The game of basketball has changed over time but even with change, some players remain on top of their respective franchise. Every once in a while, a player comes along that changes the entire landscape of a team. Fame, glory, and sometimes championships tend to follow and before you know it, everybody in that town is wearing their jersey.
Every franchise has a rich history with long lists of players that provided years of highlights. These players are credited for making their team who they are today. Here is a look at the most iconic player for each team in NBA history. To be eligible, the player must have played for their team for at least three seasons.
Atlanta Hawks – Dominique Wilkins
Career Highlights: All-NBA First Team (1986), 4x All-NBA Second Team (1987, 1988, 1991, 1993), 2x All-NBA Third Team (1989, 1994), 9x All-Star, All-Rookie First Team (1983, NBA scoring champion (1986), 2x NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion (1985, 1990), No. 21 retired by Hawks, Hall of Famer
His No. 21 is retired for good reason. His 12-year run is one of the best stretches we have seen from a Hawks player. His 30.3 points per game led the league in 1986. He averaged over 25 points for 10 consecutive seasons. His 26,668 career points rank 13th all-time, while his 23,292 points with the Hawks are the franchise leader. Wilkins also ranks fourth in rebounds, eighth in assists, and seventh in blocks all time. He was an all-around standout for Atlanta.
During the 80s, Atlanta recorded four consecutive 50-win seasons. He was nicknamed “The Human Highlight Film” for the athletic ability that helped him win two Slam Dunk Contests. To think, Wilkins was traded by the Utah Jazz for John Drew, Freeman Williams, and $1 million in cash. It’s one of the most lopsided deals in NBA history.
Boston Celtics – Larry Bird
Career Highlights: 3x NBA Champion (1981, 1984, 1986), 2x NBA Finals MVP (1984, 1986), 3x NBA Most Valuable Player (1984-1986), 12x All-Star, NBA All-Star Game MVP (1982), 9x All-NBA First Team (1980-1988), All-NBA Second Time (1990), NBA Rookie of the Year (1980), 3x NBA All-Defensive Second Team (1982-1984), 3x NBA Three-Point Contest champion (1986-1988), Hall of Famer
With the No. 6 overall pick, the Boston Celtics selected a small forward out of Indiana State that made a big name for himself in the college scene. He wound up playing 13 seasons for the Celtics and helped the franchise win three championships. Bird is the only player in NBA history to win the MVP award three consecutive seasons. He is regarded as the greatest small forward of all-time.
Bird was the first player in league history to shoot 50% from the field, 40% on three-point field goals, and 90% or better on free throws in a single NBA season. He made the 50-40-90 club two times. He is remembered as an excellent passer and defender. Bird was not the quickest player on the floor but he had a tendency for knowing where the ball was going to go, making him a universally loved team defender.
Brooklyn Nets – Julius Erving
Career Highlights: NBA Champion (1983), 5x First-Team All-NBA First Team (1978, 1980-1983), 2x All-NBA Second Team (1977, 1984), 11x All-Star, No. 32 retired by Nets, Hall of Famer
Commonly known as “Dr. J.,” Erving won four MVPs and three scoring titles during his times with the ABA Virginia Squires and New York Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets). He finished his career with 30,026 points combined between the ABA and NBA, which ranks eighth all-time. He is the only player in league history to be named the MVP in both the ABA and NBA.
Erving signed an eight-year contract with the Nets that reportedly would pay him $350,000 per year. He helped lead the Nets to their first ABA title in 1973-1974. The ABA merged with the NBA in 1976 but not before Erving led the Nets to the ABA’s final championship. He averaged 34.7 points and was named the playoffs MVP. It’s the last championship that the Nets franchise has won.
Charlotte Hornets – Kemba Walker
Career Highlights: All-NBA Third Team (2019), 4x NBA All-Star, 2x NBA Sportsmanship Award (2017, 2018)
After leading UConn to an unexpected NCAA Championship, the Hornets (Bobcats at the time) drafted Walker with the No. 9 overall pick. Walker helped the team qualify for the playoffs in 2014 and 2016, both first-round exits. The Hornets were a losing franchise most of the time that Walker played but his ability to score kept the team in games.
