed a postup game, but like a few have said, it's at the high post about 15 feet from the basket. A few off his pin point passes in traffic or off the dribble would have been turnovers by charge or steal. He is a better defensive player now(still not great), but has a team that actually knows how to make stops in the 4th quarter.

    Odd that no one's mentioning the officiating in 2006, and while they still choked letting the officials beat them... Wade got treated like he was Jordan(without being touched.)

    Tim Duncan is better on defense, but Dirk is absolutely a far more clutch player who is indefensible. Which brings me to this, he also added a go-to shot that he can pull out of his a** at any time and make. Every great player needs it, and it's as tough to guard as Kareem's sky hook. In 2010, Dirk absolutely lit up Tim Duncan, but didn't have the help he got. Dirk absolutely destroyed him in all but game averaging 27 while shooting almost 55 percent and going 40-42 from the line. Tim Duncan averaged 18 ppg at 50 percent and shot under 50 percent from the line. Sometimes when you're the only all-star on your team, you're gonna get knocked outta the first round a few times.

  27. Ricardo Says:

    "I really don't get everyone's love for Wilt. Statistically he was dominant and he was, absolutely, the most athletic and explosive player in the league."

    Because he was awesome during a time when one team had practically an entire wing of the Hall of Fame on the roster for 10 years.

    "But his statistics are inflated because he vaingloriously played to put up big numbers."

    You lifted that whole line from Shakespeare's sonnet, "Neither Screen Nor Roll", didn't you?

    "He has good assist numbers simply because he decided he wanted to lead the league in assists, not because he wanted to win."

    Then Wilt must have been crushed in 1969 and 1972, when his teams went 68-13 and 69-13 respectively. Poor Dipper - he tried so hard to avoid winning championships, and yet he inadvertently ended up on two of the best teams of all time.

    "Besides, he was dominated by Russell, who actually played for his TEAM, not himself."

    More people should emphasize the word "TEAM" in such discussions. If Russell had played for his team, that would have been impressive enough. But four capital letters?!? Damn, that guy was a WINNER. (see, I'm learning how to debate)

  28. k Says:

    "Apparently your grasp of economics is even worse than your basketball knowledge...."

    I don't think you understand the joke. Rather like George Bush "saving" capitalism through socialism, the way in which Keynesian theory carries on is through the idea of government intervention conflated with a globalist ideology that now calls for no barriers to cheap labor, e.g. outsourcing.

    The joke would be, in an allegorical sense -- and as response to the article portion I quoted -- that the NBA promoted and controlled for the ascension of certain foreign players through rule changes. The point being that the change came largely through manipulation beforehand, not as a revelation equal to or simply *as* Nowitzki's play in any type of insular sense; an idea that is as naive, in this instance, as it is fulsome.

    "It would be hard to argue that the league isn't 'softer' than it was in the 90's, but I think there's another reason for this besides the rule changes. Are we to believe that Stern jumped on the steroids issue before it even entered the league? We may never know, but judging from the way it progressed in other sports, and from the fact that no one today is as buff as certain guys were in the 90's, I'd say it's quite likely the league was juiced then (at least more so than now)."

    That's plainly miserable logic so far as cause and effect.

    Is it possible that steroids were dealt with? Certainly.

    But what we're seeing as far as the softness of this league also clearly has little to do with how 'built' these guys are; the idea that a player like Stockton used PEDs is ludicrous.

    As parallel, someone like Lebron would feature quite prominently as a freakish example of steroid use if he was playing in the 90s.

    The argument -- assumption -- that PEDs were responsible for the mentality of the NBA pre-2000s, dating back to a league that was far more physical not only in the 90s but also the 80s, 70s, 60s and even 50s rather undermines this standard from any vantage, particularly as an element of what the NBA had always been.

    And finally, the fatuousness of your argument -- that is, not only that PEDs were present, but that they could be argued as major causal value for the NBA's physical effect -- is clear simply by *watching* the game. While you're busy, at least as argumentative basis, trying to measure the players' abs, all a logical viewer has to consider is 1) how controlled every instance of physical contact now is and 2) consider the game's Nanny-state, sanitized rule book that calls for flagrants and technicals in a manner similar to a pee-wee league rather than one featuring professional athletes. With rules like this, juicing itself would be a practical non-issue as far as physical contact in any type of grueling standard or consistent basis.

    Your argument, then, is one of sophistry at best. It's not an issue, today, of guys playing at less phyiscally-direct level because they all choose to, but because they aren't allowed to play the way in which prior generations of players were.

    Anything to avoid the obvious or logical answer it would seem. I could see you working at a Washington thinktank. Hell, maybe you *are*.

  29. k Says:

    "More people should emphasize the word "TEAM" in such discussions. If Russell had played for his team, that would have been impressive enough. But four capital letters?!? Damn, that guy was a WINNER. (see, I'm learning how to debate)"

    The Russell argument is easy enough to turn around, anyway.

    For someone to look at team-result, then attempt to give almost all the credit to a supposed TEAM player like Russell, is the type of heterodoxic argumentation that is so dishonest it destroys itself.

    For, if as starting point, the ideal is to be a part of a TEAM, and no bigger than that TEAM, how can Russell get the majority -- if not ALL, as is so often the case -- credit for what that TEAM accomplished?

    The logic of this argument, then, isn't to promote team play through the player, but to use the team play argument to have a single player supersede the team altogether.

    Russell is an example of a player that gets the best of both worlds: nearly all the credit for a dynasty, with little consideration of his individual numbers -- their lack -- and thus contributions within that earlier strata.

    Pretty much the inverse of Wilt.

    The metaphysics, and meta-arguments, of championships and dynasties.

    The obvious point, of course, is that it Wilt was the better player, while Russell played on the better teams. Of course, the Russell forces will immediately try giving him all credit for those teams, while also bragging about the *team concept* Versus *star hype*.

    All without any sense of irony.

  30. sean Says:

    Can one be a 'better' player... WITHOUT being better for the 'team'? Tough to prove, but a concept that deserves some consideration, IMO. Can a 'better' player deploy himself in a manner that is NOT most beneficial to the team's welfare? If so---then is that 'better' player truly better? Perhaps he is more 'talented'? But the accolades slow down after that? I think that some 'better' players may have wasted/ do waste their 'talent' (from a team play concept) by not doing what the team needs most from them------thus compromising their affect. Hard to quantify... but some of this is at the heart of 'greatest' discussions or 'better than' discussions---and rightfully so.

  31. Keith Ellis Says:

    Wow, Mr K -- you da man! What you said.

    Corollary to the earlier ironies: Over history the NBA has named several "All-Time" assortments of teams, players, & coaches a la the Top Fifty etc of 1997. On the last occasion the NBA handed out a single Greatest Team of All Time award, honorees were the '67 '76ers. Of the eleven-or-so Greatest Players of All Time (in 1981), a group which included new arrival Julius Erving, the Greatest Individual Ever was officially recognized as Bill Russell.

    So, officially from the infallible NBA league office, Wilt's Team was the Greatest Ever & Russ IS the Greatest Ever. Dipper must be smiling up in heaven over that eternal arrangement.

    Hey Kyle (#26) -- Duncan's too long in the tooth for Dirk to be bragging about "lighting him up" in 2010! They along w/ Kevin Garnett are easily the Top Trio of ABA/NBA power forwards to star at the same time, & for so long. Altho for a one-season flash of youthful brilliance I'm partial to Doc, McGinnis, & KY's Issel in '73.

  32. AYC Says:

    "Rather like George Bush "saving" capitalism through socialism, the way in which Keynesian theory carries on is through the idea of government intervention conflated with a globalist ideology that now calls for no barriers to cheap labor, e.g. outsourcing."

    K, I think you're the one doing the conflating here. There's nothing uniquely Keynesian about globalization/outsourcing. You're just spouting more right-wing propaganda

  33. AYC Says:

    PS I agree with you about Wilt v Russ though.

  34. Keith Ellis Says:

    That's cool, AYC. The DT "career" highlights didn't include any action w/ a BiCentennial ball, so ya gotta be a little skeptical! OTOH, give Dwyane Wade a red-white-blue orb to swat or dunk & his Excitement Factor would rise by 50%, too.

    Agreed that Dirk's slow-motion dribble/dribble-spin-to-the-basket move this year isn't recalled from '06. Nowitzki's '010 playoff FTA-frequency was down a wee 3% from 2006 compared to D-Wade's 17% drop due to different officiating methodology.

  35. Bill Says:

    The Russell vs Wilt comparisons all need to be filtered through the lens of Russell playing on a team with *8* HOFers, which is more than Wilt played with in his career. Indeed, on the basis of pure team talent, Russell's Celts underperformed. They played a lot of close Finals against Lakers teams that weren't as talented as the Celtics' bench.

  36. Kyle Says:

    Sup Keith, if you could put Barry on there(he was in the NBA though) I'd agree. Dr. J and Issell were greats... Barry has been the scoring champ and a Finals MVP in the NBA. But just think how great he would have been in the ABA had he not had to sit a year due to the court ruling. So one year wasted after leading the NBA in scoring and almost beating the 76ers who had Wilt and a few other all-stars(they lost the first game in overtime in Philly, and game 6 by 3.) He still ended up leading the ABA in ppg in the regular season and playoffs. Only Dr. J had him beat in the player efficiency rating. I don't know how this isn't the first time I forgot that Barry was really great. I guess it's he could occasionally be a greedy douchebag.

  37. Ken Says:

    Jerrod said..."Besides, he was dominated by Russell, who actually played for his TEAM, not himself." really Jerrod? Go take a look at the head to head stats for the games they played each other.

  38. John Bateman Says:

    Dirk did not change that much but his team and the league changed.

    First, I have always said that if Dirk had a Big Man, he would have a better chance to win. He has had Bradley, Lafrentz, Dampier etc... They just were not good enough. When they got Haywood last year, I felt he was the best center that Dirk had. Then they got Tyson Chandler (who is better than I thought). Chandler is the best center that Dirk has ever played with. Remember early in his career, Dirk was the center on the tema. I did not think they would win a championship because I felt the pieces around him were getting old but Chandler is in his prime.

    Second, the league has changed, the players that Dirk could not beat (Duncan, SHaq, Garnett have gotten older and their games have slipped a lot faster than Dirk's, of course Dirk is at least 2 years younger than them. Also, the league has not really developed any big men in the last 10 years except for Howard (Stoudimere and Gasol are good but not as good as Dirk). There is no one in the league his size that can stop him now (though Durant seems to be that man eventually). When Dirk was on that court with Miami, he was much bigger than any other Heat player. Now that he had Chandler with him, everything fell right for him.

  39. Bill Says:

    Durant's a small forward, and even skinny for a 3. He was getting punked by Jason Kidd, let alone capable of bodying up someone Dirk's size.

  40. huevonkiller Says:


    Uh Keith, yes every stat is affected by pace. More possessions = more everything.

    Wilt's assist rate isn't in the same league. LeBron's game is much more defensive-oriented too, he probably defends every position. The leagues aren't even close to being the same on defense.

    Hard to have a deeper pool of talent when the entire league discriminated against the most important culture and group of people.

  41. Keith Ellis Says:

    Huevon, here's something else affected by Tempo, or what you're calling "pace" -- Stamina. It's one thing for LeBron to snag ten Rebs & proclaim himself a triple-doubler, but quite another for Big Dipper to muscle his way to 27 boards per nite, 80 games per year, in a compressed season lasting one month shorter. Sloth of game belies the slow thinking that plagues rather than enhances pro bkb since the Fratellos et al began micromanaging play-per-possession. The Nineties Star System has had a longer-lasting impact on pro bkb than the oldtime "discrimination" being raised. When was Wilt really discriminated against -- on the court or in those track meets? Maybe Walter Dukes was, and that's why he fouled out so often. W/out "discrimination" Darryl Dawkins could've bowled over opponents and been as big a star as Shaq. In his day the Dawk couldn't stay on the floor, just as the Big O couldn't get an Assist if his teammate took a dribble -- but John Stockton could & LBJ can.

    Time was innovative pioneers like Dipper (first C to lead the bigs in Assists) or Drazen or Dirk (first German to hit 20-40-50-90 pro plateau) were lauded for overcoming "prejudice" based on race, goonful height, or country of origin. Somehow some youths today have been taught a LeBron James is a priori superior than his elders because LBJ was *not* discriminated against -- turning Jackie Robinson's achievement on its head!

    As to the talent pool, when Big O won at Attucks twice as many Hoosier boys played highschool hoops as do in Greg Oden's Indiana. Just as US-born Blacks have largely abandoned baseball (no more Willie Mayses & Hammerin' Hanks), the US-born Whites quit playing basketball in droves (no more Mr Clutches and Bill Waltons). Anyone who wants to claim the "world" bkb-playing community equals out the decline in bkb-playing StateSide, have at it. The "world" will never equal the excellence & consistency in hoops displayed by the USA from the Thirties into the Eighties.

