The All-NBA team was announced today, and the first team was no surprise — James Harden and Russell Westbrook are the guards, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard the forwards, and Anthony Davis the center. It’s always amused me that the league would pick this team by position — as if a team with Harden, Westbrook and LeBron on it would function at all without three basketballs in play.
In other words the whole thing is kind of a joke — just the league hyping itself, like the movie industry does with the Academy Awards. Is there really any objective way to determine if Tom Hanks is a better actor than Robert DeNiro? Same in hoops with Harden and Stephen Curry (second team). In the end this is a team game, and only winning matters.
But we’re a hero-worshiping society with a pathological need to rank things. NBA fans will go to their graves arguing over who was the greatest of all time. LeBron or Michael Jordan? What about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Is Wilt Chamberlain in the conversation?
I frankly don’t care. All I can tell you is who I would pick as my favorite All-NBA player, and that includes his exploits in high school, college and coaching. It’s Bones McKinney.
Horace “Bones” McKinney, a 6-foot-6 forward/center, was on the first All-NBA Team in 1947 (actually it was called the Basketball Association of America then), playing for the Washington Capitols, coached by Red Auerbach. He averaged 12 points per game in 58 games — big numbers then, when basketball was a game with no shot clock where single possessions could span minutes instead of seconds.
More McKinney fun facts:
* His Durham High (NC) teams won 69 straight games and three consecutive state titles from 1938-40. Overall Durham won 73 straight games and five consecutive state titles (1938-42), the latter still a state record.
* He played for both North Carolina State and North Carolina.
* His college career was interrupted by service in World War II.
* After his senior season at North Carolina, went to work for Hanes Hosiery. But in 1946 Auerbach, who was forming the Basketball Association of America, called McKinney to come play in the new league (which became the NBA in 1949). He signed for $6,750 for one season with a $500 advance.
* As a player-coach of the Capitols in 1950, McKinney drafted and signed the NBA’s first black player, Earl Lloyd.
* In 1950-51, McKinney’s Capitols folded midway through the season. He then played two seasons for the Boston Celtics.
* He then coached Wake Forest from 1958-65, becoming instrumental in establishing the ACC.
* He was also an ordained Baptist minister.
As a coach McKinney soon became legendary — he chain-smoked and constantly drank Pepsi, and was so demonstrative on the sideline that the league once installed a seatbelt on his chair. He wore old loafers that were two sizes too large, and once during an NCAA tournament game in Charlotte he flailed his legs and one of the shoes flew off, landing near the free throw line.
With the action at the other end, McKinney calmly walked on to the court to retrieve the shoe. When he reached down for the shoe, pens fell out of his pocket. As he gathered the pens, possession changed hands, and the St. Bonaventure players began running toward him. So McKinney played defense.
The referees had to stop the game. McKinney then explained that he was “removing debris from the court,” and thus avoided a technical.
Later, McKinney had a long career as a TV color analyst for ACC games with Raycom.
So there’s my favorite All-NBA player, from the inaugural class. My second-favorite All-NBA player? Max “Slats” Zaslofsky. But that’s a story for another time.