MADNESS BEING THE seasonal punch, we're braced for accusations of having taken one swig too many in putting together this special, extra SPORTS ILLUSTRATED magazine that alighted in your mailboxes and on your tablets. The pillar of this single-advertiser issue is the 22-page section devoted to that favorite sports parlor game: In 75 years of NCAA men's hoops history, who's the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time)? The list—compiled by SI's Bard of March, senior writer Seth Davis, with help from intern Colin Becht—is certain to provoke, even inflame. No Jordan? Bird three spots ahead of Magic? No Jack Givens? (All right, the last is personal for an eight-year-old who was introduced to the tournament on the last March Monday of 1978, when the golden Goose cooked Duke for 41 to give Kentucky its fifth national title. Loved that guy.)
SI's pantheon is ripe for debate; in fact, it exists to be parsed, even by its own. Hoops savants Alexander Wolff (who wrote the articles on Bill Bradley and Christian Laettner) and Jack McCallum (Jerry West) were in-boxed the top 10, which yielded yet another forensic examination of the possibilities. The entirety of their exchange—like Davis's list, nuanced, entertaining, expertly informed—can be found at si.com/mag along with plenty of other anniversary goodness, including Davis's full list of the 75 greatest players and videos of the top 10 NCAA tournament moments. Here is an excerpt from that e-dialogue.
MCCALLUM: [Bill Bradley] does not belong ahead of Magic or another sweet college player, who wasn't so great in the pros ... let's see ... ah, Mr. Laettner. Three Final Fours. Two championships. One Most Outstanding Player award and arguably the most famous shot in hoops history—the turnaround against Kentucky. You were there! Let's decide right now how high to put the man—and it has to be higher than ninth.
WOLFF: Glad to hear you make the case for Laettner, pain in the ass though he was. He reached four Final Fours, and is the only player to start in four of 'em. But what makes Laettner so emblematic of who we're trying to I.D. with this list is that he did the micro (the moments!) along with the macro.... If the Final Four is a stage, this guy was the hoops equivalent of the guy we both saw in London while covering Olympic events last summer—Shakespearean grandmaster Mark Rylance. I say top five at least.
Wolff and McCallum, good friends and two of the most reasonable men to have walked these halls, ultimately arrived at a consensus. I will only say that Laettner gets the call over Magic, the Dipper acquires new meaning and still no MJ. Welcome to March. Drink in the madness.
SOONER FOR LAETTNER? How high the Duke star should rank on SI's alltime list is a source of contention.