Introducing BLING: A Fresh Way to Compare NBA Legends

Introducing BLING: A Fresh Way to Compare NBA Legends

A favorite pastime of NBA fans is to compare their favorite players from history. This is usually done by asking their friends a simple, yet impossible-to-answer question:

“Who is in your Top 10 NBA Players of All-Time list?”

To quote Michael Fassbender from Prometheus, “Big things have small beginnings.” Who knew that such a simple question could lead to so many heated arguments and debates, even sometimes ending friendships in the process? Asking this question opens up a Pandora’s Box of responses, such as the ones below I have frequently heard when debating with my NBA friends.

Common debate topics amongst NBA friends when discussing their “Top 10” lists

In order to help with these fun debates, I opened up my handy-dandy Excel spreadsheets and cooked up some new statistics! Without further ado, I introduce to you BLING statistics. If you dive in with a mindset of curious analysis and a little bit of fun, I think you will be pleased with what I am about to present. Here we go…

BLING Statistic

So let me define for you what BLING statistics are. They sounds like a humorous attempt at counting a player’s necklaces and watches, right? Despite how hilariously entertaining that would be to track, you’re actually not too far off. This is a series of new statistics, all of which start with BLING:

BLING equals the total number of NBA championships, Season awards, All-Star Game appearances & All-NBA selections a player earned in his career.

To simplify this, here is the above text presented in math equation form (I promise it’s not scary):

BLING = Titles + Season awards + All-Stars + All-NBA selections

Titles and All-Star Game appearances are self-explanatory. All-NBA selections include being named to the All-NBA 1st/2nd/3rd team, the All-Defensive 1st/2nd team, and the All-Rookie 1st/2nd team. Season awards include being named MVP, Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Rookie of the Year or All-Star Game MVP.

This is a simple yet valuable statistic to calculate. It both rewards players for their longevity and rewards those who won the NBA’s highest honors. In other words, BLING identifies who the most decorated players are. Which begs the question, “Who are they?” See below for initial results ran on 14 of the best players in NBA history. Please note that not every basketball legend is included yet. I am merely presenting how the statistics work. Updates will follow soon, I promise!

I enjoy this graphic because it gives a striking visual illustration of the leaders in each category. Just refer to the longest bar in each category to see who leads, while the shorter bars indicate those players in the back of the pack. Bill Russell dominates in Titles, while Michael Jordan is far ahead in Season Awards. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the All-Stars crown (by a nose over Kobe Bryant), while Tim Duncan has the most All-NBA selections.

The end result are the BLING career leaders from the above sample, in order:

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 61 BLING
  2. Tim Duncan & Kobe Bryant (tie): 58 BLING
  3. Michael Jordan: 57 BLING
  4. LeBron James & Shaquille O’Neal (tie): 45 BLING
  5. Bill Russell & Hakeem Olajuwon (tie): 41 BLING

Let’s dig deeper into these results. First of all, why isn’t Bill Russell higher? Aren’t Magic and Bird better than this? WHERE IS WILT?! All of these are fair questions, and ones which prompted me to realize this:

BLING favors players with longer careers.

Of course it does! If you play 15–20 years like Kareem, Kobe and Duncan have, you have more opportunities to rack up the All-Stars, All-NBA selections, Season Awards and Title chances that drive this stat. While I appreciate rewarding a player for longevity, shouldn’t I also be able to factor in how amazing guys like Bird and Magic were before injuries and ailments prematurely ended their careers?

It appears that we need a modified version of BLING to account for players with shorter, yet still fantastic, careers. We need to level the playing field! This brings me to my next statistic: AvgBLING.

AvgBLING Statistic

This statistic will help us evaluate how much BLING (accolades) a player earned in an average season. Simply put, what was the normal quantity of accolades earned during the year? Let’s break it down…

AvgBLING equals the total number of BLING earned, divided by the number of seasons in a player’s career

In math terms, which is what Excel prefers to use for calculating these types of things…

AvgBLING = Total BLING / Seasons Played

This statistic is quite fascinating, as it essentially tells us the following:

  • Did “Player X” earn 1 All-Star Game appearance per season?
  • Did “Player X” earn 1–2 All-NBA Selection(s) per season?
  • Did “Player X” earn 1+ Season Award(s) per season?
  • Did “Player X” win a NBA championship per season?

