We're all familiar with the saying "Close, but no cigar." We're equally familiar with the lasting images of great players celebrating with champagne and cigars after achieving the game's No. 1 goal. The following players were champions in their drive for basketball excellence.
Unfortunately, a certain piece of hardware is missing from their illustrious trophy case of hoop honors. Here's the list of the 20 greatest impact players who couldn't win the big one. Some players are trumped by injury or bad luck.
Some were outmatched by other contending teams. Some never even reached the NBA Finals. Each of these players gave their all to the game and their respective teams. All of the honorees are retired from the Association (so guys like Kidd, Iverson, and Nash don't qualify).
Since it's tough to cut the list down to a mere twenty players, I'll begin with six guys, who could have very well been on the list. These are my honorable mention guys.
Career Honors: Five-time NBA All-Star, Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist (1984 &1992), Three All-NBA selections.
Chris Mullin was one of the premier perimeter shooters of his time. For a decade, he proved his effectiveness in the NBA as one of the league's top scorers. Several productive seasons with the Golden State Warriors made him a household name. However, his hot shooting didn't equate to playoff success. He would get his first taste of playoff success late in his career with the Indiana Pacers.
Mullin teamed up with Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing for two Olympic Gold Medals. Underrated as a defender, Mullin collected over 1,500 steals in his NBA career. And with nearly 18,000 career points, he proved to be a solid two-way player.
Unfortunately, his ultimate dream was never realized. A career average of 18.2 points per game showed that he was a great competitor.
What he may have lacked in athleticism, he more than made up for it with his intensity. Injuries slowed him down in the second half of his career, but his resume is impressive, nonetheless.
He was respected by his peers for his toughness and demeanor on the court. Chris Mullin made himself a star in the league. Truly, he was one of the good guys in the NBA.
Career Honors: Six-time NBA All-Star, Three-time All-NBA Second Team selection, Gold Medalist (1994 World Basketball Championships).
Early in his career, Shawn Kemp was simply breathtaking. His rare combination of sheer power and athleticism made him one of the more exciting players to watch. He punished rims in every NBA arena with his monster dunks. He was known for his consistency during his first 10 seasons, but fell off drastically in the last four.
Injuries and personal issues proved to be the undoing of one of the game's brightest stars. Kemp played with great intensity on both ends of the floor and was a part of some competitive Seattle teams in the 90's. Behind the All-Star play of Kemp and point guard Gary Payton, the Sonics made it to the NBA Finals in 1996.
They would fall in six games, but they made the series interesting. He spent the next four seasons in Cleveland and payed solid basketball. After 2000, the career of Shawn Kemp was on the decline. But he is remembered as one of the best players of the 1990s. In 14 seasons, Kemp posted solid averages of 14.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, and 1.6 bpg.
Career Honors: Five-time NBA All-Star, Four All-NBA selections.
How good was Tim Hardaway? For starters, he was the second fastest player in NBA history to record 5,000 points and 2,500 assists. The other guy is some dude named Oscar Robertson. In other words, Tim Hardaway was pretty damned good.
Furthermore, he was a natural born leader. In 1989, the rookie instantly became a vocal leader of the Golden State Warriors. In the ensuing 13 seasons, he would be a leader with whomever he played. His competitive fire was always burning.
The inventor of the Killer Crossover was the model for the reliable point guard in his time. Before Chris Paul put up consecutive seasons of 20 points and 10 assists per game, Tim Hardaway also did it. His presence could be felt on both ends of the floor, as he was one of the greatest defensive guards to ever play the game.
Hardaway was unique in the sense that he was a triple threat on the offensive end. His ability to score inside, outside, as well as set up his teammates made him tough to handle. His strength allowed him to post up other point guards, even though he was only 6' 0''.
In 14 seasons, he averaged 17.7 ppg, 8.2 apg, and 1.6 spg.
Charles Oakley is among the most underrated players in the history of the NBA. He doesn't boast multiple All-Star appearances (just one) or multiple All-NBA selections (just two; both on the defensive end), but he was an absolute game changer.
Known as a tenacious defender and rebounder, Charles Oakley seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He was what most analysts call a "glue guy." His success on the court was no accident.
He outworked, out-hustled, and beat the hell out of his opponents. He was also a reliable scorer when called upon. Most of us don't remember when Oakley was Michael Jordan's most trusted teammate in Chicago. Albeit short-lived, it helped Oakley establish his game at the power forward position.
From 1987 to 1994, Oakley was a top ten rebounder in the league five times. His trade from Chicago to New York helped both franchises, but the Bulls capitalized on the acquisition of veteran center Bill Cartwright en route to three titles in the early 90s.
Oakley was the heart and soul of the New York Knicks defense in the 1990s. He grabbed more than 12,000 rebounds in his career and played a pivotal role in the resurgence of the Knicks. After many epic battles with those Bulls teams and a trip to the Finals in 1994, he and the Knicks were unable to close the deal. His final season in New York came in the 1997-98 season.
