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If you could only watch one NBA player for the next 10 years, who would it be?

Karl-Anthony Towns Kristaps Porzingis
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Good morning. The year is 2026. It is President Trump’s tenth year in office. The country is doing better than you think, although Attorney General Christie was blasted into space for that remark about the president’s hands. Anyway, aside from schoolchildren using pencils filled with gunpowder rather than graphite, things are about the same as they were in 2016. Immigration is down, in part because the wall at the border is up. And just like Donald promised, Mexico paid for it — they built it to keep him out.

I digress. Technology has continued to develop at an absurd rate. It doesn’t look all that different — everything is a bit thinner — but it has had wide-reaching effects on the world of sports media. After the great Cable Riots of 2020 and the pursuant absconding of Roger Goodell to Bhutan, a tipping point was reached. Television rights deals aren’t what they once were. Cable executives are now kept on reportedly humane reservations, sentenced to a lifetime of watching Lifetime. Consumers are no longer forced to pay hundreds of dollars when they only watch five channels.

After the great Cable Riots of 2020 and the pursuant absconding of Roger Goodell to Bhutan, a tipping point was reached in sports media

Ah, but something more nefarious has taken hold. Pro sports leagues are now able to wholly control their content and snuff out illegal workarounds, and a new brand of fierce price gouging has emerged. Each league has its own rules and regs. NFL access is available only via five-year contract, which requires a tithe for the duration of your natural life and two years’ mandatory league service by your firstborn. The NHL compels you to agree to refer to all knit hats as tuques, to fight anyone who refers to them otherwise, and to apologize upon completion of said fight. Major League Baseball gives you a $500 signing bonus and 10 games’ worth of free tickets. Supply and demand and all.

The NBA, meanwhile, occupies a unique space. Long the best among American professional sports at marketing its individual players, the league has become victim of its own success. Realizing there is more out there to be had than signature shoes and clothing lines, players have taken control of their images — completely. In short, if they are good enough and important enough and influential enough, they get to control everything about themselves, including how they are portrayed on broadcasts.

You can now buy the exclusive rights to watch individual players rather than teams. You can still watch a game the old-fashioned way, but there’s a good chance every All-Star on the court is blurred out, thanks to a clever bit of language in the latest CBA. You can still see the broad moves, like if Bigfoot was boxing Abraham Zapruder, but all the nuance is gone. If you want to see a clear, in-focus shot of, say, Kyrie Irving’s latest coast-to-coast artistry, you better sign up for KyrieTV. Want to see Anthony Davis’ 15-block game? Download the HowNowBrowCow app. Michael Jordan has a legacy version as well, but at this point it’s mostly memes, bad golf, and worse jeans.

Point is, these don’t come cheap. You’ve fallen on hard times, but ball remains life. If you could only afford one, who would it be? Actually, strike that. Let’s bring it back to 2016. Let’s say that this thing exists already. You’re still on hard times, but ball still remains life. You get a discount rate if you sign up for an exclusive 10-year deal. You can only afford to watch one player for the next decade. Who you got?

Let’s take a look at some of the candidates, in descending age order…

LeBron James (31 years old)

The 10-year thing may scare you off — LeBron will be 41 in 2026 — but don’t dismiss him right away. If LeBron hasn’t been the league’s most fascinating player over the past decade-plus then he’s certainly among the top five, and intrigue will surely follow him as he rides through the twilight into the sunset. Will he lead the Cavs to a championship? Will his leadership style shift to either passive or aggressive, rather than both? Will he have a second career as a bruising power forward or a facilitator extraordinaire? Will he re-invent the art of the subtweet? Will we ever find out what the deal is with his hair? (That last one is a definite no.)

Basically, I’m all for anything that leads to him acting more like Wise LeBron.

Stephen Curry (28 years old)

Curry took shooting to a place we never thought it could go last season, and he has repeated the feat this season. He leads the league in threes made and attempted by a mile, and he’s third in three-point percentage. Hell, he’s in the top ten in two-point percentage. What if it just keeps going? What if he discovered some glitch in jump shot mechanics and only gets better? What if he makes 50 percent of his threes next year and 60 percent in three years? What if he scores 100 points on 35 shots? What if there’s a big scandal and he’s revealed to be on some new-wave PEDs that allow him to perfectly replicate his shooting stroke every time There’s a lot going on here, and if you’re an NBA fan, odds are you’ll want to watch.