  42. P Middy Says:

    There's a million ways to go back and forth on this. Yeah, they had stamina, but up to the point that Wilt and Bill were running the league, how many athletic seven footers had ever existed in the Association? Two? Does Mikan count as a third? It's easier to get stats when folks are physically incapable of covering you.

    Comparing players from different generations is pretty much a fruitless exercise. Let the great ones be great in their own context and leave it at that, IMO.

  43. Keith Ellis Says:

    P Middy (42) makes a sound point. Pro bkb in the watered-down Nineties, when the league needed to import labor & dip down into the highschool pool for talent, can't really be compared to the thick-talent era of postWar Sixties thru Eighties. We know Kobe Bryant turned out to be a better pro than David Thompson, but as rookies who could compare Kobe to NCAA-champ DT?

    If today's NBA were to contract to the eight or ten teams it had in the mid-Sixties, when Wilt was thrice-MVP in a league including big men Russ, Thurmond, Zelmo, Willis, Bells, & Jerry Lucas (assuming "athleticism" isn't a code word to exclude Lucas' prowess), could it boast of seven future HoF Centers? Granted that Big Z isn't a HoFer, but he should be. Seven-foot height has little to do w/ ability under the boards, as a long list of Rebounding champs from Stokes to Russell to Moses to Ben Wallace w/ Rodman, Barkley, Truck, Cage, Big E & others in between easily demonstrates.

    Dirk Nowitzki didn't beat the Heat because he was "taller and more athletic" than Miami's big men. Simply put, he was more talented. Speaking of, Joel Anthony is a great example of what Wilt called the "Zero Men" who became so popular amongst pro bkb coaches (see Koncak, Jon).

  44. AYC Says:

    Keith, the NBA was not better in the 60's. Have you watched footage from that era recently? There was little defense, and no such thing as "shot-selection". That's why scoring was off the charts, even though shooting percentages were much lower, and there were no 3pointers. Yes there were fewer teams, but the talent pool was also much smaller with almost no foreign-born players. It's not a matter of evolution as some people mistakenly think; evolution takes a lot longer than a generation to have an effect. No, it's all about money. The NBA is big business now; it wasn't in the 50s and 60s. All that money has served as an incentive that didn't exist before; now we have an apparatus for finding talent that we didn't have before; now we have the motivation of a million+ paychecks to motivate young players, not just "the love of the game", which doesn't pay the bills. Because of the money involved, just about everything on the court is better now than it was in the 60s: defense is better, coaching is better, shooting is better (thanks to better shot selection and the three), and the athletes--drawn from all over the world--are better.

  45. AYC Says:

    PS I'm speaking generally of course. I have no doubt that Wilt and a handful of other players from the 50s and 60s would still be great today. But the reason they were so dominant then is that they were ahead of their time

  46. Keith Ellis Says:

    AYC (44), your reckoning that $$$ = Quality can be applied to many fields. Presidents & other politicians are paid better today than they were in the past. Does that make today's Presidents & pols more capable? Ditto boxers -- are today's heavyweight champs superior to Joe Louis, or Muhammad Ali?

    The NBA has more money than it once did, but the NBA didn't build the cavernous gymnasiums Indiana's enjoyed since the 1920s and 1930s. Those investments owed themselves to cultural interest & priorities, not cash flow.

    The twin phenomena of importing foreign labor & drafting highschoolers demonstrated a shallow US talent pool rather than a deeper one. Indiana imports turkey-pluckers because we lack laborers willing to work that hard anymore. But the imports, while they are superior to the home-grown alternative, don't demonstrate superiority over turkey-pluckers of the 1960s. The "love of the game" you're scoffing at is what made Russell, West, Mullins, & Mullin great players -- not the promise of perhaps making 100K per year. The late Paul Arizin quit the Warriors & sold insurance instead of moving West. He wasn't playing for the NBA's money; he kept playing in the Eastern League for several more years. Now how many 22-ppg NBA stars do we see making the "lifestyle choice" to play in the EuroLeagues?

    A mercenary culture is rarely synonymous with Quality. Rather, the true mercenary, because he is *not* playing for Love Of Game, puts in just enough to get his no-cut long-term contract. No doubt LeBron, Nowitzki, Durant & other great players today are doing their thing because they love it -- & would be overjoyed to earn six figures for playing a game instead of sitting in an office or working in a factory. But there's every reason to believe, as you yourself say, that more pros than ever are simply doing it for the money & not in pursuit of excellence and competition.

    A simple illustration: why did the hook shot die out in the NBA, when it was the shot of choice for big men from Mikan to Kareem (& Hakeem, a classic student who played for Love of Game)? If the NBA is so "scientific" and ultra-observant, why don't pro coaches re-teach a shot tailor-made for the DeadBall style so prevalent today? Because they have to work w/ the product of AAU ball-cum-Division One, whose coaches tend to frown on the hook, that's why. The NBA doesn't operate in a vacuum. Basketball-playing has been in decline for the past twenty years, as a result of not only expansion but also cultural changes. The market for quality imports didn't suddenly "get good" because of the 1992 Dream Team, altho our vanity would have us believe so.

    You mention "shot selection" -- the statistical record shows pros never shot so surely as in the early-to-middle 1980s, precisely when the last Baby Boomers entered the post-Merger league. Logic tells us the ABA & NBA rivalry years from 1967-76, particularly the first half of the Seventies, were diluted by the expansion -- but the saving grace of that era was, again, the talent flooding out of the NCAA. Once the leagues merged and the # of clubs contracted, logic again tells us Quality of play improved -- & the parity plus statistical record (e.g. FG% reflecting shot selection) supports that contention. It wasn't by happenstance that Jordan, MailMan, Olajuwon & others born in the early 1960s became champs, Finalists, & MVPs only *after* the Nineties commenced. Before them, the greatest players had nearly always been champs/Finalists/MVPs from their rookie seasons onward.

  47. huevonkiller Says:


    Keith more possessions => more points allowed. You're not really thinking very clearly on both sides of the ball.

    Keith the demographics are what I am referring to, yes the league was discriminating against the most important culture. It doesn't matter if it was partially accepting of some races, the era was very messed up.

    The league is a big business now that means people sacrifice a lot more, and there are more people in the WORLD, that care about playing Pro basketball. The advanced stats don't support your case that's the biggest reason too.

  48. Keith Ellis Says:

    Well, Huevon, you may name-call me as an "unclear thinker," but we don't disagree that the ABA/NBA era featured faster thinking & playing as a result of quicker tempo. Still, stall-ball is nothing new; see the miraculous Milan team of Hoosiers movie fame that won in 1954, beating the "most important culture's" Crispus Attucks team led by Oscar Robertson. Dumbing down basketball via clock-control was begun by micromanaging coaches lacking confidence in their personnel and spread w/ the heave-for-HRs mindset of the early Nineties. Note that altho Team PPGs from the beginning of the Sixties to the end of the Nineties dropped by 20% (from 115-120 ppg to 90-95 ppg), & FG%s were about the same (about 43-44%), individual PPGs of the Star System's featured players remained about the same. Obviously, such a reduction in on-floor activity (fewer FGAs/Rebs/Errors) meant many more pros not-working on the Offensive end & thus less Defense being played. If the NBA had a 5-second rule, all of today's extra dribbling and standing around w/ the ball wouldn't be allowed.

    If you think Jackie Robinson's ROY/MVP & stats deserve an asterisk because Jackie played in an otherwise all-white league lacking in the "most important culture," then good luck fighting the established historical record. And maybe you could name a few of the race-men who weren't allowed to compete vs Dipper or Russell -- aside from Stokes, Bells, Thurmond, Zelmo, Reed, Hayes, Unseld, Jabbar, & Lanier?

    When has "big business" i.e. largesse ever signified sacrifice? More often, corpulence (in the form of fat salaries) and complacency via no rival-league competition are formulae for decadence. Let's rewind that 96-54 Finals game from 1998 for "footage of excellence." And AYC (#44) -- I've watched the past 40 NBA Finals plus 5 ABA Finals along w/ 'em & never noticed many of my elders bemoaning the "poor quality" of the Sixties pro game. Such ideas are a recent invention viewed through a faulty rearview mirror that cautions its objects are closer to us than they appear to be.

  49. AYC Says:

    I've watched games from the 60s. The reality was a lot less impressive than the legend. Race down the court and chuck up a shot as quickly as possible was the offensive strategy. Watching Satch Sanders brick long jumper after long jumper is high comedy. A role-player like Satch would get benched in a heartbeat for attempting such shots today, but back then it was the norm. You never hear 60s announcers complain about bad; the whole concept of shot selection hadn't been invented yet!

    Meanwhile, a star guard like Oscar could put up 30 point triple doubles while showing less leaping ability than Larry Bird. A supposedly legendary leaper like Elgin Baylor was comparable to Paul Pierce, who is unremarkable by today's standards; except that Pierce doesn't throw up nearly as many airballs and bricks. A great shooter like Jerry West rarely took shots from 24+ feet, because there was no 3pt line. (Yes, oldtimers, the three has made modern players better shooters). Coaching was terrible by today's standards, as was defense

  50. BSK Says:



    The NBA needs to expand the court. Make it 5-10 feet longer and 4-6 feet wider. Make the 3 point line a true arc. The players are so big and fast and athletic that having them play on the same court as the fuddy duddies of yesteryear is akin to playing 6 on 6 back then. The court is just too crowded. And anyone who thinks otherwise is just waxing nostalgic.

    Pete Maravich is often regarded as one of the greatest offensive players and shooters of all time. People cite his 40+ points per game in college and nearly 25 points per game in the NBA as evidence of his brilliance. Yet he shot barely 44% for his career, and this was before the 3-point line which likely would have decreased his percentage. Maravich could have maybe carved out a JJ Barea type niche for himself in today's NBA.

  51. Ricardo Says:

    The problem with a bigger court is that the ball is still going in one hoop. You'd have to expand it substantially to create adequate space for a better flow. (That's if the product on the floor needs improving, but I don't think it does)

    Now the 100' by 60' floor might work better with some kind of trapezoidal lane. Harder to guard the rim with more forbidden space around it, I think.

  52. Ken Says:

    "(Yes, oldtimers, the three has made modern players better shooters)."
    Really? Watch tape from the eighties and see how 18-20 footers were money as compared to today.

  53. Bill Says:

    The halcyon era for shooting percentages were 78-88. Still, the "deadball" 2000s have higher shooting percentages, and because of the 3, substantially higher true shooting percentages than the high-scoring 60s.

    And clock-killing is nothing new. Check out the pace stats for the late pre-shot clock era. Holding the ball for the entire 4th quarter was an effective strategy, especially because no one could shoot in 1954.

  54. AYC Says:

    well, Maravich certainly had 3pt range, so his eFG% would be a lot better had he played in the 3pt era. Ken, the 18-20 ft shot is less common because a) interior defense is better, and b) the players who used to shoot from there are now shooting from 24+feet

  55. Keith Ellis Says:

    Picking on poor defensive specialist Satch Sanders, whom nobody ever accused of shooting surely, won't cut the mustard for the thesis that today's bricklayers and non-players (Kurt Rambis was the first non-Offender to achieve championship celebrity -- check the stats before comparing Rambo to a Loscutoff or even a Clyde Lee Finalist) are somehow "superior" to Satch. IIRC a certain Bruce Bowen shot 40% from the field as well as the FT line for some Spurs champs, while seeing more court time than Sanders ever did in Boston.

    Watching a Sixties game on YouTube, or feigning expertise w/ "dozens of YouTube moments" can't contradict established history. So far we've seen the following inventions:

    1) Fifties-to-Sixties pioneers were inferior to LBJ-era pros precisely because now we have a "more integrated" epoch in which US-born White stars are practically inexistent.

    2) The Nineties talent pool was deeper than previous pools -- no matter that the Nineties NBA was forced to import labor and draft highschoolers to "upgrade" quality, or that fewer than half as many schoolboys play varsity bkb in Indiana (anyone have a counter-statistic?) today as when Oscar Robertson did.

    3) Dwyane Wade can outleap DT in his prime, notwithstanding their measured vertical #s.

    4) Higher revenue = better players.

    Gents, we have a wonderful resource at our hands in Bkb-Ref. I challenge you to provide a bit of statistical or analytical (historical research) evidence to support the accusatory adjectives that've been slung at the giants on whose shoulders the sainted King James & His Airness raised themselves to stand.

  56. Ken Says:

    Well, AYC, I wasn't talking about how common the shot is or isn't, I'm talking about how much more efficient they were at that range compared to now. And I don't quite understand your logic about the interior defense being better. If it is wouldn't that lead to more outside shots?On skills, things that require practice and repetition, players were at their best in the eighties, and I've watched since 69. Do any of the players play over the summer anymore?

  57. AYC Says:

    Sorry, by interior defense I meant defense inside the 3pt line. Were players from the 80s better shooters, or did they just face weaker defense? They certainly weren't better 3pt shooters....