He wasn't quite the same player after signing with a young Toronto team. Oakley took on the role of mentor in the late stages of his career. He provided leadership and advice to players like Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Steve Francis. Although his most active years were behind him, he was still able to play a solid role on younger teams at the end of his career.
In 18 seasons, Oakley averaged 9.7 ppg and 9.5 rpg.
Career Honors: 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year, Five All-NBA selections, Five-time NBA All-Star.
Power forward is not an easy position to play. But some players make it look easy. Chris Webber was that guy. He is probably the most versatile power forward in recent memory. His ability to handle the ball, score from the post, and find the open man in the half court made him one of the league's toughest covers.
For him, playing the four position was more mental than physical. Instead of relying on power to gain favorable position, he outwitted opponents with heady and unselfish play. He crashed the boards with great intensity and was an effort guy. He was picked first overall in the 1993 NBA draft by Golden State, but the glory years of Chris Webber were during his run in Sacramento. Those Kings teams posed a huge challenge to the best of the West, but would not be successful in raising a championship banner.
Most notably, Sacramento was one of the biggest threats to the Lakers in the early part of the 2000s. For Webber, 20 and 10 was commonplace. Late in his career, there would be a drop off in production, mainly due to his inability to stay healthy. Still, he will be remembered as one of the best passing big men of his generation. Webber continues to display his feel for the game as an NBA analyst. The kid from Detroit made quite a name for himself during his NBA tenure.
In 15 seasons, Webber averaged 20.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg, and more than four assists per game. These numbers put him in the elite company of Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, and Kevin Garnett as the only players in league history to average 20 points, nine rebounds, and at least four assists per contest.
Career Honors: Four-time NBA All-Star.
Some players are obscured by the success of their contemporaries. Rolando Blackman was no exception. The high-scoring shooting guard lit up NBA scoreboards with a smooth mid range and outside game.
He wasn't as acclaimed as Magic or Jordan, but he was no slouch. In 11 seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, he helped lead the team to six postseason appearances. He carried himself like a true pro and, in the process, garnered the respect of all of his NBA comrades.
Blackman put the upstart Dallas Mavericks on the map in the 80s. Although they never won a title, they did challenge some of the best teams in the West and boasted a high scoring group of players, including Mark Aguirre, Derek Harper, and James Donaldson. His time with the Mavericks was bittersweet, as he was the face of the franchise, but it did not equal great playoff success.
He spent his final two seasons in New York as a key reserve, but was unable to get over the championship hump. With more than 17, 000 career points and 18.0 ppg, he showed that he could co-exist with Hall of Fame caliber players and excel in his own right. Blackman was among the most respected players in the NBA during his time.
Career Honors: Eight-time NBA All-Star, Six All-NBA Defensive selections, Four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Three All-NBA selections.
Being a great player is not always about one's offensive proficiency. In fact, it is defense that dictates a team's offensive flow. In this regard, few have been as good as Dikembe Mutombo.
The 7'0'' from the Congo asserted himself on the defensive end from day one. His inside presence often changed the game plan of opposing coaches and players. In 18 productive NBA seasons, Mutombo achieved many great feats. Although his efforts to win a championship fell short, he left a legacy as one of the greatest defenders and rebounders in NBA history.
It is the duty of a center to protect the rim. Dikembe had no problem doing that. He intimidated nearly everyone in their attempts to score in the paint. His famous finger wave served as a reminder; as if to say, "Not in my house." He was truly a fiery competitor who wanted to control every aspect of the defense. And for the most part, he did just that.
He has gone on to become one of the world's most charitable people, serving as an ambassador to his home country and underprivileged people all over the world. Proof that his heart is much bigger than his 7'2'' frame.
He would finish his career as the league's second all time leader in blocked shots. If there was a statistic for altered shots, he'd probably be number one. Even into his forties, he was a double digit rebounder. He will be remembered as a high motor player who never took a play off. In his long and celebrated career, he posted averages of 9.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg, and 2.7 bpg.
Career Honors: NBA All-Star (1977), Hall of Famer.
In the late 60s and into the 70s, a different brand of basketball was on display.
The American Basketball Association (ABA) showcased several talented players, many of whom would enjoy success in the NBA. One such player was Dan Issel. In his ABA career, he did it all. MVP, ABA Champion, Scoring Champ, etc.
It was often thought that the ABA was inferior to the NBA. But in 1976, Issel, along with Hall of Fame players Julius Erving, George Gervin, and Moses Malone showed that they belonged in the NBA. They represented the superstars of the league. The 6'9" Issel was a worker inside. His lack of ideal size at the center position was no hindrance.
His ability to effectively shoot over taller players and rebound outside of his area made him one of the more intriguing players in the pro game. By many standards, his NBA career wasn't spectacular. He didn't achieve many honors in his nine seasons in the NBA. He did lead by example and give the next generation of post players a great role model to follow. Most remember Dan Issel as a coach. But as a player, he was absolutely tenacious. Which is why he was nicknamed "The Horse."
