As many of you know, basketball is just about the only professional sport that carries any interest for me. Inspired by Bill Simmon’s The Book of Basketball, I began to wonder how a draft of all-time NBA players would go. Do you just grab the best man available and hope the statistics win out? Or do you try and create a coherent team chemistry? Which players would go first? Would some players be so toxic that nobody would want anything to do with them? Who might win such a match-up? Most importantly of all, how would today’s players– with access to unbelievable training, specialized sneakers, modern equipment but a little too rich too soon, stack up against players from the 1960s, traveling across the country in coach? Or to make the comparison even more stark, how would today’s league stack up against the 1950s, before a 24-second clock, no black players in the league, and everybody shooting set shots and trying to keep scores low?
I had little hope of finding 15 or so other people to draft such a league and create such teams. In fact, I had little hope of finding another 4 or 5. So, I decided to draft an entire league’s worth of teams, all by myself, as fairly and objectively as possible.
Here are my rules– 20 teams, 10 players each, for a total of 200 players. The draft order is determined randomly, and goes about in snake formation– the team that drafts last in the first round gets the first pick of the second round, and so on. In each case, I pick an initial player and form the team around that player. So, Magic Johnson’s team will try and recreate the 1980s showtime Lakers, Isaiah Thomas’s team will be a pumped-up facsimile of the Bad Boys Pistons and so on.
In the interest of candor, I did discriminate a bit by age. Some older players from the 1960s would fit in well in today’s game if they had access to today’s resources. I think Bob Cousy would reinvent himself as a creative playmaking guard, using his imagination and crowd-pleasing in much the same way as he did during the Mad Men era. I’m less certain about the “big men” from that epoch– back when centers were 6’8″ dudes in crew cuts who smoked during halftime. In today’s game, played as much in the air as on the floor, I don’t think they translate that well– so you won’t see too many Kennedy-era centers and forwards.
Oh, and if basketball isn’t your thing, don’t abandon this blog– this is a long-term project that I will return to sporadically. If my writings on history or rock and roll or nostalgia or Disney World are more to your liking, stay tuned, because we have a lot of those sorts of things coming.
I also assigned each of the teams a name and a city, neither of which could belong to a current NBA team. This gave us the following:
- New England Riflemen (based out of Mohegan Sun in Connecticut)
- New Jersey Zephyrs (based out of Meadowlands, since Jersey lost their team to Brooklyn)
- Buffalo Stampede
- Baltimore Bandits
- Long Island Towers
- Ohio Argonauts (of Columbus)
- St. Louis Centurions
- Kansas City Cavalry
- Pittsburgh Iron
- Cincinnati Paladins
- Virginia Corsairs (of Norfolk)
- Jacksonville Landsharks (yes, we are going to let Jimmy Buffett run a team…)
- Tampa Bay Tsunami
- Austin Desperados
- Texas Longhorns (of Ft. Worth)
- San Francisco Samurai
- San Jose Conquistadors
- Orange County Crushers (of Anaheim)
- Seattle Eclipse
- Tucson Thunderbirds
Laugh if you must, but I think these team names aren’t significantly worse than most in the major leagues. I’ll break down the teams in the next several posts– until then, stay tuned.