3. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR Center, Lakers.
I speak with extreme prejudice when I say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the Greatest Basketball Player of All Time. That is an article in another section of this website, and my Kareem Magazine. High School to College to the NBA, NO ONE DID IT BETTER. His body of work speaks for itself but Kareem’s icy demeanor and lack of tact and/or savvy with the Media, teammates and opponents killed his chances of being universally loved by fans and Historians of the Game, who let’s face it, want their athletes warm and fuzzy or at least accessible.
I think Kareem could never separate the social injustices and political hypocracy off the court to his daily social interactions. Just one man’s opinion. He refused to let anyone else co-opt the narrative of his professional or personal life, for better or for worse.
As a result, saying Abdul-Jabbar could be difficult to deal with was the understatement of the Decade.
I’ll leave the analysis of Kareem’s impenetrable psyche and derisory interpersonal skills to the Psychologists and Sociologists; let’s talk Kareem the Basketball Player in the Eighties : 8 trips to the NBA Finals, 5 NBA Titles, League MVP in 1980, Finals MVP in 1985 (he was robbed of the the 1980 Finals MVP thanks to a sprained ankle and a Magical performance for the Ages), 4 ALL NBA selections, 10 ALL STAR selections, 3 All DEFENSIVE TEAM selections.
And that was the on the downhill side of his NBA career!!!.
Just for fun, look up the first Half of his career when he was really good! The lost years of 1975-1979, when he was player 1 or 1A in the League without any hardware to show for it were atoned for once Magic came onto the scene, but don’t think for one moment LA goes to 8 Finals or wins 5 titles (and with any luck 7) without the Captain. The Sky hook ruled the 70’s and 80’s, and for good measure Kareem broke Wilt’s all time scoring record in 1984, finishing with 38,387 points for his career.
A true Giant of the Game, he deserves his own Mount Rushmore; High School, UCLA, the Seventies and the Eighties.
10. KEVIN MCHALE Forward, Celtics.
Neophyte Forward Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks is being compared to Dirk Nowinski and Pau Gasol, two future Hall of Famers and spectacular role models. But If I were Porzingis I would have the Knick Video staff snatch every Game Kevin McHale ever played, as well as the gentleman who sits two slots ahead of him on this list. McHale was impossible to guard when he got it going. His moves and countermoves in the post were unparalleled. Drop steps, Jump hooks, fade aways, he could do it all.
Like Worthy, he could have been the main man on any other team, but Larry Legend drove the Bus and McHale was quite content going along for the ride. He had an uncanny knack to keep shots alive off the board, tip-ins and tip-outs were his specialty. Defensively you had to pick your poison between Bird or McHale, good luck with that. He was a fun counterpoint to Bird’s maniacal obsession and looked like he loved every minute of playing. We loved watching every minute.
9. GERVIN, GEORGE Guard, San Antonio.
The Iceman was a brilliant scorer, long and lanky and effortless in everything he did on a court. Some players like Stephon Curry are born to shoot a Basketball; that was Gervin. A transitional player from the Go-Go- ABA, Gervin belonged to that special club of Earl Monroe, Pete Maravich and Magic Johnson that had to give the people what they wanted, the Show within the Show.
Gervin put topspin, bottom spin, middle spin on a Basketball to the point where he could flip a finger roll from anywhere within 10 feet, up over outstretched fingers of 7 foot centers, off any area of a backboard. He played a 48 minute game of HORSE. 26,536 points combined ABA-NBA in 10 seasons (and yes, I count the ABA because their best became the NBA’s best) is ridiculous. He’s on the top 5 list of toughest players to guard in the Decade.
8. AKEEM OLAJUWON, Center, Houston.
He was Akeem in the Eighties, a Human Swiss-Army Knife of a Basketball player. He’s the only player on this list next to Jordan that I describe as frightening when he was clicking on all Cylinders. Akeem possessed speed, quickness, power, touch, grace; his impeccable footwork caught defenses off guard and set up open shots for his teammates. The Twin Tower matchup with Olajuwon and Sampson did not pan out as expected but they ruined the Laker dreams of a back to back in 1986 as they shocked the Purple and Gold in the Western Conference Final that year. He went on to win two titles in the 90’s and re-define the Center positon. Cue the tape, Kristaps.
7. MICHAEL JORDAN, Guard, Chicago.
The Championships in the 90’s were forged by the losses in the ‘80’s to Bird, Magic and Isiah. The third Pick in the 1984 draft became MVP by 1988, making the scoring titles his alone, and everyone knew the NBA’s future wore number 23. But In the middle of the decade there were still matters to attend to, like building a team around him and finding the right Coach to channel this once in a lifetime talent toward a winning culture. He arrived in the perfect storm of Cable and Satelite Televison, the dawning of the Internet and the marketing genius of new NBA Commissioner David Stern and Nike’s Phil Knight.
But Michael wasn’t marketing hype, he was challenging the laws of Physics every night in Arenas around the country. Magic and Bird had taken the NBA off of life support and into the forefront of Sport, but Jordan was taking the NBA to new horizons. The regular season duels with Dominique are unmatched in their sheer wizardry, and back when EVERYONE competed in the Slam Dunk Competitions, Air and ‘Nique ruled.
Michael’s 63 point masterpiece in the first round of the 1986 playoffs vs the eventual World Champion Celtics, one of the best teams ever, featuring Bird at the absolute peak of his powers, opened a window into the places Jordan would take us in Decade Next. The brutal beatings at the hands of the Jordan Rules Pistons cemented his resolve and Jordan took it out on the League with a furious vengeance once Tex, Phil, Scottie and Horace got on board.
The children of the Golden Age, Michael, Patrick, Charles, Stockton, Malone and Mullin were only glimmers in the eye of USA Basketball Guru Jerry Colangelo in 1985 but they would not disappoint.
6. ISIAH THOMAS Guard, Detroit.
The Third best Guard of the Decade after Magic and Michael, the smallest of the trio may have possessed the biggest Heart. The only player whose team defeated the Superteams in the Playoffs, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago, Zeke took a different path to glory, a much rougher, physical path. Purists may cringe, long term friendships were ended and lifetime enemies were forged, but for Isiah the playoffs were a War that needed to be won, damn the casualties. It was a different era, and Isiah was a different kind of cat.
His face was never going to be on NBA Marketing’s Mount Rushmore with the Doctor, Bird, Magic and Jordan, while the Bad Boys were never going to be loved by Basketball historians. Thomas and his comrade in arms Bill Laimbeer fostered a bunker mentality reflecting his upbringing on the mean streets of Chicago that centered on those 12 guys in the locker room, the coaching staff, and the city of Detroit, whose title-starved fans still relish those back to back Championships.
