The term “forgotten” here is used just a little bit loosely. It’s not that these players have been entirely forgotten but more that they aren’t recognized nearly enough by NBA fans, media, and the NBA community as a whole. Some of the players you will see on this list have been All-Stars, and some have been right on the cusp of stardom but never took “the leap” into that realm. Either way, they profoundly impacted the game in their time. At least enough of an impact for us to notice and demand more respect be put on their name.
The players before you were proficient scorers, swarming defenders, and everything in between. Some of the players on this list are even Hall Of Famers yet still go unappreciated by the modern-day NBA fans and media pundits. Whether they are undervalued for the era they played in or what people tend to think about their competition, it stops here. It is time for us fans of this game to show the proper respect to the ones who paved the way.
Here are 10 of the most forgotten players in NBA history:
Teams: Nuggets (1990-91 to 1995-96), Kings (1996-97 to 1997-98), Grizzlies (2000-01)
Career Stats: 14.6 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Achievements and Awards: 1x Most Improved Player, 1x All-Rookie Second Team
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is widely considered to have been the Stephen Curry of the 1990s. Rauf’s style of play was unique for the period he played in. Rauf’s handles were immaculate and in turn, so was his shot creation. Most players in the 90s loved to pop off screens and find their jumper while Rauf was creating his shots from pretty much anywhere on the floor. He was a career 35.4% with a career-high 39.2% in 1996 with the Nuggets.
If you haven’t heard of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, it is probably because the NBA would like you to forget how much they screwed up by suspending him in 1996. For much of the season, Rauf would either stay in the locker room or refuse to stand for the National Anthem. Sound Familiar? That didn’t stop him from doing his thing on the court. Rauf led the NBA in free-throw percentage twice in 1994 and 1996 and holds a career percentage of 90.5% from the charity stripe. As the 1993 Most Improved Player, he averaged 19.2 PPG and 4.2 APG, nearly double the production from the year before. As fans, it is only right to respect the game of Mahmoud-Abdul Rauf more than we do.
Teams: Bucks (1976-77 to 1977-78), Pacers (1978-79 to 1979-80), Nuggets (1979-80 to 1989-90), Mavericks (1990-91)
Career Stats: 21.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Achievements and Awards: 8x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Second Team, 1x Scoring Champ
What if I were to tell you that the top scorer in total points wasn’t named Larry, Magic, or Mike? No, his name is Alex English. He is easily one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, averaging over 21.0 PPG for his career. To this day, he remains the all-time leader in Denver Nuggets history as he finished his career with 25,613 total points. He ranks 20th all-time in total points.
English dominated the 80s, with the Nuggets earning 8 consecutive All-Star appearances from 1982-1989. He became the first player in NBA history to pour in over 2,000 points in eight straight seasons and led the Nuggets to the playoffs seven consecutive years. From the 1981 season through the 1989 season, English averaged more than 23.0 PPG each year and won himself a scoring title in 1983 with a 28.4 PPG average. You would think someone with as impressive of a resume as English would be mentioned among the all-time great scorers, right?
Teams: Detroit Pistons (2002-03 to 2012-13, 2014-15), Grizzlies (2012-13 to 2014-15), Celtics (2014-15), Timberwolves (2015-16)
Career Stats: 11.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Achievements and Awards: 1x NBA Champion, 4x All-Defensive Second Team
Tayshaun Prince is probably one of the least appreciated contributors to a championship team ever. With arms that went on for days and an unorthodox shooting form, Prince was a key contributor to the Pistons' 2004 NBA title run. Prince was Detroit’s best on-ball defender by a mile, and it became clear on that very 2004 run. Down 3-1 to the 8th seed Orlando Magic in the 2004 First Round, The Pistons needed to make a drastic change to slow down Tracy McGrady and avoid elimination. Enter Tayshaun Prince.
Prince made his first appearance of the series in Game 5 and swarmed McGrady. He held T-Mac to just 19 points on 8-20 shooting to force a Game 6. In Game 6, Prince saw a dwindle in his minutes again but still managed to make an impact on McGrady defensively, and the Pistons forced Game 7. This is where Prince made his mark. He held T-Mac to just 21 points on 7-24 shooting while pouring in 20 points of his own. The Pistons won the series, and the rest is history. This series is a microcosm of Prince’s career. Night after night, he took the toughest defensive battle, and more often than not, he succeeded. Put some respect on his name.
