Basketball has come a long way since Dr. James Naismith invented the sport in December 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts, as a means to keep athletes in shape indoors during the colder months. Using just a peach basket, soccer shaped ball, and 13 sets of rules, the game we have grown to love today is a whole lot different than it originally was back in the day. In the NBA’s 72-year-old history, basketball has flourished into a global sport with millions of fans all over the world. It is also a dynamic sport that has evolved over the years. We have witnessed a special crop of players who revolutionized the game and became the face of the league during their time. Generational talents like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Lebron James became living legends of the sport. There were also the likes of Magic Johnson and his “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers and Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors who created today’s modern-day dynasty. Indeed, from time to time, the NBA has consistently given birth to a rare breed of talents whose immense popularity became bigger than the game of basketball itself.
These superstars are popular among different types of fans, from those who love the game above all else to those who casually watch the NBA in their free time. Many of them though, have become lost in the current discussions, buried in the past and forever lost in the changing of time. Let’s relieve those big names and ballers in the past whose bright careers are worth noting. What are these former NBA studs doing with their lives today?
Clyde “The Glide” Drexler not only has the most impressive nicknames in the NBA but also has one of the most decorated careers in the entire sport of basketball. He is an Olympic Gold Medallist with the fabled 1992 United States men's Olympic basketball team or "The Dream Team", an NBA champion with the Houston Rockets and 10X NBA All-Star. The Swiss-knife wing brought in a unique flavor to the game in both style and substance and this allowed his No.22 jersey to be retired by the University of Houston, Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets.
Following his last season with the NBA in 1997 to 1998 with the Rockets, Clyde Drexler came back to his alma mater to lead the Cougars as head coach. In 2008, Drexler returned to his former team and became a color commentator for the Rockers for numerous years. In 2018, The Glide secured a job as commissioner of Ice Cube’s BIG3 league which featured former NBA stars and Hall of Famers.
Every time the name Latrell Sprewell gets mentioned in any NBA related conversation, it always unlocks a floodgate of memories, which typically begins with excitement and promise, but then ends with utter frustration and disbelief. Sprewell’s talent was unquestionable even at the start when he averaged 15.4 points per game as a rookie and in just a few years later, led his team in scoring and became a four-time All-Star. The biggest knock on “Spree” though, was his inclination for making boneheaded actions, the most notorious of which was when he choked his own head coach during a practice session with the Warriors.
Sprewell retired ahead of schedule, following his rejection of a three-year, $21 million contract extension from the Minnesota Timberwolves, which he felt was an insult, exclaiming "I have a family to feed." He would reject other offers after that and eventually retired – a decision that would come back to haunt him. A number of financial problems piled up including a paternity claim from his long-time companion and the repossession of his yacht and properties. Recently, the once promising All-Star would publicly ridicule his past mistakes and was even featured on a priceline.com commercial poking fun at himself.
Alonzo Mourning is perhaps best remembered for his key role off the bench in the 2006 Miami Heat championship squad or as arguably the most dominant center in the league next to Shaq during the 90’s when he played for the Charlotte Hornets. Either way, most would probably not remember how the former perennial All-Star and Defensive Player of the year and Blocks leader remarkably came back to play five more seasons in the NBA after being in the shelf for a whole season (2002-03) because of a failing kidney that required a transplant.
Big Zo managed to leave a lasting legacy on his second team, the Miami Heat, which he played for with ten productive seasons including a successful run to an NBA title. The Heat organization hung Mourning’s No.33 jersey in the rafters of the American Airlines Arena in 2009. In the same year, the basketball legend would reunite with the Heat, this time as part of their front office. Since then, Alonzo Mourning has held the position as the franchise’s President of Player Programs and Development.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim had the potential to be one of the top superstars in the NBA draft class of 1996. Unfortunately for him, he was selected as the number one pick by the Vancouver Grizzlies who during that time, was a mess of an organization. Because the Grizzlies failed to surround him with the right talent and supporting cast, his prime years of basketball became wasted and Abdur-Rahim was never able to show the world what he can do and achieve at the highest level. After five seasons playing for the Grizzlies, “Reef” was traded to the Atlanta Hawks where he became an All-Star and then to the Portland Trail Blazers before landing to his final team, the Sacramento Kings.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim spent the twilight of his career with the Sacramento Kings mainly as a versatile combo forward weapon off the bench. Following his retirement in 2008, he stuck around with the organization as an assistant coach and ultimately secured a position in its front office. Eight years later, he became associate vice president of basketball operations of the NBA and was announced as the new President of the NBA G League on December 11, 2018.
