Hardcore fans know the 12th Man on the 1983 Washington Bullets and what their PPG average was on rainy days in November. It's what hardcore fans do. But to the standard, non-obsessive type, marketability is the key to memory. A superstar who transcends the hardwood will live in the memory of those who don't even have an interest in a particular sport.
My mom knows who Shaq is. My 80-year old grandmother knows who David Robinson was. But eight out of 10 people will definitely get Tim Hardaway and Penny Hardaway confused. Mitch Richmond? Is that a contestant on American Idol?
The NBA had many stars, some even superstars, who are on the fringe of mainstream cultural remembrance and, because of this, are nearly forgotten despite immense career accomplishments and temporary but widespread exposure. Here are five of them. . .
Note: Remember, this is a list of former NBA Stars that, in GENERAL, are not well remembered or somehow forgotten through time. Sports nuts like you and me know them. . .
When you needed a three, you went to Glen Rice. Exposure never seemed to be the problem for Glen Rice as he exploded on the scene with the Miami Heat and the Charlotte Hornets. As he declined, he eventually moved around a bit (a few stints with the Lakers, including a championship run, brief stops in New York and Houston) and fell out of popularity.
His legacy is mostly forgotten. Many people I ask who are general fans of the NBA think he had one or two good seasons (if they even remember him at all). But to summarize him like that is far from fair. His place in the record books might not be Hall of Fame worthy but, on his game, he was a graceful offensive force.
After his rookie year, he had nine straight seasons averaging at least 17.4 PPG, including six 20+ PPG season, and one 25+ PPG season. He's 58th all-time in points scored (18,336) and ninth in 3FG made (not to mention a 40 percent career 3FG shooting percentage). Add a couple All-Star games (including an MVP performance) and exactly 1000 games played and you have a bona fide star—just one many have forgotten about.
All memories of Allan Houston (many fueled by hazy nostalgia) are of a very talented yet somewhat aloof individual hitting game winner after game winner. It seems like Houston was a go to clutch guy that you would never want to leave off of a fantasy team. . .yet you did anyways. And if my memory of Houston is fuzzy, imagine the general public.
So, looking over Houston's accomplishments, I was surprised how little people knew of him (if at all) when I did a (very) unscientific poll asking of his existence. Besides being, quite literally, the leader on the last good Knicks team (a team that, in a strike-shortened season, went to the NBA Finals as an eighth seed), Houston won a Gold Medal, was a two time All-Star, ranks in the top 25 all time in 3FG made and percentage, and, in only 12 seasons, scored nearly 15,000 points.
Considering most (or all) of the 20,000 point scorers played 14+ seasons (the most recent person to do it, Vince Carter, has played 17 years), imagine what Houston could have accomplished if he kept playing. History will look at him as the guy behind the Allan Houston Rule' but I'll try to remember him as a prolific scorer and a superstar lurking in the shadows.
Being on the cover of a video game is, generally, pretty impressive (in most cases anyways: Keith Van Horn was on a video game cover once. I might as well have been on a basketball video cover that one particular year). Mitch Richmond, the prolific scorer for the Warriors, Kings, Wizards and Lakers, graced the cover of NBA Live 97. In the world of technology, being a video game spokesman, especially of an EA franchise, is nearly iconic.
But perhaps not iconic enough. Though Mitch Richmond is the likeliest candidate for the Hall of Fame of the five people I've written about here, he is generally an unknown. Probably the most talented product out of the 1988 NBA Draft, Richmond is likely to go down as one of the best scorers to be classified as "Oh yeah. . .I remember him. . .sort of' when he is on the short list for the HOF."
His impressive resume includes just about everything: An NBA Championship (kind of a lifetime achievement award; he won a ring in the last year of his career), a Bronze and Gold Medal at two Olympics, six All-Star selections (with one MVP performance), a Rookie of the Year honor, and select company in the 20,000 point club. Add a top 100 showing in steals and a top 25 showing in 3FG made and you have a near legend.
Children and young ones watching basketball in the last five or six years will remember Michael Finley as an aged role player, bringing a spark off the bench, but not staying on the floor for too long. He was the type of experienced teammate that championship seeking teams, looking to gain wisdom and locker room leadership, picked up regardless of diminishing talent or impressive stats.
What many may forget is how explosive and three dimensional Finley was. During his brief Phoenix days, nary a kid's bedroom would be complete without an epic poster displaying his above the rim ferocity. But he also had finesse. He could shoot mid-range, three pointers, and dunk on your head. But when merged into a "Big Three" of his own in Dallas he was kind of the 'other guy'. He only made two All-Star games during a time period when he was pouring in 20-plus points a game and averaging over 40 MPG.
As he slowed down a bit the flashy Mavericks didn't need him but the savvy, tactic minded Spurs did and Finley has a shiny ring on his finger for that faith. And while Finley has only just departed the game, his reputation has changed. In is the wise vet where once there was a beast ready to break rims and swish it through the net. 17,000-plus career points is pretty impressive for the quiet bench player, don't you think?
Maybe the shot of the stands behind Abdur-Rahim explains why no one knows who he is. Maybe the uniform too. But yeah, Shareef Abdur-Rahim was the superstar no one came to see on the team no one cared to watch.
An example of bad timing perhaps. . .and bad luck. Abdur-Rahim played 12 total years in the league and only played in SIX playoff games, all in one year! Before that playoff appearance with the Kings his combined record with Vancouver/Atlanta/Portland was 216-493 (this included three 60 loss seasons and one single digit winning season). The guy was, in terms of national exposure, a loser. But his play on the court was anything but.
His rookie year he collected All-Rookie First Team Honors while averaging 18.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1 SPG, and 1BPG. From 1997 to the end of 2003 he averaged 21.2 PPG but was selected to only one All-Star team. At some point in his career he was in the top 10 in games played, minutes played, field goals made and attempted, FG percent, FT Made and Attempted, Offensive, Defensive, and Total Rebounds, RPG, PPG, and Total Points. The one blemish: always in the top 10 in Turnover. Yet still the average person wouldn't now he was even a basketball player.
I'm sure many of you are screaming: "I know who Abdur-Rahim is dude!" Fine, but ask the general sports watching public. Ask them about Finley, Richmond, Houston, and Rice, hell, even ask them about Keith Van Horn, and see if they even know you're talking about basketball.