Teams: Warriors (1988-89 to 1990-91), Kings (1991-92 to 1997-98), Wizards (1998-99 to 2000-01), Lakers (2001-02)
Career Stats: 21.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Achievements and Awards: 1x NBA Champion, Rookie of the Year, 6x All-Star, 1x All-Star MVP, 1x All-Rookie First Team, 3x All-NBA Second Team, 2x All-NBA Third Team, Hall Of Fame
From the moment he stepped foot into the NBA, Mitch “Rock” Richmond was one of the most lethal offensive weapons in the league. He was an absolute bucket-getter who Michael Jordan once dubbed the toughest defensive matchup of his career. Richmond goes heavily forgotten due to the lack of success on a team level. During his 7 seasons in Sacramento, Richmond was among the top scorers in the NBA every year, but the Kings only managed 1 playoff appearance and 0 winning seasons in his time there. This shouldn’t take away from what he was able to accomplish, though.
Richmond averaged 22.0 PPG in his rookie season for the Golden State Warriors. For the following 10 seasons, he would average at least 21.0 PPG year in and year out. He peaked at 25.9 PPG in 1997, which ranked 4th behind only Michael Jordan, Shaq, and Karl Malone. In the decade of the 90s, Richmond ranked 4th in the NBA in total points scored and was inducted into the Hall Of Fame in 2014. Mitch Richmond is one of the game's most underappreciated offensive talents, hands down.
World B. Free
Teams: Sixers (1975-76 to 1977-78, 1986-87), Clippers (1978-79 to 1979-80), Warriors (1980-81 to 1982-83), Cavaliers (1982-83 to 1985-86), Rockets (1987-88)
Career Stats: 20.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Achievements and Awards: 1x All-Star, 1x All-NBA
One of the more forgotten guards of the 70s and 80s has to be World B. Free. Free was one heck of a scorer with a shooting form that resembled a soccer throw-in from out of bounds, then it did a jump shot. That didn’t stop the ball from going in the basket, though. His peak was from 1978 to 1986, when he averaged 24.7 PPG during that stretch and, in those 8 seasons, finished Top 15 in scoring every year.
In 1979, Free made his first and only All-NBA team with the Clippers. He averaged 28.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 4.4 APG. The following season in 1980, Free made his first and only All-Star appearance averaging 30.2 PPG and 4.2 APG. His 30.2 PPG was 2nd only to George Gervin. Free seemed like he was forgotten even when he was playing. He is also credited with saving basketball in Cleveland. He joined the Cavs in 1983, and in his 4 seasons, there averaged 23.0 PPG. Free helped the Cavs go from 1,500 people in the stands to sell-out crowds with his stellar play and forced the team to stay in Cleveland when they were getting ready to jump ship. Could you imagine getting drafted by the Toledo Tornadoes? World B. Free says you're welcome.
Teams: Lakers (1965-66 to 1967-68, 1970-71 to 1975-766), Suns (1968-69 to 1969-70), Jazz (1976-77 to 1978-79)
Career Stats: 18.6 PPG, 32. RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Awards and Achievements: 1x NBA Champion, 5x All-Star, 1x All-NBA First Team
Gail Goodrich was the definition of consistency during his 14-year NBA career. It started slowly in his first 3 seasons with the Lakers as he got lost in the depth of their bench. He finally broke out when he was selected by the Phoenix Suns in the 1968 expansion draft. In his first season with the Suns, he averaged 23.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 6.4 APG and emerged as a stolen gem at the guard position. He would find his way back to the Lakers in 1970, where he made history.
Goodrich thrived as Jerry West’s partner in the Laker backcourt averaging 17.5 PPG in his first season back in the purple and gold. In 1972 is when Goodrich put himself on the map and ultimately what got his jersey retired with the franchise. Goodrich led the Lakers in scoring with 25.8 PPG, even outsourcing the machine that was Jerry West. He poured in 28 30+ point games that season. In the Finals, Goodrich again led the Lakers in scoring with 25.6 PPG as the Lakers defeated the Knicks in 5 games. There is no doubt that Gail Goodrich is an All-Time Lakers great, and there is also no doubt that he is not treated as such.
Teams: Grizzlies (1996-97 to 2000-01), Hawks (2000-01 to 2003-04), Trail Blazers (2003-04 to 2004-05), Kings (2004-05 to 2007-08)
Career Stats: 18.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Achievements and Awards: 1x All-Star, Rookie Of The Year
In a time when the power forward position was thriving, Shareef Abdur-Rahim made his mark despite being slightly undersized for the position. Rahim is another example of putting up great numbers on teams that did not accomplish much of anything. Shareef’s game consisted of the perfect mixture of skill, toughness, tenacity, and consistency, and one could argue that had he been drafted anywhere else, we’d be talking about him a lot more. He was the perfect stretch big, able to play any of the 2 forward and center positions.
Coaches and scouts drool over the wide array of tools he showed on the floor. He had crafty footwork in the paint, which made him a nightmare matchup. He could step out, and his a nice 12-foot turnaround, or he could back you down and finish with a hook. He had an excellent touch on the ball and performed better off the dribble rather than working off of screens. In his 8 seasons with Atlanta and Vancouver, Shareef averaged 20.0 PPG or more in 6 of them. Again he achieved this while being undersized in an era where his position was top-notch. Rahim did not touch the playoffs until 2006 with the Kings and came off the bench in 6 games. He was out of the league by 31 years old but still had a solid career, and that should be noted.
