Father Time is undefeated. As time goes on, people grow older. It’s the nature of the beast and not a single organism can avoid it.
Every decade or so, the NBA is blessed with a brand new wave of talent to take the keys to the car and help the game grow. When the world was unsure if anyone would ever match the aura of Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell as their careers faded, we were gifted Dr. J, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Nobody was ever going to come close to duplicating their greatness, right? Then Michael Jordan came along.
Fast-forward to 2014. LeBron James isn’t half bad, huh? Kevin Durant is knocking on the door, while guys like Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul are in the process of expanding on their remarkable legacies. However, the book on them has yet to be written. They are still building their brand as they put a stamp on their careers before they pass the baton to the generation on deck. Andrew Wiggins? Jabari Parker? Who is next?
Alright, now rewind.
How about that group in between the Jordan era and what we have today? You know, that late-90s, early 2000’s era that succeeded the Chicago Bulls dynasty and gave us reason to maintain our passion for NBA basketball. That generation will always hold a special place in my heart, because as a basketball junkie that was born in the spring of 1989, that’s what I grew up on.
What a great time period for the game of basketball. We watched Phil Jackson mastermind yet another three-peat, while Pop and the Spurs have been competing for titles with the same core for over a decade. We watched the financial aspect of the league skyrocket, thanks to Jordan and the six-month 1998-99 lockout that made every player before them wish they were born 10 or 20 years later. The average NBA salary in the 1997-98 season was $2.16 million, which has practically tripled since in a league where salaries have reached an annual mark up to $30 million. We also witnessed the evolution of the stretch-four, star players maximizing their individuality and the peak of athletic ability throughout the NBA.
Jordan’s [second] retirement marked a monumental time period for the game, and the group that took over featured its own spark of greatness. However, Father Time is catching up to them these days, too, as the majority of them have either walked away from the game or are on their last lifeline. I’m not upset about the talent we have going forward, but it’s difficult to watch all of your childhood heroes on their last breath.
There are only a few players from that generation still getting it done at a high level, such as Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and [hopefully] Kobe Bryant. Meanwhile, Tracy McGrady was a minor league pitcher for the Sugar Land Skeeters last year. Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace are now coaches. Steve Nash is on life support. Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury were relegated to finishing their careers in China. Jesus Shuttlesworth is now just Ray Allen. Yao Ming’s body broke down in 2011, which forced him to retire at age 30, while 2004 NBA MVP Kevin Garnett can hardly stay on the court for 20 minutes out in Brooklyn. Vince Carter is still a solid role player, but he can’t do this anymore. Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Webber are entertaining us every week on NBA TV and TNT, but they can only bless the game in a suit with a microphone these days.
It’s not fair, but it is the inevitable way of life. It is what it is. At this point we’ve just got to accept it and enjoy the electrifying new wave of talent, but it doesn’t mean we have to forget the greatness that came before them. Nostalgia is a jewel.
As they swallow their pride and pass the torch, let’s take a look at what made the leaders of the last generation so special.
Tim Duncan & Shaquille O’Neal hold their trophy as the 2000 NBA All-Star Game co-MVPs.
Shaquille O’Neal is more than likely the most dominant physical specimen the game of basketball has ever witnessed. Standing at 7’1″ and weighing in at over 300 lbs., the Diesel playfully destroyed everybody in his path. There was nothing you could do about him 1-on-1 or even with a double-team if he made his mind up to explode to the rim. In fact, the only chance you had of stopping him was to play “Hack-A-Shaq” and hope that he misses all of his free throws. Even then, you can only do that in spurts and he made a lot of those free throws when it mattered most. The Big Aristotle’s one-of-a-kind combination of size, strength, power, athleticism, killer instinct and captivating charisma combined to create a legend that is impossible to replicate. His accomplishments are out of control: four championship rings, three NBA Finals MVPs, 1999-2000 league MVP, 15 All-Star appearances, 14 All-NBA selections, three All-Defense selections and a gold medal from the 1996 Olympics. Those accolades speak for themselves, but the way in which he unstoppably dominated his opponents is something that numbers cannot compute.
