Top 5 Tuesday: All-Time NBA Players

After an impressive 4-1 series win, LeBron James finally has the championship ring he has long coveted. The win is crucial to ultimately cementing James’ legacy as one of the NBA’s all-time greats, but for now, LeBron is on the outside looking in. As the debate rages on, THE SPORTS DISPENCER has scoured the records to compile five of sports history’s finest.

Honorable Mentions: Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Russell, Tim Duncan

5. Larry Bird

A 12-time All-Star and three-time MVP, Boston Celtics star Larry Bird begins our countdown. Throughout his storied career, Bird found success with the help of his well-rounded playing style and high basketball IQ. With career averages of 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game, Bird helped lead Boston to three NBA titles, including a seven-game series win over the “Showtime” era Los Angeles Lakers. The series was one link in the legendary saga of the Bird-Magic rivalry. Largely cited as the cause for professional basketball’s 1980s boom, the pair’s heated encounters fueled both careers. Since his retirement, Larry has remained involved in the game he loves. Bird is the first and only person to garner MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year honors.

4. Wilt Chamberlain

Perhaps history’s greatest scorer, Wilt Chamberlain posted mind-boggling numbers throughout his career. While sporting career averages of over 30 points and 20 assists per game, Chamberlain peaked in 1961-62 with a record-breaking average of 50.4 points. A quick jaunt throughout any NBA record book proves the extent of Wilt’s domination. Of the more than sixty 60-point outbursts in league history, Wilt accounted for 32, most notably a 100-point performance in March 1962. Chamberlain may lack Bill Russell’s 11 championships, but in 1960 against Russell’s Celtics, Wilt dominated the Boston big man on the boards en route to an NBA-record 55 rebounds, proving his place as early basketball’s premier player.

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Behind his signature sky hook, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar soared to success throughout his illustrious 20-year career. At 7’2,” Abdul-Jabbar towered over opponents, but his finesse and footwork helped the Lakers great total an NBA record 38,387 points. On defense, Abdul-Jabbar was a fearsome shot blocker. Had the NBA tracked the stat in his early career, Kareem would likely be the statistical all-time leader, but even without it, he ranks third in history. Kareem’s size and skill translated to success on both ends of the court and ultimately earned Abdul-Jabbar an NBA-record six MVPs.

2. Magic Johnson

As the undisputed greatest point guard in basketball history, Magic found success at every level. He totaled 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 11.2 assists per game. Under his leadership, the “Showtime” Lakers took the ’80s by storm, winning five NBA titles over the course of the decade. The well-documented rivalry with Boston Celtics star Larry Bird ended in Magic’s favor. In four championship matchups between the two, Johnson won three of four, resulting in two NBA titles and a 1979 NCAA Tournament championship. A 12-time All-Star and three-time MVP, Magic career spanned three decades before it was tragically cut short by HIV in the early ’90s, but had Johnson continued to play, the NBA’s all-time list may have a different king.

1. Michael Jordan

Whether you call him “M.J.,” “Air Jordan,” or “His Airness” — Michael Jordan’s name is synonymous with greatness and the obvious choice to top this list. The Bulls star accumulated six championships, six Finals MVPs, five regular season MVPs, and 14 All-Star nods. Jordan totaled an NBA-record career average a 30.12 points per game en route to an NBA-record record ten scoring titles. With his signature drive, MJ proved unstoppable around the basket, and his success continued to spread on and off the court. From Space Jam to the “Flu Game,” from “The Dream Team” to “The Final Shot,” Michael Jordan idealized the NBA and earned a spot as history’s all-time great.

What do you think? Anything we missed? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

* Photos Courtesy of The Hoops Journal, WikipediaSport in Law

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What If Wednesday: The Decision

On July 8, 2010, LeBron James shifted the power balance of the NBA with six words — “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.” James’ drew stark criticism for his decision, but what if he had chosen to stay with his hometown Cavaliers? THE SPORTS DISPENCER analyzes what could have been in this week’s edition of What If.