His brilliance on a basketball court and iron-willed leadership was never more evident than his 42 point performance in Game Six of the 1988 NBA finals, scoring most of his 25 points in the third quarter after a severe ankle sprain. I’ve never seen an athlete play harder to win a game in my lifetime. I believe that effort by Isiah set the tone for those two Detroit Titles, and epitomized the competitive excellence of this Decade. Isiah was one of the last players to believe true validation in NBA History meant winning a title. He gets full Mount Rushmore treatment on this website and will always have a roster spot on my Dream Team.
5. MOSES MALONE Center, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta.
The Decade’s leading rebounder (by a mile), Moses was both an irresistible force and an immovable object. Like Bird and Rodman, (cue James Brown music) The Hardest Working Man in the NBA took rebounds seriously and made it an art form. Control the boards, control the game, and no one has ever done it better. He was no slouch on the offensive end, either, averaging 31 and 14 boards, 24 and 15 boards in his MVP seasons of 1982 and 1983.
Some players put up big numbers, but Malone dominated basketball games with his presence. He made decent Houston teams good, upsetting the Lakers on the way to the Finals vs. Bird in 1981, and made an excellent Philadelphia team unstoppable in 1983, teaming up with Dr. J to run rampant on the NBA, winning 65 games (they could have easily won 70 if they cared), then sweeping Magic, Kareem and the Lakers in the Finals, where he out-rebounded Abdul-Jabbar 71-30 in the 4 games.
Philadelphia’s 12-1 Playoff run to the title at that time was the best ever. This writer still thinks the 1983 Sixers were the most dominant team of that decade and get short shrift in the Bird-Magic narrative. Malone never returned to the Finals, but his insane work ethic and relentless nature in the paint were the stuff of legend.
90. BILL CARTWRIGHT Center, New York/Chicago.
In the Big Apple the oft-injured Cartwright was known as Invisi-Bill or Medical Bill; in Chicago he was better known as a 3-Time World Champion.
89. WORLD B FREE Guard, SAN DIEGO, CLEVELAND
The NBA’s version of the 1960’s Television Western “Have Gun will Travel”, Free took his rainbow jumpers and attitude from Philly to San Diego to Cleveland. His range was anywhere in the building.
88. MIKE WOODSON Forward, New York, Kansas City, Clippers, Houston.
Averaged 17 ppg in his prime years in KC, then banished to NBA purgatory, the Clippers before finishing with the Rockets.
87. KELLY TRIPUKA Forward, Detroit Pistons
Isiah’s early partner in the Pre-Bad Boys Days; with Tripuka, Isiah and John Long, Pistons tried to outscore you for first half of the Eighties. YOU TUBE: DETROIT AT DENVER, DEC 13, 1983.
86. SLEEPY FLOYD Golden State, Houston.
Floyd set a playoff record for most points in a quarter with 28 fourth quarter points vs. the Lakers in the in game 4 of the 1987 Conference Semifinal; Sleepy’s 50-point outburst was one of the few blemishes on that dominant Laker playoff run.
85. EDDIE JOHNSON Guard, Atlanta.
Fast Eddie was a 3 time All-Star Guard with the Hawks in the first half of the Decade
84. TRUCK ROBINSON-Forward, New York, Phoenix.
The man with the SUV body also had a light touch around the basket; crossed over from the Seventies with the Knicks.
83. GREG BALLARD Forward, Washington.
Ballard’s Best seasons were 1981-83 where he averaged 18 ppg and 7 rebounds
82. ORLANDO WOOLRIDGE Chicago, Los Angeles.
The Late Forward had an an explosive leaping ability that could muscle for rebounds and run the floor on the Break. Played on the early Bulls teams with MJ, then teamed up with the other MJ, Magic to make a run at a Threepeat before injuries capsized the Lakers in the 1989 Finals.
81. JAMES EDWARDS Center, Phoenix, Detroit.
Versatile Big man became the ideal Backup to Piston Center Bill Laimbeer on the best Bench of the Decade; Edwards could play with his back to the basket or face up for the midrange jumper.
THE TOP 100
PLAYERS OF THE EIGHTIES
40. BUCK WILLIAMS Forward, New Jersey, Portland.
A prototype power forward and successor to Maurice Lucas, the 2 time All Star Williams thrived wherever he played and helped the Blazers to two NBA Finals. A career double-double man over 17 seasons.
39. BILL LAIMBEER Center, Detroit.
Bill will always be infamous for the wrong reasons, i.e. flailing elbows , cheap shots and foul tongue. Laimbeer was always among the league leaders in rebounds, spearheaded the Bad Boy Defense and was an excellent shooter out to 20 feet. Like Charles Oakley, you hated him unless he was on your team…
…Actually no, you just hated him. And that’s just the way he liked it.
38. LARRY NANCE Forward, Phoenix.
This long, athletic leaper had tremendous ability on display in the Valley of the Sun for 6 1/2 seasons, then moved to Cleveland (for Kevin Johnson, one of the few trades that helped both teams) to anchor a young and talented Cavs team in the late part of the Eighties and into the early Nineties. A ferocious dunker, 3 time All Star outdueled Dr. J to win the Slam Dunk Championship in Denver in 1984. Neophyte Larry Nance Jr. of the Lakers shows the Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
37. TOM CHAMBERS Forward, Seattle, Phoenix.
Chambers was yet another small forward who could score in bunches. A prolific offensive force, Chambers had super hops and had a host of memorable You Tube Dunks, none greater than his 2 handed Slam over Knick Guard Mark Jackson in 1989, a precursor to Vince Carter’s Otherworldly Olympic slam over France’s Frederick Weis.
36. TERRY CUMMINGS, Forward, Clippers, Milwaukee, San Antonio.
Cruel fate kept this 1982 First Round Pick off of the Showtime Lakers in favor of James Worthy, but Cummings won Rookie of the Year in San Diego, then thrived in Milwaukee, averaging 20/8 for the Bucks, and had a memorable playoff series with the Celtics in 1987.
35. JACK SIKMA Center, Seattle, Milwaukee.
The 7 time All Star Sikma’s numbers don’t leap off the page: 16 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1 block per game in his 14 year career, but he won a title in the last year before “The Golden Age”. Don’t let the Surfer-Dude looks fool you, Jack was a tough SOB on both ends. He just played in a time when Great Big Men were everywhere: Kareem, Walton, Moses, Lanier, Gilmore, Unseld. Sikma was never the first option on his teams but he was the ultimate teammate and held his own against all of his counterparts. Hopefully the Hall of Fame will (finally!!) remember as much.
34. BOB LANIER Detroit, Milwaukee.
The Hall of Fame Center toiled without much national fanfare as the best player on a bad Pistons team in the Seventies but flourished after a 1980 trade to the Bucks at the tail end of his career, getting thisclose to the Finals in 1979 while anchoring a young, talented Bucks team in the early part of the Eighties. Lanier made up for lack of height at his position with great strength, savvy and superior mechanics under the basket, while owning a feathery left-handed midrange jumper.
