Is this the Golden Age of the NBA?

According to the media, announcers, talking heads and most fans there is a lot of history playing in the NBA right now.  Tim Duncan is universally announced as the best power forward ever, and Kevin Garnett is right there with him.  Kobe Bryant (whether true or not) has been called "the best basketball player on the planet" for years now, and is widely accepted as the best shooting guard without the initials MJ in NBA history...and Dwyane Wade is waiting in the weeds to join the party.  NBA statisticians everywhere are saying that Chris Paul is routinely turning in point guard performances whose only historical competition is Magic Johnson, and there are those that believe that Deron Williams is just as good if not better than he is.  LeBron James at age 24 has already reached the level of prime Larry Bird...and there are some that believe that Kevin Durant is already being overlooked as a historic talent at the same position.  And though his career is in its twighlight, Shaquille O'Neal is spoken of in the same breath with names like Kareem, Wilt, and Russell at the very top of the NBA centers pantheon...with Dwight Howard already challenging him for the Superman title.

If taken as gospel, this would tell us that arguably the best NBA players of all-time at their respective positions are all playing in the league at the same time.  NBC analyst Mark Jackson opined on the air last week that five of the top 15 players of all time are all playing this season (Bryant/LeBron/Shaq/Duncan/Wade), and this isn't even including Paul (who is for all intents-and-purposes as accomplished as Wade) or Garnett (who is dramatically more accomplished than both Wade and LeBron).  And none of this has mentioned players like Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, and Allen Iverson who have combined for four MVP awards this decade.

So the question is: is this just over-the-top hype?  A case of forgetting the past because of the newness of the present?  Because I think that if you asked most of the aged 30 - 50 NBA public, they would tell you that the 80s was the Golden Age of the NBA.  And if you asked most people older than that, they'd regale you with tales of Wilt and Russell and how the 60s was the REAL Golden Age.  Every generation is likely to think that theirs is the best, and I understand that.  But if I can honestly put a 12-man team together that is built up of the All-time greatest performers in three of the five positions, and round that out with top-5 All-time players at every position...wouldn't that suggest that the 00s would have to trump any of the previous generations?

So what do you think?  Is it just another case of forgetting the past, sprinkled in with a healthy dose of media exposure on a level that is historically unprecedented to make the now seem like more than it is?    Or are the players in this generation really as good as they are made out to be, making this period arguably the best ever?


By: Charlie Zegers
On: 3/30/2009 10:31:00 AM
I don't buy it.

Perhaps this is my own nostalgia speaking, but I'll take a Dream Team I era group of NBA superstars to win a seven-game series against today's guys.
By: Chris Liss
On: 3/30/2009 10:51:00 AM
It's pretty close. But even the team from the mid-90s would hang: Shaq in his prime, Hakeem, Robinson, Mutombo Malone/Mourning, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Stockton, and of course, the more mature Jordan. Reggie Miller for long range shooting. Webber/Penny Hardaway were good when they were healthy, too.

Put it this way - the current centers (Yao, Howard, old Shaq) are far worse than Hakeem, prime Shaq, Robinson and defensive POY Mutombo. PFs - Duncan arguably the best ever, but the other side of that argument is probably Malone, and Mourning was a DPOY, too - though mostly a center. LeBron crushes Hill, but Hill in his prime was pretty dynamic - just not as strong as LeBron. Kidd/Payton/Stockton can hang with Paul/Williams, and Jordan was better than Kobe. Reggie Miller had one of the greatest and most efficient offensive seasons in history in 1991, I think - and Hardaway put up some pretty sick Wade-like numbers for a while, but like Wade was injury prone.
By: nayfel
On: 3/30/2009 12:01:00 PM
As much as I am a wade fan, I don't think he is in the top 15 of the all time greatest. Not even close yet. I know leBron has been unbelievable thus far but even he shouldn't be mentioned there yet because he is merely on his way there. He is on pace to be in that group if not the head of the group but if he encountered the same type of injury issues as GHill then would he be a dead lock?
My point is these guys, with the exception of Duncan and Shaq and Kobe mostly, have to continue at this level for the next 8-10 years to be considered as top 10 players or whatever.
Again, this doesn't mean leBron isn't currently playing at a near historic level (which I do disagree with but that's for another time) but just that 3-4 years of production doesn't qualify you for all time greats level.
By: The Professor
On: 3/30/2009 12:35:00 PM
I see where you were going, Liss, but I guess I meant it more in terms of "take all the guys playing now, and put them at their best" as opposed to "young Shaq" in the 90s vs. "old Shaq" today.

So if I took a team of Shaq, Duncan, Garnett, LeBron, Kobe, Paul, Wade, Williams, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, etc. and put them at their best up against the best players of the 90s, 80s, 70s, 60s, etc. how do you think they would stack up? And if you think they would lose, does that invalidate the notion that individually the current guys could be best or 2nd best at their position of all time? Or do you just think that individually they could be that good, but they wouldn't form as good of a team as some of the older players?

For me personally, I don't buy yet that Paul is really as good as Magic or (like you point out) that the center quality/depth compares with other eras. I do, however, think that Duncan and KG are probably 1-2 at PF, that LeBron is right there with Bird, and that Kobe/Wade play SG at a level beyond most pre-MJ SGs (probably because MJ kind of redefined the position). So I think I could put together a team from the current age I'd stack up against the best of any other era, but I'm not willing (yet) to say that they're clearly the best.

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