Power Shift in the Eastern Conference

LeBron’s decision not only impacted the Cavaliers. It changed the landscape of the entire Eastern Conference. Here is a look at the updated NBA standings and playoff picture:

Reality                                              What If

1. Chicago                                        1. Chicago

2. Miami                                            2. Cleveland

3. Indiana                                          3. Indiana

4. Boston                                          4. Boston

5. Atlanta                                           5. Miami

6. Orlando                                         6. Atlanta

7. New York                                      7. Orlando

8. Philadelphia                                  8. New York

First Round:

Chicago vs New York    Boston vs Miami                                                            Cleveland  vs Orlando   Indiana vs Atlanta 

Eastern Conference Semifinals:

New York vs Boston      Cleveland vs Indiana

Eastern Conference Finals:

Cleveland vs Boston

LeBron’s Legacy

Criticism of LeBron was widespread. Cleveland fans compared his betrayal to that of Art Modell, who infamously relocated the Browns to Baltimore. Former NBA players carried similar sentiments regarding his decision. Michael Jordan remarked that the idea of teaming up with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird never crossed his mind. As he put it, “I wanted to defeat those guys.” Jordan added that “…things are different [now]. I can’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s an opportunity these kids have today.”

James may never be in the same class as Jordan, but had LeBron opted to stay with the Cavaliers, he likely would have avoided becoming one of the industry’s most detested stars. James’ talents and leadership would have boded well for Cleveland’s success. The Cavs would have remained title contenders for years to come and turned LeBron from an Art Modell-like villain to Jim Brown-like hero.

* Photos Courtesy of ESPN, Zimbio, Walker Sports

What do you think? Anything we missed? Any other What If Wednesday suggestions? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

Top 5 Tuesday: Locks for Gold in London

The 2012 Olympics in London may be over a month away, but it is never too early to take a look ahead. As the world’s greatest athletes prepare to vie for international competition’s most coveted prize, THE SPORTS DISPENCER has compiled a list of this year’s surest gold medal favorites.

5. Michael Phelps

After a record-breaking performance in Beijing, the “Baltimore Bullet” is poised to contend in London. Phelps is past his prime and will fall short of his eight gold medal output in 2008, but his accomplishments at the 2011 World Aquatic Championships prove he is not ready to go down without a fight. In Shanghai, Phelps earned gold in the 100 m and 200 m butterfly in addition to his golds as a member of the 4×100 m medley and 4×200 m freestyle relays. Increased competition from fellow American Ryan Lochte may hamper his odds, but Phelps’ experience and unending work ethic will help the American hero topple Larisa Latynina as history’s most decorated Olympic competitor.

4. Zou Kai

The 5’2” Chinese gymnast may not be tall in stature, but his nation expects big things of him come July. Kai walked away three gold medals in Beijing in the high bar, team, and floor events. Since then, the 24-year-old cruised to victory in both the 2009 and 2011 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships on the high bar. His high-flying acrobatics will delight the world and secure another gold for the gymnastics powerhouse.

3. Ryan Lochte

For the first time in years, a fellow U.S. swimmer has outranked the legendary Michael Phelps. A six-time Olympic medalist, Lochte has long-lived in the shadow of Phelps, but since Beijing, the spotlight has turned to him. At the 2011 World Aquatic Championships, Lochte slayed Goliath twice en route to five gold medals including a world record of 1:54:00 in the 200 m individual medley. In London, Lochte is a runaway favorite in all 200 m disciplines aside from butterfly. If he holds to form, Lochte could join an elite class of U.S. Olympic swimming greats.

2. Usain Bolt

The Jamaican sprinter is not only the fastest man in the world — he is the fastest man in history. At Beijing, Bolt won three golds in three events with three world records. His success has led to worldwide fame and admiration, but between commercial shoots, Bolt has still kept his form on the track. Usain has lowered the world record in the 100 m to a blistering 9.58 while bettering the times in both the 200 m and 4×100 m relay. After sweeping the sprinting events again at 2009 Berlin World Championships, only a false start could slow Bolt at 2011 Games in Daegu. Since his disqualification in 100 m final, Bolt has set his eyes on redemption in London.

1. U.S. Basketball

The United States has long dominated both men’s and women’s basketball — 2012 will be no different. Led by 2011 WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings and Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, the women’s squad is a runaway favorite in London. With a talented frontcourt anchored by Candace Parker, America’s experience and talent ensure success in international play.

In men’s competition, the U.S. lineup is filled with NBA stars. Even after losses at center, Coach K’s starting lineup is projected to be Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Tyson Chandler. Coming off the bench, they have proven stars in Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. The U.S.’s unrivaled depth along with their unquestioned offensive and defensive explosiveness will allow the United States to build upon the Redeem Team’s success in 2008.

