• Mike Ricci

The All-Time Tournament

The Rundown:

A few weeks back, I was sitting in my cubicle at the Off the Glass offices when I was trying to determine who would win in a game between the Pittsburgh Pisces and Flint Tropics when out of nowhere, my phone rang.

It was Shaquille O’Neal.

“Do you think an all time Lakers team could beat an all time Bulls team?” he asked me, catching me off guard.

“I don’t know, Shaq. How did you get my number?”

“I’m looking at the starting five,” he continued, “I don’t see a scenario where we don’t win by 50.”

“Listen Diesel, I’m busy right now. I’d love to help you, but I just can’t. Post it to Instagram or something,” I said, assuming such a post would make the topic die off.


I would argue that the absolute best thing about being an NBA fan is being able to dissect the history of the game we love. Could MJ beat LeBron? ‘Nique or TMac? Were the 1986 Celtics the greatest team of all time or would the 1996 Bulls conquer them in a seven game series? The mystique is the appeal.

I wish I could say this project was my idea, even though it wasn’t. I’ve spent countless hours considering the scenarios we’re going to answer over the next week or two.

Will we be satisfied with the results? Absolutely not. The debate will rage on. In essence, the fun will live on.

What is this project exactly? We are taking the eight best Western Conference franchises and the eight best Eastern Conference franchises over the NBA’s history and assigning each team their own unique dream team of sorts. Then we will simulate all of the games and see which franchise has the greatest dream team in league history. It’ll be fun, it’ll be tedious, but it will be a feast for anyone who truly appreciates the history of this league.

Of course it wouldn’t be fun unless we threw in a few wrinkles into the mix. I’ll lay those wrinkles out in the next section. But for now, sit back, pour yourself a glass of Gatorade, pic out your afro, unchafe your short shorts or let your baggy shorts sag…it’s time to jump into history!

The Rules:

-To make the rosters slightly fairer, I have divvied up the superstars slightly. Obviously I’m not going to put a player on a team he’s never played on, but if someone in this tournament has been a star with more than one franchise, I’m going to try and spread the wealth a little bit to make things interesting. For instance, the Lakers could in theory have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Shaquille O’Neal. Where’s the fun and drama in that?

So for the purpose of this exercise Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will be a Milwaukee Buck, Wilt Chamberlain will be placed on the Golden State Warriors, and Shaquille O’Neal will be a Laker. Get it? This will explain why someone like Dennis Rodman is on Detroit instead of Chicago or why LeBron James is a Cavalier instead of on the Heat. Most situations won’t require much explanation, but if you disagree feel free to reach out to me and let me know.

-If a player has played a substantial portion of their career with one team that isn’t represented, they can be added to a team that is represented, provided they have made at least one All-Star team or won a championship with the second team This should explain why Carmelo Anthony is a Knick instead of a Nugget, Kevin Garnett is a Celtic instead of a Timberwolf, and Dwight Howard is a Rocket instead of a Magic.

-If a team relocated to a new city, I kept the history together. For instance, the Minneapolis Lakers are included in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Golden State Warriors encompass both the San Francisco Warriors and Philadelphia Warriors, and the Oklahoma City Thunder and Seattle Supersonics are incorporated into one franchise as the ThunderSonics (which is maybe the greatest team name in history).

-Teams are ranked in each conference 1-8 based on titles won in franchise history. Tiebreakers are decided by how many NBA Finals the teams have played in.

-I have picked each player based on what I thought qualifies as their best statistical season with their given team.

-The tournament will be decided in traditional NBA playoff format (best of 7 rounds) with the home court rotation being 2-2-1-1-1.

-All games will be simulated on WhatIfSports.com.

