When you think about things that are constantly changing you think of things like politics, the economy and technology, but one thing that is often left out of that conversation is basketball. An NBA Draft war room, debating until the last second they have on what to do. Pick the raw player with so much potential, or take the player who is the most NBA ready, or maybe surprise everybody by trading their pick for an package of talented players and future picks. In a month free agency where sometimes a decision to leave a team alters the whole league ever more than the NBA draft. These are the decisions that can change how a team plays, which can affect how the rest of the league plays as well. In the even bigger picture is the eras. Eras of players who have altered the game in a way most player can only dream of changing the game.
The first game altering player was Bill Russell. He was one of the all-time great defensive centers, when back in the 50s and 60s, centers only really played offense. He transformed the center position into a more defensive minded player. Oscar Robertson also changed a position, but for him it was the point guard position. Prior to him joining the NBA, point guards were like centers as in their main job was to score. The "Big O" Oscar Robertson turned the Point Guard into a position that led their teammates and set them up for easy baskets, and now Oscar Robertson is 6th on the All-Time list for assists, averaging 9.5 per game for his career. Another guard who influenced the game was Earvin "Magic" Johnson. He and the 1969-70 LA Lakers added a style of play that is still used today, the constant fast break offense. Every opportunity that those Lakers got, it was off to the races for easy transition baskets and many teams rely on that style of play today.
George Gervin, the former San Antonio Spurs guard introduced the floater to the NBA, a shot where you are driving to the basket and you shoot the layup, but release the shot further from the basket to avoid getting blocked. That shot is now a necessity in a guard's repertoire for them excel. Manu Ginobli, an Argentinian guard brought the eurostep layup to the NBA, a special type of layup that can shake defenses off and avoid getting a charging foul called. Ginobli's use of it was almost revolutionary because before it was only a part of European basketball and never used in the NBA. Now, the best guards constantly rely on the eurostep to shake free for an easy layup. "Pistol" Pete Maravich is another guard who changed the NBA not with a scoring move, but with a dribbling move. Maravich was the first player to perform the behind the back dribble on a consistent basis. David Thompson was one of the first player to ever do an alley-oop, and while he started it in college, he often utilized it in the NBA. Nowadays the alley-oop is a staple in the fast break, but also in set plays it is often used. The three point shot has only recently become a major part of most team's offense, popularized by the likes of Ray Allen, Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr. Those three players are all current or future Hall of Famers and will go down as some of the best shooter in history, which is how they changed the NBA.
There has been two pairs of player that have changed the NBA in its entirety for the better, steering it in a better direction. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird changed how basketball was played, but more importantly changed the NBA organization and the public's perception of the NBA. They together made the NBA seem more classy and safe, rather than the thug look the NBA had gotten from a multitude of player making continuous bad decisions. They also got the NBA to make minor tweaks that made all of the players feel more at home and like it was something that they are and want to be a part of. The other pair are in a constant debate for the greatest basketball player of all time. LeBron James and Michael Jordan. Two names that even people who don't know basketball know. The pair so great, that when Michael Jordan's eras ended, a new one started with LeBron getting drafted days after Jordan retired. They have made the NBA an athletic man's game, dictating what their team did at both ends of the court.
These players have forever changed the NBA. They have revolutionized how people think of basketball stars and how people picture greatness. In any game, all of these players will have had some part in how that game is played.