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.
Big Z, tough? Hear me out.
While he was still young, Ilgauskas suffered multiple severe foot injuries that sabotaged several seasons and almost ended his career. After intense rehab, he became a solid post player for a decade, and at 35 years old he is still a useful player on a championship contender.
Additionally, it took real mental toughness to be on the Cleveland Cavaliers before they drafted LeBron.
Though age has caught up with the Big Shamroq, Shaquille O’Neal has spent a long time receiving significant punishment around the hoop.
Since Shaq has always been more powerful than opponents, they seem to think it’s fine to treat him like a punching bag. He has received more hard fouls than anyone in recent memory, yet he was extremely durable throughout the majority of his career.
Maybe he would avoid some battery if he could hit free throws.
Couple exceptional athleticism with recklessness, and you've got Gerald Wallace.
The high-flying Charlotte Bobcats’ swingman is nicknamed Crash, as he endures more than his fair share of spills. Despite several concussions and a bad back, Wallace has not missed much court time, and he continues to play like a daredevil.
Though he does not possess All Star skills, his work rate and hustle have allowed him to overachieve.
Similar to Ilgauskas, Grant Hill endured serious ankle injuries that derailed the better part of four seasons in his prime.
Once a budding superstar, Hill was relegated to being mostly a pity story and a big contract.
However, he has revitalized his career in Phoenix, playing almost every game the past two years and doing so effectively. Now, at age 38, he is a legitimate starter.
Those of you who are still skeptical of Amar'e Stoudemire better get a reality check. STAT is killing it in the Big Apple, single-handedly making the Knicks relevant again.
Not only does Amar'e decimate opponents near the rim, but he has also fought through a couple awful injuries. He has undergone several knee surgeries, including the dreaded micro-fracture, and suffered a detached retina.
Although the haters will probably keeping hating, Stoudemire is legit.
Dajuan Blair has no ACLs. That’s right, after several high school injuries, both his knees have been left completely devoid of the supposedly essential ligament.
Playing after ACL surgery is tough. Being an undersized center playing without ACLs is tougher. Being one of the strongest, most physical players in the league without ACLs gets you a spot on this list.
Derrick Rose is one of those players that constantly plays at 100 miles per hour. He's like Mighty Mouse and Sonic the Hedgehog all rolled into one.
Accordingly, he seems to get banged up more than most, but he is also notorious for playing through pain. Although Rose has wrist, elbow and ankle issues right now, it's not stopping him from being a dominant force.
The Boston Celtics are a tough team, and their feisty point guard is the first of several on this list.
Rondo is a throwback to the hard-nosed, gritty enforcers of the 1980s, even if he is often the smallest guy on the court. He mixes it up with anyone and everyone, often crossing the line to potentially dirty play, and he has been recently fighting through plantar fasciitis and a sore hamstring.
Fans of opposing teams hate him, but he is a blessing to Beantown.
If you have a weak stomach, please do not watch this video. Bogut’s arm/wrist/hand injury last year was one of the most horrific injuries you will ever witness. If this were to happen to me, I would be scared to live in a city with a basketball court, not to mention returning to competition.
To come back this quickly and play this well is truly a testament to his toughness. He’s a guy I want on my squad, protecting my back.
Bogut has also admitted to watching the clip of his fall thousands of times, which itself is proof of his mettle.
Before getting suspended last week for this hit on Blake Griffin, Andre Miller had played in 632 consecutive games.
No way you make it through seven full NBA seasons without bumps, bruises, colds or flus, which means that Miller has sucked it up and continuously performed.
It's kind of fitting that his first missed game since 2003 was caused by a tough, albeit stupid and dirty, play.
After his infamous wheelchair incident in 2008 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, I really had no desire to put Paul Pierce on this list.
However, you can't deny the toughness he displayed back in 2000. Only one month before the beginning of the season, Pierce was trying to break up a fight at a nightclub when he was stabbed 11 times in the face, neck, and back and had a bottle smashed over his head. Requiring immediate lung surgery, his injuries were nearly fatal.
Still, Pierce managed to make it back for opening night, and he was the only Celtic to start all 82 games that year.
If that's not toughness, I don't know what is.
Kenyon Martin may seem like an odd choice for this list. He has never lived up to the promise of being the first overall draft pick, he is one of the most overpaid players in the league, and he has missed significant time due to injury and attitude problems.
However, you can’t deny his toughness. He has had micro-fracture surgery on both knees yet has come back to be a key cog on a perpetual Western Conference contender.
Plus, the dude has lips tattooed on his neck. How can he not be hard?
Manu Ginobili gets paid millions of dollars to put a ball in a hoop. Dozens of stadium workers get paid hundreds of dollars to make sure he doesn’t slip on sweat, get doused in beer, or sustain potentially life-threatening bat bites.
And yet, it was Ginobili who swatted the live bat flying around San Antonio’s Alamodome last year. That is serious toughness.
Oh, and he plays with broken noses and sprained joints and the like.
Forget the Brawl at the Palace in Auburn Hills. Forget the physical defense. Forget the imposing presence and the reckless hustle.
Ron Artest had the courage to thank his psychiatrist after winning the championship and speak publicly about mental health disorders. That is toughness that extends well beyond the court.
Dwight Howard, a modern day Achilles, is the most impressive physical specimen in the NBA today. He manhandles multiple grown men down low, tossing them aside like rag dolls.
Due to his raw power, opponents treat him like a young Shaq, and he is subjected to constant excessively physical play. Still, he rarely loses his cool or focus, and he almost never retaliates.
In his short career, Blake Griffin has already experienced more falls than a retirement home roller disco. He plays with reckless abandon, often flying high and then crashing hard. After each tumble, Griffin picks himself up, dusts himself off, and immediately returns to careening around the court.
Opponents are loath to be on the receiving end of facials, so Griffin should brace himself for a steady diet of overly physical fouls.
Let’s also give the rookie credit for shrugging off a serious freak injury and returning to peak form. No way that was a mental or emotional walk in the park.
Just look at this picture and the one on the slideshow’s title page.
Steve Nash has incurred countless terrible blows to the face that have made him look like a Mike Tyson victim. He has played through gashed noses and eyes swollen shut.
Nash gives credit to his Canadian heritage, claiming that no self-respecting Canadian would let a mere disgusting facial injury sideline him. Whether it really is the hockey in his blood, Steve Nash is as tough as they come.
Derek Fisher is not especially athletic or skilled, but he has been a vital starter on five championship teams and is now an indispensable leader of the Lakers.
With the body of a fire hydrant and the willpower of King Kong, Fish exemplifies both mental and physical toughness. He has played in 438 consecutive games, takes numerous charges, and hits clutch shots.
Though he only weighs 220 pounds, the Boston Celtics’ power forward does not get pushed around by anyone, and not just because of his filthy mouth. For 15 seasons he has banged in the post with bigger, stronger guys, but Garnett almost always gets the best of those hulks.
Kevin Garnett has never uttered the word soft, and I hear he wipes with pine cones and sleeps on burning coals. Toughness is an attitude, and Garnett’s got it in spades.
Kobe has been like Mr. Potato Head for the last couple years—arms ready to fall off at any moment, legs twisted this way and that—and yet he has led the Los Angeles Lakers to back-to-back championships without complaint.
Last season alone, he battled through a painful avulsion fracture in his right index finger, causing him to completely revamp his jump shot, and an injured knee that required offseason surgery.
Couple his physical toughness with his famed mental fortitude, and you’ve got the NBA’s Chuck Norris.