When Dirk Nowitzki won an NBA championship in 2011, he avoided the dreaded ‘s*** list’ as captain Charles Barkley called it.
Barkley coined the term for a group of exceptional players who just didn’t have enough to win the big one. In The Book Of Basketball, Bill Simmons called them the “‘Crap, It’s Just Not Me’ All-Stars along with Karl Malone, Drexler, KJ, Ewing and Sampson”, claiming that Nowitzki had “missed the boat as an alpha dog”.
Unfortunately for Simmons, Nowitzki went on a historic finals run the year after the book was released and steered clear from the dreaded shineless tomb, flipping his legacy forever. The shineless tomb was invented by yours truly, as all the Egyptian greats of each era were buried in a tomb full of gold, but in this case, these players could never obtain that gold.
As for now, Chris Paul is the starting point guard on the shineless tomb squad along with James Harden at the two.
Already the playmaking and shooting is elite but don’t worry, Paul is not going to stand in the corner like in his past Houston stint, even though they were likely one Chris Paul hamstring injury away from winning the championship.
Then the back court consists of Elgin Baylor, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone. For whatever reason, Baylor and Barkley would have been the best of friends. Well, who wouldn’t be best friends with Barkley given the chance?
For one, they both resemble the typical loveable punching bags, Baylor with his Bill Cosby sweaters and terrible GM experience then Barkley being a constant running joke on TNT for over a decade. They also were two of the most defiant players ever.
Baylor played through unspeakable experiences of racism and even threatened to go on strike during the 1964 NBA All Star game to establish the players union for future players.
Barkley refused to sign his name away to NBA 2K since they refused to pay the past players a fair amount according to the Chuckster.
Then you throw in the ‘Mailman’, who will play as an undersized centre and a perfect pick-and-roll target for Paul and Harden. In this fantasy team, Malone will somehow keep Barkley on track and in shape, while being the surest ‘we need a bucket right now’ guy on the team unless in the last two minutes. But still, what do all these guys have in common?
The younger generation will not differentiate their talents and the anecdotes of their greatness or rank them where they deservingly belong because they failed to win a championship.
As time ticks away, less people share the memories of what made these great players great. Like the Egyptian pharaohs, the details eventually fade and legacies become simplified.
People will call the shineless tomb squad a group of chokers, which may hold some truth. It is easy to nitpick certain moments of certain games.
They will pull up Chris Paul’s two turnovers in 2014’s Game 5 in the semi-finals. Or Game 1 of the 1997 NBA finals, with the ‘Mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays’ moment. The list can go on and on.
That is not to say that this is fair. People fail to sympathise with what it would be like going up against the great players of history. They ignore or don’t appreciate the impact of injuries or the dysfunction of a front office. Again it is not fair, but it is the reality.
But Chris Paul has a chance to escape this hell. It is likely the last chance he will get. Like Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Clyde Drexler, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, Chris Paul can win just one so late in his career that it completely shifts his narrative.
He already is the most consistent point guard of all time, being the only one ever to average 15 points and eight assists a game at the age of 35. But like most small guys in NBA history, those stats plummet quickly. He won’t be around forever.