ESPN released a new list ranking the best players in NBA history. In a content desert, ranking things is a beautiful oasis of pageviews and talk-show topics. With that in mind, ESPN broke the glass on their list of the top 74 players in NBA history to commemorate 74 NBA seasons. As one does for the revered 74 milestone.
This list follows their list of the top 100 players of all-time, which was published during the winter of 2016. The methodology - an expert panel voting on thousands of head-to-head matchups while taking into consideration career value and peak performance - doesn't appear to have changed, but the rankings certainly did.
In the last four years, LeBron James has passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the second greatest basketball player ever. He remains behind documentary film star and meme machine, Michael Jordan. Only time will tell if LeBron can someday catch Jordan in the eyes of the expert panel, but for now we can look at what has changed in the last few years. For instance...
Bill Russell moved up three spots from #7 to #4, overtaking Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson in the process. Just an incredible surge from the Celtics great who won 11 titles back when there were between eight and 14 teams in the league. Who knows what he did to improve his standing with the panel over the last few years while he remained retired for the 50th consecutive season.
Kobe Bryant jumped from #12 to #9, surpassing Shaquille O'Neal, Oscar Robertson and Hakeem Olajuwon. Impressive leap from Kobe, who was shooing 36% from the field for a 17-win team when the last list came out.
Charles Barkley dropped from #18 to #23 and Dwight Howard, who was #67 in 2016, dropped off the list completely. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry went from #22 and #23 to #14 and #13, respectively, with Curry passing Durant.
The biggest leap was James Harden going from #97 to #32. Harden added an MVP to his resume and led the NBA in assists once and scoring three times in between then and now. Allen Iverson, who went from #46 to #29 while retired, did less to his own resume. Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony, #59 in 2016, is all the way off the list in 2020.
So what does all of this prove? Except for the Michael Jordan thing, people have a hard time agreeing with themselves, let alone anyone else.