As LeBron James, Steph Curry and other stars create a new NBA before our eyes -- while standing on the shoulders of giants -- we are presenting the 100 NBA players who have done the most to change the way we play the game, how we talk about the game, and the culture of basketball.
For this special edition of #NBArank, we asked our panel to choose the players who have influenced the game most, both on and off the court: the real game changers.
Our NBA panel -- with members from across ESPN, including TV, radio, ESPN.com, The Undefeated and ESPN The Magazine -- voted more than 11,000 times to select the top 90 game changers, and a smaller committee of writers and editors selected the final 10.
#NBArank Game Changers: 50-26
50. Spencer Haywood
Denver Rockets (1969-70, ABA), Seattle SuperSonics (1970-75), New York Knicks (1975-79), New Orleans Jazz (1979), Los Angeles Lakers (1979-80), Washington Bullets (1981-83)
Growing up on a cotton plantation in Mississippi, Spencer Haywood knew the drudgery of working from sunup to sundown. The adolescent Haywood planted and chopped cotton for a pittance. After being thrust into hard and unfair labor as a child, Haywood as a young adult went on to challenge the unfair labor order of sports. It was a challenge that still benefits players some 50 years later.
At age 19, he led Team USA to a surprising gold medal at the 1968 Olympics. Desperate to support himself and his family, Haywood skipped the rest of his college years and joined the ABA for the 1969-70 season, winning MVP and ROY honors. The restless Haywood then jumped to the NBA for the 1970-71 season.
The league's legal attempts to enforce its four-year college rule on Haywood failed and established the "hardship case" rule that allowed underclassmen to enter the NBA draft. By age 25, Haywood had been selected to one ABA first team and two NBA first teams. Since then he has defeated drug addiction and continues to speak out against the exploitation of college athletes by the NCAA. -- Curtis Harris
49. Chris Paul
New Orleans Hornets (2005-11), LA Clippers (2011-17), Houston Rockets (2017-present)
The Point God has nearly perfected the position, making extreme efficiency his trademark. On one end he's a precision playmaker and scorer who can toss alley-oops or play off the ball and sink jumpers, and on the other a dogged defender and pickpocket.
A leader for teammates and coaches who appreciate his commanding edge, CP3 also isn't for everyone. "Chris is a militant, and I mean that in a good way," Houston assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik told Zach Lowe.
Paul's new Rockets team might give him the chance to silence a RINGZ narrative that has sometimes overshadowed his accomplishments, which include leading the league in assists four times and steals six times, plus a long string of winning seasons and two Olympic gold medals alongside pals LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.
But even without a title, the former Lob City general has built a legacy as a voice for social causes (speaking out against police brutality at the 2016 ESPYS and ousted Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014) and his fellow players as the president of the NBPA. -- Austin Tedesco
48. Rick Barry
San Francisco Warriors (1965-67), Oakland Oaks/Washington Caps (1968-70, ABA), New York Nets (1970-72, ABA), Golden State Warriors (1972-78), Houston Rockets (1978-80)
For better or worse, Rick Barry is a man of ironclad conviction and determination who created one of the greatest résumés in basketball history: 12 All-Star selections, 10 All-NBA/ABA nods, three Finals appearances, and a title and Finals MVP in 1975. His prickly personality in addition to his all-world scoring and passing talent made him one of pro basketball's unique figures.
The self-proclaimed "Basketball Gypsy" had played in the NBA and ABA by 1975 with three franchises in four different cities and caused a firestorm by insulting the state of Virginia. He even called the 1976 NBA Finals for CBS even though his Warriors had just lost the West finals, and he was an outspoken commentator on the NBA scene.
