My love for the game of basketball grew exponentially in the '90s when I was growing up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I'd go play pickup ball with my friends and trade cards and play NBA Jam on SNES with them. Watching the NBA during that time only deepened my passion.
On some days, I would be at a friend's house late to watch the games. On most days, my brothers and I would get up early, tiptoe our way downstairs, and catch a random Bulls-Sonics game with the TV volume so low that it seemed like Marv Albert was calling the game from a library, just so we wouldn't wake up the rest of the family. Then at night, it was a habit of ours to check SportsCenter and listen to Stuart Scott narrate the highlights. Man, those were good times.
As my NBA fandom grew, there were a lot of players who caught my eye. But only a few I admired.
The players on my version of Mount Rushmore aren't based on accomplishments or titles or stats or anything like that. These are the four guys who turned my love for the NBA into an addiction — players whose highlights and iconic plays will forever tumble in my head like clothes in a dryer. These are the ones who will always have a permanent place in my basketball-bleeding heart.
Nothing defined NBA basketball in the '90s more than Michael Jordan. But there was one cat who came along and disrupted the scene with his savvy playmaking and laid-back personality. Penny Hardaway was one of the best to ever lace 'em up. Shaq was the attraction, but Penny was the one waving the magic wand in Orlando. He had the game, he had the shoes, and he had the commercials. He could score, he could pass, and he could defend. Everyone wanted to be like Mike, but Penny wasn't too far behind. Every league I joined, I wanted to wear #1. To this day, I still have an affinity for Penny - that's how much he had an impact on me.
When I started playing organized basketball, I was really short. But I was fast. And I always used that speed when I was guarding opposing players. My quick hands would swipe the ball away from them and I'd be gone. I could never get a shot up in half-court sets, but most of the points I scored came from fastbreak layups. Stealing the ball was like my superpower. That's what I loved about Gary Payton. As well as the trash-talking, duh. Ask anyone I know who's played with me or against me - I was loud on the court. And I still am, to be honest.
You probably didn't see this coming, did you? When Steph Marbury hit the scene back in '96, Timberwolves games were rarely shown on TV, so whenever there was a scheduled game, I made sure I would catch most, if not all, of it. There was something about Marbury that was raw, brash, and edgy, but in a cool way. He had all these fancy moves and made everything look good in those blue Timberwolves pine tree jerseys (which to me are top 5 of all time, @ me). The haircut with the slit in the middle probably got to me too.
Of course, he'd be on this list. I started looking at Kobe when he joined the dunk contest. Then looked closer when he became an All-Star with Shaq, Nick Van Exel, and Eddie Jones. (I was huge a fan of Van Exel and Jones, but let's save that for another time.) Since then, I liked Kobe because he was the Lakers' next star who was unapologetic for the way he played. Also because he was audacious. Because he took too many shots. And because he failed. But also because he was unafraid. Because he was super competitive. Because he succeeded. Because 8/24 (my son's birthday). And because he was just TOO. DAMN. GOOD.
THE ULTIMATE #24 KOBE BRYANT MIXTAPE 🐍 pic.twitter.com/GFSgJUcyd7— Lakers Lead (@LakersLead) September 13, 2022