Many of the players in this gallery never won the MVP because they played during an era in which one or two all-time greats dominated the award. Elgin Baylor (left) had his best years when Bill Russell (five MVPs) and Wilt Chamberlain (four) were vying for league supremacy. More recent stars came up short during the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird/Michael Jordan era. Note: Current players with fewer than eight years of experience were not considered for inclusion in this gallery. <br> **********************************<br>Until Baylor entered the NBA in 1958, the game was played on the hardwood. He was the first player to play the game in mid-air, hanging for as long as it took for him to get the shot he wanted. Baylor was a 6-foot-5 forward who was sleek yet muscular, quick and fast, athletic and powerful. He was a man ahead of his time, and he provided the blueprint for the fliers and gliders to come.
2 of 17Courtesy of the Harlem Globetrotters
The game's first true superstar would have won three or four MVPs -- if only the award were invented earlier. The MVP was first awarded after the 1955-56 season, the last year of Mikan's extraordinary career. He led the Minneapolis Lakers to NBA championships in 1950, '52, '53 and '54, and was the centerpiece of the league's first dynasty. Mikan died in 2005, but his NBA legacy lives forever.
3 of 17Darryl Norenberg/WireImage.com
For more than 30 years, West has remained in the NBA spotlight as one of the league's best GMs and talent evaluators. Before that, he was merely one of the greatest players ever to play the game. West played 14 seasons -- and was named to the All-Star team 14 times. He is one of only five players in NBA history to compile a career scoring average of at least 27 points per game.
4 of 17John W. McDonough/SI
Many NBA observers believe Bryant is the best player in the game today, yet he's already put in 11 seasons without winning an MVP trophy. For years, Bryant excelled as the Lakers won three titles, but he was performing in the shadow of Shaquille O'Neal. Now, he can't seem to get the votes because the Lakers aren't good enough. Approaching his 29th birthday, Bryant likely has four or five more shots at it.
5 of 17George Long/LPI/WireImage.com
Barry is best known for the more than 25,000 points he scored during his career in the NBA and ABA, but he was also one of the best passing forwards the game has ever seen. Among his achievements: He led teams to championships in both the NBA and ABA and led both leagues in scoring. He is also one of only two players to shoot 90 percent from the free throw line for his career (along with Mark Price).
6 of 17Manny Millan/SI
One of the most consistent power forwards to ever play, the Big E's turnaround jump shot -- often launched from the baseline -- stands behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook among the most unblockable shots in the history of the game. Hayes led the NBA in scoring as a rookie in 1969 with the San Diego Rockets, and was still averaging 23 points 11 years later at the age of 34.
7 of 17AP
Some have forgotten Schayes' greatness because the NBA no longer has a team in Syracuse or because his genius on the court happened more than 40 years ago. But here's one accolade that should get across how magnificent this set-shooting big man was: He was named first- or second-team All-NBA for 12 consecutive seasons from 1950 to 1961. He also grabbed more than 11,000 rebounds in his 16-year career.
8 of 17Manny Millan/SI
Thomas wasn't just one of the best all-time small men; he's one of the greatest players, period. A dynamic scorer, Thomas led the Pistons to back-to-back championships at a time when Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan were each at their apex as all-time great players. He averaged 20 points and 10 assists for four straight seasons, then sublimated his game so that the Pistons could become a defensive juggernaut.
9 of 17Manny Millan/SI
Wilkins was one of the most exciting players and unstoppable scorers in the game's history. He entered the league as the Human Highlight Film, earning that nickname with other-worldly dunks that make 99 percent of dunks today look pedestrian by comparison. Wilkins won a couple of dunk contests and could have won a few more, but it was the dunks he did on people -- in the half-court -- that his fans and contemporaries remember best.
10 of 17John W. McDonough/SI
Stockton played 19 seasons in the NBA. He came into the league when Larry Bird, Moses Malone and Magic Johnson were the league's top players and he was still playing when each of those icons went into the Hall of Fame. It won't be long before the Hall calls Stockton, who holds one of the few unbreakable records in the NBA record book. He recorded 15,806 career assists -- more than 5,000 ahead of Magic.
11 of 17Tony Tomsic/WireImage.com
One of only 10 players to score more than 26,000 career points, Havlicek was a key reason why the Celtics kept winning championships even after Bill Russell retired. One of the most versatile and fit players ever, Havlicek could do it all -- score, defend, pass, rebound -- and do it tirelessly. Twenty-nine years after his retirement, Havlicek is still the Celtics' all-time scoring leader, and he played more minutes in one uniform than any player other than John Stockton and Karl Malone.
12 of 17Manny Millan/SI
Ewing was a great rebounder and intimidator when he entered the NBA from Georgetown, but he made himself into one of the best-shooting centers who ever lived. For 13 straight seasons from 1988 to 2000, Ewing carried Knicks teams that often had ordinary talent into the playoffs, usually being turned back by teams (Chicago, Detroit) with vastly superior players. He is New York's career leader in points, rebounds, blocked shots and steals.
13 of 17John W. McDonough/SI
Payton, the best defensive point guard in league history, not only used his quick hands to relieve opposing point guards of the ball, but he also would batter them in the low post on the other end of the court. Payton, in a class by himself as a trash talker, always managed to back up his words. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive first team for nine straight seasons.
14 of 17AP
The man they called Pitchin' Paul might not have invented the jump shot, but he was the first to perfect it at the NBA level, leading the league in scoring (25.4 points) in his second season in 1951-52. Arizin was named an All-Star 10 times, despite losing two full seasons to military service. He averaged 22.8 points in 10 seasons and led the Philadelphia Warriors to the NBA title in 1956.
15 of 17Manny Millan/SI
In the early 1990s, Drexler was considered by some to be the second-best player behind Michael Jordan. The Glide was so athletically gifted, he entered the NBA able to score at will just by driving to the basket, but when he added a reliable jump shot by the late 1980s, there was no stopping him. Though Drexler's Blazers fell short of a championship, a late-career trade to the Houston Rockets helped him get his ring in 1995.
16 of 17AP
There was nobody like Gervin before he came into the NBA, and there hasn't been anyone like him since he left. A four-time NBA scoring champion and 12-time All-Star in the ABA and NBA, Gervin regularly made shots nobody else would even dare attempt. When someone makes a running bank shot from a tough angle today, broadcasters shout 'til they can be heard without the microphone. That was just a regular shot for the Ice Man.
17 of 17John D. Hanlon/SI
A consensus choice as the strongest man in the NBA during his career, Gilmore did win the ABA MVP award in 1972, winning Rookie of the Year the same season. Gilmore is the best percentage shooter in NBA history, making 59.9 percent of his shots. When Gilmore got the ball in the low post, he scored despite the presence of multiple defenders. His omission from the Hall of Fame is an embarrassment to the sport.
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