Updated: Oct 15
The 2023 NBA season officially kicks off just a month and one day from the time of posting. As the hype for the 78th season of The Association grows, we here at 4QWI are bringing you a fresh blog series where we give our takes on who is the best single player of all time from each NBA franchise.
In each installment, three 4QWI members will be providing their takes. Some teams have a clear cut GOAT in their histories, while others have a handful of contenders. Join Noah Drouin, Brett Shevlin and Jay Rooney as we look at the All-Time MVPs of Every NBA Franchise. Bear in mind these are merely opinions, and note concrete listings. We invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below, or connect with us on social media, @4QWIHQ everywhere.
Today, we’re taking a look at the NBA’s Atlantic Division, composed of the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Toronto Raptors.
Boston Celtics Noah
We start off this series with the Boston Celtics: the hometown team of 4QWI. With one of the richest histories in North American sports, the Celtics are one franchise that has several possible contenders for their greatest player of all time. Larry Bird leads the pack here, with two out of three votes. Bird spent just 13 seasons with the Celtics and during that time carved himself a spot as a bona fide top 10 player of all time. His resume includes 3 NBA championships in the hyper-competitive world of 1980's NBA, along with 3 MVP Awards, which he won in three-peat fashion from 1984 to 1986. Further accolades include 12 All Star appearances, 3 All-Defensive Appearances, and 2 Finals MVP awards. All this came together to make Bird a no-brainer for the NBA's 50th and 75th anniversary teams. In 897 regular season games, Larry Bird averaged 24.3/10.0/6.3 splits on a sterling 49.6% field goal percentage. One of the most skilled players and notorious trash talkers in the history of the sport, Larry Bird makes a big claim to be the MVP of this historic franchise.
Brett casted his vote for Bill Russell. Bill Russell, like Bird, spent his entire career with the Celtics, and also like Bird, played for 13 seasons. In those 13 seasons, there were only two in which Russell didn't have a new ring to adorn his finger. 11 NBA Championships to his name. In those 13 seasons, Russell averaged 15.1/22.5/4.3 splits on 44% shooting. It must be noted that Russell played in an era wherein blocks and steals were not yet recorded, and the Defensive Player of the Year Award was still decades away from creation, and All-Defensive teams came into being in his final season, in which he on the First Team. Had these statistics and accolades existed during his run, Russell's resume would look even more impressive than it does. Other accomplishments include selections to the NBA's 50th and 75th Anniversary Team, along with 5 MVP selections, including in the 1961-1962 season in which his longtime rival Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game and 25.7 rebounds. It should be noted that in this time, the MVP award was voted on by the players. Let that sink in.
Brooklyn Nets Noah
Jason Kidd Brett
A unanimous decision by the panel; Jason Kidd played 506 regular season games for the Nets over 6 and a half seasons, from 2001 to the back end of the 07-08 season. The Nets had the luxury of enjoying Kidd's prime, where he averaged 14.6/7.2/9.1 on 39.7% shooting, along with 1.9 steals per game. The Nets enjoyed a period of sustained success in the new millennium, including NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003, losing to the Lakers and Spurs respectively. The final years of Kidd's time with the then New Jersey Nets was less successful, with each subsequent season resulting in a first or second round exit before he was traded to his former team the Dallas Mavericks in the middle of the 2008 season. Despite how it ended, Kidd undoubtedly granted the Nets organization a period of success that they never quite got back to.
New York Knicks Noah
Patrick Ewing Brett
Another unanimous vote. Despite the near 80-year history of the Knicks organization, there is nobody else that can take this spot than Patrick Ewing. Ewing spent a healthy 15 years with the Knicks, playing in 1,039 regular season games on 22.8/10.4/1.0 stats with 50.8% shooting. Coming into the NBA as the number one pick in the 1985 NBA draft, Ewing took to dominating immediately, winning the 1985-1986 Rookie of the Year award with a clean 20.0 points per game along with grabbing 9 rebounds a game. Ewing's team success in New York was inconsistent at best, with highlights being two Eastern Conference Finals appearances: against the Bulls in 1993, and against the Pacers in 2000, both series' the Knicks would lose. NBA Finals Appearances in 1994 and the lockout-shortened 1999 season resulted in losses against the Rockets and Spurs. Following the 1999 season, Ewing spent his final two years in Seattle and Orlando each for one year and retired at the end of the 2001-2002 season. With 3 All-Defensive appearances, 11 All Star appearances, 7 All-NBA appearances, and being selected to NBA's 50th and 75th Anniversary teams prove that Ewing's resume remains one of the most impressive that does not include an NBA Championship.
