The NBA will be celebrating its 75th anniversary next season. The celebration will include naming the NBA’s 75 greatest players, 50 of which were already selected during the 1996-1997 season, when the league celebrated its 50th anniversary. Basketball Network’s “The Next 25” aims to look back at the careers of some of the game’s greatest players as we give our take on who should be part of the twenty-five names that the league will add to the list.
In each edition, we will make a case for five players that we feel meet the criteria. Today is the first of five editions to be published, rightfully called “The no-brainers.”
Kobe Bean Bryant
The Greatest Laker of All-Time. If you are the greatest player of any franchise, especially one as storied as the Los Angeles Lakers, you automatically qualify for the next twenty-five. The late Kobe Bryant is 4th in scoring behind LeBron James and one spot ahead of Michael Jordan (5th). In this 20 seasons with the Lakers, Kobe won five championships with two finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP, and 13 All-NBA First Team selections. Bryant also recorded the second-highest scoring output in a game, scoring 81 points to torch Jalen Rose and the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006. Kobe’s impact on the game goes beyond stats sheets and trophies, “The Black Mamba” is the player who resembled MJ the most in both their play and drive to win. One can argue that no player has inspired this generation of NBA superstars more than Kobe Bryant, and for that, his name should be the first one added to the list.
Timothy Theodore Duncan
The only player to win a championship in three separate decades, “The Big Fundamental” is winning personified. Duncan played 19 seasons with the Spurs and won five titles with Gregg Popovich at the helm and three different co-stars (David Robinson, Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard) in the 90s, 2000s, and 2010s. Timmy D finished with three NBA finals MVPs (99,03,05), but one can argue that he was the most critical player for the Spurs in each of their championship runs. With five rings as arguably the main guy or leader of the team, it’s surprising that Tim Duncan is never mentioned in the GOAT debate as he has been a consummate winner ever since putting on an NBA uniform.
Kevin Maurice Garnett
Drafted in 1995 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, KG revolutionized the NBA big man. At 6’11, Garnett had a unique mix of a polished post-game and elite ballhandling coupled with a consistent mid-range jumper. KG devoted 12 seasons of hard work to the city of Minnesota with a subpar supporting cast. Still, he managed to drag the Timberwolves to the Western Conference Finals in 2004 but eventually fell to the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers. Years later, The Big Ticket got his ring in just his first season with the Boston Celtics alongside Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Finally, Garnett got his reward for the limitless intensity he brought to each game. If there is one player who should not be measure by the number of rings he has, it’s Kevin Garnett because no one approach the game with the same fire and did as much heavy lifting on both ends of the floor more than KG.
Reginald Wayne Miller
To opposing fans in the 1990s, the words “It’s Miller Time!” were some of the most painful in sports. Reggie Miller spent 18 seasons breaking hearts in crunch time for the Indiana Pacers with an array of off-balanced jumpers accompanied by some of the most savage taunts shortly after. Unfortunately, Reggie retired without a ring, an achievement he had always hoped to accomplish for himself and the loyal fanbase of Indiana. Miller led the Pacers to their only Finals appearance in 2000 and fell short some years later due to some off-court antics (see: Malice in the Palace). Still, Reggie was once the all-time leader in three-point field goals made and one of the NBA’s fiercest competitors. Miller was the first NBA superstar to weaponize the three-point shot, making him one of the 75 greatest players of all time.
Dirk Werner Nowitzki
If Kevin Garnett revolutionized the NBA Big Man, Dirk Nowitzki blew the whole thing up and put it back together. Dirk was the remix of the power forward position and opened the door for big men who did not have the physicality to constantly mix it up in the paint to make it to the NBA. Dirk was the best shooter on all his teams, despite being one of the tallest. At 7’1, he had more guard skills than big man skills; watching him take the league by storm was a beautiful sight. Put a big on him, and Dirk will step out and play the perimeter; if you try to keep up with his quickness as a guard, he will back you down and shoot that patented one-legged fade away on you. Dirk was a problem! Nowitzki retired with one league MVP and one Finals MVP, with his only ring coming in 2011 at the expense of the newly formed big three in Miami. Dirk’s 2011 championship run is one of the best, if not the best individual postseason displays in NBA history. Dirk dominated some of the league’s most talented teams headlined by the biggest NBA superstars like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James. Though there is no official title for it, Dirk is arguably the greatest foreign NBA player of all time, and his success paved the way for many players that we see in the league today. Dirk Nowitzki’s influence is all over today’s NBA game; naming him one of the 75 greatest players in NBA history is definitely a no-brainer.
That’s it for the first edition of “The Next 25”, stay tuned for the next editions to see who else we think should be added to the illustrious list.