In a time when the Seattle Supersonics was still an NBA franchise, Rashard Lewis together with Ray Allen formed one of the most lethal shooting duos in the hard court. They were the original “Splash Brothers” long before Steph Curry and Klay Thompson stepped in and dominated the NBA with their legendary three point shooting. After showcasing his elite offensive potential, Lewis would score an enormous contract offer from the Orlando Magic which made him the highest paid player in the league for three years, higher than mega stars like Duncan, Garnett and Nowitzki.
Rashard Lewis ultimately achieved every NBA player’s dream of winning a championship during the waning years of his basketball career as part of the Miami Heat. In 2014, Lewis would retire from basketball and leave a legacy that was mixed with various awards and accolades, injury plagued seasons and likewise, off-court controversies. A few years later after he left the NBA, he would sign with Ice Cube’s Big 3 in 2017 and carried his team that featured former NBA players like Jason Williams, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Kwame Brown, to a championship as the captain ball of the 3 Headed Monsters.
Robert Horry has been a lucky charm for most of the teams that he played with. As a matter of fact, Horry managed to win seven championships with the Rockets (2), Lakers (3) and Spurs (2, which is currently the highest number for any player outside the 1960s Boston Celtics. That’s an impressive number of NBA hardware considering the fact that he wasn’t even a borderline All-Star in his prime and mostly played off the bench. Robert Horry is widely recognized as one the greatest role players, winners and clutch performers of all time, earning him the nickname “Big Shot Rob”.
Indeed, there is no arguing that Robert Horry played a crucial role in every team he played as he ended his career with more championship rings than any of his peers and developed a reputation as one the most clutch performers in the history of the game – I’m pretty sure a lot of Sacramento Kings Fans are still having nightmares of Big Shot Rob during game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. At present, Robert Horry currently works as a commentator for Spectrum Sports for his former team, the LA Lakers.
There are certain high-caliber players in the NBA whose tremendous performance and impact on the court gets overlooked because of the presence of a megastar teammate. One of them is Dennis Johnson who was certainly an effective baller starting from his rookie campaign towards his final season in the league. Johnson was a 5x All-Star and 3x NBA Champion with the Seattle Supersonics (1979) and Boston Celtics (1984, 1986) before calling it quits. Even though his No. 3 jersey was lifted in the rafters of the TD Garden, there’s a large population of NBA fans who recall the gifted basketball player simply as “one of Larry Bird’s teammates.”
“DJ” made his final appearance in 1990 and took on an assortment of coaching jobs in the NBA and NBADL (now NBA G League) soon after. On February 22, 2007, Johnson was practicing with the Austin Toros (now Spurs) as the team’s head coach when he was suddenly hit with a heart attack. He eventually passed away at the age of 52.
If you became a fan of the NBA during the ’90s, there’s a chance that you’re not that familiar with the stars that came before the era like Mitch Richmond. In 976 games that he played in the NBA, Mitch “The Rock” Richmond posted a career average of 21.0 points and 3.5 assists per game, with lights out shooting and one of the purest strokes the sport has ever seen. The Sacramento Kings legend later won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002, during the twilight of his career.
Mitch Richmond’s No. 2 jersey was retired in his honor by the Sacramento Kings, for whom he played seven seasons and finally on August 8, 2014, The Rock was officially inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. A year after, Richmond decided to instill his knowledge and love for the sport to young students of the game, accepting a role as assistant coach for the St. John’s Red Storm men’s basketball team.
These days, Dell Curry’s name tends to pop out in conversations merely as an extra throw in regarding his superstar son, the two time NBA MVP Stephen Curry or sometimes even his other less accomplished son, Seth Curry. Once any of the two Curry brothers start swishing it from beyond the arc, you will often hear commentators say: “he got his dad’s shooting!”
Dell Curry’s legacy as an NBA player may have been overshadowed by the greatness of his son Steph who revolutionized the game with his unique style of play. Dell spent most of his career with the Charlotte Hornets as a sharpshooting guard who made a living behind the three-point line. He was such a gifted shooter and scorer that he would set numerous offensive records with the Hornets which are rivalled only by All-Star Kemba Walker, despite the fact that he played as a sixth man in Charlotte. Today, long-time Hornets fans are still indulged with the presence of the original Curry who has left a lasting legacy with the franchise. Although he refused an assistant coaching position in 2007 so he can witness Steph play college hoops, he has been the team’s color commentator since 2009.
