The NBA possesses nearly 80 years of incredible basketball players who have engineered greatness on and off the court. The primitive days of the league looked a lot different from what fans enjoy today, but the pioneers of that time period often get disrespected by younger fans. Basketball wasn’t as dynamic in the 1950s and 1960s, and the modern athletes of today often feel like giants compared to the ones from decades ago. There are still a handful of legends whose games were shackled by the style of their era, and it’s time to celebrate those OGs who would elevate their games to greater heights in 2023.
1. Larry Bird
Larry Bird may have looked slow and non-athletic, but aesthetics can be deceiving. Bird’s penchant for shooting the ball from 30 feet away would have been encouraged in the 2020s, leading to him becoming one of the most lethal marksman to have ever lived. Bird would be virtually impossible to guard in the space the modern NBA provides. Nikola Jokic serves as a parallel comparison for Bird today.
2. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain’s stats would not have been so bloated in 2023, but his raw athleticism would have remained mesmerizing. Chamberlain utilized floaters, hooks, fadeaway jumpers, and slam dunks in the 1960s, and there’s no reason that would change. Some first-hand accounts of Wilt claim he’s the best overall athlete to have ever entered the league, as he possessed a track and field and volleyball background.
3. Pete Maravich
Pete Maravich wasn’t just the leading performer of the NBA during the 1970s, but the entire circus. Pistol whirled passes, bolted through defenders, dribbled underneath legs, and rifled shots from half court like basketball incarnate. Maravich’s template allowed Steph Curry, Steve Nash, and Damian Lillard to showcase their skills.
4. Hakeem Olajuwon
Players such as Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, and most recently, Giannis Antetokounmpo all seek out the sage advice of Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon. If this isn’t evidence of the Dream’s influence on the game, nothing else is. Olajuwon owned the center position with versatile footwork that would obliterate modern defenses.
5. Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley shows up in headlines for what he says on TV nowadays, but he actually led the way for undersized forwards in the 1990s. With many teams employing small-ball lineups and more position-less methods, Barkley would thrive and dominate the glass. He averaged nearly 12 rebounds per game during his career with the Sixers, Suns, and Rockets.
6. Ray Allen
Ray Allen symbolized the potential of the three-point shot, holding the record for most three-pointers until Steph Curry broke it. Allen only attempted about six attempts from deep per game throughout his career compared to Curry’s nine. If he played today, Allen’s shooting records would have been much more unbreakable.
7. Jerry West
Jerry West owned a lot of physical tools that would have translated well to today’s game. With a 6’4’’ frame, long arms, and big hands, West created the prototype for the combo guard position that many players like Steph Curry, Zach LaVine, Tyrese Haliburton, and more fall under right now. He also would have shot more from the perimeter by implementing the three-pointer.
8. Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor often flew through air, hanging and spinning to the basket throughout the 1960s. Coaches today would leverage his athleticism and task him with penetrating and streaking to the basket. Baylor’s quickness and explosion would look scary with modern training techniques and health regimens.
9. Julius Erving
Dr. J’s enormous wingspan and hands would allow him to run the fast break and finish over any defense no matter the era. LeBron possesses a lot more strength, but Erving surely would inspire the same fear when hurtling towards the basket. His only drawback today would be a lack of jump shot, as defenses might exploit his dearth of perimeter scoring skills.
10. Wes Unseld
Wes Unseld flashed his greatness at an early age, becoming one of only two players to win MVP as a rookie. His rim-protection, undersized height, and speed around the basket would compliment any coach’s desire to run a switching defense today.
11. Dale Ellis
The original three-point marksman in the NBA, Dale Ellis used his height and daring shooting attempts to become the first true threat from the outside. Ellis would shoot the ball from range a lot more than during the 1980s, resulting in him reaching his true potential as a basketball star in 2023.
12. Shawn Kemp
Shawn Kemp’s explosions to the basket throughout the 1990s propelled the Seattle SuperSonics into the championship picture. With more space on the court right now, Kemp would likely operate more from the three-point line to the basket, driving and kicking to shooters. Think of a more skilled and athletic version of Blake Griffin.
13. Connie Hawkins
Connie Hawkins towered through the NBA airspace in the limited time he was allowed to compete in the league during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Hawkins was unfairly accused of point shaving while in college which kept him away from the NBA and ABA for most of his prime. If playing in today’s game, the Hawk would resemble the plethora of 6’8’’ forwards we see dominate both sides of the ball such as Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
14. Sam Jones
Sam Jones supplied the scoring the Celtics needed during the Bill Russell era, often coming into the game and shooting off the glass in quick succession. Jones would extend his game out further and shoot more frequently without the paint being clogged by centers. The emphasis on three-point shooting would allow Jones to penetrate and get to his spots.
15. Dave Cowens
Dave Cowens's penchant for dabbling in every part of the game made his a modern power forward prototype. Players like Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, and Domantas Sabonis possess similar all-around skills at Cowens’ size and weight.
16. Dominique Wilkins
Dominique Wilkins, like Connie Hawkins and Shawn Kemp, would excel in the modern NBA because of gargantuan feats of athleticism. The Human Highlight Reel sprinted, dunked, and bolted through defenders without any rival. He would succeed far more than most other players from the 1980s.
17. Daryl Dawkins
Daryl Dawkins would combine strength and showmanship to the NBA in 2023. Chocolate Thunder would love the social media era of basketball, and he could serve as an enforcer on a championship team who needs leadership and quality role players.
18. Bobby Jones
Bobby Jones should have worn a sign that stated “break in case of an emergency.” Jones’ reflexes, intangibles, and IQ allowed him to be slotted into any lineup with the Sixers and contribute to their wins. A good modern comparison would be Alex Caruso.
19. Danny Ainge
Danny Ainge was a pest on defense and a decent shooter on offense. He would be encouraged to shoot a lot more now, and his value as a leader would also skyrocket. Kyle Anderson and Derrick White play similarly to Ainge.
20. Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman wouldn’t get away with some of his antics in the NBA today, but he certainly would excel on the glass and as a supreme role player on a championship team. Rodman’s ability to guard different positions would have been valued even more right now.
21. Dennis Johnson
Dennis Johnson was a big guard who could defend anyone from a point guard to a small forward. With more switchable lineup and fewer traditional centers on the floor, DJ would be slotted next to a variety of different players, and it would work like a charm.
22. Reggie Miller
Reggie Miller retired as the three-point record holder, but much like Ray Allen, he would probably shoot even more. Klay Thompson mirrors Miller’s production and role, and Miller would have benefited from having a second co-star in Indiana. General managers today would see him as a second option instead of the main building block and Miller would be better because of it.