And if you messed with him, he could put that size 22 foot up your Butt.
33. ROLANDO BLACKMAN Guard, Dallas.
Sweet slinging Two-Guard hooked up with point Guard Derek Harper to form one of the Best Backcourts in the late Decade for the Western Conference contending Mavericks. AT 18.0 ppg, 48% fg, 84% ft, Blackman was a dangerous clutch scorer.
32. MAURICE CHEEKS Guard, Philadelphia.
The Decade’s leader in steals with 1768, Cheeks was the steady guiding hand on a team full of scorers. There was no flash to his game, he just got results and wins. Teamed with fearless shooting guard Andrew Toney to form the Eastern Conference’s best Backcourt from 1981-1985.
31. NORM NIXON Guard, Los Angeles.
Nixon was a lightning quick talent who had a deadly pull-up jumper or could burst to the rim with the best in the game. His intra-squad tug of war for ball control with Magic from 1980-83 eventually cost him a spot on the Dynasty of the Decade. The 1982 team featuring Magic, Nixon, Jamal Wilkes, Michel Cooper and Bob McAdoo featured the fastest fast-break in NBA History.
50. BILL WALTON Center, San Diego/Los Angeles, Boston.
On the fast track to immortality with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1978 (every Basketball fan should read THE BREAKS OF THE GAME by the brilliant late Author David Halberstam who chronicled Walton in the Seventies), the Big Redhead missed 4 complete seasons with serious foot and ankle issues, had a change of heart on Law School, Re-animated his game with the sad-sack Clippers then joined Bird and Company to terrorize the League in 1985-86 as The Green Machine won their 16th title in dominating fashion and Walton captured 6th Man of the Year (Red Auerbach strikes again!).
The injury demons crept up again, and Bill retired after the next season but cemented his status as one of the greatest big men and best passing Center of all time.
Walton’s mind-meld of passes to and from Larry Bird is immortalized on You Tube for all time.
49. MIKE MITCHELL Forward San Antonio.
Mitchell, another of the terrific Small Forwards in the NBA, did not get the notoriety from playing in a small market and playing alongside “The Iceman” George Gervin. Mitchell was a major reason the Spurs challenged the Lakers for Western Conference Supremacy in the early Eighties.
48. NATE ARCHIBALD Guard, Boston, Milwaukee.
“Tiny” by nickname only, Hall of Famer Archibald was a offensive force in the Seventies then aged gracefully as Bird’s main man in the early Eighties before Dennis Johnson hit town. A floor general bar none, Archibald controlled the Celtics tempo and fed Bird with perfect passes on the way to Boston’s epic comeback from a 1-3 hole vs Philadelphia in the Conference Final and the 1981 NBA Title vs. Houston.
47. DAN ISSEL Center, Denver.
The High post man for Denver’s Run and Run and Gun Offense, Issel brought his considerable ABA skills to the NBA, a superb midrange shooter who Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said was a major pain to come out to guard.
Issel was also tough under the boards and ignited that Nuggets fast break. Most famous for his front-toothless smile.
46. OTIS BIRDSONG Guard, Kansas City, New Jersey.
The 5 Time All Star Birdsong sang a sweet tune with his dynamic offensive game, but suffered on weaker teams. Played with Michael Ray Richardson and Darryl Dawkins on the 1984 Nets team that shocked the world by upsetting the defending DOC/MOSES World Champion Sixers in the first round.
45. JOHN STOCKTON Guard, Utah.
One of the 1984 Draft Kings, the unheralded point man from Gonzaga University burst onto the national stage during Utah’s nail-biting 7 game Conference semifinal loss to the Lakers in 1988. Stockton to Malone would become a catch phrase of the NBA vernacular.
44. DALE ELLIS GUARD, Dallas, Seattle.
Under-utilized on a stacked Dallas team, Ellis flourished in Seattle, becoming an All-Star in 1989 but more significantly he became one of the Godfathers of the 3 point shot, hoisting 4 Thousand threes in his 17 year career and hitting a blistering 41% of them.
43. KEVIN JOHNSON GUARD, PHOENIX
The odd man out in Cleveland, who rolled with Mark Price, Johnson was reborn in the Valley of the Sun, exploiting blazing speed, quickness and leaping ability to trigger a Franchise turnaround in the late Eighties. Johnson and the Suns would drive the last nail into the coffin of Showtime, upsetting the Lakers in 1990 which led to the departure of Pat Riley.
42. MICHAEL RAY RICHARDSON GUARD, New York, Golden State, New Jersey.
I sound redundant, but Substance Abuse kept this mercurial talent from being much, much higher on this list. Michael Ray could do it all, and electrified Madison Square Garden in the early part of the Decade. His off-court drug demons led to a trade for Bernard King in 1982-83, and the change did him good, returning to the NY metropolitan area with the Nets to engineer a one-man wreck of the defending World Champion Sixers in the first round of the 1984 playoffs. It took a while, but he turned his life around and shares his experiences in minor league Coaching. Bravo.
41. MAXWELL, CEDRIC Forward, Boston, LA Clippers.
Quick with his lip, a Hip, and a quip, “Cornbread” won 2 Titles in Boston (People forget it was Maxwell, not Larry Bird who was voted the 1981 Finals MVP); Maxwell was a junkyard dog off the offensive boards, a savvy scorer when needed and crafty defender. He did whatever his team needed to win, the mark of a true Celtic.
1. EARVIN “MAGIC” JOHNSON, Guard, Lakers
Magic won the Decade’s war of attrition between he and Bird with two head to head Finals wins vs one, the 1979 NCAA title, 9 NBA Finals appearances and 5 overall Titles to 5 NBA Finals and 3 Titles.
Is Magic better than Bird?.
Is Bird better than Magic?.
Not by a longshot.
Magic is the most unique player in the History of the NBA, there will never be another Magic Johnson.
Bird, Kareem, Wilt, Russell, Oscar, Jerry, Michael, Akeem, Lebron, Shaq all have their unique ability, but a 6 foot 9 point guard that can run, pass, score, rebound and put a team on his shoulders to lead by example is an anomaly that won’t be duplicated. Ever.
He turned the Fabulous Forum into his own personal House Party 3-4 nights per week for 12 seasons; the energy in the building shook the rafters. Whether it was New Jersey in November, or Boston in June, Magic gave the fans what they came to see, a win and a show.
He deferred to the Legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar over the first half of the Decade, even as he won Finals MVP in 1980 and 1982; his ability to set up his teammates for point blank shots at the rim or open jumpers was unparalleled. He hit Kareem in his sweet spots for that unstoppable Sky Hook and was a one-man fast break unlike anything the NBA had ever seen.
Magic was a head-bobbing, finger pointing, high fiving, no look passing, high jumping, fist pumping, slam dunking, primal screaming Mozart of a basketball player. But make no mistake: lying beneath the surface of that thousand-watt smile was a ruthless competitor waiting to rip the hearts out of that night’s opponent.
