The 50 (or 47 in this case) Greatest Players in the NBA showed up to celebrate in the 1997 All-star game in Cleveland, Ohio. Missing from the picture are Shaquille O’Neal, Pete Maravich and Jerry West. (Photo Credit NBA.com)
The NBA’s 50 Greatest Players is exactly what it sounds like. Well, sort of. Fifty of the NBA’s greatest players were chosen by a panel made up of fifty members; 13 media members, 16 former players and the rest either coaches or front office executives to determine the best players to ever step onto the hardwood.
The 1996-97 NBA season was its 50th and this was how the NBA wanted to celebrate. The list released just as the season began and it features all of the greatest players who have made a substantial impact on the NBA. At the time, eleven of the fifty players were active during the ’96-’97 campaign. David Robinson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Robert Parish, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen and one who stuck out amongst the rest of them: Shaquille O’Neal.
NBA’s 50 Greatest Players. (Photo Credit The Raisin Review/Landon T. Horstman)
One thing readers should notice is O’Neal was only in his fifth season when inducted to the 50 Greatest Players List. His impact on the Orlando Magic was gigantic and the Magic soared fast, similar to Shaq’s play style at the time. It makes sense though, as O’Neal helped lead Orlando to the NBA Finals in the franchise’s sixth season in the league and at that point, he had been named an all-star every season until the selection and then some, a scoring champion in 1995, and the USA Male Basketball Player of the Year the year before. Man, 1995 was magical for the Big Diesel, but not quite golden yet.
However, it wasn’t just about the 50 Greatest Players, there were other awards given out during that All-Star Weekend in Cleveland. The list also included Top 10 coaches of all-time and the Top 10 Teams in NBA History.
The Top 10 Coaches: Red Auerbach, Chuck Daly, Bill Fitch, Red Holzman, Phil Jackson, John Kundla, Don Nelson, Jack Ramsey, Pat Riley, Lenny Wilkens.
The Top 10 Teams: ’64-’65 Celtics, ’66-’67 76ers, ’69-’70 Knicks, ’71-’72 Lakers, ’82-’83 76ers, ’85-’86 Celtics, ’86-’87 Lakers, ’88-’89 Pistons, ’91-’92 Bulls and ’95-’96 Bulls.
As our previous two posts also prove, the evolution of basketball is dependant on the pioneers of style that take the game to the next level. Today’s version of a top 50 list would almost certainly include players who have helped tell basketball’s story since. However, you could not have a Kobe Bryant without a Michael Jordan to influence him or a LeBron James without Magic Johnson. Although the list is no longer accurate, today the list is a documentation of those who most influenced the first 50 years of the league.