Who is the NBA’s greatest starting five?

Shaquille O’Neal recently posted quite an interesting NBA Meme on his Instagram page. To say it has me wondering is an understatement.


That’s a doozie, huh? First of all, it would be nearly impossible to come across a definitive correct answer, because everyone would have many reasons as to why their generation was the best. It is also an unfair assessment because the generations are so different, not only in play but simple physical makeup.

With all due respect, I think it’s pretty easy to knock the 2010s out of the equation. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have become injury concerns in their mid-20s when the other superstars above them took their games to new levels at the same age. I love Anthony Davis‘s game, but come on, are we going to put a three year veteran into a round robin tournament against 25 of the greatest players in NBA history? Again, no offense to Stephen Curry, but we need to see more before I am convinced that Shaq wouldn’t crumple him up into a little ball and dunk him when he drove the lane. The one thing the 2010s have going for them is James Harden has the unquestioned greatest beard of all time. For that, they are winners.

The rest? I am so torn. The 80s and 90s were my generation of basketball. Watching Magic Johnson and Larry Bird hand the proverbial torch over to Michael Jordan and Sir Charles Barkley was one of the greatest eras in NBA history. The Dream Team? Come on, now. I have said it before and I will say it again. The Dream Team is one of — if not the — greatest sports moments in American history, and because they were a world wide phenomenon, they took it to a whole new level.

I am going to say something that will be met with a lot of unpopular opinion. I think one transaction could propel the 2000s to another level. There is no denying that Allen Iverson is one of the greatest scorers of his generation, but that starting five has THE two greatest scorers of their generation in LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Tim Duncan — the greatest know-your-role player in NBA history — would probably score five points a night in that rotation, and he wouldn’t care at all.

I think Iverson would clash with those mega-stars. I think Jason Kidd would take that team to another level. Kidd was never known as a scorer, in fact, there were many times you didn’t want him shooting the ball. What Kidd did was make everyone around him better. If he took my beloved New Jersey Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals (where he was taken down by three of his would be teammates on this 2000s roster), he could take this starting five to the top. Remember how good Kenyon Martin was after he left the Nets? How bout Richard Jefferson? Keith Van Horn? Yea, I thought so. Shaq would love posting up in the paint knowing that J-Kidd was looking to deal him the ball 80% of the time.

I would also send Sir Charles to the 80s starting five and drop Kevin McHale. I mean no offense to the Hall of Famer, but McHale was a sixth man — arguably the best sixth man — for the bulk of his career. Plus, McHale’s best year in the 80s was worse than Barkley’s best two. Barkley was also the best offensive rebounder in the 80s, leading the league three years in a row while annually racking up over 900 boards a season.

Sir Charles replacement on the 90s squad isn’t as easy as you would think, but I think it comes down to The Worm or the best wingman in NBA history. Dennis Rodman was one of the greatest defenders of his generation and we all know about his prowess on both the offensive and defensive glass. Plus, he was at my wedding… kind of.

Photo credit: Laura Schoenig live at the Tiki Bar hours before I married The Wifeyiac.

Fellow Wayniacs Kid Robot and AllFull with The Worm at the Wayniac Wedding!
Fellow Wayniacs Kid Robot and AllFull with The Worm at the Wayniac Wedding! (Notice McHale on the background TV!)

That being said, The Mailman and The Dream should have little problem clogging the middle up by themselves. I think that’s why I would go with Scottie Pippen. The Worm would be a solid sixth man on that squad, and that makes him like McHale… an innocent bystander. Pippen, although he didn’t always like it, was able to play alongside the greatest basketball player in NBA history (remember that time I debated between Bron and MJ?) and flourish as a wingman. He would do it admirably with these guys.

Now the unfair part for me is that I never watched the 60s and 70s teams live. I saw Dr. J play for much of the 80s and I also so Kareem play half his career and win the bulk of his championships on my little TV in my bedroom growing up. I can look at the numbers all day long, but you will wind up in the never ending “it was a different Era debate”.

It’s a legitimate debate. Bill Russell, one of the greatest centers of all time was 6 foot 10 (and that’s generous) and 215 pounds. Patrick Ewing? 7 foot, 240. The Dream? 7 foot, 255. Shaq Diesel? 7 foot 1, 325? How would little Bill matchup with those guys?

The same can be said about Wilt Chamberlain. He was a monster playing in an era where he was simply overpowering everyone else on the court. Does that take away from his greatness? Absolutely not, he had immense talent and is without question one of the greatest players to take the court, but those numbers could be a bit inflated due to his mere physical presence. There is no coincidence that Russell and Chamberlain were seemingly in every NBA Finals in the 1960s.

When you look at the 70s, I can say with certainty that due to pure athleticism that Dr. J’s game would translate even today. I mean he did hang in the 80s for eight seasons. But again, the 70s had Wes Unseld dominating at center standing at a towering 6 foot 7. He would be a number three in today’s game, and could he transition to that? Who knows?

So I have to eliminate the 60s and 70s from contention. And no matter how much I gloat about growing up in the greatest era of basketball with The Dream Team and Magic and Bird and Sir Charles and MJ, I think the winner in this hypothetical championship is the 2000s (with my addition of J-Kidd, probably even without him).

You can argue all day long about where Shaq stands amongst the greatest centers in NBA lore, but you CAN NOT argue against the fact that he was the most dominant center ever. The guy did EVERYTHING. MVP, Finals MVPs, All Star Game MVPs, scoring titles. Who would want to drive that lane?

And even if MJ is the greatest basketball player of all time — or at least of what I have seen — Bron is not far behind, and he is still adding to his lore. Not far behind Bron is that Kobe kid, and even though he and Bron are not the most likable players in NBA history, they would dominate on the floor together.

Now, I will say this. Based on pure likability, if you make the trade and slide Sir Charles on to that 80s team, win or lose, I could watch that team all day long. While Larry let his play do the talking, there is no denying that Magic, Moses (RIP big man), Zeke and Sir Charles are four of the most entertaining players in history. I think that would be your championship game and the 2000s would walk away victorious.

But what do I know? It is a never ending debate. Did I get it right? Don’t be afraid to let me know your thoughts!


4 thoughts on “Who is the NBA’s greatest starting five?”

  1. Great piece Wayniac…but i have to respectfully disagree…i’d say the 80’s wins, but my 5 would be: Magic, MJ, Bird, Barkley, Kareem

    1. Thank you, sir. I, too, thought about why Kareem wasn’t in the 80s, but at the end of the day I want Moses on the court, so it was easier to leave him in the 80s. If MJ replaces Isiah, the 80s wins every time. Hard to argue that.

    1. Like I said, I think the final matchup would be the 80s and 2000s, so I won’t disagree with you! It would be fun to watch and see who is right, wouldn’t it?!!?!?

      Thanks as always for reading!

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