During his NBA years, Issel averaged 20.4 ppg and 7.9 rpg.
Career Honors: Six-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Famer.
Bob Lanier is a Hall of Famer. In his playing days, he was often buried behind the star power of greats like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Willis Reed. Perhaps, that was the way he wanted it. It allowed him to focus on playing basketball; not where he ranked in the game.
With that being said, "The Dobber" was still a 20 and 10 guy. He took pride in the challenge of going up against great centers. Lanier may be more known for his size 22 shoe than his steadiness on the basketball court. Big Bob was no sideshow attraction. On the basketball court, he was a force. He owned the boards and was the ultimate effort guy.
In the 70s he starred alongside Hall of Famer Dave Bing. The combination was effective, but those Detroit teams faced a tough road against division rivals like Milwaukee and Chicago. Off the court, Lanier was involved in the community. His dedication to helping others followed him beyond his playing days.
In recent years, his philanthropic work with charitable organizations has somewhat overshadowed the special things he did as a player. It does, however, speak to the selflessness of the six-time All-Star. A later run in Milwaukee proved much more of a success as the Bucks won their division five straight years. A tough Eastern conference would inhibit the Bucks from winning a title, but Lanier still played inspired basketball until his retirement in 1984.
In his 14 NBA seasons, with Detroit and Milwaukee, Lanier averaged 20.1 ppg and 10.1 rpg. He may not have a laundry list of honors, but was a true professional who gave his all to the game.
Career Honors: 1967 NBA Rookie of the Year, Seven-time NBA All-Star, Two-time All-NBA First Team selection, one of the NBA's Top 50 players of all time, Hall of Famer.
Dave Bing was Bob Lanier's sidekick for years. He also shared the competitive spirit of Big Bob. The 6' 3" guard came into the league like a tornado in 1966. Think Chauncey Billups. Dave Bing was a great combo guard. He was reliable enough to run the offense and often trusted to make the big shot.
In just his second year, Bing led the NBA in scoring at 27.1 ppg. He slashed through defenses for 12 seasons and earned the respect of the basketball world in the process. The guy was tough as nails. Even the threat of a shortened career wasn't enough to stop the Washington, D.C. native.
In preseason play going into his sixth season, Bing suffered a severe eye injury. Detached retina and all, Dave Bing went on to play seven more seasons in the league. He would play for Washington for two seasons before playing his final season in Boston. Often unable to see out of one eye, he still managed to have a great career.
In his life after basketball, Bing has been a very successful businessman in the steel industry and is currently the mayor of Detroit. Bing scored over 18,000 points and put up an impressive 20.3 ppg and 6.0 apg in his Hall of Fame career.
Career Honors: Four-time NBA All-Star, All-NBA First Team (1970), Hall of Famer.
Cornelius "Connie" Hawkins was a freak of nature. He, like Dan Issel, saw the better part of his pro basketball career in the ABA. He played the game with style and was intent on entertaining crowds with his high-flying moves. He is truly the first great dunker in the context of professional basketball.
Julius Erving fashioned much of his game after Connie Hawkins. Michael Jordan did so with Dr. J, and LeBron James has done so with MJ. So, the play of Hawkins gave above the rim players an identity. The New York City product was a child prodigy. He was better than most adults in the city. His wiry, 6' 8'' frame seemed ideal for playing hoops. He was dunking the ball with absolute ease at age 11.
After stints in the ABA and ABL, Hawkins would realize a lifelong dream of playing in the NBA. His first year in the league was spectacular. He recorded 24.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, and 4.8 apg. These efforts earned him a spot on the All-NBA First Team. For the next four seasons, he would be an All-Star. He would eventually be traded from Phoenix to Los Angeles where he enjoyed modest success for three years.
A final stop in Atlanta would conclude the career of one of the greatest players in basketball history. Hawkins accomplished success at different levels of the game, but did not challenge for an NBA title. In seven injury-curbed seasons in the NBA, Hawkins averaged 16.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg.
Career Honors: Six-time NBA All-Star, One All-Defensive Second Team selection.
Artis Gilmore was another one of the ABA's product. In just five seasons in the ABA, Gilmore achieved every possible honor. He was one of the most dynamic players in the history of that league. His transition into the NBA was quite a success as well. Chosen first overall in the ABA Dispersal Draft, the young but seasoned Gilmore fit right in with the Chicago Bulls.
The 7' 2" center was known for being a force inside often putting up 20 points and more than 10 rebounds per game. His years in Chicago were productive for him, but the team struggled to win games during that time.
After a trade to San Antonio in his seventh year, Gilmore continued to dominate the boards and shoot a high percentage. In fact, no player in NBA history has shot the ball as efficiently as Artis Gilmore. With a career field goal percentage of .599, he cemented himself as a go-to guy. His ability to block shots on the other end made him among the game's best centers. Artis Gilmore was a winner, despite not playing on a true contender in the NBA.
