This piece is not a reverse-racism piece, but anyone who follows the NBA knows that the majority of the players in the league are of African-American descent. The next largest group of players in the league is the foreign-born players. It is common knowledge that in the league’s formative years, the only players who were allowed to play in the league were white-American players, and throughout the history of the league, there have been some very talented white-American players, and some of these players have significantly impacted the league.
Trying to determine which white players were the best meant that it would be necessary to make sure that certain players were actually American. Steve Nash has been associated with the NBA for a long time, but Nash is a Canadian-born individual, so he does not qualify under the banner of white-American. Players like Dirk Nowitski and Pau Gasol, though outstanding players; were both born outside of the US.
Therefore, the list of the top white-American players will be grouped in the manner of the All-NBA teams. There will be a third team, a second team, and a first team for each position, and each member will be among the very best American-born, non-minority players in the history of the NBA.
15 Third Team Point Guard – Mark Price
Mark Price earned this position ahead of Jason “White Chocolate” Williams and other point guards because despite his small size, he was one of the most talented players in the league when he played. He was not a superior rebounder because he only stood 6-feet tall, but he was always among the leaders in assists, steals, field goal percentage, and 3-point field goal percentage. Price was also one of the best free throw shooters to ever play the game.
Price twice won the league’s Three Point Shootout during All-Star Weekend and is the second member of the 50-40-90 club, where he shot 50% from the field, 40% from behind the arc, and 90% from the free throw line in the same season. The first member is Larry Bird. Price was also one of the best ball handlers in the league, as he pioneered the ability to dribble through a double team when trapped by two defenders.
Mark Price had all of the skills that made him one of the best point guards in the league when he played. The only accolade that he was never able to achieve was an NBA Championship.
14 Third Team Shooting Guard – Pete Maravich
Pete Maravich left college after three years as the top scorer in the history of college basketball, still holds the record, and has held that record since 1970. Maravich came to the NBA as an explosive scorer and as a deft passer and ball handler. Before long, Maravich established himself as one of the top scorers in the NBA.
In 1977, Maravich led the NBA in scoring and, during that season, he scored 68 points against the Knicks in a game that was, at the time, the highest scoring game by a guard in NBA history. Since then, only Michael Jordan’s 69, David Thompson’s 73 and Kobe Bryant’s 81 have surpassed Maravich’s point total for scoring games by a guard.
Maravich’s career was cut short by injury, but during his ten years in the league, the other players knew that he was a force. His career ended just as the three-point shot was instituted in the league and during the short time that he had access to the shot, Maravich made 10 of 15 for a 67% clip from behind the arc, proving that he was capable of excellence there as well.
13 Third Team Small Forward – Dave DeBusschere
Though he was known for his time with the New York Knicks, Dave DeBusschere started his career with the Detroit Pistons. Even though he was selected to a few All-Star teams while in Detroit, DeBusschere’s career really took off when he joined the Knicks. While in New York, DeBusschere made the All-Star team five times, was an All-Defensive selection six times, and won a pair of NBA titles with Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed and Bill Bradley, who just missed making this list, on one of the league’s first super teams, where the entire starting lineup, as well as sixth man Jerry Lucas (more on him later) were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
DeBusschere was known as a tough defender and as a physical rebounder, but he was also known as a smooth offensive player. He was the perfect complement to the offensive brilliance of Frazier, Bradley and Monroe. Willis Reed might have been the engine that made the Knicks go but Dave DeBusschere provided the horse power that kept them ahead of the rest of the league.
12 Third Team Power Forward – Kevin McHale
Modern basketball fans will question Kevin McHale being ranked as the third best Power Forward on this list, but that is simply because they might not have seen the two players ranked ahead of McHale play. Nevertheless, Kevin McHale is considered one of the best players at his position in the history of the game, regardless of color. Charles Barkley declares that McHale was one of the toughest players he ever matched up with, whether Barkley was guarding McHale or vice versa.
McHale twice won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the year award, during a time in the league when players like the 76ers’ Bobby Jones and the Lakers’ Michael Cooper were among the best sixth men in the league. McHale was also named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team six times while helping the Celtics to three championships during the 1980s, dominating the Eastern Conference while the Lakers ruled the West. So good was Kevin McHale that even though the Lakers were championship contenders every year, the Lakers signed McHale’s former college teammate Mychal Thompson because of Thompson’s familiarity playing against McHale in practice.
11 Third Team Center – Dave Cowens
At 6’9”, Dave Cowens played center in an NBA that featured legendary 7-footers Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others. Cowens joined the Celtics one year after the retirement of Bill Russell and helped to lead the Celtics back to prominence, leading the team to two championships during his career. Cowens was an eight-time All-Star and a three-time All-Defensive selection, and won the league’s MVP and All-Star MVP awards in 1973.
Though Cowens was known primarily as a defensive player, his all-around game is what made him a special player in the league. With the introduction of steals and blocked shots as official stats in the 1973-74 season, in 1978, Cowens became the first player in league history to lead his team in all five major statistical categories in the same season. He would be the only person to accomplish the feat until Scottie Pippen matched Cowens in 1995 and, since then, only Kevin Garnett and LeBron James have accomplished it.
Dave Cowens wasn’t the tallest center in the league, but his talent and his toughness made him one of the best.
10 Second Team Point Guard – John Stockton
By the time that John Stockton retired from the NBA, he was the all-time leader in assists, the all-time leader in steals, and held the record for the most years in a career playing for a single franchise. His 19 years with the Utah Jazz was recently surpassed by Kobe Bryant’s 20 years with the Lakers, but Stockton staying with the Jazz for 19 years was an example of the consistency that made him great, even though it took time for decision makers to recognize his greatness.
Stockton spent his first three seasons playing behind Rickey Green, but by the time he won the starting job, Stockton would lead the NBA in assists for the next nine seasons, which is remarkable considering that Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas were still in the prime of their careers. Stockton also averaged double figures in scoring for each of the last 16 years of his career.
Stockton’s career assist total is nearly 4,000 better than the player in second place and his steals total is almost 600 more, which makes one wonder how many he could have had if he hadn’t spent three years on the bench at the start of his career.
9 Second Team Shooting Guard – John Havlicek
John Havlicek was the player with the Celtics who bridged the gap between the Bill Russell years and the pre-Larry Bird years. During that time, Havlicek won six NBA Titles with Russell and Bob Cousy, and two more with Dave Cowens. In NBA history, only Sam Jones and Bill Russell have won more titles than Havlicek and the man known as “Hondo” holds the distinction of having won the most NBA titles without having lost in the NBA Finals, hosting a perfect 8-0 record.
Hondo was a 13-time All-Star, an 11-time All-NBA selection and an eight-time All-Defensive selection. Considering all of the great players who played for the Celtics during the team’s history, it is surprising to discover that Havlicek is the team’s career scoring leader. However, it is not so surprising, considering that he is also the team’s career leader in games played. Havlicek pioneered the sixth-man position into a Hall of Fame career, and came off the bench for the Celtics while helping the team to multiple championships.
8 Second Team Small Forward – Rick Barry
Many fans know of Rick Barry as the man who popularized the underhand free throw technique, or as the man who is the father of four sons who all played professional basketball. However, Rick Barry was one of the best scorers in the history of the NBA, being the only player to lead the NCAA, the ABA and the NBA in scoring average in a single season. Barry was a multi-time All-Star in both the NBA and the ABA and won titles in both leagues.
Barry helped to pioneer the point-forward position, where a team’s offense is run through a forward as opposed to a point guard. In addition to being an outstanding scorer, his underhand free throw technique made him one of the deadliest free throw shooters in league history. At the time of his retirement, Barry was the career leader in free throw percentage for both the ABA and the NBA, and currently sits at fourth all time in NBA free throw percentage. Rick Barry and his son Brent were also the second father-son duo to win NBA titles.
7 Second Team Power Forward – Jerry Lucas
Jerry Lucas surpasses Kevin McHale at the power forward position because Lucas’ career was more in line with what a power forward is supposed to provide to a team’s success. Lucas’ career averages were 17 points and 15.6 rebounds per game, his rebound average being the fourth best in NBA History. Jerry Lucas was a starter throughout most of his career, but towards the end of his career, he was willing to move to the bench with the New York Knicks in the hopes of capturing an NBA title, which he did in 1973.
During his rookie season, Lucas pulled down 40 rebounds in a single game, making him, at the time, the only player other than Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell to capture at least 40 rebounds in a single game until Nate Thurmond accomplished it one season later. Lucas ended his career having played the second fewest games in NBA history for a player with at least 12,000 rebounds.
6 Second Team Center – Bill Walton
Bill Walton had an NBA career filled with highs, lows, and what might have beens. Walton was the top selection in the 1974 NBA Draft, but spent a good portion of his career battling injuries. In 1977, Walton defeated a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led Lakers team on his way to defeating a Julius Erving led 76ers team and winning the NBA Championship with Portland. Walton won the Finals MVP Award that season and the league’s MVP Award the following year, but after that, Walton battled injuries for the next few seasons.
