Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Character Teams Throughout NBA History

On Thursday I was visiting with an old high school friend of mine, Dave, who knows more about NBA history than anyone I’ve personally met. He no longer watches the NBA regularly or even keeps too much track of everything – his fandom disappeared along with the SSOL Suns – but I try to keep him in the loop about what current players are doing. For instance, we had a discussion about how Kevin Love, as it currently stands, is arguably a top-5 NBA player. So whenever we meet up, we tend to get into conversations about classic sports, which tend to devolve into comparisons between players from today and players from yesterday, me talking about active ones and having a bit of knowledge about NBA history (but not as much as I’d like) trying to find out where they stand among the all-time greats.

Now these debates are always fun but never conclusive. We both believe that Michael Jordan and Bill Russell are the two all-time best players, but have them in a different order (I have Jordan then Russell, him the opposite). So we usually agree to disagree on this point.

Anyway, during my most recent visit, we began talking about the Spurs. I find the Spurs to be highly entertaining, which surprised him until he found out about how the current team changed compared to the Spurs of roughly 5 years ago. It evolved (or devolved, depending on your perspective) into a discussion on what the most fundamental-laden team made up of NBA players from history would be. And that evolved into discussions of other interesting “character” lineups from NBA history. Here’s the setup:

– Each lineup would have 5 players, sorted by position but flexible. We didn’t move anyone more than one position from 1-5, so there were no point guards at the 3, for instance.

– Each lineup also has a coach that fits the team’s personality.

– No player can be in two lineups, so Michael Jordan can’t be on five different teams. I wanted it so that, in NBA2K12, you can create all of these lineups on different teams. We went in the order that I’m putting in here, so that you see the thought process for players on certain teams.

– Also, afterward, I created the nicknames and slogans for each team, because we had one word descriptions for each.

Okay, so here they are. Hopefully they are entertaining:

“Play the Right Way”

Slogan: We want to win, and we’ll show it.

Lineup: John Stockton-Jerry West-Scottie Pippen-Tim Duncan-Bill Russell

Coach: Red Auerbach

I’m pretty sure this team can beat any other we have in a series. We have the all-time leading assist man, the NBA logo, the best second-best player of all time, the best power forward (if you consider him one) of all time, and the winning-est player of all time. There’s a couple more teams that certainly have the talent to contest, but this team would likely work together and stuff (more on this later). The only reservation I have now after making this team is Pippen, who famously would rather sit than have a crunch-time play not called for him. But the best sidekick of all-time, for the most part, knew his place and did whatever it took on either end of the floor to win.

The Ego Maniacs

Slogan: I’m the best, so we’re doing what I want, and that’s why we’re going to win.

Lineup: Isiah Thomas-Kobe Bryant-Charles Barkley-Karl Malone-Shaquille O’Neal

Coach: Phil Jackson

The working title for this team began with a “d” and rhymed with “trash bags”, so I’m fairly certain that I’m not a fan of these guys’ personalities, at least on court (I like Barkley, I really do, but he was kind of a you know what on the court). My original title change was to the Mark Titus all-stars, but that would imply these guys weren’t any good. But most share the jerk personality off the court, which makes this as toxic and talented a five player combination as you’ll find. Also, 3/5 of the 2004 Lakers!

Meanwhile, I put Kobe over MJ because he keeps being the ego-maniac he is even when detrimental to his team. MJ might have done the same, except he was always good enough to essentially be right.

The Greatest Show on Earth

Slogan: We might not win the most games or play much defense, but we’ll entertain you.

Lineup: Nash-Maravich-Erving-Bird-Olajuwon

Coach: Mike D’Antoni

I don’t think there’s a more fun team on the list. Two prodigious up-tempo point guards, the most entertaining center ever this side of JaVale McGee, a wing that can do it all, and the most creative passer of all time? I’ll pay to watch them every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Minimum Effort All-Stars

Slogan: Will work. Sometimes. Mainly when we need new contracts.

Lineup: Baron Davis-Vince Carter-Carmelo Anthony-Chris Webber-Kareem

Coach: Lenny Wilkens

Kareem seems like an outcast on this list, but it makes sense when considering the final years of his career he essentially played at half-speed compared to his teammates. For everyone besides him, it’s all a question of motivation. Each was prodigiously talented, but none could figure out how to get motivated or use the most of his talents. Each has had good careers aside from Kareem (an all-time great), but you wonder what could have been.

Talent-wise, this team could stand with any of the others. I’m not sure the execution will be there, however.

Defense Over Everything

Slogan: Defense wins championships, provided you don’t have to score to win.

Lineup: Gary Payton-K.C. Jones-Dominique Wilkins-Ben Wallace-Dikembe Mutombo

Coach: Larry Brown

I have no idea exactly how this team will score. We had Dominique only because (a) he blocked shots and (b) we actually wanted someone aside from Gary Payton (a given) who could play offense at all. But the defensive trio of Jones, Big Ben, and Dikembe will be extremely difficult to top.

