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!!!

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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

Elvin Hayes


I was fortunate to play against Elvin “Big E” Hayes throughout the early part of my career, or perhaps I should say fortunately I played against Elvin “Big E” Hayes throughout the early part of my career.  I came into the NBA in 1980 and Elvin retired in 1983, so I only had to play against him a couple times a year being that he was in the Eastern conference (before he played with the Houston Rockets at the end of his career) and I was the Seattle Supersonics in the Western Conference. 

Elvin was a forerunner of the big guys who played center being able to do a lot of different things on the basketball court.  Elvin actually played the four position (power forward), but he was so versatile and interchangeable that he could move around on the basketball court wherever he needed to be to be effective.  Plus he played alongside Wes Unseld, who at 6’7” compared to Elvin’s 6’10”, was able to hold down the center position in the paint as well as any of the top centers of the day.

I tell the story often of how Elvin Hayes, and his bookend counterpart, Wes Unseld gave me my first real introduction into life in the NBA.  We were playing a game in Seattle against the Washington Bullets my rookie year in 1980.  I swear to this day that I saw both Elvin & Wes communicating on how “one was going to take me high, and the other was going to take me low” and on the very next play that’s just what happened.  I went up for a rebound and before I knew it my body has leveled out about 6 feet up in the air with Wes taking out my legs underneath and Elvin pushing me over from up top.  I hit the ground with a tremendous thud that left me black and blue for weeks.  It seemed to happen in slow motion and in the time that it took me to hit the ground, the thought that went through me was that “I could either tuck my tail and run back to the bench looking for sympathy, or I can pick myself up, dust myself off, and hang in there with the big boys”.  I chose the latter and I’m glad I did because I feel that was a defining moment in my young career.  Not only did I hit the ground with a tremendous thud, neither Elvin or Wes even offered a hand to help me up off the ground.  That was cold!  But that was life in the NBA, especially for young upstart like me.