The Teams:

Eastern Conference

1. Celtics (17 titles)

2. Bulls (6)

3. Sixers (3 in 9 appearances)

4. Pistons (3 in 7)

5. Heat (3 in 5)

6. Knicks (2)

7. Bucks (1)

8. Cavaliers (0)

Western Conference

1. Lakers (16)

2. Spurs (5)

3. Warriors (2 in 7)

4. Rockets (2 in 4)

5. ThunderSonics (1 in 4)

6. Blazers (1 in 3)

7. Mavericks (1 in 2)

8. Suns (0 in 2)

The Rosters:


C: Bill Russell 61-62

PF: Kevin Garnett 07-08

SF: Larry Bird 84-85

SG: John Havlicek 70-71

PG: Bob Cousy 54-55

Tommy Heinsohn 59-60

Paul Pierce 05-06

Kevin McHale 86-87

Tiny Archibald 79-80

Dave Cowans 72-73

Robert Parish 82-83

Sam Jones 64-65

The Celtics are definitely the favorites in the Eastern Conference and rightfully so. There are two current players on the team (Garnett and Pierce) and both will be in the hall of fame one day. So there you have it—12 players, 12 Hall of Famers.


C: Artis Gilmore 78-79

PF: Horace Grant 93-94

SF: Scottie Pippen 93-94

SG: Michael Jordan 92-93

PG: Derrick Rose 10-11

Bob Love 70-71

Jerry Sloan 70-71

Luol Deng 09-10

Joakim Noah 13-14

Norm Van Lier 73-74

Toni Kukoc 98-99

Chet Walker 70-71

*Photo via AP

There’s a big drop off from the Celtics to the Bulls on the surface, isn’t there? Artis Gilmore is a forgotten superstar, a 7’2’’ afro wielding rebounder/shot blocker who found his way to Chicago via the ABA. The Bulls are truly a defensive juggernaut, provided they keep Toni Kukoc off the court, which shouldn’t be a problem if they can rotate Grant, Love, and perhaps even Deng as a stretch 4.


C: Moses Malone 82-83

PF: George McGinnis 75-76

SF: Julius Erving 80-81

SG: Allen Iverson 02-03

PG: Mo Cheeks 85-86

Hal Greer 68-69

Doug Collins 75-76

Bobby Jones 78-79

Dolph Schayes 57-58

Billy Cunningham 69-70

Andre Iguodala 07-08

Andrew Toney 83-84

You almost have to feel sorry for Knicks fans. They hold their franchise up to such high regard and they probably assume that they’ll have a good chance in this tournament (at least winning one round)…then they get the seeding and see they get the honor of an early elimination at the hands of Philly. Look at this Sixers team! Let’s say they beat New York, then upset (presumably) Chicago…they get the Celtics. I doubt the intangibles are accounted for on WhatIfSports.com because I wish I could see Andrew Toney turn into the Boston Strangler one more time…


C: Bob Lanier 74-75

PF: Dennis Rodman 91-92

SF: Grant Hill 96-97

SG: Joe Dumars 90-91

PG: Isiah Thomas 84-85

Chauncey Billups 04-05

Ben Wallace 02-03

Bill Laimbeer 85-86

Tayshaun Prince 04-05

Vinnie Johnson 86-87

Rip Hamilton 05-06

Bailey Howell 60-61

Let’s fast forward to when the Pistons are eliminated from the tournament, shall we?

Well, one can certainly hope Chauncey, Rip, and Tayshaun inject some class into this team. Yes, I’m 33 and Isaiah led the team off the court when I was 9. No, I don’t hold grudges. Why do you ask?


C: Alonzo Mourning 95-96

PF: Chris Bosh 10-11

SF: Glen Rice 91-92

SG: Dwyane Wade 08-09

PG: Tim Hardaway 96-97

Sherman Douglas 90-91

Udonis Haslem 10-11

Eddie Jones 02-03

Steve Smith 93-94

Rony Seikaly 91-92

Jason Kapono 06-07

Jason Williams 05-06

One of the toughest choices I made when assembling this team was putting Tim Hardaway on the Heat. If I was loaded up with truth serum, would I admit he should probably should be on the Warriors roster? Yes, perhaps. But you know what? The man known for the UTEP 2-Step finished 4th for the MVP in the 1996-97 season and while it wasn’t his best season statistically, it is arguably his best season in the NBA. So Timmy is on the Heat, deal with it. Take a look at that roster though, my god! We know how good Wade is but he and Bosh, combined with Alonzo Mourning, Glen Rice, and Steve Smith off the bench would be fun to watch. I’ve stated many times (and I will mention it later) that while Hakeem is the best center I’ve ever seen play Zo was the most underrated.


