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DonRocks

The NBA All-Time Starting Five - Based on an Article by Sports Illustrated Staff

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I can't believe one of them picked Ray Allen, let alone two. He doesn't even belong on a best 5 from any given season.

Under today's rules- Michael, Magic, Bird, Lebron, Shaq.

Under more traditional rules- Michael, Magic, Lebron, Duncan, Olajuwon.

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Under today's rules- Michael, Magic, Bird, Lebron, Shaq.

Under more traditional rules- Michael, Magic, Lebron, Duncan, Olajuwon.

The big question is: Are you trying to come up with the best team ever? Or the best player at each position ever? Or the five best players ever? That's what makes things like this inherently flawed to begin with.

Nevertheless, I'll play along, why not. Here's my team, selected as "the best team you could possibly assemble":

PG Magic Johnson

SG Michael Jordan

SF Larry Bird

PF Bill Russell

C   Wilt Chamberlain

You could swap some of these in-and-out, but here are some of the players and some of their strengths:

Scoring: Chamberlain and Jordan

Rebounding: Chamberlain and Russell

Blocks: Chamberlain and Russell

Passing: Johnson and Bird

Defense: Russell and Jordan

Dribbling: Johnson and Russell

Shooting: Bird and Jordan

Just in those skills, you've got each player in at least two categories, although I think shooting is the weak link on this team - Jordan, as good as he was, wasn't so much a shooter as he was an assassin. With a shifting emphasis towards more three-point shots, you can make a strong case for a team built around Curry using today's game - who on earth could have predicted the demise in importance in bruising centers? It all makes for a fascinating analysis and discussion, and there's really no right or wrong answer *unless* you define your parameters a lot more tightly than Sports Illustrated did. The problem with the shooting aspect of this team is: How do you *not* include both Jordan and Johnson in your backcourt? (Including those two facilitates the need for Bird or Nowitzki on your front line.) Talk to me in five years about Curry - he hasn't survived the test of time ... yet.

I love this team because you're pairing the two greatest individual rivalries ever (Johnson-Bird, Chamberlain-Russell) on the same team, and letting them be friends for once. You're pairing the old and the new. You're taking Russell and playing him at power forward (and I think you need Bird to "temper" the other two giants). Also, Chamberlain was such a phenomenal athlete that he could handle Bird's passes (don't forget, Chamberlain became a *fantastic* volleyball player, even though he didn't play until he was in his 30s - can you imagine being spiked on by him?). Yeah, there are others you could come up with (really now, where are Kareem, Oscar, and Elgin? (Those three in particular *really* bother me to leave off.) James, Duncan, and Robertson? Stockton, Nowitzki, and Olajuwon? O'Neal, Curry, and Durant? Barkley, Havlicek, and West? Thomas, Malone (pick one), and Barry). That said, this is still a great selection (if I do say so myself!) :), it works in terms of chemistry (if he could concentrate on being something of a "role player," of all things), I can't think of a starting lineup that's definitively better, and I would feel sorry for any team playing this five - at the minimum, they'd be *really* tired when the game was over.

There's also a good bar discussion about whether Golden State could beat an all-star team from the rest of the league, because they're so used to playing with each other that their chemistry outweighs the individual skill sets. This team is not my "top five players of all-time," but let me tell you: It isn't far from it, either.

I can't believe one of them picked Ray Allen, let alone two. He doesn't even belong on a best 5 from any given season.

John, I don't know who those two people are, but my guess is that they're young. The guy who picked Giní³bili as #6 and Green as #7 is just being "different." Sure, they're great players, but we're talking about players one step away from being canonized by the Pope.

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One shouldn't take oneself too seriously.  Best ever NBA players at a starting five:  People have been compiling these lists for decades.  They've been published, amateurs do it...and I've done it with friends since the 70's.  That is 40 years.  I bet there are thousands of these lists.

