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Who would you say was the greatest NBA players of each decade for the past 40 years?

1950s:

Bob Pettit – George Mikan, Bob Cousy runner ups

Yeah I’m going with Pettit over Mikan and Cousy. The reasoning being: Mikan had no competition for his time and it was pre shot clock, pre goaltending era, he was playing in a baby version of the NBA basically. Cousy was a great player but he was overshadowed by his teammate Bill Russell.

Pettit – one of the most underrated players of all time – I feel that he is the best player of the 50s, he won 2 MVPs in the decade and was the only player to beat Russell’s Celtics in the Finals. He also would have *dominated* Mikan if he was playing at the same time. And was an alpha dog on the team unlike Cousy. He never averaged below 20 pts a game and he holds the third highest rebounding average all time. It’s definitely him.

1960s:

Bill Russell – Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West runner ups

The only other choice is Wilt Chamberlain here. Now I love Wilt but if I’m looking at the achievements only by this decade, Russell has to take it. He won every single ring of the decade except for one year. He led the league in defensive win shares almost every single year. You might say that Russell had a better team than Wilt most of the time – which was true – but Russell had intangibles that Wilt didn’t have. Wilt had all the tangibles – all the stats, athleticism etc – but there is the fact that Russell is 10–0 in Game 7s. It’s not like his team was that dominant that he demolished Wilt or West’s teams every year, there were many many times where Russell’s Celtics came close to elimination – and Russell pulled through almost every time – he was 17–2 in elimination games. Russell was the Jordan of centers. He had that killer instinct that no one else had. He was the leader of the most dominant dynasty in all of pro sports. I have to put him here.

1970s:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Julius Erving, Artis Gilmore runner ups

Kareem won 5 MVPs, 1 Ring, 1 Finals MVP in the decade and starred in Game of Death with Bruce Lee. How can you beat that resume? Really the 70s is generally the hardest decade to rank because of how divided the league was and how much parity it had. There was no clear superstar of the decade like there was for the 80s and 90s. That said – although Kareem had a tendency to get outrebounded and outworked on the glass by guys like Dave Cowens and Moses Malone and Bill Walton and old Wilt Chamberlain – he still outscored them all and was still a stellar defensive player no less. I’m taking Kareem.

1980s:

Magic Johnson – Larry Bird, Moses Malone runner ups

I’m taking Magic over Bird. He had 8 Finals appearances in the decade – that’s literally every year except for 1981 and 1986 – and won 5 of them. He beat Bird’s Celtics 2–1 in the Finals that decade. He also has 1 more Finals MVP than Bird. So yeah I’m going with probably my favorite player of all time – Magic.

1990s

Michael Jordan – Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone runner ups

Do I really need to explain this one? 6 Finals, 6 rings, 6 Finals MVPs during this decade. Nuff said.

2000s:

Kobe Bryant – Tim Duncan, Shaq runner ups

Really Tong? I thought you hated Kobe, so why is he on here instead of Duncan? Let me explain. Yes I do think Kobe is overrated by the vast majority of fans but we’re talking about just the 2000s decade alone? Duncan’s dominance was spread out through 3 decades – which is incredible – while Kobe’s dominance was mostly focused in the 2000s. That’s the basic reason why I am picking Kobe here. If this was about who was the all time greater player – I’m taking Duncan – but here we’re talking strictly about the 2000s then I’m taking Kobe by a slim margin. Duncan was 3–0 in the Finals in the 2000s, had 2 MVPs and 2 Finals MVPs, but Kobe was 4–2 in the Finals in the 2000s, had 1 MVP and 1 Finals MVP. He had more Finals appearances and rings than Duncan, but less MVPs and Finals MVPs. It’s a very tough decision, but I gotta go with Kobe because having twice as many Finals appearances as Duncan in the same decade is not something to throw away – I value Finals appearances whether they end up winning or losing, which I will take into account for my next player here.

