Comparing players across eras can be a fun exercise, but it’s also a futile one in many ways.
A host of writers at ESPN gave it their best shot in ranking the 74 best players in NBA history, and Wilt Chamberlain, a four-time MVP and seven-time scoring champion came in at … No. 6.
Here’s ESPN’s Tim Bontemps' explanation for Chamberlain’s ranking:
Chamberlain was truly ahead of his time. His numbers — including scoring an NBA-record 100 points in a single game and averaging 50 points per game for an entire season — are mythical. The only reason he doesn't rank higher on lists of the all-time greats is he won ‘only’ two NBA championships.
The five players ahead of Chamberlain — Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James and Michael Jordan — all have more NBA titles than him. Russell, his contemporary in that group, won 11.
In terms of pure talent and production, Chamberlain seems superior to several members of the top five. Outside of free throw shooting, he did just about every thing well. We know all about his scoring exploits, but he also led the league in rebounding 11 times and had the most total assists in the 1967-68 season. Legend suggests his shot blocking numbers would have been outlandish.
Besides perhaps Jordan, there’s probably no other player who appeared to be playing a different game than his peers as much as Chamberlain. Even though Chamberlain’s statistics are absurd, his otherworldly dominance is not a quality stats can fully encapsulate, and it’s not something he could extract a heap of NBA titles from. It would obviously be a lot easier to make the case for him being higher on the list if he did.
Five former Sixers appeared within the top 29 players — Chamberlain, Julius Erving (No. 15), Moses Malone (No. 18), Charles Barkley (No. 23) and Allen Iverson (No. 29). That group doesn’t have much in the way of outside shooting, but it’s a heck of an all-time starting five.
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