Kyrie Irving is not one of the 75 greatest players in NBA history, so just get over it

Kyrie Irving is not one of the 75 greatest players in NBA history, so just get over it


You hate to see it.

You hate to see it.
Image: Getty Images

The outrage over the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team has shed light on the lack of respect for some of the legends of the past. But everybody cannot make this team. And with Kyrie Irving not making the cut, some fans and even current players strongly oppose this decision. Simply having a sweet handle with the ball in hand shouldn’t be enough to make an honorary team of all-time greats such as this one.

In expressing this, I’m not saying Irving isn’t a great player in his era. He is, but I just don’t feel his accomplishments thus far in the NBA justify putting him on any list of top players across the 75-year history of the league.

To Kyrie’s credit, he did hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history to beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. It was a magnificent shot when you consider the circumstances around it. But individual shots, clutch as they may be, don’t qualify you for a “best ever” list, and I don’t feel he’s done enough else to warrant a spot on this team. Irving didn’t even win Finals MVP for that series.

When you look at Irving’s career, outside of his three years playing alongside LeBron James, I don’t see how anyone can say he should have been a sure thing to make the 75th-anniversary team. Kyrie’s three years in Cleveland before James’ return were all losing years for the Cavs, but that was a very young team, and he was injured quite a bit his first two campaigns, so I can give him a bit of a pass there.

Kyrie finally got his wish in 2017 after three consecutive Finals appearances and was traded to the Boston Celtics for what everyone assumed would become Kyrie’s team. Things didn’t exactly work out that way, and Boston’s young stars ended up rejecting Irving’s leadership style. And now we see how his tenure as a Brooklyn Net is going. Much of what’s transpired in Brooklyn is off the court, but Irving hasn’t been the best leader even when he is available.

In contrast to Irving, I look at a player like Dwight Howard. It’s been a while, but Howard was a superstar at one point, and dare I say for a short time, during his prime run with Orlando, he was one of the top five players in the league. When Howard was the leader and best player on the team, the Magic made it to the NBA Finals in 2009 and even beat LeBron and the Cavs to get there.

Howard has more individual accolades to his name than Irving also does. Dwight is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner. He’s also a three-time rebound champion and led the league in blocks twice. Eight-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Star, five-time All-Defense, won a title with the Lakers in 2020. If Howard had retired after his eight years with the Magic, he might have made the 75th-anniversary team. Although his numbers after leaving Orlando weren’t bad, it feels like Howard’s class clown persona may have been considered here with this list. Kobe Bryant didn’t think Howard was serious enough during his first stint in Los Angeles, and I think that’s been held against him as well.

Irving’s accolades don’t come anywhere close to Howard’s. Kyrie did win Rookie of the Year in 2012. He’s also a seven-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA selection. He scores a ton of points and handles the ball like a playground legend, but this isn’t the And 1 All-Star Mixtape tour. We’re talking about the NBA’s 75 all-time greatest players.

I can’t say I agree with Andre Iguodala, who says Kyrie is a top 20 player. I sincerely hope he means in today’s NBA, and not all-time. At best, Irving is barely a top 10 all-time point guard — probably not even that — so there’s no way he’s a top 20 player in NBA history. That’s just disrespectful to so many players who came before him, and it’s an argument that falls victim to the recency bias fallacy.

However, Irving does have time to add to his resume. Whenever he does play again, he’ll continue to add to his credentials, and I’m sure he’ll be on the top 100 team when that rolls around in a quarter-century.



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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.