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I remember a little while ago there was some discussion as to whether there has ever been a wealth of talent at the center position. I decided to look at some different NBA eras to see what I could find out. I've picked three years to illustrate that there were, in fact, times where there was good competition at the position. What I've chosen are years with Hall of Fame centers still playing at a reasonably high level.

1968-69
Wilt Chamberlain 20.5 pts, 21.1 rbds, 4.5 assts
Bill Russell 9.9 pts, 19.3 rbds, 4.9 assts
Willis Reed 21.1 pts, 14.5 rbds, 2.3 assts
Nate Thurmond 21.5 pts, 19.7 rbds, 3.6 assts
Walt Bellamy 17.4 pts, 12.5 rbds, 2.0 assts
Wes Unseld 13.8 pts, 18.2 rbds, 2.6 assts

There were also two other great centers around that year, but neither were in the NBA. Lew Alcindor (Kareem) was winning his final college title and player of the year with UCLA, and Mel Daniels was averaging over 24 pts and 16 rbds in the ABA.

1977-78
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 25.8 pts, 12.9 rbds, 4.3 assts
Bob McAdoo 26.5 pts, 12.8 rbds, 3.8 assts
Artis Gilmore 22.9 pts, 13.1 rbds, 3.2 assts
Bob Lanier 24.5 pts, 11.3 rbds, 3.4 assts
Dan Issel 21.3 pts, 10.1 rbds, 3.7 assts
Moses Malone 19.4 pts, 15.0 rbds, 0.5 assts
Dave Cowens 18.6 pts, 14.0 rbds, 4.6 assts
Bill Walton 18.9 pts, 13.2 rbds, 5.0 assts
Wes Unseld 7.6 pts, 11.9 rbds, 4.1 assts

I put Artis Gilmore in here even though he isn't in the Hall. I think he should be, and had a decent year that year. I also have Unseld here even though his stats don't look all that good because his team won the championship that year and he was the playoff MVP, proving that he could still play at a high level when it counted.

1993-94
Hakeem Olajuwon 27.3 pts, 11.9 rbds, 3.6 assts
David Robinson 29.8 pts, 10.7 rbds, 4.8 assts
Patrick Ewing 24.5 pts, 11.2 rbds, 2.3 assts
Shaquille O'Neal 29.3 pts, 13.2 rbds, 2.4 assts
Alonzo Mourning 21.5 pts, 10.2 rbds, 1.4 assts

I'm not sure if Mourning will be a Hall of Famer or not (if his career ends now, probably not) but I added him here anyway.

Now a couple of points. Obviously there were some guys on those lists that wouldn't be playing center if they played today. Guys like Issel, McAdoo, Cowens, Unseld, would probably be power forwards. But the fact is that they did play center and so what I'm concerned with here is competition at that position. Right now we've got one Hall of Fame center in the league still playing at a high level (Robinson and especially Olajuwon are nowhere near Hall calibre play right now). Even if Duncan is considered a center, that's still only him and Shaq. Does this mean that Shaq isn't as good because he doesn't play against tough competition? No, I have no doubt that Shaq would still be great if there were 5 or 6 other great centers in the league. But it is a shame that we don't get to see him challenge himself against other greats. It was great when he first came into the league and played against those others. He won some, he lost some (in the early days Hakeem schooled him often) but at least it was fun to watch.
The late 70s years is a perfect example of the type of competition I would like to see return. From 75-80 there were six different NBA champions, partly due to the fact that there was great competition amongst the centers. Kareem, Cowens, Unseld, and Walton all won titles in this time, as well as a Seattle team that had a decent center in Jack Sikma.

What's my point? I guess the point is just to remind everyone as they see Shaq run roughshod over the whole league at the center position that it wasn't always like this. And hopefully the days of good entertaining competition will return.
 

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Good post but it won't last long before it drops to page 2. Most people on this and other boards are youngsters who don't care about anything before the last 5 years.
 

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True, most people have very short memories, and probably dont realize that the Internet was not around until about 10 years ago.
 

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great post. certainly gets the point across when you see the numbers next to the names.

i would say though that the late 70's certainly wasn't viewed by most as the glory period of the nba. maybe for big men. even then, a unseld/sikma finals matchup isn't exactly a dream matchup.

you also have to look at the overall level of the stars, not just the big men. by the early 80's, the most compelling players in the league weren't big men, and that was good for the league. of course, a happy mix is probably best.
 
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