George Mikan carried pro basketball for the decade following World War II and nearly broke the sport. The sports bar debate has been settled. Boston Celtics (1979-92), Indiana Pacers (1997-2000). God gave us two hands. You also can follow along @ESPNNBA and on Facebook. Five time NBA champion with the Lakers, Kobe Bryant has spent his entire career with the Lakers, where he is the top scorer with 33,643 points. Bryant also sits as the Lakers’ all-time leader in several categories, including games (1,346), minutes (48,637), 3-pointers (1,827), free … ), "We're into the second generation of his influence now, the players who grew up watching the players who grew up watching Magic, something that didn't dawn on me until I asked 24-year-old Trevor Ariza about Johnson and he said, "Baron looks up to him a lot, and I look up to Baron." When he tore his right rotator cuff, he just started shooting left-handed. When questioned why he'd do such a thing, he defiantly responded, 'Why? Larry Bird was an influential player in his high school and in the NBA from the 1970-1980s. Even if a player didn't participate majorly in off-the-court issues, a player's influence on the game can be felt by growing the sport's popularity worldwide or re-shaping the game as far as how it's being played. That combination of kinetic energy, creative passing and sharpshooting endures as a blueprint for the prototypical point guard in the modern, high-pace era of NBA basketball. Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-10), Miami Heat (2010-14), Cavaliers (2014-present). , "He epitomized qualities the city of Boston loves: fearless, gritty, arrogant, passionate and relentless. God gave us two hands.'" "James changed the paradigm for what a basketball prodigy was, and there still hasn't been anyone quite like him since. "When we first got Steve, it was like, 'OK, let's run,'" D'Antoni says, "But he's already going. 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. This list will pay homage to the top 10 most influential figures in sports history. After he ruptured his Achilles, he looked Lakers trainer Gary Vitti in the eye and asked whether he could still play. Influence West's jumper -- its economy, quick release, silky follow-through -- made him the league's most efficient shooter during his prime. Originally from Nigeria, Olajuwon played center with grace, quickness and overwhelming talent on each end, making him a unique figure in the NBA's evolution. Despite just one MVP trophy, he earned his self-awarded Most Dominant Ever moniker, and he was without a doubt the most physically imposing player of his generation. And that's not including the 100-point game, which someone could conceivably top one day. Despite being known as the face of the Cleveland Cavaliers, James actually won two of his three championship titles with the Miami Heat. -- Curtis Harris. Won 6 NBA titles, 5 MVP awards, two … When he tore his right rotator cuff, he just started shooting left-handed. Adande captured the essence of his impact. Vitti and Lakers coach Byron Scott had to yank him out of the game. Yes, "The Decision" broadcast was panned for its poor taste, but the concept has aged well. A two-time WNBA champion, two-time Finals MVP and eight-time All-Star, there was nothing she couldn’t do. Jackson's consistent success as a coach seemed surreal, as he showed up in the Finals year after year, leading the Bulls and Lakers to the three three-peats (the first since Bill Russell's Celtics) before finally losing in the Finals -- and then tacked on two more titles before retiring from coaching, to go along with the two he won as a player. From the beginning, he vowed he was "going to beat the disease," and with the help of drugs, diet and exercise he has. Originally from Nigeria, Olajuwon played center with grace, quickness and overwhelming talent on each end, making him a unique figure in the NBA's evolution. That, too, is a fact.'" At the time of his retirement, he was an 11-time NBA All-Star. As the third president of the NBPA and a civil rights activist, Robertson fought for over a decade to secure pensions and free agency for players. Influence When he tore his right rotator cuff, he just started shooting left-handed. 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.". Don Barksdale was the first black All-Star and before joining the NBA was the first black NCAA All-American and first black player to win gold in basketball at the Olympics. So without further ado, let's count down the five most influential Major League baseball players of all-time. Golden State Warriors (2009-present). In 2012, when James and Dwyane Wade organized their Miami Heat teammates to pose for a team photo in hoodies following the death of Trayvon Martin, it changed the way NBA players used social media. Jordan transformed the style and substance of basketball, expanding the scope and meaning of athletic achievement. His dazzling passing at 6-foot-9 thrilled NBA fans as nothing before had done. He was MVP in 1964 and NBA champion in 1971. We still see his influence in ways big and small: kids wagging their tongues; the raging popularity of basketball in China; post-up players leaning backward into defenders before making their move. Curry will go down as not only the avatar of the NBA's Golden Age of Shooting, but as the inspiration for generations of kids who see him as the model for how to refine their skills and overcome bigger, more athletic players. LeBron, AD weigh in, 'We can do better': Even when Steph Curry is on, Warriors struggling to find their rhythm, In the paint: Introducing the artist known as Willie Cauley-Stein, LeBron gets laugh out of his