There is a current spate of such lists.  Its got to be the nature of media and the social aspects;  Many NBA stars have recently tweeted their lists.  But there have been such lists for decades including "NBA starting five (or ten) per decade)

I'll shoot off one; what the heck:  Mine will be players I've seen to some extent, mostly through TV, some in person.  Its got to be more than 5 because a team needs backups.

But to tell the truth, the more interesting exercise would be to set up a variation on a fantasy league.  Get at least 8 players.  Set up a draft of all time players.  Draft 12 or maybe 15 per team--extras because of injuries etc.   Each player gets to apply their best three years to the evaluation.  Throw in some randomness which would apply injuries during the season to different players (randomly).  Throw in some randomness so that even with 3 years to pick from there is randomness to which game is played from which year.  One must juggle the outcomes otherwise this thing is predictable.

Anyway back to the question of the moment with my choices:  I'll choose two at each position and a couple of subs:  Say a total of 12.  They had to be players I've seen for some period...even if not at their peaks.

I'm ruling out Russell, Cousy, Elgin Baylor and possibly some others.  I might have seen taped highlights of their playoff games...but it was very thin,   They have to be players I like...which could be different from the best:

Center:  Chamberlain; Bill Walton

Forwards:  Barkley, Bird, Dr. J, LeBron, Duncan

Guards:  Frazier, Magic, Jordan, Curry, Wade

Three more guys to fill in because they were great to watch and amazingly effective:  Isiah, Cowens, Earl Monroe

So why those 12?   I mostly watched Chamberlain during the latter part of his career.  I missed his period of utter domination.  Frankly among the most memorable moments I've ever seen on TV were competitions between an old Chamberlain on the Lakers and a young Jabbar on the Bucks. There is a video that recaptures this. The entire video is captivating though it doesn't capture the competitiveness and struggles during those playoff games.  What you see is two giants going all out.  Chamberlain realized Jabbar was the first player he couldn't control and who could outplay him.  Wilt went all out.  Its visual.  Jabbar was playing like a mad man putting his utmost into competing with Chamberlain...and Jabbar was at his dominant peak.

A  video:  The Battle of the Giants:

If you watched those games you could see Chamberlain exerting like never before.  While a young Jabbar overall showed individual supremacy, it was evident that an older slower Chamberlain could negate him, as no other player.  With that in mind, I suspect a young Chamberlain would have crushed a young Jabbar.  Some of the evidence of youth versus age and weight gain comes every time Jabbar shoots.  He goes up quick and elegantly.  An older heavier Chamberlain has to crouch, arrange his leg muscles, etc.  He gets up incredibly high.  He leaps more slowly than does Jabbar.  A younger Chamberlain would have soared that high without the crouch.  A young Chamberlain would have been infinitely quicker and then with that unmatcheable strength.

Why Walton?  Walton was the modern embodiment of Bill Russell.  He made his teams better.  In his earlier career both with some heavy injury seasons and then his 1 1/2 great seasons he went head to head with Jabbar 15 times:  Eleven times in the regular season; four in the playoffs.  Jabbar completely dominated Walton on points; especially in the first couple of years, less so during Walton's two great seasons.  Many of the other stats were close.  The head to head competition?   Regular seaons Walton 6-5:  Playoffs.  Walton 4-0.  Walton made his teams better.  They weren't great teams without him.  With him they were the best in the league.  Walton:  the 2nd coming of Bill Russell.

All due respect to Jabbar, Hakeem, Shaq, and Moses Malone.  I choose the other two (with an assumption of both Chamberlain and Walton playing at their peaks.  If I had to replace Chamberlain because I didn't see him at his peak...I'd choose Jabbar over the others.  Having said that...on any given day, Shaq, Hakeem, and Moses could have a breakout game that could kill the players covering them.

Forwards:

Barkley was my all time favorite to watch.  His singular most amazing feat was to grab a rebound on the defensive side, turn, sprint down the court, and slam the ball into the basket at the other end...(or let another teammate score)  It was the epitome of human mass multiplied by speed creating a runaway freight train like scenario.  The opposition was simply and appropriately chicken to get in his way, and appropriately so.  In his prime he was an explosive quick and high leaping animal on the boards, overpowering players half a foot taller.  He was a freaking animal, or more moderately an anomaly.

