Basketball is a game of the streets. It’s one of the rare sports that anyone can play—all you need is a hoop and the ball.
The NBA is home to the best basketball players in the world, in addition to the greatest coaching minds in the sport, as well. Evolving defensive schemes and offensive strategies have made the NBA what it is today, but the element of the street will never be lost.
Streetballers are rare in today’s game—players that care more about highlights than defense and players who are more interested in embarrassing whoever dares to defend them than actually winning the game. Guys like this are hard to find these days, but streetball is still a prevalent part of the NBA today, despite the lack of streetballers in the game.
Had players like the ones on the following list never come along, modern basketball could consist solely of three-point shooting and flex offenses. The game would lack alley-oops, ankle-breaking crossovers and behind-the-back passes, and the NBA’s following of fans would be scarce compared to what it is today.
Streetball, in itself, has origins that are undocumented. The game is rooted in highly-populated basketball areas like New York and Philadelphia where professional athletes aren’t often found—just players that love the game.
The street element has actually influenced the unofficial rules of the NBA. How often is Kevin Durant whistled for a carry? And where in the rules does it say that LeBron James can take three steps on his way the rim? Some rules aren’t enforced on the hardwood, just as they aren’t called on the blacktop.
Keep reading to find out who made the cut as the best streetballers in the history of the NBA.
Now, you may or may not have heard of Rafer Alston, so here’s a quick background on him. The 6’2” point guard hails from Queens, New York and played for six teams, averaged 10.1 points per game and broke the ankles of nearly everyone that tried to cover him.
Alston was literally a streetball player. He was one of the original AND1 Streetball players that helped the now nationwide tour catch fire around the basketball world. Alston earned himself the nickname “Skip 2 My Lou,” for his masterful control of the ball and ability to shake defenders.
Some of Alston’s best moves from the blacktop have become a staple of some of today’s biggest stars. Deron Williams channels his inner “Lou” every time he dribbles between his legs in succession and Chris Paul’s spin move resembles Alston’s.
Alston, unlike most of his colleagues at AND1, actually made it to the NBA and changed the way the game is played today.
Most of the appeal of streetball is all about ball-handling, dribbling and passing. However, there’s another aspect to the game that has also contributed to the game’s fusion into the NBA scene: dunking.
Nicknamed “Vinsanity” for his endless feats of athleticism, Carter’s highlights include jumping over a 7’2” center from France in the 2000 Olympics and winning the NBA Dunk Contest in 2000-01. Carter was an innovator of the air and is the inspiration for so many of today’s best dunkers.
Who would’ve thought a 6’1”, 180-pound point guard from West Virginia would crack the top five. If that pick caught you off guard, now you know what it felt like to try and cover Jason Williams.
Williams played 12 years in the NBA for four different teams. He averaged 10.5 points and 5.9 assists per game while making the game look easy with over-the-head passes, ridiculous crossovers and nonstop trash talking.
Williams was nicknamed “White Chocolate” by Stephanie Shepard, a reporter who covered the Sacramento Kings (where Williams played his first four seasons).
"I came up with that name because of his style," Shepard said. "He has flash and pizazz. The way he does things with the ball is incredible to me. It reminds me of, like, schoolyard street ball when I go to Chicago.”
There’s a reason that Jamal Crawford’s twitter handle is @JCrossover, and you can ask anyone who tries to cover him what that reason is. Crawford has been freezing defenders for 12 years for six different teams.
Crawford is the originator of the shake-and-bake move, where the player with the ball hops around the defender while putting the ball behind his back. In addition to shaking and baking defenders, Crawford is also a cold-blooded three-point shooter, connecting on 35 percent of his looks from downtown throughout his career.
There will never be another player like Allen Iverson. Never.
Iverson changed the landscape of the NBA; he was the epitome of “street.” He was arrested for getting into a brawl at a bowling alley when he was a teenager and was forced to complete his senior year of high school at a school for “at-risk” students. Nonetheless, he got a full ride to Georgetown, which he left after his sophomore season.
Iverson played for four different NBA teams throughout his career, but in the eyes of many he will always be a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. A.I. played in the NBA 14 years, dazzling crowds and going toe-to-toe with some of the greats, including Michael Jordan, who Iverson crossed up in his rookie season.
Nicknamed “the Answer,” Iverson became the face of the NBA and combined the blacktop and the hardwood into one big, crowd-pleasing show. His legacy lives on today with every ankle-breaking crossover, every gasp from the crowd and every embarrassed defender who tries to cover a player, like Iverson, who there is simply no answer for.