Last week, the National Basketball Association (NBA) revealed its celebratory NBA 75th Anniversary Team, honoring the 75 best players over the course of the league’s 75 years of history. It had done something like this twice before, releasing a 25th Anniversary Team in 1971 and a 50th Anniversary Team in 1996. Naturally, this new team got a lot of attention. NBA fans love to rank players and debate who is better than who, and this list provided new fuel for those fires. But frankly, the NBA fumbled this one in multiple ways.
My first gripe with the list is that it doesn’t even include 75 players; due to a tie in voting, it lists 76 players. The NBA took so much time to vote on and release this list, and it couldn’t even get the number right? Ask the voters to revote on the two guys who tied and cut the player who loses; would that really have been hard?
Secondly, the NBA seemed to imply that it would be revoting on the entire list rather than simply grandfathering in all the players from the 50th Anniversary Team. This fueled interesting discussions about which players might have fallen out of the old list.
It also would make the list a better representation of league history since it would allow voters the flexibility to make more room for players that were better or more influential. But the NBA did not follow through on this, and all 50 players from 1996 were included on this list despite a few of them not deserving it.
Thirdly, the way the NBA released the team was incredibly strange. This was how it chose to unveil the members: on Tuesday, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m., a random selection of 25 players would be revealed. Not the top 25, not the bottom 25 — just 25 random players from the team.
The next day, this time at 3 p.m. for some reason, the NBA did the same. And on the following day, at 6 p.m again, it revealed the rest of the team. Why the random times? Why Tuesday through Thursday? Why not make it a big show on a Friday night and reveal all of them at once? Why not go team by team or decade by decade? A lot of the hype was killed by this delivery method, and it came off as incredibly lazy to me.
All right, let’s get to the juicy stuff: snubs. Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard was the first name that was thrown around after the list was unveiled. The eight-time All-Star, eight-time All-NBA player was the first person in history to win three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year Awards. He also led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 and had a stretch during which he was undoubtedly a top center in the league.
I would say that these are more impressive accomplishments than at least 15 of the players on the 75th Anniversary Team can claim. Howard being left off either shows extreme personal biases against the sometimes unpopular star or just poor voting.
Denver Nuggets legend Alex English, who is in the top 20 all time in terms of points scored, did not make the list. He was eligible for the 50th Anniversary Team but did not make that either. Frankly, he should be on both of these lists.
Tony Parker, who spent 16 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, is another name I’d throw in the conversation. A four-time NBA champion, one-time NBA finals MVP and six-time All-Star, Parker was a key part of one of the NBA’s greatest dynasties.
Pau Gasol, perhaps best known for his time on the Lakers and who was Kobe Bryant’s second man for two of his championships, would’ve also been a good addition to this list.
Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson raised his voice multiple times to express his frustration with not being chosen, but frankly his résumé doesn’t do much for me.
But the even spicier takes come from talking about who shouldn’t be on the list. Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers is the most egregious selection to me. A six-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA player, Lillard doesn’t have much else to show for his career. His teams have struggled to go far in the playoffs, never getting beyond the one time he made the Western Conference finals in 2019.
The other name that popped out to me was Lakers power forward Anthony Davis. Davis is great, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t think he has a better career so far than those other guys I have mentioned.
To be fair, Davis is an NBA champion and an eight-time All-Star, but he has only made the playoffs twice prior to joining the Lakers, and the way he abandoned the New Orleans Pelicans is still among the worst pre-trade tantrums we have ever seen. I think Davis is one of the best big men of the past decade, but I just don’t think he is in the top 75 of all time right now.
This 75th Anniversary Team could have been a great opportunity to celebrate the sports league that we know and love, but the entire process could certainly have been managed better. Instead, we got this weird antiquated list that will likely never be talked about again after a few weeks. Besides the mismanagement and poor rollout, the actual voting process for this team was far from perfect.
Beyond the simple debates about borderline players, I would argue that the NBA made a legitimate mistake in not including Howard on the list. If the NBA wants to get things right before the 100th Anniversary Team is announced, good for them. But at this point, lists like these seem to stir up more controversy than celebration; I hope they can work toward finding a new tradition to celebrate the league instead.