The only other big man from this time period that can be mentioned in the same conversation as Shaq is Tim Duncan, the best power forward of all-time. The Big Fundamental is as complete of a player as you could possibly ask for. The fact that the Spurs haven’t missed the playoffs since Duncan was drafted in 1997, and have competed for championships virtually the entire time, is no coincidence. As a long, physically built seven-footer, Duncan is strapped with one of the most complete low-post arsenals we have ever seen, which used to operate at a much quicker rate than what we see these days on account of prime Timmy’s underrated athleticism. He continuously beats you with his skill and when he runs into a physical equal, he breaks them down intellectually all the way to victory as he plays basketball like it’s chess. On top of that, Duncan is one of the most selfless superstars in sports history and carries himself exactly how you would model it in a book. At age 37, he is still in position to add to his five rings and I would write down his individual accomplishments, but I don’t think he would even want it that way.
While we’re speaking on some of the most complete players of all-time, how about a little Kevin Garnett for your ass? The Big Ticket is both one of the most intense individuals you will ever come across and one of the most impressive athletes in NBA history. The seven-footer (6’11” if you ask him) was blessed with elite athletic ability and some of the longest arms you’ll ever see, which combine with his intelligence and work ethic to produce one of the top defensive players of all-time. KG could guard every position on the floor and abruptly covered more ground with one defensive slide than a lot of players can with two. Not to mention, he could handle the ball like a guard, was automatic with his mid-range jump shot and is one of the all-time best passers in the frontcourt. KG epitomizes the word “versatility” and the 2008 champion, Defensive Player of the Year and 2004 NBA MVP has left behind a legacy anybody could respect. His dedication to the game alone is enough to admire. KG’s leadership characteristics are as strong as you could find and he is a walking testament to the notion that if you apply yourself, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!
Chris Webber‘s offensive skill set was cut from the same cloth as Garnett’s, but with a little less spring and more girth to throw around on the block. C-Webb is one of the best ball handlers and passers you will ever see in a big man, and his court vision was that of an over-sized point guard. Especially under Rick Adelman with his dazzling Sacramento Kings squads of the early 2000’s, he dominated the high-post as a facilitator and a lethal scorer that could bury a jumper, back you down or put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. C-Webb played the game for the love of it and that really shines through in the personality he beautifully incorporated into his flare on the court. He never won a championship or an MVP, but make no mistake about the fact that Chris Webber was one of the best players in the NBA for a decade.
If you were to divulge into the depths of NBA history, you would be hard-pressed to find many seven-footers as unique as Dirk Nowitzki. He’s big but he is not particularly athletic, in fact he is slow of foot, yet he can get a clean shot from anywhere on the floor at any time. The high release point on his shot along with his size allows him to almost effortlessly get anything off over the top of most defenders, and his mid-to-high post game is as lethal as anyone’s you can name. He can back you down and create off of each shoulder and if you cut him off, that patented fall-away J is his bread and butter. If you give him any space, there’s a good chance you just gave up a bucket, even out to three-point range, and he’ll stop-and-pop in your grill, too. Dirk is a team-first superstar, a tough competitor, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, 10th all-time in scoring, the 2006 NBA MVP and most importantly, the 2011 NBA Finals MVP when he lead his Dallas Mavericks to their first championship in franchise history. Dirk will go down as not only one of the best international players ever, but one of the best power forwards to ever play the game.
For a guy who went undrafted, Ben Wallace put together one hell of a career. He was very limited offensively and was never the kind of player you would draw plays for, but he was a rock solid, no-nonsense 6’9″, 250 lbs. who made as much of a defensive impact as anyone in the NBA during his time. In fact, he won four of the five Defensive Player of the Year awards in the span from 2002-2006 and made NBA All-Defense six times. Wallace was also a tenacious rebounder who finished in the top six in rebounding seven times, winning the rebounding title twice in 2001 and 2003. What Big Ben brought to the table terrorized opponents, especially alongside Rasheed Wallace, who’s versatility complemented Ben like the last two pieces of a puzzle. The Pistons made it to the Eastern Conference Finals seven consecutive times from 2003-2009, highlighted by back-to-back NBA Finals appearances and winning the 2004 championship in the Wallace duo’s first year alongside one another.
Yao Ming… what a sad, premature and injury-induced end to his career at age 30. The 7’6″ prodigy had a feathery soft touch, a reliable baby-hook that he could easily get over the top of most competitors and a wide array of low-post counter moves to stack up with his strong work ethic and selflessness as a teammate. It’s too bad he never got a chance to compete deep in the NBA playoffs, because he is one of the most intriguing players in recent memory.
