Padecky: Count it: Stephen Curry has ascended to ‘GOAT’ status
Now that Stephen Curry has risen to the level of rarified air where only the truly gifted inhale, should he now receive the ultimate compliment: Is Curry one of the 10 best players in NBA history?
To be fair the Warriors’ star doesn’t give two bagels with cream cheese if he is or isn’t. Curry wants rings and he has four of them. That means he has more than Larry Bird (3), Wilt Chamberlain (2), Julius Erving (1), Jerry West (1) and Oscar Robertson (1) - All viable candidates for The Ten Best. Steph’s response: Whatever.
Establishing criteria for the 10 Best is a bit tricky.
For example, Bill Russell’s team beat Chamberlain’s team 57-37 when they met during the season, 29-20 when they met in the postseason. So many people regard Russell as the superior player.
How much does TEAM factor into the assessment?
The game has changed. Does being Mister Wonderful in the 1960s carry as much weight as Mister Wonderful in ‘90s? Everything short of an open fist to the face was at one time allowed. Bill Laimbeer and Karl Malone were accomplished practitioners of issuing soft tissue damage.
Now, however, players flop like soccer players and a good hand check is an officials’ tweet.
Once the NBA lived around the hoop. Pass inside to the big body. Watch the big body get hammered. Watch the big body wince as he missed free throws. It was as if a law was issued by James Naismith himself. The game has to be played around the basket.
Today, there’s the 3-point shot. Players gather around the arc like people waiting for the bus. GIMME THE BALL! When they launch the shot players extend their arm as if they are waving bye-bye to grandma. If they miss, they look like bad actors. If they make it, they want a car commercial. Soon, mark my words, there’ll be a 4-point shot.
Then there’s the impact on the game. Has the player caused discernible and meaningful change? How much is that worth? In other words would the game be noticeably different without him? Erving and Curry are among those in this category.
For sake of clarity current players in the middle of their careers are not considered. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, 27, and his career averages of 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists would guarantee him a spot in the Top 10.
And here’s another consideration - Why do we have to call it The Top 10? Why not the Top 9? Or the Top 11? Top 12 is better; nothing like an even dozen. But “TEN” sounds smooth, drops from the tongue easily.
Here’s the list. My only criteria: Would a player be in Top 10 no matter what era he participated in?
The first five players in the Top 10 are automatic. All five could take over a game through their sheer will and talent. All five made professional basketball different and better.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the penultimate big man. The league’s all-time scorer and 11-time All-Defensive player, Kareem and his Sky Hook could have scored 100 points a game if he was greedy and could handle all the bruises and broken bones.
Magic Johnson was the penultimate team player. He deserves a special compliment. Magic made everyone around him better. No one united a team any better, except maybe the next guy.
Larry Bird couldn’t jump, couldn’t run, couldn’t outmuscle a school crossing guard. But Bird had the best brain of anyone. As the Tom Heinsohn line goes - Bird was playing chess while the rest of them were playing checkers. That, and Bird could shoot the eyes out of it.
Michael Jordan was the most gifted athlete. No one could take over a game like Michael. No one had a bigger motor or was more determined to win. Michael still is The Standard.
Kobe Bryant was a Michael clone. Same intensity. Same natural gifts. Same obsession with conditioning and preparation and commitment. Like Michael, Kobe irritated his teammates with his uncompromised zeal to be perfect every play, every day.
Five down. Five left. Here comes the tricky part.
Jerry West averaged 27 points in his career - without a 3-point line.
Bill Russell won 11 NBA titles but averaged just 15.1 points a game.
Wilt Chamberlain had career averages of 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, was 11-time rebound champion - yet won only one NBA title.
LeBron James is seen as the best player of his generation but no one has lost more NBA Finals (six).
Tim Duncan won five NBA titles yet posted career numbers of 19 points and 10.8 rebounds.
No. 6: Oscar Robertson. Oscar was the prototype of the big guard (6-foot-5). He distributed, he shot, he engaged, he defended. Oscar last played 49 years ago which might make him a faded yellow scrap of paper to anyone under 49 but he was the first true all-around point guard who controlled a game.
No 7: Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was then and would have been now the most dominant big man in the game. That he played on teams inferior to Bill Russell’s Celtics was his bad luck. If one was to start a team from scratch the selection would indeed be select, choosing one of these men: Michael, Magic or Wilt.
No. 8: LeBron James. His bad luck was facing the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. His good luck was his inheritance: A big man who could play small, who could muscle or dart, who became the first consideration for any team who faced him: What to do about LeBron? It is what he has in common with everyone else in the Top 10.
No. 9: Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq couldn’t hit a free throw if the hoop was the size of a bath tub but that hardly mattered. No one player was physically attacked more than Shaq for that was the only way to beat him. Get Shaq to limp or get him irritated. No one his size moved with more fluidity and grace and skill.
No. 10: Curry. No one has changed the way the game is played more than Curry. The game went airborne with Erving, Michael and David Thompson and that’s terrific for style points and highlight reels but airborne doesn’t decide games. Curry decides games and he’s nowhere near the basket when he does. Sometimes, it doesn’t look like he’s in the gym from where he shoots. He’s turned the 3-pointer into an obsession, his NBA brothers all the way down to pre-teens wanna be Steph. A 10-year old can’t fly and a 10-year old can’t dunk but he or she can certainly cast off from the arc, even if it’s with two hands.
The NBA should pay Curry a finder’s fee. Curry found a way to make the game more attractive. It is a contribution, frankly, that will last longer than his last jump shot.
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