Everyone likes to glorify the passing of someone in their lives, and the NBA is no different. However, at the same time, realism has to set in at some point and make it clear that no amount of grief or nostalgia is going to change facts.
According to NBA.com, “Each NBA team can have a maximum of 15 players, 13 of which can be active each game.” If we compromise there and go with 14 players on an all-time NBA team, these are the players we would put on it, factoring in positional depth and need.
We want a roster with six guards, five forwards, and three centers. Often, the players we have chosen feature the ability and flexibility to play multiple positions. For example, we want guards that can both bring the ball up the court to direct the offense and shoot as well when needed.
Likewise, we want some forwards that can move back and forth between shooting guard and small forward, and we want some guys that can play both small and power forward positions. Finally, a big man that can play both power forward and center has value, too.
Here is our all-time roster then, the above considered and using Player Efficiency Rating (PER) as a firm guideline for selecting the best of the best:
- Guards: Michael Jordan, Chris Paul, James Harden, Magic Johnson, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook
- Forwards: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Bob Pettit, Kevin Durant, Charles Barkley
- Centers: Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Wilt Chamberlain
For the record, Neil Johnston was the top-rated player left off our list, although you probably have never heard of him. The next highest-quality guys that missed our all-time roster are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Julius Erving, and even Larry Bird. We’re guessing you’ve heard of those dudes.
So there is no shame in not being on this roster, folks. The NBA has been around for a long time, and there have been a lot of great players. The reality is, however, that Kobe Bryant is not one of the greatest of the great, and his demise should not change facts.
In truth, after Westbrook claims the last guard slot on this roster, the next best players for the position in line are Dwyane Wade and Oscar Roberston. Kobe slots out as the ninth-best guard in the history of the game, according to PER—the most modern, advanced, sabermetric measurement we have right now for basketball players.
There is no shame in being ninth best at anything in the world, ever. But just stop all the talk right now about Kobe being greater than he really was. It’s just silly nonsense—especially when you see the other guys left off the all-time roster.
For fun, though, let’s fill a second roster of all-time players. Obviously, Kobe makes this one, despite his plentiful shortcomings (longevity matters, evidently), although he wouldn’t even be a starter:
- Guards: Wade, Robertson, Bryant, Jerry West, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving
- Forwards: Duncan, Malone, Erving, Bird, Kawhi Leonard
- Centers: Johnston, Abdul-Jabbar, Olajuwon
Yao Ming gets left off this list, and his PER ranking is higher than Kobe’s mark. The Greek Freak has so much positional flexibility, too, so getting him on the team as a guard is not a stretch at all.
Irving is the lowest-rated player on this, as positional need warrants, so some great players also missed out on the second team: Elgin Baylor, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, and DeMarcus Cousins. That’s a heckuva third team forming already right there, not to mention missing greats like John Stockton or Bill Russell.
Keep this all in mind when the funereal hype becomes too much to tolerate.