Debating great teams and better nicknames

It is quite obvious that anyone reading this column is a basketball fan, and likely a serious one. Basketball fans are our people. If you’re looking for analysis of political races, that is not the strength of this web site.

(And, by the way, some people who are sharp with political analysis should steer clear of sports to avoid embarrassing themselves.)

Whether you are a serious or casual basketball fan, there is a must-see program still running on Showtime. If you haven’t seen Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s On the Shoulders of Giants, put it on a to-do list because it is extraordinary.

The documentary was released a year ago, but I didn’t watch it until last week and, well, put it this way: I’ll be watching it several more times.

One of the joys of history is that it spurs you to comparisons, theories and ideas. While watching the history of the Hall of Fame New York Rens – a.k.a the New York Renaissance, Harlem Rens or Renaissance Big Five – I had some diverse thoughts:

1. Was the Boston Celtics’ dynasty as great as we make it out to be?

2. Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z really blew a chance to do something cool.

3. My favorite piece of John Wooden trivia.

Giants opens with a lively discussion between Bill Russell, Jerry West, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, Globetrotters legend Marques Haynes and Abdul-Jabbar. Each is arguing their team is the greatest of all-time – Russell’s Celtics, West’s 1980s Lakers teams, Reinsdorf’s Chicago teams led by Michael Jordan or the Globetrotters, who were a serious barnstorming team before they became theatrical.

Russell was at acutely boisterous and actually, he walked a fine line between a convincing argument and pure Celtics obnoxiousness. He let everyone know that it was his belief he was better than Jordan and Kareem, which is OK but usually you like to let others make that argument for you.

Abdul-Jabbar handled what could have been an uncomfortable situation very well – although we have no way of knowing how many takes that segment took. Ultimately, Abdul-Jabbar’s purpose was to make a case that the Rens were the greatest team of all-time. But rather than presenting those arguments here, I encourage you to watch the show. If you don’t have Showtime, buy the video.

On paper, no team approaches the Rens record. From 1923 to 1949, according to the Official NBA Encyclopedia, they had a record of 2,588-529. They were the first all-black team to win the world championship. They once had an 88-game winning streak. In 1939, their record was 112-7.

A case could be made, of course, that some of the competition wasn’t that great. But isn’t that true of all the great teams?

[To view the original column on, click here]

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