I will present the statistics below to help out, as it is quite interesting:

It was only a matter of time before “His Airness” ascended to the top of these rankings.

As you can see, the leaders of this group differ from our original test. First of all, I included the number of players’ seasons on the far left to help put this statistic in context. AvgBLING helps answer this question: “Which player achieved the most on-court success during an average season?” Now you’re seeing Michael Jordan surge back ahead, due to the numerous accomplishments he achieved in a shorter span of time.

MJ is easily at the top of the pack here. That is what happens when you win MVP’s, Finals MVP’s, All-NBA and All-Defensive selections, All-Stars and NBA championships consistently. His 3.8 AvgBLING means that per season, he accomplished 3–4 of the following:

  • 1 All-Star Game appearance
  • 1 All-NBA selection
  • 1 Season Award, and
  • 1 Title, or 1 additional All-NBA selection, or 1 additional Season Award

That is simply UNBELIEVABLE! This was his average accolades earned per year. I mean… goodness gracious, right? Beyond him, perhaps it is no surprise to see LeBron James sitting at 2nd place in the standings with a 3.2 AvgBLING earned per season. Russell, Kareem and Duncan all rank just below and round out the top five among this group. This makes sense as each player racked up the accolades during their careers, including 5+ titles and multiple MVP awards for each.

Meanwhile, let us also focus on some of the players ranking lower on the list. You will notice a curiously low AvgBLING amount for Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson. This is where it is critical to note that players from the 1950s-1970s era are at a disadvantage due to fewer accolades being given out at that time. There was no Finals MVP awarded until 1969 (which West famously won despite playing for the losing team), no Defensive Player of the Year awarded until 1983, and no Most Improved Player award given until the 1986 season. Also, the All-NBA selections only consisted of two teams (for a total of 10 players) through the 1988 season. Then our current All-NBA rules were enacted in 1989, honoring three teams of players (15 total) from that year forward.

The key takeaway here is that players from the 1950s-1970s simply had fewer awards and accolades to earn. This makes it difficult to directly compare them to today’s stars. Keep this in mind when discussing players across eras.

One of the most interesting results of AvgBLING is the output difference between Tim Duncan (3.05) and Shaquille O’Neal (2.37). While both players were dominant forces in the same era, “The Big Fundamental” enjoyed much more productive longevity as compared to Shaq Diesel. This is illustrated by the chart below, which shows each player’s career All-NBA selections:

While Shaq’s peak play was undeniable, Duncan enjoyed sustained longevity throughout his career.

This significant variance in longevity success is captured in each player’s AvgBLING amount. Each superstar played 19 total seasons, but Duncan earned 0.7, or nearly 1 more accolade, per season. This extra accolade per year is easily explained by the extra All-NBA selections, as well as Duncan’s edge in MVP’s (2 to 1) and championships (5 to 4). In other words, the AvgBLING statistic makes logical sense and is a good indicator of Duncan’s superiority in accolades over his long-time rival.

To recap, we currently have BLING and AvgBLING statistics covered. My research prompted me to dig even deeper, as I was interested by these initial results. So let’s keep going with the next BLING creation… WtdBLING.

WtdBLING Statistic (or Weighted BLING)

Whereas the two stats detailed above are fairly simple, this one gets more complicated — and also more fun! Going back to BLING, I asked myself this question:

Shouldn’t earning a MVP or Finals MVP trophy be more important than winning a Most Improved Player or Sixth Man award? Isn’t it better to earn 1st-team All-NBA selections than 2nd- or 3rd-team selections? Winning back-to-back or three-peat titles is more significant and more difficult than winning individual titles, right?

