The greatest teams in NBA history are the ones that, while made up of individuals, are able to come together to form the perfection cohesive unit. Fans often envision these clubs operating as a five-man jazz ensemble; each member spacing the floor to improvise, deliver pinpoint passes, and score. On the other end of the court, this group coordinates traps, rotates to the ball on dribble drives, and recovers back in to help on defense for timely rebounding off the glass.
When these teams take the floor, it truly is poetry in motion. And yet, as great as some of these teams are when they come together as a group, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to give credit to certain players who possess incredible individual talent. These players are the ones who do more than just pass the “eye test.” Most of the time, the word “dominant” doesn’t do them justice. Simply put, they are “transcendent.”
By all accounts, it can difficult to adequately describe individual greatness with mere words. After all, the aura of excellence is best observed through eyewitness accounts. Therefore, basketball fans tend to simplify the meaning of greatness to a collection of first names: Wilt, Larry, Magic, and Michael. While the following list of great players for each position involves some opinion, the way we see it, this composition cannot be defeated.
Center: Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain’s video-game-like dominance over the NBA was completely comical. In 1973, the Big Dipper completed his 14-year career with an unreal 30-point/22-rebound/4-assist per game average. As an offensive force, 7-foot-1 Chamberlain led the league in scoring during his first seven NBA seasons.
Chamberlain’s multiple scoring crowns included his signature 100-point game, during which he abused the 1961-62 New York Knicks in every way possible in Hershey, Penn. That year, Chamberlain averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds per game for the regular season.
Stung by early criticism of operating as a selfish black hole in the paint, Chamberlain was to further develop his playmaking talents as he matured. Remarkably, Chamberlain led the NBA in assists as a 31-year-old center, with 702 total dimes. However, some say that Chamberlain was more concerned with accumulating statistics than he was with winning titles.
Many historians casually categorize Chamberlain’s body of work as the antithesis of his bitter rival Bill Russell. Through moxie, hustle, and determination, it is often noted that selfless Russell took home 11 championships in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics. Chamberlain, of course, performed in Philadelphia and Los Angeles without the benefits of Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, or Sam Jones as teammates.
He did bring home two titles for the 76ers and Lakers in 1967 and 1972, respectively. In 1972, Chamberlain claimed Finals MVP honors as an elder statesman who proved to be the missing link for the championship dreams of Gail Goodrich and “The Logo,” Jerry West.