Larry Johnson was picked No.1 overall in the 1991 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets and became the NBA Rookie of the Year during his first season in the league. Two years later, Johnson was selected to start in the 1993 NBA All-Star Game, making him the first ever Hornets player to achieve the nomination. It was in the same year when Johnson enjoyed his most productive season in his NBA career, averaging 22.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. LJ was a rebounding and scoring machine for the classic 90s Hornets together with Alonzo Mourning, Dell Curry, and Muggsy Bogues.
Sadly, Johnson’s career proved to be similar to that of a “one hit wonder”. Following a couple of All-Star nods with the Hornets, back issues quickly dragged down his impact and production over the next half of his career with the New York Knicks. Although LJ became caught up with some financial troubles during his retirement, he reunited with the Knicks as a Basketball & Business Operations Representative in 2011 – a position that he has not relinquished ever since.
Kurt Rambis was the epitome of the perfect role player in the NBA. Sporting humongous rec specs to go along with a tough-as-nails attitude and approach to the game transformed Rambis into one of the most respected players in his era, particularly as a part of the Showtime Lakers. He was also given a fitting nickname, “Rambo”. Following his stint with the Los Angeles Lakers which highlighted four NBA titles, it doesn’t come as a surprise why Rambis became popular all over Los Angeles.
After he retired from basketball in 1995, Kurt Rambis has been involved in a number of NBA coaching jobs. As a matter of fact, he was actually the LA Lakers special assistant coach in 1994 before he finally made the decision to reinsert himself back to the roster and played out the rest of the entire season. Although he has yet to find a franchise that he can settle in on a permanent basis, the man dubbed as Rambo is expected to remain engaged in the basketball world for the foreseeable future.
Much like Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Marcus Camby was also a top pick whose solid career in the NBA became an afterthought a decade later. Long and athletic with outstanding defensive instincts, Camby was given the moniker “The Camby Man” for spreading fear and terror to opposing players who dared score near the rim while he was manning the middle. He wasn’t able to maximize his talents though, after a 17 season career riddled with injuries. Nevertheless, he was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2007, NBA All-Defensive Team on four occasions, led the NBA in blocked shots for four years and is currently 12th on the NBA's all-time career blocks list.
In 2013, Marcus Camby was finally given a retirement ceremony in honor of his John R. Wooden Award and Naismith College Player of the Year Award and career with the UMass Minutemen where he helped the team reach the 1996 NCAA Final Four. Camby was inducted into the UMass Athletic Hall of Fame on September 10, 2010, and earned a degree at his alma mater just recently on May 12, 2017.
Tom Gugliotta deserves to be featured on this list simply to remind fans of the time when they enthusiastically screamed: “Gooooogs” or all the haters when they would bombard him with angry “boos” every time he stepped on the court and made an impactful play. Goog’s promising career was unfortunately crippled by injuries making him one of those classic “What if?” stories in the NBA. Even so, the offensive prowess that he displayed with the newly created Minnesota Timberwolves helped the franchise savor its initial success in the NBA.
Ever since he retired from the NBA in 2005, Tom Gugliotta has mostly been private with his life and distanced himself from public eye except for a lone incident when he reached headlines across the nation for getting kicked out from the sidelines after criticizing a referee during a 2012 game of his alma mater NC State. Besides that particular event though, it appears Googs is simply enjoying his time in retirement, spending most of his days playing golf… Certainly not a bad way to live life!
It’s quite difficult to muster the exact words that would describe the love and respect that fans of the game had for Bryant Reeves. The 7’0” 300lb center from Oklahoma had to endure more than half a decade of pain and anguish, carrying his enormous body back and forth in the hardwood for the Vancouver Grizzlies. Those six long agonizing years for Reeves was also pretty much the length in which the new NBA club lasted in Canada prior to its relocation to Memphis, TN.
After an unbearable back pain prompted the former Oklahoma State Cowboy to make a premature retirement decision in 2001, he took the path back to his origins. Bryant Reeves ultimately swapped his pair of basketball sneakers for a pair of cowboy boots following his purchase of a 300-acre ranch located close to his birthplace of Gans, OK. Today, Big Country works as a cattle rancher – a profession better suited to his nickname.