Dr J was my second favorite forward to watch.  Dr J "invented" the leaping game of basketball.  I believe he is secretly related to the Wright Brothers and helped to invent flying.  (likewise David Thompson co-invented rocketry).  Besides soaring and scoring he was a great rebounder, effective defender, shot blocker, defender, and passer.  Before joining the NBA he led his team the Nets to the ABA championship and led the team in every important statistical category if not leading his league.  Dr. J's value was similar to that of Magic, Bird, and Jordan before they arrived on the scene.

Larry Bird is simply one of the best winners in all of basketball history. (Another follower of the Bill Russell model)  He made his team and teammates remarkably better.  He contributed in every category.  He did it with White man slowness.  He did it with better fakes and better basketball IQ than virtually anyone.  Even when he was young, he might not have been the best one on one defender....but he slid well....and besides great instincts and  team defense he played reasonable mano a mano defense.

Lebron is sort of like Barkley, a physical anomaly.  He came into the league like a linebacker sized person in a defensive back sized league.  He has amazing basketball IQ and skills beyond his physical advantages and he can play any position.  He might be the most effective driver and converter of all time.

I like Duncan.  The big fundamental.  I like watching guys who are so fundamental without flash and help teams win (ie Unseld is a prime example)   Duncan is uber fundamental...its just that his fundamentals (sans flash) are better than anyone else's.

Guards:

Walt Frazier was the best guard of the 1970's.  He looked majestic to me, playing upright, smooth, always in control with the fastest hands in the game.  Watching him play defense against Earl Monroe during Monroe's peak was one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history.  Walt Frazier played to win and did when his teammates were good.  When the Knicks forward line turned miserable he and teammate Monroe kept the team respectable.

Magic redefined the game; a huge guy leading a devastating fast break and he made cool plays.  Magic made his teammates better and they won.

Can anyone quantify the number of extraordinary plays Michael Jordan made?  Is his total more than twice as high as the next highest number of extraordinary plays by a star?  Michael Jordan is the best athlete with sublime basketball skills in the history of the game.

Curry is doing things that again redefine basketball.  His time at the peak is to date brief.  I hope he continues it.

At his peak, Wade has been one of the most entertaining slasher/drivers in the history of basketball.

The other three:

Cowens was the most intense, visibly competitive and hard working guy in basketball that I've ever seen.  Every minute he was on the court.  A pleasure to watch.

Isiah was an extraordinary point guard of multiple talents.  He could drive, he could score, he was a great passer, and he molded his team into champions...another guy who made his teammates better.

Earl Monroe was one of my all time favorite players to watch on offense.  He was virtually impossible to guard, as he probably didn't know what he was going to do, so how could a defender.  (but every so often, Frazier would figure it out)...(what an extraordinary competition...every time they matched up).  Earl added magic and entertainment to the art of basketball...and he mostly did it from the ground without great leaps.

And that is my team!!!!!    Roll out the ball.  Get the game going.

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A  video:  The Battle of the Giants:

Did you notice at 6:45 in this video that Chamberlain blocked two sky-hooks in a row, on the same possession?

Remember also the video of a 17-year-old Chamberlain in this post.

Chamberlain, btw, is the only player ever to average 30 points and 20 rebounds in one season ... and he did in each of his first seven seasons!

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Did you notice at 6:45 in this video that Chamberlain blocked two sky-hooks in a row, on the same possession?

Remember also the video of a 17-year-old Chamberlain in this post.

Chamberlain, btw, is the only player ever to average 30 points and 20 rebounds in one season ... and he did in each of his first seven seasons!

While I stand on the belief that these lists are not all that serious....after all there must be thousands of published top five EVER lists of NBA greats...and the lists of the 60's, 70's and 80's must look dramatically different than the lists of today....I did put a little effort, thought and perspective to my choices...beyond the qualification that "I liked and saw them".

