My list is biased. Maybe by my Mavs fandom or maybe by my age and maybe by my limitations, you might argue after you peruse my list. I didn't get to see Jerry West, Elgin Baylor or George Gervin play … so putting them on the list would be purely the work of hearsay. Yet there are others who are "before my time'' who get my consideration.
With the subjectivity in mind, here's my list: The "Unguardables.''
DONUT 1: Michael Jordan
Was there ever any doubt? Can we deny the man who spent a career reminding us that there wasn't a player alive capable of forming a wall between the rim and Jordan's desire to see the ball finding its home there. Whether it be by muscle, insane athleticism, unmatched skill, or a ravenous and insatiable will; Michael Jordan was the epitome of "unguardable."
DONUT 2: Shaquille O'Neal
In his prime, Shaq rumbled through the paint with over 300 pounds of raw power. Men used to pushing every other player they'd come across like small children crumbled in his wake, cast aside like the stirring leaves behind a speeding semi. With better hands and more athletic aptitude than he's often credited, Shaq not only had unparalleled size, but was adept at using it. Before age dug its greedy hands in, there wasn't a player on the planet capable of shutting Shaq down … without an outside weapon of some kind.
DONUT 3: Wilt Chamberlain
How do you keep a guy that scored 100 points in a game of a list of "unguardable" players? You don't. You can attempt to dismiss him for the era he played in, for being less than an ideal teammate, or for lacking the heart and fire of a Bill Russell, but you can't discredit his offensive presence when he chose to enforce it. Anytime a player can average 50.4 points for a season, as Chamberlain did, he's earned his way onto all offensive minded lists.
DONUT 4: Hakeem Olajuwon
Perhaps one of the most underappreciated superstars in the modern era, Hakeem Olajuwon carried two teams to championships. He entered the league as a lanky, supremely athletic player still learning the game and his position within it. By the end of his career, he had evolved into a master of the craft, including the perfecting of "The Dream Shake," a move comprised of nothing more than a faking a spin in one direct, coming back to the other and shooting over the defender. Simple … and beautifully "unguardable."
DONUT 5: Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson was the purest of basketball weapons, capable of deployment from the center to point guard positions and anywhere in between. As a rookie, on the biggest stage the NBA can provide, Magic stepped into the role of starting center for an injured Kareem Adbul-Jabbar and clinched a Finals' victory, along with the Finals MVP, by scoring 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. He could take the heart from your chest with a pass just as efficiently as with a basket, and he could not be contained.
DONUT 6: Kareem Adbul-Jabbar
The man Magic stepped in for, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was a force in his own right. Still standing as the NBA's all-time leader in points scored, the methodical death he could impose upon opponents with his patented "sky hook," among other moves, was undeniable. Like at least one other name on this list, Dirk Nowitzki, he may have not dominated the SportsCenter highlights (had they been around in his time), but he left more than his share of opponents with shaking heads and bewildered expressions.
DONUT 7: Kobe Bryant
Behind Wilt's 100 points in a single game, the next number you'll come across is the 81 Kobe Bryant hung on the Toronto Raptors in 2006. If that doesn't impress you, how about the fact that he once had 62 points through three quarters against a solid Dallas Mavericks squad in 2005. In those same three quarters the entire Mavs team had 61 points. That's right. For three quarters Kobe alone had outscored an entire team 62-61. Perhaps the most ferocious competitor since Michael Jordan, Kobe could kill you from anywhere on the court, causing elite defenders to leap awake, covered in sweat, in the dead of night. "Unguardable" suits him well.
DONUT 8: LeBron James
Reported to have burst from the womb, crossed-over the doctor who delivered him and then dunked his umbilical cord in a wastebasket across the room, the 26-years-old LeBron is easily the youngest player on this list. From the moment we saw clips of him at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, doubts in what he would become began to erode away. On Basketball-Reference.com, his career PER of 26.91 ranks behind only one player: Michael Jordan. Gifted with an unfair combination of size, strength, speed and raw athleticism, he is truly "unguardable."
DONUT 9: Dirk Nowitzki
The world of basketball fans in having its eyes directed to a fact many in Dallas were already well aware of: Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks is one of the most lethal offensive weapons in the game. Mike Fisher of Dallasbasketball.com may have coined the phrase, but Dirk perfected the move: the "One-Legged Euro Lean-Back." At seven feet, able to correct his balance from the shoulders up regardless of how awkward or off-kilter his attack may appear at times, the grace, and the unstoppable beauty of his game is found most glaringly in the steady release … and as the ball slips through the net leaving another dumbfounded defender to wonder just how "that" went in.
DONUT 10: Karl MaloneGraceful but dirty. Muscular but smooth. Bullish but smart. His ability to power his way to the rim and then to march his way to the free-throw line puts him in elite company ... Dirk Territory, really, especially due to the absence of the ring.
I feel obligated to put Chuck on a list that he inspired me to create, in part because I fear he might throw me through a plate-glass window if I do not.
DONUT 11: Charles Barkley
DONUT 12: Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan is very likely the best power forward to ever play the game, and only falls behind Dirk because it was his complete game that made him such, rather than being based primarily on his offensive prowess. Much like Dirk, he wasn't a guy highlight reel's have been drawn towards, but The Big Fundamental could literally bore defenders to death … if they were bored by exquisitely pure basketball executed just as it had been created to be. Age is beginning to erode memories of the force he once was, but to deny his greatness (as we'd like to for any Spurs player) would be an injustice.
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