Is LeBron James better than Larry Bird
"There's Michael Jordan - and the rest of us"
The big question, which everyone has to answer for themselves with their own criteria, cannot avoid one important aspect: success. And Bill Russell's eleven championships are unlikely to be reached any more.
The relatively small center (2.08 meters), which raised rebounding and the entire defensive game to a new level, led the star-studded Boston Celtics in the 1960s - when the NBA consisted mostly of eight or nine teams - to one in 13 years Dynasty with eleven titles. Much to the chagrin of his athletic adversary, Wilt Chamberlain.
A book of all NBA records, so the folklore jokes, would be congruent with the biography of the 2.16-meter giant. But despite 100 points in a game, over 50 on average in a whole season and all gala appearances against rival Russell - in the end the one-man, who played for the Warriors when they were still based in Philadelphia, bit on the over-team mostly the teeth off.
Too good to be allowed to dunk
Exceptions were the years 1967 and 1972, when Chamberlain then led the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers each to a championship. It was the era of the dominant centers, Russell and Chamberlain were just the crown of creation equal to a number of fabulous talents.
One of them became her worthy successor in 1969: Lew Alcindor, who changed his name a little later to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was once again taller than Chamberlain at 2.18 meters and was so unstoppable even in college that the NCAA forbade dunking - This must be imagined.
Sky Hook: No player scored as many NBA points as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (left). Getty Images
The fact that Abdul-Jabbar's 38,387 points are still unmatched to this day was also due to the fact that he perfected the so-called "hook shot" during the dunk ban, which, given his height, could not be blocked. In the 1970s, Kareem, who won the championship with Oscar Robertson and the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971, was considered the best player in the league - but he wasn't really successful until later.
"Showtime": Start of a new NBA
With Magic Johnson, whose first name is actually Earvin, Abdul-Jabbar mixed up the ailing NBA in Los Angeles in the 1980s, which was contaminated by drug scandals and fights. The leader of the "Showtime Lakers" was the brilliant playmaker Johnson, whose ingenious overview combined with his unique passing game via Fastbreak spectacle resulted in nine finals and five titles - and in the rescue of the NBA, which suddenly cashed in a big TV deal became more socially acceptable than ever. Magic couldn't do it alone - he too had an eternal rival.
Johnson met Larry Bird in the finals of the college championship in 1979, and the duels between the two superstars and their teams shaped the following decade. It was the perfect rivalry: the entertainer Johnson with the mostly dark-skinned Lakers from the glittering metropolis of Los Angeles against the stoic, hardened Bird and his mostly white Celtics from the working-class city of Boston.
At least one of the two teams was always in the final in the 1980s, where the Lakers and Celtics met three times. L.A. finally got the upper hand 2-1. For many fans, however, Boston's 1986 team is considered the best ever - a year in which Bird met "Jesus in basketball shoes".
One is bigger than the rest
"Larry Legend" showered with such admiration the then still raw Michael Jordan, who, as the scoring machine of the chaotic Chicago Bulls at the time, rejected the horns of the great dynasties - including the Detroit Pistons for a short time. But when the "Jumpman" reached the peak of his creative power in the 1990s, the NBA experienced a long-term winner: the Chicago Bulls around "Air" Jordan and his congenial partner Scottie Pippen.
While he made league and sport globally popular with the "Dream Team", especially at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, "MJ" became the best player for the majority of basketball fans thanks to his athleticism, his coolness and his appearances in the greatest moments history. "There's Michael Jordan - and there's the rest of us," even Magic Johnson acknowledged.
"Explain everything to me": Kobe Bryant (r.), Who died in January, modeled his game on that of his idol Michael Jordan. Getty Images
Every aspiring basketball player suddenly wanted to "be like Mike" - none as much as Kobe Bryant, who tragically passed away in January. The "Black Mamba" imitated Jordan's game almost completely and was hardly inferior to the original in terms of mentality. Bryant narrowly missed Jordan's six championships with his five - three were won by the then young Kobe at the side of elemental force Shaquille O'Neal.
Between 2000 and 2002, the most dominant duo in NBA history dominated the league, and no team has managed a so-called "three-peat" since then. But there was nothing more to get for the two alpha animals, who clashed vehemently, in this constellation: The Lakers opted for Kobe, who later won two more titles in LA - while in San Antonio Tim Duncan proved that you are not like Jordan as a leader or Bryant must appear.
The era of super teams ...
"The Big Fundamental" has always focused on the essentials in play and never took itself too seriously. An unusually long-lasting dynasty was built on his role model, which exemplified the team spirit. Led by the best power forward ever, the Spurs won the championship five times between 1999 and 2014.
Number five has already been brought in against a so-called "super team": The Miami Heat around Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, the outstanding players of the past decade.
The "King" who came into the league as the self-proclaimed "Chosen One" in 2003 and who simply does not seem to age has pulverized several play-off records and in the past finals to Miami and the Cleveland Cavaliers also with his third Team, the Lakers, won the championship.
Such achievements and his abilities as an enduring all-rounder have lifted James into a sphere in which, for many fans and experts, he could be the only one to overthrow the great Jordan from the throne. Even more formative for the modern NBA, however, was another player who might have been too thin for some epochs of basketball.
... and the three-point throw
Steph Curry from the Golden State Warriors was responsible for ensuring that the offensive game is currently almost exclusively about the three-point throw. And with his backcourt colleague Klay Thompson, probably the best three-way shooter of all time knows the second best right next to him.
The grandmaster of the three-point throw: Steph Curry shaped the latest development of basketball in the NBA. Getty Images
Around the record regular season of 2016 (73 wins), Curry, the growing basketball player with his style perhaps as much as Jordan with his dynamism once, worried three at the side of Thompson and the forward playing but also incredibly strong Kevin Durant hardly endangered championships.
Since Curry and the success story of the three-point throw, the game has shifted more and more to "downtown", and even the best centers in the league have to be good long-range shooters. With the dawn of the 2020s and a new generation of drafted players, it remains to be seen who will shape the NBA in the next few years - and possibly change it.
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