2010s:

Lebron James – Kevin Durant, Steph Curry runner ups

What else can I say here, this guy went to every single Finals of the decade except for 2010 and 2019. Unlike Magic, he did this with 2 different teams which is actually more impressive since usually it takes time to gel and build chemistry with a team, but Lebron is just amazing, he takes two completely different rosters and takes them to the Finals every single year. I don’t think there’s any other reasonable pick for this decade. I like Durant and Curry but they aren’t Lebron James.

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Why do so many casual NBA fans discredit Wilt Chamberlain because he played in a “weak” era?

Honestly, I think it’s part ignorance and part denial.

First of all, since Wilt played in the 1960s and he’s no longer around to defend himself, and most of the people who watched him play are getting too old themselves, it’s very easy for the typical Gen Z / Millenial fan to point out that:

  1. Wilt played in an 8 team league
  2. Wilt’s numbers are inflated
  3. Wilt played against short white plumbers
  4. Bill Russell dominated him
  5. Shaq or whoever else would have owned that era

And all of these have a counterargument:

  1. An 8 team league would actually be more competitive, not less since more talent is concentrated in fewer teams
  2. Wilt’s numbers are not duplicated by anyone else of his era
  3. You can do some research and see that Wilt played against a guy 6′9 or taller at his position on every team, and that the average height back then was only 1″ shorter
  4. Bill Russell had a better team than Wilt did most of the time
  5. Time travel shenanigans don’t make any sense; today’s athletes benefit from the athletes that came before them. Barry Bonds would probably dominate in Babe Ruth’s era. Mike Tyson would have dominated in Muhammed Ali’s era. Wayne Gretzky would have dominated in Gordie Howe’s era. Any person with a college education today would have dominated Isaac Newton’s era. It doesn’t make any sense, and only for basketball do we discredit the older greats.

So I think it’s just ignorance for that part.

For the second part, I think it’s also denial. People see Wilt’s numbers and roll their eyes. They ignore it because Wilt’s numbers are too insane. They are video game numbers. How could someone have actually put up those numbers? That can’t be. That means that Wilt would be numbers-wise better than any other player in NBA history by a wide margin including Michael Jordan and Lebron James. The greatest of all time can’t be a guy that played 50 years ago. That’s impossible and not fun to think about. No, the greatest of all time has to be someone who played relatively recently so we can see all his footage and debate with other people who have seen him play. Wilt probably just got his numbers because everyone else sucked back then.

And thus, that’s why Wilt Chamberlain will always be IMO underrated because he was TOO dominant for his era to the point of it being too unbelievable. ESPN even left him out of their top 5 list. It’s really sad.

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Debunking NBA Myths: Did Wilt play in a ‘weak’ era?

This is one of the most common myths that perpetuate, that Wilt played in a weak era with 8 teams full of short white unathletic dudes and that’s why he dominated easily and dropped 50 a night. Well, I’m going to name a bunch of HoFers from his era, and tell you their best seasons. After all, if the league was not competitive, and full of short white dudes then guys other than Wilt shouldn’t be putting up great numbers at all right?

1960-1973 HoFer (except Wilt) best seasons:

