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Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James – all considered the best in their time. And they were, compared to other NBA players that is.
Playing for the Harlem Globetrotters (the world’s most entertaining non-NBA team), Marques Haynes had a unbelievable 46-year playing career. Take that Kareem! His ball-handling skills were second to none, but his claim to fame was his consistently hitting of a behind the back half-court shot (let’s see Steph Curry do that!). Haynes was eventually inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame back in 1998.
Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell
Before YouTube, you’d have to watch the best dunks in the NBA dunk contest. And things only really started to get crazy once Vince Carter entered the competition back in 2000. But at 5’10”, Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell was dunking over people – and cars – back in the 80’s! You’d think with his hops he’d make the NBA for sure. But unfortunately for Mitchell, he spent many years in and out of jail. The fate of one too many talented ballers.
This Rucker Park legend was drafted 18th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers back in 1973. But disagreements over his contract prevented him from ever stepping on the court his rookie year – or ever again. Note to future aspiring NBA’ers: if you’re difficult, you’ll be blackballed by the league for life!
Chicago native and high school basketball legend, Benji Wilson never got to show the world what he could do in college or the NBA. On November 20, 1984, Benji was confronted by two students from a rival school and was shot. He died from his injuries the next day. Benji is proof that while good luck can get you to the NBA, bad lack can definitely keep you from it.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt holds the record for most points (55) in an Olympic game – along with an average of 30 points per game. So why didn’t he make the league? Well it wasn’t because of not being recruited – which he was heavily. No, Oscar decided to stay amateur so he could remain eligible to play in the Olympics, as back in his day, unlike today, pros were not allowed to compete.
Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond
Here’s another hard luck story. Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond, a Rucker Park legend, couldn’t escape the drugs and gangs lifestyle his neighborhood trapped him in. Many stints in prison kept him from being in the league. But that didn’t stop him from playing, for as rumor has it, during a prison courtyard game – an opposing player blocked his shot, and while still in the air, he grabbed the ball with his other hand and slammed it!
Hank Gathers is one of basketball’s most heartbreaking stories. In college, he was slated as a future NBA #1 pick. But during after throwing down an alley oop during the 1990 NCAA tournament quarterfinals game Hank dropped dead, right on the court, from a heart condition called “hypertrophic cardiomyopathy”.
Pee Wee Kirkland
Pee Wee Kirkland had the opportunity to team up with Kareem Abdul Jabbar back when he played for UCLA. His incredible handles that rival that of Allen Iverson and Steph Curry made him unguardable, along with a lightening quick first step – making him unstoppable – was what got him his opportunity. But Pee Wee chose the gang lifestyle instead, as he said it made him way more money than the NBA, which at that time, wasn’t paying players nowhere near as much as it does now.
Now here’s a non-NBA’er that actually played against Michael Jordan – in college that is. Len Bias was essentially the Lebron James of early 80’s, as a combination of talent, and massive size made him unstoppable. He was such a force on the court, that he was picked 2nd in the 1986 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. And as fate would have it, Len unfortunately died of a cocaine overdose from parting the very night he was drafted.
Earl “ The Goat” Manigault
Everyone refers to Michael Jordan as the GOAT – which stands for the Greatest Of All Time. But Earl Manigault is the original GOAT. At only 6” tall, Earl had a 52” vertical that’d he’d use to win money from other players by betting that he could reach the top of the backboard to grab quarters, while leaving change in its place! Kareem Abdul Jabbar says he’s the bast player he’s ever seen, as the two used to battle on the Rucker Park court back in the 60’s. Sadly, a heroin addiction not only kept him from playing in the league, but also lead to his death a the age of 53.