  58. P Middy Says:

    #50 - impossible to tell. His strength, condition, and overall health could be much better due to modern techniques and medicine . The guy was an amazingly talented and skilled player. To me, when someone is that amazing when you watch the original footage, I imagine they would be only better as a contemporary player. The base talent and skill level is so high, that even with the overall rise in league athleticism, he would shine.

  59. BSK Says:


    Do you have any evidence that players back then shot better from mid-range? Kind of hard to argue with your memories.

  60. Ken Says:

    AYC, they were better shooters. I'm talking about wide open 18 to 20 footers dropped like flys hit with Raid back then. You get good at what you practice AYC. If I remember correctly, it wasn't uncommon for players to play in summer leagues back then. They honed all their skills by playing more. It's not the fault of today's player and I'm not suggesting that players were inherently better then, but like all sports, the level of play starts to go down when big money becomes a factor. Owners have too much invested in players nowadays to let them play in summer leagues or even pick up games.

  61. AYC Says:

    Yeah, Maravich was bigger and faster than Steve Nash, with a similar skill-level (off the charts). With the three, I'm inclined to think he would be BETTER today then he was then

  62. Ken Says:

    BSK, you're right, I just have anecdotal evidence but that's all anyone has to go on.

  63. AYC Says:

    Why shoot a 20 footer for two potential points when you can shoot from 24 ft and get three? That's the difference; in terms of bang for your buck, the 20 footer is the worst shot you can attempt

  64. Keith Ellis Says:

    JJ Barea is the NBA's newest imported-to-the-mainland answer to Billy Keller. There's nothing new under the sun, but the NBA's hypemeisters can't have us sit on our wallets believing we've seen it all already. That's the reason behind renewed obsession w/ terms like "pace" which we used to call Tempo or "possessions" or "touches" which are imperfect measurements of how much over-dribbling is happening in pro bkb today vis-a-vis the nimbler thinkers of yesteryear.

    Just last week Dirk Nowitzki cleanly rebutted the notion that "height and athleticism" define successful pro basketball. Rather, hoops has always been a sport requiring the highest of intelligence & its corollary -- hard work. Not by coincidence have the best players -- Russ, Oscar, Wilt, West, Kareem, Bird, Magic -- been the smartest as well. Sports such as baseball or football that don't feature the back-and-forth two-way skills of classic bkb also don't require the same smarts of all its players. As a team game in which players make split-second switches from Offense to Defense basketball most resembles doubles tennis in emphasizing the importance of mental agility.

  65. AYC Says:

    Keith, Dirk is 7 feet tall. And have you ever seen a player that height who can shoot and handle the ball that well?

  66. Ken Says:

    AYC are you being purposefully obtuse? I'm not arguing whether they shoot it as often but rather when they DO shoot them they don't hit anything near as many.

  67. AYC Says:

    How do you become a good shooter from 20 ft? Through practice/repetition. So shooting less from that range would make players less accurate from that range. The players who were stretching the defense from 20 feet thirty years ago are now doing it from behind the line. There is statistical evidence that the long two point jumper is the least valuable shot in basketball. Maybe at 82games? I'll check....

  68. Keith Ellis Says:

    AYC (65) -- everybody knows Nowitzki is a talented 7-footer. Whether he "shoots & handles" a basketball better than any other 7-footer is certainly open to doubt. Dirk no doubt commits fewer Errors than most other great 7-footers like Jabbar & Wilt, but then again he's never handled the ball on his way to averaging 50 or 35 ppg, either -- nor snagging 15-20 caroms per nite & playmaking from the pivot like Kareem & Dipper. He simply does less, & does it much slower, w/ an Error frequency tellingly identical to Mark Eaton's. No NBA champ has played more slowly than this year's Mavs, not in a superficial "pace" or PPG-sense, but in % of fast-break buckets. No doubt your has some figures on the subject dating all the way back to 1996.

    We've been running several discussions -- one in which Huevon & others have said a "more important culture" was discrimated against in the league of Wilt & Russell & that therefore their athleticism made them "ahead of their time" & their statistics resultingly suspect. I've promoted Dirk Nowitzki as an example of a "less important culture" & wondered whether he, too, is an example of Athleticism beating the Heat who presumably represent the more-important culture.

    Sure, Nowitzki along w/ the shorter Bird are the lone members of the 20-40-50-90 Club & thus in that sense Dirk's the tallest bestest shooter ever. Maybe he's also the tallest best ballhandler, in the sense of dribbling or something -- which returns us to the fascination the modern mindset has w/ excessively bouncing the ball & mindlessly killing the clock. Could Hakeem have stood at the top of the key and dribbled the ball as expertly as Dirk? Perhaps, but he certainly didn't need to, & he regularly Top Tenned in league Off Rebs thanks to knowing better.

    Rather than scoffing at Dirk's skills I uphold him as Exhibit A that the notion of a "more important culture" is baseless. As for Nowitzki's fellow foreigner JJ Barea -- he's eloquent testimony that the overpaid NBA execs are complacent & riddled w/ blind spots for talent, having gone undrafted in the Celtics' backyard.

  69. huevonkiller Says:

    #68, #48

    Yeah Larry Bird has three rings so what? He's not part of the greatest contributing culture.

    You are confused Keith. So when Larry Bird beat Jordan in the 80s that means what exactly? Dirk won in an off-peak season and during the regular season he would rest a lot, and his team was still elite. It is still a team game.

    Barea is Hispanic.... The kind of player that was also discriminated against in the 60s

    The 1960s were a dubious time for civil rights. This is not a trivial matter, segregation occurs league-wide and affects the depth of the league. The NBA was predominantly white until the 1970s iirc.

    As for the playing style of the 1960s, AYC and I share the same views on this matter. It is hypocritical to accuse any other era of "dumbing down" the game. A less athletic Allen Iverson ball hog league, that's not really what the NBA should be about.

    Those players from the 60s were horrific defenders, comparing volume stats is irresponsible. Pace adjusted, league adjusted numbers exist exactly for these reasons.

  70. sean Says:

    I love the discussion about comparing across eras----not that I'm any closer to a conclusion after reading everybody's points, mind you. It's just fascinating and thought provoking and I'm glad that people have different 'takes' and are articulating them as well you all are.

    To say it's tricky is an understatement.

    1) Does Cousey look goofy because he was unathletic or because he wasn't allowed to hop step or crab dribble and carry the ball? The manner in which he dribbled was essentially what was permitted.

    2) Would LeBron look so good if he had to handle the ball in accordance with what was called in 1960?

    3)The average US male is 1 inch taller in 2011 than he was in 1960. Where were all of the 6'10"-ish track-quality athletes in 1960, then? Blacks were permitted in the NBA starting in 1950 and clubs like the Trotters and the Rens WELCOMED blacks way before then. Where were all of these great tall players that were just not permitted or welcome to play ball? Is it POSSIBLE that being 6'10" or 7'1" in 1960 just meant that you couldn't walk and chew gum-----regardless of race? Is it POSSIBLE that Wilt was just THAT special because he could? Isn't that PART of the greatness? There's 8-foot guys out there. They can't stand up straight. That's why they don't play ball. Their feet hurt. Their spines are crooked. Their knees are killing them. Is it possible that 50 years ago, being 6'10" should have largely prevented you from being athletic enough to even TRY to play the game at that level---------let a lone dominate it? The more you consider it, Wilt was a FREAK. But a beautiful freak. If anyone else that big 50 years ago COULD play------he would have. If not for the Lakers, then for the Rens. No? We KNOW who the great black baseball players were before MLB welcomed them. Why? Because guys who COULD play-------PLAYED. Somewhere. Bob Kurland played SOMEWHERE even though he didn't play pro ball. How did they Rens and the Globetrotters NOT get any of these 7-foot guys who could play (if they could)? Where were they? There's more to suggest they DIDN'T exist than there is to suggest they did. WHO was stopped from playing Russell & Chamberlain that should have been allowed to? Who was so darned good at basketball but also didn't PLAY? ANYWHERE?

    It's a hard argument to give a lot of support to (that the 1960s were a lesser era because of who wasn't welcome).

    4) If the athletically compromised 60s are going to be down graded relative to the late 80s--------then do we downgrade the late 80s because that era is less athletic than it is NOW?

  71. BSK Says:


    I'm not an expert on basketball history, but I do know that, in baseball, there are numerous examples (both historically and contemporary) of players who could play and were denied the opportunity because their style of contributing was misunderstood, unrecognized, or undervalued. Even more frequently you had/have players who excelled in areas that were believed to be integral to success but weren't, yet they were constantly trotted out in favor of more valuable guys who contributed in less conventional ways. We still have an obsession with speed in the leadoff whole, with speed being defined by a guy's total SBs. This completely ignores the fact that OBP has been objectively proven to be a more important skill for a leadoff hitter than speed, that SBs are a poor assessment of speed or base running ability, that most high steal guys actually hurt their team through inefficient basestealing, etc, etc, etc. So you end up with guys like Juan Pierre continually employed while other players are constantly neglected. That is what the whole Moneyball approach was about... not that there was necessarily some magic stat, but that certain stats were undervalued and those should be sought out by teams on a budget, since they could be had for below market rates.

    It wouldn't shock me if basketball (and all sports and industries) had similar biases. How many tall players were told to play on the block when their skill set translated better elsewhere? Dirk talked about his playing in Germany as opposed to coming to America for high school/college as being key to his development, since he was allowed to play outside where he would have been relegated to the post in the states and likely would have been far less effective. How many short guys are forced to be PGs despite a complete inability to distribute effectively (Iverson, anyone?)? I'm sure tons have talent has been wasted based on pre-conceived notions of what certain types of guys are supposed to do. It might not be an out-and-out discrimination, but it functions much the same way.

  72. AYC Says:

    Sean, as I said in a previous comment, this isn't a matter of evolution; that takes a lot longer than 50 years to act. Basketball was less popular, and less high-paying 50 years ago. As the popularity and economic incentive grew, the athletes improved.

  73. sean Says:

    @ # 71... Thanks for the input. I don't necessarily disagree with much of what you've said. I do find differences though between guys skill sets not being matched to what they're told they have to do---------and not playing at all. If a player had ability in the 60s------he was playing. Somewhere. No? And I'm talking about the ability to challenge Wilt & Russell. What I'm getting at is that a doubt the serious challengers to Wilt & Russell's NBA weren't playing ball.

  74. sean Says:

    @ #72... I hear you, AYC. Giraffes necks didn't get long in 50 years, either. It took TIME. Like I mentioned, the average height of the US male is just 1 inch taller now than in 1960. Athletes have improved partly due to incentive, I agree. I don't know the salary for a basketball player 50 years ago (though we always hear of guys working jobs in the offseason, right?)-----but I do know that a storied 6'10"-ish amateur who starred in college took an insurance job over a pro contract OVER 50 years ago (Bob Kurland) because he felt the contracts weren't worth the paper they were written on and the insurance gig was a more solid career--------so, yeah, the financial aspect a long time ago wasn't up tp snuff. But we know of Kurland. Because he played somewhere.

    What I want to know is who were the great players who didn't play ball in the 1960s? The guys who's absence from the NBA compromises the legitimacy of competition in Wilt's NBA? Without identifying these people, I have no basis for downgrading the 1960s NBA along 'open competition' lines. There seems to be an insinuation (not from you)that players that 'woulda' been great in Wilt's day-------didn't even play. I don't know how this can be proven.

    Now, as lacking as the 'athleticism' was in 1960 (relatively speaking)-------there were still superior athletes, like Wilt & Russell. They were great athletes DESPITE the variables in play that we believe kept the bar lower for 'athleticism' in that era. Imagine if THEY had more incentive to be better. To ME, it's relative. The best players played under whatever the conditions/ incentive was back then.

    I do believe that financial incetive was present in the 1980s. But I still think the league is more athletic now. How do we explain that? Improved diet and training techniques? Is that true?

  75. sean Says:

    Supposedly the average US salary in 1960 was $4,700 and the average NBA salary in 1957-58 was $12,000. Certainly NOT the disparity today (average US salary $81,000 VS average NBA salary $5.6 Mil).....

    If anyone has more figures/ better figures please share.

    Still the NBA gig for 1/2 a year 53-54 years ago was pretty good pay back then. Stands to reason that IF you could play well enough to improve the mean level of play in the NBA, you'd have been playing.


  76. Keith Ellis Says:

    Sean's Qs & mention of Bob Kurland are pertinent -- thanks! The burden of proof is on our friend Huevon to name a member or three of the "more important culture" or from Latin America such as JJ Barea who weren't permitted to play in the NBA during Dipper's day.

    Why wait? Here's some help -- Connie Hawkins and Roger Brown were blackballed by the NBA. Rajah played AAU ball in Dayton before becoming the Original Pacer & starring for the winningest club of the Seventies. Hawkins played in Abe Saperstein's ABL before becoming a Globie & later an ABA star until the NBA finally lost its lawsuit and was forced to lift its ban on both The Hawk & Rajah (IIRC Doug Moe, too). Does the blackballing of Hawkins & Brown from the Sixties NBA taint the achievements of Wilt, Oscar, Russ, etc? The season Chamberlain averaged 50 ppg The Hawk MVPd in the ABL as a 19-year-old.

