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NBA’s All Time 50 Greatest Players: Excerpts from Standing Above the Crowd: Success Strategies in Athletics, Business, Community and Life by James Donaldson


Excerpts from Standing Above the Crowd: Success Strategies in Athletics, Business, Community and Life by James Donaldson.  Release date is January 201l.  Pre-order now and save!!!

For details go to www.StandingAboveTheCrowd.com

I know that there are a lot of NBA basketball fans out there who will get a kick out of my chapter on my experiences playing against and observing some of the greatest players in NBA history.  I’ll send out an excerpt from this chapter everyday leading up to the book release.  I welcome your comments!

One of the most frequently asked questions that I encounter besides “how tall are you?” is either who is the greatest player that I’ve ever played against, or who is the toughest player that I’ve ever played against?  Depending on the person’s knowledge of basketball who’s asking the question, I typically give a couple different responses.  There’s a big difference between “the greatest” and “the toughest”.

The game of basketball has been around for a long time now and it has evolved over the years from when Dr. James Naismith first tied a peach basket an old barn post and the players were shooting two hand set shots, to now where the game is played on a global scale with some of the finest athletes in the world.  There were great players back in the beginning of the game, just as they’re great players now.  I don’t know if it’s ever totally fair to compare players from one era against players of another era.  Periodically you see sports aficionados coming up with hypothetical computerize scenarios of say the great Green Bay Packers of the 60s versus the New England Patriots of the new millennium.  It’s impossible to really say who the best players are or which team would come out on top.  But it’s a fun exercise and it creates a lot of heated conversation amongst the fanatics and all of us.

I was lucky to play during perhaps the greatest era of NBA basketball.  My NBA career spanned two decades essentially, from 1980 – 1996.  Some of the greatest NBA players to ever play the game played during that era.  I remember as a rookie in 1980 marveling at the great Dr. J. and also been privileged to witness the new era of NBA basketball that was brought to us by Ervin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird.

All in all I was privileged to play against over 30 of the all-time 50 greatest NBA players ever.  I’m going to go through the whole list of the 50 greatest players and share my thoughts with you in regards to either actually playing against them or watching them as I was a youngster.  They are listed in alphabetical order and if you want to find the actual numerical order in which they are listed by the NBA you can check out their website at NBA.com

Bill Walton


Bill “The Big Redhead” Walton was a “one-of-a-kind” player during the height of his NBA career back when the Portland Trailblazers won the NBA championship in the mid-‘70s.  He possessed a complete package that coaches love to see in their centers –the ability to score, rebound, block shots, trigger the outlet pass, play defense, and lead his team to victory.

Walton was probably one of the very first players to cut across the “NBA culture,” so to speak, when he joined the league.  He sported a long mane of red hair and a beard several inches long to match.  He was one of those “free living and free loving” kinds of guys that seem to be fresh out of the “flower children” generation of the ‘60s.  But hey, this is the NBA, and as long as you can play, perform and win, there seems to be a place for you.

I became a teammate of Bill Walton when we were both with the San Diego Clippers in 1984.  We played three years together (one year in San Diego before the team moved to Los Angeles the following year) and I learned a lot about playing the center position as his teammate.  He was versatile enough so he could play power forward in tandem with me playing the center position.  He was a fun-loving guy, and a hoot to have as a teammate.

I remember the time when our coach, Jim Lyman, called a time out during the game and as we’re all huddling around each other trying to listen in, Walton screams at the top of his lungs… “Coach, I have a three in me” (meaning that he wanted to take a 3 point shot).  Coach Lyman just smiled and asked Bill to “save it for another time.”  Bill Walton always kept the team loose and ready to compete.

Bill was injury-prone much of his career, so he commonly took practices off and didn’t play every single game so that he could rest his aching body.  He would often coach me from the sidelines and give me a lot of tidbits on how to be a better player.  While we were teammates with the Los Angeles Clippers, I would give him a ride to practice as I would meet him at a designated intersection on Pacific Coast Highway where he would tie up his bicycle to the light pole and we’d drive to practice together.  He was always positive and upbeat, and would often try to get me to join him on the sidelines (probably so he could have company, not necessarily encouraging me to skip practice), but I didn’t have that superstar status like he did, so I thought I’d best get my butt out there and practice.

It’s been wonderful to see Bill Walton continue to grow and mature as a person as he’s moved on to a successful TV commentating career after overcoming a severe stuttering problem he had when he was younger.  That’s an inspiration for a lot of people to keep on working on “their game” and you can overcome whatever challenge is facing you.  He also went on to become an NBA champion again with the Boston Celtics in the mid-‘80s.  Many people wonder how great a career Walton would have had if he had stayed healthy throughout, but it’s safe to say that he nevertheless ranks right up there with the all-time greats by being a two-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer.


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