Walker left the franchise with many records. Walker is the all-time leader in minutes played, field goals, three-point field goals, and free throws. More impressively, he is the all-time leader in points, and ranks second in assists, and is third in steals. Walker could have resigned with the team but he was never offered a max contract and left for the Boston Celtics at the age of 29.
Chicago Bulls – Michael Jordan
Seasons: 1984-1993, 1995-1998
Career Highlights: 6x NBA champion (1991-1993, 1996-1998), 6x NBA Finals MVP, 5x MVP, 14x All_Star, 10x All-NBA First Team (1987-1993, 1996-1998), All-NBA Second Team (1985), NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1985), 9x NBA All-Defensive First Team, NBA Rookie of the Year (1985), 10x NBA scoring leader, 3x NBA steals leader, 2x Slam Dunk Contest Champion (1987, 1988), No. 23 retired by the Bulls, Hall of Famer
What is there not to say about Michael Jordan? He is the greatest basketball player of all time. His accolades and accomplishments speak for themselves. He holds the NBA records for career regular-season scoring average (30.12). His six championships have propelled him to the top in every debate about the greatest basketball player of all time. His niche for perfection was what made him a great closer, but intimidating on both his team and his opponent.
He is the most iconic basketball player ever as well. He is known for his product endorsements, specifically the success of Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers. He is right up there as one of the most influential people in the world. Jordan is now trying to bring the Hornets to greatness as the owner of the franchise.
Cleveland Cavaliers – LeBron James
Seasons: 2003-2010, 2014-2018
Career Highlights: 4x NBA champion (2012-2013, 2016, 2020), 4x NBA Finals MVP, 4x MVP, 16x All-Star, 13x All-NBA First Team (2006, 2008, 2008-2018, 2020), 2x All-NBA Second Team (2005, 2007), All-NBA Third Team (2019), 5x All-Defensive First Team, NBA Rookie of the Year (2004), NBA scoring champion (2008), NBA assists leader (2020)
LeBron is currently the second greatest player to ever play the game. He is likely one championship away from cementing his legacy as the greatest to ever play the game. His 16 All-Star appearances are creeping towards the most ever, while his 16 All-NBA selections are the most all-time. He has won championships with three different franchises, including leading Cleveland to their fist every championship in 2016.
LeBron was the most hated athlete in Cleveland after he left the franchise for the Miami Heat in 2010. After winning two titles in Miami, he came back and led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in all four seasons. If it wasn’t for the Golden State Warriors super team, who knows how many titles LeBron might have won during that stretch? Either way, his game has evolved, leading the league in assists last season at the age of 35.
Dallas Mavericks – Dirk Nowitzki
Career Highlights: NBA champion (2011), NBA Finals MVP, MVP (2007), 14x All-Star, 4x All-NBA First Team (2005-2007, 2009), 5x All-NBA Second Team (2002-2003, 2008, 2010-2011), 3x All-NBA Third Team (2001, 2004, 2012), 50-40-90 club (2007), NBA Three-Point Contest champion (2006)
Nowitzki spent his entire 21-year career in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks. He led the team to 15 appearances in the playoffs, including the team’s first Finals appearance in 2006 and their first championship in 2011. Their title in 2011 was an unexpected journey but the Mavericks took down the “Big 3” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in the Finals and Nowitzki won NBA Finals MVP.
Nowitzki is the only player to ever play for a single franchise for 21 seasons. He is the first European player to start in an All-Star Game and win an MVP. He holds many Mavericks records, including points, rebounds, and blocks. After his retirement, he ranked sixth all-time on the career scoring list with 31,560 points.