He shot over 60 percent from the field for a season on more than one occasion. Although he played the game at a very high level for more than 15 seasons, Artis Gilmore is not in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. This is one of the great travesties in sports. I believe his day will come soon. He was a force in professional basketball for 17 years. In his twelve NBA seasons, Gilmore averaged 17.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg, an 2.8 bpg.
Career Honors: Four-time NBA All-Star, Four All-NBA selections.
Some guys make scoring 50 points seem easy. We've seen Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron do it countless times; but Bernard King made it look really easy. He wasn't the quickest guy, nor was he the most athletic; he just simply got it done. The sad truth is that injuries took center stage in a career that had potential to be even greater.
King had a knack for putting the ball in the basket. And had it not been for injuries, he could have been one of the Top Five scorers in league history. He could have been an NBA champion.
But things of that nature are a part of the game. Even with the aforementioned health issues and a rather slow start to his career, King played remarkably for 16 seasons. It's a little odd to think that one of the greatest scorers of the last 30 plus years was a journeyman. His career included stops in New Jersey, Utah, Golden State, New York, and Washington. It was his time in New York that was the turning of the tide. He was a solid scoring option early in his career, but injuries and a lack of productivity from his teams made life tough for the young star.
The Knicks provided a sweet homecoming for the Brooklyn native. In his third year with the Knicks, he led the league in scoring (32.9 ppg). Having adjusted to his body, he was certainly comfortable with his game. King could take over a game with relative ease and drop 40 points like he was in the gym by himself.
Without great speed or strength to speak of, he knew how to play the game and be effective. Although those Knick teams were talented, the depth of the East laid a tough road for the blue and orange. They would eventually rise in the ranks as a contending team, but they did so without Bernard King.
He'd remain a steady 20 point scorer until his final season in 1993. Something he failed to do only three times in his career; despite being banged up much of the time. During his tenure in the NBA, Bernard King averaged 22.5 ppg and 5.8 rpg. He scored just under 20,000 points in his career.
Career Honors: 1962 NBA Rookie of the Year, Four-time NBA All-Star, Gold Medalist (1960 Olympic Games), Hall of Famer.
Like Bob Lanier, Walt Bellamy's legacy is somewhat affected by the guys he played against. his career ran parallel to Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Willis Reed. Truth be told, his numbers were insane. In his rookie season, he averaged 31.6 ppg and 19.0 rpg.
"Bells" was a double double machine. His numbers declined a bit as the 1970's approached, but by today's standards, he'd still be an All-Star. He was a force inside who wouldn't be denied. He was a freakish athlete for a guy his size. Most guys were simply outmatched by Bellamy and his superb athletic ability. He played for several teams in his illustrious career, but none were able to match the teams assembled in Boston and Philadelphia. A stint in Atlanta in the 70's proved to be tough as well.
In 13 seasons, Bellamy averaged 20.1 ppg and 13.7 rpg. He is one of seven players in NBA history to score over 20,000 points and grab more than 14,000 rebounds in his career. The other six guys to do so are all Hall of Famers and among the Top 50 players in NBA History. That should give you an idea of how great this guy was. He also retired as the sixth all time leading scorer of the NBA and the league's third all-time leading rebounder.
Career Honors: Seven-time NBA All-Star, Two-time NBA All-Defensive First Team, Three-time NBA All-Defensive Second Team, one of the NBA's Top 50 players of all time, Hall of Famer.
There are few guys who pose the threat of being a 20 point, 20 rebound guy. In the 1960s, there were a few of them. Every true basketball fan is aware of the dominance of Bill Russell, or the prowess of Wilt. But few are quick to praise one Nathaniel Thurmond. Thurmond, who was a teammate of Chamberlain for a short time, had a rare combination of skills for a 6' 11'' big man. He had a quick first step, the ability to control the boards, even the ability to step away from the basket and hit jumpers.
His in your face style of play was tough for many opposing centers to figure out. He was also a great leader. Much in the way that Tim Duncan is. He understood that the attack started with him, but he never felt like he was above his team. The spirited play of Thurmond made the Warriors title contenders in the 60's. But meetings with the Celtics and 76ers in the Finals proved too much for Thurmond and company.
Unfortunately for Big Nate, the Warriors traded him to Chicago the season they won their first and only NBA Championship. The defensive dynamo would continue to play solid basketball for the remaining two seasons. In his debut with the Bulls, he recorded the NBA's first ever quadruple double. His stat line read: 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 12 blocked shots. Considered a revolutionary big man, the career of Nate Thurmond was a huge success. He may not have won an NBA championship, but he indirectly contributed to two NBA titles.
