How often do you hear basketball announcers say, "He's just tough. He's got that intangible toughness that you tend see in great players."
Toughness is one of those qualities that is often assigned without much scrutiny. I agree that it is largely intangible, but that shouldn't stop us from attempting to classify it.
In fact, the definitions of tough in Apple's handy dictionary application help shed light on the discussion:
1) Able to endure hardship or pain; physically robust.
2) Able to protect one's own interests or maintain one's own opinions without being intimidated by opposition; confident and determined.
Basketball toughness seems to have these two physical and mental elements. Toughness is fighting through fatigue and playing through pain. It is making that clutch shot to silence an energized crowd or taking that critical charge to stop an opponent's run. It is a short memory and a big heart.
Tough is Tyler Walrath, a high school running back from Washington who recently led his team to a league title with a broken tibia, rushing for 168 yards and two touchdowns against his school's rival.
Not tough is the New Kids On The Block, though they might beg to differ.
Tough is Terry Fox, cancer patient and leg amputee who attempted to run across Canada in 1980.
Not tough is these idiots, although I will give them funny.
So here are the 20 toughest players in the NBA, a list that Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson would have topped had they still been in the league. These guys are not quite as admirable as Walrath or Fox, but they're pretty beastly nonetheless.