Archive for Sunday, July 13, 2008

Keegan: The best starting five ever

July 13, 2008

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Picking an all-time baseball team shaped up as quite a challenge. Selecting an all-time starting five in basketball rates as a far easier task because five dominant players from the game's rich history blend so well together offensively and defensively. Picking this team is easier than breaking 100 on the golf course.

Two of the best players to ever play the game, teammates on the NBA champion 1971 Milwaukee Bucks, were beaten out. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson were the toughest cuts. The Big O averaged a triple-double (30.8, 12.5, 11.4) in 1961-62, his second NBA season. Abdul-Jabbar not only scored more points than anybody in NBA history and won six MVP awards and six NBA championships, he also won a lot of bar bets for sports fans knowledgeable enough to know the first name with which he was born before changing it to Kareem. Raise your hand if you guessed "Lew" or "Lewis." Wrong. Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., was born April 16, 1947, in New York City.

As great as Abdul-Jabbar was, he gets beaten out on this team by Wilt Chamberlain, who in the same year the Big O averaged a triple-double, averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds. Magic Johnson gets the nod over Robertson at point guard, which leaves two wings and a post player. Chamberlain always had difficulty beating Bill Russell. On this team, he gets to join him. Russell, the greatest champion in the history of team sports, won two NCAA titles with University of San Francisco and 11 NBA championships with the Boston Celtics. Russell, a phenomenal defender, rebounder, outlet passer and competitor cared only about winning. It's OK, in fact ideal, if a team has three starters to whom scoring is important, just as long as two starters couldn't care less about their point totals. On this team, those two are Magic and Russell, two extraordinary fast-break basketball players.

The wings are versatile offensive players and clutch shooters, yet they are even better defensive players. Golfing with Calvin Murphy four or five years ago, I asked him to name the toughest defender against whom he played during his career. Among the quickest players ever, Murphy was just as quick with his answer.

"Jerry West," Murphy said. "Quickest hands I ever saw."

West, who doubles as the NBA logo, answered to the nickname Mr. Clutch. Michael Jordan might have been called that, too, if it hadn't already been taken.

Scoring inside, outside or in transition against a starting five of Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain would be a monumental challenge. Keeping it from scoring inside, outside or in transition would be every bit as difficult. Good luck trying to win the battle of the boards against Wilt, Russell and Magic.

Defensively, West would check the point guard, Jordan the shooting guard and Johnson the small forward. If Johnson's man got hot, either Jordan or Russell, depending on the style of the opposing player, could be switched onto him to shut him down.

Good luck trying to name a better five-man team than this one. It can't be done. You would have a better chance of breaking 100 in the rain.

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