I began really collecting basketball cards in 1989. I still remember opening up my first pack of 1989-90 NBA Hoops cards. I really wanted to pull a David Robinson rookie card. He was my favorite player. He was strong, talented, and didn’t seem to draw attention to himself, but went about his business quietly. As each new series of cards came out, I was looking for the David Robinson cards. This was my first experience with a “favorite player.” To this day I have almost 300 David Robinson cards, including his Hoops rookie card.
Over the years I’ve had lots of favorite players, David Robinson, Larry Johnson, Larry Bird, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Ray Allen, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry. I can’t really explain why I always “liked” Ray Allen more than I “liked” Michael Jordan, but I was smart enough to see and admit that MJ was always better. I respected Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Lebron James for various reasons and to varying degrees, but never really “liked” them as favorites. Other players, like Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, John Starks, Chris Webber, Doug Christie, Mario Ellie, Scot Pollard, Vlade Divac, Swaggy P, Patrick Ewing, Matt Barnes, and Carlos Boozer (post Jazz), I have hated with a passion. I think jersey has a lot to do with liking or disliking players, but why do I like Kevin Durant and hate Enes Kanter if jersey is all that matters?
Picking favorite players is a very complex matter and there are lots of factors to consider. Your favorites don’t need to be the best players and you don’t need to justify your picks, sometimes you just like certain players. Fans can argue who the greatest players are, but it’s tough to argue when someone says, “My favorite player is___________.” I have done several articles about the “Greatest” or “Best” players, but this one ranks my Favorite Players of All-Time. You can’t argue them, but I’d love to see a list of your all-time favorites as well. Here’s my Top 10:
Bird, in my mind, is the ultimate competitor. He did more with less than any other player in the history of the game. He was not overly athletic, he wasn’t a high riser, or physically dominant, but he was a fierce competitor who still dominated the game with his all-around play-making ability and played all-out at all times. He was a clutch winner and he led both by word and by example. Watching him make huge play after huge play was magical. He’s a small town kid that spent hours on his craft on a lonely hoop in the middle of nowhere and I always related to that. He never backed down and worked harder than anyone and I have always admired him.
I treat these two as one player because they are inseparable in my mind. How could I rank one over the other? I grew up on Stockton and Malone and didn’t realize as a kid just how spoiled I was getting cheering for them year-after-year. Their consistency, loyalty, and work ethic were unmatched in any era. They were tough and played through pain. I don’t look down on them for never winning a championship, I applaud them for coming back each year stronger than the year before in the pursuit. I got to meet Malone one time in his shoe store, The Mailman’s. It was right before the Barcelona Olympics and my brother Joe, my Grandpa, and I were the first to see his new shoes he was going to wear in the Olympics. My grandpa talked to him about his 18-wheeler and he chatted with us for a while. He helped us try on shoes, signed autographs, and rang us up. I was impressed with how kind he was to us and always admired him for that.
The Admiral was often criticized for being “soft,” but I looked at him and saw a Christ-like competitor who learned how to compete without contempt. He was a star on and off the court. He wasn’t arrogant or pretentious. He let his game do the talking and he was so underrated on the court. He could do it all, score, board, block, steal, and he made his teammates better. At one point I sent him a basketball card (it was a League Leaders Upperdeck hologram) and asked for his autograph. The card was returned signed. For the life of my I can’t remember who I traded that thing to, but I’m sure I got ripped off. I wish I had been smarter when I was a kid. Just like how I liked Drew Bledsoe better than Tom Brady, I always liked Robinson way more than I ever liked Tim Duncan.
I grew up watching “Pistol: The Pete Maravich Story” and dreamed about being a star player despite my small stature. I didn’t realize at the time that Pistol’s genes were vastly superior to mine, but he gave me the idea that I could work hard for something and get better. His play-making ability and his confidence in his own abilities to play with anybody, was inspiring. I made a goal to shoot 100,000 jump shots the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore years. I missed out on a biking trip to Moab, UT because they didn’t have a hoop there. I hit my goal and got a lot better that summer largely due to being inspired by the underdeveloped Pistol’s work ethic.
Probably the least popular player on my list, I loved Richmond’s beautiful shooting stroke and his quiet confidence. He was a consistent pure scorer and, despite being stuck playing for mostly bad teams, he never complained and just went about his business of being his best to help his teams regardless of who he was playing next to. As a young player he was part of the famous “Run TMC” Warriors and won a ring scoring 3 points for the Lakers late in his career. Richmond just kept scoring to top 20,000 points. To me Richmond is one of the most underrated players ever to play and the fact that he was left off the #NBArank top 100 list was a complete joke.
Steph is climbing the ranks on my favorite list quickly. I am just in awe over what this man can do with the basketball. In my opinion he is the most skilled player I have ever seen. His combination of ball handling and shooting at such a high degree of difficulty is something I have never seen before. He is fun to watch and is an entertainer that doesn’t cross the line into arrogance (which is really tough to do). I like that he is a family man and not shy about his Christian beliefs.
Perhaps the most impressive current player I have seen live. I was sitting on the 3rd row baseline when I watched Durant rise up for a 20-foot jumper over Gordon Hayward. I was shocked to realize that I was looking up at him as he released the ball. Someone so long and tall, yet so smooth was truly magnificent. I have never seen a man that tall handle the ball and shoot so well. He reminds me a lot of Bird (only more athletic), but he has not quite figured out how to consistently close out big games in the Playoffs. I am hoping that will come someday.
The most beautiful shot in NBA history. He was my favorite guy to watch shoot the ball. His form is flawless. He was the transition NBA shooter. He was the first to shoot so many threes as a primary scorer (think his days in Seattle and Milwaukee) and at a high efficiency. He paved the way for Steph Curry to do what he is doing. He also hit some of the most clutch shots in Playoff history and a major reason Lebron and the Heat beat the Spurs for a title.
#9 Damian Lillard
I just love watching this guy. He worked so hard to get to where he is today. He came out of little known Weber State in Utah and through hard work has turned himself into one of the premier 3-point shooters in the league. He is gutsy and has no fear and is getting good at leading over-matched and inexperienced teams to victories over better teams. He breaks the mold a bit for me because I am usually not a fan of all of the tattoos and the hip hop culture, I find myself cheering for Lillard despite being courted by several major labels for a rap album.
When I was a Senior in High School, I was invited to a Big Man-Guard Camp at the University of Utah. Rick Majerus had us running a 3-on-3 fast break drill. After a couple times up and down the floor, one of my wings came up to me and said, “I ain’t no Shawn Kemp ‘er nothin’, but you throw it up by the rim and I’ll get it.” I’ll never forget how easy it was to play with RJ. He made me look good. At that camp, Majerus called RJ out and said that he would never play at the University of Utah because he couldn’t play defense. Obviously RJ ended up at Arizona where his NBA Draft scouting report included, “Excellent on the ball defender locked up Illinois guard Frank Williams and fellow draftee Jason Richardson of Michigan St. in this year’s NCAA tournament … “. I love that he worked on the parts of his game others perceived to be weaknesses. He’s always been one of my favorite players.