Philadelphia 76ers Hall-of-Famer Julius Erving, also known as Dr. J., recently listed ten players who he considers to be the greatest of all time, and, well, some of the names were eyebrow-raising, to say the least.
“This gotta be fake..#WithAllDueRespect,” Young tweeted on July 29 after learning on Erving’s list.
Young, among others, was baffled at the blatant disrespect shown to players from, well, the last thirty years.
And herein lies the problem with players like Erving and many others from his generation, who have now come to be known as “old heads”: they are so often unwilling to accept that their era may not have been, or in this case, clearly was not, the most talented of the sport. The result is a sad display of pettiness rather than some bold statement.
To even insinuate that Tiny Archibald is a better basketball player than LeBron James in a non-joking context should immediately revoke anyone’s right to discuss the sport. In fact, any list that has James outside of the top two, let alone the top ten, should automatically be disqualified. However, James and other modern NBA stars like Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have found themselves a constant target of scrutiny from former NBA greats who do a poor job of hiding their jealousy and resentment.
Hawks star’s criticism only scratches surface of problems with Dr. J’s list
The eye test alone would reveal that Jerry West was not a better basketball player than, say, Kobe Bryant. That’s not to say Bryant was more dominant over his era than West or had a more accomplished career, both are which the subject of debate. But no NBA GM whose goal is to win basketball games would select West over Bryant in their right mind.
At some point, logic must be inserted into these discussions. If we took, for instance, 2023 NBA MVP Joel Embiid, put him into a time-traveling machine, and dropped him off in a 1960s NBA game, it’s very difficult to believe that he wouldn’t score at least 50-60 points a night and thus be regarded as at least as good as, and probably better than, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. That’s nothing against those two players, who were legends of the game and dominant over their era. It’s just common sense. Technology evolves over time. Knowledge evolves over time. So too do the levels that sports players can reach as the game becomes more globalized and players begin playing year-round younger and younger in life.
Perhaps the real question regarding Erving’s list is not whether it’s accurate (it isn’t remotely close to being so), but rather why it’s such a chore for older players to show respect to the current greats of the game. Human nature surely plays a role. Nostalgia is real, as is the pride factor. There is likely a certain internal fire, especially for people as competitive as professional athletes, that makes them unwilling to acknowledge that they may have been passed up, even as it becomes increasingly hard to deny.
The truly depressing thing about this is that, in some cases, these older players are allowed to actually vote on things like All-NBA selections, which can legitimately impact players’ potential salaries and career trajectories. So it’s easy to understand why Young and other stars of the current generation are quick to call out older players when they make lists that spew ignorance and bitterness.
Let’s hope Dr. J takes note of this high-profile backlash and at least reconsiders his top ten, maybe with a few 21st-century faces added to the mix.