Ben Wallace became a legend of the sport after he helped lead his team, the Detroit Pistons, to victory in the 2004 NBA Finals as an underdog against a star-studded Los Angeles Lakers that had Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Karl Malone (albeit “The Mailman” who was already at the twilight of his career during the time). Ben Wallace was able to anchor his team’s defense as a full-time center in an era that featured some of the most dynamic and dominant big men in the history of the game including, Shaq, Chris Webber, Duncan, Garnett, and Nowitzki. What’s even more impressive is that he often succeeded in slowing down the opposing team’s stars down despite his relatively small statue of 6’9″.
Ben Wallace won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award FOUR times, was chosen NBA All-Defensive First Team five times and selected as an All-Star four times. Following his retirement in 2012, “Big Ben” and his signature gong in The Palace of Auburn Hill would be forever missed although Wallace still leads a team until today. He is currently the co-owner and chairman of the Detroit Pistons affiliate and G-League team, the Grand Rapids Drive.
Even though he wasn’t always “the man” of his team, as he was just voted an All-Star once in his entire career. He played alongside NBA greats like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and the G.O.A.T. himself, Michael Jordan, and still managed to stand out and became a fan favorite for his play down low and of course, because of his iconic goggles. He also helped the Chicago Bulls win three NBA championships during the Jordan era and the Los Angeles Lakers with one championship during the Kobe and Shaq duo. The fact that he did all these while sporting a pair of large binoculars only heightened his image.
In his retirement years, Horace Grant would eventually reunite with his original team, the Chicago Bulls, after leaving the team that drafted him 10th overall in free agency to play with the Orlando Magic. In 2016, the Bull franchise brought in Grant – together with his fellow Bulls teammate and NBA great Scottie Pippen – to team up with Toni Kukoc as Special Advisors to the President and COO.
For some NBA players, the lockout can be a curse and never a blessing and Vin Baker is a prime example of that. Baker embodied the true meaning of progress in an athlete after averaging just 4.7 points a game during his freshman year with Hartford Hawks. He then magically morphed into the conference’s most dominant player since Reggie Lewis in his final season, posting 28.3ppg per game. He replicated the same remarkable evolution when he entered the NBA where he took the league by storm.
He became a four-time All-Star and was a downright stud together with legend Ray Allen on the Bucks and Sonics until the 1998-99 season lockout happened. That was the time when Baker developed bad habits and rapidly deteriorated as a player for the rest of his career. Vin Baker would later return to Old Saybrook, CT where he grew up, and following an extensive struggle with alcohol abuse, made a remarkable comeback. From a simple Starbucks employee, he would climb back up and land an anchor job for Fox Sports Wisconsin. Baker would then become Buck’s assistant coach in January 2018.
Today’s NBA Fans may be familiar with Tommy Heinsohn as the Boston Celtics’ color commentator with that unmistakable Boston accent and one-sided reporting. You may be surprised to learn, however, that Heinsohn isn’t just a long time Beantown native and fan of the Boston Celtics. In fact, the man has been, in many ways, a vital part of all 17 championships brought home by the franchise throughout its legendary run in the NBA that spanned for more than five long decades, starting from 1957 towards 2008. In his first season, Heinsohn became the NBA Rookie of the Year over fellow Celtic Bill Russell and won his first championship. He went on to become part of a Celtics dynasty that won eight NBA titles in nine years, including seven consecutive times between 1959 and 1965.
After his legendary run with the Celtics, Tommy Heinsohn became a broadcaster, calling play-by-play with WKBG's Celtics broadcasts for three years, per the request of the famed Red Auerbach, then took over the helm as the team’s head coach in 1969. He would lead the Celtics to a couple more championships as the head coach before finally setting on his current job as the team’s color commentator.
Bob McAdoo was an exceptional and decorated NBA player which is why it would be difficult to wrap our heads around casual fans who have no idea of who the guy was and what he meant to basketball. McAdoo is a two time NBA champion, former MVP and All-Star five times after playing 14 fruitful seasons in the NBA. In 2000, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. With all that being said, his accomplishments on the hard court alone are more than enough to put Bob McAdoo in the discussion as one of the game’s all-time greats.
But perhaps what’s even more head-scratching is the fact that Bob McAdoo is still not given the credit that he rightfully deserves despite having successfully translated his basketball talents to coaching. McAdoo helped the Miami Heat win all of its three NBA championships from the sidelines as an assistant coach. Clearly, the man has earned his merits and we should start giving him the recognition that’s long overdue.
