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.

A Tale of Two Guards

On the road to greatness, ‘96 has shown it all—multilane interstate highways (Bryant); main streets with massive potholes (Nash); gravel goat tracks (Todd Fuller); Suburban boulevards (Allen); Inner city laneways (Camby); Winding country roads (Walker) and Industrial avenues (O’Neal)—but when the Draft took place, it was all about the impact of standout point guards, Allen Iverson (Georgetown) and Stephon Marbury (Georgia Tech): two men who were expected to change city planning.

“Iverson’s impact may be diminished a little now but that’s just because people have such short memories,” Osborne informs BUCKETS when we shift the topic of conversation over to AI’s legacy. “I feel like he was one of the three or four most relevant and important athletes in the world from 1996 until about 2005 and that can never be taken away from him.”

Meanwhile, the unintentional master of faux pas, Starbury, hasn’t quite been as ever-lasting, as Osborne reminds us, “SLAM’s efforts at building him up notwithstanding, I’m not sure Marbury ever had any big impact or relevance. Sure, he was tied to Iverson right around the Draft, but Allen enjoyed much more success and generated far greater controversy with his style, comments, etc. and that’s what made him such a big deal. Stephon, on the other hand, never played quite well enough, nor won enough games, for all his off-court antics to really matter, good or bad.”

In a class littered with sensational perimeter players, it’s bizarre to reflect on a time when Starbury aptly received bigger billing than Kobe and Nash combined but that was his place in ‘96. Undone by hubris, both Iverson and Marbury have since seen Derek Fisher remain an NBA starter while they wait for General Manager’s to call them back. Once the life of the party, the cruel world of next has left them looking like a couple of out-of-touch talents who are lost in their own reputations, fables and forgotten productivity.

Pulp Fiction

“The amount of ways the players taken in ‘96 have influenced the NBA and pop culture (and continue to do so today, 15 years later!), is really remarkable, in fact, it’s immeasurable. I hope ESPN or HBO are working on a documentary as we speak!”

Osborne’s words hint at the depth and value of ‘96 but what exactly are these men responsible for? While they never invented walking on air or introduced the elephant print, their respective styles remain avant guard. New NBA fans might not remember Iverson’s Reebok line being the only battle axe to ever dent the Air Jordan armor but most pundits sure as hell know all about Kobe and Nash’s uninvited low-cut, light weight Swoosh overhaul. Speaking of footwear, Starburys were practically given away once up a time and for long sessions, Antoine Walker (adidas), Ray Allen (Jordan Brand) and Marcus Camby (AND 1) all provided powerful wattage to their cultural lighthouses.

It’s fair to unequivocally state that without ‘96, we’d have a far less interesting NBA universe. Subjugating the consumer spheres of advertising, broadcasting, collecting, electronic gaming, hairstyling, publishing and merchandising, just to name a few—and that’s just off the clock—the spectrum by which ‘96 has captured our collective imagination is simply staggering. On a purely indulgent and stranger than fiction level, the long running, Samson strong subplots which absorb this Tonka tough troupe are as good and titillating as it gets for hoop heads.

Anthill of Accolades

Surprisingly, it wasn’t Iverson but Antoine Walker—8 points, 0-3 outside, in 12 minutes—and Kobe—a Western Conference best 18 points in 22 minutes—who first broke into the All-Star stronghold, way back in ‘98; with the latter voted in by fans as one of four Lakers selected. Of course since then, another nine players from ‘96 have been called up, including Iverson, Nash, Sugar Ray, J.O., Starbury, Abdur-Rahim, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Peja Stojakovic. That’s 11 players in total—over one-third of the first rounders selected—and that’s without adding undrafted Thundercat, Ben Wallace, who also earned multiple All-Star badges.

They’ve netted MVPs (Iverson—’01; Nash—‘04 & ‘05, Bryant—‘08); Finals MVPs (Bryant—‘09, ‘10); Best Defensive (Wallace—‘02, ‘03, ‘05, ‘06; Camby—‘07) and Most Improved Player honors (Jermaine O’Neal—‘02), as well as other noteworthy awards from the various All-Star Weekend events but what truly separates this delegation is 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. In fact, 12 of the past 15 NBA Finals have featured ‘96 cast members in key roles (with Kobe showing up seven times).

The colossal, chart-topping finish however belongs to their 41, and counting, All-NBA Team selections—the truest measure of an individual’s worth. Like gifts under the Christmas tree, members from ‘96 can’t stop, won’t stop, amassing these honors. With no Michael Jordan in sight, the ‘99 First Team found room for Allen Iverson (his debut); while Bryant, who should’ve been a collegiate junior that year, was picked for the third unit. From there, thanks to Kobe, at least one member from ‘96 has appeared every year, including the 2003 apex when a staggering six players were deemed to be top 15. Here’s the breakdown:

1996-97. -
1997-98. -
1998-99. 1st: Iverson // 2nd: – // 3rd: Bryant
1999-00. 1st: – // 2nd: Iverson, Bryant // 3rd: Marbury
2000-01. 1st: Iverson // 2nd: Bryant // 3rd: Allen
2001-02. 1st: Bryant // 2nd: Iverson // 3rd: Wallace, O’Neal, Nash
2002-03. 1st: Bryant // 2nd: Iverson, Wallace // 3rd: O’Neal, Marbury, Nash
2003-04. 1st: Bryant // 2nd: Wallace, Stojakovic, O’Neal // 3rd: -
2004-05. 1st: Nash, Iverson // 2nd: Allen // 3rd: Bryant, Wallace
2005-06. 1st: Nash, Bryant // 2nd: Wallace // 3rd: Iverson
2006-07. 1st: Nash, Bryant // 2nd: – // 3rd: -
2007-08. 1st: Bryant // 2nd: Nash // 3rd: -
2008-09. 1st: Bryant // 2nd: – // 3rd: -
2009-10. 1st: Bryant // 2nd: Nash // 3rd: -
2010-11. 1st: Bryant // 2nd: – // 3rd: -

Happenstance? Ben Osborne clears the air, “For the most part, I think it’s a coincidence. But Kobe’s presence makes it extra, extra accomplished. It was certainly considered a strong group but I don’t think the ‘96 Draft was predicted to be as prolific as it has turned out to be. Kobe, astute and calculating, even at 17, assessed the guys he’d be with in the Draft, and knowing how good most of them were, he still entered his name, that helps makes it seem like there was more than coincidence dictating how great the players from ‘96 would turn out.”

Osborne aptly concludes, “If I had to bet, I’d say we’ll never see another class that could or will ever match it.” While this divergent class has served as necessary advancement, their redirection of franchise fate and fan misfortune has also created a paradox, and that fact should never be forgotten.

It may still be futile to challenge the cosmic forces ‘84 but for those of us who enjoy the warning of thorns, as much as we adore the various colors which flower atop the stem, it’s hard to look past the eclectic bouquet of ‘96—a class like no other.

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  • 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?