When Allen Iverson said that the 1996 draft class was better than the 2003 draft class, it got the basketball world talking, The draft class featured the likes of Iverson, taken with the No. 1 overall pick, and other legends such as Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Ray Allen.
Iverson upped the anty by saying this class was even better than the 1984 class that featured Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan. Still, boasting that his class was better than the 2003 class, which features the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and more, is a bold claim.
We previously ranked the top 10 draft classes all-time and found significant evidence to back Iverson's claim. In the end, was Iverson right when he made this announcement?
1996 Draft Class
The "Black Mamba" has a case to be considered one of the top-5 greatest players of all time. Bryant won five championships, including the league's last three-peat when he teamed up with Shaq. Then, he cemented his legacy by winning two more with Pau Gasol and teammate Derek Fisher, another member of the 1996 draft class, who won five championships. The best part is that Bryant wasn't even the No. 1 overall pick.
Speaking of the No. 1 overall pick, Iverson headlined this class and quickly became a scoring sensation. Iverson helped lead the 76ers to their last NBA Finals appearance in 2001 before getting beat by Bryant and Shaq. The former MVP averaged over 30 points five times in his career at the height of 6-foot-1. Nothing was better than watching Iverson put masterful scoring runs together.
Nash is a former back-to-back MVP and was the ring leader of the high octane Phoenix Suns offense with Shawn Marion and Amare' Stoudemire back in the early 2000s. Nash is a four-time member of the 50-40-90 club and a five-time league leader in assists. When Nash left the Suns, Phoenix never was the same and a lot of that had to do with the Hall of Famer.
Before a kid named Steph Curry roamed into the NBA, Allen was considered the greatest three-point shooter of all time. Allen once led the all-time mark in career-three pointers until Curry broke that record too. Allen's shot in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals will forever go down in Miami lure. Despite winning a championship in Boston in 2008, he will always be remembered as one of the greatest Seattle SuperSonics.
In 2002 and 2003, Stojakovic quickly became beloved for his sweet shooting stroke. Those years he won back-to-back Three-Point Contest crowns. This was right after he won a EuroLeague MVP. After coming to America, Stojakovic created a name for himself for shooting deep shots. He was a critical part of the Sacramento Kings run to the Western Conference Finals in 2002, a series that still to this day believes the Kings were ripped off from making the NBA Finals.
A six-time All-Star, O'Neal gave meaning to Indiana basketball during the 2000s. O'Neal helped turn a struggling Pacers organization that had just lost an icon in Reggie Miller to retirement. O'Neal helped lead Indiana to playoff appearances from 2000 to 2006. O'Neal was a fan favorite for his toughness and grit and will always be beloved for his efforts.
Wallace is a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. From 2002-2006, Wallace was a First-Team All-Defensive selection and considered one of the best defenders in the game. From undrafted to NBA Champion, Wallace was a foundational piece for the Detroit Pistons during their run in the 2000s. Wallace has him No. 3 retired already.
While Camby may have never made an All-Star team, he won the Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. That means that a player from this draft won that award five times in the 2000s era thanks to Camby's title. The two-time All-Defensive First Team selection made the Clippers relevant during their bad years.
Before leaving America in 2009 to become a China Basketball Association icon, Marbury was a pretty good NBA player. The two-time All-Star played hard for the Nets, averaging as much as 23.9 points per game. After fizzling out with the Knicks, Marbury eventually won a CBA Finals MVP in 2015.
Walker was a three-time All-Star that won an NBA championship as a role player on the 2006 Miami Heat squad. Before that, Walker was a successful member of the Boston Celtics, where he averaged at least 20 points per game over the course of six of eight seasons.
1996 Draft Class Accolades
NBA Championships: 19 (Kobe Bryant x5, Derek Fisher 5x, Ray Allen x2, Malik Rose 2x, Ben Wallace, 1x, Peja Stojakovic, Antoine Walker 1x, Samaki Walker 1x, Travis Knight 1x, Shandon Anderson 1x)
MVP Awards: 4 (Steve Nash x2, Kobe Bryant x1, Allen Iverson x1)
All-NBA Teams: 37 (Kobe Bryant x15, Allen Iverson x7, Steve Nash 7x, Jermaine O'Neal x3, Stephon Marbury x2, Ray Allen x2 Peja Stojakovic 1x)
All-Stars: 64 (Kobe Bryant x18, Allen Iverson x11, Ray Allen x10, Steve Nash x8, Jermaine O'Neal x6, Antoine Walker x3, Peja Stojakovic x3, Stephon Marbury x2, Zydrunas Ilgauskas x2, Shareef Abdur-Rahim x1)
2003 Draft Class
It doesn't get much better than LeBron when it comes to comparing frontline No. 1 overall pick. LeBron nearly made the NBA Finals in every season during the 2010s. While his four championships are continuously analyzed in comparison to Michael Jordan's 6-0 record, LeBron is trying to cement his legacy as the greatest of all time. Again, that's a pretty solid headliner when looking at a draft class.