Marques Johnson was already an impressive baller in high school before he even attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the NBA following that. During his stint with the UCLA Bruins, he won the 1975 national championships. When he was a senior, Johnson was awarded numerous national player of the year awards including the John R. Wooden Award. He entered the draft in 1977 and was selected no.3 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to enjoy a successful career which included five All-Star appearances and one All-NBA First Team and two All-NBA Second Team selections. The 6’7” wing made a mark in the NBA as one of the first pioneers of the versatile point forward position.
Ever since he retired from playing professional basketball, Marques Johnson managed to stay near his different basketball roots, working as a part-time in-game analyst for his original team the Milwaukee Bucks and as a co-host on the LA Clippers' flagship radio station, KFWB-AM. He also entered into show business and performed in minor roles in various movies such as White Men Can't Jump, Love and Action in Chicago, Blue Chips, and Forget Paris.
Just a few years after the Cleveland Cavaliers won the lottery and selected Lebron James as their number one overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, James carried the entire Cavs franchise towards the NBA Finals with a team that basically consisted of a bunch of 'role players' and nobodies. One of those players was Zydrunas Ilgauskas (although he was certainly no scrub to his defense) and he was literally the best help that King James had during his time with the Cavaliers, prior to their lone title year in 2013.
The 7’3” Lithuanian big man was named two-time All-Star during his career in the NBA and his soft touch and the long-range game was a thing to marvel upon, especially during a time when “stretch bigs” were still a rarity. Outside the city of Cleveland however, “Big Z” didn’t receive much recognition at all. Nevertheless, the Cavaliers still showed Ilgauskas their appreciation by offering him a job as an assistant coach in 2012 and hanging his jersey number in the arena’s rafters a couple of years later. In 2015, Big Z became an assistant coach for Cleveland’s high school basketball powerhouse, St. Ignatius.
Now I know for a fact that certain long-time fans of the Seattle Supersonics and Indiana Pacers would object to the inclusion of Detlef Schempf in this list but let’s put things into proper perspective first. The legendary stories of Detlef Schrempf in the hardwood have only faded in the hearts and minds of those who didn’t believe in the hustling German forward and not on those who loved and supported him. He was named NBA All-Star three times and Sixth Man of the Year two times which speaks volumes of his unselfish nature and willingness to sacrifice as a basketball player and person for the greater good of the team.
Following his retirement from basketball in 2001, Detlef Schempf swapped his basketball jersey for a formal suite. Today, he still hustles hard but not for loose balls or rebounds on a basketball court though, but for revenue and growth in the world of business. After taking up a few entrepreneurial exploits, Schempf is now a Director of Business Development at Coldstream Wealth Management.
Ralph Sampson’s days as a basketball player was far more meaningful when he was playing at the NCAA than in the NBA, which is quite a shame actually. Sampson was an unstoppable force at the UVA, garnering three straight National Player of the Year awards. After being picked number one overall by the Houston Rockets in the 1983 NBA draft, he entered the league with hefty expectations. The 7-foot-4 phenom managed to live up to the hype, earning Rookie of the Year honor and four consecutive All-Star appearances after he averaged 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds in his first four seasons in NBA. Unfortunately, knee surgeries ended his career and deprived us of a promising young player who was on the verge of becoming the next big thing.
Following his retirement in the NBA, Ralph Sampson nurtured a close relationship with basketball through several different coaching stints both at the collegiate and professional level. Aside from a career-ending knee injury, Sampson also endured a number of legal problems and financial troubles brought about by child support in recent years.
Clifford Robinson became one of the steals of the 1989 NBA draft class after he was picked in 36th overall in the second round of the lottery and became an All-Star in 1994. Throughout most of his career, however, Robinson never received much of the recognition that he deserved. Even though he was a journeyman and played mainly as the second or third option alongside another great on every team he played for, “Uncle Cliffy” managed to do it with admirable grace, starting from start to finish. He was even given the Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1993 and helped the Portland Trail Blazers reach the playoffs each year and the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992, during his eight-season stint with the franchise.
When Clifford Robinson called it quits, he went back to the place where everything started for him as a basketball player – Portland, OR. While his affinity for Oregon’s recreational greenery got him into trouble as a basketball player at one point in the past, it has now become a source of income for the retired NBA player. Today, he owns a dispensary that has the most basketball fitting of names – Uncle Spliffy.
Chris Mullin has balled everywhere, whether it’s on the east coast or the west coast. Born in Brooklyn, New Jersey, Mullin was proclaimed National Player of the Year when he played for St. Johns before finding his basketball home in the Bay Area. He spent a significant portion of his famed NBA career as a fan favorite and vital piece of the Golden State Warriors. In case you’re unfamiliar with his trio’s renowned Run TMC, he was a member of the legendary Dream Team should give you a clear picture.
