As we near the end of 2009 and thus the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, Sports Then and Now is looking at some of the athletes and moments that shaped the decade.
When the decade started many were wondering how the NBA could overcome the retirement of Michael Jordan. Of course Jordan did come back for two seasons during the decade as a member of the Washington Wizards, but he really was more of a footnote in the decade rather than a main player.
The decade belonged to two powerhouse teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. There were other teams with good runs, but those two squads were consistently contending for NBA titles.
Some are still looking for the next Michael Jordan, but while it is doubtful there will never be another MJ, as the NBA heads into the new decade it has a plethora of talented young stars poised to lead the league into the future.
Who is the Best NBA Player of the Decade?
- Kobe Bryant (46%, 32 Votes)
- Tim Duncan (20%, 14 Votes)
- LeBron James (11%, 8 Votes)
- Shaquille O'Neal (9%, 6 Votes)
- Dwyane Wade (4%, 3 Votes)
- Kevin Garnett (4%, 3 Votes)
- Steve Nash (3%, 2 Votes)
- Allen Iverson (1%, 1 Votes)
- Jason Kidd (1%, 1 Votes)
- Tony Parker (1%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 70
Below is a look at our picks for the top 10 NBA players over the past decade:
10. Jason Kidd – At a time early in the decade when it looked like the idea of having a traditional point guard running the show might go the way of the dinosaur, Jason Kidd reminded the league that a true point guard could still be a very important part of a winning NBA team. Kidd twice led the New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals. Selected to the All-NBA first team four times in the decade, Kidd finished second in the league MVP voting during the 2001-2002 season. He led the NBA in assists per game four times in the decade and ranked in the top five all ten years.
9. Tony Parker – He is best known to some as the husband of Desperate Housewife Eva Longorio, but Tony Parker has earned his own acclaim as a key member of three championship teams with the San Antonio Spurs. Though he has not received the individual recognition of many other NBA stars, Parker has been behind the scenes keeping the Spurs among the NBA’s elite teams. He has averaged 16.7 points and 5.6 assists per game while connecting on 49% of his field goal attempts. In the playoffs, Parker has been even better. He has a career average of 18.9 points per game in playoff action, including averaging better than 20 points per game in each of the last four postseasons. Parker was the MVP of the 2007 NBA Playoffs.
8. Allen Iverson – Dismissing the talent of Allen Iverson has become a popular pastime in recent years, as teams seem to be better after Iverson leaves than they were while he was part of their squad. However, it is impossible to discuss the best players of the past decade without including Iverson in the conversation. Iverson led the NBA in scoring three times in the decade and averaged more than 30 points per game four times. Despite his small stature (6-foot, 165 pounds), Iverson led the NBA in minutes played per game six times in the decade. He also led the league in steals three times. Despite a team that included primarily journeymen players, Iverson led the Philadelphia 76ers into the NBA Finals in 2001. He has a career average of 29.7 points and 6 assists per game in the playoffs.
7. Kevin Garnett – Kevin Garnett would probably have made the top 10 list even if he was still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but Garnett solidified his place among the best players of the decade by helping the Boston Celtics win the 2008 NBA Championship. Selected to the All-NBA first team four times in the decade and the second team three times, Garnett was the NBA MVP in 2004 and the Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
6. Dwyane Wade – At the time of the 2003 NBA Draft, most discussion was about the “big three” of LeBron James, Darko Milicic and Carmelo Anthony. As it turns out, the Miami Heat ended up getting pretty good value with the fifth pick as they selected Marquette University standout Dwyane Wade. In just his third season, Wade teamed with Shaquille O’Neal to lead the Heat to a stunning NBA Championship. Wade averaged 28.4 points per game during the playoffs and was named the MVP of the Finals. He led the NBA in scoring in 2008-09 and has a career scoring average of 25.3 points per game.
5. Steve Nash – While Parker and Kidd have been important cogs from the point guard position during the decade, Steve Nash elevated the position to another level as he spent part of the decade as the best player in the league. Nash was named the league MVP in both 2005 and 2006 and was named to the All-NBA first team three times. He led the league in assists three times and in free throw percentage once. The only blemish on Nash’s record is that he has never led his team to the NBA Finals. While with the Dallas Mavericks, the team reached the Western Conference finals once. Since moving to Phoenix, the Suns have twice made the Western Conference Finals, but have been unable to advance to the NBA Finals.
4. LeBron James – If LeBron James had been in the NBA for the entire decade, he probably would have advanced higher in the top 10, but even so, there is no question that the soon-to-be 25-year-old (his birthday is on December 30th) is among the top players in the league. In just his second season in the league, James averaged 27.2 points per game and he has exceeded that average every year since. He averaged 31.4 points per game during the 2005-06 season and in 2007-08 led the league with an average of 30 points per game. He carried the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 and the Cavaliers had the best record in the NBA in 2008-09 as James won his first league MVP award.
3. Shaquille O’Neal – When the decade began, Shaquille O’Neal was the most dominant player in the NBA. The league MVP in 2000, O’Neal was almost impossible to stop and led the NBA in scoring in 1999-2000. He also paced the league in field goal percentage seven times in the decade. He teamed with Kobe Bryant to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to three consecutive championships from 2000 to 2002 and another finals appearance in 2004. After moving to the Miami Heat, O’Neal and Dwyane Wade led the Heat to an improbable championship in 2006. Though no longer a dominant player, the Cleveland Cavaliers hope that O’Neal will help bring LeBron James and the Cavaliers a title in 2010.
2. Tim Duncan – If this list had been created a year ago, Tim Duncan probably would have been at the top of the list. A two-time league MVP and two-time NBA Finals MVP, was a first team All-NBA selection six times in the decade and a first team All-Defensive selection on five occasions. Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs won more than 50 games in each year of the decade, claimed three NBA Finals in the decade and advanced to the Western Conference Finals on two other occasions. Duncan has never led the league in a major offensive category, but has been a steady superstar as he averaged more than 20 points per game seven times in the decade and double figures in rebounds every year.
1. Kobe Bryant – Trying to define Kobe Bryant’s place in the NBA is a difficult challenge. He is unquestionably one of the greatest talents in the league and has the heart of a champion, but throughout his career he has displayed just enough selfishness both on and off the court to make him a difficult player for fans to love and adore. As a young player, he teamed with Shaquille O’Neal to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to three championships and four trips to the finals. After helping to orchestrate O’Neal’s departure, he posted his greatest individual seasons and won two scoring titles, but the Lakers missed the playoffs once and then twice lost in the opening round. It wasn’t until he started concentrating more on winning and less on individual glory that Bryant became a true champion. He led the Lakers to the 2008 finals and was named league MVP. Then in 2009 the Lakers claimed their fourth title of the decade and Bryant was named MVP of the Finals. Once an advertising superstar, an off the field accusation of rape in 2003 reduced the allure for advertisers, but his jersey remains one of the top sellers in the NBA.