Kevin Durant (27 years old)

He’s basically Steph Curry combined with a giraffe, or an octopus, or maybe both. He led the league in scoring four times in his first eight years, finished in the top three six times, and he’s on his way to another top-three finish. He’s damn near seven feet tall with arms down to his ankles, yet he can do anything on the court that Clyde Frazier has come up with a rhyme for: slice and dice, shake and bake, post and toast, wheel and deal — he’s got it all. His game has a cool smoothness that belies his sometimes-dickish demeanor. This summer he has the opportunity to leave Oklahoma City, which could lead to a decade-long blood feud with Russell Westbrook. That’d be something worth tuning in for.

Russell Westbrook (27 years old)

Let’s say for funsies’ sake that Kevin Durant leaves OKC after this year. Let’s say that Westbrook and Durant once capped off a long evening of deep, soul-searching conversation by making a promise to win a title together. Let’s say that Durant breaks that promise. Let’s say that Russ doesn’t take it that well. Let’s say that he actually locks himself in a gym for an entire summer with nothing but a ball and several heavy objects. Let’s say that he spends 22 hours of every day lifting and sprinting and dribbling and shooting, and let’s say that he literally forgets how to smile. Let’s say that he devotes every calorie of energy to winning a championship all by himself and making Durant pay for his sins. Let’s say that the NBA is forced to install Slamball-style rims because Russ’ dunks keep breaking people’s limbs off. Is that something you might be interested in?

James Harden (26 years old)

But only if foul shots stop being a thing. Harden is a wonderful do-it-all offensive player, a stat sheet stuffer on par with LeBron and Westbrook, but his constant forays to the foul line don’t make for the most appealing television experience. It’d be like paying to watch a traffic cam.

DeMarcus Cousins (25 years old)

He seems awfully grumpy, and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever totally figure it out, and this is the first season of his six that his team has won more than 30 games. But Boogie can ball, and he’s the closest thing we have to Shaq right now. With the way basketball is going, he might be the closest thing we’ll ever have to Shaq from now on. He’s a big burly bully inside, and he’s the only true center among the league’s top 15 scorers this year. His temper could also make for fun viewing, as this year is his third leading the league in technical fouls. If you enjoy vigilante justice, Boogie might be your guy.

Kyrie Irving (24 years old)

Here’s something Kyrie made me think of recently: When I was a sophomore in high school, a kid on our football team had himself a nice long touchdown run. (I didn’t play, but I saw and heard this much from the sidelines.) He ran over to the bench and was on the receiving end of a bunch of celebratory helmet slaps and butt pats. After that, an assistant coach rhetorically asked him, “How many moves did you make on that run?” with the implication that, to his own detriment, he generally tried to make too many moves. The player sheepishly said that he’d made one. The coach nodded knowingly.

The point is that I think Kyrie is sorta like that with his ballhandling sometimes. He can do things with the rock no one else can, and when he pulls them off, oh my god there ain’t nothing better. Alas, there are a bunch of guys on the other team with a vested interest in preventing him from pulling them off, so it doesn’t always work out. It seems to me that he’s tried to rein things in a little bit in the season’s closing weeks, which is probably an overall smart move. That said, Kyrie does stuff with the ball in a way that I’ve never really seen on an NBA court, and he’s barely 24. I would gladly watch him just dribble in an empty gym for the next decade.

Kawhi Leonard (24 years old)

Somebody’s gotta keep cornrows alive, and somebody’s gotta suck the souls out of the league’s would-be top scorers. Kawhi is a relative young’n, and he’ll be the one guiding the Spurs’ battleship assuming Tim Duncan retires one day. Speaking of which, should Duncan be on this list? He’s almost 40, yes, but aren’t there more ridiculous possibilities than him playing 10 minutes a game in 2026? He’s played exemplary ball, especially on the defensive end, through the better part of five presidential terms. I think the Spurs training facility is Area 51.