Brett Julius Erving
Next we have the Philadelphia 76ers. Noah and Brett casted their votes for Dr. J himself, Julius Erving. Beginning his career in the ABA before making his NBA debut with the 76ers in 1976, Erving is one of the true icons of the entire sport of basketball. Erving spent his entire NBA career with the Sixers and netted them some major success in the extremely competitive landscape of the 1980's Eastern Conference. In 836 regular season games in The City of Brotherly Love, Erving averaged 22.0/6.7/3.9 on 50.7% shooting, and was an All Star every single season he played professional hoops, both in the NBA (11x) and ABA (5x). As a 76er, Erving made 5 All-NBA First Teams and two Second Team appearances, and was a two-time All Star MVP. Team success was constant, but could not get over the last hump for years: NBA Finals appearances resulted in losses in 1977 (Trail Blazers), 1980 (Lakers) and 1982 (Lakers). Erving and the 76ers finally reached the mountaintop and defeated the scourge of their franchise, the Lakers, to claim the 1983 NBA Championship in 4-0 sweep. Dr. J's influence on the sport can be felt today, from his unyielding swagger to his signature dunking, he is as safe a pick to be the MVP for his franchise than any other.
We used the word Icon to describe Julius Erving just now, and it is only fair that we apply it to who Jay voted for: Allen Iverson. Allen Iverson entered the NBA in 1996 as the first overall pick out of Georgetown and immediately set the league ablaze. In his rookie season, Iverson averaged 23.5/4.1/7.5 on 41.6% shooting. Other than being a shoo-in for the 1996-1997 NBA Rookie of the Year, the most memorable moment of his inaugural season came when Iverson crossed up Michael Jordan in a game in March 1997. From there, Iverson kept his foot on the pedal. In 722 regular season games as a Sixer, Iverson averaged 27.6/3.9/6.1 on 42.1% shooting, including 2.3 steals to boot. Iverson's individual peak corresponded with his team's peak in the early 2000's. Winning the 2000-2001 MVP award coincided with Iverson's first and only NBA Finals Appearance, which came against the Lakers. Entering the series having not lost a single playoff game up to that point, the Lakers were stunned when the 76ers stole a Game 1 win, led by 48 points from Iverson on 44% shooting. This game produced another iconic image, with Iverson stepping over Lakers Guard Tyronn Lue after pulling up and and sinking a shot right in his face. Though the 6ers would go on to lose the series 4-1, Iverson made his presence felt. Iverson, like Erving will forever ben an influence on the sport of basketball, from his style to his foray into Hip Hop, to his dominance on the court. Allen Iverson goes down as one of the best basketball players to never win a ring.
Kawhi Leonard Brett
Unlike the four other teams mentioned, the Raptors have been in existence for less than 30 years and have a far less storied history. Despite this, the Raptors have been a franchise to experience intermittent periods of success and a fair few all-time talents have come through the organization.
For just one season, the all-time talent of Kawhi Leonard ventured up North. To some, it may be absolutely ridiculous for a player with one season for a franchise to be named their best player in their entire history, but there is a case to be made. Kawhi's single season with the Raptors was the most complete of his entire career from a statistical and hardware standpoint. For the 2018-2019 season with the Toronto Raptors, Leonard averaged 26.6/7.3/3.3 on 49.6% shooting. After handily defeating the Magic in the first round, the Raptors found themself in a Game 7 situation at home against the 76ers in the second round. Tied 90-90 with 4 seconds left, the person with the ball in his hands with a chance to send the Raptors organization to just their second Eastern Conference Finals appearances in team history, was a man who was not even on the team a year ago. With an entire country holding their breath, Kawhi heaved up "The Dagger" shot, and after a few excruciating rim bounces as time expired, the ball went in, and "Game...Series!" was called. The Raptors went on to win the 2019 NBA Championship in a six game series against the Golden State Warriors, with Leonard winning Finals MVP on 28.5/9.8/4.2/2.0/1.2 splits. And just like that, Kawhi left Toronto a legend after one single season.
Of course, Kawhi did not win this ring alone, and for other fans, the real hero is the one who had stuck with the franchise through thick and thin. Kyle Lowry has been in the NBA since 2006 and has enjoyed success on an individual and team level for most of his career. Lowry spent 9 seasons with the raptors between 2012 and 2019 and while there earned all six of his career All Star appearances. In 601 regular season games with Toronto, Lowry averaged 17.5/4.9/7.1 splits and was a constant pillar of the team. In a franchise with key pieces moving around quite often Lowry remained and kept the Raptors a respectable and competitive franchise for most of the 2010's before Kawhi's arrival, including helping lead the way for the Raptors first ever Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2016. For his part in the 2019 NBA Finals, Lowry more than contributed, serving as the Raptors' 3rd leading scorer on 16.2/4.0/7.2 splits on 42.5% shooting along with 1.7 steals on the series. Despite other all time greats of the game spending time in Toronto like Vince Carter and Chris Bosh, Lowry absolutely deserves his flowers for his part in Toronto's success in the 2010's.
What do you think of our picks? Who got them right? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter @4QWIHQ You can follow Noah Drouin on Twitter here: @Endydoe
You can follow Brett Shevlin on Twitter here: @BreTT_Shevlin
You can follow Jay Rooney on Twitter here: @jvr1210