Interesting thing about Chamberlain.  In his first 7 years his team never won a championship...always ultimately falling to the Boston Celtics.  In the 7th year, or last of those seasons wherein he scored over 30 pts a season, Chamberlain's team finished first in the NBA regular season with the best record.  Boston was 2nd.  Boston crushed the 76'ers in the playoffs and once again beat the Lakers in the finals.

In that season Chamberlain led the league in total pts, pts per game, total rebounds, rebounds per game, field goal pct at .540, was 2nd in defensive win share, first in total win share, first in win share per 48 minutes.  Once again Chamberlain dominated the scoring statistics but didn't win a championship.

In his next season all that changed.  The '76'ers had one of the best NBA seasons to date; They won 68 regular season games, crushed the Celtics in the Playoffs and won the NBA championship.

Chamberlain won his first championship and did it in the first year he averaged less than 30 pts/game.  He also led the league again in rebounds and was a remarkable third in total assists and assists per game.     Good thoughtful helpful assists.  He passed out of the center position to open jump shooters and to cutters (the play that solidified Walton's ultimate team smartness and exemplified Bird's passing smarts)  As in the year before he was league MVP.

Remarkably he took only 14.2 shots per game fewer or as few as 3 other teammates (and in far more minutes).  That was after averaging over 20 shots/game in his first 7 seasons, some of which he averaged more than twice as many field goal attempts as in the '67 championship season.   Chamberlain set a field goal shooting percentage that year at over 68%.  Utterly remarkable.

The 76er team was and remains described as one of the best teams in NBA history.  Four players averaged above or close to 20 pts a game.  They killed teams.

There weren't HUGE differences between the key players on the '66 and '67 teams.  Billy Cunningham was the 6th man; a rookie the year before he improved a lot between the two seasons;  The other key players on the team were at or near their peaks.

The point of all this is simply that the humongous scoring or other simple stats on players achievements are not the only attributes to "greatness" or certainly not toward winning.  Other things come into play.  Coincidentally or not, when Chamberlain was playing with "horses" he altered his game, decreased his shooting,  (he paid attention to the team's new coach) went from first in scoring to fifth (off of a ridiculously low number of shots).  Chamberlain became like Bill Russell.

Then in the 71-72 season he became an NBA champ again, this time with the Lakers, and again was part of a team with an astounding regular season record (69-13).  This time he did it with way less points per game, led the league in rebounds and field goal percentage, had far fewer assists than in '67 (because he played with great passers), led the league in defensive win share, and was part of a record breaking regular season win streak.   Again, I'd say he was "Bill Russell like"

In any case I think the "greatness" attributes, or those that would vault a player to the "all time" best team are somewhat variable and contingent on many factors.  I weigh winning a lot.  Winning versus losing, while changing one's game signifies a lot in my evaluations.  Now I'd venture to say that the far older Chamberlain in '72 was not the spring chicken with springy legs that he had been from 59 - 66 and was scoring 30 - 50 points/game.  He most assuredly could not have scored like he did earlier in his career, and still play with dominance on the boards and defensively.

(Think of another winner over a long career--> Tim Duncan).  Still they both contributed in their older careers where their skills meant the most.  I definitely value those attributes to "all time best" lists.

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Nevertheless, I'll play along, why not. Here's my team, selected as "the best team you could possibly assemble":

PG Magic Johnson

SG Michael Jordan

SF Larry Bird

PF Bill Russell

C   Wilt Chamberlain

It'd be hard to choose but my 6th man would be either Havliceck, West, or Robertson. I would probably switch Jabbar for Chamberlain. I guess I am skewing to times I am more familiar with. Strong video on Chamberlain v Jabbar!

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Did you notice at 6:45 in this video that Chamberlain blocked two sky-hooks in a row, on the same possession?

Remember also the video of a 17-year-old Chamberlain in this post.