hilarious 'reaction' to Harden trade, The Rockets created a culture that gave James Harden all the power, Game postponements, news and updates for the NBA and its COVID-19 protocols, J.A. Vitti and Lakers coach Byron Scott had to yank him out of the game. Without further ado, here are the 20 most influential NBA players ever. Well, Chamberlain had a penchant for shattering team records, too. His entire career was built upon accepting nothing. The first thing to truly set him apart: He was the first player in 20 years to go straight to the NBA from high school without enrolling in college -- a decision that has helped make him the highest-earning player in NBA history and a role model for Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and dozens more. Post #1 » by youngthegiant » Thu Aug 6, 2020 3:31 am Just how Steph Curry and the Warriors changed 3pt shooting across the league. Read Jesse Washington's full Michael Jordan essay at The Undefeated, Game Changers: Ranking the 100 most influential NBA players ever, PG: 'Back with vengeance' after playoff woes, LeBron set to sign deal with Pepsi, sources say, Luka upset after Mavs fail to call timeout in loss, Donovan: Young Bulls 'don't know how' to win yet, Towns says he's tested positive for COVID-19, Giannis' plan to fix free throw issue: Shoot more, Who's the best 3-point shooter on the Lakers? In 1947, Wat Misaka joined the BAA (forerunner of the NBA) to become the league's first non-white player and the first player of Asian descent. What ultimately has made Barkley a game-changer is his personality, his voice. Starting with Air Jordan sneakers, which led to his own Jordan Brand, which led to him buying majority control of the Charlotte Hornets, Jordan blazed a trail for athletes to escape the plantation, buy the Big House, and sit on the porch with their feet up, smoking a cigar. In the playoffs, he's already the all-time leader in scoring, second in steals and third in assists. After he ruptured his Achilles, he looked Lakers trainer Gary Vitti in the eye and asked whether he could still play. Obviously shots were blocked before Russell, but he turned the act into a psychologically and physically devastating art form. ... in Duke basketball history. But the Knicks' physical, all-defense approach was extremely influential, contributing to a subsequent decline in NBA scoring and fan appeal. And stardom did follow quickly, as Bryant was voted the youngest All-Star starter in history even before he was a Lakers starter. Exemplifying his domination was a famous marquee at Madison Square Garden declaring "George Mikan vs. the New York Knicks." But all the style in the world doesn't get you four MVPs and three championships. Each of the players in our list forever changed the way we talk about basketball, the way we play basketball, and even the way we bet on basketball . -- Webb, Teams Nowitzki is the greatest NBA player from Europe, an MVP, an NBA champion and a Finals MVP. On the other end, West was a rugged, handsy competitor, whose defensive crouch and laser focus tormented opposing guards. But it was Chamberlain's spectacular persona that mattered as much as his accomplishments. is also a reminder of his powerful, overwhelming presence on the court. Barkley was also a Dream Teamer (and pal of Michael Jordan) who ran roughshod in the Olympics, and he averaged 22.1 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists for his NBA career. To note that he won national college player of the year, three MVP awards, three NBA titles and a gold medal as an aging member of the Dream Team seems almost beside the point. From the 1950s to the present, he gave interviews, wrote articles and books, and now is on Twitter addressing the flaws of American society. Tim Keown captured some of Jackson's magic during Jackson's 10th title run: "If there's genius in getting out of the way, Jackson has perfected it. Olajuwon was truly a two-way great, something you can’t say about most … With the start of the NBA season a few days away, it’s time we close the book on our offseason series ranking the 100 greatest players of the 21st century. His earnest critiques of wide-ranging issues from civil rights to popular culture have been rigorous and elegantly expressed.". Just as otherworldly was his approach to the game. Not a game. With the reach of the NBA increasing daily, it is time to take a look at the most influential players the NBA has had in the last 20 years at each position. The hard brevity of "Shaq!" Kobe Bryant followed in the footsteps of Michael Jordan, but he was also a maverick -- a brilliant, driven talent who made his own path and got tens of millions of fans to follow. Sure, appreciate the sinuous finger rolls, the effortless cradle-rocking dunks, and the soaring free-throw-line slam that left humanity bewildered in 1976. Bill Russell. The top 10 was less of a list of influential players, and more like a ranking of the best players ever. Even from a style and cultural standpoint, Garnett is still relevant: His fiery intensity remains legendary, as demonstrated by his trendsetting move of jumping to block jumpers after the whistle, intended to intimidate and break the confidence of opponents. Influence When questioned why he'd do such a thing, he defiantly responded, 'Why? In 2003, Bryant was charged with sexual assault in Colorado -- the charge was eventually dropped when the accuser declined to testify, Bryant issued an apology and the parties settled a civil suit out of court. As the Spurs continued their reign of excellence and resilience, winning titles despite inferior athletic talent, the rest of the league looked to imitate them. The Women's National