Snapshots (of the top-12 talents) from the Class of ‘96
Pick No. 13
An ostentatious offensive force who has flawlessly worn both sidekick and superhero cape’s, Bryant’s vocation to date has three distinct stages: Ascension; Fall from Grace and Deliverance from Evil. The youngest All-Star starter at just 19, this self-proclaimed Black Mamba has since rolled off a long list of accolades; capped off by scoring the second most points in a regular-season game. Wunderkind turn world-class surgeon, the devastatingly gifted Bryant only recently patched up the great fan divide en route to claiming the highest selling jersey of the Naughties. Changing identities multiple times, this NIKE billboard has also been seen Puttin’ In Work for Spike Lee and besting everyone from basketball’s past—including Wilt Chamberlain, Bernard King and Jerry West—while dually dominating its present. A maligned extra-marital transgressor, this melodic master’s many desertions may have once shouted sinner but his on-court splendor now bellows saintly sounds—tunes heard perfectly as he redeemed Team USA (’08) and reinstated his beloved Los Angeles Lakers (‘09, ‘10).
Pick No. 1
Only MJ and Shaq (and arguably Kobe and LeBron, and all in that order) can claim to have left a wider, deeper and more permanent footprint on basketball’s coastline since Iverson left Georgetown University to tread on the NBA’s sandy shores. Although a young Tim Hardaway embarrassed all with his killer crossover, it was Iverson’s shake and bake that caused the establishment to amend its rules. A revelation who only moved at top-speed, Iverson wore his heart on his shooting sleeve, found self expression in a boxscore (as often as he did a tattoo), and introduced many of us to the braided / cornrow aesthetic. A lifetime endorser of Reebok, his most popular soundbites have since become replay folly but that doesn’t remove his Midas meets Mr. Freeze epoch, when everything he touched turned to solid bars of gold (before ending up as Jewelz). The lone Shinobi, by choice, who helped the Sixers to their only Finals appearance in the past 25 years, AI has been a disciplinary nightmare as often as he has been scoring champion. His bold attempts at being the diplomat saw him bashed by bigots but always resurrected by adoring fans; and although he has acquired hundreds of millions in salary (and endorsement deals) he has given so many of us something much more valuable in return. After Philadelphia, he collided with Carmelo Anthony in Denver; became a sideshow turned distraction whilst in Detroit (and later Memphis) and although his emotional homecoming showed him to be a false prophet, Philly is where he’ll remain forever young—thanks to his ‘01 MVP. An all-out survivor and true cultural titan, Iverson has earned his right to be labelled a bulletproof basketball messiah.
Pick No. 15
He has walked in Kurt Rambis’ NCAA footsteps, learned the realities of NBA life from Kevin Johnson, Sam Cassell and Jason Kidd, and turned a deplorable 29-win Suns outfit into a 62-win powerhouse (after Mavericks owner Mark Cuban failed to meet the market’s asking price). Helping seven different players register career-highs in seven seconds or less, Nash was declared the Association’s Most Valuable Player, an honor he would repeat, joining both Magic and Michael as the only members in the back-to-back MVP guard club. President of the extra curricular ‘50-40-90’ honor roll, Nash is also the laboratory splicing of Pistol Pete Maravich and John Stockton, sprinkled with a little of Mark Price’s genes. Criticized for his matador D, Nash’s razor sharp, narcissistic playmaking has always meant the glass is half full. Charismatic, eco-friendly and socially conscience, this active and positive role model has remained elite well beyond his expected expiration date. He has entertained, enthralled and educated a generation; received the Order of Canada; and has seen his status rise from global icon into everlasting sporting legend. No wonder Time Magazine declared this nationally responsible treasure one of the 100 most influential people (‘06).