The first was the 1967 NBA title won by Philadelphia. Had Thurmond not pushed so hard to show how great he was, the Warriors would not have traded Wilt to the 76ers. And again in 1975, Golden State was able to win the title on the shoulders of Rick Barry; without the services of Nate Thurmond. It may be hard to believe, but the team gelled in the absence of the big fella. But Nate was the kind of guy that would be proud of the franchise, even though he wasn't part of the achievement. In 14 seasons, Nate averaged 15.0 points and 15.0 rebounds per game.
Career Honors: Six-time NBA All-Star, one of the NBA's Top 50 players of all time, Hall of Famer.
Lenny Wilkens retired from the NBA in 1975 to pursue coaching. The coaching he did as a player was the perfect warm up for an aspiring leader of men. Lenny also retired as the second leading assist man in league history. Wait, there's more...Lenny Wilkens retired with the most wins AND losses of any coach in NBA history. Because of these efforts, he is in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a coach. In 1979, he coached the Seattle Supersonics to their only NBA title.
Did I mention he was one heck of a player? In his 15 years on the hardwood, he scored more than 17,000 points, dished out more than 7,000 assists, and grabbed more than 5,000 rebounds. Not bad for a 6'1'' point guard. His attention to detail could be seen in each profession.
Career averages of 16.5 points and 6.7 assists per game make him one of most solid point guards of all time. He was also a bit overshadowed by some of his contemporaries. Having played in the league parallel to the careers of Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, perhaps only the teams he played for truly appreciated his contributions as a player. Wilkens remains an ambassador to the game and provides a great example of what it takes to be great at the NBA level.
Career Honors: Nine-time NBA All-Star, Five-time All-NBA First Team, one of the NBA's Top 50 players of all time, Hall of Famer.
The "Iceman." One of the few nicknames that truly justifies an athlete. Much like The Mailman, or The Dream, George Gervin was as cool as ice. He would let his game do the talking for him. The high-scoring guard/forward was a quiet assassin with one thing in mind: win by any means.
His signature finger roll was one of the most effective and indefensible moves in the game. His onslaught began immediately after the ABA/NBA merger in 1976. Gervin was already one of the most respected pro basketball players, but in the NBA, he put on a show.
The four time NBA scoring champ blazed through the league with an array of dazzling moves. He had the ability to score from anywhere on the court and was a tough cover for any player. After spending 9 NBA seasons with the Spurs, Gervin joined the Chicago Bulls and was a temporary teammate of a young Michael Jordan.
However, the aging star was not effective in a limited role. In his San Antonio years, the Spurs won five division titles, but had very little playoff success. That doesn't diminish what Gervin meant to the resurgence of the NBA in the 70s and 80s. He was a soft-spoken superstar with a loud game.
Gervin averaged 26.2 ppg in his NBA years and scored over 20,000 points.
Career Honors: Eight-time NBA All-Star, Three All-NBA selections, Hall of Famer.
The Denver Nuggets gave a sigh of relief with their 2003 draft pick Carmelo Anthony. They had chosen a sensational small forward, a perennial All-Star, a headache for opponents. Twenty years before, they had all the same with Alex English.
The 6'7'' English played the game at a tremendously high level. What separated him from most fellow greats was that he was set on letting his game do all the talking. He was a man of few words; which is interesting, considering he thrived in the league with players named Magic, Larry, Michael, Kareem, and Doctor J. Basically, the creme de la creme of the NBA in the 1980s. He may not have been flashy, but he was a bright star.
No player in that decade scored more points than Alex English. He was the leader of the high-powered Nuggets attack that made nine consecutive postseason appearances in the 80's. Their frenetic up and down style of play was exciting to watch and very productive.
But back then, it was the Wild, Wild West. The Lakers accounted for half of the titles won in the ten year period. Houston, San Antonio, Seattle, and Dallas, were solid teams as well and often got the better of a Denver team that lacked defensive intensity.
His career got off to a slow start in limited roles with the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks. Determined to excel at the NBA level, English immediately found his niche in Denver. He would make history by notching at least 2,000 points for eight straight seasons.
In all, he would score more than 25,000 points; good for seventh on the all-time scoring list at the time of his retirement. His last season in the league was spent in Dallas, but the team was in a rebuilding phase that left English as the odd man out.
He retired in 1991 as the leader in nearly every category for the Nuggets. Although his playing days ended on a low note, his play earned him a spot among basketball immortals in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame.
In 15 seasons, English averaged 21.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg.
Career Honors: Five-time NBA All-Star, Four All-NBA selections, one of the NBA's Top 50 players of all time, Hall of Famer.
Pete Maravich could have been a Hall of Fame player without ever having stepped on an NBA court. He was just that good. In his collegiate career at Louisiana State University, he was a pint-sized Wilt. It's mind-boggling to think that someone actually averaged over 40 points per game in a college career. With no three point shot. He is still the all time NCAA scoring leader.
