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Posted: Thursday July 9, 2009 10:59AM; Updated: Thursday July 9, 2009 1:17PM
Jack McCallum Jack McCallum >
INSIDE THE NBA

Thrill List: NBA

Story Highlights

Bob Cousy and Pete Maravich specialized in gravity-bound showmanship

George Gervin and Elgin Baylor impressed with their versatile repertoires

Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan and Julius Erving were highlight-reel staples

michael-jordan.jpg
Michael Jordan produced some of the most spectacular highlights in NBA history.
Manny Millan/SI

These lists are not mere compilations of all-time bests in their respective sports but all-time bests at quickening the pulse and evoking a visceral response from those fortunate enough to have witnessed their artistry.

10. Bob Cousy

Go ahead and laugh at the 1950s films of the black-sneakered, long-armed, geeky-looking Cooz dribbling through a mass of defenders in smoke-filled Boston Garden. He was the NBA's first master of Showtime. Every time somebody in my generation dribbled behind his back, a coach or father was bound to say, "Who do you think you are, Cousy?"

9. Allen Iverson

This is not the time to list the Answer's flaws. It's the time to celebrate the sight of him accelerating that frail frame in the open court and charging fearlessly into a gang of bigger defenders, all the while in control.

8. George Gervin

A Spurs stars in the 1970s and '80s, Gervin was a scoring machine. No one in the history of the game had more unconventional pump fakes, finger rolls and ways to get a ball into the basket than the Iceman.

7. David Thompson

Substance abuse cut short the career of the game's greatest leaper after he had risen with Denver in the 1970s. But every time Thompson gathered himself to go to the basket there was the potential for something wonderful to happen, and often it did.

6. Dominique Wilkins

Nobody got screwed in dunk contests more than the Hawks' sleek forward, who won two (in 1985 and '90) but probably should've won four. The Human Highlight Film is absolutely, positively, the game's greatest dunker ... and not just during All-Star weekend.

5. Elgin Baylor

In an era (1958-72) when the game was played mostly below the rim, the Lakers' immortal could play above it if he wanted to. But, see, the master of the head fake and mesmerizing glide to the hoop could play below it, too. Elegant Elg may be the most underrated player in NBA history.

4. Connie Hawkins

The fact that the Hawk was barred from the league for so many years (he didn't make his debut with Phoenix until 1969, when he was 27) has made him more legend than fact. But trust me on this: With his big hands and elastic body, he was the first to do things perfected by the two gentlemen who are No. 1 and 2 on this list.

3. Pete Maravich

How many players can you name who almost never did the same thing with the ball in the open court that they had done on previous forays? Like Cousy, the Pistol brought an excitement to the game that had nothing to do with dunking and everything to do with gravity-bound showmanship.

2. Michael Jordan

By the end of his tenure, we were talking about MJ's fadeaway jumper, his court sense, his strength, his savvy, his smarts, etc. But for the first decade of his career, beginning in the mid-1980s, the guy was a thrill-a-minute artist seemingly unbound by normal physical laws, and he's given us more feet of highlight reel than any player in history.

1. Julius Erving

If you weren't following pro hoops at the time, you simply can't imagine the excitement generated when Dr. J, the ABA legend, moved from the New York Nets to the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers before the 1976-77 season. Remember that games were rarely televised back then, so most of America had only heard tales of the graceful forward with the big hands and the gravity-defying artistry. When folks first saw Dr. J, their eyes popped: It seemed as if he could temporarily suspend himself in air while coasting from one side of the basket to the other. And thus was born the concept of "hang time."

Agree or disagree with McCallum's selections? Weigh in here.

 
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