His conviction could cause chaos, but that determination made him the first star to leave the NBA for the ABA and willed the Warriors to their stunning 1975 NBA title. It also made him a meticulous free throw shooter who employed the granny shot to perfection and tormented defenses with an all-around offensive repertoire. Barry's influence continued as three of his sons played in the NBA, including Brent and Jon, now national TV commentators. -- Harris
47. George Gervin
Virginia Squires (1972-74, ABA), San Antonio Spurs (1974-76, ABA; 1976-85), Chicago Bulls (1985-86)
The Ice Man was one of a kind. With a smooth personality and a signature shot to die for, Gervin led the NBA in scoring four times. With his finger roll operating at all angles, no matter how impossible, Gervin was synonymous with pro basketball in San Antonio for over a decade in the 1970s and '80s. With Gervin at the helm, the Spurs missed the postseason just once in his 12 seasons with the team and three times made the conference finals.
Gervin's unique, stylish scoring prowess made him 12 times an All-Star, five times an All-NBA first-teamer and twice an MVP runner-up. Ice's legacy is towering in San Antonio. Although he never took the Spurs to championship glory, his success kept the team in central Texas and brewed a fan base accustomed to the playoffs as a birthright. -- Harris
46. Mike D'Antoni
Kansas City-Omaha Kings (1973-75), Spirits of St. Louis (1975-76, ABA), San Antonio Spurs (1976); Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets (head coach, 1998-present)
After a brief playing career, D'Antoni became a coach and proceeded to change the way basketball is played, both with his and Steve Nash's "Seven Seconds or Less" squads in Phoenix and still today in Houston. Coaches from Gregg Popovich to Steve Kerr have cited D'Antoni's innovations as inspiration.
Tim Keown wrote in 2017:
"Mike D'Antoni's legacy plays out before him most nights, as one team after another shows up to display its version of his once-revolutionary offense.
"The D'Antoni insurrection overthrew the slow, plodding power forward. It abolished post-ups and isolation plays. It decreed that the ball would be passed liberally and quickly, that shooting guards and small forwards and even so-called power forwards would henceforth be interchangeable, and that the rampant shooting of 3s would not only be encouraged but damn near required.
It was born of equal parts experience and exasperation. D'Antoni was coaching his third season in Italy, and his 1996 Benetton team had lost six straight after winning its first six. He was in trouble, and he figured he had nothing to lose, so he came to practice the next day and announced that his team would play the way he always liked to play.
"His lead assistant greeted this epochal moment by screaming, 'We'll all get fired!' The team won 19 of its next 21, and quietly, in a land an ocean away, the game changed." -- Royce Webb
45. David Robinson
San Antonio Spurs (1989-2003)
Unlike today's stars, Robinson didn't reach the NBA until six years after finishing his high school basketball career. After four years at Navy and two more years serving his Naval commitment, the top pick of the 1987 draft made his long-awaited NBA debut in 1989 to lead the greatest single-season turnaround in league history at the time.
The 7 inches Robinson grew at Navy gave him a small forward's dexterity in a 7-foot-1 frame. His athleticism and skill overwhelmed opponents, and the awards came quickly: He was a unanimous Rookie of the Year, a Defensive Player of the Year and an MVP. He led the NBA in rebounding (1990-91), blocks (1991-92) and scoring (1993-94), making him one of two players, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who can make that claim.
"The Admiral" was much admired as a man of character who gracefully allowed the younger Tim Duncan to take the starring role in San Antonio, and together they won two NBA championships.
"Some basketball people will remember him as a gentle giant who had other interests, not just basketball, and who should have played more physical or whatever," former teammate Avery Johnson said. "But some people are going to see a man of integrity, a man of honesty and a man of passion." -- Adam Reisinger
44. John Thompson
Boston Celtics (1964-66)
Though he did win two NBA titles as Bill Russell's backup in Boston, the role that made Thompson famous and influential wouldn't be his until several years later, when he became the head coach at Georgetown in 1972.
