Part 1 – Ten Greatest Players that Influenced the Game

Wilt Chamberlain

While all eyes are focused on the opening weekend of the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament Hoopsdujour presents in two parts “The Ten Greatest Players to have Influenced the Game” as we know it today.

PART 1

The players are not listed in any particular order. Each has left their own unique imprint on the game today. Who is on your list?

  1. Wilt Chamberlain; “The Big Dipper” played for the University of Kansas and also for the Harlem Globetrotters prior to the NBA. He was the only player to score 100 points in a NBA game, average more than 40 and 50 points in single NBA seasons. Wilt won two NBA Championships; four league MVP’s, Rookie of the Year and Finals MVP. He was selected to 13 All-Star games and 10 All-NBA teams. He won seven scoring titles, eleven rebounding titles and is the only player in NBA history to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game in a season, unbelievably doing so 9 separate times. Wilt was the only player to average 30 points and 20 rebounds per game his entire NBA career. A prolific athlete Wilt was enshrined also into the IVA (International Volleyball Association) Hall of Fame for his contributions to that sport as well. Life after basketball saw “The Stilt” become a successful businessman, author of several books, and appeared in movies. Why is Wilt one of the top ten “Greatest Players to have Influenced the Game of Basketball”? The Big Dipper was the first true superstar and celebrity player the NBA ever had. His dominance as an individual was and has been unequaled.
  2. Bob Cousy; “Cooz” played on six championship teams, appeared in 13 NBA All-Star Games, garnered 12 All-NBA selections and won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in 1957.  “The Houdini of the Hardwood” led the league in assists eight straight times and his irreverent style and flair revolutionized ball-handling and passing skill sets of the point guard position. Cousy was often introduced at Boston Garden as “Mr. Basketball”. He is only one of four players named to the 25th Anniversary Team in 1971, the 35th Anniversary Team in 1981 and the 50th Anniversary NBA All-Time Team in 1996. As a collegiate player at the College of the Holy Cross he led his team to berths in the 1948 NCAA Tournament and 1950 NCAA Tournament and was named an NCAA All-American for 3 seasons. Why is the “Cooz” on the list? Cousy was the first true point guard of impact in the game that not only mastered the art of running a team but was the proverbial “coach on the floor”. His flair and style is the epitome of the term floor general that every basketball coach truly searches for and hopes to find.
  3. George Mikan; “Mr. Basketball” was arguably the most talented player of the 1950’s. As a collegian, he was the 1944 and 1945 Helms NCAA College Player of the Year and three-time All-American. Playing at DePaul his team won the NIT title in 1945, at the time as prestigious as winning the NCAA tournament. Mikan was the top college scorer with 23.9 ppg in 1944–45 and 23.1 in 1945–46. He was named MVP of the 1945 NIT when he scored 120 points in three games, including 53 points in a 97–53 win over Rhode Island! His total alone equaled the entire scoring of opponent Rhode Island. He began his pro career in 1946 with the NBL which merged with the BBA to form the NBA in 1949. Mikan only played through 1956. Mr. Basketball dominated playing the center position for the Minneapolis Lakers. The ability he possessed redefined basketball as a game of “big men”. His prolific rebounding, shot blocking and his unmatched hook shot over smaller defenders was unique to the game.  In the NBL, Mikan led the league in scoring and was the first and only player to score more than 1,000 points in an NBL season. He was named the league MVP, and the Lakers won the NBL title. He was a First-Team All-NBA selection four times in the 1950’s, while leading his team to four NBA Championships. His play so dominating it forced both the NCAA and the NBA to outlaw goal tending. His play in the middle so impressive the NBA decided to widen the lane from 6’ to 12’ with the rule aptly named the “Mikan Rule”. His ability to dominate an opponent was so impressive, after an NBA team held the ball so he would not be able to score which resulted in the lowest score in NBA history of 19-18 the NBA introduced the shot clock. Mikan became one of the founders of the American Basketball Association (ABA), serving as commissioner of the league, and was also vital in the formation of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Finally, his involvement in a long-standing legal battle versus the NBA, sought increases to the meager pensions for players who had retired before the league became lucrative. Why is Mr. Basketball one of the top ten? George Mikan not only was a great player but his play changed the very rules of the game and his activities beyond the hardwood floor showed visionary greatness as to the games future.
  4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; was a record six-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP), a record 19-time NBA All-Star, a 15-time All-NBA selection, and an 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team member and a member of 6 NBA championship teams. In a 20-year NBA career his teams made the playoffs 18 times, losing only 4 times in the 1st round while they reached the NBA Finals 10 times. He remains the all-time NBA leading scorer and is ranked 3rd all-time in both rebounds and blocks. As a high school Phenom at Power Memorial his teams won 71 consecutive basketball games. As a collegiate player at UCLA he played on three consecutive national championship teams, selected and is still the only three-time MVP of the NCAA Tournament and won the inaugural Naismith Award in 1969. Forty years after his collegiate career ended he still holds multiple UCLA basketball individual records. His play was so devastating the NCAA banned the dunk in 1967. A ban that continued for the next ten years of college play. Life after basketball has seen Abdul-Jabbar as an actor, a basketball coach, and a best-selling author. In 2012, he was selected to be a U.S. global cultural ambassador.  Why is Kareem on this list? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar quite simply is the mold of the modern-day basketball center that every center since he roamed the paint has or has attempted to be modeled after.
  5. Michael Jordan; As a player, there are 6 NBA titles and Finals MVP awards, 10 First team All-NBA selections, 14 NBA All-Star game appearances. His domination of the NBA in 95-96 leading the Bulls to the 72 win season. Of the many game winning jump shots made none was more thrilling than the jump shot to win the NCAA title while attending North Carolina. Perhaps his selection to and widely acknowledged as the best player on the 92 “Dream Team” that won Olympic Gold by more than 40 points per game. The attributes of “His Airness” on the basketball floor are legendary. He fueled the success of Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers, which were introduced in 1985 and remain popular today. Jordan also starred in the 1996 feature film Space Jam as himself. As a result of it all in 2015, Jordan became the first athlete in history to become a billionaire, according to Forbes. There is so much more that could be said but Michael Jordan is on this list simply because “Air Jordan” is solely responsible for the modern age of the basketball endorsement athlete.

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