C: Patrick Ewing 89-90

PF: Dave DeBusschere 71-72

SF: Bernard King 83-84

SG: Richie Guerin 61-62

PG: Walt Frazier 70-71

Willis Reed 68-69

Carmelo Anthony 13-14

Earl Monroe 74-75

Charles Oakley 93-94

Bill Bradley 72-73

Alan Houston 99-00

Mark Jackson 87-88

I’m sure there are a lot of fans under the age of 40 who will wonder how I can put Carmelo on the bench with Dave DeBusschere starting at PF. It’s a fair point. But I would imagine Knicks fans would be behind this choice. DeBusschere was a member of the last title winning Knicks team and he pitched one season in the majors. Sure, he’s not in the Hall of Fame, but does Melo deserve to be in the Hall?


C: Lew Alcindor 71-72

PF: Vin Baker 96-97

SF: Marques Johnson 78-79

SG: Ray Allen 00-01

PG: Oscar Robertson 70-71

Sidney Moncrief 83-84

Sam Cassell 99-00

Bob Dandridge 72-73

Terry Cummings 84-85

Michael Redd 06-07

Glen Robinson 96-97

Ricky Pierce 89-90

*Photo via JSOnline

This is a scary lineup. Two of the top 10 players all time who both led Milwaukee to their only title in franchise history (1971) are joined by future hall of famer Ray Allen and defensive savant Sidney Moncrief. This is a team that, potentially, could upset the Bulls in the first round although Oscar Robertson wasn’t a spring chicken in 1970-71. Also, the team will get free drinks from Starbucks.


C: Brad Daugherty 91-92

PF: Larry Nance 90-91

SF: LeBron James 09-10

SG: Ron Harper 86-87

PG: Mark Price 91-92

Kyrie Irving 14-15

Terrell Brandon 96-97

Zydrunas Ilgauskas 04-05

Tyrone Hill 94-95

Craig Ehlo 89-90

Campy Russell 78-79

John Williams 89-90

I’m not saying the Cavaliers will win their first round series against Boston, but don’t be shocked if the Celtics get a run for their money. Aside from LeBron James, the Cavalier starting five is loaded with players that time has forgotten about. The Daugherty, Nance, Price trio in the early 1990s was on the precipice of being the Eastern Conference team of the 90’s had it not been for Jordan and the Bulls. Ron Harper was on his way to being one of the 30 greatest players to ever play when his knees gave out on him (injuries that would slow him today, but certainly not derail his career entirely).



C: Shaquille O’Neal 99-00

PF: Pau Gasol 09-10

SF: Elgin Baylor 62-63

SG: Kobe Bryant 02-03

PG: Magic Johnson 88-89

Jerry West 65-66

Gail Goodrich 71-72

George Mikan 52-53

Clyde Lovellette 55-56

James Worthy 89-90

Jamaal Wilkes 79-80

Michael Cooper 86-87

While not as Hall of Fame heavy as the Celtics roster is, this team has to be considered the favorite to win the Western Conference. However, given the sanctions in this tournament (Wilt to Golden State and Kareem to the Bucks) you’d have to be able to see a scenario where perhaps the Spurs, Warriors, or (dare I even suggest) the Rockets prevail?


C: David Robinson 93-94

PF: Tim Duncan 01-02

SF: George Gervin 79-80

SG: Manu Ginobili 07-08

PG: Tony Parker 05-06

Sean Elliott 91-92

Bruce Bowen 05-06

Manny Leaks 69-70

Avery Johnson 95-96

Kawhi Leonard 14-15

Vinny Del Negro 95-96

*Photo via USA Today

The most amusing thing about this roster is how all but two players played on the team before David Robinson and frankly, George Gervin is the only one of historic note between the two. This is a franchise that has grown and experienced it’s peak years recently by NBA standards. The fact that four of the players are still currently playing, with Kawhi still approaching his prime, is testament to how steady this franchise has been.


