The NBA features the best players in the world. Nonetheless, there was a time when basketball overseas was almost as good in the US, so many players were never excited about joining an NBA team.
Also, throughout history, there have been a handful of players that have been so good for their current teams that they haven’t been interested in risking it all to join an NBA team and have to embrace a lesser role.
Others infamously and mistakenly decided to turn down a professional career because of a life of crime and hustling because they could make a quick buck that way.
Naturally, that has prevented us from watching some of the best hoopers in history take an NBA hardwood, and today, we’re going to let you know about the top 20 best players never to play in the NBA.
Sergio Llull is one of the main responsible for Real Madrid’s latest success. He’s a master of playmaking and creating space for his teammates. He pulls up from distance with a smooth jumper and knows how to use his body to create space and shake defenders up.
He’s a Tony-Parker kind of point guard and he was actually taken in the 2nd round by the Nuggets back in 2009, but the Euroleague MVP chose to stay at Spain.
20. Lenny Cooke
Lenny Cooke was supposed to be even better than LeBron James. He was older and ranked higher than the King back in high school, but his career would take a major hit after losing against him in high school.
LeBron hit a game-winner over Cooke and ever since, he lost his confidence, gained a lot of weight and chose the streets over the hardwood.
19. Bob Kurland
Bob Kurland was so dominant back in the day, that the NCAA actually had to ban defensive goaltending because of him. Sitting at 7’0’’, there was no shot safe from being swat by the big man.
Kurland actually passed on the chance to play in the NBA back in the day, but still went on to be inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Moreover, he won a couple of Olympic medals as well.
18. Angelo Cruz
Better known as ‘Monchito’, Angelo Cruz was pretty much a street-ball legend in the streets of the Bronx before turning pro and winning a couple of Baloncesto Superior Nacional (BSN) Championships in Puerto Rico.
He became one of the most entertaining players to watch on NYC’s playgrounds and went on to make it to Puerto Rico’s national team. He even toyed Drazen Petrovic during an international fixture.
17. Larry Brown
Before becoming one of the best coaches in NBA history, Larry Brown was also one of the best hoopers of his generation. Winner of an Olympic Medal and an ABA Champion, we never got to see him in the NBA.
He’s the only coach to ever win a Championship both in the NCAA and the NBA, and was the ABA’s best playmaker ever, leading the league in dimes three times.
16. Ed Smith
Ed ‘Booger’ Smith even made it to the Sports Illustrated cover back in 1997, yet he never played a second in the NBA despite having some of the smoothest moves and handles this beautiful game has ever seen.
Smith could find gaps and create for teammates in ways no other player could ever do back then, but he chose a life on the streets rather than going to college and eventually the NBA.
15. Dejan Bodiroga
Dejan Bodiroga is one of the most talented players to ever lace them up overseas. Sitting at 6’9’’, he could play as a point forward and even at the shooting guard position thanks to his sweet stroke from deep.
Bodiroga completely dominated the Euroleague in the 2000s and led two different teams to the Championship. He was taken by the Kings in 1995 but he was never interested in leaving Europe.
14. Ronnie Fields
According to Kevin Garnett himself, Ronnie Field was actually better than him. As a matter of fact, his 50’’ vertical and his averages of 34 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and 4 blocks per game during high school make a strong argument for him.
Sadly for him, he suffered a car accident and broke his neck, and his poor grades stopped him from being able to join a D1 college and eventually make it to the league.
13. Dimitris Diamantidis
Dimitris Diamantidis completely dominated Euro basketball and is one of the biggest Greek legends ever. He’s the Euroleague all-time leader in both steals and assists, as well as a six-time Greek League MVP.
The guard went undrafted back in 2002, a huge mistake considering his upside and talent. He was crafty, versatile and incredibly skilled, and will go down as one of the best European point guards in basketball history.
12. Raymond Lewis
Raymond Lewis was a walking bucket, averaging 38.9 points per game throughout his college career. He shot 60% from the floor and even scored 73 points in college once, but a contract dispute with the Sixers stopped him from making it to the league.
