By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Jan 29 2010 11:36AM
You all don't know how close you came to getting an all-Kobe Bryant, all the time, Nos. 1 through 10 edition of The Race this week.
In aesthetic terms, there might have been something appealing about seeing the same guy listed one after another after another, stacked vertically to achieve an artistic effect not unlike what Andy Warhol did with repeating Campbell's soup cans. And yet, that wouldn't have been the reason.
Self-preservation would have been.
The Race, you see, is under new management. Beginning with this edition, a replacement committee takes over, otherwise known around here as The Management (or in Chicago parlance, The Outfit). Think of it as a mid-term inauguration.
The committee did not want to bring any baggage into this new duty. And lately, it had been dragging around several steamer trunks' worth of it, the result of a different Top 10 ranking. In that one, the committee offered up the greatest athletes in NBA history, where we eventually worked our way to No. 3 Michael Jordan, No. 2 LeBron James and No. 1 Wilt Chamberlain. The committee was heartened to see so much agreement with its top choice and fairly widespread acceptance of most other names on the list.
There were, naturally, some differences of opinions. That is to be expected, if not entirely welcomed, in matters such as these -- especially when a lot of you didn't bother to read the lengthy preamble and mistook one man's assessment of the league's all-time best athletes for just another run-of-the-mill, garden-variety ranking of the greatest NBA players. That's why, despite correspondence to the contrary, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson weren't included; even though the guy from French Lick and the fellow actually christened Earvin wouldn't quibble with it.
The omissions cited most fourth-, third- and second-most often by careful readers were Philadelphia legend Julius Erving, New York's mighty mite Nate Robinson and Orlando elder statesman Vince Carter. The committee can live with this, secure in the knowledge that those fine physical specimens are represented on your assessment's of the NBA's greatest athletes.
More troubling, though -- to the point of enlisting Brinks Security on a 90-day retainer and propping our version of Roy Hobbs' "Wonderboy'' bat against our nightstand -- was the hue and cry of Bryant's legions, questioning his absence.
The committee is not given to explaining itself in most circumstances, but in this case, it will make a brief exception: Like all NBA athletes, Bryant is a magnificent athlete. As a volume scorer, a creative and at times astonishing shooter, the closest thing to Michael Jordan since 1998 (closer even than Jordan's Wizards incarnation, 2001-03) and the bearer of four NBA championship rings, Bryant is more magnificent than most. While a couple of spots in our official Top 10 were used for group entries -- for example, No. 10 Gerald Wallace was a stand-in for all the great athletes in league history who didn't become great players (congrats to him, though, on his All-Star berth) -- Bryant surely would have been a deserving choice. The knife just had to cut somewhere.
(As for his exclusion from the honorable mentions, let's just say that a junior committee member will be ever so slightly boosting the nation's newly unemployed figures for January.)
Thus, the temptation to overdo the Bryant recognition in this edition of The Race. But the committee fought that off admirably, lest it be seen as sniveling and way too swayed by popular opinion.
Let's not forget, meanwhile, that the old committee all but proclaimed the Race to the MVP over and done in LeBron James' favor while dropping Bryant from No. 2 to No. 3 in two weeks ago in The Race.
The new committee is pleased to declare that an unconscionable slight.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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