JT's Hoops Blog's Holy Trinity of Basketball: Part Five, the Center Spot
At one point in NBA History, the center was the most revered position in the league. Often the tallest players on the team, they were the last line of defense and the first option on offense. The greatest of all centers were not just great scorers rebounders and shot blockers, they were also virtual black holes as they would attract all defenders leaving teammates open to take open shots. Next to the point guard position, the center had to be the most important position in basketball as the point gaurd is considered the captain who guides the ship, the center became the anchor that reliably kept the ship from moving astray.
Unfortunately the center postion has almost become an almost dying breed--a species on the verge of extinction. They are barely any true centers in the league anymore as the majority of them are just athletic power forwards who play farther from the basket than their predecessors. The center no longer the team's anchor it once was, but more of a prop than anything else. As NBA teams become guard and perimter centric, the center seem to be slowly fading away in relevance. Before these grand monsters bid their final farewells, lets take a look at the three players who have defined what a true center should be.
The Father: Bill Russell
When it comes to the greatest center in the league, no one need to look further than Boston Celtic legend and basketball hall of famer, Bill Russell. He was not the focus of his team's offense as his contemporary and former rival Wilt Chamberlain was, but he was a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end. His rebounding, shot blocking and hardnosed style defensive defensive play elevated the Celtics' play on both sides of the floor. He would shut down his opponents on the defensive end and then push up the ball for a fast break.
Russell was also the Celtics' achor on offense; however it was not so much for scoring, although he did accumulate 14,522 points in his playing career. He provided the Celtics a source for double teams and was an excelent outlet passer and superb offensive rebounding. Because of his gritty and selfless play, Russell helped lead the Celtics win a history making eleven NBA Championships over his twelve year career. He even made history as the first African American head coach in NBA History and left the games after winning five MVP trophies, five rebounding championships, eleven all NBA selections, and twelve NBA All Star selections. To honor his achievements, in 2009 the NBA officialy announced that the Finals MVP trophy would be now called the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Trophy.
The Son: Shaquille O'Neal
Many would disagree for putting Shaq on such a high pedestal, but for close to twenty years, he had been one of the most intimidating big men in history. In his younger days he was unstoppable in the paint as he was an athletic freak having amazing quickness and athleticism for a man who stood at 7 feet and weighed more than 300 pounds. In his rookie year, he routinely shattered backboards and overpowered even the strongest of big men and he remained an attractor of not on double, but also triple teams until very late in his career. He would also go down in history as one of the NBA's winningest centers since Bill Russell as he found himself in the playoffs for every year in his career except two, his rookie year, and in 2009 when he played for the Phoenix Suns. He would reach the NBA Finals six times with three different teams, winning four of them and will possibly remain as one of the most memorable sports figures in the NBA since Michael Jordan.
While Russell was more of a defensive stopper and a faclatator on his team's offense, O'Neal was just dominant on both ends of the floor: on offense, he was the irresistable force while on defense he was the immovable object. No one could contain him as he just simply and mercilessly over-powered his defenders as if they were nobody there. Defensively, he brought fear to anyone that dared to attack the lane and swallowed every rebound as it was his opponents tries in vain to box him out. When he left the game, he finished seventh all time in career blocked shots (2,732), twelth on the list of all time career rebounds (13,099), and fifth all time career leader in points scored (11,330). And despite his achilles heel at the free throw line shooting a career .504, he still manged to rank 17th all time in free throw shots made (5,935) and was second all time in career free throw attempts (11,252).
The Holy Spirit : Kareem Abdul Jabaar
Statistically, Kareem Abdul Jabaar has got be the greatest player even to donn a Lakers uniform. He started every game in his twenty year career and during that time collected six NBA titles (five of which came playing for the Lakers), and 6 MVP Awards. In that twenty year span, he was also selected to play the NBA All Star Game 19 times, to the All NBA Team 15 times, and to the NBA All Defensive 11 times. He retired from basketball as the all time leader in points scored, third all time league leader in rebounding, and third all time leader in blocked shots. So why does he not get the same if not greater recognition and respect than the rest of his peers?
When people talk about the greatest centers in the league, it has always been a battle between Bill Russel and Wilt Chaimberlain, but no one metions Kareem on that list despite his successes and achievments. Kareem's individual accomplishments far eclipsed that of Chaimberlain's and his championship tally is second only to Russell. It is probably one of the greatest injustices in not only basketball, but also in the history in sports and it is still going on to this day. It is as if he was really a ghost or an imaginary player that never existed. For his entire career, he had battled to get respect as he started his career during the times of racial prejudice and discrimination; now he has had to continue that battle to ensure that people still remember him.
And there you have it: the final chapter of my Holy Trinity of basketball. I would like to thank you for joining to on my spiritual journey to find basketball perfection. It was as fun for me to write as it was fun for you to read it. So for the last time let us finish this series by reciting the Sign of the Cross: In the name of Russel (the Father), of Shaq (the Son), and of Abdul Jabaar (the Holy Spirit), AMEN !!!!!!