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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 4/6/21

Good morning, I asked last week for people to name their top 10 basketball players of recent times. The votes are in. Before getting to the results, I learned a lot about the attraction of basketball, people’s attachment to certain players, and what type of analysis my friends employ… WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS

  • The top ten (or eleven) were pretty unanimous. This accentuates the notion that a single individual is far more significant and visible within the context of a basketball game than in most other sports. With five people on the court, each takes on a far more critical role than the 22 starters (11 each on offense and defense) in football. In baseball, only one batter on offense and the pitcher and a couple of others players on defense are relevant in any given play. In basketball, all the guys on the floor are “in the game.” Playing time matters.

  • Some people were highly discerning and consistent with the overwhelming favorites, but couldn’t resist including one special player that appeared nowhere else, who obviously touched them in some special way (e.g., Paul Kanin—“could have been a dancer”)

  • Many people referred to their favorite players by their first or last name or their nickname (e.g., Bird, Magic, Kareem, Kobe). One I hadn’t heard was “Big Oscar Robertson.” I got the sense that many fans identify with basketball players in a way that is reserved for only the very few in baseball or football. It is as if there is a real personal relationship. Personality and marketing matters.

  • As I thought about the outpouring of mourning for Kobe Bryant, I couldn’t help that it would be unlikely Mariano Rivera, Mike Trout, Alex Rodriguez, or Derek Jeter would elicit the same sympathy. And outside of Boston or Tampa Bay, I doubt there ever would be such an outpouring for Tom Brady. The NBA has succeeded where other sports have failed—in creating “league” stars, whose success, personal story and attributes transcend the team for which they play.

ANALYSIS TO THE MAX Regarding the poll itself, with my group of friends, they couldn’t help but add a level of analysis/complication: From Ken Millman: Perhaps we need to divide this into the greatest in College and the greatest in Pro. For instance, Michael Jordan would obviously be on the list of pro but not necessarily college, whereas Pete Maravich would most likely be a candidate for college but not pro. From David Lash: I can make it even more complicated (NOTE FROM EDITOR: DAVID, YOU CAN MAKE ANYTHING MORE COMPLICATED)-- for about three or four years, on those rare days he was not hampered by serious injuries, Bill Walton belongs in the top ten, based on raw talent. Pete Maravich likely belongs based just on raw talent as well. But I can’t include either of them, though I wish I could. And had Baylor played during a time of arthroscopic surgery, his stock would be much higher. When we get to baseball, the same goes for Mickey Mantle. From Scott Hostetler (regarding the general sentiment that Shaq was a close call: “I think Shaquille could have been the greatest but his lackadaisical work ethic kept his career dotted with dominance and shorter than it should have been. BEST COMMENTARY The award goes to Scott Hostetler,, whose pithy comments follow: 1. Wilt Chamberlain- he did anything he wanted to on the court, he could shoot from outside (not free throws) dribble, pass and block shots. Because no one could stop him the only thing they could do was change the rules to slow him down. (3 seconds in the key) 2. Kareem Abdul Jabbar- if you absolutely needed a basket his sky hook was unstoppable. Again, because he couldn’t be stopped they changed the rules ( no dunking) to hurt him. 3. LeBron James - We just keeps winning and dominating and doesn’t show signs of slowing down. 4. Magic Johnson - he changed the game and had fun doing it. 5. Michael Jordan- he’s very good but they changed the rules to HELP his game (unlike Wilt and Kareem) the 3 point line opened up the key for driving. Can you imagine Elgin Baylor in today’s game? 6. Kobe Bryant- there’s hundreds of talented 6’6” guys in the NBA - what set Kobe apart was between his ears... THE UNANIMOUS (AND NEAR-UNANIMOUS) STARS No great surprises on these legendary basketball players. These ten players appeared on all (or nearly all) of the lists: Michael Jordan LeBron James Magic Johnson Kareen Abdul-Jabbar Kobe Bryant Jerry West Wilt Chamberlain Bill Russell Oscar Robertson Larry Bird I said nearly all because a few people left one of these guys out (and no more than two). Most often included was Elgin Baylor (these were not sympathy votes—the poll predated his death last week) Others receiving multiple recognitions were Hakeem Olajuwon, Dr. J, Karl Malone, and Tim Duncan. And then particular favorites of one or two participants (included in their top ten or “very close”), some no doubt informed by their local heroes or childhood favorites: Walt Frazier John Havlicek Bill Walton Karl Lewis Gail Goodrich Next time it’s sports, we’ll talk The Masters (for the uninitiated, that’s golf) and, of course, baseball! Have a great day, Glenn

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