As fate would have it, the kid named "Pistol" took his talents to the big league. He wasn't putting up 44 a night like he did in college, but he immediately earned the respect of fellow pros. He would seemingly make a guy look foolish in every game. The new guy had style. His creativity made him a main attraction around the league. A plethora of no-look passes and nifty ball handling kept defenders off balance and embarrassed.
The real strength of his game was his shooting. He was dangerous from anywhere on the floor, whether off the dribble or standing still. Had the NBA adopted the three point shot, he may have been one of the Top Five scorers, ever. Many of his shots were 25 footers, but at the time, only counted for two points.
Maravich was selected third overall in the 1970 NBA Draft and made in instant impact with the Atlanta Hawks. In his rookie season, he scored just above 23 a game. He spent four seasons in Atlanta, and averaged nearly 24 points per.
His time with the Hawks was pretty rough. He would have a new opportunity with the upstart New Orleans Jazz. Louisiana now had it's favorite basketball son leading its new franchise. Pistol Pete played well with the Jazz for five seasons. He was injured for parts of those seasons, but managed to play the best basketball of his career for the Jazz. They weren't title contenders, but the future was bright.
Maravich wasn't part of that future. The team was headed to Utah, and the All-Star was headed to Boston for what would be his final season. Teaming up with rookie Larry Bird, Pistol played a solid reserve role for a promising Celitcs team. The journey ended in the Eastern Conference Finals, as Boston fell short to Philadelphia. The battered veteran would retire shortly thereafter.
In 10 seasons, the Hall of Famer averaged 24.2 ppg and 5.4 apg.
Sadly, in 1988 Pete Maravich died playing the game he loved. He suffered a fatal heart attack during a pickup game. He was 40 years old.
Career Honors: Five-time NBA All-Star, Three All-NBA selections, Two-time Gold Medalist (1994 World Championships, 1996 Olympic Games).
As a lifelong Hoosier, I've witnessed the mania of hoops in every town. It used to be high school basketball, and then there was Indiana University basketball; but professional basketball? The Indiana Pacers were the premier team in the ABA, but once they merged with the NBA in 1976, they would experience futility for more than a decade.
They had talented players, but no team chemistry. That was until they selected Los Angeles product Reggie Miller in the first round of the 1987 NBA Draft. He was what the Pacers needed for so long. A high energy guy who wasn't afraid of the big moment. He gradually worked his way into the NBA consciousness with his hot perimeter shooting and strong work ethic. Throughout the 90s, Reggie Miller was the pulse of the Indiana Pacers organization and fan base. The success of the team always rested on his effectiveness.
The shooting of Reggie Miller lifted the team and its hopes of winning a championship. They weren't able to fulfill that during his tenure, but they were true contenders. They reached the conference finals five times and had some pretty memorable runs. Notably, their classic match ups with the New York Knicks that often saw Reggie quieting a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd with clutch shots. In their lone Finals appearance, the Pacers were defeated in six games by the Los Angeles Lakers .
He is the NBA's all time leader in made three pointers. In 18 seasons, he scored over 25, 000 points. What's admirable about Reggie is that he sought out to write his own legacy. He remained a Pacer, good or bad, for 18 years.
In his career, he averaged 18.2 ppg.
Career Honors: Seven All-NBA selections, Nine-time NBA All-Star, Two-time NBA Slam Dunk Champion, Hall of Famer.
Dominique Wilkins was one of my favorite players growing up. He was aggressive in nature. Whether it was him crashing through the lane for a thunderous dunk or how he would get so high off the ground on his jump shot. He worked very hard for his buckets.
Known as the "Human Highlight Film," Wilkins' supreme athletic ability gave him an edge on the court. Defenses had a tough time figuring him out; he was too quick for most forwards and too strong for guards. And the center would just get dunked on.
He was a handful, to say the least. Fore more than a decade, Wilkins was among the top scorers in the league. He helped make the Hawks a viable team in the 80s and early 90s. He had 11 straight seasons of 20+ points per game.
Drafted by the Utah Jazz (but traded to Atlanta) in 1982, Wilkins had an impressive rookie campaign. After averaging 17.5 points per game, the Hawks knew that they had a superstar in the making. He would grow in the following years; so much so, that by his fourth season, he led the NBA in scoring. His high-flying repertoire was a joy to watch. The Georgia alum seemed to make NBA defenders look even sillier than the ones he faced in college.
He put his dazzling aerial skills on display in several slam dunk contests, winning twice in 1985 and 1990. No one one will forget the epic battle between he and Michael Jordan at the 1988 NBA All-Star game in Chicago. It took everything in Jordan's arsenal to stave off the rim-rocking dunks of Dominique Wilkins.
He was so much more than a high flier. The defense of Wilkins is an overlooked aspect of his game. He wasn't a lock down defender, but he bothered opponents with his length and racked up over 1,300 steals in his career. "Nique" was among the most consistent offensive players the game has seen as he averaged at least 17.5 points per game in 15 of his 16 seasons. Eleven times, he averaged more than 25 a game.
