Research

Which NBA legends were surrounded by the most star power?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 2: (L-R) Los Angeles Lakers players Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Shaquille O'Neal watch from the bench during the game against the Golden State Warriors on November 2, 2003 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 87-72. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

So the purpose of our research was to find out which NBA legends had been the most fortunate (or however you want to call it) when it came to being surrounded by star power during their pro careers. This is what we did:

1. We looked up the teammates of the Top 60 NBA players of all time, according to the very thorough list ESPN put together recently. Those 60 are unquestionably legends of basketball.

2. We looked up the number of All-Stars those teammates attended while playing with those legends. Also the number of times those teammates were selected either to the 1st or 2nd All-NBA Team and the amount of MVP awards they collected. Again, we only take into account accolades while playing with those legends.

3. We awarded each legend one point for each teammate with an All-Star berth, two points for each All-NBA selection and three points for each MVP trophy.

Some considerations before we go ahead.

The election of All-Stars, All-NBA team members and MVPs is based on people’s opinions and thus somewhat arbitrary. Some undeserving players get those accolades and some deserving players don’t. Overall, there’s no denying such recognitions say a lot about the stature of NBAers. Super high-quality players are bound to receive such accolades.

Legends from the NBA’s earlier days were more likely to play with All-Stars since the number of players and teams was significantly smaller back in the day. Only 96 NBA players played in the 1959-60 season and 20 of them were selected to the All-Star Game. That’s 20.8 percent of the league. So far, 463 players have taken part in game action this season. Only 26 were named All-Stars. That’s 5.6 percent.

Meaning? Old-school legends are more likely to be at the top of our Star Company ranking since back then it was easier to team up with other stars.

So this is how the ranking looks.

Some takeaways from our research:

* As you might have expected, Celtics players from the franchise’s glory days top the ranking. Bob Cousy is at No. 1 having played multiple years with stars like Bill Sharman, Ed Macauley, Tom Heinsohn, Sam Jones or Bill Russell, who himself played with star-studded Boston teams for many years and is at No.3 behind John Havlicek.

* The Top 8 players in the list are all longtime Celtics or Lakers.

* Elgin Baylor is the lone player in the Top 8 without a championship ring, largely because he had to compete against those stacked Celtic squads we mentioned above.

* Only two of the players in the Top 21 are ringless. The other one is John Stockton, who could never get over the hump even though he spent 18 years next to perennial All-NBA and occasional MVP Karl Malone.

* Fifteen of ESPN’s Top 60 NBA players have never won the title. Nine of those are in the Bottom 12 of our Star Company ranking.

* The Top 12 players in the Star Company ranking combine for 53 NBA championships. Those at the Bottom 12, way less fortunate when it came to playing with star sidekicks, combine for just four rings.

* Among active players, no one has enjoyed better star company than Tony Parker and Kobe Bryant. They combine for nine NBA championships. Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony have not been that lucky. They’ve never had a teammate selected to the 1st or 2nd All-NBA team even though they combine for 31 seasons in the league.

* There’s 14 active players in the list. The Top 7 have won 20 NBA titles. The Bottom 7 in the Star Company ranking? Five.

The overall and unsurprising pattern is that legends surrounded by star-caliber talent typically rack up NBA championships. Those who were/are not struggle to win big. Something to consider before we call some superstars “winners” and others “losers”.

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