* Photos Courtesy of Boston.com, NY Times

What do you think? Anything we missed? Who would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

NBA Finals Preview

After defeating Boston and San Antonio’s veteran squads, the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are set to showcase the league’s next generation of talent. Both teams sport star-studded lineups, and as “The Thunderdome” prepares for Game 1 on Tuesday, THE SPORTS DISPENCER brings you a preview of this year’s matchup.

Position by Position Breakdown

PG Russell Westbrook vs Mario Chalmers

At the point guard position, Oklahoma City is provided one of its largest advantages. Unlike Chalmers, Westbrook possesses an elite scoring ability. When attacking the basket, Westbrook uses his speed to penetrate defenses, creating opportunities for himself and his teammates. Advantage: Thunder

SG Thabo Sefolosha vs Dwyane Wade 

Sefolosha may be the team’s premier perimeter defender, but it will take all he has to contain Dwyane Wade. As the face of the Heat franchise, Wade has garnered eight All-Star nods and lead Miami to a title in 2006. He poses both the tangibles and intangibles necessary to wreak havoc this series. Advantage: Heat

SF Kevin Durant vs LeBron James

This series’ closest matchup takes place at small forward. Both Durant and James are two of the league’s brightest stars. Both possess the size, speed, and scoring ability necessary to take over games. With nearly identical regular season statistics, a slight edge goes to LeBron based on his ability to distribute the ball. Advantage: Heat

PF Serge Ibaka vs Chris Bosh

Both power forwards have provided intriguing storylines this postseason. In Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, Ibaka was on fire, shooting 11-11 from the field. Bosh, however, has been sidelined throughout most of this postseason with an abdominal injury. His starter status continues to remain up in the air, but even if Bosh returns to the lineup, he is bound to struggle against Ibaka’s unquestioned defensive prowess. Advantage: Thunder

C Kendrick Perkins vs Udonis Haslem

Center provides another clear-cut advantage to Oklahoma City. Haslem is better suited to play at power forward, but beyond him, the Heat have little talent signed to the roster. Perkins is not only younger, he is a better, scorer, defender, and most importantly — player. Advantage: Thunder

Sixth Man James Harden vs Shane Battier

Shane Battier may provide Miami with quality defense off the bench, but he is no match for Oklahoma City star James Harden. The 22-year-old rising talent averaged 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists for the Thunder en route to NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award honors. Advantage: Thunder

X-Factor

Oklahoma City possesses a fanbase as passionate as any in the NBA. Chesapeake Energy Arena creates a college-like atmosphere for the Thunder. The crowd’s intensity has helped will their hometown favorites to an NBA-best 8-0 home record this postseason, and as their success continues, their energy is on the rise. When the Heat come to town, it will not be any different.

Prediction

In this year’s contest, Oklahoma City matches up favorably across the board. Clear-cut advantages at point guard and center bode well for the Thunder. Their rotation of Harden, Durant, Sefolosha, and Ibaka have what it takes to run the floor with Miami’s Big Three, and Chesapeake Energy Arena ensures an electric atmosphere for Game 1 on Tuesday. Prediction: Oklahoma City wins in six behind Durant’s MVP performance.

What do you think? Anything we missed? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

* Photos Courtesy of Tumblr, Business Insider, Yahoo Sports

Saturday Sports Preview

Netherlands vs Denmark (Noon ET ESPN)

The Group of Death kicks off today in Euro 2012. The Dutch find themselves in an easy matchup against Group B’s weakest squad, Denmark. The Danes are the only group member not ranked in the top five of FIFA’s world rankings. They may not possess the talent to contend with top-tier players like the Netherlands’ Wesley Sneijder, but they do, however, have the talent to keep games close. Prediction: The Dutch come from behind to win 2-1.

Germany vs Portugal (2:45 ET ESPN)

In Group B’s second match, fans are offered the tournament’s premier matchup thus far. Two of Europe’s strongest front lines go head-to-head in today’s crucial opening game. Portugal will try to exploit Germany’s back line with one of Europe’s top attackers, Cristiano Ronaldo, but the Portuguese will have their own hands full trying to contain Germany’s fearsome attack, anchored by Arsenal’s newest recruit, Lukas Podolski. Prediction: Mesut Ozil dictates the midfield in a close 2-1 German win.

Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 (8:30 ET ESPN)

After LeBron James’ ridiculous 45-point outburst in Game 6, the series shifts back to South Beach for a marquee Game 7 matchup. Chris Bosh is expected to put in quality minutes as the Heat find themselves the overwhelming favorites, but keep in mind, the Celtics have been in this position before. In the Big Three era, Boston is 4-2 in Game 7s. Prediction: The Heat edge past the Celtics in a tight 94-92 win.

What do you think? Anything we missed? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

* Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Sports, SI

Updated NBA Playoff Round 2 Predictions

San Antonio Spurs vs Los Angeles Clippers (SA leads 2-0)

Coming off a physical seven-game first-round series against the Grizzlies, the Clippers ran up against the West’s best. In its first two games, San Antonio has cruised to victory. Combined, San Antonio has outscored the Clippers 213-180 while shooting an average of 51 percent from the field. The Clippers played well enough to scrape by Memphis but has yet to prove it can handle the surging Spurs. The series shifts to Los Angeles, but the result will remain the same. Prediction: Spurs win in four.

Boston Celtics vs the Philadelphia 76ers (BOS leads 2-1)

Behind a strong Game 2 performance, the Sixers stole home-field advantage and seemed primed to take control of series, but the Celtics refused to budge. Boston rolled to victory in Game 3 behind Kevin Garnett’s 27 points and 13 boards. Rondo contributed 23 points and 14 assists. The Celtics offense dominated in a 107-91 win. If the Sixers want to stay alive, it will need to step it up on the defensive side of the ball. Boston cannot continue to shoot 50 percent from the field if Philly wishes to contend. Expect the Sixers to adjust but Rondo’s presence too large to overcome. Prediction: Celtics win in six.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs Los Angeles Lakers (OKC leads 2-0)

After clobbering the Lakers by 29 in Game 1, the Thunder found itself trailing by seven at home with two minutes remaining in Game 2. The Lakers finally seemed to be turning things around, but looks can be deceiving. The Thunder began knocking down contested shots as the Lakers missed open jumpers. Then with 22 seconds remaining, Durant buried the game-winner to give OKC the lead. In the final seconds, LA squandered its final opportunity when Steve Blake missed a wide-open three in the corner. Returning to the Staples Center will boost the Lakers’ production but not enough to match the Thunder’s dynamic Durant-Westbrook tandem. Prediction: Thunder win in five.

Miami Heat vs Indiana Pacers (IND leads 2-1)

The Big Three proved ineffective in Game 3 as the Pacers throttled the Heat by 24. Chris Bosh remains out indefinitely with an abdominal injury, and Dwyane Wade had his career worst playoff game performance. Wade was 2-13 for 5 points. LeBron notched 22 but was overshadowed by Roy Hibbert’s dominant performance. The Pacers star scored 19 points and reeled in 18 rebounds while providing key play on defense. His five blocks and strong interior presence contributed to 37.2 percent shooting for the Heat. The Pacers may continue to shut down Wade, and Bosh is unexpected to return, but as LeBron proved in Cleveland, he can win on his own. Prediction: Heat win in seven.

What do you think? Anything we missed? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

* Photos Courtesy of Seattle PI, LA Times

Instant Reaction: Lebron wins MVP

After winning MVP honors for a rare third time, Lebron James joins Michael Jordan and seven of pro basketball’s finest as the only three-time recipients of the award. The Heat star led the team with averages of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

James ended the regular season with a PER of 30.8. He outranked Chris Paul, who finished second in the statistic and third in MVP voting, by a remarkable 3.71 points.

In addition to his undoubted level of efficiency, Lebron’s 1.9 steals per game average stands as a testament to his blossoming defensive prowess. Lebron has quickly developed into the greatest defensive weapon and strongest offensive asset on a team that has long looked to Dwyane Wade’s leadership to fill these roles.

The question remains, however, if Lebron’s regular season performance will transcend into postseason success. James is continuing the search for his first ring after he came up short last year in a six-game series with the Dallas Mavericks.

While the Heat made quick work of their first round matchup against the Knicks, the three-time MVP’s focus remains the same.

As he puts it, “I’d give all three of them back for an NBA championship. It’s all I care about. It’s all I know.”

* Photo Courtesy of ESPN