Lewis was the youngest player ever to be drafted by an NBA team, but he was never able to prove his worth beyond the Los Angeles Summer League. He claimed he was blackballed by the league.
11. Demetrius Mitchell
Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell grew up playing with Jason Kidd and Gary Payton in the streets of Oakland, but drugs and crimes stopped him from being able to join the NBA following a stint at the NCAA.
Sitting at 5’10’’, the guard was explosive and had a huge vertical. He often participated in dunk contests and loved to dunk over cars, and Kidd and Payton have already stated that he could’ve been way better than them.
10. Fly Williams
Fly Williams is yet another example of a talented streetballer whose poor life decisions stopped him from becoming an NBA star, being often implicated in drug-related news and struggling to play as a team guy.
Williams was the best isolation player of his generation and his pull up three-pointers were Steph Curry-ish, showing unlimited range.
9. Joe Hammond
Also known as ‘The Destroyer’, Joe Hammond actually turned down a chance to play with the Los Angeles Lakers because he rather stays in the streets hustling, like many other streetball legends.
Hammond was a walking bucket and word started to spread about his scoring abilities after he scored 82 points on Rucker Park. Also, he once demolished Dr. J for 50 points.
8. Marques Haynes
If you’re a fan of players like Bob Cousy or ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich, you would’ve loved to watch Marques Haynes handle the rock back in the day, as he was the craftiest playmaker of his generation.
His handles were so crazy he excelled for the Harlem Globetrotters and even started his own team, the Harlem Magicians. He hooped for 46 years straight before being inducted in the Hall of Fame.
7. Nikos Galis
Like Diamantidis, Nikos is one of the best Greek players of all time. Inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame and Basketball Hall of Fame, he also won 5 Greek League MVPs thanks to his scoring ability.
Galis averaged over 31 points per game throughout his entire career, and turn down an offer by the Celtics because FIBA had banned NBA players from playing for their teams.
6. Benji Wilson
Benji Wilson was described as ‘Magic Johnson with a jump-shot’, a 6’7’’ guard/forward that became Chicago’s greatest hope even amid Michael Jordan’s surge, a hard walking baller that could dominate every aspect of the game.
Sadly, he was killed on a gunfight near his school when he was just 17 years old and is one of the biggest ‘what ifs’ in NBA history.
5. Hank Gathers
Hank Gathers completely dominated college hoops back in the day and was projected to become the 1st overall pick of the 1990 NBA Draft, but a heart condition stopped him from fulfilling his dream.
Gathers was diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat but refused to take his medication. He passed out on the court and then passed away a couple of months before the Draft.
4. Pee Wee Kirkland
Pee Wee Kirkland is yet another streetball legend that never made it to the NBA because of his ability to make money out of hustling. As a matter of fact, he even rejected an offer by the Chicago Bulls.
Pee Wee was a legend in NYC’s playgrounds, pulling up on a Rolls Royce to drop 60 points on whoever tried to contain him. He could’ve gone to UCLA but wound up playing for Norfolk State before being incarcerated.
3. Len Bias
Len Bias was supposed to be the icing on top of the cake for a Boston Celtics team that already had it all. According to insiders, he had what it took to be way better than Michael Jordan ever was, being drafted with the 2nd overall pick back in 1986.
Sadly, he was found dead on his house just short of 24 hours after being drafted because of a cocaine overdose.
2. Earl Manigault
Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault was another Rucker Park legend, mostly known for all of the times he dunked on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was a fierce scorer and even set an NYC high school record with a 57 point outing.
Sadly, his drug addiction led him to a couple of incarcerations and he eventually died at age 53. His 52’’ vertical could’ve made him one of the most dominant players in NBA history.
1. Oscar Schmidt
Oscar Schmidt is considered to be the greatest player never to make it to the NBA. As a matter of fact, the Brazilian turned the NBA down a lot of times because he rather plays for his national team.
Schmidt was called “Mao Santa” (Holly Hand) because of his ability to shoot the ball and scored 49,703 points throughout his 23-year career, which is about 11,000 more than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.