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.

Ray Allen
Pick No. 5

Named USA Basketball’s Male Athlete of the Year (‘95) while a student at the University of Connecticut, Allen also collected All-American and Big East Player of the Year honors before heading to the NBA. Early on, Allen managed to guide both Milwaukee and Seattle, respectively, to superior records on more than one occasion, even being instated as the Bucks’ third best player (when they announced their 40th anniversary team). Although he had to wait more than a decade before calling Kevin Garnett his full-time teammate, despite being drafted fifth by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sugar Ray has since aligned with the Big Ticket to secure the Celtics’ 17th title. A notable Jordan Brand torch bearer, it was Allen’s co-starring role in Spike Lee’s He Got Game that allowed him a career-defining blaze. Owner of NBA records for most trifectas made in a single season and career, his strict dietary practices, military like game-day scheduling and well documented, largely neurotic preparations have only added to his overall appeal. Lately, Allen’s weaponry has been refined to include long distance rifles (built on accuracy and precision) over the more clumsy, automatic machine-guns many of his peers prefer to take into battle. As a member of the 20,000 point club, Allen knows how to make it rain but the 6-5 guard also sheds sunlight and a little Ray of Hope too.

Ben Wallace

From humble beginnings—just 5.8 mpg with the Washington Bullets—to chime-inducing, home crowd favoritism, and eventually the rank as Best Defender of the decade (’00s), Big Ben never just crashed the glass, swatted weak shit or patrolled the paint, he instead gave the less glamorous end a cosmetic upgrade and flexed a new kind of commander muscle. Capable of intimidating a volcano and mentored by Charles Oakley, this one-man border protection agency failed to win over the affections of NBA scouts before showing up in ‘96 after a stint in Italy. Shopped multiple times before (and since) landing in MoTown, Wallace clocked up four Defensive Player of the Year awards as well as multiple All-Defensive Team selections; and he did it with an unmistakable afro-centric panache. His hard shove on Ron Artest incited the Pacers-Pistons Brawl but that didn’t stop PlayAir Systems from created an Inflatable Defender in his likeness. With dreams of one day trading in the locker room for the courtroom, this undersized pivot often made a Dennis Rodman-like difference. A fictional character come to life; the engine inside the Bad Boy’s 2.0 monstertruck and the reason why Detroit won a chip in ’04 (and made six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals), Wallace is a straight up bad mutha-f**ka.

Antoine Walker
Pick No. 6

As Optimus Prime to one of college basketball’s greatest ever convoys, Walker helped the formidable University of Kentucky Wildcats rank as one of the top collegiate squads of all-time (en route to the title). A devastatingly talented point producer, one which predates Carmelo Anthony, ‘Toine spent his early years lighting it up from outside and confusing post defenders on the interior alongside Paul Pierce, restoring Celtic pride in the process. A rare NBA (Miami Heat, ’06) and NCAA (Kentucky, ’96) champion, Walker’s out of the ordinary 12-year career saw the combo forward’s wild, temperamental, poorly-timed, often inappropriate and hard to understand gun-slinging land him the dreaded ‘cowboy’ tag before he was forced to play pro in Puerto Rico and more recently, the D-League. Once reportedly robbed at gunpoint for $200,000, ‘Toine has since made headlines for issuing bad checks (for gambling losses to Las Vegas casinos) before filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy; but it’ll be his infectious, all-shimmying, all-court character which will endure with hoop-heads.

Marcus Camby
Pick No. 2

One of only eight players to have collected the NBA’s ‘Best Defensive Player’ trophy over the past 15 years, Camby’s legacy is that of a true shot-stopping machine—and rightfully so, only he, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mark Eaton have topped the NBA’s blocks per game ranking four separate times. A former John Wooden Award winner and Naismith College Player of the Year (‘96), Camby has continually vetoed offenses as a valued contributor for a number of NBA cities—often plugging deficiencies in attitude, among other things. Now a dominate weapon for hire, his topsy-turvy pro career has been cut-down somewhat by infrequent injury but that hasn’t prevented the long-limbed giant from standing tall. While Larry Johnson’s thunderous four-point play often headlines the New York Knicks’ ’99 post-season surge, it was Camby’s convulsion which allowed the eighth seeded MadMen to advance to the NBA Finals. Involved with noteworthy causes, such as Basketball Without Borders and his own non-profit foundation, Cambyland, his diverse pack of color pencils also includes the much darker shades: including $28,000 worth of illegal payments he accepted while a student at UMass and that horrific episode involving his family being tortured for eight hours. Arguably the best player not named to an All-Star team over the past 15 seasons, Camby has shown that not every stars needs its own solar system to shine.

