From ’96 ‘Til Infinity…
The Class of ’96 was the best of all time. Here’s why.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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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