In part two of the Old School vs. New School debate, we looked at the Central Division, where unlike the Atlantic, we have one current All World player taking the title in Cleveland, a potential overtaking in Indiana had injury not slightly derailed PG13’s path and two teams whose Hall of Fame careers have nothing to worry about.
When it comes to sports, one debate that is often never solved is the one comparing players from different generations. Would Player X beat Player Y in a one on one game? What if Jordan played under today’s rules? Or could Lebron handle the more physical game of the 80s and 90s? Let’s put a bit of a different spin on the conversation and take a look at whether today’s greatest star for each team could overtake the greatest star from his team’s past.
Factors for evaluation are: individual statistics, individual awards, fan following (jersey sales, etc.), team success (wins, championships, etc.). Considerations are based on the player’s time with the specific team, not their whole career. The other important factor is how long the player has been with the team. It is not fair to say that Jordan was the greatest Washington Wizard (Bullet), even though he was arguably the greatest/most popular player in league history. So to fairly evaluate, individuals must have put in a minimum of five years with the team. Now, let’s look at the Southeast Division.
Atlanta Hawks – Dominique Wilkins (12 seasons 1982-93, Hall of Fame, 9 All-Star Games, Hawks all-time points leader, #21 retired) vs. Al Horford (9 seasons 2007-present, 3 All-Star Games)
Like Vince Carter in Toronto (without the hate), Nique was and still is the man in Atlanta. Whether it was his one on one battles with Larry Bird or Michael Jordan, the Human Highlight Film could hold his own with anyone in the league offensively. Think of Carmelo Anthony but with VC like hops. People often ragged on Wilkins’ lack of defensive skills, but he wasn’t any worse than Larry Bird, both just played better team defense than man to man. Horford is not even close to the type of scorer that Wilkins was, however his presence on defense trumps the HOFer. Both players have been part of lengthy playoff streaks in the ATL, however only Horford has reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Although, both players have had relatively equal team success, Wilkins had to battle a much tougher Eastern Conference during the 80s and 90s than Horford has had to face during his nine-year career.
Charlotte Hornets – Larry Johnson (5 seasons 1991-96, 2 All-Star Games, Rookie Of The Year) and Muggsy Bogues (10 seasons 1987-98, Hornets All-Time Assists/Steals leader) vs. Kemba Walker (5 seasons 2011-present)
*Honorable Mention – Alonzo Morning, Glen Rice
Neither Johnson nor Bogues amounted to anything “all-world” during their time in Charlotte. However, both created and established a presence with the Hornets. Combining with Mourning for three seasons, the Hornets were one of the hottest young teams during the early 90’s both on and off the court. Unfortunately Johnson and Mourning had Shaq/Kobe-like issues, and the roster was dismantled before they could find long lasting success.
Walker, although only 25 years old is currently the longest tenured member of the Hornets, playing in his fifth season. Although Grandmama and Bogues never went on an extended playoff run with the Hornets and received only a handful of accolades, it would be a challenge for Walker to dethrone either in terms of popularity or greatness.
Miami Heat – Alonzo Mourning (11 seasons 1995-02 & 2004-08, Hall of Fame, 1 NBA Championship, 5 All-Star Games, 2 Defensive Player of Year, #33 retired) vs. Dwyane Wade (13 seasons 2003-present, 3 NBA Championships, 1 Finals MVP, 11 All-Star Games, Heat all-time Points leader)
This may be the toughest argument in the Eastern Conference conversation. After coming over from Charlotte, Zo proved to be the heart and soul of the Heat during his first stint with the team and despite the presence of NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton and Wade, Mourning was still looked to as one of the leaders of the club. Wade has been “All Everything” for the Miami Heat during his thirteen seasons with the club. Leading the team to their first title in 06, Wade took a back seat to LeBron James during the Heat’s back to back title run. While Mourning may have been tabbed the “Ultimate Warrior” by Heat fans during his career, Wade will ultimately finish his career as the greatest player in South Beach.
Orlando Magic – Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway (6 seasons 1993-99, 1 Championship appearance, 4 All-Star Games) vs. Dwight Howard (8 seasons 2004-12, 1 Championship appearance, 6 All-Star Games, Magic all-time points/rebounds/blocks leader) vs. Shaquille O’Neal (4 seasons 1992-96, 1 Championship appearance, Rookie Of The Year, 4 All-Star Games) vs ???
Ok, so we cheated here by adding Shaq to the list, despite only playing four seasons in Orlando. Both big men were centerpieces in the Magic’s only two title chases and both were equally as large presences on the court as they were off of it. Sadly both departed the Magic Kingdom on sour notes, leaving fans in Orlando angered. Hardaway on the other hand played second fiddle to O’Neal, but when #32 parted, Penny was left to continue carrying the team. Unfortunately for Hardaway his time in Orlando after Shaq left were plagued by injury, leaving fans wondering what could have been. In order to be fair to the set rules of the conversation, Howard is given the nod in this debate, but everyone knows the true identity of Orlando’s Superman.
Washington Bullets/Wizards – Wes Unseld (13 seasons 1968-81, Hall Of Fame, 1 NBA Championship, 1 MVP, 1 Finals MVP, NBA 50 Team, Rookie Of The Year, 5 All-Star Games, Washington All Time Assists/Rebounds leader, #41 retired) and Elvin Hayes (9 seasons 1972-81, Hall of Fame, 1 NBA Championship, NBA 50 Team, 8 All-Star Games, Washington All Time Points/Blocks leader, #11 retired) vs. John Wall (2010-present, 2 All-Star Games)
*Honorable Mention – Gilbert Arenas
Whether you want to call them the Baltimore Bullets, the Capital Bullets, the Washington Bullets or the Washington Wizards, the fact is the best players in team history are Unseld and Hayes. While Wall has been a big reason for the team’s resurgence in the past couple of years, is already ranked second all-time in assists (possibly taking over top spot at the end of this season) and has them battling with the best in the East, it is hard to believe that he would unseat the Hall of Fame duo.