A special edition of Sports Illustrated came in the mail today that salutes "75 Years of the NCAA Basketball Tournament". Cool idea. Even cooler was the centerpiece of the issue, which named the ten "greatest players" in the history of the tournament, and for your consideration, here they are:
10. Jerry West
9. Christian Laettner
8. Magic Johnson
7. Bill Bradley
6. Wilt Chamberlain
5. Larry Bird
4. Oscar Robertson
3. Bill Russell
2. Bill Walton
1. Lew Alcindor
Pretty good list and hard to find fault with either the players selected or their ranking on the list. However, what I find to be the most interesting facet of this list is the fact that seven of the men on the list fully pre-date the ESPN Era of sports (1979 to current). Johnson and Bird, who played from 1977 to 1979 straddled the birth of ESPN, and only one player, Laettner, can be considered a pure ESPN Era player.
Also, consider that Russell, Robertson. Chamberlain, Bradley, and West played in an era before these games were televised on national television networks (I might be wrong, but I believe I am correct on that). It was only when the John Wooden UCLA Dynasty came to the fore, anchored by Alcindor and Walton, that these games began being telecast nationally on one of the major networks.
Being that I am at times a Grumpy Old Man, it always rankles me that many people are of a mind that "if it wasn't on ESPN, then it didn't really matter, or didn't even happen", and ESPN itself is one of the foremost dispensers of this bit of conventional wisdom. That being the case, I salute Sports Illustrated for having the integrity to look at the complete history of the event about which they are writing.
How would such a list coming from the Mike Greenbergs, Stewart Scotts, Chris Bermans, and other sages in Bristol look? For one thing, you can be sure that it would include Michael Jordan. In fact, I am betting the we will see letters to the editor in SI in a few weeks demanding to know why Jordan was left off.