Karl-Anthony Towns (20 years old)

Speaking of Duncan, KAT looks like the most complete rookie big man we’ve seen since Timmy joined the Spurs in 1999. He’s about to wrap up a freshman year in which he averaged better than 18 points and 10 rebounds and nearly two blocks. He already has a refined jump shot — he made half of his long twos this year — and the three could become a bigger part of his arsenal if he wants it to. By all accounts he’s a good teammate and a good kid. He played in every game this year and he has no significant injury history. (The latter being the reason I left Anthony Davis out.) There’s little reason to think he won’t play in a dozen All-Star games. If the Timberwolves nail another draft or two, they could really be on to something, and Towns will be in the middle of it all.

Kristaps Porzingis (20 years old)

I like to think that Porzingis is kinda like if Arvydas Sabonis or Zydrunas Ilgauskas never got hurt. That might be a slight insult to Sabonis, but the point is that Kristaps’ potential is virtually unmatched. He has a 7-foot-6 wingspan, which puts him near the upper limit of that for bald eagles. He’s already a top-ten shot blocker, even ahead of Towns, and his tip-slams are a true sight to behold. Between his lanky frame, the desperate thirst that has long since penetrated Madison Square Garden, and the fact that he once wore cornrows and a Jordan headband, there’s a lot to like about Porzingis.

It’s a tough choice, to be sure, and not one to be taken lightly. Think it over deeply. Consult your loved ones. Consider your values. Decide what is truly important to you, and then ask yourself: Who you got?

  • For me it would be a really, really tough decision between Westbrook and Kyrie. I’ve seen LeBron at his prime, watching Curry chew on his stupid mouth guard for 10 years would drive me to the nut house, Durant has never been an exciting player to watch for me. My two favorite players to watch in the league right now are Westbrook and Kyrie. I’m not 100% convinced that Russ isn’t actually the best overall player in the NBA right now, but I’m inclined to go with my guy Kyrie. This is a great topic, though.

  • JNeids

    This was already one of my favorite articles to date, and then you had to go throw in a clip of the Lebrons. I LOVED those ads, and have been praying for Old Man Lebron to make an appearance in an Uncle Drew spot. I know they’re different drink brands, but how great of a crossover would it be to pit OML vs Drew one-on-one? They could even have alternate endings so both brands end up on top. Win-win.

    I like Andrew’s narrowed down list, and would probably put KAT at #3. I wouldn’t watch to watch Drago if he spent those 10 years in NY, and while Minny ain’t exactly Cleveland, I do like the young team they’re assembling and think they could be fun to watch very soon.

  • chrisdottcomm

    Can I vote for the Timberwolves core of KAT, Wiggins, LaVine and Shabazz?

    They don’t have a record to impress but at the top of the “most fun” in the league to watch list. I’d love to see them pull it together and make a relevant 10 years of it.

    If my core group gets a veto, I go Towns all day.

    SideNote: How quickly Anthony Davis fell out of this discussion….yeesh.

  • chrisdottcomm

    Kawhi v Russ is the most unsung NBA debate right now and it drive me nuts that nobody talks about it.

  • mgbode

    10 years for Russ given his style of play is tough. mid-30 year old players do not move like he moves. Also, why DeRozen would miss the cut (I still like him more than pretty much anybody outside Canada, I think).

    Seems like Towns or Davis would be the obvious choice, but as good as big men are, it would be boring to just watch them (except young Shaq).

    Irving, Wiggins, Lillard – these are the guys that would be most fun for me to watch. Buckets don’t lie and all.

  • mgbode

    WC semi-final people will be talking about it plenty.

  • mgbode

    Most random fun team in NBA to watch for me is Portland or Charlotte (said knowing I don’t watch enough NBA).

  • tigersbrowns2

    russell westbrook … antetokounmpo , k.leonard & k.lowry are all fine players as well.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi MG … the backcourt duo of derozen & lowry may be the best in the nba.

  • Dan

    1. Curry has already found a cheat code and that is the moving screen.
    2. I love the violence and anger that Westbrook plays with, but don’t think he can keep it up without injury.
    3. Kyrie was so fun to watch last year. He has been fun in spurts this year, but if he could get back to where he was last year, I would take him all day everyday. A close second would be Antetokounmpo.

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  • Saggy

    Westbrook. He’s my guy.

  • Saggy

    well, if people were talking about it, it wouldn’t be “unsung.”

  • Saggy

    yeah – the Bucks are FUN to watch! I love the Greek Freak.