In October 1996, the NBA celebrated its golden anniversary by paying tribute to the 50 greatest players in league history. The list, compiled by a panel of experts, sparked heated fan debate in some circles (because "best" lists of any kind inevitably mean controversial omissions). But there's no questioning the talent of or the impact made by the 50 who made the cut. At that time, the 50 players had accounted for 107 NBA championships, 49 Most Valuable Player awards, 17 Rookie of the Year awards, 447 All-Star Game selections and 36 scoring titles. Today, nearly 10 years later, only one honoree, the Miami Heat's Shaquille O'Neal, is still playing. Which is why the time is right for The NBA's 50 Greatest Players: TNT's Next 10, an NBA All-Star Weekend special (6 p.m. ET Saturday) that showcases the new generation of greatness. The 14 members of TNT's NBA broadcast team cast votes for legends in the making as well as for past greats who were left off the original list. We talked with several of TNT's experts about who they considered for the "Next 10."
MAGIC JOHNSON (TNT studio analyst and member of the original "Greatest" list): "Kobe Bryant (of the Los Angeles Lakers) is on that list. Kobe has played just unbelievable this season. He really has taken his game to another level, the things that he is able to do. Forget the scoring. He also takes the challenge on the defensive end and tries to guard the best scorer on the other team. And his assists are up, his rebounds are up. Kobe is a dynamite player. And also, he's a winner. You have to remember he's already won three championships. That's also why I put him on the team, not just because he can score outside and in, from beyond the three-point line on in, but also because he's a winner and he has proven that every year, when there's a challenge in front of him, he meets that challenge. He's like a throwback guy (from another era of pro basketball), because the only thing he loves to do is play basketball and be a husband and a father and that's it. He has no life after that. He wants to play ball, then go home and be a great husband and father. I really respect Kobe a lot."
REGGIE MILLER (TNT game and studio analyst): "When LeBron James (of the Cleveland Cavaliers) came into the league, there was so much pressure on this kid and the expectations were so high. Most No. 1 picks are thrust into the starting lineup. It's almost a sink-or-swim. And we've seen what LeBron has done. I still question that he's just 21. There's no way. They had better check the tree rings on him. His skills are unbelievable. I will not go so far as to match him with Michael Jordan, because they are two entirely different players. The player I think he most closely resembles is someone like a Clyde Drexler, someone who could do a little bit of everything. But skills-wise, LeBron is far ahead of where a lot of people thought he would be. His understanding of the game is so tremendous. And this is the reason that Cleveland for the first year will make the playoffs. It's because of him and because of his leadership. And that's what I've admired most about him: his leadership skills at such a young age. Teams are asking these young boys to come into a man's league and they have to grow up quickly. And LeBron has shown he was definitely capable of doing that."
MARV ALBERT(TNT play-by-play announcer) : "It was very tough for me because I was torn between guys who had played in the '70s and '80s and were left out of the original list and some of the contemporary players. I was on that panel that selected the 50. It was really difficult to come up with the next 10. I don't remember my entire list, but I know for sure Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs), Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers) and Kobe made it. I put Reggie Miller on the list.
REGGIE MILLER: "Check's in the mail, Marv."
MARV ALBERT: "And I did add Bernard King (who played from 1977 to '93), who I felt you could have made a strong case in the top 50. Injuries set Bernard back and he bounced around a little. But for about a three- or four-year period, he was one of the greatest players in the game. He was averaging 30 a game and then he went down with a knee injury. So I felt that he deserved it also."
KENNY SMITH (TNT studio analyst): "I love the way Kevin Garnett (of the Minnesota Timberwolves) plays. He epitomizes the way you're supposed to play the game. The extra effort level, the unselfishness, everything about him. He epitomizes the way it should be done. He's the superstar that guys playing in the local rec centers should try to emulate, no matter whether they're 5-foot-3 or 7-foot-3."
REGGIE MILLER: "Here are two players that I had on my list. I went with Walt Bellamy. I'm going old school (he played from 1962 to '75). I also went with Allen Iverson. AI will probably go down as the greatest player 6 feet and under. Obviously the first name that comes to mind now is Isiah Thomas. Until AI retires, Isiah is considered the best little big man ever. And I think AI is battling him toe for toe."
DOUG COLLINS(TNT game analyst) : "I'll just throw in a couple more. I had a lot of the same Marv did. I have Kevin Garnett on my list. I chose Reggie as well: what he did over an 18-year period of time, his commitment to the game, all-time three-point shooter in this league, what he brought to the Indiana Pacers in terms of winning. So he was on my list. And I voted for Bob McAdoo (who played from 1972 to '86). Bob McAdoo was maybe the best big man/mid-range shooter ever. Won a championship with the Lakers, was MVP, so I voted for him."