Chamberlain, btw, is the only player ever to average 30 points and 20 rebounds in one season ... and he did in each of his first seven seasons!

It'd be hard to choose but my 6th man would be either Havliceck, West, or Robertson. I would probably switch Jabbar for Chamberlain. I guess I am skewing to times I am more familiar with. Strong video on Chamberlain v Jabbar!

Possibly SteveR or someone else might recall these battles more precisely than do I.  I did see some of them on TV.  They were memorable monster match ups; about the best I've ever seen.  Here is where I'm foggy on precise match ups, but the essence of the battle sticks with me.  It was possibly or probably the playoffs in '72, wherein the Lakers beat the Bucks.  The battles were ferocious; Jabbar younger, quicker, very determined, probably at his best from a rebounding perspective.  (he didn't always put out on the boards).   Chamberlain visibly slower than Jabbar, far less quick, far less mobile.

Jabbar was dominating Chamberlain and he was notably better.  Through will and that remarkable strength Chamberlain turned the tide and used his experience and strength advantages to negate Jabbar and help the Lakers win the series.  It was palpable and the effort Chamberlain put into that series was remarkably evident and payed off.  What a match up!!!

I can't tell via the video which games are being played and which years.  The neat thing about the video is how it shows Jabbar dominating early...then shows Chamberlain's determination and subsequent improvement to negate Jabbar.  That is exactly how that '72 series played out...to my recollection.  (subject to someone with better memory or facts).

Great match ups; among the best I've ever seen.   Not quite as powerful as the actual playoff match ups but the video captures the essence of the ebb and flow of that competition.

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Regardless of what I've said in the past, LeBron James is my starting small forward.

There is no bigger Larry Bird fan in the world than I am; LeBron James is greater still, and must be considered, perhaps even ahead of Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, as the greatest basketball player ever to live.

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3 hours ago, DonRocks said:

Regardless of what I've said in the past, LeBron James is my starting small forward.

There is no bigger Larry Bird fan in the world than I am; LeBron James is greater still, and must be considered, perhaps even ahead of Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, as the greatest basketball player ever to live.

Ditto to paragraph #1

Ditto to paragraph #2  (or any substitute for Chamberlain ;))

Plus this is his 15th year.  His 15 years include a ton of playoffs (the equivalent of several additional seasons) Nobody else has been this phenomenal with this much mileage.  His shoulders are broad to carry teammates and coaches  way beyond their abilities.

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18 hours ago, DonRocks said:

This video about John Stockton is remarkable. 

It is an interesting video.  For as much basketball and particularly NBA basketball as I watched I never focused on Stockton.  A significant reason is because he played in the West.  The games are on late at night.  Even if he was on a TV blaring away I could have been asleep.

Stockton;  the all time leader in assists and steals, third all time in games played, incredibly efficient player with a very high shooting efficiency rate:  played for a tremendously successful franchise, part of one of the legendary duos,  and yet he is often overlooked among the all time greats.

The comments by two people grabbed me:  Gary Payton and Isiah Thomas.  While I knew Payton and Stockton played against one another a lot, I didn't realize they played a total of 70 games against one another over their careers.  (that could be a record after eliminating the early years of basketball when teams competed against one another a LOT.)  Payton and Stockton knew the games of one another well.  Payton's comments and insights are meaningfull.  The other interesting commentator was Isiah Thomas.  Isiah was only 2 years older than Stockton, but retired in the early 90's (when Payton and Stockton started their long competition).   Isiah was an instant star in the league, Stockton was a reserve for a couple of years.  Isiah was explosive and quick.  Stockton was not, but had great change of pace skills.  Stockton (even though injured) was on the '92 dream team, Isiah was passed over.

But they were both point guards and Isiah had tremendous respect for Stockton, while Stockton had Isiah introduce him to the Hall of Fame--Mutual Respect.   Anyway, two all time great point guards had tons of praise for Stockton.   That says a lot.