He would show later in his career that he could be an effective all-around player. Injuries threatened to curb his effectiveness, but the resilient Wilkins continued to play well until his 15th season. The next season, in 1999, he hung up his basketball shoes. The Hall of Famer remains a staple in the Atlanta community and also does commentary for his beloved Hawks.
In 16 seasons, Dominique averaged 24.8 ppg and 6.7 rpg.
Career Honors: 1986 NBA Rookie of the Year, Seven-time All-NBA selection, Three All-Defensive selections, 11-time NBA All-Star, Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist (1984 & 1992), one of the NBA's Top 50 players of all time, Hall of Famer.
Patrick Ewing was one of the most well-rounded centers to ever play the game of basketball. There was nothing the guy couldn't do. Post up game, check. Rebounding, shot blocking, check. What made him special was his ability to step away from the basket and make outside shots. When the jumper was falling, number 33 could not be stopped.
The New York Knicks selected Ewing with the first pick in the 1985 NBA Draft. They got a winner. A guy who would give 100 percent in practice and in the game. As the focal point of the New York offense, Ewing displayed the leadership necessary to restore the title hungry Knicks to glory.
In the 90s, the Knicks were challenging the best of the East for a shot at the NBA championship. With Ewing leading the charge, New York reached the NBA Finals twice. Although the pride of the Big Apple was unable to bring a ring back to the city, New York fans adore Patrick Ewing for his tenacity and great confidence.
When you watched him play, it didn't seem lofty for him to expect a title. He played every game as if it were Game 7 of the Finals. For that, I have the utmost respect for Ewing. His will to win rivaled his talent. You'd be hard pressed to find a guy who wanted to win as badly as he did.
After the second trip to the Finals, Ewing parted ways with the franchise that he had helped to prominence. Stops in Seattle and Orlando marked the end of his Hall of Fame career. He was known as a warrior during his playing days. His relentless play is often the standard by which today's big men are judged.
In 18 seasons, Ewing averaged 21.0 ppg and 9.8 rpg.
Career Honors: 10-time NBA All-Star, Five-time All-NBA Defensive Second Team, 11-time All- NBA selections, Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist (1992 & 1996), one of the NBA's Top 50 players of all time, Hall of Famer.
Perhaps no player has ever been as perfect for a position as John Stockton was at point guard. He saw plays before they developed. He was a superstar who always looked for the open man. The legend of John Stockton didn't happen immediately. After steadily improving during his first three seasons, Stockton took off in his fourth season by putting up the first of many seasons of 10+ points and 10+ assists.
He was also one of the greatest defensive guards to ever play in the NBA. The all time leader in assists and steals was the floor general for one of the league's most feared franchises. The pick and roll attack of the Utah Jazz was nearly impossible to stop. He had the prototypical power forward in Karl Malone and they were a perennial power in the Western conference.
He competed hard every night and rarely missed a game in his 19 years of play. His keen court vision gave him the upper hand against any defensive scheme. Offensively, he presented a number of problems for the defense. If you crowded him, he would use his quickness to drive around you, If you played off of him he would make you pay with his outside shot.
Perhaps the only thing that limited Stockton was his size, but try telling him that. Known for sacrificing his body, the 6'1'' guard was never afraid to mix it up with the big guys. He salivated at the challenge.
Behind the stellar play of Malone and Stockton, the Jazz made back to back Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998. The team played valiantly against the Chicago Bulls, losing each series in six games.
Stockton's best chance to win it all had gone in those series, but he continued to play at a high level until 2003. His 15,000+ career assists is rather remarkable; considering most players don't even score 15,000 points over the course of a career.
He was an underrated offensive player who scored nearly 20,000 points in his career. Many consider John Stockton the greatest passer in NBA history. Even without a ring, he is a champion. The Hall of Famer averaged 13.1 ppg and 10.5 apg.
Career Honors: 1993 NBA MVP, 11-time NBA All-Star, 11 All-NBA selections, Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist (1992 & 1996), one of the NBA's Top 50 players of all time, Hall of Famer.
In sports, it is often said that you can't teach height. Desire is just as much something that is God given. Charles Wade Barkley wasn't very tall, but he has born with the desire to play power forward and play it well. In 16 stellar seasons in the NBA, he did just that.
The kid from Leeds, Alabama showed right away that he was a worker. Drafted by the Sixers in 1984, he felt he had a lot to prove. He was joining a team that was two years removed from winning the NBA championship. A team with future Hall of Famers Moses Malone and Julius "Doctor J" Erving. Barkley wanted to be a champion as well; so he set the bar high. Listed at 6'6'', but really 6'4'', Charles Barkley asserted himself with tremendous effort plays and in a short time, was on the fast track to Hall of Fame status.
