Unsung Role Players Who Turned NBA Stars into Legends
In the NBA, stars have always grabbed the spotlight and their accomplishments have overshadowed those of the players on their team. Guys like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan have always grabbed the spotlight, leading us to sometimes forget that basketball is a team sport.
This article will highlight a few of the game's biggest supporting characters, players who were never in the spotlight and never had the type of attention that others received, but were just as important to the team's success.
Legend(s) Helped: Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant
Derek Fisher is probably one of the more known sidekicks in recent memory. He won three championships with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in the early 2000s and then won two more alongside Kobe.
His leadership ability is what he is most known for, as well as his clutch three-point shooting to end games. He no doubt elevated the Lakers’ level of play, and without his leadership the duo of Bryant and Shaq might have fallen apart much sooner.
Instead, the fans had the opportunity to watch one of the greatest duos in NBA history three-peat while Fisher sat silently in the background. In 2009 and 2010, Fisher again helped lead the team in the locker room while Kobe Bryant was taking up the media attention.
Legend(s) Helped: Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler
Robert Horry is one of the most clutch players the league has ever seen and is the only player to win multiple championships with three different teams.
His numbers were never flashy, but he hit big shots during games, and without him it is possible a few of the players above to do not see some of their titles.
He nailed an incredible shot against the Kings in 2002 to win the game and the Lakers went on to win in seven. Had it not been for that one shot, it is very likely the three-peat never happens and that accomplishment is a big part of Shaq and Kobe’s resumes.
In 2005, Horry won the Spurs a pivotal Game 5 against the Pistons and the Spurs won in seven. If he had missed, Detroit would have taken a 3-2 lead and the 2005 championship never happens. Horry also is the all-time leader in three pointers made in the Finals with 52 and has a multitude of other great feats.
I think I have said enough to justify his placement.
Legend(s) Helped: Tim Duncan
Bowen is one of the top perimeter defenders in NBA history, and that alone earns him a spot here. His calling card for his whole career was his defense, as he could shut down the best players in the game and was regularly relied on to do so.
Defenders rarely see the spotlight unless they are great shot blockers or great offensive players, and Bowen is often forgotten when discussing the Spurs’ titles. He was a key member of the Spurs' dynasty, helping them build championship teams in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Legend(s) Helped: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen
Kerr puts it beautifully in the video, but I will expand somewhat. Kerr was known for two things in his career: being clutch and being a great shooter. He was not a lockdown defender or a versatile scoring threat, but he had his job and he executed.
As for the rest, well, just watch the video to see Kerr explain what exactly went down during his most memorable moment.
Legend(s) Helped: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen
Bill Cartwright was the Bulls’ center during their first three-peat and deserves some love on this article as well.
Kukoc was there for the second and he played all positions. Both were great players, but I decided to go with Kukoc here.
He was the Sixth Man of the Year in 1996, but if you ask most fans to name a center who played for the Bulls, they will most likely say Cartwright (if they know at all). Kukoc could pass the ball very well for a big and also had some range (33 percent shooter from deep).
He was the perfect complement to Jordan in Chicago, and while he was very different from Cartwright, the Bulls were just as successful with him.
He's one of the most forgotten players in NBA history.
Legend(s) Helped: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish
Before Danny Ainge was the General Manager of the Celtics, he won three titles with them alongside Bird, McHale and Parish. He was a three-point marksman and also a pretty good defender and gave the Celtics a good sidekick at point guard.
He could not be left open and allowed for the great talent around him to be at their best. Ainge had a high basketball IQ and was the perfect player to be next to Bird.
Legend(s) Helped: Bill Russell, John Havlicek
Yes, Don Nelson once played alongside the great Bill Russell and won three championships next to him. In fact, he buried an incredibly clutch shot in the 1969 Finals to earn Boston its 11th title in 13 years.
He was an incredibly consistent player, and while his defense was not great, his offensive arsenal more than made up for it considering he did not see many minutes.
Legend(s) Helped: Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy
Probably one of the more well-known role players, he nonetheless deserved to be mentioned here. Cooper was on the roster for all five of the “Showtime” Lakers championships and was one of the best defenders of his time.
Even alongside Magic, Cooper did not see much action on offense, but he was a great leader and that can even be seen from his coaching success in both the NBA D-League and the WNBA.
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