Basketball Association's Top 15 Players of All Time were chosen in 2011 on the occasion of the fifteenth season of the WNBA from amongst 30 nominees compiled by the league by fan, media, coach, and player voting. For years, every short power forward was compared to Barkley, known as "The Round Mound of Rebound" for his physique. Erving, regarded as one of the most influential players of all-time, was known for his "above-the-rim" style of play while playing in both the ABA and NBA. Influence Stephen Curry is if not THE MOST influential player of all time, then at least the second behind only Michael Jordan. "Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird -- first as hated rivals, then as friends -- did more than any other pair of players to bring the NBA into the modern era we still enjoy today. Along with 16 all-star games and three MVPs, James is a three time world champion. James' personal essay in Sports Illustrated when he returned to Cleveland in 2014 came four months before The Players' Tribune launched. The first thing to truly set him apart: He was the first player in 20 years to go straight to the NBA from high school without enrolling in college -- a decision that has helped make him the highest-earning player in NBA history and a role model for Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and dozens more. Just those credentials would easily secure him a place on this list. He appeared in the Finals eight times and set a Finals single-game record of 61 points, but never won a title. I will attempt to pick the top 25 most influential Duke Blue Devils of all-time. As perhaps the most popular sports broadcaster of today, Barkley is entertaining whether he's saying something provocative, hurling an insult or dropping a hilarious or self-deprecating line. But there's more. Milwaukee Bucks (1969-75), Los Angeles Lakers (1975-89). "As former Jackson assistant Jim Cleamons told The New York Times, 'Every situation that Phil has coached in, the team hadn't won before he got there. -- Harris, Teams • Game Changers: 25-1, From the archives: But there are so many answers to why "The Answer" was a game changer. He defined a position on the court, and never shirked from one off it. Influence The four highest all-time NBA single-season scoring averages all belong to Chamberlain…in his first four professional seasons. An influential players list simply cannot be made without having LeBron James on it. But those are the individual numbers that feed into the superficial Russell vs. Chamberlain debate that always depended on simply seeing Wilt as selfish. But we're still not precisely there on why Oscar Robertson is foundational to basketball history. But more than any particular accomplishment, it was his personality that seemed most magnetic and influential. And of course his shot-blocking revolutionized how teams played defense. Without those well-rounded skills, he might be remembered as a circus act. Just those credentials would easily secure him a place on this list. O'Neal's massive, media-friendly, hyperbolic personality and dozens of nicknames found their way into movies, albums and commercials at a pace unlike any seen before in the NBA, and he remains a household presence on TNT. Influence Yet Curry's supremacy as a shooter transcends the ledger: He also changed the definition of what constitutes a quality shot from the field in an NBA game. Kobe created a devoted cult of fans that often seemed to care more about him, his jerseys and his shoes than his team. Racism, police brutality, poverty, bigotry, exploitation: He has made those topics a central focus for over 60 years and shows no sign of letting up. That's crazy to say that about a 16-time All-Star who still is recognized by fans who weren't even alive when he retired. The résumé of five championships, two MVP awards, 15 All-Star selections and a 20-season record of incomparable consistency represent only a fraction of Duncan's quiet influence on the game he mastered. Over the years, his unique talent helped the Dallas Mavericks to put up some of the most efficient offensive numbers in history and allowed coach Rick Carlisle to create innovative schemes with more shooting on the floor, culminating in an NBA title in 2011. O'Neal's massive, media-friendly, hyperbolic personality and dozens of nicknames found their way into movies, albums and commercials at a pace unlike any seen before in the NBA, and he remains a household presence on TNT. And, in the realm of basketball, some consider him to be the greatest of all time. His play saved the Lakers franchise financially, and yet when he gracefully retired early in the 1971-72 season, that's when the team went on a record-setting win streak and finally won the championship. I still think he deserved the list. Riley's Knicks were beloved locally and despised by rivals -- Phil Jackson accused them of playing football, not basketball. He showed the league what hangtime was all about with an array of reverse layups, contorted one-handers and double-pump jumpers. Influence His agility and ability at his size made every team lust for a player like Shaq, even with his memorably poor free throw shooting and occasional brushes with teammates. His domination of the paint with ambidextrous hook shots caused the NBA to widen the lane and adopt the shot clock as teams would too often stall, preventing the superstar from getting a shot. He won Olympic gold in 1960. Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird -- first as hated rivals, then as friends -- did more than any other pair of players to bring the NBA into the modern era we still enjoy today. Some people watch because they enjoy seeing their favorite players. On the other end, West was a rugged, handsy competitor, whose defensive crouch and laser focus tormented opposing guards. More active NBA players have waded into the waters of political advocacy in recent years. -- Arnovitz. Bronny James, son of the Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar and future Hall of Famer LeBron James, is a high-school basketball phenomenon with great following in the basketball and the media world. So I'm going, 'This is great! His dazzling passing at 6-foot-9 thrilled NBA fans as nothing before had done. Whether it's tackling issues of equality, poverty, race issues or rights of athletes, NBA players past and present have had a major impact on influencing culture and society. In his eight seasons playing in the NBL, BAA and finally NBA, Mikan's team won seven titles. Iverson led the league in scoring four times and steals three times, and those skills went hand in hand, as he gambled and scored fearlessly. According to one shoe executive, Bronny is the most influential high-school athlete of all time, as reported by 247sports.com. Influence Individually he was a savant. Within a decade of the debuts of Lloyd, Cooper, Clifton and Barksdale, the NBA had many black players, including MVPs Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. He was an unstoppable force, whether on the break or on the boards, and he could pass and score. And as the leader of the Showtime Lakers, Johnson won five championships and became the ebullient face of the league for many. It's often said, glibly, that they saved the NBA. -- Harris, Teams Iverson led the league in scoring four times and steals three times, and those skills went hand in hand, as he gambled and scored fearlessly. As an actor, singer, track star, nightclub owner, boxer, and volleyball enthusiast he elevated his own profile and the NBA's.". Jordan was one of the most effectively marketed athletes of his generation and was considered instrumental in popularizing the NBA around the world in the 1980s and 1990s. 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. His 1988 Game 7 duel with Dominique Wilkins and the Hawks -- won by Bird and the Celtics, naturally -- is the stuff of legend. But Riley wasn't the run-and-gun coach many assumed, as he proved in his next stop: New York City, where as coach and GM he put together one of the most rugged defensive squads ever seen. After his career as a role player and a short stint as a broadcaster, Riley took over the Showtime Lakers and led them to four championships, quickly gaining popularity as a stylish sideline manager -- indeed "The Winner Within" is one of the most successful sports-based management books ever.". Bird's shooting prowess and command of the game became the standards for new generations to follow. It's often said, glibly, that they saved the NBA. That's a distinction that will carry a great honor for him as he has always wanted to be known as a playmaker and not just as a scorer. His mindblowing athletic talent -- including overpowering strength, an outlandish wingspan, supreme speed, and uncanny leaping ability -- and outgoing personality gave him a presence unlike any in sports. -- Webb, Teams He has more than 30,000 points and counting at age 39. Bird won three championships but could have easily had a handful more had his teammates matched his intensity ... and if his body hadn't so cruelly betrayed him in his final years. Influence Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is widely considered to be among the greatest players to have ever set foot on an NBA court. Few centers have passed the ball as well as Russell and he was the first player to turn the dunk into a routine weapon. Larry Bird seemed like a fictional character come to life, "the Hick from French Lick" who arrived in Boston to turn the Celtics and indeed the entire NBA around. "He's the greatest shooter to ever step on the court," Warriors teammate Kevin Durant said during the preseason. But he formed an uneasy alliance with Shaquille O'Neal and Phil Jackson to win three straight NBA titles, giving Bryant the superstardom and success he craved. Phoenix Suns (1996-98), Dallas Mavericks (1998-2004), Suns (2004-12), Los Angeles Lakers (2012-15). -- Webb, Teams He's the NBA's all-time leading scorer, a six-time … He was MVP in 1964 and NBA champion in 1971. When Johnson turned 50, J.A. He leads all guards in career true shooting percentage (by a considerable margin), and all guards who started a majority of their career games in 3-point percentage. MOST definately Larry Bird, the best basketball … And as the leader of the Showtime Lakers, Johnson won five championships and became the ebullient face of the league for many. His game-changing ability -- particularly on defense, for which he made 12 All-Defensive teams -- was constantly apparent in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves still haven't made a postseason trip since 2004, the year he won the MVP award and three years before Garnett initially left the franchise via trade.". As Steve Kerr told Chris Haynes, "The crossover, in my mind, changed the way players played. Diana Taurasi Though West is best known to many later-generation fans as a swashbuckling front office executive who presided over the Lakers' dynasty of the 1980s, he was the defining combo guard of his time, a natural to serve as the silhouette for the NBA's iconic logo. Influence Influence -- Arnovitz, Teams As a former member of the Phi Slama Jama "fraternity" at the University of Houston, and alongside his Twin Tower Ralph Sampson, Olajuwon took the Houston Rockets to the NBA Finals in his second season.