He would trample any one man or team standing in his path to a Championship; winning was the only thing, it was the sole (no pun intended) reason for him to lace up his sneakers.
Earvin Magic Johnson’s boundless energy and passionate love affair with the Game of Basketball drew new fans and critics alike to the NBA like bees to honey in the Decade of the Eighties ; he humbly took the baton from Dr. J as the Ambassador of the League and methodically began to carve his own bust on Mount Rushmore.
The road to 5 titles wasn’t without its potholes: his last second Airball vs Houston in the 1981 Playoffs which sent the Lakers home and a dumbfounded Kareem into a summer- long Migraine; the unprecedented 25 year-25 million dollar contract that fall of 1981 followed by nationwide scorn toward his perceived role in the firing of Laker Coach Paul Westhead early in the 1981-82 season tore at the very foundation of the Franchise until neophyte Coach Pat Riley threw on his first Armani suit, slicked his hair back and righted the ship just in time for the team’s second title in 3 seasons.
The tipping point of Magic’s career was his bitter loss to Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA Championship; 1984 Regular Season and Finals MVP Bird was beyond brilliant in the seven game series as Magic collected a lowlight reel of titanic miscues in games 2, 4, and 7 which snatched defeat from the jaws of Victory. The remarkable chain of events from Games one to seven sent the Bird Bandwagon spiraling beyond capacity while Magic’s popularity came crashing down harder than Wall Street in 1929.
Rather than have that loss define his career, it inspired him to dig deeper within to enhance and refine his already enormous skill sets in preparation for the inevitable rematch with Bird the next season.
Led by the ageless wonder Kareem, the Lakers bounced back to defeat Bird at his Nest on the Parquet floor in the 1985 Finals but Magic was just getting started. He respectfully accepted the position of Option 1 vs 1A from Abdul-Jabbar, jump-started his own offense (even developing his own “junior junior” Sky Hook!) and powered the Lakers to another Finals conquest of Bird and the Celtics in 1987, capturing his first Regular Season and third Finals MVP.
The icing on the Championship Cake which separated Magic from Bird for the Decade was a repeat Title in 1988, the Lakers becoming first team in 19 seasons to scale to the top of the NBA Championship mountain in consecutive years.
Magic’s cosmic alignment with his former nemesis Bird and the Future of the League, Jordan at the end of the Eighties formed the triumvirate that laid the foundation for the ridiculous success that the League still enjoys today.
Their Historic Dream Team collaboration in Barcelona 1n 1992 captivated the entire world and opened the door for players of all nations around the Globe to aspire to and then achieve NBA Greatness.
Magic’s accomplishments as a Business Mogul are too lengthy to mention here, but he dealt with the devastating news that he had contracted the HIV virus as he did the 1984 loss to Bird, by digging deeper within himself and taking a world leadership role for HIV awareness.
That 1000 Watt Smile still illuminates and inspires the World as it did in October of 1979, when he nearly strangled Kareem after his first win as a Laker.
The NBA in the Decade of the Eighties. What a ride!. One that we who were witnesses descending on the Fabulous Forum and Arenas around the NBA night after night will never forget, thanks to over Eight Thousand Assists from the Magic Man.
2. LARRY BIRD Forward, Celtics.
I’ve written at length about the social climate in the nation and in the NBA surrounding Larry Bird’s first 5 years in the NBA. I felt the Black fan’s distrust of what they were not seeing on a nightly basis because Cable, Satellite or Internet were not yet staples of our lives, as just fabricated reports in the media. I remember having a conversation after seeing Bird play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden for the first time in his Rookie season and knowing a Star was born, but unable to convince my former UConn roommate Mike who now lived in Inglewood, California , 2 blocks from the Forum, who watched the Magic show from a front row seat. The word mostly thrown around at Bird in the Inner Cities was “hype”.
And Hope, as in Great White. In retrospect, Great White Shark would have been more appropriate.
Magic confirmed this mindset of Black players and fans toward Bird in his autobiography “My Life”…
“Black fans were always aware of Bird, even in the beginning, when they pretended not to notice him. At first, many Blacks didn’t think he was all that good.
It was hard for them to accept that this guy could really play, that he could do almost everything the Black players could do. Some of these fans resented him. They thought he was nothing more than a media creation, a white Star produced to satisfy the white public. Actually, Bird did everything possible to stay away from the Media. I was the one they kept interviewing, because I enjoyed the attention. He never did".
Magic also marveled at Bird’s trash talk.
“The fact that he talked trash was even more surprising. That’s playground stuff, and they (Black players) weren’t used to hearing it from Whites. It used to bother some Black players. But he backed it up night after night, and that’s what counts.”
Bird explained his formative years in Indiana playing against older Black players in the excellent Bird-Magic HBO Documentary, A Courtship of Rivals. He clearly understood what the perception of him would be as a professional, and would dedicate his career to eradicating that perception, one game, one shot, one rebound, one pass, one win, one MVP, one Title at a time.
Observing the off the court, behind the scenes freeze-out of Larry Bird by Black NBA Players in person during the 1983 NBA All Star Weekend festivities in Los Angeles, it was a real lesson for me in the horrific but all too- pervasive nature of racism, with its underlying components of fear, misdirection, and ignorance.
Bird, whether it bothered him or not, never let it affect his mission of transforming the Celtics back into a League power. His passing was sublime, his vision unsurpassed. Coupled with a shot that he could will into the basket from any distance, any angle, he made a mockery of your game plan. Within a month of his rookie season he the NBA figured out and innately understood how to win each game…one night with his passing, the next night by controlling the boards, exploiting the best mismatches with his teammates, and on the rare nights when none of that was working, finding the spots on the floor where he would just go to work on yet another defender that truly believed he was stronger, quicker, more athletic or smarter than the Master of the Half Inch. Bird could use an opponent’s imagined advantage to his advantage better than anyone who ever played.
His highlight films are hours of watching someone devote his career to the minutiae of a game, instant recognition of the best play, inspiring his teammates with his words (not always kind) or his example, perpetually keeping his opponents off balance.
Bird thrived with the game on the line, with Kareem, West and Jordan, the 4 best Clutch shooters I’ve seen in my lifetime. His trash talking was legendary but no one was ever better at silencing a loudmouth in the last two minutes when everyone was running away from the ball. Once he got into your head he owned you.
He delivered so often you were stunned when he didn’t, like in game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals, seconds after Magic hit "Junior Junior Skyhook", Bird justmissed the corner three for the win, the only Really Big Shot he may have ever missed in a game of that magnitude.
So Who do you pick first, Magic or Bird?.
Doesn’t matter, as long as they never play on the same team.