    Another player oft-said to've not received a fair shake in the NBA was Cleo Hill of the Hawks. If we look at Cleo's NBA stats I'm not so convinced he shoulda been a top NBA player, altho he indeed starred in the Eastern League. And the same game can be played w/ Rick Mount, whom Slick Leonard was said not to've given an honest chance -- yet Mount came from the "less important culture," in Huevon's eyes.

    @ #72 (AYC) -- there's little if any reason to believe hoops was less popular 50 years ago than it is today. As noted previously, more than twice as many schoolboys played varsity bkb in Indiana during the Big O's time at Attucks than do in 2011. Examined more closely, owing to class bkb only one-eighth as many Hoosier teams/schools/boys competed in 2011 for the big-prize state championship as did in 1955. Going a bit further back, in the 1920s some thirty states used to send their champs and runnerups (albeit white-only) to the National High School Championship tourney in Chicago. That kind of cohesiveness and organizational spirit doesn't exist anymore. FWIW Indiana refused to send its champions to the Nationals (run by Amos Alonzo Stagg) because of the race issue; in Indiana integrated teams were titlists.

    Any consideration of "integration" in Fifties/Sixties pro bkb vs today's NBA must take into account a number of factors:

    1) Pro bkb featured mixed-race games long before the NBA integrated in 1950. Jackie Robinson, for example, played on an integrated pro bkb team (affiliated w/ Mikan's Chicago Gears) before he became a Dodger.

    2) The ABL and ABA were more open, partly out of necessity, to employing blackballed players whether they were white like Spivey or black like The Hawk.

    3) The AAU was a viable alternative for many players like Kurland.

    4) US-born white players like Mikan or LeRoy Edwards hardly appeared to be of a "less important culture," bkb-wise, than the black players they competed against head-to-head in the World's Pro Tourney and other pre-NBA settings.

    5) Once the integrated NBA finally got underway (more NBL and ABA clubs are in the league than original NBA franchises remain nowadays) US-born white players like Sharman, Cousy, Arizin, Pettit, West, & Lucas hardly showed themselves to be lesser than their US-born black teammates and rivals. This rough parity continued into the latter Eighties, after which the US talent pool, for whites and undoubtedly black cagers as well, showed serious signs of shrinking. Jack Sikmas and Bill Laimbeers were supplanted by Rik Smitses and Vlade Divacs, to the detriment of Defense. Pros born in the USA are arguably less-integrated now than they were in Russ/Wilt/Kareem's Sixties thru Eighties.

    6) Is it mere coincidence that the white/black proportion of prominent imported players is quite different than that of homegrown pros? While we've seen a couple of top African Centers in Olajuwon and Mutombo, why hasn't a black quarterback (aka point guard) from Africa ever made the spotlight? (Hint: Tony Parker isn't from Africa.)

  77. Ken Says:

    Just curious guys, have any of you played any kind of organized ball of any kind? Baseball, basketball, etc.? It's not a trick question.

  78. BSK Says:


    What do you consider "organized"? I played high school ball and still get out in organized rec leagues and stuff. But I was never paid for my "services".

  79. Keith Ellis Says:

    Ken's question is sound. The state high-school organizations of yesteryear (I go back to the latter Seventies, born four months ahead of Michael Jordan) aren't the cohesive "feeder systems" they once were, nor obviously is the top-heavy NCAA.

    If, OTOH, Ken is more interested in playing *prowess* instead of the organizational aspect, I'll gladly team up w/ Wilt Chamberlain & take on Ken/LeBron in a two-on-two anyday! Or even mano-a-mano -- in our youth One-on-One ball was far more popular than the current age, owing to the halftime contests we watched each Sunday on ABC's Game of the Week.

  80. Ken Says:

    That's good BSK, and I wouldn't want LeBron Keith, I'd take Magic. I once heard that Wilt said if he was choosing a team from the 50 greatest list he'd start with Magic and that it wouldn't matter after that.
    Part of my question was pointed towards your response in #79 and part had to do with being able to understand and appreciate skill sets and what goes into getting them. and which ones you don't ever "get" you either have or don't. I'll elaborate later when I have more time, money calls right now.

  81. Ken Says:

    P.S. I can't tell you how glad I am to finally find someone else who remembers those one on one games. Do you remember who ended up winning it all?

  82. sean Says:

    @ #77...

    I led a high school county champion in rebounding and blocked shots while averaging a modest 10 ppg. I was in a car accident my Sophomore year, the affects from which took some time to manifest themselves. Ultimately, I developed paralysis from a degenerative disk condition and had surgery. Over time, prior to the surgery, my lower extremity explosiveness and balance was slowly compromised to the point where playing ball at a high level was done. I didn't even know what was happening to me---it was the 80s and I didn't need basketball as I got a scholarship for other things, but I played summer league ball and intramural basketball in college----which culminated in a state-wide intermural collegiate tournament sponsored by Budweiser. My physical skills had waned but I still played and then ultimately things took a sharp downturn and I was diagnosed and had anterior spinal fusion. I'm just now getting back into playing a little. Showing my daughters the game has trumped my anguish over being such a shell athleticly of my former self. Kids in your life are great that way.

    Some of the most competitive 'organized' ball I ever played was in a Wiffle Ball league! If I tried to throw a curve now, my elbow would probably explode. Lol.

  83. BSK Says:

    Part of the problem with "skill sets" is that there is a certain amount of relativity to them. Growing up, I was generally on the shorter side, so I usually played the 1 or the 2. I wasn't necessarily good at either position (to this day I can only dribble right and my shooting is streaky and spotty at best). I could pass well and since I was too small/weak to be at all effective down low, I basically floated outside, tried to make good passes, and played hard D. Eventually, heights all sort of averaged out; 90% of the people I played with/against were 3" on either side of me. I still played as an outsider, because that is what I always played, until I started to learn to bang. I put on a bit of weight and suddenly was an interior player. Now, I didn't necessarily have the skill set for down there (I have maybe 2 post moves), but I had the strength and athleticism to board and play D against much larger players. However, I'm not really that much different now than I was then. But the game changed around me and I made a few adaptations, most of them mental.

    Basically, this is a really bad way of saying that context is important. Go watch a high school game. Often times, the tallest guy on the court is around 6'2" to 6'4" and plays a straight up post game, often very well. However, if these guys were in the NBA, they'd likely be expected to play the 1 or the 2 and simply wouldn't have the athleticism, speed, handle, etc. to be effective. We view Steve Nash as a little guy, but he could probably dominate down low in most any pickup game because he'd be taller and jump higher than most guys on the court.

    I'm articulating this very poorly, but hopefully my point is made...

  84. Kyle Says:

    Pistol Pete was taking so many shots from much deeper than he had to, his field goal percentage obviously suffered. They have his shot charts, and if college had had the 3 point line, he'd have scored more than 50 ppg. In the NBA, at least 6 of his makes were from the instilled 3 point distance. So he'd have been a 30 ppg guy... the problem with Maravich was while being one of the greatest shooters/scorers ever, he also was brilliant when it came to passing. Being amazing at both of these things led to many problems, and he had trouble figuring out how to mesh both parts of his game. He also played for a team that had more than a few starting players(due to jealousy over money and other things)keep the ball out of his hands.

    Many believe that had he been drafted by Boston, he'd have become a very different player. Becoming a smarter player, winning a few rings, etc... but we'll never know.

  85. sean Says:

    @ #83... 'I'm articulating this very poorly, but hopefully my point is made...'

    No, no... you're coming through clearly. I played for a Parochial B school-----small. I was probably 6'3" as a Jr. in high school and was MADE to play the post because that's where they needed me. I could shoot-------but we didn't have the 3 point line in high school when I played. (Yeah, I'm old). I would have LIVED beyond that puny arc if they let me. I had a good post game and the coaches would have no where to put the 5'9" guys if I played the 2 anyway.
    I eventually topped out at 6'4 3/4" (I would have been listed at 6'6" in the NBA, Lol)and bulked up to 215-220 and I was just going to be made to play on the block, though they did have me play a high post when we went 'big' because I could shoot and pass from there------but that's about as far away from the basket as they wanted me. With no 3 pointer, it made sense. After the 3 pointer was introduced to high school, I imagine things got more complicated for you younger guys-----e.g., if you're tall AND have a good stroke from distance, where to play you (though the classic positions seemed to become less distinct in high school after that).

  86. sean Says:

    @ # 84...

    I recall a 'study' that Dale Brown supposedly did. I think that he determined that on distance ALONE of Pete's FGA, that he would have averaged 57 ppg.

    The obvious flaw is that if there was a 3 point shot-----teams would have GUARDED him out there and denied the attempts more zealously. As it was, teams were more than content to let him attempt 25 foot 2-pointers.

  87. Keith Ellis Says:

    Well, fellas, let's not lay the Pistol Legend on too thick. Tiny Archibald, West, & Oscar never had difficulty employing their considerable playmaking and point-making skills in the same game. Nor did Walt Frazier, when it mattered.

    Rick Mount's made the same Pistolean plea -- that he'd've averaged 45+ ppg w/ the benefit of a 3-pt-arc at Purdue. Problem is, Rick played w/ a 3-pt-arc for the Pacers & set nobody on fire.

    It's fair for Nowitzki to go down as a greater long-distance shooter than the other 7-footers, including Sikma. The respective ranges of LeBron or Michael Jordan, however, were hardly superior to their similar-sized historical rivals McGinnis & Erving when those guys played under modern rules in the ABA. And range isn't so crucial when you're battling under the boards for Off Rebs a la Erving, who even topped A-Train in that category when they were rookies.

    @ Ken (#81) -- Bob Lanier beat Jo Jo White for the first NBA One-On-One championship. Lanier also MVPd in the ABA/NBA AllStar Game that spring, & spent the summer taking pivot lessons from Bill Russell. Things looked mighty rosy for Bob-A-Dob at the time, & he started out the next fall like gangbusters, grabbing something like 35 Rebbies in a game early on to knock Hap Hairston from the season-high perch. Chamberlain, we see, shared rebounds w/ Happy start the peerless Laker fastbreak.

    Geoff Petrie beat hot-shooting Barry Clemens to win the '73 One-On-One tourney.

  88. Ken Says:

    Did they hold those one on one games for more than one year? because I remember Kareem beating Doc J. in one and I seem to remember it was for all the marbles that year. It shows that the old saying is true "a good big man can beat a good little man every time".

  89. huevonkiller Says:

    #80 Ken Chris Paul is a better organizer if you want a great passer. His prime is better than Magic's, and James is better than both.


    Yes Sean, I would downgrade every era that isn't as athletic as this one including the 80's.

    The late 80's were still a very different league pace-wise. The 2007 Suns would be almost last in pace back in 1988. I always find it inappropriate how people use volume, raw stats from back then.

  90. sean Says:

    Yes Sean, I would downgrade every era that isn't as athletic as this one including the 80's.


    Heuvon, while I WOULDN'T choose to do that------I respect your consistency.

  91. huevonkiller Says:

    I respect your views as well, I think you bring up interesting stuff.

  92. Keith Ellis Says:

    @ Ken (88) -- the game you're thinking of pitted Dr J vs Jabbar in a pay-per-view after both were retired. The NBA's one-on-one contests were shown at halftimes of the Games of the Week in the '72 & '73 seasons.

    Huevon's "consistency" (aka Panglossianism, the belief that we live in the best of all possible worlds) must explain the "atheticism" of the Baby Jordans of whom it was believed that merely being a jumping-jack indicated pro bkb prowess. Rather, good bkb-playing has always been a function of intelligence & hard work. The best players -- Mikan, Russ, Wilt, Jabbar, Julius, Bird, Magic, Jordan, now flamenco-tossing Nowitzki vs the Heat -- have always been the smartest instead of the "most athletic."

  93. Ken Says:

    Huevonkiller this is what makes it so much fun to debate. As someone who's played a lot of organized ball including city league back in the day when guys on the local NBA team played with us,( no stars) I can tell you that Magic is the best all around player I have ever seen.

  94. DJ Says:

    #92: "The best players -- Mikan, Russ, Wilt, Jabbar, Julius, Bird, Magic, Jordan, now flamenco-tossing Nowitzki vs the Heat -- have always been the smartest instead of the "most athletic.""

    Are you trying to say that Dr. J., and Air Jordan weren't known for their incredible athleticism?

  95. huevonkiller Says:


    I was a good athlete in high school although I didn't play basketball. Just did some track and other stuff (long story). I've always been into sports.

    I have nothing for or against Chris Paul, I just try to look at things objectively based on nuanced stats, and what I know about pace, eras, etc. For the purposes of this discussion, I even shaved off some defensive win shares since steals/blocks are a little misleading sometimes.