I firmly believe this to be the case. Therefore, I decided to create a statistic that would calculate the different values for winning a higher-tiered accolade versus a lower-tiered accolade. This is where WtdBLING comes into play. I will explain below and then illustrate the stat results to help analyze…

WtdBLING rewards 1 full point to players for: winning a MVP or Finals MVP trophy, being honored as a 1st-Team All-NBA/Defensive/Rookie selection, earning an All-Star appearance and winning 1 title

WtdBLING rewards 0.66 partial points to players for: winning a Most Improved Player or Defensive Player of the Year award & being honored as a 2nd-Team All-NBA/Defensive/Rookie selection

WtdBLING rewards 0.33 partial points to players for: winning a Sixth Man of the Year or All-Star Game MVP award & behind honored as a 3rd-Team All-NBA selection

WtdBLING also rewards 1.33 points to players who won the second of a back-to-back NBA championship & rewards 1.66 points to players who won the third (or greater) of a “three-peat” (or greater)

In math terms…

WtdBLING (Season Awards) = (1 x MVP’s) + (1 x Finals MVP’s) + (2/3 x Def. Player of the Year’s) + (2/3 x Most Improved Player’s) + (2/3 x Rookie of the Year) + (1/3 x Sixth Man of the Year’s) + (1/3 x All-Star MVP’s)

WtdBLING (All-Stars) = (1 x All-Star appearances)

WtdBLING (All-NBA) = (1 x 1st-Team All-NBA) + (2/3 x 2nd-Team All-NBA) + (1/3 x 3rd-Team All-NBA) + (1 x 1st-Team All-Def.) + (2/3 x 2nd-Team All-Def) + (1 x 1st-Team All-Rookie) + (2/3 x 2nd-Team All-Rookie)

WtdBLING (Titles) = (1 x Individual Titles) + (1 1/3 x Back-to-Back Titles) + 1 2/3 x “Three-Peat” or Greater Titles)

Total WtdBLING = Sum of the 4 totals above

Whew. First of all, I am sure there are questions swirling in your head about this. The best way to understand is to just show the results and inspect them. See below for the yellow-highlighted column of WtdBLING, along with the long list of accolades mentioned above:

There is so much to analyze in the above graphic! On the far right is WtdBLING, which I’ve placed next to BLING to show how they relate to one another. Typically, WtdBLING is a lower amount due to the weighting reduction of lesser accolades. The key here is to look at the difference between a player’s BLING and WtdBLING numbers, as this is the telling stat. Driving this difference are the various accolades seen to the left: titles, MVP’s, Rookie of the Year’s, All-NBA 1st- and 2nd-Team, and so on.

For example, Michael Jordan has 57 total BLING, while his WtdBLING is 55.98. Essentially, his score only dropped 1 point due to near-unanimous 1st-Team All-NBA selections, MVP and Finals MVP awards, and back-to-back and “three-peat” titles he won. In other words, nearly all of his accomplishments were won at the highest level of the sport. He was routinely recognized as the best at his position and the best in the league. That is accurately rendered here.

In contrast, compare this to Kobe Bryant. His BLING score of 58 drops to a WtdBLING score of 52.98, nearly a 5-point decrease. This is because despite Mamba’s numerous titles and 1st-Team All-NBA’s, he also has many secondary honors. Kobe only won one MVP award, and he was not named to the All-Rookie 1st-Team. This correlates, as Bryant was drafted to a loaded Lakers team who took their time in developing him. KB24 did take home a record four All-Star Game MVP’s, but these are not valued as highly as MVP or Finals MVP trophies due to their lesser impact. Bryant also was named to four All-NBA 2nd- and 3rd-Team rosters, in addition to three All-Defensive 2nd Team lineups. While these secondary honors are still impressive and add value to his career BLING and WtdBLING, it also reduces his score by a higher percentage as compared to Jordan or Magic.

That is the key purpose of this statistic: to reveal a player’s true value of accolades won. Players winning more top-tier accolades should be recognized as such, since they are more regularly being named the BEST at their respective position or within their peer group. Being recognized as the best in something is superior to being recognized as second- or third-best.