I imagine the games involving this team would be quite boring, in a mid-2000s Pistons kind of way. Larry Brown knows how to win those.

The Hot Hands

Slogan: Are you sure there are no fours?

Lineup: Reggie Miller-Ray Allen-Antoine Walker-Rasheed Wallace-Dirk Nowitzki

Coach: Don Nelson

This is the only lineup I made a change in post-meeting. I added Antoine Walker at the expense of Peja Stojakovic, because despite his bad shooting this is honestly the perfect team for ‘Toine. With Don Nelson coaching, consciences need not apply. The real question is who sets up the offense. The most logical answer, sadly, is Dirk. But that’s how Nellie would like it anyway.

Give Me The Ball

Slogan: I want the ball, and I want it now.

Lineup: Allen Iverson-Michael Jordan-Rick Barry-Bob McAdoo-Wilt Chamberlain

Coach: Pat Riley

Is it possible to have a team usage rate over 100? If not, that could be problematic for this team. Maybe Wilt can go for the assist title again?

This might be the team with the most talent, with MJ and Wilt book-ending the lineup. Riley has been known to manage stars, and cranky ones at that. He could be the coach to pull off this miracle and make everything work.

Pop’s Toolbox

Slogan: What happens when everyone can do everything? This.

Lineup: Oscar Robertson-Jason Kidd-Elgin Baylor-LeBron James-Bill Walton

Coach: Gregg Popovich

Imagine the ball movement and versatility this team offers, and salivate. Then realize you might need some more selfish players to make it all work. I can imagine 24 second violations left and right despite perfect offensive execution. This team has the talent to beat the rest of the teams, the problem will be meshing the talent together. No one does that better than Popovich. This could challenge the Russell-Duncan team, though it’d be heavily undersized and wouldn’t be the defensive force that team is.

The Loyal Soldiers

Slogan: It usually only matters that we finish the game.

Lineup: Manu Ginobili-Billy Cunningham-John Havlicek-Bobby Jones-Kevin McHale

Coach: Billy Cunningham (only player-coach!)

There’s a reason for all of these guys to come off the bench, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t among the best players of their generations. Billy Cunningham still manages to be on the bench, though as a player-coach he’d have more of a challenge than any other coach.

Over time, I imagine this will change (it has today, even) but historically the top bench players were guard/forwards. That’s why we have four of them on the team, along with one true post player in McHale. Certainly not the best team, but one that would put up a fight.

The Combustible Elements

Slogan: Immensely talented, but might have a mental breakdown and/or kill each other

Lineup: Gilbert Arenas-Latrell Sprewell-Ron Artest-Dennis Rodman-Kevin Garnett

Coach: P.J. Carlesimo, because why not?

The guards leave a bit to be desired talent-wise, but the frontline is about as talented and insane as can possibly be conceived. Strangely, they channeled their craziness for defense and rebounding, which would make them a tough out. We reunite Spree and coach Carlesimo, except now he can get elbowed in the back of the head while he’s being choked! This might be my favorite team just based on the possibilities, even though they may ultimately be unsuccessful against the rest.

Unfortunately, this team will have to forfeit its game when Kevin Garnett will murder the rest of the team after Agent Zero heats up his inner Hibachi and leaves a present in Garnett’s footwear.

The Avengers

Slogan: Look at our nicknames and admire us. We also happen to be talented, but that’s secondary.

Lineup: (by nickname) Earl the Pearl, The Iceman, Clyde the Glide, Chocolate Thunder, The Admiral

Coach: Thunder Dan

I saw The Avengers and thought it to be a thoroughly entertaining movie, but I’ll take the motley crew above over Marvel’s any day of the week. The team surprisingly fits well together. Chocolate Thunder’s nickname was too great to leave off, despite not having near the career of the rest of the team. While not quite as talented as some other teams

(For those who don’t know the lineup by nickname for whatever reason: Earl Monroe, George Gervin, Clyde Drexler, Darryl Dawkins, David Robinson, and coach Dan Majerle)

League Pass Darlings

Slogan: We’re going to outscore the other team and be generally entertaining, mainly because we’ll all just score 30.

Lineup: Bob Cousy-Tracy McGrady-Chris Mullin-Alex English-Amar’e Stoudemire

Coach: Rick Adelman

The Golden State Warriors of this league, this team won’t win too many games but will serve as the entertaining team that you could always watch when yours isn’t playing. Adelman is a good offense coach, and while we don’t have the prototypical high-post big for his offense, McGrady seems like he could fill that role. Just don’t ask these guys to play much defense. You might be disappointed.


You may have more team ideas. I’d like to hear them. I’d also like to know which players you felt should replace ones we’ve already listed. Have fun with it. For instance, I left out guys like Patrick Ewing and Paul Pierce (who easily could have made The Avengers) but maybe you have a team idea that fits both.

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Tags: NBA History

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