It's wild to think that the 2003 draft class featured the Big 3 of LeBron, Bosh, and Wade in Miami. The three came up short of LeBron's claim of winning seven titles, but Wade means everything to the city of Miami. Before LeBron and Bosh showed up, Wade had already won an NBA Finals MVP in 2006. Wade is the all-time leader in points, assists, and steals for Miami, where his legacy will forever live on.
Fresh off leading Syracuse to a national championship. the Denver Nuggets scored with Anthony, no pun intended. The six-time All-NBA selection became one of the game's clutch scorers. Anthony was masterful with the ball, and eventually became the first player ever to win three Olympic gold medals.
Bosh left Toronto as the Raptors' all-time leading scorer, which has since been broken by DeMar DeRozan. When Bosh left Toronto to join LeBron and D-Wade in Miami, it was a huge deal. Bosh was a four-time All-Star in his prime. The left-handed power forward was instrumental in helping Miami win two championships. Had a career-ending condition not cut his career short back in 2017, his numbers would have likely been even better.
West nearly took down LeBron, Bosh, and Wade in 2012 and 2013. A date with the Indiana Pacers, headlined by Paul George, West, and Roy Hibbert turned out to be a hard-fought series time again and again. West was a two-time All-Star and a career-leader in rebounds in New Orleans before coming to Indy. He eventually was able to cap off his career as a role player by winning two NBA championships with the Warriors.
After the top-heavy portion of the 2003 draft class, it really starts to water down. Kaman was a productive center in the league. His lone All-Star appearance saw him average 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds. However, the Clippers were never competitive despite the bright spots from Kaman.
After 17 seasons in the league, one would think Korver would slow down but he never did. Despite aging into his late 30s, Korver was a sought out asset by the Hawks, Cavaliers, and Bucks. Korver was a member of the infamous "Bench Mob" during the early 2010s seasons with the Chicago Bulls. The sharp-shooter was a three-point threat whenever he was on the floor and made one Al-Star appearance.
Known for defense and toughness, Diaw was an important part of the San Antonio Spurs championship run in 2014. After being ousted by the Spurs during Steve Nash's prime, Diaw joined the Spurs in 2011. He was known for hitting timely three-pointers and guarding one of the best post players while on the floor.
Another tough, hard-nosed role player, Perkins was a starting center for the Boston Celtics' 2008 championship team. Perkins was not known for shooting. He averaged 5.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in his career. With that said, Perkins was a locker room presence and leader.
After trying to help LeBron win a championship during their early Cleveland days, Williams was able to leave the game on a high note after Cleveland won their title in 2016, which was his final season. In 2009, Williams joined LeBron at the All-Star game after averaging 17.8 points. A starting-caliber guard, Williams carved out a successful NBA career.
2003 Draft Class Accolades
NBA Championships: 25 (LeBron James x4, Dwyane Wade x3, James Jones x3, David West x2, Luke Walton x2, Zaza Pachulia x2, Matt Bonner x2, Mo Williams x1, Jason Kapono x1, Leanardo Barbosa x1, Kendrick Perkins x1, Dahntay Jones x1, Boris Diaw x1, Darko Millic x1)
MVP Awards: 4 (LeBron James x4)
All-NBA Teams: 31 (LeBron James x16, Dwyane Wade x8, Carmelo Anthony x6, Chris Bosh x1)
All-Stars: 57 (LeBron James x17, Dwyane Wade x13, Chris Bosh x11, Carmelo Anthony x10, Davis West x2, Chris Kaman x1, Josh Howard x1, Mo Williams x1, Kyle Korver x1)
Which NBA Draft Class Is Better: 1996 or 2003?
It's been widely considered that the 1996 draft class is one of the deepest and talented classes in all-time history. One-third of the first-round picks later became All-Stars. The class has produced three different players earning NBA MVP awards in Bryant, Iverson, and Nash. Seven other drafted players became All-Stars, while one undrafted player (Ben Wallace) later became a top-10 all-defensive player of all-time.
The 2003 class is one of the best in terms of top-5 picks. Four of the top-5 selections in LeBron, Anthony, Bosh, and Wade combined for 51 All-Star appearances alone. With that said, the 1996 class is just deeper. Only LeBron ever won an MVP award, while his 16 All-NBA teams make up more than half of the total 31 appearances. The 1996 class is also well-rounded defensively with Wallace winning four Defensive Player of the Year Awards with Marcus Camby later winning the 2007 award. All in all, the 1996 class is superior to the 2003 class.