Jack Twyman (1960) – 31.2 PPG / 8.9 RPG / 3.5 APG
Bob Cousy (1960) – 19.4 PPG / 4.7 RPG / 9.5 APG
Cliff Hagan (1960) – 24.8 PPG / 10.7 RPG / 4.0 APG
Tom Heinsohn (1960) – 21.7 PPG / 10.6 RPG / 2.3 APG
Bailey Howell (1961) – 23.6 PPG / 14.4 RPG / 2.5 APG
Elgin Baylor (1962) – 38.3 PPG / 18.6 RPG / 4.6 APG
Oscar Robertson (1962) – 30.8 PPG / 12.5 RPG / 11.4 APG
Walt Bellamy (1962) – 31.6 PPG / 19.0 RPG / 2.7 APG
Richie Guerin (1962) – 29.5 PPG / 6.4 RPG / 6.9 APG
Wayne Embry (1962) – 19.8 PPG / 13.0 RPG / 2.4 APG
Bill Russell (1962) – 18.9 PPG / 23.6 RPG / 4.5 APG
Bob Pettit (1962) – 31.1 PPG / 18.7 RPG / 3.7 APG
Jerry Lucas (1965) – 21.5 PPG / 21.1 RPG  / 2.7 APG
Sam Jones (1965) – 25.9 PPG / 5.1 RPG / 2.8 APG
Zelmo Beaty (1966) – 20.7 PPG / 13.6 RPG / 1.6 APG
Jerry West (1966)  – 31.3 PPG / 7.1 RPG / 6.1 APG
Chet Walker (1967) – 19.3 PPG / 8.1 RPG / 2.3 APG 
Rick Barry (1967) – 35.6 PPG / 9.2 RPG / 3.6 APG
Dave Bing (1968) – 27.0 PPG / 4.4 RPG / 5.0 APG
Dave Debusschere (1968) – 17.9 PPG / 13.5 RPG / 2.3 APG
Nate Thurmond (1968) – 20.5 PPG / 22.0 RPG / 4.2 APG
Hal Greer (1968) – 24.1 PPG / 5.4 RPG / 4.5 APG
Gus Johnson (1968) – 19.1 PPG / 13.0 RPG / 2.7 APG
Earl Monroe (1968) – 24.3 PPG / 5.7 RPG / 4.3 APG
Lenny Wilkens (1969) – 22.4 PPG / 6.2 RPG / 8.2 APG
Wes Unseld (1970) – 16.2 PPG / 16.7 RPG / 3.5 APG
Connie Hawkins (1970) – 24.6 PPG / 10.4 RPG / 4.8 APG
Willis Reed (1970) – 21.7 PPG / 13.9 RPG / 2.0 APG
Billy Cunningham (1970) – 26.1 PPG / 13.6 RPG / 4.3 APG
Elvin Hayes (1971) – 28.7 PPG / 16.6 RPG / 2.3 APG
Lou Hudson (1971) – 26.8 PPG / 5.1 RPG / 3.4 APG
John Havlicek (1971) – 28.9 PPG / 9.0 RPG / 7.5 APG
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1972) – 34.8 PPG / 16.6 RPG / 4.6 APG
Bob Lanier (1972) – 25.7 PPG / 14.2 RPG / 3.1 APG
Walt Frazier (1972) – 23.2 PPG / 6.7 RPG / 5.8 APG
Jo Jo White (1972) – 23.1 PPG / 5.6 RPG  / 5.3 APG
Gail Goodrich (1972) – 25.3 PPG / 3.0 APG / 5.2 APG
Dave Cowens (1973) – 20.5 PPG / 16.2 RPG / 4.1 APG
Spencer Haywood (1973) – 29.2 PPG / 12.9 RPG / 2.5 APG
Pete Maravich (1973) – 26.1 PPG / 4.4 RPG / 6.9 APG
Tiny Archibald (1973) – 34.0 PPG / 2.8 RPG / 11.4 APG

If you look at those numbers, you can tell that Wilt definitely was playing in a league full of some pretty talented guys, not just ‘short white unathletic dudes’ as casual fans just assume. And yet, Wilt outscored and out-rebounded them all. 

We all know Wilt’s best season but here it is – truly video game numbers – 50.4 PPG / 25.7 RPG / 2.4 APG on 50.6% shooting. Nobody since has ever averaged more than 37 pts in a season (Michael Jordan in 1987). Rebounding wise no one has even come close to Wilt’s career average in rebounding (22.9 RPG). In addition, no one has ever come close to the minutes Wilt played in that season either at 48.5MPG – that’s every second of every game including overtimes. 

I’ll give you Wilt’s worst season for comparison – his last season when he was 36 years old in 1973 – still averaged 13.2 PPG / 18.6 RPG / 4.5 APG, 72.7% FG% and went to the Finals that year. Think about that – in his last and worst season – he still led the league in rebounding with an average that was only ever equaled once since (Dennis Rodman in 1992), averaged 4.5 assists a game for a center, then had the NBA’s highest FG% in a season ever.

And yet, despite all this, many fans and analysts do not put Wilt in their top 5. This is a case where Wilt’s numbers worked against him in that he was so dominant that people just automatically assumed his peers were all nobodies.