C: Wilt Chamberlain 62-63

PF: Nate Thurmond 72-73

SF: Rick Barry 74-75

SG: Klay Thompson 14-15

PG: Stephen Curry 14-15

Chris Mullin 90-91

Latrell Sprewell 96-97

Baron Davis 07-08

Jeff Mullins 71-72

Paul Arizin 51-52

Mitch Richmond 90-91

Joe Barry Carroll 82-83

It’s weird that Klay Thompson is starting, isn’t it? Are you a Warriors fan? Do you disagree? I should have Latrell Sprewell starting, shouldn’t I? But how do you start a guy on your all time team if he tried to choke the life out of his head coach? I mean, I don’t feel good about starting a guy who chokes his coaches…but, at the same token, I’d feel even worse about benching a guy who chokes his coach! How would he respond to the benching? More importantly, if he was in the game and started missing shots, he’d be opening himself up to easy taunts.


C: Hakeem Olajuwon 92-93

PF: Dwight Howard 13-14

SF: Tracy McGrady 04-05

SG: James Harden 14-15

PG: Calvin Murphy 75-76

Yao Ming 07-08

Steve Francis 02-03

Elvin Hayes 70-71

Ralph Sampson 84-85

Kenny Smith 90-91

Rudy Tomjanovich 73-74

John Lucas 78-79

Part of the reason I implemented the rules about players playing for other teams and “spreading the wealth” was to prevent a log jam and stacked position groups. But the Rockets beat me. Their frontcourt is absolutely ridiculous. Olajuwon and Dwight. When they get tired? 7’6’’ Yao Ming and 7’4’’ Ralph Sampson are ready off the bench. That doesn’t seem fair.


C: Jack Sikma 81-82

PF: Spencer Haywood 72-73

SF: Kevin Durant 13-14

SG: Russell Westbrook 14-15

PG: Gary Payton 95-96

Shawn Kemp 95-96

Dennis Johnson 79-80

Serge Ibaka 13-14

Gus Williams 81-82

Lenny Wilkens 68-69

Xavier McDaniel 86-87

Detlef Schrempf 94-95

*Photo via Getty Images

Ok, I’ll admit, the only reason I combined the Thunder and the Sonics was to see how this mutant team performed in the tournament. How can you not love what’s going on in the starting five with Shawn Kemp as the 6th man? Not familiar with Jack Sikma? Feast your eyes on this glorious blonde perm and the game that went along with it!


C: Bill Walton 76-77

PF: Sidney Wicks 71-72

SF: Kiki Vandeweghe 86-87

SG: Clyde Drexler 91-92

PG: Terry Porter 88-89

Brandon Roy 08-09

LaMarcus Aldridge 13-14

Rasheed Wallace 00-01

Jerome Kersey 87-88

Damian Lillard 14-15

Kevin Duckworth 88-89

Geoff Petrie 72-73

Bill Walton gets to go head to head with Wilt Chamberlain in the first round and it’s further proof that life isn’t fair. Since this is a dream tournament, Bill will be able to go on a cross country tour to follow the Grateful Dead with Jerry Garcia once the Blazers get bounced by the Warriors in the first round. So there’s a silver lining.


C: Roy Tarpley 89-90

PF: Dirk Nowitzki 04-05

SF: Mark Aguirre 83-84

SG: Rolando Blackman 83-84

PG: Derek Harper 89-90

Alex English 82-83

Michael Finley 99-00

Jamal Mashburn 94-95

Josh Howard 07-08

Shawn Bradley 96-97

Sam Perkins 88-89

Jason Terry 06-07

Growing up in the 1990s, the Mavericks were the worst team in the league just about every season. Then my dad sat me down and explained how the Mavericks of the 1980s were really good and almost won the Western Conference a few times. So, they were just like the Sacramento Kings of the 2000s. Combine those teams with a selection from the Dirk Nowitzki era and you have a fun team (and Shawn Bradley).


C: Amare Stoudemire 07-08

PF: Charles Barkley 92-93

SF: Shawn Marion 05-06

SG: Walter Davis 78-79

PG: Steve Nash 06-07

Kevin Johnson 88-89

Tom Chambers 88-89

Dan Majerle 92-93

Jason Kidd 98-99

Alvan Adams 75-76

Eddie Johnson 88-89

Connie Hawkins 69-70

*Photo via Mecury News

Poor Steve Nash. I could’ve put him on the Mavericks as a seven seed or a Sun as an eighth seed. Either way, just like during his career, he wasn’t surrounded by the right pieces to win the championship. The good news, however, is Charles Barkley did talk to God.


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