Thompson turned a losing program around quickly and eventually made multiple Final Four appearances -- winning one NCAA title -- in his 27 years as coach, yet his status as a game changer is based on three other aspects: (A) his powerful persona as an outspoken, 6-foot-10, no-nonsense leader on basketball and social issues; (B) Georgetown's prominent, sometimes dominant place in the college game, popularizing a physical style of play that made the team iconic among fans and players; and (C) Thompson's role in the development of Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson.
Before a game in 1989, Thompson walked off the floor and turned over coaching duties to an assistant in protest of the NCAA's Proposition 48, which prohibited scholarship athletes from playing as freshmen if they failed to qualify academically, a rule which Thompson and others believed to be culturally and racially biased.
After his resignation in 1999, Thompson was eventually succeeded as Georgetown coach by his son and, as of 2017, by Ewing, ensuring his influence lives on. -- Webb
43. Dikembe Mutombo
Denver Nuggets (1991-96), Atlanta Hawks (1996-2001), Philadelphia 76ers (2001-02), New Jersey Nets (2002-03), New York Knicks (2003-04), Houston Rockets (2004-09)
An eight-time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year, it's hard to imagine that Mutombo's off-the-court importance trumps his on-court impact, yet it's true. The finger-wagging shot-blocker has raised and coordinated millions of dollars to improve medical care and facilities in his native Congo. In addition, he serves on the United States' Board of Directors to UNICEF and was a special guest of President George W. Bush at the 2007 State of the Union.
On the court, Mutombo was a vicious defender. Not the most agile or burly of players, Mount Mutombo still had the expert timing, sharp elbows and perfect positioning to thwart drives to the basket and control the boards. Whether leading the eighth-seeded Nuggets to a shocking first-round upset over the top-seeded Sonics in 1994 or backing up Yao Ming in the 2009 playoffs with Houston, Mutombo delivered stunning and remarkable defense at every stop during his 18-year career. -- Harris
42. Isiah Thomas
Detroit Pistons (1981-94); Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks (head coach, 2000-03, 2006-08)
Thomas' fascinating, unique career has reached the greatest heights -- with two NBA championships and an NCAA title -- and stirred up controversy in equal measure.
His influence as an NBA player starts with his dazzling ballhandling, lightning quickness, grit and scoring prowess, plus a personality much larger than his small, slight frame. As one of countless career highlights, the 12-time All-Star memorably scored a Finals-record 25 points in one quarter for the Pistons versus the Lakers despite a badly sprained ankle. For his skill and leadership of the Detroit Bad Boys, he is still, for many, one of the most revered players in NBA history.
But he was less beloved by opponents. He led an in-game walkoff in a humiliating loss to the Bulls, insulted Larry Bird, quarreled with longtime friend Magic Johnson and was famously left off the 1992 Dream Team, probably because of his rivalry with several players.
The former players union president has remained a leader off the court, with mixed results. His stewardship of the CBA ended disastrously, and his tenure as GM and then coach of the New York Knicks was marred by his decision-making and a sexual harassment lawsuit. But his philanthropic work, while less publicized, is extensive, and he remains a presence as New York Liberty president and an NBA TV commentator. -- Webb
41. Drazen Petrovic
Portland Trail Blazers (1989-91), New Jersey Nets (1991-93)
Before Drazen Petrovic, there was no such thing as an international guard who could not only make it in the NBA, but maybe become a star. It was unimaginable. The best international players were lumbering big men with rare passing chops -- and the best of those, Arvydas Sabonis, came to the NBA well past his prime. European guards were too slow and too soft.
And then came Petrovic -- a fearless sharpshooter who drained audacious 3s, shouted trash talk right into the ears of the league's biggest stars, and made an All-NBA team months before his tragic death. He was ahead of his time in every way, a basketball pioneer in the truest sense.
"Some people are going to disagree and be mad at me," Slovenian national team coach Igor Kokoskov says, "but Drazen would have been the best [European] player in NBA history."
