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The NBA will spend much of this season celebrating its 75th anniversary and its recently released 75th Anniversary Team.

The prestigious list features all the game’s biggest stars over the past 75 years. Chamberlain, Russell, Jabbar. West, Havlicek and the Big O. Bird, Magic, Jordan, Kobe and LeBron.

But the list is marred by at least one glaring omission —Alex English.

The 75th Anniversary Team includes the league’s 50 Greatest Players from 1996, plus 26 additions (there was a tie). Such lists always stir up debate and hard feelings among players (and their fans) who are omitted. Some of them have a valid argument, some don’t.

Alex English most definitely does.

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English was not the league’s flashiest player. He rarely dunked and seldom launched 3-pointers. While the league was captivated by the eye-popping moves of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and introduced to the high-flying act of one Michael Jordan, all English did was score.

With a silky-smooth game that often went unnoticed, he drained jumper after jumper and scored more points than any other player in the 1980s. Rival coaches often joked that English could score 40 without breaking a sweat.

Alex English averaged 21.5 points per game over his 15-year NBA career.

Alex English averaged 21.5 points per game over his 15-year NBA career. 

English averaged 21.5 points per game over his 15-year career while shooting better than 50 percent from the field. He scored more than 20 points per game in 10 straight seasons, leading the league in 1982-83 with a 28.4 average. Three years later, he averaged 29.8, third behind only Dominique Wilkins and Adrian Dantley. His 25,613 points rank 23rd all-time.

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An eight-time all-star, English led the Nuggets to nine straight playoff appearances. In 1985, he averaged 30.2 points in the playoffs as Denver reached the Western Conference Finals.

Yet he is not one of the top 75 players of all-time? That’s a travesty.

English scored more points than 45 of the 75 players named to the team and made more all-star appearances than 26 of them. I won’t stir up more debate by naming the players he should have been chosen ahead of, but let’s just say it’s a long list.

English was understandably disappointed at not being named to the team, just as he was when he was left off the 50 greatest players list.

Fellow Hall of Famers like Rick Barry quickly came to his defense and former Nugget head coach George Karl called English a “man of class and dignity” and the “best player in Denver Nuggets history.”

Sports card and memorabilia collectors are starting to take notice of English’s greatness. A PSA 10 version of his 1979 Topps #31 rookie card sold for $2,570 in March, while a 1986 Fleer Sticker card sold for $3,120 in February.

Alex English 1986 Fleer Sticker card

1986 Fleer Sticker card of Alex English. 

The only plausible explanation for leaving English off the list is that he never won an NBA championship. Of the 75 players, 57 did. If not for a thumb injury that knocked him out of the 1985 Lakers series, English and the Nuggets may have eliminated the eventual NBA champions and faced the Celtics for the title.

Despite not being surrounded by a championship-caliber team, English was an elite, all-around player (5.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists) who excelled at the most important aspect of the game — scoring. He should have at least made the team over some current stars who do not yet have a full body of work and some former players who rode the coattails of superstars to NBA titles.

English has been an elite player since he was a kid shooting jumpers on a makeshift, netless hoop in his backyard in Columbia, S.C. He was a four-year starter and a two-time All-American at the University of South Carolina, starring with such former NBA players as Brian Winters and Mike Dunleavy during South Carolina’s glory years (yes, believe it or not, South Carolina had a decade of glory years in the 1970s).

As a kid growing up in South Carolina, there was nothing bigger than Gamecock basketball, and English was their biggest star. He helped break the color barrier at schools like South Carolina and was a hero and role model to kids throughout the state, including myself. When I was 12 years old, I attended Frank McGuire’s Gamecock basketball camp, where English and Dunleavy were coaches and instructors. It was a thrill meeting them as a kid and a joy watching them thrive in the NBA.

Like Bird, Magic and Jordan, English helped turn thousands of small-town kids into basketball fans. That, perhaps more than anything, is his legacy — a legacy worth celebrating.

A former NBA coach and league ambassador, English has always been underappreciated. Hopefully the next time the NBA decides to put together a greatest players’ list, he gets his due.

Jeff Owens is the editor of Sports Collectors Digest and sportscollectorsdigest.com. You can reach him at jowens@aimmedia.com or on Twitter at @jeffowens_jeff. 

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