Commentary

NorCal or SoCal, the debate for hoops' supremacy rages on

Updated: March 10, 2009, 2:26 PM ET
By Ronnie Flores | ESPNRISE.com

Although their counterparts from the San Francisco Bay Area still have a stronger starting five, Los Angeles has made the case to supplant San Francisco/Oakland on the list of cities that have produced the best all-time basketball talent.

In terms of the ESPN RISE Great State Debate, the rivalry between LA and S.F. is similar to New York and Boston or Philadelphia vs. Washington, D.C. This is the only one of these city squabbles about which is the best in basketball, however, in which both cities are in the same state.

Can California come together this week and beat Illinois in this week's Great State Debate? We will find out in the next two days.

Despite the need to join forces this week, the decades-long north vs. south rivalry in California will resume in two weeks, when the best of the north takes on the best of the south in the annual CIF State Basketball Championships at ARCO Arena in Sacramento.

The clear reason for LA's rise in this comparison is related to the recent ascent of several players, primarily Paul Pierce. In the 2008 NBA Finals. Pierce became the third California product to ever earn NBA Finals MVP accolades after leading the Boston Celtics to the league championship over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Other players from the Los Angeles metropolitian region have also developed as legit NBA players in recent seasons and that has helped tipped the scales in favor of L.A. over their counterparts from the Bay.

[+] EnlargeJason Kidd
Layne Murdoch/Getty ImagesJason Kidd started at St. Joseph's (Alameda) before becoming a 9-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist.

Pierce is not the only Angelino that has made a splash in the NBA playoffs in recent years. Dominguez of Compton graduate Tayshaun Prince has played a key role on some fine Detroit Piston teams and Santa Monica Crossroads' graduate Baron Davis led the Golden State Warriors to a playoff upset of a Dallas Mavericks team that finished 67-15 during the 2007 season. Davis now plays for the hometown Los Angeles Clippers.

A scan of NBA starting lineups for the opening of the 2008-09 season showed that 11 teams in the league had at least one player from a Los Angeles area high school. Amazingly, L.A. City Section power Westchester of Los Angeles had six former Comets on NBA rosters: Forward Trevor Ariza (Lakers), guard Jason Hart (Clippers), guard Bobby Brown (Kings), center Amir Johnson (Pistons), wing Hassan Adams (Raptors) and guard Gabe Pruitt (Celtics).

If you consider the Inland Empire part of the L.A. metro area (as we do at ESPN RISE), then you can make a case that Reggie Miller, who is a future NBA Hall of Famer, has now done enough in his career to be considered the best player ever from the region, although Pierce could one day have something to say about that.

Gail Goodrich and George Yardley are still the only two Hall of Famers from the region, but Paul Pierce has now replaced Yardley on the first five since research reveals that the Celtics' all-star had a much stronger prep career and is on a team that might win another NBA title.

In addition to Prince, others from L.A. who've come on strong in recent years would include Tyson Chandler, Gilbert Arenas and Josh Childress, although the former Lakewood Mayfair standout is currently playing overseas. Other veterans such Kevin Ollie, Jacque Vaughn and Lucious Harris have also proven their staying power in the NBA.

Even with all these additional players who've emerged in recent seasons, you'd still have to rank the San Francisco/Oakland starting five as superior to any starting five you could come up with for L.A. Many of the top players ever from the Bay Area also are from the same school -- McClymonds of Oakland -- led by the greatest player to ever come from a California high school, the legendary Bill Russell.

[+] EnlargeReggie Miller
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty ImagesReggie Miller starred at Poly (Riverside) and UCLA before playing for the Indiana Pacers.

Although Russell wasn't much of a high school player, McClymonds was the dominant program in Northern California and was one of the best in the nation in the 1950s and 1960s. The Warriors of coach Paul Harless set a high standard for many years. Russell, along with teammate K.C. Jones, later became a dominant college player. At USF, Russell led the Dons to 60 straight wins and two straight NCAA titles. With the Boston Celtics, Russell led the team to 11 world championships in 13 seasons. He is generally regarded as one of the sport's five greatest players ever, but despite the Bay's glorious past, it's L.A. that rules the day.

LOS ANGELES METRO: All-Time First Five -- G Paul Westphal (Aviation, Redondo Beach); G Reggie Miller (Poly, Riverside); G Gail Goodrich (Poly, L.A.); F Paul Pierce (Inglewood); F Marques Johnson (Crenshaw, L.A.).

Other players -- G Gilbert Arenas (Grant, Van Nuys); F Stacey Augmon (Muir, Pasadena); F ≥Jumpin≤ Joe Caldwell (Fremont, Los Angeles); C Tyson Chandler (Dominguez, Compton); F Josh Childress (Mayfair, Lakewood); Jarron & Jason Collins (Harvard-Westlake, North Hollywood); Michael Cooper G (Pasadena); F Austin Croshere (Crossroads, Santa Monica); G Baron Davis (Crossroads, Santa Monica); F David Greenwood (Verbum Dei, Los Angeles); G Lucious Harris (Cleveland, Reseda); G Jason Hart (Inglewood); G Casey Jacobsen (Glendora); G Dennis Johnson (Dominguez, Compton); F Jason Kapono (Artesia, Lakewood); G Steve Kerr (Palisades, Pacific Palisades); C Billy ≥The Hill≤ McGill (Jefferson, Los Angeles); F Dave Meyers (Sonora, La Habra); G Harold Minor (Inglewood); F Tracy Murray (Glendora); F Willie Naulls (San Pedro); G Kevin Ollie (Crenshaw, Los Angeles); F Tayshaun Prince (Dominguez, Compton); F Curtis Rowe (Fremont, Los Angeles); G Byron Scott (Morningside, Inglewood); G Reggie Theus (Inglewood); F Keith Van Horn (Diamond Bar); F Kiki Vandeweghe (Palisades, Pacific Palisades); G Jacque Vaughn (Muir, Pasadena); F Sidney Wicks (Hamilton, Los Angeles); G Freeman Williams (Manual Arts, Los Angeles); F John Williams (Crenshaw, Los Angeles); F George Yardley (Newport Harbor, Newport Beach).

SAN FRANCISCO/OAKLAND: All-Time First Five -- G Jason Kidd (St. Joseph, Alameda); G Gary Payton (Skyline, Oakland); G K.C. Jones (Commerce, San Francisco); F Paul Silas (McClymonds, Oakland); C Bill Russell (McClymonds, Oakland).

Other players -- F Brent Barry (De La Salle, Concord); G Jon Barry (De La Salle, Concord); G Phil Chenier (Berkeley); F/C Antonio Davis (McClymonds); F Drew Gooden (El Cerrito); G Eddie House (Hayward); G Hank Liusetti (Galileo, San Francisco); F Mark Madsen (San Ramon Valley, Danville); F Tom Meschery (Lowell, San Francisco); F Lamond Murray (Kennedy, Fremont); C Jim Pollard (Technical, Oakland); G J.R. Rider (Encinal, Alameda); G Brian Shaw (Bishop O'Dowd, Oakland); G Phil Smith (Washington, San Francisco); G Nate Williams (McClymonds, Oakland).

Ronnie Flores is a senior editor of ESPN RISE. This feature is one of dozens in the new CalHiSports.com State Record Book and Almanac. Produced by ESPN RISE and presented by Power Bar, you can order the book by calling 1-800-660-1334, ext. 4431.