80. DENNIS RODMAN Forward, Detroit.
He had not yet become DENNIS RODMAN, he was just a neophyte perpetual motion machine off the bench for a young and hungry Detroit team who could defend 3 positons and changed the energy of every game he entered.
79. ALVAN ADAMS Center, Phoenix.
A savvy if undersized Center who could pass, shoot and run the floor; Adams led the run and gun Suns to the Finals in his Rookie season of 1975-1976 (Adams played in maybe the greatest Finals game ever, the Triple-OT Game 5 at the Boston Garden); he transitioned well into the Eighties where his surprising Suns team lost to the Lakers in the 1984 Western Conference Finals.
78. MAURICE LUCAS Forward, New York, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle.
The Original Enforcer, Lucas brought his special brand of nasty from Portland in the Seventies to the Knicks and the Suns in the Eighties; played alongside Alvan Adams vs. the Lakers in 1984 playoffs; joined the Lakers briefly in the 1986 season and ended his career tutoring Xavier McDaniel in the fine art of nasty in Seattle.
77. SCOTT WEDMAN FORWARD Kansas City, Boston.
One of the Decade’s best perimeter marksman as either starter or reserve; His lights-out perfect 11 for 11 performance off the bench in Game One of the 1985 NBA Finals, the 44 -point “Memorial Day Massacre” of the Lakers upstaged Boston’s Big Three for a Day; a bona-fide NBA Hardwood Classic.
76. RICKEY PIERCE Guard, Milwaukee.
One more in a line of stellar sixth men for the Bucks; Won Sixth Man of the Year Award Outright in 1987 (and again in 1989-90). Pierce brought instant offense and hard-nosed defense to a hard-luck Milwaukee Franchise; Part of the ‘87 Bucks squad that took Celtics to the 7 game brink in Eastern Conference Semifinals.
75. JOHNNY MOORE Guard, San Antonio.
Hard-Charging lead Guard for best San Antonio teams of the Eighties; he and Backcourt partner George Gervin dueled Magic and Norm Nixon tooth-and-nail in the 1982 and 83 Conference Finals.
74. JUNIOR BRIDGEMAN Guard/Forward, Milwaukee.
Embraced and thrived as Sixth man for talented but snake-bitten Milwaukee Buck Eastern Conference contenders in the early eighties.
73. PRESSEY, PAUL Guard/Forward, Milwaukee.
Heir apparent to Bridgeman. Excellent defender and could score.
72. JOE BARRY CARROLL Center, Golden State, Sacramento.
Answer to trivia question:
Who was the Player Golden State “won” in the most lopsided trade of the Decade?. That’s unfair to Carroll, the consensus No. 1 pick of the 1980 Draft, who had some nice seasons with the Warriors, but Parish and McHale became legends in Boston. You can still smell Red Auerbach’s smoke amid the taste of Champagne.
71. BOB MCADOO Forward/Center, Lakers
The only reason this Hall of Fame legend is this painfully far back on this list is his best years were behind him by time he signed with Los Angeles in 1981. McAdoo had 4 extremely productive seasons for Los Angeles as a reserve and was my runner up to Magic as MVP of the 1982 NBA Championship Series. His mid-season signing in December 1981 to offset the devastating knee injury to Mitch Kupchak was a masterstroke of Laker Brass Bill Sharman and Jerry West which gave the Lakers one of the fastest teams in NBA History that season.
30. JOE DUMARS Guard, Detroit.
Isiah was the Star, Laimbeer and Mahorn were the Muscle, Rodman and Salley were the Freaks on defense, Vinnie was instant Offense, but Dumars was the Glue behind 2 NBA Championship teams. The 1989 NBA Finals MVP was one of the best two way players in NBA History, quarterbacking one of the most stifling defenses of all time, and prepping Michael Jordan for 6 NBA Titles.
29. ARTIS GILMORE Center, Chicago and San Antonio.
Similar to his Hall of Fame counterpart Bob Lanier, Gilmore came from obscurity in Chicago to the thick of Conference contention in San Antonio on a team featuring The Iceman, George Gervin, Mike Mitchell and Jonny Moore, while trading bumps and bruises with Kareem in the paint. The 7’ 2” Gilmore was one of the strongest players ever to play in the NBA.
28. JAMAL WILKES, Forward, Los Angeles.
Look in the Dictionary under “Winner” and you will find Jamal’s smiling mug. A 2-time NCAA Champion at UCLA with the Walton Gang, Wilkes struck Championship Gold in his first NBA season with Rick Barry and Golden State. The owner of the most unorthodox jumper in NBA history, his behind-his- ear “20 foot layup” was a thing of beauty.
The Hall of Famer also possessed the softest hands in League, catching Magic’s bullet passes with ease, was an excellent defender for his size and effortlessly finished fast breaks below the rim with the best. His 37 point masterpiece in game six of the 1980 Finals is a trivia question due to Magic’s 42 point explosion, but that best described his career, the Quiet Assassin.
27. CLYDE DREXLER GUARD, Portland.
The classy Drexler was another Superstar who deflected attention from himself to his team, but you couldn’t stop watching the effortless high-flying highlight reel of moves on a nightly basis. His excellence on the court and Historical imprint would inevitably suffer from the Ad-nauseum comparisons to Air Jordan.
26. MARQUES JOHNSON Forward, Milwaukee, Los Angeles.
The High-Flyer from UCLA regularly battled Dr. J and Larry Bird in epic regular season and playoff battles. A true 5-tool star, Johnson could shoot, defend, rebound, pass and run the court, and he was a creative finisher at the rim. Injuries de-railed his ranking higher on this list.
25. PATRICK EWING Center, New York.
The NBA’s first-ever lottery pick delivered on the immense promise shown at Georgetown. A failed attempt by Knick Coach Hubie Brown (the first of Ewing’s SEVEN coaches in New York) to duplicate Houston’s Twin Towers of Sampson and Olajuwon led the trade of Bill Cartwright to Chicago for Charles Oakley, Ewing’s move to Center and Brown’s move to Broadcasting. Knick fans today can only dream of the 14 straight Playoff appearances Ewing secured for New York.
24. MALONE, KARL FORWARD, UTAH
The 11 teams that passed on the Mailman in the 1985 draft were soon looking for other jobs. Malone had the body of Adonis and the speed of Hermes; as the recipient of pinpoint passes from John Stockton, he took the Jazz from relative obscurity to the 7th Game of the 1988 Conference semifinals vs. the Back to Back Lakers, and jumped on the fast track to Power Forward immortality.
23. AGUIRRE, MARK, Forward, Dallas.
The first pick in the 1981 Draft and the face of the expansion Maverick Franchise was a force in the League, a 3 time All-Star that led the Mavs to 5 straight Playoff appearances from 1984 to a 7 game Western Conference Finals Showdown with the Lakers in 1988. Maligned throughout his career for his me-first attitude, the load of Franchise-bearer wore on Aguirre and he was traded to the Pistons for Adrian Dantley, where he became a willing role player for his best friend Isiah Thomas, helping Detroit to 2 NBA Championships.