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4 hours ago, DaveO said:

But they were both point guards and Isiah had tremendous respect for Stockton, while Stockton had Isiah introduce him to the Hall of Fame--Mutual Respect.   Anyway, two all time great point guards had tons of praise for Stockton.   That says a lot.

Incredibly, Stockton never had a triple-double during the regular season (he had one in the playoffs when he was 39-years old).

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25 minutes ago, DonRocks said:

Incredibly, Stockton never had a triple-double during the regular season (he had one in the playoffs when he was 39-years old).

Three things:

 Stockton was not a rebounder

He played on the outside while his center and forwards were there for rebounds, as was the norm at the time.

I think this explosion of guards getting triple doubles is a function of the game now, plus its somewhat fabricated on behalf of Westbrook and Harden.  There are often 8 players spread around the 3 pt line with an offensive and defensive center down low.   The paint isn’t crowded.  If a shot goes up the defensive center blocks out the offensive center and Westbrook or Harden are designated as the defensive  rebounders with no one else there.  They can get easier rebounds.  That is my opinion but watch the games.  See how many defensive rebound opportunities are contested by potential offensive rebounders who are planted down low.  Not many.   There are no Dennis Rodman types or bulky big forwards to crash the boards.   It’s part of the changing game

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Came across this listicle of the 70 best point guards in NBA history.  It lists Magic at #1, Curry at 2, the Big O at 3, etc etc etc.  Stockton is at 8 w/ Nash, Isiah Thomas, Jason Kidd ranked above him.  Surprised to see Tony Parker ranked 11th, though NBA rings are part of the evaluation, which must elevate his status.  Muggsy Bogues did not make this list.   Jerry West is included on the list as a point guard and ranked highly.  Alan Iverson is treated as a shooting guard and not on the list.  

I’d take the first 10 or 15 at their peak, put them on a bunch of teams with other stars, have them play with old style that includes limited 3 pointers and physical defense and current style with unlimited 3 pointers and less physical contact.  They would play endless round robin games and that is how I’d pick my “best”

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If you thought the Stockton video was interesting take a look at this video about Dennis Rodman, much of which is dominated by conversation by people who played with and against him.  A little more than half way in it shows Rodman playing defense on the perimeter against Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and James Worthy.  Hmmm.   The game is very different now.  The physical element has been eliminated.  Oooh.   James Harden wouldn't have scored 30+ in every game back in that day.

Anyway....a discussion about Rodman....

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You know, when I posted that stuff about Stockton, I actually poked around a little bit, searching for something on Rodman (I didn't find this video) - in a bizarre way, they remind me of each other. While neither are complete players (although Stockton comes close), they were pretty much the best at what they did - Rodman was a little bit "stiff," but damn he was a great rebounder and an excellent defender - and he could get inside your psyche like nobody else.

(Was he the one who said, "The Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays?")

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Barkley’s comments were hilarious, and gave away some of what goes on behind the scenes.  Every other player/former player was in awe of his energy and athleticism.  Who would have thought it from the fan perspective.  My recollection of his game was that he was a freak on the court.  

The consensus was/is that he was a remarkable unique player.  Five  NBA championships seems to confirm that

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Just a little more on Rodman:  This is not the kind of highlight film you would see with any other Hall of Famer.  It is Dec. 1996, early in the season.   The season after Michael Jordan resturned to the Bulls from playing baseball and his team lost to the Shaq led Orlando team in the playoffs.

Next season:  Shaq forced a trade to the LA Lakers.  He is relatively trim, though bigger stronger than anyone in the game and has started his period of domination.   Having lost in the playoffs the season before the Bulls decided they needed a hustling rebounder--Bingo they picked up crazy Dennis Rodman--the guy who used to smash Jordan and Pippen in the early 90's while playing for Detroit.

In the video below:  Its a big game early season.   Shaq dominates in the first 3 quarters.   A desperate Bulls team, unable to cover him on defense puts Rodman on Shaq.  Great big bulky Shaq--Rodman about 100 lbs lighter and 6 inches shorter.   Watch the play:   AMAZING...

 

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