Elton Brand wasn’t too shabby for a 6’8″ power forward, either, and his multiple years of 20/10 averages back that up. That goes for you, too, Zach Randolph. Pau Gasol is still very productive, although not quite at the level he used to do it, and is one of the most versatile bigs I have seen in my lifetime. Antonio McDyess is often forgotten due to his career-long battle to stay healthy, but his run of 18.7 PPG and 9.0 RPG from 1996-2001 was fun to watch. He was very quick for 6’10” and exploded to the rim with the intent to finish above it. At one time, Jermaine O’Neal was one of the best two-way players in the league who was All-Defense level and able to drop 20 on you every night. Who doesn’t miss the Antoine Walker wiggle? Oh, he was one of the best ball handling and passing forwards ever, too, not to mention a three-time All-Star with Boston. As for guys that could flat out get buckets, how about Amare Stoudemire and Shareef Abdur-Rahim? Amare is still kickin’ but in his younger days, he was one of the most viciously explosive players I have ever watched.
There is only one player in the same class as Shaq and Duncan throughout their generation, none other than Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba is hands down one of the best and most complete players to ever play the game of basketball, with a borderline flawless set of skills and physical gifts. I know the Jordan comparisons grew stale a long time ago, but it’s tough to dispute the blatant similarities. Kobe is one of the most lethal and creative offensive players in the history of the game. Hell, I don’t need to tell you that, you saw him drop 81 didn’t you? The man is a walking basketball encyclopedia, one of the fiercest competitors to ever compete, tough as nails, an alpha dog with the cold blooded killer instinct we wish every star player had, as clutch as they come, one of the most unstoppable players of all-time with the ball in his hands, an elite defensive player, an MVP, a five-time champion and is forever cemented as a worldwide icon.
Practice? We talkin’ about practice? Say what you want about his attitude or some of the decisions he has made, Allen Iverson had as much talent, heart and toughness as anyone on the court. He was incredible to watch as he blew you away with his second-to-none quickness and speed, continuously created scoring opportunities out of nothing, sported some of the sickest handles in the game and relentlessly sacrificed his body in attack mode regardless of his small frame. The 2000-01 NBA MVP is one of the best “little guys” to ever play. In my opinion, the only player at that size in the same category is Isiah Thomas. Don’t let his size deceive you, Iverson was a stone cold assassin that commanded the rock with the best of them.
As far as raw talent is concerned, Tracy McGrady is in elite territory. T-Mac was a freak athlete, a devastating streak scorer, had the ball on a string at 6’8” with as much shake n’ bake as any point guard, and you just couldn’t guard him 1-on-1; he had it all. Those sleepy eyes don’t do his game justice. When McGrady was in Orlando, there was a window of time where you could legitimately argue T-Mac vs. Kobe, he was that good. The statistical peak of his career came in 2002-03, where he averaged 32.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game on 46% shooting. Not many players in history are able to say they’ve done that, especially with the style and grace that he brought to the game. Then there were those times T-Mac got you jumping off the couch with moments like his self alley-oops off the backboard or the epic “13 in 35” performance. His teams never won in the playoffs, but I don’t have any doubt that T-Mac should have a spot in the Hall of Fame some day.
McGrady’s cousin Vince Carter was pretty incredible in his own right. Although he wasn’t necessarily known as a defensive player, he had a pretty complete game otherwise. His jumper was (and still is) money, he had a good handle, was a terrific shot creator, had the strength to do damage as a rugged post-up guard and he did a great job of creating for his teammates off the dribble. The thing that really jumped out at everyone, of course, was his God-given superhuman freak athletic ability that just made you drop your jaw in awe. When he rose above the rim and displayed his aerial spontaneity, he turned into Vinsanity, Half Man Half Amazing, Air Canada and so on. If you ask me, with no disrespect to Jordan or Dr. J, Vince is the best dunker of all-time, but that wouldn’t even matter if he didn’t have the game to match it. He most certainly did, and was one of the most popular stars of his era.
If you ask me for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I’ll give you The Truth; Paul Pierce. The 2008 NBA Finals MVP is one of the most complete 1-on-1 scorers of the last 20 years, and he had his fair share of big time clutch performances to cap it off. Pierce was flat out one of those guys you gave the ball to and said “get me a bucket,” and he did it in a wide variety of ways regardless of whether or not he had to adjust himself mid-shot. He was never the quickest but his impeccably endless array of counter-attack moves and wide 6’7″ frame allowed him to pick and choose wherever he wanted to go with the ball. Spot-up threes, hard power-drives to the rack, the ability to finish after contact, a mid-range game that was a nightmare to defend, step-back jumpers from any distance, post ups, pull-up Js with a hand in the face, the ability to put you on a poster, court vision, crossovers, buzzer beaters; you name it, Pierce had it in his game. The man passed Larry Bird in scoring. As his career progressed, he developed himself into a quality leader and defensive player, as well, with a genuine passion for the game. Boston fans will never forget what the 10-time NBA All-Star did for the Celtics from 1998-2013, it was special. The Truth is a future Hall of Famer in the making and one of the greatest players the storied Boston Celtics franchise has ever had.