22. ANDREW TONEY Guard, Philadelphia.
Ah, the bugaboo of injuries. In a 4-year window from 1981-1985, Andrew Toney was one of the most feared scorers in the NBA. Nicknamed “The Boston Strangler” for his regular manhandling of the Celtics, Toney was automatic from 20 feet in, had a lethal first step to the rim and could stop on a dime to hit a jumper with a hand in his face. He formed a perfect backcourt complement to the selfless Maurice Cheeks and led the Sixers in the classic game 7 comeback in the 1982 Conference Final vs. the Celtics on the Parquet floor.
Foot and ankle injuries cut his career short, and he was never the same player after 1985. One of the toughest covers of the Decade.
21. WALTER DAVIS, Guard/Forward Phoenix.
The Swingman from the University of North Carolina led the Suns to 5 consecutive Playoffs berths from 1980-1984, including the 1984 Western Conference Finals vs. the Lakers; Davis was a 6 time All-Star (4 times in the Eighties) known as “The Greyhound” for his motor on the court, averaged 18 points per game in the Decade.
60. JOHNSON, VINNIE Guard, Detroit.
The third head in the three headed guard monster of Thomas, Dumars and Johnson, “The Microwave” lived up to his moniker on a nightly basis, filling up the nets in a nanosecond. Whether catching and shooting or off the dribble, the two time Champion Johnson was deadly and Uber-Clutch.
59. GLEN “DOC” RIVERS- GUARD, Atlanta.
Before “Mbutu”, Before his exaulted status as the Clippers’ Saviour, Glen Rivers was a dynamic point guard who fed Dominique Wilkins with some of his most dynamic Dunks, and one who went toe to toe with Jordan in the Hyper-competitive Central Division of the NBA in the mid to late Eighties.
58. DAN ROUNDFIELD- Forward, Atlanta, Detroit.
The bookend defensive forward with Bobby Jones of the Early Eighties, the three-time All Defensive First Teamer Roundfield played in relative obscurity in Atlanta, but his talents were undeniable.
57. XAVIER MCDANIEL FORWARD, SEATTLE
Before Wolverine, this “X-Man” was a tough- as-nails two way player who never backed down From a challenge and defined the late Eighties Sonics teams.
56. MYCHAL THOMPSON Center, Portland, Lakers.
After 7 excellent years playing big minutes in Portland, the Lakers’ acquisition of Thompson to back up an aging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was reason 1A behind their Back to Back Titles. Muscle and Hustle personified, Thompson fit seamlessly into Riley’s quick Showtime lineup but could bang with the best when it became Slowtime.
55. JEFF RULAND Center, Washington.
Injuries derailed a stellar career, as Ruland, a charter member of the “what if” team played only 4 full seasons. He was a “graceful bruiser”, who could score, rebound and pass.
54. DAVID THOMPSON Guard/Forward, Denver, Seattle.
Don’t get me started. The Chairman of the Board of the “What if” Team. The Real Skywalker (my apologies to Luke). DT was the best swingman not named Dr. J in the ABA in the early 70’s; Substance Abuse (the theme of a generation) and torn knee ligaments (supposedly suffered from falling down a flight of stairs at Studio 54 in New York City) grounded him and kept him from the short list of Greatest Guards Ever. Still made the Hall of Fame on the first Ballot. He was that Good.
53. KIKI VANDERWEGE Forward, Denver, Portland.
Calvin Natt’s predecessor of the brotherhood of the Run and Gun in the Mile High City, Kiki lit it up on a nightly basis, another in a wealth of small forwards that ran rampant through the NBA in the Decade.
52. MICHAEL COOPER Guard, Los Angeles
Bobby Jones’ defensive counterpart on the West Coast was THE Heart and Soul of the Lakers Defense. “CooooooP!!!” was 100 lbs soaking wet but feared no man, and his manic obsession with stopping Larry Bird was the best off-the-ball action in the NBA. They both relished the opportunity to torture each other and we loved every minute.
51. ALVAN ROBERTSON, Guard, San Antonio, Milwaukee.
The four-time All Star was a dangerous Two-Way threat. A Six time All-Defensive Team selection, Robertson played Spurs Basketball before we knew what Spurs Basketball would become.
4. JULIUS ERVING, Forward, Philadelphia.
The Godfather of the Modern NBA had played a number of years before the Decade of the Eighties, but still had plenty of Death-Defying Dunks to deliver between 1979-1987, his last year on the court. I can describe Doc in one word…indescribable. He was Earl Monroe with wings, a ballet dancer with a Basketball, simply the funkiest baller ever to rock a cradle Dunk. He was the first crossover Star in the NBA, an institution within an institution. He had more "Holy Shit!" moments than any player I can remember up until Jordan, and because of his gargantuan hands to control the ball, made plays not even Jordan could ever top. Old guys sitting in a Barber Shop will swap lies about the hundreds of contorted body positions Doc got into around a backboard or Rim, but they won’t be far off. There’s a great YOU TUBE video of Doc Highlights set to Stevie Wonder’s Superstition that beautifully captures the essence of The Doctor. Look it up.
One of my favorite stories is Cedric Maxwell playing against him for the first time. “ He was dribbling on a break heading toward me and the whole arena got up on their feet; I said to myself…Holy Shit, something really bad was about to happen!”
Except for us fans; when Doc was on the run, something really awesome was about to happen.
70. MARK EATON Center, Utah Jazz
Larger-than-life Shot-Blocking Specialist anchored the middle for an up and coming Utah Jazz team which scared the bejeezus out of the Lakers in the 7-Game 1988 Western Conference Semifinal. Eaton was a 3 time member of the ALL DEFENSIVE first team, and twice won the Defensive Player of the year award in 1985 and 1989.
69. CALVIN NATT Forward, Portland/Denver.
Sharpshooting Forward for the Run ‘n Gun Nuggets, Natt made a visit to the mile-high city a taxing affair. After excelling in Portland, Natt was traded for Kiki Vanderweghe in 1984, one of the rare trades that helped both teams. Made his only All Star team in 1985.
68. JEFF MALONE Guard, Washington.
One of the premier jump shooters of the late decade Malone was a 2-Time All Star in 1986 and 1987.
67. CHRIS MULLIN Forward, Golden State.
New York playground/College Legend and future Dream Teamer cut his teeth in Golden State in the second half of the decade as a left handed wunderkind whose jumper was pure “buttah”.
66. FAT LEVER Guard, Denver.
“Undersized” was an insult to the 2-Time All-Star who put together some terrific seasons for the Nuggets, teaming with Natt to terrorize teams in the late Decade.
