Crafting the correct list in any sports debate is a tough task for quite literally anyone. The NBA might be one of hardest given its plethora of talented players — both past and present.
In honor of the league’s 75th anniversary, a list of its most prominent and impactful players has been shared over three-day increments for players, media and fans alike to parse. While a fair share of arguments ensued over notable omissions, those who made the cut found themselves in awe of the legendary company they joined upon hearing their names alongside the figures they grew up admiring.
The NBA’s Top 75 marks its fourth time selecting a group of legends in alignment with a landmark anniversary. Prior to this, the league crafted anniversary teams for the league’s 50th (1996), 35th (1980) and 25th (1971) years of existence. As part of the NBA’s celebration, its season-long honoring of its rich history will include Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famers Clyder Drexler, Magic Johnson, Bob Pettit and Oscar Robertson, as well as 2006-07 MVP Dirk Nowitzki, serving as ambassadors for the 2021-22 season.
With such pristine company on hand, it’s hard to imagine current players not being in awe of officially etching themselves into hoops lore. Let’s examine some of the most notable reactions for those who did (and did not) make the cut for the NBA’s Top 75.
Just over one calendar year ago, LeBron James won his fourth NBA title and became the first player in league history to win Finals MVP with three different franchises (Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers).
Now he officially stands among the legendary players in the history of the game he loves most.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 22, 2021
Upon being told he and Kevin Durant were among those named to the NBA’s Top 75 list, Harden couldn’t help but express disbelief at the honor.
Though The Beard may need some time to soak in the nod, it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with both he and Durant’s respective careers. They are among two of the four players since the 1976 ABA-NBA merger to win three consecutive scoring titles. Michael Jordan did it twice, and George Gervin also achieved this feat.
Unlike Durant, who twice won Finals MVP honors with the Golden State Warriors, Harden is still seeking the first NBA title of his illustrious career, which has seen him accomplish just about everything else a player could strive for.
When told about his place on the NBA’s Top 75, Harden couldn’t help but want to be certain of his nod.
EVER? WOW pic.twitter.com/jkWrfDj77x
— James Harden (@JHarden13) October 20, 2021
Anthony reached 10th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list last season with the Portland Trail Blazers. During the 2020-21 campaign alone, the four-time Olympic medalist (three gold, one bronze) surpassed Hall of Famers Elvin Hayes, Tim Duncan, Dominique Wilkins, Oscar Robertson and Hakeem Olajuwon en route to his place in the scoring ranks.
Despite his career point total being the highest among players without a ring, Anthony is recognized as one of the most impactful players of an entire generation.
Now, after a brief hiatus from the game a couple years ago, he is officially honored among the most revered hoopers in the history of the game.
People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.
– James Baldwin
— Carmelo Anthony (@carmeloanthony) October 22, 2021
Despite nine All-Star selections, seven All-NBA nods and being revered as one of the most exciting players ever, The Human Highlight reel was omitted from the league’s aforementioned 50th Anniversary list in 1996.
Wilkins averaged 24.8 points per game over his 15-year career, including a mark of 29.9 during a bounceback campaign in 1992-93 after tearing Achilles tendon the season prior, signalling one of the greatest returns to form from the injury.
The leading scorer in Atlanta Hawks history (23,292 points) has earned another rightful spot in basketball history thanks to his selection to the NBA’s Top 75 list.
— Dominique Wilkins 🏀 (@DWilkins21) October 21, 2021
One need not explain at length why the Hall of Famer made the cut. Four scoring titles, 11 All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA nods and a 2001 Finals run for the ages can often speak for themselves.
Beyond his game, though, Iverson’s impact on basketball culture remains unmatched for reasons that range between his trademark cornrows, sneaker collection and patented crossovers. The 1996-97 NBA Rookie of the Year made sure to show love to those he credits for their role in carrying him to this unique point of validation.
This is a tribute to the @NBA, my family, friends, teammates, coaches, trainers, medical staff, front office and to the greatest AI fans all around the world. I couldn’t have done it without each and every one of yall!!! Thank YOU!!! pic.twitter.com/kItBpNiCgN
— Allen Iverson (@alleniverson) October 20, 2021
Unfortunately, a list of the league’s 75 (well, really 76) best players can only fit so many names at once. That being said, the omission of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year came as a surprise to former players, media and fans alike.
no defense for omitting dwight. people really don’t like that dude. https://t.co/zuzwgbA47p
— bomani (@bomani_jones) October 21, 2021
I’ll not discuss who should be off but I do want to discuss that DWIGHT HOWARD has been disrespected and should be on!!!!
— Richard Jefferson (@Rjeff24) October 22, 2021
Knicks’ fans, I know I was barely on your good side but any list that has Patrick Ewing on it needs to make SURE Dwight Howard is on it, because ain’t no WAY! Carry on…
— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) October 22, 2021
DWIGHT HOWARD NOT TOP 75 ALL TIME!?!
— O’Shea Jack(Nichol)son (@OsheaJacksonJr) October 22, 2021
Three NBA titles, a career mark of 41.9 percent on three-pointers and a reputation as one of the best heat checks in league history doesn’t appear to be enough for Thompson to make the NBA’s Top 75 list.
When asked about Thompson and teammate Draymond Green’s place in history, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr couldn’t help but support two-thirds of his dynastic Big 3 when discussing the league’s list.
“I definitely think both guys are Top 75 just based on winning and two-way basketball, everything that really matters more than statistics,” Kerr said. “What matters is if you’re winning championships, and that’s what counts, so I would’ve hoped and thought both guys would be on there.”
At only 29 years old, Irving has earned a reputation as one of the most gifted ball-handlers, scorers and playmakers in recent memory. His gifts were on peak display during the 2016 NBA Finals, when the Cleveland Cavaliers became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the title round.
Irving’s go-ahead bucket in that series’ Game 7 ranks among the most pivotal shots in league history. Unfortunately, the seven-time All-Star’s resume wasn’t robust enough to earn a spot on the NBA’s Top 75 list, prompting a defense from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Warriors forward Andre Iguodala, who battled against Irving in three straight Finals matchups (2015-17).
I completely agree, Iggy. To not include Kyrie in the top-75 is blasphemous https://t.co/GVOLlZcVk4
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) October 21, 2021
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this story.