The 1996 lottery players posing for Slam Magazine (Photo Credit: SLAM MAGAZINE)
By Hami Arain and Adam Chalifoux
On Day 97 of our 100 Days of Hoops, we saw the NBA as well as the media celebrate some of the greatest coaches and teams to have ever stepped onto the court as well as the 50 Greatest Players; today’s post celebrates the 50th ever NBA Draft. 1996.
The Vancouver Grizzlies were favored to win the NBA Draft lottery in 1996, but because they were an expansion team, the agreement in the CBA was to have them not select first but if they were to win the lottery, they would receive the second pick. Another expansion team which had the same rules apply to them was the Toronto Raptors. In fact, it actually did happen to the Toronto Raptors as they won the draft lottery but because of this expansion rule, Toronto was forced to pick second and the original “third” pick became first pick, the original “second” pick for Vancouver fell to three as the Philadelphia 76ers selected Allen Iverson out of Georgetown.
This draft is often referred to as one of the greatest of all-time. The 3rd pick of that draft, Shareef Abdur-Rahim is one of the biggest advocates for why the 1996 draft is best. The draft has produced three MVP’s (Steve Nash in 2005, 2006; Kobe Bryant in 2008 and Allen Iverson in 2001) two Defensive Players of the Years (Marcus Camby in 2007 and Ben Wallace in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006), eleven different all-stars, and even five different shoe deals (Jermaine O’Neal, Kobe Bryant with Adidas then Nike, Allen Iverson, and Stephon Marbury). No question this draft is very loud and passionate about the game (credit YouTube user LamarMatic) and that’s what made them memorable. The great thing is each player from this draft has its own captivating storyline. One of which drafted #13 overall, Kobe Bryant.
Bryant was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets straight out of Lower Merion High School but was traded right away to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. This move became significant throughout the years as Kobe showed superstar potential right away. Would it have been the same if he had started his career in Charlotte? His accomplishments speak for themselves but it makes you wonder how different the league would look today had he remained with the Hornets, even if it were for a few years.
You also had Steve Nash, the young run-and-gunner for the Phoenix Suns then being traded to the Dallas Mavericks after just two seasons. Don Nelson and the Mavericks felt the Suns under-utilized Nash in his early years, and once you started to pair Nash with Nowitzki, you saw an offensive powerhouse blossoming along with up-and-coming wing Michael Finley. After a conference finals appearance in 2003 and a disappointing first round exit in 2004, Nash became a free agent. After Nash and Cuban could not agree on a deal (rumored to be around 4 years/$36 million), Nash went back to Phoenix for 6 years/$53 million. He went on to win back-to-back MVP’s right after his departure in Dallas. However, you could say the Mavericks got the last laugh as they beat the Nash’s Suns to advance to their first NBA Finals and eventually brought home a title in 2011. Then again, you could argue the Suns won the initial trade since they were the ones who drafted Nash…either way it worked out for both sides in different ways.
Another sharpshooter in this draft is Ray Allen. Allen started out as an all-around guard with hops for days and was often the most accurate shooter throughout the NBA as the seasons went on. Five years into his career, Allen lead the Bucks to a game 7 against fellow draftee Allen Iverson, the 76ers prevailed in seven games.
Allen was also a first option for the Seattle Supersonics, giving the franchise fresh life after they traded away franchise-great Gary Payton. After the 2003-2004 season, Allen and Kobe Bryant spewed back-and-forth through the press. Allen accused Bryant of “alienating teammates proving he won’t need Shaq to win championships.” Allen continued paraphrasing that Kobe would demand a trade if the Lakers were mediocre or terrible, Bryant responded by saying “don’t put me and that dude in the same breath”.
Allen read the future correctly, as Kobe Bryant did ask management to trade him in 2007. Allen went on to face Kobe twice in the finals; 2008 and 2010. Each got their rings, but Allen is known for a bigger shot a couple of years later. No, it wasn’t his three-pointer to surpass Reggie Miller to make him #1 on the all-time three-point list nor was it his game-winner vs. the Knicks right before the 2011 playoffs.
Ray Allen had no choice but to throw up that corner three against the San Antonio Spurs, especially as he was in rhythm as he was stepping back towards the line. Allen saved the 2013 Miami Heat and, you could even argue, LeBron James’ legacy. It’s a shot still talked about to this day, and people ask each other where they were as it unfolded. Allen still holds the record for most 3-point field goals with 2,972. Many people believe Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry will inevitably break this record, Curry currently has made 1,917 three-pointers which is 10th all-time. Curry could realistically reach up to 5th all-time by the end of the 2017-18 season.
Ray Allen sends Game 6 of 2013 NBA Finals to overtime. His most well-known achievement, the Heat went on to win game 7. (Photo Credit: ESPN)
One player that may be forgotten to Americans in the future is Stephon Marbury. Marbury, often nicknamed “Starbury”, jumped around the league after his first three seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Marbury made 2 all-star games but was often seen as a headcase around the league. When the Knicks bought him out after Chris Duhon won the starting point guard spot, Marbury refused to come off the bench.
The Celtics picked up Marbury who contributed to the 2009 playoff run that ended in round 2 by the Orlando Magic. Since 2010, Marbury has been playing in China and it all worked out for his basketball career. As you can expect, he dominated early and earned all-star spots his first five years in China. It worked out even better when he joined the Beijing Ducks and brought home championships in 2012, 2014 and 2015. The latest title he won the Finals MVP and in 2013 he won the league MVP. At the end of the 2017 season, Marbury announced he would retire at the end of the 2017-18 season, the Beijing Ducks parted ways with him. It ended up becoming a dream come true, as Marbury made himself a home after going through rough patches when he left the NBA. China loves him so much, he even has his own statue.
While players like Iverson, Kobe, Ray Allen, and Starbury dazzled on offense, the 1996 NBA Draft’s greatest defensive player was never actually drafted. At 6-foot-9 and out of the small program of Virginia Union, Ben Wallace was passed over by the entire league on draft night. The Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) eventually signed Wallace. “Big Ben” as he would eventually be come to known as, hardly got any minutes at all early in his career but made the time on the floor he did receive count, averaging two blocks and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes his rookie year even though he only played 197 minutes in 34 games. By his second year, the young big slowly began to earn his stripes, playing in 67 games, 16 of which he started in, and playing a respectable 16.8 minutes per game. Wallace again made the most of his time on the floor, averaging 10.4 rebounds per game to go along with 2.4 blocks. Finally, after in a season shortened by the lockout of 1998, Wallace broke his way into serious playing time in his third year in the league, averaging just under 27 minutes per game alongside 2.6 blocks and 11.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. The following offseason, Wallace Wallace signed with the Orlando Magic, continuing to prove himself as a hard-nosed defensive specialist and elite rebounder. Finally, in the summer of 2000, Wallace was packaged with Chucky Atkins as part compensation for a sign and trade for Pistons super-star, Grant Hill.
If you are a basketball fan, you know how the rest of this story goes. Wallace became a defensive superstar with the Pistons, winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award in the 2002 and 2003 and repeating again in 2005 and 2006. Wallace was an icon and the centerpiece of the Pistons title 2003-04 title run. For all you aspiring young hoopers or just plain dreamers reading this, let Ben Wallace’s be a lesson for you. Never give up, always work your ass off, and if you can, grow a bad-ass afro.
The 1996 NBA Draft Class may just be the best ever. But day 84 of the 100 days of hoops may have something else to say about that.