In 2015, Chris Mullin grabbed the opportunity to revisit his basketball origins and coach the St. John’s Red Storm. Already a shell of their former glory days, Mullin was faced with a tough challenge as the team closed its first season with an abysmal 8-24 record. Ever since then, the Bay Area legend continued to coach a gradually improving team, putting St. John back on the map as an elite Division I basketball program.
Joe Dumars’ celebrated NBA career is something that we barely talk about today. Dumars spent all 14 seasons of his career with the Detroit Pistons, where he built a reputation as a defensive genius and earned an All-Star nod six times and a couple of championships to boot. Together with Isiah Thomas, the duo formed one of the best and most dynamic backcourts in the history of the league. And let’s not forget, he was also part of the infamous Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” who terrorized teams with their stifling defense and intimidating demeanor and style of play.
Once dubbed by the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan, as the “The best defender he’s ever faced”, Joe Dumars continued his imprint on the Pistons franchise after he took the role as its President of Basketball Operations. In 2017, Dumars enlisted in the Independent Sports & Entertainment (ISE) – “an integrated sports, media, entertainment, and management company” – as its President of Basketball Division.
During his career as a professional basketball player back in the 1960s to 1970s, Willis Reed played like a man amongst giants. Standing at 6’9″, the New York Knicks player didn’t back down against the most imposing 7-footers of that era including legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. Reed cemented his legacy in the NBA in 1970 when he became both the season and finals MVP. Playing with just one healthy leg, Reed managed to will his body and team towards an NBA title.
Following a successful career that earned him a spot at NBA’s 50 all-time greats list, Willis Reed landed several basketball roles, starting from the head coach of a college team towards the NBA. He slowly climbed through the ranks, working as an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks and as a head coach for the New Jersey Nets for a short period before securing a managerial position. As the team’s Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations, the Nets made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals, in 2002 and in 2003. Reed’s most recent managerial stint was with the New Orleans Hornets where he served as Vice President of Basketball Operations or assistant GM.
In case the former NBA player Anfernee Hardaway doesn’t ring a bell, there’s a chance that it’s due to the fact that fans in 90 are where more accustomed to the famed baller’s nickname, “Penny!” During his stint with the Orlando Magic, Hardaway formed a lethal one-two punch combo with Shaq. His legend continued to grow with every clutch bucket that he made. Commentators would often say “its Penny time!” every time the game was close and went back and forth in the closing minutes of the last quarter. Unfortunately, Penny suffered the same cruel fates as Grant hill – a gifted player whose path to stardom was derailed by a career-ending injury.
Prior to entering the NBA as a professional basketball player, Penny Hardaway honed his skills in the hard court playing high school and college ball in Memphis. As a heart-warming display of gratitude, Hardaway came back home to coach the team of a childhood friend who was dying from cancer to a state championship. In 2018, Penny took over as the head coach of his alma mater’s basketball team, the Memphis Tigers.
Some NBA players don’t get the kind of recognition they deserve largely because they play for small market teams or organizations that don’t generate as much buzz as the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls. Mehmet Okur is one of those players who probably didn’t receive as much love from casual fans because he played for Utah Jazz. Or perhaps it’s because the Jazz followed a slow and defense-oriented style of playing which is typically synonymous with boring or simply because the team belonged to a small market, few would appreciate what Okur brought to the game which was a unique combination of finesse and long range shooting which isn't a given for a guy his size.
Mehmet Okur retired from professional basketball in 2012 but has maintained an active role in the NBA. The Turkish baller was a basketball ambassador for his former team, the Utah Jazz, and ultimately worked as a player development coach for the Phoenix Suns. His stint with the organization ended in 2017 after the Suns… well, continued to play like the Suns.
No one should ever dare say that Moses Malone and the legacy he built in the NBA has been forever lost in time, buried in the pages of the book of forgotten NBA greats. Nevertheless, reaffirming that Malone is undeniably an “all-time great” is likely the only thing that we can pull out from our own basketball knowledge. He played way back in the 70’s so it’s understandable that even a diehard fan of the game won’t be able to reliably recount how he owned the rebounding department for multiple years, earning him the nickname as “Chairman of the Boards” and his iconic run to an NBA championship.