Pierce’s former teammate Ray Allen has earned his place in history, as well, perhaps most notably as the NBA’s all-time leader in three-point field goals. Don’t get it twisted, though, that’s not all Jesus Shuttlesworth was about. He is one of the best ever in terms of moving without the ball and hitting a spot-up three, but he had a nice handle and some sneaky athleticism in his younger days as well. On top of that, Allen’s late-game heroics never cease to amaze you, from hitting game-winners in Milwaukee all the way to Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. If you need a last-second basket, there aren’t many players out there that you would rather draw up a play for than Ray Allen. A consummate professional, a true leader, a lights out shooter, a skilled shot creator and a two-time NBA champion, Allen has put himself high on the all-time list of two-guards.
Above, I mentioned how Tim Duncan carries himself with class and selfless leadership, and his teammate Manu Ginobili isn’t much different in that respect. There is something to be said about that core in San Antonio, the Spurs mystique is no joke. Ginobili has been one of the best guards in the league for a decade, yet he is perfectly comfortable with coming off the bench, playing under 30 minutes per game and doing whatever else Pop asks him to do for the betterment of the team. You don’t find too many All-Stars willing to play 27 minutes per game for their career, especially when they are averaging 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per 36 minutes. He has been an instrumental piece to four of San Antonio’s five championships and his FIBA legacy against international competition is equally impressive, capped off by leading Argentina to a gold medal in 2004. Ginobili is a winner, a menacing competitor and a perfect example to watch for any big-headed kid that struggles with putting his ego in front of what’s important.
“Metta World Peace” or “The Panda’s Friend” (really?) can call himself whatever he wants these days, but the best years of his basketball career will always be attached to his real name, Ron Artest. Forget the crazy, forget Hennessy at halftime and forget the brawl, Artest was one of the best defensive players to ever play the game, set in stone by his four All-Defense selections and 2003-04 Defensive Player of the Year award. Artest was a bully of a post player for a wing and was always a threat to score from the perimeter, too. He was never a huge fan of sacrificing his own offensive talents until he made his way to Phil Jackson and the Lakers, but he left his ego at the door and came up huge in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals to help the Lakers win their second consecutive ring. The guy is out of control crazy, but that doesn’t take anything away from his individual talent when he was at his peak.
Shawn Marion wasn’t too shabby on the defensive side of the ball, himself, and he had super springs with elite athleticism to turn himself into a big time finisher and rebounder, to boot. Latrell Sprewell was a hot head, but he was also a four-time All-Star, an exceptional athlete and one of the most gifted all-around wings for a decade. Michael Finley mirrored Spree’s attributes, perhaps with a more balanced head on his shoulders. Allan “H20″ Houston, Michael Redd and Peja Stojakovic are three of the silkiest outside shooters of their time. Andrei Kirilenko, often referred to as “AK47,” was not a go-to scorer but made an impact on each and every aspect of the game. Vince Carter was the most exciting athlete of this generation, but Jason Richardson wasn’t too far behind. A self alley-oop off the glass, finished with a between-the-legs dunk? Get outta here, that’s just unfair. We also can’t go without mentioning stat sheet stuffers like Jerry Stackhouse, Jamal Mashburn and “Big Dog” Glenn Robinson, who were constant threats to drop 20+ every night. Good luck finding more than a handful of players that mastered the art of moving without the ball like former NBA champ Rip Hamilton, as well.
THE FLOOR GENERALS
Everyone wants that prototypical point guard, a floor general that runs the show like he owns it and consistently puts his teammates in the right positions to score.
Jason Kidd was as close to that definition as there is. He did literally everything on the court at an elite level physically, mentally and in terms of leadership. As a strong 6’4″ point guard, Kidd physically outmatched the majority of his competition but also was blessed with as much change-of-direction quickness as anyone smaller. Kidd’s accuracy and showmanship within the art of passing the ball was magical, as the three-time assist leader had eyes in the back of his head and created opportunities for people who didn’t expect one to arise. A walking triple-double threat on any given night, he put up over 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds per game for a decade-plus, was one of the all-time great rebounding guards and was named All-Defense on nine occasions. Kidd also came into the league with a weak perimeter jump shot, but turned himself into the third all-time leader in three-point field goals made. He lead the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003, won a title with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and remarkably boasts an undefeated FIBA record from 1999-2008, highlighted by five gold medals. If you were to construct a list of the top five or 10 point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd universally holds a spot on anyone’s list. If he’s not there, you need to put the crack pipe down and watch some film.
