Being an NBA fan these days is more challenging than ever. It seems like the popular thing to do is come up with the hottest take or most outlandish viewpoint just to gain a little traction on social media. Most of the time, this happens at the expense of some of the greatest players to ever play the game. Someone like me or anyone who appreciates the entirety of the league’s history seems to have no place in today’s NBA community. Players and legends of the past are often referred to as nobodies just because of their time. The game has evolved, and the players are more athletic, but that doesn’t mean we get to disrespect the ones that came before.
Even players who are still playing often get slandered and disrespected by fans and media heads who are stuck in the past. The majority of NBA fans and media love to stir up controversy and drama by harping on the negatives, completely forgetting that these are still some of the best players in the world. Stats and numbers are all that is important to some people while context and the eye test have completely flown out the window and are nowhere to be found. Again, people chase headlines at the expense of the greats, and some suffer far more than others.
The following are the 10 most disrespected players in NBA history:
10. Bob Cousy
Bob Cousy’s name has been at the center of much controversy thanks to an argument on ESPN between Chris “Mad Dog” Russo and former NBA player JJ Reddick. Russo proclaimed his case for Cousy as one of the greatest point guards ever, while Reddick claimed that his competition was nothing more than “plumbers and firemen”. Claims of Cousy being unable to shoot or handle the ball with his off hand have been the topic of conversation whenever he is brought up. Fans saying that if Reddick were magically teleported to Cousy’s era, he would be considered the greatest player of all time was the most popular take as Reddick’s comments went viral.
How quickly they forget that rules are drastically different. Do they not know that Cousy was considered far ahead of his time and a wizard with the basketball in his hands? They completely disregard things such as his leadership and playmaking that made him a consummate winner. The fact that he went to 13 All-Star Games and won 6 NBA titles means nothing because of his competition? Why is it that we penalize players for something that is well beyond their control? Bob Cousy led the NBA in assists for 8 consecutive seasons. Bob Cousy is a pioneer of the point guard position. Bob Cousy is a winner, a champion, and an MVP. Those are the things that need to be talked about, not hypothetical situations that have no way of being proven.
9. Clyde Drexler
When Clyde Drexler finally won a championship in 1995, many attributed it to the fact that his longtime rival, Michael Jordan, was retired and playing baseball. Before that season, Clyde’s Trail Blazers could not get over the hump against the Bad Boy Pistons and Jordan’s Bulls. In his 12 seasons in Portland, Drexler made the All-Star Game 10 times and led them to 2 NBA Finals appearances. Even though they lost both Finals, Drexler was still one of the best players in the entire league, but he is never treated as such.
A lot of the time, I never hear Drexler’s name brought up when the greatest shooting guards of all time are brought up. If his name is mentioned, it’s usually one of the last spoken and more often laughed at than celebrated. They like to call Jordan’s competition “weak”, which Drexler was anything but. In 1988 and 1989, Drexler had back-to-back seasons of at least 27.0 PPG and had the Blazers in the Finals in 1990. I also hear that Drexler was carried to a championship by Hakeem Olajuwon, which completely disregards Drexler’s contributions. In the 1994-95 run that saw Drexler claim his first ring, he averaged 20.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 5.0 APG for the entire playoffs and 21.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, and 6.8 APG in the Finals. Those are hardly the numbers of someone who was “carried”.
8. John Stockton
One of my least favorite terms when talking about players is “overrated”. That is exactly the term I hear whenever someone speaks about John Stockton. We always hear that he couldn’t score enough. He is only as good as he is because of the pick and roll with Karl Malone. He could never get his team over the hump and win a championship. John Stockton was a true and pure point guard. He didn’t need to score to be successful. Imagine being the all-time leader in assists AND steals while people call you overrated and not a top 5 point guard ever. It’s ridiculous.
