The 1990’s is my favorite decade of basketball. I was born in 1985, so the 90’s was a very influential time in my life. As far as the NBA is concerned, the 90’s is when I fell in love with basketball. I enjoyed basketball when I was younger and played NBA Jam when it came out, but in 1996 I watched the ‘NBA at 50’ VHS (yes, VHS) and I was hooked. I became obsessed with the style of play in the 90’s — the grind-it-out, physical in-your-face style. And not to mention the shit-talking! I couldn’t get enough. So after some tough consideration, here are my 5 favorite players from the 90s.
Honorable Mentions: Mitch Richmond, Cedric Ceballos, Allen Iverson, Penny Hardaway, Kobe Bryant
5. Shaquille O’Neal
Magic ’92-96, Lakers ’96-99
Shaquille O’Neal aka “Superman” aka “The Diesel” was a unique one-of-a-kind talent that the league had never seen before. He was so good, when the NBA named the 50 greatest players in history, Shaq was one of them and he had only been in the league four seasons. In the early 90’s, I knew Shaq from NBA Jam and ESPN highlights as the guy who broke NBA rims, but when Shaq joined the Lakers, I was able to watch him a lot more and he quickly became one of my favorites. Shaq would pulverize opponents in the paint. If you never saw Shaq in his prime, there is no one quite like him. Shaq wasn’t just huge, he was athletic too. He could run the floor like a forward and once he got going, there was no stopping him. No doubt, Shaq was a favorite of mine for his first few years as a Laker. Things changed in ’99/2000 … but that’s a whole different decade.
4. Eddie Jones
Lakers ’94-98, Hornets ’98-99
EJ aka the Silent Assassin was a cool, collected player on the court, but his game spoke for itself. Eddie Jones was a true slasher … he could shoot the three, play defense, and he was a treat to watch in the open court. Not only was EJ one of my favorite players, he played for my favorite team, the Lakers, so he was automatically bumped up my chart. What I liked even more, was that I felt a lot of people didn’t know how dope he was, so it felt like I was one of the “ones that knew”. There are a couple things that will always stand out to me when it came to Eddie Jones:
- He essentially dunked from the free-throw line, IN GAME. Check the footage. Here is the slo-mo.
- He had some of the sickest Team Jordan shoes ever.
- He was one of four Lakers NBA All-Stars in ’98 (Shaq, Kobe, Van Exel, EJ)
3. Grant Hill
Grant Hill could have been one of the best players ever if it wasn’t for his ankle injuries, and in the 90’s we got to see what his career could have been like. Hill might have played for the Pistons, but that didn’t stop me from getting his classic #33 jersey and wearing his Fila’s (which turns out was a huge mistake, oops). Hill could do it all on the court. He could drive and dunk on you (ask Alonzo Mourning), was a mid-range monster, and was a walking triple-double long before anyone knew who Russell Westbrook was. Hill ended up leaving the Pistons for the Magic in 2000, got hurt in ’01 and missed all of ’03/04. Hill ended up resurrecting his career later with Phoenix, but I will never forget how dominate and fun to watch he was in the 90’s.
2. Gary Payton
Gary Payton aka “The Glove” or “GP” is my favorite point guard of all time. GP was a BEAST on the defensive end, consistently locking up guards by taking full advantage of the physical play allowed. GP also was the KING of the fast break in the 90’s – He was either throwing alley oops to the Reign-man or taking it to the rack himself. GP was so fun to watch, I made my parents buy me two Gary Payton jerseys, one old school and one new school. When the Sonics took on the Bulls in ’96 Finals, I was full on going for Seattle, and I will never forget when GP dunked it around MJ and said a little sumn-sumn. Sure, it only pissed on MJ, but that’s who GP was, a guy who gave zero f*cks.
1. Shawn Kemp
Supersonics ’90-97, Cavaliers ’97-99
Shawn Kemp sits atop my favorite players from the 90’s list, for one reason and one reason only, the dunks. Okay, maybe it’s not just one thing, but Shawn Kemp was a force to be reckoned with in the 90’s. He didn’t care who was in front of him, he would just attempt to mash it down their throat. He has some of the most iconic dunks in NBA history in an era where it was allowed to showboat after a huge slam dunk. Kemp was not just a good dunker, he was a great athlete. He could grab passes from any angle and dunk it home. Picture Blake Griffin, just without all the whining, complaining and injuries. I had Kemp jerseys on the Sonics and Cavs (my only Cavs jersey to this day), and had all of the Reebok Reignman shoes. Every day after school I lowered my rim to practice power-jams in my backyard. It’s a shame his career panned out the way it did, but we will always have the 90’s when the reign man reigned supreme.
Final Note: You may notice one player that is not on this list that is probably on most lists out there … Michael Jordan. It’s not that I didn’t like MJ, I just couldn’t. I have a brother who is 18 months younger than me and because we are brothers, and stupid, we couldn’t “like the same players” growing up. So due to a sibling technicality, which I hope some of you understand, MJ is off the list. Sorry, Mike … you’re liked enough already dude.
Thanks for reading! Let me know your favorite players from the 90’s in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter!