In June 1996, the NBA held its 50th draft. Twenty years later, that draft stands out as arguably the best in league history. Yes, the 1984, 1985, 1998 and 2003 draft classes produced some incredible talent, and all have a rightful claim to be in the discussion of best ever. While those drafts had top-tier talent, championships and a ridiculous amount of accolades, the 1996 NBA Draft had all that and the type of remarkable depth that truly sets it apart.
Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Antoine Walker, Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Derek Fisher … those are just some of the names — and most notable — selected in the 1996 NBA Draft.
That group includes at least two (potentially three or four) Hall of Famers, three MVPs, seven All-NBA players, 10 All-Stars and a total of 58 All-Star appearances. These players also combine for 14 championships. Five of the top six players drafted in ’96 made an All-Star Game. (Camby is the only one who failed to do so, as he was plagued by injuries. However, he was the 2006-07 Defensive Player of the Year.) As impressive as those numbers are, they only begin to tell the story of this special draft class.
We can begin to examine the depth of this draft by looking at some of the names listed above. Bryant, Stojakovic, Nash, O’Neal, Ilgauskas and Fisher were all selected outside of the top 10. That means this draft produced two MVPs, five All-Stars and four All-NBA players from picks 13-20. Fisher, selected 24th, never won any of those accolades but was a key cog on five championship teams.
Iverson, Bryant and Nash immediately jump out at you — with five MVPs between the three of them. Throw in Ray Allen, one of the greatest shooters of all time, and Jermaine O’Neal and Stojakovic, two of the most underrated players of the era, and you can see the impact this class had.
Continue to dig, and you unearth even more evidence to the strength of this class.
Slam had an inkling the 1996 NBA draft class could be something special, via ballislife.com
If you look at guys near the top of the draft who maybe didn’t live up to their draft positions, they were still far from slouches. Here you have guys like the late Lorenzen Wright, Kerry Kittles, Samaki Walker, Erick Dampier, Vitaly Potapenko, Tony Delk, John Wallace and Jerome Williams. Although they aren’t household names, they had relatively long and productive NBA careers. Even Othello Harrington (30th) and Malik Rose (44th) played 10+ years in the league.
Adding to the legacy of this legendary class is the off-the-court impact. Iverson is perhaps the biggest cultural icon the NBA has ever seen. He helped show the world that it was OK to be yourself and to accept oneself for the good and the bad. Unlike some of our sports heroes, he was real, and we got to see his human side, not just the prepackaged, marketed athlete. What he meant to those who embraced him cannot be overstated. Iverson, along with Bryant and, to a lesser extent, Marbury led the way in fashion and signature sneakers.
This class entered the league at time many consider to be the golden era of NBA basketball. They joined players like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway and immediately began to make their own mark. They eventually took the torch from those players and carried the NBA from the late 1990s into the early 2000s.
This draft produced two generation-defining players in Iverson and Bryant, a rarity. One of those two players are listed as the favorite player for a very high percentage of people of a certain age. Iverson and Bryant are two of the most emulated players in NBA history, both by kids on the playground and by fellow professionals.
It was a great experience for basketball fans to watch this group grow and mature into who each player ultimately became. The memories these players provided and the things they accomplished on the court will be shared with the generations to come, as those of us who witnessed it become parents and grandparents.
From their astonishing accomplishments to their immense cultural influence, the impact the players drafted in the 1996 NBA Draft is still being felt, and their legacy is one that won’t soon be forgotten. It is remarkable that so many of the players who defined basketball from the late '90s through the mid 2000s came from the same draft, and it was an honor to see firsthand.
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.