Denver Nuggets – Carmelo Anthony
Career Highlights: 4x All-NBA Second Team (2010, 2013), 4x All-NBA Third Team (2006-2007, 2009, 2012), 10x All-Star, NBA scoring champion (2013), NBA All-Rookie First Team (2004)
If Anthony never left the Nuggets, he would have been the all-time leader in points. His 13,970 points rank third-most in franchise history. However, Anthony wanted to play in a bigger market, which led to him being traded to the New York Knicks after the 2011 season. In Denver, he helped keep the franchise in playoff contention each season.
While playing for the Nuggets, he led the team to the playoffs every year from 2004 to 2010. The team won two divisional championships during his tenure. In 2009, Anthony teamed up with Chauncey Billups to lead the Nuggets to their first Western Conference Finals appearance since 1985.
Detroit Pistons – Isiah Thomas
Career Highlights: 2x NBA champion (1989, 1990), NBA Finals MVP (1990), 3x All-NBA First Team (1984-1986), 2x All-NBA Second Team (1983, 1987), 12x All-Star, NBA All-Rookie First Team (1982), NBA assists leader (1985), No. 11 retired by Pistons, Hall of Famer
Thomas was one of the faces of the “Bad Boys” Pistons era during the 80s. After being picked with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1981 draft, Thomas made the first of 12 All-Star teams in his rookie seasons. Thomas helped lead the Pistons past the likes of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Michael Jordan during the 80s as the Pistons won two NBA championships.
In 1988, Thomas played through a severely sprained ankle in Game 6 of the NBA Finals and scored 25 points despite losing to the Lakers in the end. In 1989 and 1990, Thomas won an NBA Finals MVP after averaging 27.6 points, 7.0 assists, and 5.2 rebounds per game. In 1994, he called his career early after he tore his Achilles tendon.
Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry
Career Highlights: 3x NBA champion (2015, 2017, 2018), 2x MVP (2015, 2016), 3x All-NBA First Team (2015, 2016, 2019), 2x All-NBA Second Team (2014, 2017), All-NBA Third Team (2018), 6x All-Star, NBA scoring champion (2016), NBA steals leader (2016), 50-40-90 club (2016)
Curry went from small-town kid at Davidson to superstar during his career in the NBA. Curry has teamed up with Klay Thompson to form the “Splash Bros” as two of the best three-point shooters of all time. Curry’s 2016 season was magical as he led the league in scoring with 30.1 points per game and became the first-ever player to win the MVP award unanimously.
Curry is about 1,000 points away from surpassing Wilt Chamberlain as the all-time leader in sports. Curry will likely surpass that mark next season and could eventually finish in the 20,000s. At the age of 32, Curry has plenty of prime years left in him, so the sky’s the limit for where he will finish in the record books.
Houston Rockets – Hakeem Olajuwon
Career Highlights: 2x NBA Champion (1994, 1995), 2x NBA Finals MVP, NBA MVP (1994), 6x All-NBA First Team (1987-1989, 1993, 1994, 1997), 3x All-NBA Second Team (1986, 1990, 1996), 3x All-NBA Third Team (1991, 1995, 1999), 2x NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 5x All-NBA Defensive First Team, 4x NBA All-Defensive Second Team, 12x All-Star, 2x NBA rebounding leader, 3x NBA blocks leader, No. 34 retired by Rockets, Hall of Famer
Olajuwon helped the Rockets win back-to-back NBA championships during the 1994 and 1995 seasons. With Michael Jordan out of the league in 1994, Olajuwon won the MVP award with 27.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per game. He is one of the greatest defensive players that we have ever seen with two rebounding leading seasons to go with three years where he led the league in blocks.
When it came to big men, Olajuwon had the best post footwork among his peers. He once referred to the game of basketball as a science. He is the only player in NBA history to record 200 steals and 200 blocks in a season. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the closest player we have seen to Olajuwon in years.