Walton joined the Boston Celtics in 1985, and in 1986, gained his second NBA title and the league’s Sixth-Man of the Year Award. Gaining that accolade made Walton the only player in NBA history to have been named the league’s MVP, the NBA Finals MVP, and the league’s best sixth man. Walton finished his career appearing in less than 50% of the games in which his teams played, but one can only wonder what typed of numbers Walton might have produced and how many titles he might have won if he had been able to play more often.
5 First Team Point Guard – Bob Cousy
Many would argue that John Stockton deserves this spot on the list because his accomplishments appear to be far and above any other point guard in the history of the NBA. However, when matching John Stockton’s career numbers against Bob Cousy’s, it is easy to see that Cousy edges out Stockton in a number of areas. Stockton led the NBA in assists nine times, but Cousy did it eight times in 13 full seasons. Cousy was all an All-Star 13 times to 10 for Stockton, and was All-NBA 12 times during his 13 Celtic years, compared to 11 times in 19 years for Stockton.
Though their stats are similar, Cousy gets the edge over Stockton with six NBA titles to no titles for Stockton. While critics will say that Cousy would not have won the titles without Bill Russell, Cousy was the league’s MVP award in 1957, which was the same year as the first of Cousy’s six titles. Bob Cousy was not only the best point guard during his era, he is probably second only to Magic Johnson as the best point guard ever.
4 First Team Shooting Guard – Jerry West
The NBA logo is based on a silhouette of Jerry West dribbling. Seemingly, that alone would qualify someone as one of the best players in the history of the game. However, Jerry West was actually one of the best players to ever play basketball. During his 14 seasons in the league, West made the All-Star team 14 times, which is every season that he played. He was also All-NBA 12 times, the only seasons that he missed being his rookie season and his final season.
West led the league in scoring once even though the greatest scorer of his era, Wilt Chamberlain, was West’s teammate. Jerry West also led the league in assists during the same season that he led the Lakers to a 69-win season that featured a 33-game winning streak and an NBA Title. West made the All-Defensive team five times,and led the Lakers to nine NBA Finals during his 14 seasons in the league. When West retired, he was the third leading scorer in league history and still ranks in the top-20.
3 First Team Small Forward – Larry Bird
Larry Bird arrived in the league the same year as Magic Johnson, after losing to Johnson in the NCAA Finals. The two players would be rivals throughout their careers and, despite the presence of Magic, Larry was able to carve out a career that many players would be envious of. Larry won the Rookie of the Year award from Magic and won three NBA titles during his first seven seasons. By contrast, Michael Jordan did not win his first NBA title until his seventh season and one year before Bird retired from basketball.
Bird was a three-time league MVP and, during his 13 years in the league, he was a 12-time All-Star and a 10-time All-NBA selection. Bird also holds the distinction of being the first member of the 50-40-90 club, where he shot 50% from the field, 40% from behind the three-point arc, and 90% from the free throw line in the same season. Bird accomplished this feat twice and just missed in one other season. The only other person to have accomplished this feat more than one is Steve Nash. For being considered slow and unable to jump very high, Larry Bird is one of the greatest players ever.
2 First Team Power Forward – Bob Pettit
Bob Pettit's career not only qualifies him for a list like this one, but should place him high on any list that ranks the best players in the history of the NBA. Pettit’s career lasted only eleven seasons, but during that time, Pettit was an 11-time All-Star and an 11-time All-NBA selection, 10 of those being first team, with his second team selection coming in his final season in the NBA. Pettit is a two-time NBA MVP and defeated a Russell-led Celtic team for his only NBA title, scoring 50 points in the deciding game.
Pettit led the NBA in scoring twice and retired with the third highest rebounds per game average in NBA history, a mark that he still holds. Pettit also holds the distinction of averaging at least 20 points and 12 rebounds every season of his career, something even Wilt Chamberlain was not able to accomplish. Pettit was also the first player in NBA history to win the All-Star MVP Award four times, a mark that was eventually matched by Kobe Bryant.
1 First Team Center – George Mikan
The widening of the lane, the introduction of the shot clock, and the creation of the goaltending rule all came about due to the dominance of George Mikan. Mikan played during the era when the NBL and the BAA were separate entities before combining to become the NBA, but despite that, during his eight full seasons in professional basketball, Mikan captured seven championships, missing the eighth due to injuries.
By virtue of Mikan’s seven titles, his four All-Star selections, his six all-league selections and his five scoring titles during his eight full seasons in basketball, Mikan was named by many publications as the greatest basketball player in the first half of the 20th Century. The league changed or implemented many rules in an attempt to curtail Mikan’s dominance, but despite these attempts, Mikan dominated the league like no other player except for Bill Russell. In fact, if Mikan hadn’t retired after the 1956 season, one wonders what the battles between Mikan and Russell would have been like.
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