To bring this concept all the way home, I am going to present the final statistic of this article: BLING%. This ties everything together to make sense of and to bring clarity to the accuracy of these stats. Here we go!

BLING% Statistic

This final stat will be simple. After all of the arithmetic in WtdBLING, I promise you that this stat is meaningful and easy to follow.

BLING% is the ratio of WtdBLING to BLING

In math terms, what this boils down to is:


The purpose of this percentage is to provide the most crystal-clear context for the relationship between these two statistics. It is one thing to simply calculate them; it is quite another to take an additional step forward that provides ultimate clarity for how it relates to each player.

Let us do that right now. Refer below for BLING% results:

No surprises: Russell, Jordan, Magic, West and Kareem highlight this list of NBA legends.

BLING% is shown on the far right, in red. Before it are the two stats used to calculate it. For an easy example, refer to Dwyane Wade. Take his WtdBLING of 24.66, divide it by his BLING of 29, and that equals 85.0%. Speaking of Wade, I included him here to serve as an indicator of the next tier down of players, most of whom will have won fewer championships and season awards. These players, such as Charles Barkley and Kevin Garnett, will be analyzed in future articles.

Regarding BLING%, it is arguably the most interesting statistic in terms of placing a quality value on each players’ accolades. Bill Russell’s 103.1% obviously stands out as a statistical anomaly. I noticed this and considered changing my title weighting system… but then retreated from that thought. If any of these players would show up as a statistical outlier, it would be Bill Russell. After all, the 5x MVP won 11 total championships! Included in that are an “eight-peat,” a separate back-to-back and another lone title ring. He is so far ahead of the pack in this category and it is very unlikely that any player ever wins this many championships while also playing as the lead dog/alpha male. It is the NBA equivalent to John Wooden’s NCAA dynasty with UCLA. They are, in fact, a statistical outlier when compared to anyone else in their sport. So it is actually quite logical for Russell’s 103.1 BLING% to be “off the charts.” Why not, right?

Meanwhile, Michael Jordan comes in second place at 98.2%. This indicates that nearly all of Jumpman’s accolades were the best of the best. MVP’s, Finals MVP’s, near-unanimous 1st-Team All-NBA and 1st-Team All-Defense, back-to-back titles, multiple “three-peats”; there is even a Defensive Player of the Year award here to boot!

Players with longer careers, such as Bryant and Duncan, have BLING%’s around the lower-90’s due to having more seasons without earning top-tier awards. Each player declined near the end of their careers, and Kobe’s first few seasons did not equal Duncan’s instant 1st-Team All-NBA and 1st-Team All-Rookie level of elite play. However, the key driver in the Lakers’ star’s slightly higher figure is his advantage of being a shooting guard. During the early 2000s era, there was less competition for the top spot at that position. This was most important when it came to 1st-Team All-Defensive selections, in which Kobe went a perfect 9-for-9 in placement. He had no 2nd-team selections to drag down his percentage. Meanwhile, Duncan had more All-NBA 2nd- and 3rd-Team selections, and All-Defensive 2nd-Team nods, due to more competition amongst post players, to drag down his percentage. It is still nothing to scoff at, but rather just a reality of playing for nearly 20 years. A player’s incredible 10-year peak will not last forever, so some non-1st team nods are inevitable.

Anyway, I could go on and on… but this article is long enough! My main goal was to introduce these statistics for the first time, with an initial group of players to use as my sample. With that accomplished, it is now up to you, dear reader, to digest this information and analyze it.

Now what I want to know is — what do you think? Are these statistics helpful in any way? Do you think they need modifications to be more useful? Did you learn something new while reading about these legendary players? Let me hear it! The more feedback I receive, the better I can present and adjust these statistics to be useful over time.

With that in mind… whew. Congrats! You made it to the end of this article! Thank you for reading, and I look forward to your feedback. Reach out to me via Twitter @PaulAblesCM and voice your opinion on this topic.

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