John Stockton averaged 10.8 APG whenever Karl Malone was on the court. He averaged 9.6 APG when Malone was off the court. Not a stark difference in passing with or without The Mailman. Stockton’s defense on the perimeter is only surpassed by maybe Kidd and Payton in terms of point guards on an all-time scale. It is amazing how much defense is disregarded in these debates. Did his assists and numbers go up with Malone? Of course, they did. What was he supposed to do? Was he supposed to find a different way to win? Malone benefited from having Stockton and vice versa. Let’s not belittle them for being an all-time great duo.
7. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony happens to be one of the most infamous victims of advanced analytics since their inception. When he came into the league in 2003, Carmelo quickly asserted himself as one of its best scorers. He gave LeBron James a run for his money for the Rookie of the Year Award and many think he probably should have won it. The fact remains that every year the Denver Nuggets had Carmelo Anthony, they were a playoff team because of him.
Then there were the Knicks years. He had some of the best scoring years of his career with New York. He led a desperate franchise to the playoffs and even helped earn them their first playoff win in 20 years. That still wasn’t good enough for the numbers people. Everyone likes to complain about efficiency and percentages, meanwhile Carmelo was out there winning games by himself most nights. Whatever happened to impact and versatility being valuable? The people who watched him know just how special he was and that is the way he should be remembered, not by percentages and meaningless advanced stats.
6. Moses Malone
When is the last time you heard Moses Malone’s name brought up when discussing the best centers to ever play? Exactly. Malone was a 3 time MVP, a Finals MVP, and a man who averaged over 20.0 PPG and 12.0 RPG for his entire career. Yet, we still never hear him ranked among the greats, which is seriously confusing. As one of the first players to go straight from high school and dominate right away, he deserves so much more appreciation from the NBA family.
Moses is another victim of the people who are too wrapped up in efficiency numbers. Yes, he shot 49.5% from the field while other bigs shoot near 60.0% Is that the reason that holds him back from all-time great status? It shouldn’t be. Neither should his supposed stat-padding for rebounds. The biggest factor should be one's impact and there is no doubt of Malone’s in his playing days. He’s the piece that took the 76ers to the 1983 championship with his 23.7 PPG and 16.6 RPG. Not many players have the resume that Moses does, let alone the players at his position. Even sadder is the fact that as time goes on, he gets more and more forgotten, which should be classified as a crime against history.
5. James Harden
At his peak, James Harden could be considered the greatest offensive player we have ever seen. Now, after a few down years, he is considered washed up and a non-impact player. That sentiment is just flat-out wrong. You hear the jokes about his weight or the questions about his desire to play, but you never hear about how he is still an impactful player that has his hands in winning games. The arguments that he is a flopper or that he just hunts for throws can be warranted at times, but it is not all that his game is built on.
In the past 2 seasons with Philadelphia and Brooklyn, Harden has still managed to average at least 20.0 PPG and 10.0 APG. That is a feat only accomplished by 11 other players in NBA history and Harden has done it 3 times. He is still one of the game's great playmakers and can still drain his patented step-back three-pointer at a high percentage. It is amazing how much influence a few talking heads on television can have on public opinion. If you watch Harden play, he is still someone that any of us would take on the team we root for in a heartbeat. Until the real decline begins, let’s appreciate what we have before it’s gone.
4. Russell Westbrook
Some people say Russ is a Top 5 point guard of all time. Others have let one bad season in Los Angeles define his entire career. It is incredible the amount of hate and slander there is towards Westbrook daily, even in the offseason. Just last year with the Wizards, he averaged a triple-double and led them to the playoffs, but because he had a hard time adjusting to his 4th system in 4 years and playing alongside LeBron, he is now the villain. I mean, the man asked everyone to stop slandering his last name for the sake of his children and he was vilified for it.
No one should be surprised, though. The majority of NBA “fans” are waiting to pounce the minute a star shows any sign of decline. The worst take I hear surrounding Westbrook is that his triple-double record means nothing because it isn’t conducive to winning. That is a false narrative that needs to end considering he wins over 70% of the games he records one. Look, I can’t say if we have seen the last of Westbrook’s best, but I do know that one bad season doesn’t define him and certainly shouldn’t be the way he is remembered on the court.
3. Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan is one of those players that makes your blood boil because his game doesn’t look like he should be as good as he was. The truth is however good you think he was, he was better than that. He may have looked slow or boring but man could he cook you on both ends of the floor. With his basic moves that no one could seem to stop, he became the greatest power forward to play the game and one of the best winners in NBA history.
Tim Duncan’s resume could easily put him Top 5 to ever play the game but sometimes he is left toward the bottom of their Top 10 or even worse, off of it completely. As a 2x MVP, 3x Finals MVP, 5x champion, and countless All-NBA and All-Defensive nods, he deserves better. The route to championships wasn’t an easy one either. Duncan’s teams beat the 2nd most 50-win teams in playoff history, knocking off 23 teams that had won 50+ games. It baffles me to hear that Kevin Garnett could have been better than Duncan had he been coached by Greg Popovich and drafted to the Spurs. Duncan thrived the moment he stepped on the court. It’s disrespectful to compare any power forward to Duncan this way, trying to take away from his accomplishments and chalking it up to the system he was in. Duncan was the system. He was the catalyst for one of the game’s great dynasties and a winner in every sense of the word. Let’s treat him as such.
2. LeBron James
To be honest, in my 26 years of watching basketball, I have never seen as great of a player as LeBron James get the amount of disrespect that’s thrown his way. Handles like a point guard, the IQ equivalent to that of Einstein on the court, and has a knack for being one of the greatest floor raisers ever, and still, we find a way to discredit and hate on his 20-year career. Again, it might be the fact that so many of us are stuck in the past and can’t fathom someone threatening our favorite player’s status as the greatest to ever play. Either way, it has to stop at some point. One knock on LeBron’s career that doesn’t sit right with me is that somehow his path to championships was easy. Yet, LeBron led teams have defeated twenty 50-win teams in the playoffs including a championship over a 73-win Warriors team that was deemed unbeatable.
How does a man that took his teams to 10 straight Finals get so much disrespect? I mean, no player has done that since the Celtics of the 60s with Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. It certainly doesn’t help that any small error that he makes is scrutinized or reported on. Guys like Skip Bayless and Nick Wright have made a living on playing both sides of the spectrum to the extreme when it comes to James' career. Somehow we have lost sight of the fact that James doesn’t control what any media outlet reports on him. It speaks volumes about his impact that he is as polarizing of a player as he is. We have hated on the fact that he’s carried bad teams to NBA Finals, we have hated on the fact that he’s played 20 years, and we even hate on things about him that have nothing to do with basketball. Speaking from experience, please appreciate the basketball player LeBron James before it is too late.
1. Kobe Bryant
As upset as it makes me that any of the players I have named on this list are even here, it makes my blood boil at how many people disrespect the late Kobe Bryant. Growing up, I was in awe of Kobe Bryant and nowadays I hear too many people treat him like an average player when he was anything but. The most degrading and scathing thing I hear about Kobe is that he was carried by Shaquille O’Neal to his first 3 championships. Imagine putting up the numbers Kobe did the way he did just for people to say you were carried 2 decades later. No one ever mentions the fact that after Shaq left, Kobe led the Lakers to back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, he led them to a 7-game series victory against the superteam Celtics that had Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. Kobe led his team in scoring, assists, and steals for the entirety of those playoff runs. Yet, they call him selfish?
Not only did Kobe lead the Lakers to back-to-back championships after Shaq was long gone, but teams led by Kobe defeated 26 50-win teams in the playoffs which is the most in history. Bryant is another player that gets disrespect because he tends to take contested shots and be somewhat inaccurate. Was Kobe a gunner? There is no denying that. Did he get the job done when you needed him the most? Also a resounding yes. As far as his impact on the game and his transcendence as a player, Kobe is up there with the best of them. Look, I don’t know if we can chalk it up to generational bias or just pure hatred for greatness, but the fact remains that Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest to ever lace up his shoes and grace the NBA hardwood. He should be treated as such.