NBA 75

NBA 75: LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the transcendent superstars capable of dominating any era

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): So, Rasheed Wallace has recently made some headlines. Well, kinda.

In peak offseason fashion, a few quotes have resurfaced from Sheed's 2020 appearance on the "Million Dollaz Worth of Game" show, where he had some … fiery takes about Kevin Durant and LeBron James, also known as two of the NBA's best players.

MORE: Where did KD, LeBron rank in NBA.com's top 30 players?

The quote that first made its way back into the Twitterverse summed up Wallace's thoughts on LeBron playing in a slightly earlier era, to which he said "he probably would have held his own, but I don't think he would be as successful as he is now.

"It's a whole different era back then. I couldn't necessarily say that he would've been a beast but I think he would've held his own."

On Durant, Wallace echoed a similar sentiment, saying "In that era? No, I don't think he would've had too much success. Now, he's a monster. You have to look at it this way, back then, there were a lot of post-ups. Back then, the game was inside-out. Now, it's outside-in."

There's a lot to unpack here, but what can we even make of this? Is it the old school-new school rivalry rearing its head? Do you think he legitimately believes this? I, for one, expect a bit more from the man whose signature line is "Ball don't lie."

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): When I first saw the resurfaced takes, my initial reaction was, "there's no way he really believes that." I think it's more of Sheed being an Old Head talking about "back in my day."

I mean, first things first, LeBron's era and Sheed's era aren't even that different. The internet was quick to remind everyone, but one of the signature performances of LeBron's career came against Wallace's Detroit Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. For those who don't remember, he scored the last 25 points (!!!) for the Cleveland Cavaliers to pull off a massive Game 5 win in double-OT to take a 3-2 series lead, before leading his team to his first-ever NBA Finals appearance later that postseason.

Wallace knows from experience that LeBron would be one of the greatest players of all time in any era. And I believe he knows the same for Durant. As he said, big men played in the post "back then." (Again, Sheed played from the mid-90s to the 2010s, but that's beside the point.)

Teams wouldn't know what to do if they saw a 7-footer stepping away from the basket, doing things that only KD can do. He's one of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen. Come on, man.

McGregor: You nailed it, and to hit your point home even further, LeBron was all of 22 years old during that performance. I get that Detroit's interior defence had taken a hit after Ben Wallace's departure a year prior, but that Pistons' defence was still historically good.

Even if you're talking from a physicality standpoint, LeBron is 6-foot-9 and weighs north of 250 pounds. Players in this era aren't just magically weaker than they once were in the 90s. A little less rugged, maybe? Weaker? Absolutely not.

We've seen LeBron play bully ball against most of the league and go head-to-head with some pretty strong dudes. Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and Marcus Morris immediately come to mind. I mention Morris because this is a "90s foul" and James just… finished through contact.

As for KD, again. Come on. His being one of the best scorers ever means there isn't much he can't do, if anything. On top of being a 7-footer with shooting guard skills, he was in the 90th percentile of post scorers last season, albeit on a fairly low volume. So that nixes that inside-out argument.

I wanna get more into the "back in my day" talk, because, for the most part, we tend to hear this from players from earlier eras. I'll preface by saying Allen Iverson might show more love than any other Hall of Famer, and even he retired in 2010.

We talked about this some on a YouTube video about eras of basketball, with respect to the soon-to-be-unveiled 75 Greatest Players in NBA History. Another quote from Michael Jordan in 2013 states that LeBron, Dirk, Kobe and Tim Duncan were the only four players that he could see thriving in his era.

While he's getting somewhere with who he mentioned, I think he's still shortchanging a few current players. Fast forward eight years, and are we confident enough to say that each of the NBA's top… 10? 15? 20? players would thrive in the 90s?

Irving: I mean, you and I are both under 30 years old, so I don't want to lean too far on the recent side of this argument and disrespect that era as a younger person. But with that being said, I think you could easily go deeper than the top 20.

Probably like most people, I didn't see the interview on that re-heated Jordan quote. But I'm going to assume that he just listed those four names off of the top of his head. From that mid-2000s era alone, you're telling me players like Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade or Chris Paul wouldn't have still been as great as they were in their time? Getting into the 2010s, players like Durant, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard, just to name a few. I even feel like some of these really young guns like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum would have still played at the level they do now.

And that's just off the top of my head. Is that really that crazy to say? I don't feel like it is.

McGregor: It's not crazy to say at all, CP is the first person that came to mind and Giannis immediately after. I mean, we all saw what he just did in the Finals, not long after suffering a pretty gnarly knee injury. Toughness isn't in question with Antetokounmpo.

In addition to the 22-year-old Doncic and 23-year-old Tatum, I think a 21-year-old by the name of Zion Williamson would do more than hold his own in earlier eras, too.

To echo your sentiment, I don't think us taking this stance is putting one era above another, but more so giving guys credit for having games that transcend eras. The fact that LeBron and CP have been All-Stars in three different decades is enough to back that. The game has changed a lot since they've joined the league, and they've adapted each time.

LeBron's first-ever playoffs, he and the Cavs are winning games 74-72. And that was normal.

I think the biggest point of it all is that this goes both ways. We could ring off a bunch of names from earlier eras that would thrive in 2021, too, right?

Irving: Yeah, absolutely. The physicality at every position in that era would be as much of an anomaly in today's game as a 7-footer knocking down pull-up 3s off of a stepback dribble would be back then.

Obviously, it goes without saying for the all-time, all-time greats like Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, to name a couple. We all know that group of elite names, and every single one of their games would be transcendent through any era.

But even players in those next tiers like Isiah Thomas, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Pete Maravich and Elgin Baylor, to name drop a few more, would still undoubtedly succeed in today's game.

It doesn't always have to be a battle of young versus old (even though it always will be).

McGregor: Of course, we're always going to pit the old school against the new school, whether it's right or wrong.

It's funny, this brings it all full circle to the NBA 75 discussion. It's a fun little exercise because the league will be naming a new list of 75 players, some guys from the NBA's 50 Greatest Players will be included, while some might not make the cut.

I won't single any specific players out, but I feel like talking through this has been a fun little exercise to get an idea of who might - and might not - make it. So many great players have graced the floor in this league, we only touched on a few, but the first criteria for consideration has to be whether or not they could play at a high level during any era of NBA basketball.

Irving: Absolutely, it's almost like a prerequisite without really being a prerequisite. Like, if you're one of the 75 greatest players that ever touched the floor, it's safe to assume you would thrive in any era of basketball.

I already mentioned a few earlier, but I recently wrote on active players who I think have a strong case to crack the NBA 75. LeBron, Durant, Curry and Paul were my locks, but Westbrook, Harden, Antetokounmpo, Leonard, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard are all very worthy of consideration. And that's not even counting players from the mid-2000s like Kobe, Duncan, Nowitzki, Garnett, Wade, Nash or Allen Iverson, who will all but certainly make the list.

That group further solidifies your notion that if you're on the list - or even in consideration for the list - you would hold your own in any era.

McGregor: I feel like to sum it all up, you and I are proponents of both the old- and new-school way of ball, appreciating each for what they are.

They always say comparison is the thief of joy, right?

Regardless, with as many names that we've come up with - and plenty we didn't even mention - the committee for selecting the NBA's new 75 will have plenty of tough choices to make.

It'll be fun to see how that shakes out.

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