Indiana Pacers – Reggie Miller
Career Highlights: 3x All-NBA Third Team (1995, 1996, 1998), 5x NBA All-Star, 50-40-90 club (1994), No. 31 retired by the Pacers, Hall of Famer
Miller’s most iconic moment was when he scored eight points in 8.9 seconds in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks that led to a 107-105 victory. Miller was the original three-point specialist. When he left the league, he was the all-time leader in three-point field goals. Miller’s range had no bounds. Along with his abilities on the floor, he was a known leader in the locker room.
He is one of five players to ever have spent 18 years with a single franchise. He finished his career with 2,560 three-pointers, which has been surpassed by only Ray Allen. Miller is well-regarded as one of the greatest shooters ever.
Los Angeles Clippers – Chris Paul
Career Highlights: 4x All-NBA First Team (2008, 2012-2014), 4x All-NBA Second Team (2009, 2015, 2016, 2020), All-NBA Third Team (2011), 10x All-Star, 7x All-Defensive First Team, 2x All-Defensive Second Team, NBA Rookie of the Year (2006), 4x assists leader, 6x steals leader
Before Chris Paul arrived, the Clippers were an irrelevant franchise. Teaming up with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan put the team on the map. The evolution of “lob city” made for iconic dunks and multiple appearances on Sportscenter’s Top Ten.
Paul became the first Clipper to be named All-NBA First Team since the team moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s. He averaged over 9.1 assists in all seven seasons that he played for the team. He is the all-time leader in assists for the franchise and ranks No. 6 all-time in points.
Los Angeles Lakers – Kobe Bryant
Career Highlights: 5x NBA champion (2000-2002, 2009, 2010), 2x NBA Finals MVP (2009, 2010), MVP (2008), 11x All-NBA First Team (2002-2004, 2006-2013), 2x All-NBA Second Team (2000, 2001), 2x All-NBA Third Team (1999, 2005), 18x All-Star, 9x All-NBA Defensive First Team, 3x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, 2x NBA scoring champion (2006, 2007), No. 8 & 24 numbers retired by Lakers, Hall of Famer
The Charlotte Hornets have to be kicking themselves every day since the 1996 NBA Draft. The Hornets drafted Bryant with the No. 13 overall pick and then traded him to the Lakers. After that, he developed history as a high-flyer and fan favorite. After winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie, Bryant turned into a global sensation.
Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2003. In 2006, he scored the second-most points (81) in a regular-season game, which was the most since Wilt Chamberlain’s record 100 points. Bryant led the team to two more championships in 2009 and 2010 where he was the winner of NBA Finals MVP. He is the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history, while his 18 All-Star designations are second-most of all time. The “Black Mamba” nickname is recognized by all fans. Bryant left the world too early as in January 2020, his daughter Gianna, himself, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
Memphis Grizzlies – Marc Gasol
Career Highlights: NBA Champion (2019), All-NBA First Team (2015), All-NBA Second Team (2013), 3x All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year (2013), All-Defensive Second Team
An honorable mention has to go out to Mike Conley. The duo of Conley and Gasol helped the Grizzlies contend in the stacked Western Conference, including qualifying for the Western Conference Finals in 2013. Gasol is the franchise leader in rebounds, field goals, blocks, and is second in points.
Along with his abilities as an offensive center, he was a great defender. He anchored the Grizzlies defense in 2013 that allowed a league-low 88.7 points per game. The Grizzlies were +5.4 when he played on the floor. Gasol was traded in 2019 to the Toronto Raptors midway through the season and helped the team win their first-ever NBA championship. He will always be remembered as a fan favorite in Memphis.