"Others have done more," says Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Neven Spahija, "but Drazen is the most important player in the history of European basketball." -- Zach Lowe
40. Jason Kidd
Dallas Mavericks (1994-96), Phoenix Suns (1996-01), New Jersey Nets (2001-08), Mavericks (2008-12), New York Knicks (2012-13); Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks (head coach, 2013-18)
A near-lock to be announced as a Hall of Famer this weekend, Jason Kidd changed the game by changing his own game. When he came into the league, he was a great passer saddled with the nickname "Ason" (as in "no J"). By the time he retired in 2013, he was one of the NBA's all-time leaders in 3-point field goals -- he currently ranks ninth on that list, having been passed by a handful of active players since his retirement.
As a fast, powerful 6-foot-4 point guard Kidd rebounded like a forward, racking up more triple-doubles than anyone since Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson. He led a pair of Nets teams to the Finals, won a title with the Mavericks in 2011, and also sits second on the NBA's all-time assists list, behind only John Stockton.
As Steve Kerr told The New York Times in 2013, "What impresses me the most is he went from in his prime being the flashiest passer in the league -- much like Magic Johnson -- to becoming one of the most efficient passers in the league in terms of generating ball movement. It's interesting that he had that kind of range. His passing was always making an impact." -- Reisinger
39. Wayne Embry
Cincinnati Royals (1958-66), Boston Celtics (1966-68), Milwaukee Bucks (1968-69)
Before Wes Unseld, there was Wayne Embry, a relatively short center with a wide body who set mean screens and cleared the boards with ease. Running the pick-and-roll with Oscar Robertson in Cincinnati, Embry was a five-time All-Star and in his twilight captured a title in Boston as Bill Russell's backup center.
After retiring from playing in 1969, Embry smashed an important racial barrier by becoming the first black general manager in any of North America's major pro sports leagues. Embry had worked in Milwaukee's front office as an assistant and officially took over the GM duties in 1972. Over the next three decades, Embry built consistent winners in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Toronto and twice won Executive of the Year. -- Harris
38. John Stockton
Utah Jazz (1984-2003)
Stockton is the NBA's all-time leader in assists and steals, and the competition's not close in either category. He made his mark -- and set those marks -- by becoming the ideal "traditional point guard," running the offense rather than looking to score for Jerry Sloan's system-oriented Utah Jazz teams.
Stockton and Karl Malone were one of the greatest duos in NBA history, and they set the template for pick-and-roll basketball in the half court when Stockton wasn't finding the Mailman on the fast break.
Durability was a key for both players, and Stockton remained productive until he retired at age 41.
Among Stockton's many honors were All-NBA recognition 11 times and two Olympic gold medals, including one as a member of the Dream Team in 1992. -- Webb
37. Bob Cousy
Boston Celtics (1950-63), Cincinnati Royals (1969-70); Cincinnati/Kansas City-Omaha Royals (head coach, 1969-73)
The genius and creativity of Bob Cousy are underappreciated nearly 70 years after his NBA debut. He revolutionized the point guard position with his creative passing and led the NBA in assists for eight consecutive seasons. "Cooz" also turned the point guard into a major scoring threat, finishing second in points twice. Along the way, Cousy was the 1957 MVP, an eight-time champion and a 13-time All-Star.
His biggest impact, though, was in founding the NBPA in 1954. Observing that the players had no pension, few guaranteed contracts and paltry medical care, Cousy created the union and served as its president until 1958, handing the reins to teammate Tom Heinsohn. Decades later every player throwing behind-the-back passes on a guaranteed contract owes a major debt of gratitude to the Celtics legend. -- Harris
36. Ray Allen
Milwaukee Bucks (1996-2003), Seattle SuperSonics (2003-07), Boston Celtics (2007-12), Miami Heat (2012-14)
Over the course of a generation, the 3-point shooter graduated from specialist to mainstay, an evolution personified by Allen, the NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made -- none bigger than the game-tying bomb in Miami that wrenched a title away from the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
The most dedicated NBA players have traditionally possessed a strong work ethic, but Allen elevated preparation and discipline to another level. His game-day routine and commitment to personal health would serve as a template as the NBA ushered in the Age of Performance.
