The 2021-2022 season marks the 75th anniversary of the NBA, and to commemorate the occasion, a panel of media, current and former players, coaches, GM’s, and team execs will select a 75th Anniversary Team which will be made up of (…drumroll…) the 75 greatest players in league history. Unless Ben Simmons or Dame Lillard trade requests heat back up, this topic will most likely overwhelm October with an endless flow of articles, podcasts, and video debating the accuracy of and methodology behind the NBA’s list. Here at Hoops Distillery, we have our own prestigious panel in place to bring you our Top 75 list–a panel of one.
Normally such an illustrious award would not be decided by a panel of just one, but in this case, there was no one better to judge than my Uncle Mike. He has been a diehard NBA fan since 1952 who had the good luck of growing up outside of Boston as Bill Russell and a supporting cast of other future Hall of Famers led the Celtics to 11 championships in 13 years from 1956 to 1969. When the Celtics dynasty faded, he continued to follow the league closely through every decade until the present day.
Selecting the league’s greatest 75 players is hard enough as it is, but becomes almost impossible to do well without the perspective that comes from someone like Mike who has seen practically every single player who could be a candidate for this list in action. Without this invaluable perspective, the majority of us would have too many blind spots that make it all too easy to lean on the players we admired growing up, the ones whose legendary games or stats we’ve heard about, or those who are still in the media spotlight from time to time. Take it from someone who can actually compare and contrast the offensive dominance of Elgin Baylor versus Kevin Durant, or the innovative handle of Bob Cousy versus Kyrie Irving–and can do so without any help from YouTube or Basketball Reference.
Mike said the following about the challenging process of trying to create such a list:
“It’s fun to think about “the Top 75” list , but no such list could be “perfect”, because there is NO “perfect” list. It’s just a matter of opinion.
In fact, if I had to do it again without looking at the list I sent you, my (new) list would probably be a bit different. Also, it’s impossible to compare players from different eras. For example, I included George Milan and Neil Johnston. They were great great players in the 1950s. But if they were playing now instead of the 1950s, I’m pretty sure they would probably not be on the list.
No list of 75 players can include ALL the deserving great players. Any way, it’s a good topic for conversation, and it’s fun to remember.”
I couldn’t agree more! So without further ado….here are the NBA’s Top 75 players. Oh, but first….a couple of quick notes:
To make this list a bit more digestible and visually interesting, I took Mike’s list and sorted it by era and by position, so we can take a closer look at the picks in a couple of different ways.
The 20-year, overlapping eras I chose may seem a bit odd, but there are so many players whose careers ran into multiple decades (especially the one’s with the most longevity like Karl Malone, LeBron, and Kareem), that this method seemed like one of the few possible ways to logically organize everyone. In the end, the groupings that were created are interesting, almost as if each made up their own unique cohort within the class.
Also, the players listings in both charts are in no particular order, except for me gratuitously putting the players I consider to be the best ever at each position at the top of their respective lists for no real reason other than feeling uncomfortable leaving them floating in the middle.
Feel free leave feedback and comments below or DM me on Twitter @HoopsDistillery. Who’s missing in your opinion? Do you hope to one day be able to look in the mirror and call yourself an NBA fan of 70+ years?
NBA.com’s Official Top 75th Anniversary Team, 75 Stories, and Archive 75
Jack McCallum [Sports Illustrated]: “75 Years of NBA Coulda-Beens“
Marc Stein’s [Substack]: “The NBA’s Top 75“
The Crossover Pod w/ Howard Beck [Sports Illustrated]: Deliberating the NBA’s 75 greatest players, w/ Jack McCallum
Ben Rohrback [Yahoo]: “The Bill Russell Scale: A quest for the perfect list of the NBA’s 75 Greatest Players“
Howard Beck [Sports Illustrated]: “Selecting the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team: Behind One Voter’s Process“
Bill Simmons pod [The Ringer]: “NBA 75 Regrets With Bob Ryan“
David Aldridge and others [The Athletic]: “Introducing NBA 75