Miami Heat – Dwyane Wade
Seasons: 2003-2016, 2018-2019
Career Highlights: 3x NBA champion (2006, 2012, 2013), NBA Finals MVP (2006), 2x All-NBA First Team (2009, 2010), 3x All-NBA Second Team (2005, 2006, 2011), 3x All-NBA Third Team (2007, 2012, 2013), 13x All-Star, All-Star Game MVP (2010), 3x All-Defensive Second Team, NBA scoring champion (2009), All-Rookie First Team (2004), No. 3 retired by the Heat
While many remember the Heat winning their first NBA championship, what they don’t remember was how tough Wade was during that stretch. Wade suffered several injuries during that stretch, including a severely bruised hip in the first round of the playoffs. In intense pain, he scored 28 points in Game 5. He followed that with a double-double of 14 points and 10 assists in the second round clincher against the Detroit Pistons.
In the NBA Finals, Wade’s stretch of 42, 36, and 43 points helped the team overcome an 0-2 deficit. His 34.7 points average was the third-highest among players in their first NBA Finals. Later on in his career, Wade teamed up with LeBron James and Chris Bosh to bring two more championships to Miami. Wade spent a season and a half away from the team before coming back and retiring in Miami. When you think of Miami, you think of Dwyane Wade, right?
Milwaukee Bucks – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Career Highlights: 6x NBA champion (1971, 1980 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988), 2x NBA Finals MVP (1971, 1985), 6x MVP,10x All-NBA First Team (1971-1974, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1986), 5x All-NBA Second Team (1970, 1978, 1979, 1983, 1985), 19x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Defensive First Team, 6x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, Rookie of the Year (1970), 2x NBA scoring champion (1971, 1972), NBA rebounding champion (1976), 4x NBA blocks leader (1975, 1976, 1979, 2980), No. 33 retired by the Bucks, Hall of Famer
Abdul-Jabbar will always be remembered as the iconic Laker that helped the team win five NBA championships, but many forget that he started his career in Milwaukee. As a rookie, he once scored 51 points on route to finishing second in the league in scoring. In his second season, he clinched a playoff series over the 76ers with a performance of 46 points and 25 rebounds. He helped lead the Bucks to their first NBA championship in 1971 where he was Finals MVP.
He was the scoring champion that year and then followed that season up with another scoring title and the league MVP. He helped the Bucks win four divisional championships. Throughout his five seasons, he won three league MVPs. He later left the Bucks because the midwest “did not fit his cultural needs.”
Minnesota Timberwolves – Kevin Garnett
Seasons: 1995-2007, 2015-2016
Career Highlights: NBA champion (2008), MVP (2004), 4x All-NBA First Team (2000, 2003, 2004 2006), 3x All-NBA Second Team (2001 2002, 2005), 2x All-NBA Third Team (1999, 2007), 15x All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year (2008), 9x NBA All-Defensive First Team, 3x NBA All-Defensive Second Team, 4x NBA rebounding champion (2004-2007), Hall of Famer
Even though Kevin Garnett won an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008, he will always be remembered for making the Timberwolves relevant. The Timberwolves have qualified for the playoffs just one time since Garnett led the team to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. Known for a tough competitor, his trash talk on the court, and tenacious defensive strategy, Garnett was the complete package.
Nicknamed “the Big Ticket,” Garnett developed a reputation for dunking and his athleticism. For four years, he was the league’s best rebounder. To put it into perspective, he is the greatest basketball player ever to play for Minnesota. He is the all-time leader in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. It doesn’t get much better than Garnett.
New Orleans Pelicans – Chris Paul
Career Highlights: 4x All-NBA First Team (2008, 2012-2014), 4x All-NBA Second Team (2009, 2015, 2016, 2020), All-NBA Third Team (2011), 10x All-Star, 7x All-Defensive First Team, 2x All-Defensive Second Team, NBA Rookie of the Year (2006), 4x assists leader, 6x steals leader
The only member of our list that appears two times, Paul rose to stardom with the team that drafted him. Behind his play and leadership, New Orleans ranked near the top of the Western Conference in each year that he played. During the 2007-2008 season, Paul led the team to a franchise-record 56 wins and the No. 2 seed in the West. In the playoffs, he set a franchise record with 17 assists in a game.
