Here I was, all set to expend some writing energies on analyzing the 2010 FIBA Worlds groups until distracted by an actual print column from Bill Simmons, he of ESPN.com, a main man of yours truly – though I could’ve sworn he’d opted out of the magazine gig a few months back.
No matter, this was a good old-fashioned piece from Simmons (one of the few writers borne of the internet era who still, you know, *writes* *stories* in the classic sense) and, what’s better, excerpts, additions and whatnot to The Basketball Book were promised. I’ve gushed about The Basketball Book here, so I’ll leave the sycophantry at a minimum.
Everything was fine, the Sports Guy got a couple of early giggles out of me and all, but then the coffee-expectorating moment. These lines, on what he’d change about the “Pyramid” section of The Basketball Book (essentially a listing of the greatest NBA players ever):
Anyway, I had Shaq ranked 11th in my book’s Hall of Fame Pyramid. For the paperback, I’m dropping him behind Moses Malone to 12th. So there. Other Pyramid rankings I’d change: Allen Iverson (29 to 32); Kobe (15 to 9); Dirk Nowitzki (Level 2 to Level 3); Nash (jumps two or three spots thanks to yet another MVP-caliber season); Jack Sikma (I’d include him and bump Arvydas Sabonis, if only for Jack’s hair)…
(Sound of needle scratching record.)
What? *Include Sikma and bump Arvydas Sabonis*? Oh, Sports Guy, you wound me.
Ball in Europe would like to make the case for Sabonis’ continued inclusion on the pyramid for the paperback edition of The Basketball Book.
Firstly, it should be noted that Sabonis occupies an interesting group in Simmons’ list: A group of one. Despite his own parameters that his pyramid players should have been named to at least one all-star team and that inclusion on the list is basically based purely on NBA/ABA performance, Sabonis makes Simmons’ virtual Hall of Fame ranked at no. 86 of 96 with stat line a la Sports Guy reading as follows:
7 years, 1 quality, 0 All-Stars … 1-year peak: 16-10-3 … 2-year playoff peak: 11-8-2 (29 G) … career threes: 135-415 (33%) … best player on Russia’s 1988 Gold Medal team … four-time European Player of the Year.
So Arvydas cracks the top 100 NBA players of all-time based on one 16-10 season and a lot of near-misses at a Portland Trail Blazers title? Of course not! Nah, Simmons – a wise man – sees value in the big Lithuanian beyond the numbers based in “The Secret,” the theme running through The Basketball Book.
Turning to take a look at the stats of the would-be usurper Jack Sikma shouldn’t prove too bad, right? I mean, I recall the dude played a lot of all-star games and he was on that championship Seattle team … reads a Simmons-style bio from Sikma:
14 years, 13 quality, 7 All-Stars … 5-year peak: 15.3-11.0-3.4 … twice led league in defensive rebounds … career threes: 203-618 (32.8%) … second-best player on one championship team (1978-79 Seattle Super Sonics) … career 15,000 points/10,000 rebounds club …
Gulp. Gee, one wonders how Sikma didn’t make the cut for the first edition of the book with numbers like that.
Now fearing for Sabonis’ continued existence in the pyramid, this fan will just have to hope that Simmons lets mystery rule. After all, take a long at those last two credits in the Sabonis bio again: Best player on Russia’s 1988 Gold Medal team. Four-time European Player of the Year. Sabonis made Simmons list as the best example of the “we’ll never know how good this guy was” principle. He’s the only player on the list that gets a European credit among his achievements – and Simmons is no Euroball hardcore.
Mixed with a few wow moments in those ’88 Olympics, what does Sabonis earn Simmons’ accolades for? For still bringing game to the NBA debuting as a well-worn “rookie” at age 31. For anchoring two Portland teams (1998-99 and 1999-2000) that could have been NBA finalists were it not for Western Conference forces San Antonio and Los Angeles. (Not to mention that o-so-epic collapse in 2000.) For showing flashes of brilliance at 35 and 36 years old while still being able to hit all over the court. For being the only NBA center who could go body-to-body with Shaq and survive. (For a few years anyway.)
And a little video evidence. Look, here’s Sabonis (age 24) blowing David Robinson (nearly 23) repeatedly. Would this matchup have gone much differently had they met in the NBA in Robinson’s 1989-90 rookie season?
And here he is, healthy, in a pro environment and with skills to burn (sorry, low-resolution video):
Hopefully, Simmons bears this in mind when considering cuts on the paperback version of his tome. Surely, there’s room for possibly the greatest European center ever in The Basketball Book. Why not bump the inconsistent Connie Hawkins, lumped in with Aryvdas as the “we’ll never know how good these guys were” guys at nos. 87 and 86? Why not take out no. 95 Jo Jo White (o yeah, he was a Celtic) or no. 88 Gail Goodrich, he of the fortuitous career timing?
Come on, Sports Guy. Stick with Sabonis. He belongs in your Hall of Fame.