Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011 at 5:52 pm  |  52 responses

From ’96 ‘Til Infinity…

The Class of ’96 was the best of all time. Here’s why.

After their debuts played out behind real talent (Eddie Jones) or completely off the pre-internet radar (Milwaukee), both Kobe and Ray Allen, respectively, could only manage All-Rookie Second-Team call-ups. Kobe’s Lake Show finished 56-26 while his draft day franchise, the Hornets, finished just two losses back, 54-28 (good enough for sixth in the East). As for Allen, he went hunting under Chris Ford’s watch but couldn’t carry the limping Bucks above 30 wins.

As the sun set on the ‘96-97 season, Michael Jordan claimed yet another title but when the night sky became visible, what emerged wasn’t complete darkness but a nebula creating bright new stars. Understandably, it took another full season before this miscellaneous cluster would evolve but once they all acclimatized, their gravitational pulls created an unamicable, operatic tempest.

Deep Impact

While ‘84 is renowned for its excellence, thanks in large to headliners Hakeem Olajuwon (selected first), Michael Jordan (third), Charles Barkley (fifth) and John Stockton (16th)—and to a lesser extent, Sam Perkins, Kevin Willis and Michael Cage—we’ve also always been drawn, moth to flame, to the ‘96 class because of how this fluke flotilla has patrolled the modern NBA fishbowl.

To gain a firmer grip, we approached SLAM’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Osborne for insight on why ’96 matters. He offered, “The only other draft, over the past 15 years, that even comes to ‘96 is 2003 when LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Melo (even Darko for all the wrong reasons) were chosen. That’s a really memorable class, filled with guys who have sold a lot of shoes and become world-famous superstars, but none of them have had the basketball impact of Kobe or the cultural impact of Iverson. Of course the Class of ‘03 is still writing its story, but it’s hard to imagine people ever viewing that group like they do ‘96. Other than ’03, no other draft even comes close.”

As the discussion advanced, Osborne added, “It’s not just the depth of pure basketball talent or the cultural impact but the global popularity of players like Kobe, Iverson and Nash. The first is the most polarizing—and, if SLAM cover sales are any indication, most popular—player since MJ. Kobe’s presence alone makes it a memorable class.” But Ben quickly reminds BUCKETS that, “Iverson’s impact has been dulled a little of late but his incredibly average physical build and me-against-the-world mentality made him an absolute hero to young people all around the globe (which was substantial)!”

As for Nash, the Osborne had this to say: “Steve is another guy whose size (small), race (white), nationality (technically Canadian but with England and South Africa ties), achievements (back-to-back MVPs) and public persona (intelligent, willing to take a stand on social/political issues) make him one of the most compelling figures in the NBA to this day.”

The ‘96 Draft has served SLAM well, as Osborne notes, “One draft brought us Iverson, Kobe and Nash. That’s really amazing.” But as we all now know, it doesn’t stop there. What makes the ‘96 phalanx a singularity isn’t just the discovery of a profound periodic element like Kobe but the fact that Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Ben Wallace, Antoine Walker, Marcus Camby, Stephon Marbury, Jermaine O’Neal and Shareef-Abdur-Rahim, among others, all converged from different laboratories at the exact same time.

  • Add a Comment
  • Share
  • RSS

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    This was really really good.

  • MikeC.

    ’96 was loaded!

  • http://slamonline.com LakeShow

    Wow took me all day to finally get through it, but what a great read! Thank you!

  • http://www.kb24.com The Seed

    Great article. The Class of 1996, is still writing their story. BOOK IT!!!

  • add

    nice article, shout out to my man Eddie Jones

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    Freakin’ amazing article.

  • gokill

    Truly the best class!!!

  • brandon

    wow i thought that 03 was the greatest but then i saw that class lose to the mavs, so…

  • robb

    thank you very much for posting this.

  • Hubert

    you totally forgot about mark pope & priest lauderdale!

  • http://www.courtsidebasketball.blogspot.com Hank McCoy

    Another great read. Great to see SLAM showing Aussie Hoop Heads some love!

    For those interested you can catch more of BG’s thoughts and 90′s NBA down at the Courtside Podcast, http://courtsidebasketball.blogspot.com/2011/07/courtside-podcast-episode-18-throwbacks.html

    or jump online and grab yourself a copy of Buckets Magazine, http://bucketsmag.bigcartel.com/category/magazine

  • jonny

    Yes, and 1995 McDonald’s All-American Game was deepest of all time. Whoa.

