Don told me that he and Gregg had a discussion about this, and we started a discussion between us, but never finished it. I’m not sure about the parameters, but I think it involved choosing starters only, and choosing them with building the best team in mind, not just choosing the five best players. For example, if Kareem, Wilt, Russell, and Shaq made your top five all-time greatest NBA players, you probably wouldn’t choose them for your all-time greatest team (unless you’re willing to start four centers). Don, who did you and Gregg pick? Off the top of my head, here’s my selection:
1. Magic Johnson
2. Michael Jordan
3. Larry Bird
4. David Robinson
5. Hakeem Olajuwon
(Note: The numbers correspond with their positions.)
I had some doubts about the 4 and 5 position. I initially told Don that I would choose Rodman (the rebounding version) as my four. The perfect four is a guy who can rebound and defend. Rodman, even the better rebounding version, could go out on the perimeter to defend stretch fours. Still, I think Robinson would be decent at this, and he’s could reliably make 15 foot jump shots. It would be tough to score in the paint against them, whether the opponents had a great post player or penetrators.
I had trouble on the 5 position as well, wavering between Olajuwon and Kareem. Kareem’s skyhook is the greatest shot of all time. He’s also a really good passer. The one thing I worry about Kareem was how he would fare against more physical fives. What I have etched in my mind is the way Moses Malone gave him so much trouble. Still, Kareem was older at the time, and a youthful Kareem might be a different story.
The next position that gave me a slight pause was, believe it or not, the 2 position. Jordan not being a great three point shooter is the main reason for this. Don suggested Kobe, but I think he’s a ball-hog, not a good passer. He definitely has better range than Jordan, and he’s probably just as good a scorer. Another guy that is tempting as the 2 spot is Ray Allen. You want him to open up the middle with his threes? He’s your guy. You want to run picks for him, he’s great. He can take it to the hole when he has to and also be effective in transition. (I don’t know about his defense and rebounding, though. I’d say Jordan and Kobe would have an edge in both.)
As for Magic and Bird, my only reservations would be what might be lost defensively. In my ideal team, all five players would be great at defense, having the ability to completely shut down opponents. Putting LeBron at the 3 would dramatically improve the defense, but a lot would be lost, compared to if you had Bird there, in my opinion. Who would be a great defensive 1, particularly a player that wouldn’t give up a lot relative to Magic? I guess GP comes to mind, but I think he’d give up too much. Maybe CP3, but I don’t know how he is as a defender. No to John Stockton’s defense. Isiah—but I don’t think he’s defense is so much better than Magic’s. Bird and Magic are sounding better and better.