"You don't have to bump someone, or scream, or have a permanent scowl on your face to prove how intense you are," Allen wrote in his recently published autobiography, "From the Outside." "You prove it by being dedicated to your craft, night in and night out."
Throughout his career, Allen was one of the game's most thoughtful, worldly players. On several occasions, he brought teammates to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, prompting President Barack Obama to appoint Allen to its council in 2016. -- Kevin Arnovitz
35. Dominique Wilkins
Atlanta Hawks (1982-94), LA Clippers (1994), Boston Celtics (1994-95), San Antonio Spurs (1996-97), Orlando Magic (1999)
The "Human Highlight Reel," who was selected to nine All-Star Games as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, was among a select group of charismatic superstars who made NBA basketball a more seductive, watchable product. His 1988 Game 7 duel with Larry Bird is still a staple of all-time NBA supercuts.
"The basketball part that made Nique extraordinary is, you would watch him in practice and it didn't look like he was doing much," teammate Doc Rivers told ESPN in 2016. "He would kind of tell you he was going to work on his shot, but you never saw him do it. And then the next game, he's doing this shot that he told you he was going to start working on. And he's doing it in the game. The spin move off the glass. You remember that little jump where he spun? That's the craziest shot ever. And he'd make it."
With his signature windmill dunk, displayed in both games and a legendary dunk contest showdown with Michael Jordan, Wilkins was one of the era's exceptional shotmakers, an "above the rim" player who dominated off the dribble. -- Arnovitz
34. Walt Frazier
New York Knicks (1967-77), Cleveland Cavaliers (1977-80)
As a point guard for the New York Knicks, Walt Frazier was a seven-time All-Star, seven-time All-Defensive first-teamer, four-time first-team All-NBA selection, two-time champion and Basketball Hall of Famer. Take all that away, and Frazier would still be one of the most memorable and trendsetting players in NBA history for one big reason: style.
No player before or since looked as cool as "Clyde" did with his signature suits and stylish goatee -- even his nickname evoked style, as it was based on Warren Beatty's look in the influential movie "Bonnie and Clyde." Frazier's bold fashion sense was perfect for New York in the 1970s, and his on-court flair made him one of the first players with his own signature sneaker (the Puma "Clyde," which endures as an icon even today). Clyde remains an iconic figure on Knicks broadcasts, with his one-of-a-kind outfits and distinctive rhymes and turns of phrase.
Of course, all that style wouldn't have meant nearly as much without the substance, and Frazier could back up his look with his game. He was especially known for his prowess as a defensive guard, and for all the attention paid to Willis Reed's comeback in the 1970 Finals, it was Frazier who was the star of that Game 7, finishing with 36 points, 19 assists, seven rebounds and six steals. -- Reisinger
33. Vince Carter
Toronto Raptors (1998-2004), New Jersey Nets (2004-09), Orlando Magic (2009-10), Phoenix Suns (2010-11), Dallas Mavericks (2011-14), Memphis Grizzlies (2014-17), Sacramento Kings (2017-present)
Perhaps the greatest, most creative dunker ever and the pacesetter for every aerial artist of the past two decades, Carter was born to throw down on the big stage. At the 2000 Olympics, his shocking leap of faith over Frederic Weis of France further grew the legend that had taken root earlier that year at the Slam Dunk contest, where he reinvented the art form with an unprecedented series of dunks -- the reverse windmill 360 and the elbow in the rim among them.
Closer to earth, he also became the first NBA superstar in Canada when the Raptors acquired him in the 1998 draft, and he is cited by young Canadians as a major inspiration for the exciting new generation of NBA talent from the provinces.