65. DARRYL DAWKINS Forward/Center Philadelphia.
A five-year Old Shaquille O’ Neal could marvel at the late, great “Chocolate Thunder” in 1977, one of the first “Straight-outa-Prep School” phenoms to burst onto the NBA landscape. Backboard-Shattering skills aside, Dawkins had tons of talent and was one of the most beloved players in the history of the NBA. “Glass flyin’, Robazine cryin”….
64. ROY TARPLEY Forward, Dallas.
Gifted, Multi-faceted Forward for a great young Dallas squad in the late Decade succumbed to the specter of Substance Abuse which cost him a much higher ranking. But what a talent he was.
63. BOBBY JONES Forward, Philadelphia.
Anyone that believed the movie title “White Men Can’t Jump” as the Gospel never saw Bobby Jones chase down an opponent from behind and stop him at the rim. An Eight-Time All- Defensive Team Selection, Jones was also the inaugural winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award in 1983, another in the many Post-Season accolades for the World Champion Sixers. Jones guarded Dr J. in the ABA and then became Dr. J’s teammate in the 1978 George McGinnis trade with Denver (another under-rated trade).
62. DEREK HARPER Guard, Dallas.
Harper will always remain underrated as a Point Guard in the Magic Johnson Era; teamed with the dynamic shooting guard Rolando Blackman to form the second best Guard combo in the West from 1986-88 and one of the best in the League. I’ll remember him fondly for nearly leading the 1994 Knicks to the NBA title.
61. BYRON SCOTT Guard, Lakers.
Scott Played in the ominous historical shadow of beloved Laker Guard Norm Nixon for most of his career until his breakout year of 1988, when he carried the team offensively while Kareem, Magic and Worthy nursed age and injuries the second half of the season. Arguably their best and most consistent player in the epic 24 game playoff march to consecutive titles.
100. CALDWELL JONES Center, Philadelpia 76ers.
The sedate half of the Tag-Team tandem with Chocolate Thunder, Darryl Dawkins, Jones anchored the defense for Dr J’s Eastern Conference Champion Sixers in 1980 and ’82.
99. JOHN LONG Forward, Detroit Pistons.
Pre-Bad Boys, the Pistons would try to outscore you, and Long never passed up a chance to hoist it up.
98. ROBERT REID Forward, Houston Rockets.
Savvy frontcourt man was a key player in two Rocket launches to the Finals; integral part of the 1981 and 1986 teams who upset the Lakers on the way to play Boston in the Finals.
97. KEVIN WILLIS Forward, Atlanta Hawks.
Another long, strong, athletic frontcourt partner for the Human Highlight Film, Dominique Wilkins in the ATL.
96. EDDIE A. JOHNSON, Kansas City, Sacramento, Phoenix
Consistent scorer as a starter or off the bench, Eddie A. was instant offense. Won Sixth man of the Year in 1989 on an excellent Suns Team. More impressive that Johnson played 17 years in the NBA, a rarity for a player from that era.
95. PERVIS SHORT Guard, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets.
A Smooth shooting stroke carried weaker teams in Golden State, Short became a specialist in Houston.
94. DARRYL GRIFFITH Guard, Utah.
Louisville’s “Dr. Dunkenstein” only showed flashes of his College brilliance; Griffith was one of the first pioneers of the 3 point shot in the NBA , making 530 of 1596 Threes for 33% in his 10 year Career.
93. SAM PERKINS Forward, Dallas Mavericks.
The smooth (therin his nickname, Big Smooth), versatile Perkins could stroke the three pointer or score in the post. Epitome of team player.
92. RICK MAHORN Forward, Detroit Pistons, Washington Bullets
As co-founder with Bill Laimbeer of the Bad Boys, Mahorn’s bite was twice as painful as his bark.
91. DANNY AINGE Guard, Boston Celtics
The whiny, irritating Ainge looked like a choirboy but never backed down from an on court-skirmish (it seemed he was always in the middle of one) see: Tree Rollin’s finger. Ainge, like Byron Scott of the Lakers was the open man in the Celtic offense and hit enough of them to earn 3 Rings.
20. RALPH SAMPSON Center, Houston
One of the Greatest College Players of all time fell short of becoming a top-5 NBA Icon, but an 18 point, 9 rebound average as a Houston Rocket is nothing to sneeze at. He will be immortalized from hitting the last-second-corkscrew-pop-a-shot in game 5 of the 1986 Western Conference Finals at the Forum that sent the Rockets to the NBA Finals and the Lakers to the Beach. A guard in a Center’s body, Sampson never seemed comfortable with the enormous expectations thrust upon him as the heir apparent to Kareem, and finally became expendable when knee injuries and Hakeem Olajuwon’s brilliance sent him to Golden State.
19. CHARLES BARKLEY Forward, Philadelphia.
A charter member of the 1984 Draft Class, famously cut from the 1984 USA Men’s Olympic team for basically not giving a crap (Bobby Knight be damned), Charles was the true genetic freak of his time. “The Round Mound of Rebound” rose 10 stories above his 6 foot 4, 275lb frame, whether battling McHale and Bird for rebounds, blocking shots with his left hand with regularity, chasing down guards from behind half court to stifle a layup, or dropping 30+ points at will, he had unlimited ability.
Roundly criticized for his spotty dedication to the game (he loved to party and could care less what the critics thought), Barkley begrudgingly played third fiddle to the Doctor and Moses, then suffered on criminally undermanned Philadelphia teams once the Hall of Famers were gone. His teams were routinely waxed in the playoffs, and he wasn’t seen as a player who made his teammates better in the mold of Magic, Bird, Jordan or Isiah. Barkley was, however, next to his future TNT cohort Shaq the most gregarious, painfully honest and engaging Sports personality of the last quarter century. It wasn’t until playing with the original 1992 Dream Team that the light bulb switched on and Barkley won the MVP award as a member of the Western Conference Champion Phoenix Suns in 1993, ultimately losing to Jordan in one of the most entertaining Finals in History.
18. DENNIS JOHNSON Guard, Seattle, Phoenix, Boston.
DJ was a two-way terror who won his first title and Finals MVP in 1979, then fell out of favor with both Seattle and Phoenix before landing in Boston’s lap, where he mind-melded with Larry Bird, heading to 4 consecutive NBA Finals, winning two and cementing himself as one of the best big-game players to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. Case in point: Johnson’s twisting layup with 1 second remaining in a seemingly lost Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals made “The Steal” of Isiah Thomas’ inbound pass by Larry Bird to save the Celtics’ season one of the iconic plays in NBA History. I can still hear Celtic Announcer Jonny Most (“this place is going crazy!!!)
17. BERNARD KING Golden State, New York, Washington.
The “Washington” in his bio personally pains me, as Bernard brought visions of ‘70’s glory back to Madison Square Garden, if only for a brief moment. A one-man wrecking crew upon joining the Knicks in 1983, Bernard led the NBA in scoring and scowls in 1985, and he ranks so high on this list because he was unstoppable in those years.
