What Separates an All-Time Great

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  • Title: What Separates an All-Time Great: Defining, Quantifying, and Ranking the Best Fifty Post-NBA–ABA Merger Players of All-Time
  • Author(s): Nathan E. Dial, Robert Konoff
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Common Ground Open
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Sport and Society
  • Keywords: NBA, Greatness, Linear Regression, Variance Inflation Factor (VIF), Z-Score Normalization
  • Volume: 15
  • Issue: 1
  • Date: October 05, 2023
  • ISSN: 2152-7857 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2152-7865 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2152-7857/CGP/v15i01/1-28
  • Citation: Dial, Nathan E., and Robert Konoff. 2023. "What Separates an All-Time Great: Defining, Quantifying, and Ranking the Best Fifty Post-NBA–ABA Merger Players of All-Time ." The International Journal of Sport and Society 15 (1): 1-28. doi:10.18848/2152-7857/CGP/v15i01/1-28.
  • Extent: 28 pages

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On October 21, 2021, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced its 75th season’s anniversary team to commemorate the seventy-five greatest NBA players of all-time. The NBA compiled a group of writers, NBA executives, and current and former players to create the list. However, it is unclear what metrics, standards, or views the voters used to develop their respective lists. Using open-source information from basketballreference.com and the NBA’s official website, we created an original dataset with twenty-six variables normalized via z-scores for the 145 players who have made at least three All-Star games after the NBA–ABA (American Basketball Association) merger between the 1976–1977 and 2022–2023 seasons to examine three questions: Who are the top fifty players since the NBA–ABA merger? What statistics, awards, and accolades separate the top fifty players post NBA–ABA merger? and What are the minimum thresholds in the key career accomplishments that separate the top ten players? To answer the questions, we use a multistep process. We acknowledge three types of NBA greatness: regular season, playoff, and overall (regular season and playoffs combined). We create a dichotomous quantitative metric to define each type of greatness. We use the 145 players’ observable characteristics as predictors in a regression model to determine what combination of characteristics impacts the specific type of greatness. We fit the values from the regression model to each player’s profile to obtain a score for each player in each model. We combine each player’s scores across the three models to determine a comprehensive greatness score for each player.