Fan votes have been collected and combined with those of Overtime Heroics writers to reveal the first edition of the Basketball Golden Hall. As previously covered, fans and writers will convene once a decade to take stock of the greatest athletes to have graced the court. We will reveal the First Edition in eleven parts followed by a wrap-up article.
The previous articles covered the Sixth Team, Seventh Team, Eighth Team, Ninth Team, Tenth Team, and Golden Hall Bench (those 50 players regardless of position that were named to bring the total membership to 100).
This article reveals the five players who constitute the fifth-best possible starting lineup in basketball history. The next four articles will feature the remaining top fives of all-time, with each team made up of a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center.
Without further ado and in order of votes received, the Basketball Golden Hall Fifth Team (be sure to comment with whom you think we missed):
Isiah Thomas, PG
80.7 WS, 41.6 VORP, 18.1 PER, 19.2 PPG, 9.3 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Until 1966, the NBA allowed teams a “territorial pick” in its annual draft. Prior to the draft, a club could forfeit its first-round pick and claim a local player. The Philadelphia Warriors asserted this right more than any other team in order to claim highly-touted prospects like Overbrook High phenom Wilt Chamberlain and Villanova Wildcat Paul Arizin. The Cincinnati Royals did so to avoid losing out on Oscar Robertson of the University of Cincinnati. This system yielded highly positive results in its 23 deployments, keeping 12 Hall of Famers in the area and helping to grow the fanbase of the nascent league.
Should the rule have continued, it is likely that the Bad Boys of Detroit might never have been assembled. Isaiah Thomas, the childhood Bulls fan and Chicago native, might have wound up on point for the Jordan squad. Perhaps the Pacers would have exercised the option to claim the Hoosiers star, and a Thomas-Reggie Miller duo might just have captured that elusive fourth Finals title for Indiana.
Of course, this is not what occurred. Instead, Thomas and the Bad Boys added an important chapter to NBA history. With a rough and tumble approach at the very time that the league’s front office was pushing for a cleaner game, the thousand-watt smile Thomas refused to comply. After twice leading in steals in the playoffs, Thomas led his Pistons to inherit the mantle of Eastern Conference champions from the Celtics before knocking off the Lakers for back-to-back rings. With a truly prolific career (ninth in career steals and fifth in assists per game) and adding indelibly to the story of basketball, Thomas is a no-brainer Golden Hall member.
Clyde Drexler, SG
135.6 WS, 70.2 VORP, 21.1 PER, 20.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 5.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Home appears to be an inadvertent theme to the Fifth Team. For Thomas, home did not call him. For Clyde Drexler, after a northwestern sojourn, home beckoned.
Drexler was born in New Orleans but traded one Gulf city for another, growing up largely in Houston. Despite concerns over his talent from boosters, the Houston Cougars recruited him to play college ball. He composed a key part of the Phi Slamma Jamma identity of the early 1980s.
After declaring early for the draft, the Portland Trail Blazers selected him with the 14th pick. After 12 incredible years and a Western Conference championship, Drexler glided back home to finish his career with the Houston Rockets. His first season back home was joyous, as he helped bring a second consecutive title to Space City.
Kevin Durant, SF
152.6 WS, 74.8 VORP, 25.3 PER, 27.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.1 BPG, 1.1 SPG
Durantula has to be one of the best nicknames in basketball. The reader knows the reference instantly. The player’s name is included, a classic animal is referenced, and yet the portmanteau is a distinct word. Crucially, the moniker also describes the athlete’s style of play – with an all-encompassing reach, it is almost as if he has eight arms.
The Marylander has deployed his spider-like capabilities to great international success. Averaging 20.6 points per game and ranking third in three-pointers in Olympic history and ninth in field goals, Durant won gold in the 2010 World Cup prior to leading the United States to a three-peat in Olympic play. He also won back-to-back titles with the Golden State Warriors and got his old Oklahoma City Thunder agonizingly close on multiple occasions.
Tim Duncan, PF
206.4 WS, 91.1 VORP, 24.2 PER, 19.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.2 BPG, 0.7 SPG
Assigning positions can be difficult, especially in this era of positional fluidity and ill-defined responsibilities. That said, bigs are still generally categorized as power forwards and centers. Tim Duncan split his time between the two almost evenly. Golden Hall voters ultimately chose to view him as a power forward, and his placement on the Fifth Team reflects that decision.
The Virgin Islanslander played his entire NBA career with the San Antonio Spurs. Known as a stoic, intelligent person who applied his gifts to basketball, Duncan solidified his place among the all-time greats in the game’s history. He was a key player in each of the five Finals victories in the Spurs disconnected dynasty. His career stats explain why the Spurs won across three decades: seventh in career rebounds, fourth in defensive rebounds, sixth in blocks, second in defensive win shares, seventh in value over replacement player, third in defensive rating, and top 100 in just about every other category.
Bill Russell, C
163.5 WS, 18.9 PER, 15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
Tempting to leave it there but will provide a few more details on Bill Russell’s storied career. The Californian made his name with the Boston Celtics as the key part of its 11-title run from 1957 to 1969. Unfortunately, scorekeepers did not record blocks in those years, but many suspect he ranks among the all-time leaders. Records do definitely show that Russell ranks second in career rebounds, second in rebounds per game, second in minutes per game, and first in defensive win shares. He led the league in postseason rebounds an astounding ten times.
Oh, and he won gold at the 1956 Olympics, averaging 14.1 points per game as the United States went undefeated and vanquished the Soviet Union in the championship bout. Make that 12 rings.
Follow me on Twitter at @goldenhallofame for more of my content.
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports fans!
Main image credit