One thing Kidd never was able to accomplish was winning the NBA’s MVP award, something that Steve Nash did two years in a row in 2005 and 2006. Nash’s career timeline is extremely unique and uncommon, as he somehow seemed to get better once he hit age 30, where he won his first MVP. He broke out in his fifth year in the league and has been named an All-Star eight times since, along with being honored as All-NBA seven times. Nash was an absolute wizard of pick n’ roll basketball, which shined in Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki but didn’t reach its full level of greatness until his return to Phoenix. Amare Stoudemire and Nash’s pick n’ roll game was second to none since John Stockton and Karl Malone redefined the action. Everyone loves the way Nash sets the table and dishes the rock with such pizzazz, but one of the most impressive aspects of his game is the efficiency he has performed at on a consistent level. He holds career shooting percentages of 49% from the field, 42.8% from three-point territory and 90.4% from the charity stripe. Nash is one of the leaders of the “50-40-90″ club, a feat he has accomplished five times. Steve Nash is unquestionably one of the all-time great jump shooters, playmakers and point guards in general, for that matter.
I absolutely fell in love with the way Gary Payton played the game. Sure, he was a big 6’4″ guard that could run your offense, dominate the pick n’ roll, attack the paint off the dribble, knock down a jumper, dominate smaller opponents on the block and control the ball as if he were ambidextrous, but that’s not even what does it for me. The way in which he approached the game is something any coach wishes they had on their roster. GP took the court with a ruthless defensive mentality, with the intent to smother and completely lock down whoever his assignment was. He didn’t earn his nickname, The Glove, by accident. In fact, Payton is the only point guard to ever win the Defensive Player of the Year award, and he got up in your grill with some attitude, too. One of the best trash talkers to ever step on the hardwood, Payton demoralized the competition both physically and vocally simultaneously, and it wasn’t an act. He brought it every night and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013 because of it. I don’t see a reason to leave him off the list of the all-time top 10 point guards.
Tony Parker is still going strong at age 31 and producing some of his best basketball over the last few years, but he was thrown directly into the fire of San Antonio’s budding dynasty in 2001. From a tentative rookie constantly in Greg Popovich’s doghouse, Parker has transformed himself into an All-Star, a four-time champion and a Finals MVP. That jumper has come a long way since then, too, hasn’t it? His blazing speed sets him apart from the majority of his peers as he is exceptional at knifing through the lane and weaving in and out of seems in the defense to score, and he is one of the best finishers the game has to offer. For a guy that has never shot the ball well enough to take more than one three-point attempt per game, he is mighty efficient and has routinely lead all guards in field goal percentage. The book on Parker’s legacy still has some unwritten pages in it, as he still looks to have multiple high-level years ahead of him, but he is certainly in the upper echelon of his generation.
Chauncey Billups was one of the most important ingredients to Detroit’s seven-year run to the Eastern Conference Finals alongside his complementary supporting cast in Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. Mr. Big Shot brought home the MVP trophy when they took out Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals, and they were just one game away from repeating in 2005. Billups was a pure two-way point guard that ran the offense beautifully, brought it on the defensive end and was able to take over 1-on-1 when his number was called upon. I’ll go out on a limb and note that it is safe to say the Celtics, Raptors, Nuggets, Magic and Timberwolves regret giving up on him so quickly throughout the first five years of his career. Without Chauncey running the show, Deeetroit basketbaaall may never have been resurrected.
It was fitting when the composers of the NBA Street Series’ Ankle Breakers, Vol. 1 DVD chose Stephon Marbury to host it, because he has snapped quite a few ankles himself. Just ask Yao if you need a reference. Throughout his prime years for the Timberwolves, Nets, Suns and Knicks, Starbury put himself in elite category with production of 20.6 points and 8.3 assists per game from 1996-2005, a time period he accumulated two All-Star appearances and lead the league in assists (2003-04). Of all of the New York point guards everyone likes to talk about, Marbury is comfortably up in the top section of the list. Although he doesn’t have any hardware to stack up next to his stat lines, Starbury was as talented as they come and extremely fun to watch.
