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.
Previous articles covered the Second Team, Third Team, Fourth Team, Fifth Team, 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 best possible starting lineup in basketball history. Each lineup is made up of a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center.
The next article will put the full list together in one place, complete with breakdowns by team and other insights.
Without further ado and in order of votes received, the Basketball Golden Hall Second Team (be sure to comment with whom you think we missed):
Magic Johnson, PG
155.8 WS, 80.0 VORP, 24.1 PER, 19.5 PPG, 11.2 APG, 7.2 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Reggie Miller once wrote astutely that basketball has a greater capacity than any other team sport to generate superstars. The lack of headgear and dehumanizing uniforms allows for personalities to shine and fandom to grow accordingly. Magic Johnson demonstrates this principle better than perhaps any other single player. Fans could see clearly that smile, that swagger, the unparalleled charm, and the matching skill. This up-close experience made his tragic fall all the harder to watch and his subsequent resurrection that much more inspiring.
Just one year removed from arguably his best season (8.9 VORP, 16.5 WS in 1990), Johnson retired after the 1991 campaign (and returned temporarily in 1996). In those 13 seasons, the Showtime point guard placed himself at the very top of the basketball echelon. Johnson still leads in career assists per game, career playoff total assists, career playoff assists per game, and career playoff triple-doubles. He ranks in the top 20 in career playoff points (16), career playoff defensive rebounds (12), career assists (6), career playoff steals (4), and career true shooting percentage (17).
Michael Jordan, SG
214.0 WS, 116.1 VORP, 27.9 PER, 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG
This author had the good fortune of being born a Bulls fan in the mid-1980s. Raised by a Chicagoan, my allegiances were born of family and geography, not winning or superstars. While the Cubs, Bears, and Blackhawks put forward disastrous seasons in the early years of my sports consciousness, one Chicago team rewarded my loyalty. The Chicago Bulls drafted Michael Jordan one year prior to my birth, and I was privileged to see Jordan’s Bulls capture titles just as I could conceptualize the significance and join in the joy. Any and all basketball fans know just how transcendent Jordan was at his height, and he is a unanimous selection among Golden Hall voters for the First Team.
His Airness led the association in points per game seven seasons in a row and again (after retirement and a partial year) for three consecutive campaigns. Jordan continued this success into the playoffs, leading in ten playoff years. He played nearly every game possible (all 82 regular season contests nine times and 179 playoff matches).
In those offensive heavy games, Jordan also found time to play some of the greatest defense ever on the hardwood. He led the league in steals per game three times, defensive plus-minus twice, and received defensive player of the year once. Jordan continues to rank first in career regular season and playoff points per game, career playoff points per game, player efficiency rating, box plus-minus, and usage percentage.
The North Carolinian also took time to win gold for his country twice, putting up a 16-3-3 line with an average of three steals to boot.
LeBron James, SF
249.5 WS, 142.6 VORP, 27.3 PER, 27.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG
The heir to His Airness not only assumed the mantle of greatest active player from his predecessors, he also continued the trend of establishing personal brands that aid in growing basketball domestically and globally. Like Michael Jordan’s apparel and movies before him, LeBron James dominated the sports media landscape for nearly two decades.
In addition to clothes and appearances in films like Trainwreck and Space Jam 2, the Ohioan led the way in expanding the expectations of players to be involved in the charitable and social justice arenas. From contributing millions of dollars to schools to founding an organization to protect the cherished right to vote, James has made a difference beyond providing an entertainment value to fans.
On that note, James has also excelled. He ended Cleveland’s record drought, bringing a championship to the Forest City in 2016. James led his teams to eighth consecutive Finals appearances and has won four throughout his career (receiving Finals MVP honors in three of those series). He is the all-time leader in career playoff points, steals, free throws, games, minutes, win shares, and VORP. He ranks fifth in career playoff points per game, sixth in rebounds, second in assists, eleventh in blocks, second in threes, and second in player efficiency rating.
Dirk Nowitzki, PF
206.3 WS, 84.8 VORP, 22.4 PER, 20.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG
In most European and South American leagues, the top, or major, league is not set. Instead, promotion and relegation define the existence of these clubs. If a team finishes in the last two (sometimes more), it will be relegated to the next-level down minor league. The corresponding top two from that minor league will achieve promotion to the major league. For North American basketball fans, imagine a world where, after their disastrous 2022 campaigns, the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets are relegated to the G-League and replaced by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Delaware Blue Coats.
Before making his NBA debut, Dirk Nowitzki performed such a feat for his German team, DJK Wurzburg. After joining the team at just 16 years old and struggling to juggle high school and his military commitments, after just three years (and two as a starter), Nowitzki led his team to promotion. As a reward, he was named the German Basketball Player of the Year by Basket Magazine.
Rather than continue with Wurzburg into the top-level Federal Basketball League, the Bavarian took his talents to America. The rest is almost universally known history. He finished fourth in games and minutes, sixth in career points, seventh in free throws, eighth in win shares and defensive rebounds, and thirteenth in three-pointers. His Dallas Mavericks upset the powerhouse Miami Heat to win the 2011 Finals, and now the German has beaten his fellow power forwards to claim the Golden Hall top spot.
273.4 WS, 85.7 VORP, 24.6 PER,24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 2.6 BPG
Basketball has generally improved over the last half-century. Many of the best athletes choose the hardwood over the diamond or gridiron, some of the smartest people of the day have applied analytical skills to increase understanding of the game, and players have been empowered to take care of their bodies and minds. These factors combine to produce the highest quality version of the game to date.
Yet, some elements have been lost. One that comes immediately to mind: the hook shot. Graceful and eminently amenable to poetic description and thoughts, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook wowed crowds and infuriated opponents for two decades.
The New Yorker did not have to rely on this shot alone. Coupled with his athleticism and mindfulness, Abdul-Jabbar makes a compelling case for greatest of all time. He ranks first in win shares, career points and minutes, second in games, third in blocks (even without the stat recorded in his first four seasons), fourth in rebounds, and eighth in value over replacement.
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