Far more than a dunker, Carter's skill set is so well-rounded that he's still going -- and dunking -- at age 41, making him the oldest perimeter player in NBA history to play continuously. -- Webb
32. Manu Ginobili
San Antonio Spurs (2002-present)
There has never been a player like Manu Ginobili, in style or in substance. He busted every lingering stereotype about international guards. He plays at an arrhythmic pace that is all his, and that defenders had never seen jerking and lunging in front of them. He makes moves between dribbles, as Dennis Lindsay, the Jazz GM and former Spurs higher-up, is fond of saying.
He is the biggest star ever -- an international icon, a certain Hall of Famer -- to accept a permanent bench role in the prime of his career. As much as anyone, including Tim Duncan, Ginobili represents the Spurs' ethos.
"He played as big a part as Tim in building our culture," said Spurs GM R.C. Buford. "When Manu Ginobili comes off the bench, it's hard for anyone to bitch about why they aren't starting, or whatever role they are in. Look at that guy, then talk to me."
"You can't say s---," Duncan said. "It set a precedent." -- Lowe
31. Lenny Wilkens
St. Louis Hawks (1960-68), Seattle SuperSonics (1968-72), Cleveland Cavaliers (1972-74), Portland Trail Blazers (1974-75); Sonics, Trail Blazers, Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks (head coach, 1969-2005)
It's hard to tell who was better: Lenny Wilkens the player or Lenny Wilkens the coach. As a player, Wilkens was a nine-time All-Star and finished second in MVP voting in 1968. Entering the league with the perennial contender St. Louis Hawks, Wilkens would go on to provide stability to new franchises in Seattle, Cleveland and Portland as his career progressed. As coach, Wilkens was the first to record 1,000 wins and led the Sonics to the NBA title as one of the first black head coaches to win a ring.
To split the difference, let's say the best Lenny Wilkens was actually player-coach Lenny Wilkens. As player-coach of the Sonics, he was just the second black coach in pro sports, he led the NBA in assists in 1970, and in 1971 took home All-Star MVP honors. The versatile southpaw never missed an opportunity to do something great. -- Harris
30. Pete Maravich
Atlanta Hawks (1970-74), New Orleans/Utah Jazz (1974-80), Boston Celtics (1980)
In both college and the NBA, Maravich was a run-and-gun basketball showman who made watching basketball fun. Pistol Pete did things in games that no one had ever considered -- his passing was pure imagination, especially on the fast break. His creativity and ball control set him apart and made him one of the premier game changers of his era.
Maravich was a volume shooter and scorer, with NCAA scoring records that still stand. As the first star for the New Orleans Jazz, he led the NBA in scoring in 1976-77 and would pull up for jumpers from anywhere, decades before players like Steph Curry.
Mark Kriegel, who wrote "PISTOL: The Life of Pete Maravich," said this in 2007:
"Those moments on the highlights are breathtaking. They are genius. But they are not spontaneous. Pete had an unbeleivable capacity for practice -- like all the great ones. Magic Johnson had it. Michael Jordan had it. And Pete had it. Pete could practice longer than the other kids. A lot longer. And starting early in Pete's life, [his dad] Press was clearly trying to create the perfect ball player. Those homework basketball videos that most people probably know about today -- those are dexterity drills really. That was revolutionary at the time. No one was doing that, and Pete was doing it all the time." -- Chris Ramsay
29. Yao Ming
Houston Rockets (2002-11)
Yao's seven-plus seasons as a crafty, indomitable 7-foot-6 pivot man for the Houston Rockets belie his enormous influence as basketball's most important ambassador of the 21st century. China is the world's most ascendant economic market, and basketball the fastest-growing major team sport -- and Yao has officiated this passionate marriage. "
He brought NBA basketball to China and I will forever be thankful that I was able to be a part of it," teammate Tracy McGrady wrote for ESPN in 2016. "They didn't see Michael Jordan play, they saw us. They saw Yao."