    He's still superior to Magic offensively, about even defensively. I don't think his supporting cast has been nearly as good and he plays at a slug's pace so his numbers are very underrated.

    I think it is important to get his message out there, he's a great player that people don't talk about nearly enough. He's got significant knee issues so he's not the same player anymore. But if he sticks around long enough he may still have a Magic-like career. He had 9.5 offensive win shares this season.

  96. Ken Says:

    well, huevonkiller, like my father used to say "opinions are like ________ everyone's got one and they all stink." Except mine, of course. My advice? don't just go by stats.

  97. sean Says:

    @ #92...

    Keith, I really enjoy your thoughful posts. Keep them coming. When I look at players, I take note of their ABILITIES--which I use to define their physical gifts that would serve them in almost any physical task (speed, agility, leaping ability, quickness, strength, etc.) and their SKILLS--which I use to define their basketball specific abilities (fundamentals like shooting, dribbling, rebounding, passing, etc.)...

    I know that it is the tendency/ temptation for many to look at a team's athleticism---it's 'ABILITIES'---and say that they are 'going to run the other team out of the gym'... but I always felt like (provided you had the requisite amount of both) that it was more important to be loaded in the SKILL column. I.e., a player with a 47 inch vertical COULD average 10 rebounds per game for a career--------but a player with a 32 inch vertical who knows were to go for the carom and knows how and who to box out WILL average 10 rebounds per game for a career.

  98. Keith Ellis Says:

    Why, thank you, Sean.

    @ DJ (94) -- No, I'm not alleging that Dr J & MJ didn't enjoy the tip-top of God-given athletic ability. Nobody except The Hawk had hands like Erving, & it's the mitts of Jordan that Phil Jackson says set him apart from Kobe (& DT, too). Big Dipper's hands & jumping ability, of course, rivalled Erving's & Hawkins's plus he was a 7-footer. Still & all it was their smarts that put these guys on top (Hawkins won a world's championship & a couple of MVPs, lest we forget).

    Yet altho Chamberlain's athleticism exceeded Russell's Bill was more than a match for Wilt in the psychology dep't. Chamberlain himself admitted that Russ during their careers pretended to be his friend & have him over for dinners (Thanksgiving, etc) to soften him up whenever the big Philly/Boston games rolled around. Once their playing careers were over, Russell of course showed his true colors & became Chamberlain's enemy for the next 25 years -- before showing up at Wilt's memorial service to pretend he'd been "unspeakably injured" by Dipper's demise.

    Something tells me Dirk Nowitzki doesn't have to worry about those kinds of head games, not even when Dallas plays against a Steve Nash-led ballclub!

  99. sean Says:

    Nobody except The Hawk had hands like Erving, & it's the mitts of Jordan that Phil Jackson says set him apart from Kobe (& DT, too). (Sez Keith)>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Anyone get a look at the hands on that 6'7" kid from San Diego State? He looked like an alien from Close Encounters or one of those 'reacher creature' costumes. I think he could palm a hoppity-hop.

  100. Bill Says:

    The best players -- Mikan, Russ, Wilt, Jabbar, Julius, Bird, Magic, Jordan, now flamenco-tossing Nowitzki vs the Heat -- have always been the smartest instead of the "most athletic."

    Mikan was an athletic freak for his era -- a tall, powerful, coordinated big man playing amongst a sea of relative midgets. Prior to Mikan, it was assumed big men were functionally useless for anything other than the tip and some rebounding. The NCAA outlawed goaltending and doubled the width of the lane to give other players a chance against Mikan -- he was the original physical freak.

    Wilt was Mikan 20 years later. He ran a 10.9/100 at 7'1" and 250 lb., and won conference titles in high-jump. The NBA changed it's free throw, inbounding, and lane rules to keep him in check. Wilt was strong, fast, coordinated, had good court vision -- and oh yeah, was the largest man in the NBA.

    The NCAA banned dunking because of Kareem.

    Julius could dunk from the free-throw line. You're really going to argue he wasn't athletic? His hair was athletic!

    Magic was a 6'9" PG who could ably (and did) play four positions. Opposing PGs couldn't handle him off a post-up, and he ran the break with aplomb.

    Jordan was Julius Irving as a sociopath. He was also huge for his era of shooting guards -- a prototype for what would come later.

    Nowitzki is gawky in appearance, but even before his one-leg fadeaway he was a fast, very good ball-handling PF with nearly unlimited range. He clinched two games in the finals by blowing past Chris Bosh (who, if he weren't black and American, would be a pinnacle example of a Euro Center) and Udonis Haslem for layups.

    Bird was more skill than athleticism, but even Bird was a coordinated, 6'9" small forward.

    The NBA has many examples of guys who had the smarts for the game, but not the talent (see future Coaches), just like it has examples of athletic freaks who didn't know the first thing about how the game was played.

    Huevon's larger point is that players, over time, have become more athletic. Even a player as overwhelmingly dominant as Mikan would have struggled from the late 1960s on, because in his era, guys like Russell or Wilt or Ewing or Olajuwon or Shaq just didn't exist. Mikan's combo of size and athleticism wasn't as special. To put it in comparison, Nowitzki is taller, faster, better passing, and has better range than Mikan, and he plays at a smaller position than Mikan did!

  101. Bill Says:

    Once their playing careers were over, Russell of course showed his true colors & became Chamberlain's enemy for the next 25 years -- before showing up at Wilt's memorial service to pretend he'd been "unspeakably injured" by Dipper's demise.

    That's a remarkably distorted view of their history.

    Incidentally, Chamberlain averaged 28.7 points and 28.7 rebounds a game against Russell -- supposedly the greatest defensive center ever. He put up 50 seven times. Russell's totals against Wilt were 14.5 points and 23.7 rebounds per game. If that's taking it easy, I'd hate to see what an angry Chamberlain would have done.

    They did not play in a vacuum. Russell once played on a team with seven future Hall of Famers, not including himself. Chamberlain played with seven other Hall of Famers, ever.

  102. huevonkiller Says:


    Damn Bill, that's pretty good.

  103. huevonkiller Says:

    #100 Bill you definitely got my grand scheme picture, the most important attribute for a superstar is athleticism.

    Superstars surrounded by talented teammates who can play defense in the playoffs, win titles. The Mavs haven't always done that so they struggled for a while before winning, same thing with other under-performing franchises.

  104. Yariv Says:

    Bill, I think we should take HoFer status of players from the 60s Celtics with a grain of salt. The time it took for most of the HoFer that played with Russell to reach the hall suggest they weren't really HoF-level players (In my eyes, if a player waits more than 15 years to get in, it's suspicious. In the case of the Celtics it was up to 40 years).

    This is not to say that Russell wasn't in more talented teams, I don't know how to estimate that. However, it seems that at the time Wilt was not considered a superior player, despite consistently putting up better statistics. Basketball is a team sport, after all, and Russell might have had bigger impact on the game with worse statistics (especially with the limited statistics of the time).

  105. Bill Says:


    I didn't quite say that. Bird was a superstar. And while his athleticism is putdown because he was melanin-deficient, his success was far more predicated on skill than on athleticism. However, it didn't hurt that he was tall enough so as to be unblockable by most defensive players who guarded him, and faster than those of sufficient height. However, he was in no way an athletic freak like, say, a Dennis Rodman. Dirk, in your example, is no more athletic than he was in 2006. He's learned a bunch more skills, though.

    There's a lot of winner-sauce in those Celtics HOF totals. That said, it's almost indisputable that Russell spent the bulk of his career on the most talented team, relative to its era, that professional basketball has ever seen. Russell could have been Generic Center #1, and those Celtics still would have been more talented than the Lakers and still would have won 6-7 titles. And remember that Wilt's press is based on the opinions of bitter, fat old white men discussing the career of an outspoken, egotistical, freakishly athletic black man who was tired of being seen as a Titan instead of a human. Wilt could be Russell-level prickly, without the buffer of 10 rings and a team full of even worse assholes. Wilt, fittingly enough, stood alone whereas Russell, once again, got the benefit of the Celtics.

  106. sean Says:

    Heuvon says: the most important attribute for a superstar is athleticism.

    That DEPENDS, IMO. You gotta have both skills and athleticism... and lesser you have of one------the more you're gonna need of the other. TO BE A SUPERSTAR. Even to be a contributor, too, I guess. You can be a shooter or a ball handler without much athleticism (relatively speaking, of course-----because you need SOME requisite level of skill and athleticism to be in the NBA) and you can be an energetic freak who helps on defense and gets loose balls, etc., without much skill and still contribute.

  107. sean Says:

    @ # 104...

    Yes, I appreciate the skepticism of some of the Celtics' HOF credentials/ merits. The Yankees have some of the same issues historically. There are Yankees in the Baseball HOF whose inclusion is dubious at best. Wearing the same laundry as the stars during a dynastic run has it's benefits----if not legitimacy.

    Whether Wilt was considered a superior player to Russell back then, I don't know. Wilt DID win All-NBA 1st Team honors over Russell in years when Russell won the MVP, didn't he?... (I apologize if I have that wrong).

    I don't think many people question Wilt's talent or ability-----hell, as athletic as Russell was, Wilt was maybe more athletic? I don't know. But there's this creeping feeling in me that while Russell seemed to play a role that maximized the team's overall product-----Wilt may did not. Hard to prove. But I am just uncomfortable with Wilt EVER being on a team last in scoring defense while finishing 31-49. I don't want to beat a dead horse-----I've brought this up before, so I apologize. I don't expect Wilt to win all the championships that Russell did. I have no problem looking at the rosters and deeming that Russell had the better support most years, year in and year out. But Wilt CANNOT be on a team dead last in scoring defense in the early 1960s-------and have me believe that he was extending himself in a manner that was MOST beneficial to the TEAM/ final product. Chamberlain eventually blended a little more offensively and specialized in defense more---and that was on his better teams. I know that the argument is that he couls AFFORD to blend more offensively, but it's still a bit of a chicken and egg thing to me. We know that Wilt COULD play a style like Russell's with success... but I doubt Russell could play it like Wilt and be a successful as Wilt doing it that way. Russell scored over 20 ppg in college. Wilt over 26 ppg (?). Maybe Russ could have kept it a little closer socring average-wise in the NBA if that was the goal. Russell is both blessed to have a lesser scoring role on those championship teams------and cursed. But I think he'll take what history dealt him. I find the whole topic fascinating.

  108. Ken Says:

    Well, I have to make allowances since you guys don't seem to have seen Wilt, so let me tell you this. Wilt out performed Russell head to head almost EVERY time they met. When you're scoring 28, 30 points and getting 25 30 rebounds a game you are doing your job for the team all right. If Wilt was the center for the Celtics instead of Russel, and I'm not taking anything away from Big Bill, they would have won the title every year instead of almost every year. He was the most dominating player ever. And as I've said before, Magic was the greatest all around player ever.

  109. Bill Says:

    but I doubt Russell could play it like Wilt and be a successful as Wilt doing it that way. Russell scored over 20 ppg in college. Wilt over 26 ppg (?).

    Against Wilt, teams always at least doubled him and often triple-teamed him, and then took the air out of the ball. (Pre-shot clock) Wilt was averaging 26 PPG in 50-60 point games. Russell was averaging 20 in 70-pt games.

  110. Bill Says:

    @ 107

    Russell's Celtics were bad defensive teams in his first few years -- 6th out of 8 in '58-'59. Those Celtics teams were actually two different teams. The early Celtics were like the Suns -- great offense and weak defense, whereas the later Celtics were more like mid-run San Antonio -- middling offense and great defense. It appears their pace slowed dramatically during the 1960s, which played into Russell's defensive prowess perception. That 31-49 team of Wilt's was last in defense, but 4th in offense, and lead the league in made FGs. They just couldn't shoot (other than Wilt), couldn't rebound (other than Wilt), and never got the foul line (other than Wilt). The next year's team slowed things down a bunch (#1 defense), and got a lot better at rebounding and going to the foul line. It has Nate Thurmond as a rookie, but he was fairly awful that season.

  111. Keith Ellis Says:

    Too much to reply to point-by-point, but here's a stab:

    @ Bill (#100) -- You aren't reading what I'm writing! I clearly stated that Erving, The Hawk, & Wilt were incredibly athletically gifted, & that even Michael Jordan is acknowledged (by none other than Jax) to have an edge over Kobe Bryant in the mitts dep't. That said, however, I maintain that smarts beats jumping-jack-ism. Mikan commissioned an entire pro bkb league; only DDeBusschere (another heady sort) can make a similar claim amongst hoopsters. Big George didn't succeed just because he was as tall as Arnie Risen or Neil Johnston -- & lest we get sucked into Huevon's memory hole, Mikan outplayed the best White AND Black Centers of his day. The problem our youths have nowadays is the NBA teaches pro bkb didn't play mixed-race games until 1950, which is an abominable fib.

