10. Anthony Parker
The former Bradley standout had a less than sensational start in the NBA, and after a few years of warming the bench behind players like Allen Iverson, he decided to take his game over to Israel. Parker signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv and was originally supposed to replace Deron Sheffer. Instead, Parker built a legacy, and earned a place among the Euroleague's top-50 contributors; a list which includes Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, and former NBA superstars Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, and Drezan Petrovic.
While in Israel, Parker earned the highest honor in the Euroleague by being named MVP in 2004-2005. He posted 18.0 PPG, 5.3 rebounds per game and 3.6 assists per game. In 2005-2006, he was named MVP for the second year, and then left Europe to return to the NBA. Parker left a legacy in Europe that Israel will not soon forget. He is now a member of the Toronto Raptors in the NBA, and is looking to add an NBA Championship to his resume before returning to Europe to close his career.
9. Allen Iverson
Iverson is easily the biggest scorer of the post-Jordan era, and his averages don't lie. He trails only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain with a career average of 27.7 points per contest. He was the king in Philadelphia, and in 2000-2001 he was named the MVP, and went on to lead his team to the NBA finals. Allen Iverson isn't only a great player, and a prolific scorer, he is also a player who reached unbelievable levels of popularity with his signature corn-rows, tattoos, and killer cross-over.
In the 1990's, everyone wanted to be 'like Mike'. For a while, it seemed that everyone wanted to be like 'the Answer'. Things went south with the Sixers as they chose to rebuild and Iverson now finds himself teamed with Carmelo Anthony in Denver. While he may have lost a step and is no longer considered the top player in the game, he'll certainly be remembered as one of the greatest, and most influential basketball players to ever play in the NBA.
8. Emanuel Ginobili
Ginobili's contributions, much like Parker's, stretch beyond the NBA. He's an Olympian, a three-time NBA Champion, a former Euroleague Finals MVP, one of the 50-greatest contributors in Euroleague history, an NBA All-Star, and he might have a solid resume for the Hall of Fame. He's been the modern-day Drazen Petrovic for the International game, serving as a blue-print for all young Europeans to follow. Ginobili's NBA averages will never reflect his talents due to the strength of San Antonio's roster.
His rise to stardom was in his rookie season. While playing very little during the regular season behind Steve Smith, he found his way into Popovich's plans in the playoffs as the Spurs eliminated the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, and eventually the New Jersey Nets for their second ever NBA Championship.
That off-season, Ginobili was named Argentina's Athlete of the Year, and he even met with Argentine president Nestor Kirchner. Ginobili has dazzled fans with his creative style, and has achieved basketball greatness on every level of basketball on the planet.
7. Rafer Alston
This isn't to say that Alston isn't a fantastic NBA player, but his inclusion on this list has little to do with his performance in the NBA. Rafer Alston, or 'Skip To My Lou' was a major name in the AND-1 revolution. This street-ball style, which involved embarrassing the opponent through creative ball handling, was seen as a complete craze among players of all levels.
Who could forget Jason Richardson bouncing the ball off of an unsuspecting Carlos Boozer's head in the Rookie/ Sophomore game? The famous AND-1 mixtapes, which kids worked at copying for months, were being demonstrated by NBA superstars like Kobe Bryant at Rucker Park.
While it isn't fair to say Alston was the sole reason for AND-1 basketball's growth, he certainly was one of the pioneers of the style. If you watch him closely, that part of his game comes out in spurts over the course of the NBA season. It was certainly on display last season in the closing moments of the Lakers-Rockets game, in which Laker's guard Sasha Vujacic attempted to foul Alston. It certainly wasn't a great moment for Vujacic, and had the cameras not been there, he might have found his shorts by his ankles.
6. Dirk Nowitzki
Very few NBA players actually revolutionize a position the way Nowitzki has. Along with having won the NBA's Most Valuable Player award, he's a 7-time NBA All-Star, and arguably one of the 50 greatest players to ever play the game of basketball.
Dallas' loss to the Heat in 2006, and then the Golden State Warriors the following year has left a dark stain on Nowitzki's career, where analysts have labeled him soft. However, his performances have been sensational. Last year in the playoffs, he averaged nearly 27 points per game, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists per contest.
Furthermore, his success has been the reason for picks such as Andrea Bargnani in 2006, busts like Nickoloz Tskitishvili, and the early hype surrounding Serbian prospect Nemanja Aleksandrov. People are constantly looking for another Dirk Nowitzki, just like they're always looking for another Jordan, another Shaq, and another Magic. These players revolutionized their positions, and finding seconds hasn't been easy.
While Nowitzki's career in Europe was short, he's been a member of the German national team for nearly a decade now. He's certainly been a very big force on the court, and a poster-child for European basketball in the NBA.