  • http://www.slamonline.com spit hot fiyah

    crazy how camby’s career high in points was in his rookie year

  • marc

    Marcus Camby was my one of my favorite knicks player.

  • http://www.slamonline.com spit hot fiyah

    also, no mention of kerry kittles, he was real nice b4 injuries caught up to him, and john wallace too

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ 1982

    Thanks, this was probably the best article I’ve read in a while on basketball. I still have that 96′ draft class fold out cover.

  • Pic

    “Every chip won over the past 15 years not claimed by either Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan or Michael Jordan is because of someone from ‘96.” So the 2006 Miami Heat won because of Antoine Walker? That’s almost like saying the 2011 Dallas Mavericks won the championship because of Deshawn Stevenson.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Slick Ric

    please, when you got four legitimate legends who were arguably the best the at their positions, nothing else compares.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Slick Ric

    im not sure if d-fish deserves to be on that list.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Sorry but the ’84 class with Hakeem, MJ, Barkley and Stock is the best of all-time. What they lacked in depth was made in those 4 guys’ individual greatness.

  • LA Huey

    Great article. Not going to say ’96 is still not as good as ’84 but it has an argument.

  • Double J

    D-Fish doesn’t deserve to be on that list?!?! holy crap man…

  • bike

    I have always thought that AI was the most entertaining and exiting player to watch…ever. No, he did not win championships and yes, he was no doubt a pain to coach and a problem in the locker room. But, man oh man oh man…the crossover and the way he seemed to score at will over, around, and under guys who were almost a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier….and watching him slam into the floor over and over and over again. Used to make me ache after watching one of his games. I really loved that guy.

  • http://slamonline.com LakeShow

    Bike agree that dude was incredible, but for me the precision style and skill set of MJ, and Kobe, makes me like watching them more. And as far as just being excited while watching someone play ball, Dennis Rodman takes the cake for me.

  • Kyle

    C- Ben Wallace – in his prime was a defensive, rebounding monster
    PF – Jermaine O’Neal – 13 ppg, 9.8, 2.8 bpg starting in 2000
    SF – Kobe – 28.5 ppg in 2000
    SG – Ray Allen – 22 ppg in 2000
    PG – Steve Nash – 15.6, 7.3 apg in 2000

    6th man – Peja and Iverson
    rest of the bench – Marcus Camby(would switch as starter with Wallace), Shareef, Malik Rose

    Against the 1984 team(mind you, the team has to make sense)
    C – Hakeem Olajuwon
    PF – Charles Barkley
    SF – Jerome Kersey
    SG – Michael Jordan
    PG – John Stockton

    6th man – Sam Perkins
    rest of the bench – Otis Thorpe, Rick Carlisle, Vern Fleming, Jeff Turner(no 3 point shooters and not much else aside from the big 4 to choose from.

    Which team do you think would win considering the class of 96 with everyone in his prime? One team could combine pure 3 point shooters who can pile on the points with defensive monsters.

  • Ken

    The belabored metaphors and awkward writing made me stop after one page.

  • Brock

    Very true indeed

  • Will Lee

    what about Peja winning a title this year? Antoine also won title with Miami.

  • http://slamonline.com Ugh

    “Narcissistic playmaking”? Do you actually know what narcissistic means?
    Also: plural apostrophe.
    Also: terrible roads metaphor. Terrrrible.

  • http://slamonline.com Ugh

    “his diverse pack of color pencils also includes the much darker shades”. YIKES!
    Also: “dangly teenager” You mean gangly.
    Also: Where you had ‘loath’ you mean ‘loathed’.
    Also: too much alliteration.

    Can I get a job as a sub-editor, Slam? It’s pretty obvious nobody else is doing it.

  • Ivan

    Now NBA articles are just bittersweet memories..

  • Ali

    Great read SLAM!

  • http://slamonline.com #kiwiinlondon

    this was a golden issue! my cousin still has that poster on the wall. kobe turned into an absolute machine.


    Bryant Reeves went 13 & 7 in his rookie year, not great but hardly ‘instant flame out’… Reeves wasn’t half as bad a basketball player as his physical appearance (apparently) suggests.

  • Tobiath

    Brilliant article, excellently written and executed. A great way to spend my lunch break. Kudos Mr. Author.

  • Armando

    Kyle: Why 2000?