    @ Bill (#101) -- It's not in the least "distorted" to state that Russ buttered up Wilt during dinners before (& of course after) game days & that Chamberlain himself acknowledged that such over-friendliness might've caused him to subconsciously hold himself back to, say, 38 ppg in their EC Finals versus the 50 ppg he'd scored in the reg-season. Remember, Philly lost Game Seven by two points. Russ better than anyone understood that hoops is a game in which both teams are *supposed* to score; he just wanted Boston to score one more bucket than the opponent (as he pointed out as recently as 2000, when discussing how he'd beat Shaq).

    Nor is it distorted to point out how Russell shamefully appeared at Chamberlain's memorial service & pretended the two Goliaths had been "lifelong best friends." They didn't speak to each other for 25 years, from 1969 thru the mid-Nineties! Russ rapped Wilt mercilessly during that time as a "loser" & a "quitter."

    @ Sean (#107) -- While Wilt had his proponents (I count myself as one) there can be no doubt Russell was the consensus Greatest Player of All Time thru 1981, when the NBA officially dubbed him thusly -- & no other pro has come along in the past thirty years to contradict that claim. Ironically, Chamberlain's Sixer squad was the consensus Greatest Team Ever, also officially named by the league office in 1981. So Russ is the individual GOAT, while Wilt's TEAM is the GOAT.

    Even had he stood eight feet tall (as Tiny Richter did), Bill Russell could've never hoped to score a la Wilt. He had no fadeaway jumper as Wilt did. Look back at those old early-Sixties videos you mentioned earlier. Chamberlain's jumper was as devastating as Jabbar's skyhook -- plus Wilt crashed the Off glass in a far more effective manner than Kareem ever could. Mathematically, Wilt = Kareem + Moses.

    Oh, & back to Bill (#100) -- Michael Jordan fit into George Gervin's prototypical Forward-swung-down-to-off-guard mold. His Airness didn't "create" anything that the ABA vets hadn't already invented -- he just cashed in. Gervin, of course, swung down fulltime after Jimmy Silas blew out his knee. MJ was IceMan's stylistic successor, w/out as many Blocked Shots & 100/100 Club memberships & sporting a lower FG%.

    Here's a comparison for Sixties Ken -- Mel Counts vs Dirk Nowitzki? Seven-footer Counts was deadly from 25 feet, too, but never had an ABA-sized arc to shoot from & resultingly was more aggressive on the boards than Dirk became.

  112. Keith Ellis Says:

    BTW, Bill's right re the '63 Warriors, altho they didn't have Nate Thurmond. The team fell apart from moving West w/out longtime steady-handed star Paul Arizin & HoF coach Frank McGuire. They also lost Tom Gola to homesickness; in those days the West Coast was a longer ways from the East than we consider today. Wilt was in transition from being the 50-ppg monstrosity that McGuire had shrewdly known how to exploit effectively. He purposely dropped his scoring to 45 ppg as the season wore on, & the next year of course San Francisco switched fully into a down-tempo attack & made the NBA Finals.

    Huevonkiller will appreciate that the slower "pace" of the '64 Warriors resulted in Bill Russell's winning his sole few Rebounding leaderships while Wilt was in the NBA.

    It's interesting to see Sean lambaste Chamberlain's 31-49 Warriors when Michael Jordan put up FIVE losing seasons in his 14 years as a pro -- more losing seasons than any other Top Twelve All-Time ABA/NBA vet ever suffered.

  113. Mike Says:

    +1 to AYC, Huevonkiller, and Bill.

    -1 to Keith Ellis.

    Players now are better than they were before. More athletic, better shooters, better defenders. This is 100% fact. Coaching is much better.

    Chamberlain > Russell, check the stats again Keith.

    End of discussion.

  114. Keith Ellis Says:

    Mike (113), I don't doubt that you *believe* Wilt was a better player than Russell -- & I myself always adjudged Chamberlain to be superior all-around -- but the official NBA record shows Chamberlain's TEAM as the tops & Russell as the individual GOAT. The only ABA vet, to be sure, to officially crack the Top Ten (or maybe it was Eleven?) was Julius Erving.

    The faith that pros in the 2000s are surer shooters than they were in bygone days is demonstrably false -- just check the B-R recordbook. HR-hitting has improved due to the current heave-ho mindset that didn't set in until the early Nineties (especially post-shortened-arc), & today's 3-pt-FGAs are attempted by standaround shooters. That said, overall FG% as well as FT% was no lower when Wilt won his last title (.455 and .748) versus when Michael Jordan won his (.450 and .737). Sureness of shot peaked in the thick-talent early-to-mid-Eighties, shortly after the ABA/NBA Merger.

    Coaching can hardly be labelled "better" when waterboys like Erik Spoelstra & Lawrence Frank are handed teams' reins & succeed. For years now the best bkb coaches have been found in the college ranks, as Coach K's leadership of once-foundering Team America in the recent Olympics & World's proved.

    Imported players are more likely to have played other sports in the off-season, but US-origin pros these days rarely are three-sport athletes like those born in the 40s-50s-60s were. Chamberlain starred in not only bkb, but also volleyball & track. He played point guard for the GlobeTrotters. You don't have 7-footers w/ those kinds of skills anymore (see slothful Shaq who refused to play the Russell role a la Laker Wilt). Nor in olden times did we see so many sub-six-footers succeeding as we do in today's deadball era (JJ Barea is the New Billy Keller).

  115. huevonkiller Says:


    You did state that though, whether you want to recognize it or not.

    Bill name the top 30 players in the history of the league, they're probably but not always, much more athletic than second-tier stars.

    I don't think Dirk learned much at all either, his team was much deeper and relied less on his talents all season. That's usually the case with championship winning teams.

  116. sean Says:

    @ # 108...

    Ken, I have to cop to that. I am too young to have appreciated seeing Chamberlain or Russell play in the 1960s. I certainly could not draw valid conclusions from any opportunity to see them play back then. My participation in any discussion including them is more one of trying to make pieces of the puzzle fit for me--------and I DO rely to some degree on the testimonies of others here, so thank you for your insight.

    Ken, if you don't mind----how old are you and what are your personal experiences with seeing Chamberlain & Russell play?


  117. sean Says:

    Keith sez: It's interesting to see Sean lambaste Chamberlain's 31-49 Warriors when Michael Jordan put up FIVE losing seasons in his 14 years as a pro -- more losing seasons than any other Top Twelve All-Time ABA/NBA vet ever suffered.>>>>>>>>>>

    Not TRYING to 'lambaste' Chamberlain. I am just 'thinking aloud' trying to make the pieces to the Chamberlain story fit... That Warriors team-----even with the distractions-----seems to be an example of an uber-talented player who did NOT deploy himself in the manner that would BEST serve the TEAM (e.g., the ridiculous waste of his defensive impact).

    The next year, the Warriors, with the SAME missing players (albeit they added rookie Thurmond) and a new coach that stressed defense who (as I read it) had backbone enough to handle Chamberlain -------went to the NBA Finals.

  118. Keith Ellis Says:

    Sean's point is sound. We might compare the '63 Warriors to the numerous Michael Jordan-led clubs that failed to reach .500 -- largely because Mike refused to share the ball & there was nobody like Scottie Pippen in Chicago or Washington to do the heavy lifting of floor leadership & Rebounding. Truth be told, only a few rare players've been 'like' Scottie Pippen -- John Havlicek, Joe Caldwell, young Grant Hill (before he proclaimed himself the New Bernard King at the end of his Piston years). That's about it.

    Alex Hannum was a great coach (first to win titles in both leagues) who said he knew how to "handle" Chamberlain, & did it despite Wilt hating the term. Chamberlain once said he believed animals, not people, were to be "handled." Wilt & Nate Thurmond are the answer to the trivia question: Who were the first Twin Towers? Their stylistic successors in a sense were Wilt/Luke Jackson before Baltimore paired the mini-Towers of Big E & Unseld as co-Centers; both led the bigs in Rebounding. Then it wasn't seen again until Olajuwon & Sampson did what Kentucky had been trying in the NCAA w/ Bowie & Turpin. Ewing & Cartwright followed, & the whole experiment finally reached fruition when Robinson bowed to Duncan's leadership.

  119. Bill Says:

    "Michael Jordan fit into George Gervin's prototypical Forward-swung-down-to-off-guard mold. His Airness didn't "create" anything that the ABA vets hadn't already invented -- he just cashed in."

    The Gervin clone was more like Adrian Dantley, who had Gervin's shooting prowess, but also his indifferent defense. MJ was an ABA player who acknowledged there was time spent doing something other than playing offense.

    "Russ better than anyone understood that hoops is a game in which both teams are *supposed* to score; he just wanted Boston to score one more bucket than the opponent (as he pointed out as recently as 2000, when discussing how he'd beat Shaq)."

    That's a wonderful observation. I suspect having more points at the end of the game than your opponent has a 1.000 correlation to wins. It's also about as useful a statement as saying the secret to flying is to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

    As to the NBA's official statements, by 1865, the Supreme Court's official stance was that blacks weren't people (Dred Scott). In 1865, that official ruling changed. Regardless, it's just an appeal to authority. It's an invalid argument.

    Isiah Thomas also commissioned a pro league. Not well, but he did.

    As to athleticism, you asserted: "Still & all it was their smarts that put these guys on top (Hawkins won a world's championship & a couple of MVPs, lest we forget)."
    It wasn't smarts that put them on top, it was smarts combined with dedication and a baseline of world-class athleticism. Jason Kidd is smart as hell, and has gotten fairly talented. He's also a shell of his former self because he's got about zero athleticism left. Bob Knight was skilled and smart, but about as athletic as a brick -- that's why he's a coach.

  120. Robert Roth Says:

    Not mentioned about Bill Russell is that he was a wonderful outlet passer after a rebound. Even more impressive he often guided a blocked shot to a teammate to start a fastbreeak.

  121. Neil Paine Says:

    #120 - And yet the Russell Celtics were consistently a mediocre-to-bad offensive team:

  122. Neil Paine Says:

    #121 - In fact, here are Russell's career stats:

    Year Age Team G MP ORtg %Pos %Fga tmORtg tmDRtg lgRtg tmOR>avg tmDR>avg
    1957 22 BOS 48 1695 89.7 19.8 18.1% 89.2 84.7 89.0 0.3 4.3
    1958 23 BOS 69 2640 93.4 19.3 17.4% 88.9 84.5 88.6 0.4 4.1
    1959 24 BOS 70 2979 99.0 16.2 14.3% 90.8 85.7 90.1 0.7 4.4
    1960 25 BOS 74 3146 100.0 16.7 15.2% 92.5 86.3 91.0 1.4 4.8
    1961 26 BOS 78 3458 94.1 16.1 14.8% 89.7 85.5 91.8 -2.1 6.4
    1962 27 BOS 76 3433 98.8 17.3 15.4% 93.9 86.7 93.5 0.3 6.8
    1963 28 BOS 78 3500 95.9 17.0 14.8% 93.9 88.2 95.6 -1.8 7.4
    1964 29 BOS 78 3482 96.2 16.2 13.6% 91.1 84.7 94.0 -2.9 9.3
    1965 30 BOS 78 3466 97.6 15.7 12.7% 92.0 85.2 93.2 -1.1 8.0
    1966 31 BOS 78 3386 94.4 15.5 12.8% 93.0 89.0 94.6 -1.5 5.6
    1967 32 BOS 81 3297 101.0 16.4 12.4% 98.4 91.7 95.9 2.5 4.1
    1968 33 BOS 78 2953 95.0 16.9 13.7% 95.8 92.5 96.3 -0.5 3.9
    1969 34 BOS 77 3291 97.1 13.3 9.3% 95.3 90.5 96.0 -0.7 5.5

    Even on some pretty bad offensive teams, he was a virtual non-entity on offense. His usage wasn't quite as low as Rodman or Ben Wallace, but he had a career possession rate of 16.5% (average is 20%) on teams that averaged a -0.5 ORtg relative to league average.

  123. Robert Roth Says:

    It also meant that the other team didn't regain possession of ball after it was blocked.
    Because it wasn't knocked out of bounds.

  124. Keith Ellis Says:

    Well, Bill (#119), I'm not saying Isiah had lawyer-smarts like Mikan, altho both had a lot going for them upstairs, as did their collegial commissioner DeBusschere. Rather that bkb places a higher emphasis on effective split-second decisionmaking -- partly because the players don't really have positions -- than the other team sports do. Athleticism's of course part of the package, but brains're better than brawn when minimum requirements are met.

    Jabbar, Russ, & Wilt were widely-read authors to a degree few of the other sports' athletes attained -- & they may be the three greatest hoopsters of all time. Sure, they stood tip-tops in the athletic dep't, but also thought more brilliantly than their peers. Not to say Phil Jackson isn't in their league; Phil, Bill Bradley, Roger Brown et al are just additional examples of the intelligence that historically has characterized pro bkb. Tom McMillen, meet Tom Meschery! Drafting the highschoolers was an admission of the NBA's newer mentality making smarts subservient to mere speed & hops. That plus importing foreigners indicated the talent pool coming out of the colleges just wasn't as "schooled" as it used to be. But it's still the same game -- needful of a good gameplan & planner to win.