The man was literally a walking double-double with career averages of 20.6 points and 12.2 rebounds and superstar with plenty to boast, including an NBA champion and Finals MVP, 3x MVP and 12x All-Star. Moses Malone was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, in the very first year he became eligible. In 2015, the Chairman of the boards was administered with a heart monitor following a discomfort from an irregular heartbeat. A week later, the famed baller would suddenly pass away from heart disease at sixty years old.
Elgin Baylor is another one of those NBA all-time greats whose legendary achievements appear to have faded through time. The Laker Hall of Famer was instrumental to the franchise’s rise, from its concluding years in Minnesota to their initial years in Los Angeles City. The top pick of the 1958 draft ended his career with a high note, including eleven All-Star nominations and eight NBA Finals appearances with the Lakers. Numerous NBA circles rank Baylor eleventh in the list of Top 50 NBA Players of all time and he is widely considered as the greatest NBA player in history who never won a ring.
Baylor would retire from the NBA as one of the most complete players to have ever stepped on the court. He would later become the head coach of the New Orleans Jazz for a few seasons and then President of Basketball Operations of the Los Angeles Clippers for 22 years. On April 6, 2018, he finally got his own statue which was unveiled outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Larry Nance played 13 seasons in the NBA as a versatile, athletic big man who can score both on the inside and out for the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers. Lance was a model of consistency throughout most of his career as a starter, averaging 16 points, 8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in eleven seasons as starting power forward for his team. He was also selected as an All-Star thrice, NBA All-Defensive First Team once and All-NBA Defensive Second twice. Fortunately, the man has recently been enjoying more recognition following the NBA debut of his son, Larry Nance Jr. Nevertheless, "The High-Ayatolla of Slamola" - a nickname he received for winning the first ever NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1984 – still doesn’t get the respect that he earned for his time with the Suns and Cavs.
Today, the first Slam Dunk Contest champion of the NBA is often seen in the sidelines as a spectator of his son’s games, who slams much like his old man and even wears his retired No.22 jersey with pride. When he’s not inside an NBA arena watching Junior continue his legacy, The High Ayatolla of Slamola is out on the track, drag racing.
12. Alex English
It’s ridiculous to think that only a handful of people would ever remember Alex “The Blade” English especially when he is widely considered as currently the greatest player to have ever worn a Denver Nuggets jersey (Sorry Carmelo, but you chose the Big Apple over the Queen City of the West). English was given the formidable nick name The Blade after he made a career driving his way to the rim for an easy bucket, surgically cutting through opposing teams’ defences like a hot knife slicing through butter.
The Blade led the Nuggets to nine consecutive playoff appearances including the Western Conference Finals in 1985 prompting the team to retire his jersey in 1992 and the NBA to induct him in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Alex English continued to leave a mark on the NBA long after he stopped shooting hoops. English worked for numerous different roles on the coaching staff of several franchises including the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings. In 2014, the former South Carolina Gamecocks came back to his college conference this time as a color commentator for the SEC Network.
Glenn Robinson probably has one of the coolest nicknames in the NBA. The “Big Dog” was a regular cast of the classic Milwaukee Bucks 1990’s team. There was even a time when Robinson was part of a potent trio that featured an up-and-coming Ray Allen and Vin Baker. Every game, whether it was at home or on the road, he provided relentless hustle and energy for the team. His best years were with the Bucks in the 2000 and 2001 season where he became a back-to-back All-Star and helped the team reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
These days, the former number one overall pick of the 1994 NBA draft is a regular spectator of his son, Glenn Robinson III, who continues his legacy at the biggest stage of basketball, including a victory in the 2017 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. He also has another younger son, Gelen Robinson, who could be following his old man’s footsteps after playing for his alma mater, Purdue, as a defensive stud.
Lloyd Free (World B. Free)
Nicknamed "Prince of Midair" and "All-World", Lloyd Free became popular in the NBA because of his “rainbow” jump shot that launched the ball beautifully into the air in a high arching, picturesque motion before dropping it into the basket with nothing but net. He also made a name for his entertaining style of basketball as well as his penchant for taking daring shots. When he played for the San Diego Clippers, fans would often loudly chant "shoot, shoot, shoot" every time Free had the ball in his hands. But if you are to talk about Lloyd Free to an ordinary NBA fan today, you might not get a direct response unless perhaps you mention “World B. Free”.