Nick Van Exel
Teams: Lakers (1993-94 to 1997-98), Nuggets (1998-99 to 2001-02), Mavericks (2001-02 to 2002-03), Warriors (2003-04), Trail Blazers (2004-05), Spurs (2005-06)
Career Stats: 14.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 6.6 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Achievements and Awards: 1x All-Star
1, 2, 3, Cancun! Man, Nick Van Exel was one of the most electric guards of the late 90s and early 00s. Van Exel’s playstyle can only be described as ahead of its time. Van Exel’s career began in Los Angeles, and it was a serious case of bad timing for Nick as he was only there for the 5 seasons before their historic three-peat. As he clashed with coaches and argued on the sidelines, he still managed to bring energy and excitement to LA. He made his lone All-Star appearance with the team in 1998 when he averaged 13.8 PPG and 6.9 APG and set a career-high in three-point percentage with 38.9 %.
Van Exel enjoyed a 14-year career, mostly as a starter, which is pretty incredible when you consider he was a 2nd round pick. He made an impression on fans when he would shoot free throws from a foot behind the line or when he would throw uppercuts into the air after a big made basket. After the Lakers, he moved on to the Denver Nuggets, where he would enjoy the best 4-year stretch of his career. He averaged 17.7 PPG and 8.4 APG in 4 seasons and shot 34.1% from three. He was a career 35% three-point shooter going back to being ahead of his time. Although he was never considered the best point guard in the league, Van Exel should be a name fans reacquaint themselves with.
Teams: Braves (1976-77), Rockets (1976-77 to 1981-82), Sixers (1982-83 to 1985-86, 1994), Bullets (1986-87 to 1987-88), Hawks (1988-1991), Bucks (1991-92 to 1992-93), Spurs (1994-95)
Career Stats: 20.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.3 BPG
Achievements and Awards: 1x NBA Champion, 3x MVP, 1x Finals MVP, 13x All-Star, 6x Rebounding Champ, 4x All-NBA First Team, 4x All-NBA Second Team, 1x All-Defensive First Team, 1x All-Defensive Second Team
Moses Malone is the most underappreciated star in NBA history. He’s a 3x MVP, one of only 8 players to accomplish that feat. He has all the stats and accolades of a Top 10 player of all-time, yet you won’t see him in a lot of people's Top 20. He was one of the greatest rebounders in history, ranking 3rd all-time in total rebounds and 1st overall in offensive rebounds with over 7,000 in his career. The next closest player is Artis Gilmore, with just over 4,000. He also led the league in rebounding 6 times.
From 1979 through 1987, Malone averaged at least 22.0 PPG and 10.0 RPG in consecutive seasons. He peaked in 1982 when he averaged 31.1 PPG and 14.7 RPG. He claimed the 1983 Finals MVP with the Sixers when they matched up with the Lakers. The Sixers swept the Lakers behind a sensational 25.8 PPG and 18.0 RPG from Moses. Someone remind me again why this man has no Top 10 case?
Teams: Spurs (1976-77 to 1984-85), Bulls (1985-86)
Career Stats: 25.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG
Achievements and Awards: 12x All-Star, 1x All-Star MVP, 4x Scoring Champ, 5x All-NBA First Team, 2x All-NBA Second Team
This isn’t so much to say that people don’t remember George Gervin. It’s more to say that they don’t remember just how good he was. Gervin was consistently dominant, annually ranked in the Top 10 of a variety of categories. It wasn’t abnormal to see him at the top of the leaderboard in free throws, field goals, field goal percentage, and of course, points per game. He perfected the finger roll layup, scoring at will and dominating without the benefit of the three-point line.
He was shifty and crafty for his era, constantly shaking defenders and moving as free-flowing as water with or without the ball. Maybe Gervin is so underappreciated because he made the game look so easy. Gervin looked almost as though he should have been playing in slow motion, but no one could stop him. Maybe they forget him because he never was able to lift his team to a championship. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though, Gervin did have a 26.5 PPG average for his playoff career. No matter the team's success or lack thereof, Gervin’s game was just too good to keep letting his memory fade as time goes on.
Why Do We Forget?
The list before you has been a fun one to create. These are by no means the 10 most forgotten players in NBA history, but it’s certainly a great start. The overall point needed to be driven home here, or question, I should say, is why are we allowing these players to be forgotten? Why do we continue to discredit a player’s talent because of era or injury or whatever we decide is the reason we let their memories fade? No more. Here today is a good start to honoring the players that deserve to have their stories told. Stay tuned for Part 2.