5. Shaquille O'Neal
Shaq daddy is always good for a quote, or four, but his dominance on the court has been nothing short of spectacular. His success with the Lakers, where he won three championships, made him one of the greatest players in NBA history.
In a league dominated by swingmen like his former teammates Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, the Big Aristotle managed to be the biggest of them all to start the 21st century. He also went on to win a championship with the Miami Heat.
While he's certainly been slowed down by injuries and age, Shaq is still a presence in the post on both ends of the court. He's one of the greatest passing centers this league has seen and his play defensively has been an understated factor in his teams' tremendous success over the past ten years. He's changed the way the game of basketball is officiated and he's changed the way his opponents play. At one point, the only way to stop him was to foul him. Now that's power!
Much like Nowitzki, people are always looking for the next Shaq. Dwight Howard might be the closest thing we've seen to date. Someone could have mentioned that to the Knicks before they sold the farm for Eddy Curry.
4. Kobe Bryant
There has been some uncertainty since the days of Michael Jordan about who the best player in the NBA really was. A case could be made for O'Neal or Duncan, or perhaps even LeBron James. However, when it comes down to the final second of a game, there isn't another player you would rather have taking that shot than Bryant. The most impressive thing is that he's equally impressive on both ends of the court.
Very few athletes have had this kind of influence over their organization. In an off-season where he wasn't even signed, Kobe managed to have both Phil Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal shipped out of town. At that very same time, he had the Clippers send their future out the window because they were convinced he would eventually sign with them. The end result? Kobe remained a Laker, and the Clippers remained the Clippers.
After being an introvert to start his career, Bryant has certainly opened up to his team mates recently, and has truly embraced carrying the NBA torch. He's a great ambassador of the game, and he's certainly accomplished. He's a 3-time NBA Champion, All Star, and the reigning MVP. His fame has gone far beyond the North American market, and he's truly been one of the most influential athletes of his generation. The reception he received in China during the 2008 Olympics should speak for just how big a global icon Kobe Bryant really is.
3. Vince Carter
Before his injuries, and before the trade demands, Vince Carter was the biggest superstar this league had seen since Michael Jordan. His run at the top was very short, spanning from 1999 to 2002, but while he was at the top, he garnered international recognition, and he put the city of Toronto on the NBA map forever.
His dunk against Frederic Weis of France, where he jumped over the seven-footers' head was just the icing on the cake. He put together the most dominant dunk-off performance in NBA history in 2000, and he carried the Raptors to one shot from the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000-2001.
His play of late has been solid, but he's certainly lost his status as one of the league's top five names. While it became obvious that Carter was never ready for the responsibilities of carrying a league the way Jordan did, it was never questioned whether he was talented enough to do so. He'll go down as one of the most marketable athletes of his generation, and the greatest dunker in NBA history.
The summer he spent in China with Yao Ming truly completed the package, and even while posting average numbers, his fans globally were sure to vote Vinsanity into the All-Star game.
If you can't think of a time when Carter was this popular, just look in your closet. Buried deep beneath the pants which used to fit, and the shirt that used to be black, is a purple and black jersey with the number 15 on it. Unless of course you're a Raptor fan, in which case you've probably burnt it.
2. LeBron James
LeBron James is the Tiger Woods of basketball. He could probably sell water to a well. At such a tender age, he's drawing comparisons to former NBA greats like Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and his idol, Michael Jordan. LeBron even carried his team to the NBA Finals in 2006-2007, only to be swept by the Spurs.
While his team isn't quite as talented as the other elite rosters in the league, just having LeBron means the sky is the limit for the Cavaliers. If his plan to ditch Cleveland and head to Brooklyn when the Nets move to the Big Apple materializes, the King will become the most marketable athlete in sports, not just the NBA.
With his Nike contract, Sprite deal, and current maximum contract, James made over $40 million this past year. He almost makes more money in 12 hours than the average American does in one year. Yeah, he's loaded.
1. Yao Ming
He's the most popular basketball player in the world today. If you want an idea of just how big of a deal this guy is, he nearly got Shane Battier voted into the All-Star game, just because he played on the same team as him. Tracy McGrady has enjoyed the votes and jersey sales in the Asian market thanks to Yao Ming as well. He's one of the most talented players to play in the NBA, and if he can stay healthy, he might actually win something.
Since being drafted first overall in 2002, he's led the league in All-Star votes regularly. He sells out arenas all over North America as his fans line up to catch a glimpse of the 7'6 giant. Ming is a living example of an athlete who's following is so large, he's bigger than the very league in which he plays.
300,000,000 people in China play basketball today. That is nearly the entire population of the United States. Yao's journey to the NBA is likely to be followed by many players from China. Yi Jianlian made his journey in 2006-2007 and Sun Yue made the trip to the NBA this past off-season. Somewhere, you have to think David Stern is smiling.
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