However, the Hornets (at the time) never accomplished great postseason success. In his final season, Paul finished with averages of 22 points, 7.6 rebounds, 11.5 assists, and 1.8 steals but the team was still eliminated by the Lakers in the first round. Paul left the team via free agency after realizing that he wasn’t going to contend with New Orleans but his legacy lives on. He is the all-time leader in assists and steals.
New York Knicks – Patrick Ewing
Career Highlights: All-NBA First Team (1990), 6x All-NBA Second Team (1988, 1989, 1991-1993, 1997), 11x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, NBA Rookie of the Year (1986), No. 33 retired by the Knicks, Hall of Famer
Ewing was one of the most durable players to ever wear a Knicks uniform. Throughout 10 seasons, Ewing missed just 20 games. He is best known for leading the Knicks to the NBA Finals in 1994, the year that Michael Jordan retired. It was the first time that the Knicks had made the Finals since 1973. The Knicks were one game away from clinching the NBA championship but lost to the Houston Rockets in seven games. At the time, he set a record for most blocked shots in a Finals series, which has since been broken by Tim Duncan in 2003.
In franchise history, Ewing is the leader in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks. He is the only Knicks player to have played 1,000 games. Carmelo Anthony might be the only superstar that the Knicks have had since Ewing left, which explains why the team has qualified for the playoffs just five times since 2000.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook
Career Highlights: MVP (2017), 2x All-NBA First Team (2016, 2017), 5x All-NBA Second Team (2011-2013, 2015, 2018), 2x All-NBA Third Team (2019, 2020), 9x All-Star, 2x NBA scoring champion (2015, 2017), 2x NBA assists leader (2018, 2019), All-Rookie First Team (2009)
Westbrook is potentially the most athletic player that has ever played in Oklahoma City and that includes Kevin Durant and James Harden in the mix. Westbrook’s MVP performance during the 2016-2017 season was remarkable. He became the second player ever to average a triple-double and the first since Oscar Robertson in 1962. He set a record for triple-doubles in a season with 42.
He is the first player to lead the league in points and assists in multiple seasons and ranks second all-time in triple-doubles in league history. Known for playing hard all the time, Westbrook became the face of OKC after Durant left for the Warriors, Even though Westbrook has yet to win an NBA title, he was an integral part of the OKC team that made the NBA Finals in 2011. He will one day see his jersey retired in OKC.
Orlando Magic – Shaquille O’Neal
Career Highlights: 4x NBA champion (2000-2002, 2006), 3x NBA Finals MVP (2000-2002), MVP (2000), 8x All-NBA First Team (1998, 2000-2006), 2x All-NBA Second Team (1995, 1999), 4x All-NBA Third Team (1994, 1996, 1997, 2009), 15x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, Rookie of the Year (1993), 2x NBA scoring champion (1995, 2000), Hall of Famer
In 1992, the Magic drafted O’Neal with the No. 1 overall pick. He won Rookie of the Year after posting averages of 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks on 56.2% shooting. The Magic won 20 more games in Shaq’s first season and was the first rookie All-Star Game starter since Michael Jordan in 1985.
Shaq teamed up with Penny Hardaway to form a formidable team. In his second season, he registered his first triple-double of his career with 24 points, 28 rebounds, and 15 blocks. In his third season, O’Neal led the league in scoring (29.3) and helped Orland claim the Atlantic Division crown. Shaq led the Magic past the Jordan-led Bulls in 1995 and played well in his Finals debut, averaging 28 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. However, the Rockets won the NBA title and Shaq bolted for the Lakers after an injury-plagued 1996 season. When he left, he was the all-time leader in rebounds and blocks.