In early 2011, an early-season matchup between the Rockets' and Chinese rookie Yi Jianlian's Milwaukee Bucks drew an estimated 100 to 200 million Chinese viewers on a Saturday morning. Seven years later, the Hall-of-Famer serves as the president of the Chinese Basketball Association, and endures as one of the nation's most beloved public figures, an icon of a new national pastime that promises to keep basketball at the center of the global sporting stage for decades to come. -- Arnovitz
28. Bill Walton
Portland Trail Blazers (1974-79), San Diego/LA Clippers (1979-85), Boston Celtics (1985-87)
Walton is considered by many the greatest college player ever, with three college player of the year awards and two NCAA titles, and he won an NBA title and MVP award as well. The teams he led are legendary -- the UCLA Bruins of John Wooden and the Portland Trail Blazers coached by Dr. Jack Ramsay. Late in his career, after years of injuries and frustration, he returned to play a key sixth man role for the Boston Celtics and win another championship.
Walton had a complete and unselfish game -- he could shoot, pass, defend, block shots and rebound, all at the highest level. He elevated the precision with which a center could play, with pinpoint passing and efficient scoring, including his legendary 21-for-22 shooting performance in the 1973 NCAA championship game.
Wearing a long red ponytail and embracing the counterculture, Walton became known equally well for his iconoclastic personality. Early in his career, he had a stutter, but he worked hard to overcome it and became one of the NBA's and college game's most distinctive, amusing broadcasters, effusive on basketball and almost every other topic. -- Ramsay
27. Scottie Pippen
Chicago Bulls (1987-99), Houston Rockets (1999), Portland Trail Blazers (1999-03), Bulls (2003-04)
Scottie Pippen played a unique role in the evolution of position-less basketball, with his length and smarts setting the standard for wing defenders and his ability to run a great team from the point forward position. Michael Jordan might not be the icon he is today without Pippen, who was by Jordan's side on MJ's greatest squads, including the Dream Team.
"Pippen rode shotgun for all six of Michael Jordan's championships in Chicago, as they were the only two players on hand for both the first and second three-peats. Pippen excelled in his role so much that he's still the standard for it. When LeBron James joined Dwyane Wade in Miami this summer one of the most-asked questions was 'Who will be Michael Jordan and who will be Scottie Pippen?' No further explanation was needed. Pippen's brand has replaced the generic name, like Kleenex for tissues." -- Webb
26. Moses Malone
Utah Stars (1974-75, ABA), Spirits of St. Louis (1975-76, ABA), Buffalo Braves (1976), Houston Rockets (1976-82), Philadelphia 76ers (1982-86), Washington Bullets (1986-88), Atlanta Hawks (1988-91), Milwaukee Bucks (1991-93), 76ers (1993-94), San Antonio Spurs (1994-95)
Long before the phrase "preps-to-pros" entered the basketball lexicon, Moses Malone made the jump from high school to the professional ranks, joining the ABA's Utah Stars as a 19-year-old, more than two decades before Kevin Garnett joined the NBA. More than just a pioneer, Malone became a superstar whose game was more effective than beautiful -- one of the strongest players of his day, he dominated inside with defense and relentless rebounding. He was especially known for repeatedly rebounding his own misses.
Upon Malone's death in 2015, J.A. Adande wrote: "We think of the early 1980s as the dawn of the Magic-Bird era, but Moses was the guy winning back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards in 1982 and 1983, before either of them got their hands on the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Malone was so dominant back then that when he signed with the Philadelphia 76ers on Sept. 2, 1982, I still remember how the news broke on the radio: "The 76ers won the NBA championship today."
With the Sixers, Malone coined the phrase "fo', fo', fo'" -- his prediction for how many games it would take the Sixers to win each round of the playoffs en route to a title. Though Philadelphia ended up falling one game shy of that perfect mark, Malone's lofty boast still gets brought up every time a team approaches a perfect postseason. -- Reisinger