He redefined the position. He ran the floor like a guard, but owned the half court like a 7' center. He was often a one-man fast break. In the early years, Barkley made many jaw-dropping plays in transition, making him one of the league's most dangerous players. The "Round Mound of Rebound" as he was called, may have been undersized, but his will to win made him a giant.
By his fourth season, he was a bona fide star. But by this time, his legendary teammates were gone. For the next four seasons, Sir Charles would lead the Philly attack feeling as if there wasn't enough help. In a surprising 1992 trade, the Sixers dealt their embattled star to the Phoenix Suns. The move revived the perennial All-Star and led to his best basketball yet. He would win the league's Most Valuable Player award and lead the veteran Suns to the NBA Finals.
That run would be Barkley's best chance at a ring, but it was ultimately not enough. The Suns fell at the hands of a hot Chicago Bulls team in six games. Chuck went on to play All-Star caliber basketball for the next seven years, finishing his playing days in Houston. The small town kid defied the odds time and time again in his basketball life and achieved nearly everything.
Though eluded by an NBA championship, Charles Barkley is considered as one of the 5 best power forwards to ever play the game. His relentless effort and clutch play making made him one of the game's absolute best. Barkley has once again captivated basketball fans with his award winning NBA analysis on TNT. He sees the game in a funny, but honest way; often imploring today's stars to step up their level of play.
In his career, he averaged 22.1 ppg and 11.7 rpg.
Career Honors: Two-time NBA MVP, 14-time NBA All-Star, 11-time All-NBA First Team selection, Three-time All-NBA Defensive First Team, Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist (1992 & 1996) One of the NBA's Top 50 players of all time. Hall of Famer (2010).
Most of the players who came up in the 80s and 90s were a bit overshadowed by the greatness of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan. Few were able to garner universal respect as true elite players in their own right. One of those few, played in a city that didn't scream center stage, but his dominance on the court was second to none.
The Utah Jazz felt they got a solid player when they drafted Karl Malone from lowly Louisiana Tech. They would be getting that and much more. For 18 years, the success of that franchise rested on the large shoulders of their starting power forward. For his efforts, many consider the 14-time All-Star to be the greatest to ever play the position. He was immovable in the post. His knack for pulling down boards and getting his team on the break made him a load on the floor. At 6'9'' and nearly 260 pounds, he ran the floor with grace and finished with ferocity.
Malone was truly unique at his position. He was a brute, but he played with agility. He was never overly reliant on forcing his way to the basket. A deadly face up jumper from up to 18 feet made him an impossible cover. He had the perfect point guard in John Stockton to bring out the best of his athletic abilities. The game of basketball came easily to Malone, who led the Jazz to multiple playoff runs during his time with the team.
His final season came in 2004 when he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. The aging, but still efficient All-Star helped lead the Lakers to the NBA Finals. This would be his third trip to the Finals and seemingly his best shot to win. A star-studded lineup featuring Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O'Neal just weren't enough for a spirited Detroit Pistons team. Despite not winning a title, you can't have a conversation about great power forwards without mention of Karl Malone. You can't have a conversation about all-time great players without mention of Karl Malone.
Malone retired as the NBA's second all time leading scorer and its all time leader in defensive rebounds. In a superb 19 year career, he averaged 25.0 ppg and 10.1 rpg.
Career Honors: 10-time All-NBA First Team selection, 1959 Rookie of the Year, 11-time NBA All-Star, Eight NBA Finals appearances, One of the NBA's Top 50 players of all time, Hall of Famer.
What can I say...Elgin Baylor is not only the greatest of non champions, but is perhaps, one of the ten best players in NBA history. In 13 stellar NBA seasons, he assaulted defenses, much like Michael Jordan would do years later. He was the original marvel of NBA elite. He played above the rim at a time when that type of thing was shunned. Ask Julius Erving who he idolized as a young boy and surely there would be mention of number 22. There just wasn't much the guy couldn't do.
Because his greatness coincided with that of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, he didn't win a league MVP. However, he was a pioneer. In his third season, he averaged 19.8 rebounds per game; and he's only 6 foot 5. He showed that being effective meant being well-rounded. Such players can learn a lot from the play of Elgin Baylor. He was, indeed, among the greatest scorers and rebounders this game has ever seen. In his career, he played in eight NBA Finals.
However, the dominance of the Boston Celtics in the 1960s played the primary role in denying Baylor and his great Laker teams from winning it all. Ironically, Baylor decided to hang it up early in the 1971-1972 season. The same season that the Lakers won a record 33 consecutive games and a then record of 69 games won.
They, of course, won the title that year; without their leader. Elgin Baylor has taken it all in stride and has one of the NBA's most impressive resumes; without the aid of an NBA championship.
Few NBA players have left the game having done as much as he did. Many stars of the coming generations used him as the standard for basketball excellence. The Jordans, Ervings, James', and Bryants of the world have all channeled the swagger of Elgin Baylor in their pursuit of greatness.
The groundbreaking small forward posted career averages of 27.4 ppg and 13.5 rpg.