Speaking of fun to watch, Steve Francis and Baron Davis were human highlight reels on foot. They were strapped with don’t-blink quickness, handled the ball like no other and brought a serious street ball flavor to the way they went about their business. These guys were big time athletes with enormous ups, too, put on display by Francis’ 2000 Slam Dunk Contest performance and Baron Davis’ baptizing of Andrei Kirilenko. Francis may never have structured his all-around skill set into a winning brand of basketball, but the three-time All-Star had serious game and averaged 20 points, six rebounds and six assists per game through his first six years in the league. B-Diddy was no cupcake, either, making two All-Star appearances and putting up 20 points and eight assists per game through a seven-year span.
Gilbert Arenas was not a pure point guard by definition, but he was as productive as they come in his prime. Agent Zero was an All-Star for three consecutive years from 2005-2007, where the lethal sniper averaged a combined 27.7 points and 5.7 assists per game. Sam Cassell always brought a smile to everyone’s face, as the former All-Star point guard and three-time NBA champion put his sense of humor and unique personality into his crafty, well-rounded game. Mike Bibby never made an All-Star team but he put together an excellent run throughout the first 10 years of his career, knocking down a plethora of big shots in the playoffs and averaging over 16 points and six assists a night. Nick Van Exel and Damon Stoudamire were lightning quick, herky-jerky creators with the ball that really turned a lot of heads in their heyday. Van Exel always had the eye of the tiger in crunch time and Stoudamire even dropped 50 one night. Andre Miller was one of the best table-setters of his time and an elite fast break orchestrator that lead the league in assists in 2001-02. Terrell Brandon never played on any championship contending teams during the prime of his career in Cleveland and Minnesota, but the 5’11” pick-and-roll maestro was a two-time All-Star and a pure point guard that didn’t let his lack of size stop him from making a big time impact. He may not have been the best point guard of the generation, but Jason Williams was perhaps as entertaining as anyone as he put crowds on their feet with his And-1 level ball skills and flare, especially in his early days as a Sacramento King. If you’re ever bored and just sitting around at home, it is never a bad decision to watch highlights of J-Will’s best no-look passes and crossovers. From leaving GP in the dust to no-look passes with his elbow, you won’t be disappointed.
This time period also marked the final runs of some of the most illustrious careers of the last 20 years. For example, who expected Michael Jordan to come out of retirement for a second time to join the Washington Wizards? He wasn’t quite the same, but the man still gave us vintage flashbacks like this and this, scoring over 20 points per game while knocking on the door of age 40. Some argue that it was wrong to make people watch him at a lesser degree of ability, but how can you knock the GOAT for his passion for the game? It would have been sweeter if those Wizards teams earned a postseason appearance, but individually, not a bad encore, Mike. Not bad at all.
We watched Alonzo Mourning fight to close his career as a champion and expand on his legacy until he physically could no longer, while Reggie Miller cemented his 18-year Indiana Pacers career by remaining relevant until age 39, where he still put up 15 points per game. Dikembe Mutombo gave us both sides of the spectrum, as the 2001 Defensive Player of the Year and an All-Star through 2002, but he was still waving that finger in NBA arenas as a backup until age 42. Vlade Divac made his NBA debut in 1990 and is best classified with the decade following, but he didn’t earn his first and only All-Star appearance until 2001 and was a big part of those remarkably selfless Sacramento Kings teams under Rick Adelman.
Grant Hill‘s stint from 1994-2000 is one of the most impressive individual primes we have ever seen, and a continuous string of bad luck with injuries made sure he never returned to that form again. Yet and still, after those days were behind him we were gifted an opportunity to watch him persevere through 12 more years of NBA basketball. Hill’s return to the All-Star game in 2005 was special and one of those things that made you say “he deserved it.”
The early part of the new millennium also gave birth to the new wave lead by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and a comforting list of other big names that will make their own mark on the game as we move forward. These guys are far from finished, but their beginnings were just as exciting as anything in the midst of this era we’re reflecting on.
The league is in good hands, but man, those guys were so fun to watch. I’ll always go back to this group every now and then and I will never forget how they made me feel as a basketball fan on the come-up. NBA TV’s Hardwood Classics, old DVDs and YouTube are great sources to satisfy your inner basketball junkie, but watching their careers blossom in real time was something that an old tape simply cannot duplicate.
In 10-15 years, we’ll be saying the same thing about our favorite players and teams from today. Even then, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m going to make sure my future children know who Shaq, Kobe, Duncan, KG, A.I. and those guys were.