Philadelphia 76ers – Allen Iverson
Career Highlights: MVP (2001), 3x All-NBA First Team (1999, 2001, 2005), 3x All-NBA Second Team (2000, 2002, 2003), All-NBA Third Team (2006), 11x All-Star, Rookie of the Year (1997), 4x NBA scoring champion (1999, 2001, 2002, 2005), 3x NBA steals leader (2001-2003), No. 3 retired by the 76ers, Hall of Famer
Iverson could best be remembered for his “practice” rant, but we can’t forget about how he helped the 76ers contend in the NBA during his tenure. He was the No. 1 overall pick in 1996 that went on to win four scoring titles during his time in Philly. Despite his size (6-feet, 0 inches), he knew how to get the ball into the hoop. His regular-season average of 29.7 points per game is seventh all-time, while his 29.7 points per game in the playoffs is second to Michael Jordan.
During the 2000-2001 season, Iverson led the 76ers to the NBA Finals, where he averaged 31.1 points during his MVP campaign. In the Finals, he once scored 48 points but the 76ers were outmanned by the Lakers and the duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaq. Iverson left the franchise ranked No. 2 all-time in points and steals.
Phoenix Suns – Charles Barkley
Career Highlights: MVP (1993), 5x All-NBA First Team (1988-1991, 1993), 5x All-NBA Second Team (1986, 1987, 1992, 1994, 1995), All-NBA Third-Team (1996), 11x All-Star, All-Rookie First Team (1985), NBA rebounding leader (1987), Hall of Famer
Barkley was traded to the Suns before the 1992-1993 season. In his first game, he wowed fans with 37 points, 21 rebounds, and eight assists in a 111-105 victory over the Clippers. He eventually won the MVP that season with averages of 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, and a career-high 5.1 assists. He led the Suns to the NBA Finals before running into a buzzsaw in the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.
However, Barkley’s play didn’t go unnoticed. The Suns fought the Bulls to six games where he averaged 26.6 points and 13.6 rebounds. In the fourth game of the series, Barkley finished with a triple-double of 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. The Suns had their second-best ever three-season stretch when Barkley played where the team won 62, 56, and 59 games.
Portland Trail Blazers – Clyde Drexler
Career Highlights: NBA champion (1995), All-NBA First Team (1992), 2x All-NBA Second Team (1988, 1991), 2x All-NBA Third Team (1990, 1995), 10x All-Star, No. 22 retired by the Trail Blazers, Hall of Famer
Drexler was selected with the No. 14 overall pick in 1983. After a serviceable start to his NBA career, he blossomed into an All-Star in his third season in the league. Drexler will always be best remembered for leading the Trail Blazers during the 90s.
In 1991, Drexler led the Trail Blazers to a franchise-record 61 wins but was upset by the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The following season, he finished as the Runner-Up to Michael Jordan in the MVP voting. That year, the team made the NBA Finals but lost. However, Drexler averaged north of 20 points and seven rebounds during the team’s championship run in 1995. Drexler remains the all-time leader in points (18,050), but that could be broken by Damian Lillard one day.
Sacramento Kings – Chris Webber
Career Highlights: All-NBA First Team (2001), 3x All-NBA Second Team (1999, 2002, 2003), All-NBA Third Team (2000), 5x All-Star, Rookie of the Year (1994), NBA rebounding leader (1999), No. 4 retired by the Kings
In 1998, Webber was not happy about being traded to a losing franchise but he had his best seasons with the team, where he nearly led the franchise to the NBA Finals. In his first season, Webber led the league in rebounding (13.0), ending a seven-year run by Dennis Rodman. The Kings qualified for the playoffs and it started a run where the Kings were one of the best franchises in the league.
Webber eventually was the featured athlete on NBA Jam 2000. His best season came during 2000-2001, where he averaged a career-high 27.1 points and was fourth in the MVP voting. The Kings lost to the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs, but he resigned with the team on a seven-year, $127 million contract. The following year, the Kings reached the Western Conference Finals and won a league-best 61 games but lost to the Lakers in six games.
The series remains one of the most memorable and controversial series of all time. In the end, the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter and have since been documented as a fixed game by former NBA official Tom Donaghy. In the end, Webber was the face of Sacramento, and the Kings have qualified for the playoffs one time since he left, and have had zero appearances since the 2006 season.