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    School’s in session when I’m fresh’n–RAPPING–so I take time off to never rhyme soft…

  • MLK4Life

    You can’t possibly have AI coming off the bench behind Ray Allen. Compare the two in their primes? Ray was good, AI was great.

  • http://www.blogabull.com/ CheecaagoMayne

    read this while listening to 93 til infinity

  • Waskito

    Good story.. Worth to mentioned, shandon Anderson (solid player, 2 NBA final), malik rose,samaki walker ( eat something),

  • Zabba

    “As the sun set on the ‘96-97 season, Michael Jordan claimed yet another title but when the night sky became visible, what emerged wasn’t complete darkness but a nebula creating bright new stars.” I can’t waste my team reading crappy writing like this, no matter how informative the article is.

  • shomilocdee

    check SLAM 96

  • shomilocdee

    AI cover

  • shomilocdee

    96 is just too deep 4 84 to compete.

  • http://www.twitter.com/JoshElam JE

    Which draft class has produced the most regular-season MVPs? Not trying to make a point, I really don’t know the answer.

  • Jamaal87

    @ JE

    It has too be 84′

    MJ had like 5.
    Barkley had 1.
    Hakeem a couple?

  • Armando

    MVPs, has to be 84.
    MJ: 5, Barkley and Olajuwon 1 apiece.

    The DT mixed up their starting lineup, but assuming their olympics finals starting five it would be:
    PG – Magic 8ppg, 5.5apg
    SG – Jordan 14.9ppg 4.8apg
    SF – Pippen 9ppg, 5.9apg (leading the team)
    PF – Malone 13ppg, 5.3rpg
    C – Ewing 9.5ppg, 5.3rpg
    Barkley is the 6th man, the tournament’s best player and USA’s leading scorer at 18 per game. People tend to forget Mullin’s significance on the team, 12.9 ppg, 3.6 apg and 54% from three. The two players playing the least were Stockton and Laettner. Drexler and Bird started 3 games each as well and chipped in 11 and 8ppg respectively. Robinson essentially split the time at center 50/50 with Ewing, posting 9 and 4 per game.

    Match ups position by position:
    PG: Magic would post up any of the Redeem Team PGs except maybe Kidd, he wouldn’t be able to stop Paul or Williams though, but with Robinson/Ewing behind him that wouldn’t be a problem. Stockton was better than any of the Redeem Team PGs at this point in his career, top three passer of all time, excellent shooter, great defender and a tough nail (put up 16ppg 14apg and 3spg for the Jazz in 91-92):
    EDGE: DT
    SG: Jordan vs. Kobe – Skills wise a wash, but MJ’s the best ever because of his determination and mindset. Drexler vs. Wade: Again very even, Wade’s probably got the upper hand here, but only slightly (I’ll rank these 5th and 4th all time at the 2). Redd could get some time, probably matched up against Mullin, but that’s a duel he’s bound to lose anyway.
    EDGE: DT
    SF: Pippen vs. James: James would have to work against Pippen and vice versa. Mullin and Bird vs. Anthony (who primarily has played the four internationally, but will see time at the three as well) and Prince: Prince is a very good defender, but he’s never been anywhere near the player Mullin was. Anthony is arguably better than Bird at this point, but without the intangibles. Anyway…
    EDGE: Almost EVEN, but i’ll give this one to the Dream Team as well unless Anthony sees a lot of time at the SF, in which case it tips the other way (slightly).
    PF: Malone vs. Anthony: Malone could possibly struggle against Melo on the perimeter, but come on, Anthony doesn’t hold a candle to the Mailman. Boozer would surve nicely as Barkley’s halftime snack. Laettner would only get garbage minutes.
    EDGE: DT
    C: I believe DH could end up being the better player of all the centers on these teams, but at their respective points in their careers this is pretty even. Howard would probably do alot of damage, but it’s basically two against one and a half (Bosh).
    EDGE: DT.

    Dream Team would win it.

  • Kyle

    2000 had them all just hitting their real primes… and a few weren’t all star caliber players before that(Nash, O’Neal, Wallace.) I was being weird by saying 2000, but in 1998, they’d have been murdered… but from 2000 to 2005… deadly.

  • Armando

    F**k, posted in the wrong tab. Sorry.

  • phamie

    Steve Nash is one of the batch ’96. Look how far he is now, So i definitely Agree that ’96 batch is the best really.

  • washtub

    1996 is not even the best draft of the 90s.
    1992 is.

  • andre anglais

    1992? Shaq and Zo and …?
    Oliver Miller?