Jermaine O’Neal
Pick No. 17

Although he once stated he “modeled his play after legends Bill Russell and Hakeem Olajuwon”, the dangly teenager couldn’t dominate the classroom like he did the lane while at Eau Claire High School of the Arts. Declaring for the ’96 NBA Draft—an overtly ambitious move which wouldn’t have stuck had it not been for Kevin Garnett’s bold prep-to-pros transition just 12 months earlier—the youngest player ever, at the time, served out his apprenticeship in Portland under a crowded frontcourt of Rasheed Wallace, Gary Trent, Brian Grant and Clifford Robinson, before being traded (for Dale Davis) to Indiana. Reinventing himself as a primetime peacock, the multiple All-Star signed a titanic seven-year, $126-million contract during which he was forced to serve a 25-game suspension (for his role in the toxic Malice at the Palace). J.O. has spent the past four NBA season’s auditioning for leading roles but has been best cast as a wandering zombie without knees. Remembered most for his expiring contract status; a call-up to represent Team USA; that MoTown melee and an NBA career which was always hampered by various injuries, the highly skilled, largely gifted, J.O. still rightfully owns a handful of Indiana Pacer records.

Stephon Marbury
Pick No. 4

Synonymous with Brooklyn’s Coney Island, this son of New York City, along the lines of Big Apple alum Kenny Anderson, spiraled from highly touted Abraham Lincoln High School graduate to curious case—proving life doesn’t operate according to the crystal ball. Often complicating his own on-court situation by walking to the beat of a self-serving drum, Marbury passed on a decade alongside Kevin Garnett only to torment New Jersey, Phoenix and New York, as one of the great clubhouse cancers. At his best, Marbury wasn’t all that far removed from today’s most celebrated PGs—strong, explosive, athletic, quick and dynamic—but his successes often cost his team dearly and his ceiling was never realized because he always burnt down every dwelling he took up residency in. A mismanaged masquerader, his public feuds with the NY media have only been eclipsed by his own dysfunctional, volatile relationships with the equally stubborn Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas. His open self-destruction and subsequent labeling overshadowed his philanthropy; and with career averages of 19.3 ppg, 7.3 apg and 1.2 spg, Starbury’s stats suggests fringe All-NBAer but anyone who saw him play knows that he was best when gunning for his own; making him the Nicolas Cage of basketball—highly capable but his choices always imply a peppering of crazy.

Additional ‘96 standouts:

Peja Stojakovic
Pick No. 14

This Serbian sniper remains one of the greatest international marksman to date. The first European-born player to win an event at All-Star Weekend, Stojakovic collected dual three-point shootout crowns. He fittingly sits behind fellow ’96 Draftee, Ray Allen as well as Reggie Miller and (surprisingly) Jason Kidd as fourth on the all-time made triples list. He has racked up numerous international honors and has guided his homeland to various Euro prizes but it’s his shrill offensive play during his tenure with Vlade Divac and Chris Webber in Sacramento which remains his hoop-print. While many still gawk at his Greek model wife, Aleka Kamila, it has been Peja’s ability to nail a target from the other side of a construction site that has seen him overachieve as often as he has under whelmed.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Pick No. 3

The first to win Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year honors after his freshman season (at Cal), ‘Reef lawfully ended up on the 2000 Olympic squad which collected Gold in Sydney. While he owns a few regretful records—most games without appearing in the postseason—he should be remembered for A. Being Charles Barkley’s real Rookie of the Year in ‘97 and B. His 2002 All-Star berth. While a member of the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies, ‘Reef increased his productivity each of his first four seasons, even ranking inside the top 20 for 13 categories during one campaign. Traded to Atlanta, for the rights to Pau Gasol, ‘Reef enjoyed little team success at the Coca-Cola capital before ending up with Portland and finally the Sacramento Kings, where he remains their Assistant General Manager.

Derek Fisher
Pick No. 24

The current Players Association President, after serving as Vice under Antonio Davis, D-Fish has benefited from his unique situation (alongside Kobe on Phil Jackson’s watch) almost more than any other player but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t stepped up whenever his number has been called. During his many post-season outings—Fisher ranks top five all-time in Playoff appearances—he has been clutch but never more so than his opportune demonstration that 0.4 seconds is more than enough time. A consummate professional who has battled for his spot and contributed as a solid reserve for All-Star’s Gary Payton (Los Angeles), Baron Davis (Golden State) and Deron Williams (Utah); Fisher has rarely been rattled by the enormity of a Finals stage, often delivering in dramatic fashion during key moments, making him both loved (to the Lakers’ faithful) and ultimately loath (everyone else).

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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?