  125. Bill Says:

    "Drafting the highschoolers was an admission of the NBA's newer mentality making smarts subservient to mere speed & hops. That plus importing foreigners indicated the talent pool coming out of the colleges just wasn't as "schooled" as it used to be. But it's still the same game -- needful of a good gameplan & planner to win."

    I'm not sure this emotional appeal is at home at a statistics site.

    As to high schoolers -- Moses, Kobe, KG, LeBron, and Dwight Howard seemed to work out pretty well. That's 5 HoFers. Had it been legal, Wilt absolutely would have gone pro out of HS -- Auerbach tried to draft him out of HS, but got foiled when Wilt went to Kansas for two wasted years.

    Those euros who fill in for lesser college talents? Euros like Arvydas Sabonis, who was considered the best center alive in the 1980s -- the glory years for NBA centers? His best competition was Hakeem Olajuwon, born in Nigeria, Patrick Ewing, born in Jamaica, and Dikembe Mutombo, born in Congo. The best college big men in the post-merger era, Ewing and Duncan? Both foreign -- Jamaica and Virgin Islands. It's not that college kids got worse, it's that the rest of the world started to catch up. But don't feel too bad, even stellar foreign national teams look like mid-level NBA teams, roster-wise, and lose to hastily-assembled American teams playing under different rules on a different court.

  126. Keith Ellis Says:

    Labelling Sabonis the "best C of the Eighties" amounts to an emotional plea on a stats-site. US-born college kids most certainly worsed their play after the Eighties, Bill -- particularly the pale ones. There haven't been any Jack Sikmas or Bill Laimbeers coming out to battle Bob Parishes for a long time. You can contend, as does Huevonkiller, that the Sikmas & Laimbeers were of a "less important culture" & thus weren't "athletic" enough to play w/ the Parishes, altho they indeed sandwiched championship runs around the Celtics'. But most of us who recall the post-Merger years know the Laimbeers, Sikmas, Buses, Prices, Mullinses, Bill Waltons & Bobby Joneses have dropped off the face of the USA, replaced by mostly-Offensive-minded Nowitzkis, Gasols, Ginobilis & an occasional Kirilenko.

    Mind you, we're not "pining" for a Golden Age -- just pointing out a demographic shift. Like it or not, the NBA once had a feeder system for talent that increasingly opened its doors as the go-go post-shotclock Fifties evolved into the latter Eighties. Now it don't.

  127. Ken Says:

    Hey guys. I'll get back on topic on future post but I wanted to relay something to you. You all know about the "ELO" fan rating they have here? Well, I took what most people believe to be the best teams in history, namely the 72 Lakers, the 83 Sixers, the 86 Celtics, 87 Lakers and the 96 Bulls and added up the ratings on their starting 5 to see who comes out on top that way. A problem that I ran into is some players aren't rated, like neither center for the Bulls Longley or Wennington. But I used a little common sense and figured neither one was going to be anywhere near 1900. The best team ever , or at least starting 5, based on fan ratings was the 87 Lakers. That is if Toney, who also wasn't rated would score under 1955. Incidentaly, that same Laker team won the NBA.COM fantasy playoff series. Winning over the 86 Celtics in a vote of fans and sports reporters.
    The same Celtic team that came in second on my little scoring.

  128. sean Says:

    @ #127...

    Pretty cool, Ken.

  129. sean Says:

    Athleticism's of course part of the package, but brains're better than brawn when minimum requirements are met---Sez Keith>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    The 'minimum' requirements for BOTH the brawn AND brain portions, however, are PRETTY DARNED EXCLUSIVE. The brainy chick that outsmarts Foghorn Leghorn, no matter HOW 'smart'----------gets eaten alive by 'dumb' athletic freaks. Likewise, a stupid, unskilled dynamo gets schooled by the dorky fundamentals. You have to have LOTS of both. LOTS. LOTS. At some point, though, way high up there--------I'd take additional task-specific skill over athleticism.... probably in anything, actually.

  130. huevonkiller Says:

    Keith you can bring up exceptions to what I stated, that is fine. I never spoke in absolutes.

    Anyone, from any background, can play in the NBA and even become a superstar. This isn't anything personal. Win shares per 48 for example shows exactly who is the most important group of basketball players. The NBA is more diverse now and it is a superior league.

    There is indeed a "more important culture" and I did not just imagine the Civil Rights era in my mind, nor did I make up the demographics of the NBA. The league was more white in the 1960s.

    Shaq probably has the greatest stats ever for a Finals MVP and I'm not really seeing what skills he has aside from being an athletic freak with some post moves. He's a super over-weight and athletic center with a limited skill set. Steve Nash kills this guy in skillset it isn't close. Dirk is also more skilled with decent athleticism in his prime but he's not Prime Shaq either. Shaq dominated the league, athleticism is the only difference between the best and second best type of players usually. Some players squander their athletic ability, most capitalize on it because learning basketball skills is plausible, become athletic is impossible (unless you want to get banned from the NBA, or become a cyborg). Kobe's still my second favorite player ever I don't even like Shaq.

    The best team in the NBA doesn't need to have the best player in the NBA. But for those players that are the best, they are usually athletic specimens first (with some skills). Only athleticism matters if you want to be GOAT. That's because skills can be attained with enough practice, athleticism is God-given ( science-given in the future ;) ) and a far more useful ability to have from the onset.

  131. sean Says:

    The athleticism V skills discussion is an interesting one...

    The NBA is more athletic than it ever has been. So what separates the best from the rest in today's NBA? Is it athleticism ...or is it skill?

    The less special that the 'athleticism' factor becomes (because EVERYONE is athletic in the NBA)------doesn't having special skills mean that much more?

    What's in more abundance in today's NBA... special athleticism-------or special skills? I'm tempted to say athleticism----------thereby making 'skills' the difference maker. It's at least something to consider.

  132. Bill Says:

    But most of us who recall the post-Merger years know the Laimbeers, Sikmas, Buses, Prices, Mullinses, Bill Waltons & Bobby Joneses have dropped off the face of the USA, replaced by mostly-Offensive-minded Nowitzkis, Gasols, Ginobilis & an occasional Kirilenko.

    Poor Kevin Love and Chris Kaman. No one ever remembers them. Or even Andrew Bogut, who might as well be a token white American center -- he's got the right ancestry, if not the right birth hemisphere.

  133. Keith Ellis Says:

    Bill (#132) -- we'll "remember" Kevin Love or Chris Kaman (provided they ever play pro ball in the USA again) when & if either of them stars on a titlist, or at least a winning ballclub -- as the Laimbeers, Sikmas, Buses, Prices, Mullinses, Bill Waltons, & Bobby Joneses did. Or if they notch 30 ppg as Jerry West & Kiki Van de Weghe did. From the Sixties thru Eighties tons of US-born Caucasian ballplayers competed evenly against their US-born Afro-American brothers. That demographic's disappearance hardly speaks for the "diversity" Huevonkiller views at today's every turn. Fact is that both blacks & whites in the USA dropped off their bkb-playing, just as US-born blacks in greater proportions stopped practicing baseball StateSide -- & Latin American ballplayers black as well as pale picked up the slack.

    Hoops history, Huevon, tells us once upon a time Jews were believed to enjoy an innately superior "culture" that explained the success of so many Jewish pro bkb players. You're half-right: cultures successfully develop, but they can also decline. The culture of bkb in the USA, white as well as black, has been on the decline for decades. Simple case in point is that Indiana, the state that's provided more pros than any other state its size (7th overall), has fewer than half as many boys playing varsity hoops as did in the Hoosier state when Larry Bird was born (& Big O took the title).

    If we extend Huevon's assumption to Jackie Robinson, & diminish Jackie's ROY & MVP just because he played against white guys (who beat the black barnstormers no more convincingly than Mikan's Lakers & Cowens' Celtics beat all-black big fives), the absurdity of a "superior culture" is brought into proper focus.

  134. Fred Towes Says:

    @ #80 Actually, Ken, some time between 1988-1992, years before the last sanctioned 50-greatest all-time NBA players list, & during the halftime of a nationally televised (postseason -- Finals, I believe) match-up, either Pat O'Brien, Brent Musberger, or, if it was indeed the early-90's, Bob Costas, asked Wilt which contemporary player would he choose to start a championship-aspiring hoop team. Now I may be making up this prefacing part: but I believe that Bill Russell was part of this on-game site network interview as well, and one of the talking heads had posed of him the same question. Without pausing, *Russ* responded "Magic Johnson", & then added, while issuing that hoarse, wheezing gurgle of a legendary guffaw, that "it would not matter after that". If I'm not inventing that part, this was surely prior Fall '91. Could have been during the Bulls v. Lakers Finals on NBC -- or before, perhaps one of the Laker-Piston tilts.

    Either way, when subsequently asked, Wilt looked down toward the unseen ground, & the fore-arm thick gold herringbone draped at his neck twinkled against the camera lens; then after a 10-second pause that felt like the infinite, the Stilt looked up & smiled sideways at America & said "You know I'd have to go with . . . John Stockton".

    What followed was among the most uncomfortable 5-10 minutes of actual TV time
    I have ever witnessed, as the camera narrowed on Wilt, & O'Costaberger fidgeted, lost at what sense to make of this Wilt-icism, & how to wrap it back into the intermission of a game into which Stockton did not at all factor -- some years before the Jazz PG was even regarded by most as a bona-fide NBA All-Star, much less an eventual Hall of Famer. The camera zoomed on history as Chamberlain explained his unyielding -- albeit a tad tortured -- logic.

    Not sure whether this story speaks to the nuance of the Chamberlain-Russell rivalry, the psychic ravages of an era of denial & encumbrance borne by huevonkiller's "most important people" on the court, the implications of team versus the individual, skill versus athleticism, or the role of preternatural intellect in a game designed to facilitate the domination of those wielding transcendent physical gifts.

    No question though, Wilt may have changed his tube by '96, & may he have offered a distinct answer to a different reporter by then, before passing into that infinite as a not-quite faded legend. I'm not sure, not with certainty, not at all Just recounting here the way it went down some twenty-plus years ago, for the historical record.

  135. Mike Goodman Says:

    Mr. Towes, your memory is pretty good. When Wilt said he'd take Stockton, I believe he was imagining himself on the team, too. Wasn't this game 7 of a 2nd-round loss to the Lakers in 1988?
    Stock didn't make the All-Star team until the following year, but he had just been named all-NBA 2nd team. And the '88 playoffs was the first time he led all players in postseason assists per game (14.8), the first of 10 such years.

    When Wilt said he'd go with Stockton, he was referring to one of the players he'd just been watching, is how I recall it. Bill Russell then put his hand on Wilt's forehead, as if he must have a fever.

    But this series is when it was clear the Jazz were a force to deal with, Malone and Stockton dual superstars, Eaton the defensive mountain. It would be a few years, though, before they got any further.

  136. Fred Towes Says:


    @Mike Goodwin, Yes, yes absolutely. I think his pairing with Stock was part of the articulated Wilt rationale. & I completely forget Russ reaching across the makeshift space & placing his palm to Wilt's perspiration-lathered forehead to "check for a temperature" while letting go that asthma cackle, before the camera closed on the Stilt. Those were better days in the game -- & in the coverage thereof.

    Still unsure on the year though. '88 surely sounds right, but if this was halftime of a Lakers-Jazz match-up, then I totally blanked on that part of the recollection.


  137. Ken Says:

    Hey, I'm sure you're right about that particular quote of Wilt's but the one I remember I read in our local paper after the 50 greatest were chosen and Wilt was asked who, other than himself, would he start a team with from that list. I may have jumbled some memories tho, it happens at my age when you have too many to file correctly. I know I'd take Magic first. A player with his skill sets and size is the rarest combo out there. And since jordan would be picked by the other guy, I'd be thrilled with either Wilt or Kareem next.

  138. Fred Towes Says:

    Not surprised that Wilt offered another answer in a different context years later --particularly if Russ and a camera were nowhere nearby when the question was posed. Honor & respect to a grand, dynamic soul passed on . . . his was a life of lore.

    I agree with your order of selection. Earvin, plus either Wilt or Kareem in his prime is a most formidable duo -- apt ("up-the-middle") blocks upon which to build a winning club. With whom does your adversary go after he has selected Jordan & you have chosen between the legendary bigs? Personally, I'd counsel him to give some thought to Barkley circa 86-93 over the leftover pivot, because a) he can go for Russ with his third selection & b) if he lets you snag Sixer Chuck at 3, with Earvin & Wilt (or young Abdul-Jabbar) already on board, there is no reason to play the game. It's over with the picks: you won.


