DAR Sports: 7 NBA Legends And Their Prime

By @TrueGodImmortal

The NBA has had a number of legends over the years that made their mark, some much bigger than others. These legends usually wrecked havoc on the league during their prime, winning championships, MVPs, and other accolades during their prime and building their legacy up anyway they could. Today, I wanted to look at the prime of 7 NBA legends. The legends that I chose? Jordan, LeBron, Magic, Kobe, Shaq, Duncan, and Hakeem. When were these legends in their prime? Let's take a look.

*Michael Jordan
(Prime Years: 1987-1993)

-The greatest player of all time could honestly have a 10-11 year prime, but the truth is, taking time off from basketball to go play baseball and returning two years later has to cause a break in this time period for the prime. Jordan was at his best during the chosen era, as his prime really got started in what might be his greatest individual season ever, 1987-1988. Jordan averaged the highest PPG of his career, won MVP, led the league in steals, won the scoring title, and much more. That was the start of his prime, but with three total MVP awards, multiple scoring titles, three NBA Titles, two of the greatest Finals performances ever, and three Finals MVP awards. Simply put, Jordan in his prime is one of the most unstoppable forces in the entire NBA and this period showcases why he is the greatest of all time by far.

*Kobe Bryant
(Prime Years: 2005-2010)

-There has always been a lot of debate about Kobe, but one thing that cannot be debated is the fact that he's one of the greatest to ever do it. His prime is hard to distinguish in a way, because the beginning of it is truly disputed, with some saying 2003 would be the best place to start from. However, Kobe didn't really hit his prime until he was without Shaq because it forced him to become a leader. While he wasn't that successful in his first season away from Shaq, Kobe would stake his claim as the best two way guard in the league at the time and he was the best player in the league IMO during his prime. Many who aren't fans of Kobe have attempted to slander him and his success, but the truth is, Kobe in his prime is one of the most untouchable players ever. After being robbed of a MVP award in 2006, Kobe would respond with three straight NBA Finals trips, two NBA Titles, two Finals MVP awards, and one MVP award to go with his two back to back scoring titles during his prime. Without going into the advanced analytics, Kobe was the most dangerous player during this time period, and his accolades and accomplishments speak for themselves. 2005-2010 is peak for Kobe, but if someone wanted to say it was from 2003-2009, I'm not mad at that either. However, from both ends of the floor to the offensive output he had, Kobe was at his best from 2005-10, and that's the way it is.

*Hakeem Olajuwon
(Prime Years: 1990-1995)

-For me, Hakeem is one of the greatest centers of all time. I had the pleasure of watching him play a lot as a kid growing up and skill wise, he is one of the best to ever do it. During the 80's, Hakeem started to come of age, earning a Finals trip in 1986 before coming up short to the greatest Celtics team ever. After that, Hakeem worked on honing his game, and he hit his peak in 1989, and in the 90's, I would argue he was the best center in the game by far up until 1996. David Robinson and Patrick Ewing had a good case for the no. 2 and 3 spots, but Hakeem was just something special. His footwork and offensive output improved every year, but his defense would really hit the apex in the middle of his prime, with the 1993 season being his most impressive year up until that point, before 1994 would take the cake as his greatest overall season. In 1994, he would win MVP, Defensive Player Of The Year, the NBA Title, and Finals MVP. It would be his second straight DPOY award, as he won it in 1993, and then when you consider the All Star appearances, the All-NBA appearances, and the 1995 NBA Championship and Finals MVP, it really is clear that Hakeem was in his prime during this time period. One of the greatest players ever and easily one of the best centers ever, Hakeem shined the brightest from 1990-1995, the peak of his career from multiple perspectives.

*Magic Johnson
(Prime Years: 1985-1990)

-It is tough to pick the prime for Magic because he was never really out of his prime. He started in his prime really. The fundamentals of the game came to him quicker than usual, and he was winning titles as a rookie, but there is something about his run from 1985-1990 that sticks out immensely. Perhaps it was the fact that he was easily the best player on the team and the leader for the Lakers as Kareem was on the decline and James Worthy wasn't the guy to be the no. 1 option. Magic could dish out assists, give you 30 points in a game, and pull down 10 boards if he needed to. This was also one of the most successful periods of Magic's career, winning three of his five NBA titles during his prime (1985, 1987, 1988) out of 4 trips to the Finals during this time, along with a Finals MVP, and his three NBA MVP Awards all during this period. Magic was one of the greatest players ever and he solidified himself as that with this 5 year prime window. One could include 1991 as well, but to me 1990 was the start of the cutoff point. The Lakers were a huge force in the NBA and of course, Magic was the reason for that.

*Shaquille O'Neal
(Prime Years: 1995-2001)

-Shaq in his prime was something special. The end of his Orlando Magic run was the start of his athletic prime, which ended with him being the dominant unstoppable player in the entire NBA. Once Shaq got to the Lakers, his power was at an all time high and he seemed to be gaining more weight. While he wasn't as fast as his first few years in Orlando, he had more post presence and could handle defenders in the easiest of ways. As a result, he was always putting up numbers that seemed unreal. During this period of time, we saw Shaq go to his first Finals (he got swept but still), win MVP, win a scoring title, and two of his three straight championships. Shaq was dominant in 2002, but you could feel his decline starting that season slowly, and because of that, I think his prime ended after the victory over the 76ers in 2001. If someone wanted to say 2002 was the end point, that's fine, but for me, 1995-2001 was the true peak of Shaq and his athletic gifts and his dominance as a player. It also helps when you win and make the NBA Finals often.

*LeBron James
(Prime Years: 2009-2014)

-Contrary to what someone might want to believe, LeBron James is not in his prime. Offensively, he is excelling and improving on areas that he wasn't as gifted in prior, but that's by design. From an athletic standpoint, this era of Bron is a tank, powering his way to the basket, but also developing a much better jumper than previously. However, his last two years in the initial Cleveland run and his Miami run (minus the 2011 Finals) was about as flawless as Bron and his game can be on the court. On both ends. Defensively, Bron would execute much better during his Miami days and with him being ranked extremely low in defense the last few years, it is impossible to categorize Bron as being in his prime today. He preserved and saved energy through the regular season, going through a month of subpar play every season since he came back to Cleveland. As a result, I have to look at his prime overall as the final Cleveland years initially and his Miami run. I don't think we've seen many players as good as Bron in his Miami run, that was the apex of his career. He would win his 4 MVP awards during this period, 2 titles, 2 Finals MVPs, and be named to the All Defensive Team, marking his arrival as a true two way player. This is the prime of LeBron and don't let his stans tell you otherwise. 

*Tim Duncan
(Prime Years: 2002-2007)

-The Big Fundamental in his prime was something unlike we've ever seen before. It is tough to really pinpoint his prime, or at least the beginning of it, because he was magnificent from the start, but logically, I would have to say it started in 2002, the year he won his first of two straight MVP awards. In 1999, Duncan won his first NBA Title and Finals MVP, but I wouldn't say that he was quite there yet at his prime. In 2000, Duncan would come into his own and seemingly be at that prime point, so I would say from the 2001-2002 season on until the Spurs won their 4th title in 8 years, Duncan was truly in his prime in both ends of the floor. This was an era that he essentially was the man of, as the Spurs won in 2003, 2005, and 2007. Duncan would win Finals MVP in the 2003 and 2005 Finals and he was an integral part of that 2007 run, despite not winning Finals MVP that year. It is hard to really pinpoint the prime of some of these players, and you could say Duncan hit his prime in 2000-2001, but I think this is the accurate timeline for his peak run.



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