San Antonio Spurs – Tim Duncan
Career Highlights: 5x NBA champion (1999, 2003, 2005 2007,2014), 3x NBA Finals MVP (1999, 2003, 2005), 2x MVP (2002, 2003), 10x All-NBA First Team (1998-2005, 2007, 2013), 3x All-NBA Second Team (2006, 2008, 2009), 2x All-NBA Third Team (2010, 2015), 15x All-Star, 8x All-Defensive First Team, 7x All-Defensive Second Team, Rookie of the Year (1998), No. 21 retired by the Spurs, Hall of Famer
Duncan will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer soon. Duncan was the face of the Spurs, and the headliner of the “Big 3” of Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Duncan was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft and formed the “Twin Towers” with David Robinson, which helped the team win their first title in 1999. A few years later, Duncan formed the “Big 3” and helped the team win three NBA championships in five years.
He finished with a double-double average 13 times in his career but was also a great defender. Duncan made the All-Defensive team a total of 15 times and is the all-time leader in points, rebounds, and blocks. Without Duncan managing the middle of those great Spurs teams, who knows where the team would be.
Toronto Raptors – Vince Carter
Career Highlights: All-NBA Second Team (2001), All-NBA Third Team (2000), 8x All-Star, Rookie of the Year (1999), Slam Dunk Contest champion (2000)
With the No. 5 overall pick, Carter was originally drafted by the Golden State Warriors but was traded to the Raptors for the fourth pick Antwan Jamison. Carter led the Raptors to their first-ever playoff appearance in 2000 and their first playoff series win in 2001. Carter garnered the nickname “Air Canada” for his highlight-reel dunks. During the 2000 All-Star Weekend, he put on one of the greatest shows in the Slam Dunk Contest in the event’s history.
Injuries hampered his later seasons with the team but he left the franchise as the all-time leader in points. In the end, he helped the Raptors evolve into a lovable expansion team after coming into the league in 1995.
Utah Jazz – Karl Malone
Career Highlights: 2x MVP (1997, 1999), 11x All-NBA First Team (1989-1999), 2x All-NBA Second Team (1988, 2000), All-NBA Third Team (2001), 14x All-Star, 3x All-Defensive First Team, All-Defensive Second Team, All-Rookie First Team (1986), No. 32 retired by the Jazz. Hall of Famer
Malone spent 18 seasons with the Jazz, where he was a formidable duo with teammate John Stockton. He was a two-time MVP that helped the Jazz qualify for the NBA Finals two times. With Malone at the forefront, the team battled with Michael Jordan and the Bulls in back-to-back NBA Finals but it was Jordan that came out on top in 1997 and 1998.
Still, he remains one of the most prolific scorers of all time. His 36,928 points are second-most all-time, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He holds the record for most free throws attempted and made free throws. Currently, he is tied with Kobe Bryant for the second-most All-NBA selections, trailing LeBron James.
Washington Wizards – Wes Unseld
Career Highlights: NBA champion (1978), NBA Finals MVP (1978), MVP (1969), All-NBA First Team (1969), 5x All-Star, Rookie of the Year (1969), NBA rebounding leader (1975), No. 41 retired by the Wizards, Hall of Famer
Unseld was the No. 2 overall pick by the then-Baltimore Bullets in the 1968 NBA Draft. Unseld could have made more money playing for the ABA, but he chose to play for the NBA instead despite being offered less money. In his NBA debut, he pulled down 22 rebounds. Later that season, he pulled down a career-high 29 rebounds in a loss to the 76ers. He became the second player ever to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. Eventually, Unseld helped turn the Bullets into a last-place NBA franchise into a winner.
Unseld was one of the best defensive players during the 70s and was a key player during the Wizards’ championship run in 1978. Unseld’s 13.99 rebounding average ranks 6th best all-time in NBA history.
Credit for an idea: Timeout Hoops