He carried a Knick team to striking distance of Larry Bird and Boston in the 1984 Eastern Conference Semi’s but MVP Bird was the Word and Boston prevailed on its way to the Title. A devastating Knee injury the next season sent King into Rehab Seclusion for 24 months and sent the Knicks from Playoff Contention to the Lottery, where their consolation prize became Patrick Ewing. Knick brass, as is their short-sided nature, decided King Post Knee surgery couldn’t recapture his brilliance and the let him shuttle down to the Nation’s Capitol in 1987 where he came back with a vengeance, averaging 22 ppg his first 4 seasons with the Washington Bullets, making the All-Star team in 1991 and giving Hoopsters around the country hope that there was life after an ACL tear.
Footnote: The player the Knicks paid 2.3 million for 3 seasons to replace King, forward Sidney Green averaged 7 points and 5 rebounds in two seasons.
16. SIDNEY MONCRIEF Guard, Milwaukee.
The fact that Sidney Moncrief is not in the Hall of Fame is a travesty. I called Joe Dumars one of the best two-way players in NBA History; well along with Bill Russell, Jerry West in the Sixties and Walt Frazier in the Seventies, MJ and Scottie in the Nineties, Sidney was the best two way player of the Eighties.
Moncrief won the inaugural recipient of the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1982 and then again in 1983. He was All NBA first team in 1982, followed by a 4 ALL-NBA second team selections. His Bucks had the third best regular season record in the Decade behind the Lakers and Celtics. Sidney’s Milwaukee teams always had to face the Two-Headed Monster of Bird and Dr. J in the playoffs; they could beat one, but never both in the postseason, where the Lakers would have been lying in wait for them.
Moncrief averaged 20 ppg, 5 rebounds and 5 assists between 1981 and 1986 before his knees started to give; he was never the same player after 1987. His excellent body of work on both sides of the floor for a perennial winning team in his era needs to be acknowledged in Springfield.
15. ADRIAN DANTLEY Forward, Utah, Detroit, Dallas.
Undersized like Barkley, but with none of the freakish athleticism, Dantley used another vital Organ to dominate his position…his brain. He moved like a bag of worms underneath the hoop, his body control legendary as he avoided bigger defenders, drew contact when he wanted to and scored. This unorthodox style drew the second most free throw attempts in the decade, a remarkable 6,241, behind leader Moses Malone. He was also the fifth leading scorer of the decade, playing with an inferior Utah Jazz team. His arrival in Detroit transformed a good young Piston team into a contender, and he led them to game 7’s in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals and the 1988 NBA Finals, where he would have been MVP if Detroit won the series.
14. ALEX ENGLISH Forward, Denver.
The Decade’s leading scorer, English pumped in 19,700 points in Denver’s high-octane offense in the Eighties. Drafted by the Bucks, he had a brief stint in Indiana before finding a home with Doug Moe’s pass and shoot attack. The Eight Time All-Star and Hall of Famer averaged 27 points per game between 1982 and 1989, leading the Nuggets to 9 consecutive Playoff appearances before he was done.
English’s game played like a precision watch; he played below the rim and his game was completely devoid of flamboyance. The fact that he did not play in a major market in a League stacked with Small Forwards, and toiled in the same Conference as the Showtime Lakers kept English in obscurity, except to the opponents that had to guard him every night. He was a participant in the highest scoring game of all time, scoring 47 points in a 186-184 3OT loss to Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons on December 13, 1983.
13. PARISH, ROBERT Center, Golden State, Boston.
The Chief’s career in Boston was like a tree falling in the woods…it happened but did anyone hear about it??. On a team with outsized presences like Bird, McHale, Carr, Maxwell, Walton, Archibald and DJ, Parish was like the ultimate insurance policy; always there in case of emergency. He filled all the gaps on offense and defense for the 5-time NBA Finalist and 3-time Champion Celtics; timely help defense, rebounds, blocked shots, or that patented rainbow jumper from the perimeter were the calling cards of his Hall of Fame Career. The polar opposite of quote machine Maxwell, Parish wore his green hard hat with dignity and zipped lips; Laker announcer Chick Hearn had the perfect description… “Parish is even-tempered…he’s mad all the time!”
12. DOMINIQUE WILKINS Forward, Atlanta.
As flamboyant as Alex English was understated, Wilkins blew the roof off of the League from his first windmill dunk in the fall of 1982 as he revitalized the Atlanta Franchise with his above-the-rim pyrotechnics. Among the Decade’s leading scorers every season, he led the Hawks to memorable playoff showdowns with Conference Powers Boston and Detroit, none bigger than his 1988 Game 7 Conference Semifinal Duel with Larry Bird on the Parquet floor. Wilkins and Bird traded circus shots for the entire 4th quarter, but the Celtics survived Wilkin’s phenomenal 47 point outburst thanks to Larry Legend, who scored 20 of his 36 points in the last 12 minutes, 12 of the best minutes of Basketball of the Decade. But Wilkins will be immortalized for his mesmerizing 1988 Slam Dunk Competition Duel with Michael Jordan at All Star Weekend in Chicago. I was under the basket at Chicago Stadium, the home fans screaming to the top of their lungs for Jordan, who won with his Iconic Take Off From Foul Line “Air Walk” to the Hoop, but for my money ‘Nique would have won the night in any other City. The Godfather of all Slam Dunk Contests.
11. JAMES WORTHY Forward, Lakers.
I don’t know if any player symbolized the essence of the Eighties as well as Big Game James Worthy. Exploding for that “statue of Liberty” dunk at the end of a fast break, dishing to teammates in the paint for easy shots, blowing by defenders with the quickest first step in the league, taking the punishment and scoring in traffic, guarding the best small forwards in the game with tremendously quick feet, or bringing the crowd to its feet with some mid-air magic, Worthy was the ultimate teammate.
He would have been the leading scorer on any other team, but blended seamlessly with Magic and Kareem. Over 8 seasons I witnessed Worthy in person matchup against the superb Forwards in the League; Doctor J, Bird, McHale, Dominique, Terry Cummings, English, Aguirre, Dantley, King, Tom Chambers, Larry Nance, Marques Johnson, Mike Mitchell, Barkley, Malone, Vanderweghe, McDaniel, Rodman. He excelled against all of them. He won vs. all of them because it was always about winning vs. getting his numbers.
Worthy took more scoring responsibility as Kareem slowed down, just because he could. He shot 63% vs the Celtic front line in the 1984 Finals, dominated the 1987 Western Conference Final vs. Seattle and was MVP in the Lakers biggest
Championship series of the Decade, the 7 Game Finals win over Detroit in 1988, giving the Lakers the first back to back Titles in 20 seasons. If you asked him he could care less about his stats, only the rings and the recognition of his peers. Thank you Dean Smith.
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THE GOLDEN AGE OF BASKETBALL
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