  139. Keith Ellis Says:

    Hate to rain on Memory Lane, fellas, but there's no way Wilt Chamberlain & Bill Russell appeared on-camera together during 1988 to 1992 as erroneously stated in (134) & (135) above. Thought we'd discussed it already in the BBR blog, but Bill Russell rapped Chamberlain mercilessly for 25 years after their playing rivalry ended -- then Russ popped up at Wilt's memorial service in 1999, saying he'd been "unspeakably injured" by the death of a man he hadn't spoken to from '69 to '96 or thereabouts.

    Their reconciliation took place because they'd had to tolerate each other's presence on the Top Fifty recognition night, & then Bob Costas cajoled them to get back together for an interview, in which Russ finally apologized for his post-'69 Finals behavior, almost thirty years later.

    Surely few serious hoops fans believe that the pros who integrated the NBA from 1950 to 1960 (pro bkb itself was integrated long ahead of the NYC-based NBA, which was dragged kicking & screaming into the Civil Rights era) were lesser for having competed in a circuit featuring US-born whites of the likes of Schayes & Pettit, West & Cunningham. It was Billy C, after all, whose breakthru MVP opened the doors of perception for non-Centers as dominant players -- & he did so in the league of Erving, Gilmore, & McGinnis. Barry soon followed suit w/ a shoulda-been MVP campaign in '75, & once Dr J smashed the NBA's unwritten rule against non-Center MVPs in 1981 it's been common for non-pivots to be perceived as the best players on the floor. Rather than a "superior culture imposing itself" the post-Merger post-Bird/Magic coaching mindset evolved a micro-managing mentality toward milking possessions that popularized keeping the ball in the hands of "twos" and "threes" -- what we used to call midsizers or swingmen (Hondo's another pre-Pressey/Pippen example).

    Where we once enjoyed Bill Waltons, now we get Dirk Nowitzkis, trading quickness, defense, court vision, & board aggression for a slow-tempo two-man game more often resulting in perimeter heaves or bail-outs aka "respect" from the referees. Check the proportion of FTAs-to-FGAs between Dirk Nowitzki (41%) to Big Red (28%) in their respective MVP seasons -- & think about which player mixed it up more in the paint.

  140. Fred Towes Says:

    Fair enough. I think I was pretty clear in granting that I may have been concocting/conflating Russell's presence in this interview; as was another commentator (#135), who used the apt term "jumbled" when speaking of potential errors in recollection.

    My more certain point was the one raised re: Wilt's comments on John Stockton, which in my mind begins to complicate any presumptions forwarded as to Wilt's perspective on the role of team ordered-play in basketball, while alluding in somewhat ironic fashion to a number of the other issues raised by preceding commentary.

    While scrounging about fruitlessly for evidence of Wilt's Stock response, I did find two interesting interviews with Stilt (one conducted by Brent Musburger, the other by Roy Firestone) that address he & Russell's mutual animus, & its apparent well-spring:

    You may find these of interest, @Keith Ellis.

    Lastly, I fully agree with the critical bridge you construct between micro-management & head coaching in contemporary basketball. Obviously, this connection defines so many of the propositions raised in this thread re: pace, physicality, tempo & style of play, & most assuredly, it must inform any discussion of the comparative greatness of players from the pre-micro-manager days & the post-. Must as I respect the Browns (Larry & Hubie) & Riles, one must assign a good deal of the blame to those chaps & their most successful acolytes (Fratello, the van Gundys, etc.) for willfully recasting the role of the pro basketball head coach as game-time "micro-manager" in an apparent attempt to capitalize upon the thereby reassessed value of the head coach in a professional basketball environment. Long-gone are the days of Billy Cunningham, Larry Costello, Dick Motta & KC Jones, gents who trusted their aptly rotated players to play the game as per its core ethos; & let them play as such until circumstances forced them to step into games & adjust. Long gone, & replaced by the professorial or ministerial play-caller who brings the game to a slough, increases his camera-time & the perceptions of his strategic brilliance -- & for a relatively short time -- his earning power.

  141. Hoops Maestro Says:

    "Second, the league has changed, the players that Dirk could not beat (Duncan, SHaq, Garnett..."

    Go back and check the playoff records and stats. Dirk's Mavs beat Garnett's TWolves every time they met in the playoffs, and Dirk schooled Garnett, who had the inferior team. (Funny how that works.)

    Against Duncan, Dirk won his share, but obviously the Spurs had the better team.

    Against Shaq? Who on Dallas was going to stop Shaq?

  142. Hoops Maestro Says:

    "There's a million ways to go back and forth on this. Yeah, they had stamina, but up to the point that Wilt and Bill were running the league, how many athletic seven footers had ever existed in the Association? Two? Does Mikan count as a third? It's easier to get stats when folks are physically incapable of covering you."

    Keep in mind though, that when Wilt was playing, there were only 9 or 10 teams. He was playing a top-ten center every night. Many of them are in the Hall of Fame.

  143. Hoops Maestro Says:

    "Maravich could have maybe carved out a JJ Barea type niche for himself in today's NBA."

    Go back and watch some more tape.

  144. huevonkiller Says:


    It doesn't matter what culture dominated the past though, so their claims about superiority aren't comparable. The integrated era didn't begin until recently going by the demographics and US law. Only recent accomplishments have been attained in a fully accepting time. The league also looks more athletic, there's no big surprise really.

    US history tells us that there wasn't a civil rights act until 1964. There's a reason for that, and it isn't because Jackie Robinson played in such a diverse and accepting time. His era should be downgraded and this era put on a higher plane, because integration is more natural now.


    This discussion is about GOAT-like superstars. Extreme Athleticism is rare actually, but common throughout the top players in the history of the NBA.

    Use athletic markers like Free throw attempts and correlate that to WS/48. You'll see who dominates the list.... Extreme athleticism is the only thing that matters if you want to be GOAT.


    I remember reading a blog post here that said the 60's/50's were over-represented, going by era. The basketball Hall-Of-Fame is kind of a silly notion anyway, since it is so unscientific.

  145. huevonkiller Says:

    Sean thanks for the discussion, it is a fascinating topic I think.

    I forgot to mention, I think you're indirectly bringing up chemistry. Definitely some skill-oriented players are better to pair up with. The core starts with the uber-athletic player though, and then you can worry about how to build around that guy.

  146. Keith Ellis Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Fred (140). Here's the discussion in which Wilt opts for John Stockton as his point guard --

    Given Wilt's high regard for high-fouling ballhawk/playmaker Guy Rodgers, who helped him average 50 ppg, picking the then-new-to-starting Stockton out of a crowd doesn't seem so odd. But in the interview Dipper quickly adds that Magic Johnson is "still my favorite."

    I see Huevon (#144) has carried his cultural-primacy beliefs to their logical extension & made light of the achievements of Jackie Robinson & the rest of the pre-Civil Rights pioneers. Yet labelling integration "natural" in 2011 doesn't explain why the number of US-born Afro-Americans playing major-league baseball has halved over the past twenty years -- since about the time the disappearance of US-born Caucasian stars in the NBA became noticeable, as Sikma, Bird, Price, Mullins & then Stockton faded away, to be replaced by less-defensive-minded Smitses, Dirks, Drazens, Pejas, & Steve Nashes.

    Integration isn't "natural" -- that's why civil rights legislation takes place. It either happens, or it doesn't, depending on lots of reasons. Certainly not some imagined greater enlightenment on the part of people in 2010, or 1990, or 1950.

  147. Fred Towes Says:

    It was the hand of Bob Lanier in 1988! @Keith, many, many thanks. I know that I am only a partial -- not a total -- madman now.


  148. huevonkiller Says:


    There are Hispanics of African descent that you're trying to skim over in baseball. There are also Afro-Brazilians who dominate soccer (Pelé, Garrincha, Brazil in the 90s, and Brazil in the 2000s). I consider soccer more athletic than baseball too, which is much more static. Keith notice I've been trying to use words like "culture" instead of African-American or any specific minority. The point is a different culture of people dominate the top ten in basketball, soccer, baseball, track, etc., wherever athleticism is required.

    Keith I am white-Hispanic (mestizo) for the record, so I'm not biased at all. I'm quite familiar with the demographics and history of Soccer and baseball. I haven't seen you bring up a single point to refute that a different culture of people dominate basketball, soccer, baseball, etc. at the very top. The only position not dominated by minorities is in the NFL at quarterback, where Quarterbacks are usually very immobile and precision based. Integration is much more natural and the numbers (demographic percentages) show it.

    The modern era is superior because racism is much more uncommon, and the most important culture (minorities) is better represented. As I said anyone from any race or background can become a superstar. However the top ten, twenty, thirty lists in basketball are dominated by a different culture.

  149. Keith Ellis Says:

    "Keith I am white-Hispanic (mestizo) for the record, so I'm not biased at all."

    Think about that statement's implications for a moment: Are those of us who are "white/Hispanic" somehow less biased than others who are red/yellow/black &/or non-Hispanic? O en otras palabras, nosotros los hispanos habriamos superado las ignorancias y debilidades mentales de los demas? Dudoso -- I don't think so.

    Does the fact that white imported pro bkb players & Black imported Hispanic baseballers are starring in the USA somehow signify they hail from a "superior culture" than their white US-born brethren? Can the "cultures" of Venezuela, Dom Rep, Cuba, & Panama even be seriously called one & the same, thus superior? Or does each country have its own culture superior to that of US-born Afro-Americans?

    Nope -- there's no superior culture at work. Nowitzki isn't of a Master Race that made his team beat LeBron's. He just outsmarted & outworked LBJ & the rest of the Heat. Pro bkb has classically been characterized by intelligence topping overreliance on physical skills aka athleticism. See Russ confounding Wilt, Cowens trouncing Jabbar, Walton whipping Dawkins, Hakeem shackling Shaq, etc. All those guys were obviously outstanding athletes, yet the better gameplan typically is what makes the ultimate difference. Of course the more bkb gets dumbed-down & micro-managed the less likely creatively intelligent players will win out.

  150. Ken Says:

    Keith, that was a good post except for a few points I'd question. Look at the head to head stats to see what I mean. Russel never "confounded" Wilt and Cowens didn't trounce Jabbar.
    I know for a fact on the Wilt/Russel question and I'm just going on memory as far as Jabbar/Cowens goes.

  151. Keith Ellis Says:

    Hey, Ken --

    Established history says Russ beat Wilt. Of course Russ says he beat Wilt. Their matchup can be likened to Cowens/Jabbar, Daniels/Gilmore, or Reed/Wilt -- the smaller player beating the larger/stronger/more athletic man while racking up fewer pts/rebs/assists.

    Now, do I necessarily swallow that story? No. I think the Sixties Celtics were a better team than Wilt's Warriors, & that the Seventies Celts/Pacers/Knicks were better teams than the Finals rivals they slew. But bucking established history shouldn't be done lightly. Dipper himself admitted that had he played on the Sixties Celtics they mightn't have meshed & won as often as Russell's clubs breathtakingly did.

    Chemistry is as important as any aspect of hoops. Obviously, Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen in order for his clubs to post a .500 season, because MJ went oh-for-five w/out Scottie. The most "chemical" players I ever saw were Pippen, Russ, & Magic -- they could win games w/out scoring a point. Remember when Reggie Jackson's hip hit a throw to 2nd base & turned the '78 World Series around, allowing the Yanks to take four straight from LA? Jax said he deserved the MVP for that brilliant quick-thinking play, & he was right. But he didn't MVP in that Series because he didn't hit five HRs as he had in '77.

    Put in context for the whippersnappers, Dirk Nowitzki mayn't've put up stats in the '011 Finals to outshine LBJ or Wade. But his team's gameplan was superior, for the slothful pace played nowadays. Had such a slow team as the Mavs been playing in 1986 they'd've been run off the floor by the quicker-thinking top clubs of that era.

  152. Ken Says:

    Keith, you're confusing the titles that Russels teams won with Russell "confounding" Wilt.
    head-to-head numbers:
    Wilt and Russell played against each other 142 times in 10 years. Russell's team won 88, Wilt's teams won 74. (14 game difference)

    In those games Wilt averaged 28.7 ppg and 28.7 rpg, Russell averaged 14.5ppg and 23.7rpg

    Wilt's high game vs. Russell was 62, and he had six other 50+ point games against Russell . Russell's high game against Wilt was 37, and he had only two other 30+ point games against Wilt.

    Wilt's record 55 rebound game was against Russell, and he had six other 40+ rebound games vs. Bill.
    Russell only had one 40+ rebound night against Wilt.

    Wilt's teams lost all 4 seventh games against Russell's Celtics... (Russell's Celtics were 10-0 in game 7s during his career).

    The total margin of defeat in those four 7th games was nine points

    (begin the teammate argument because head-to-head is a no-contest)

    Russell was limited offensively, Wilt limitless. Now since I was right about the Russel/Wilt issue I'm just going to assume my memory is right about Jabbar/Cowens and not look it up. But you know what they say about assuming.

  153. Ken Says:

    Sorry Keith. I now went on to read the rest of your post.