Throughout his NBA career, Lloyd Free was a journeyman and played for various franchises including the San Diego Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Tropics, and Houston Rockets. He received the nickname “World” during his time in Brooklyn for his jaw-dropping 44-inch vertical leap and 360-degree dunks. Ever since he retired from playing basketball in the NBA in 1988, Lloyd Free has worked as an ambassador for the Philadelphia 76ers, where he played three seasons with.
When the Detroit Pistons used their top lottery pick on Bob Lanier during the 1970 NBA draft, the big man from St. Bonaventure knew that he had lofty expectations to meet. Nonetheless, Lanier proved that his contributions on the court were even bigger than his size 22 shoes. Throughout his 14 seasons in the NBA, Lanier averaged 20.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.1 steals while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and was named NBA All-Star eight times. Both the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks, the only two teams he ever played for in the NBA, retired his No.16 jersey.
In 1984, when his basketball days were already far behind him, he became an NBA coach but it proved to be short-lived though. It didn’t stop the former multiple NBA All-Star from pursuing the next chapter of his career with the league. Lanier landed a position as Special Assistant to NBA Commissioner David Stern where he basically pioneered what is considered today as the prestigious role of the NBA’s global ambassador.
Artis Gilmore had a body that looked like it was chiseled by the Greek gods and there was a time when he dominated the sport of basketball at the highest level for years, which sadly, didn’t garner the kind of praise it deserved. “The A-Train” was a 7’2” wrecking ball who feasted on the post on both ends of the floor. He muscled his way into an MVP award and championship in just his rookie season at the ABA and six All-Star nods after he was drafted number one overall all in ABA dispersal draft during its merger with the NBA in 1976.
The Florida born legend maintains his deep connection and appreciation to his native state and alma mater, Jacksonville University. The A-Train took a job offer as Special Assistant to the President to aid the school with public relations tasks. On top of that, Gilmore works as a color commentator and hosts a local basketball show on Jacksonville’s own WJXL radio station.
Neo might have immortalized The Matrix in the big screens but it was Shawn Marion who did it in the hard-court. Shawn “The Matrix” Marion was an enigma of a basketball player. Marion’s horrible looking three-point shot sent grimaces on the face of fans every time he hoisted one up after opposing defenses dared him to shoot. Regardless, he gave his team a versatile weapon that can be used in both offense and defense, whether it was putting up points in the paint or guarding the team’s best scorer. Marion was the ultimate “glue guy” and a vital piece of a championship team which he proved after helping the Dallas Mavericks win its lone NBA title in 2011.
A years after he won it all with the Mavs, Shawn Marion decided to retire from the NBA and is now having a blast exploring new avenues for competition. In 2017 for instance, he participated in the 30th season of the Amazing Race together with Ex-NBA star Cedric Ceballos. Then in February of 2018, he teamed up with another Ex-NBA baller, Matt Walsh, and bought a majority share in New Zealand Breakers of Australia’s NBL.
Elvin “The Big E” Hayes may simply be a name that sounds familiar to majority of today’s fans but let’s try and revisit his NBA resume for a moment: Top pick in the 1968 draft, NBA Champion, twelve-time NBA All-Star, NBA Scoring Champion, two time NBA leader in rebounds, etc. Clearly, the man has amassed a legendary body of work in the highest level of basketball that only a handful of NBA players in any era can replicate much more surpass.
Following his stellar career in the NBA, The Big E went back home to his alma mater, the University of Houston, where his journey to the NBA all began. This time around though, he was at his former school to finish his degree as a retired NBA baller, famously exclaiming, “I played 16 years of pro basketball, but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” In the end, all the time and energy he spent was worth it, as Elvin Hayes can now proudly call himself an alum and at the same time an in-game announcer for his former college team.
Richard “Rip” Hamilton was one of the most dynamic shooting guards in his time and was worthy of the title of “king of the midrange game”. Rip played the most productive seasons of his NBA career with the Detroit Pistons where he averaged a career-high 20.1 points a game and earned his first All-Star Game selection. He was also instrumental in helping his underdog team triumph over the mighty LA Lakers in an epic David and Goliath duel in the 2004 NBA Finals. Many fans may forever remember Hamilton for his signature mask which he wore for the greater part of his NBA career but it was the man behind the mask that helped make the Pistons one of the most feared and admired teams in the 2000s.
Rip Hamilton hung up his basketball jersey for good in 2013 and seized the moment as an opportunity to spend more time with his family. Four years later in 2017, Hamilton saw his jersey lifted in Rip City’s rafters and reconnected with basketball as a member of the TNT Players Only segment, commenting on NBA related discussions together with his fellow NBA players.