10 MEMO OKUR
This Turkish inside/outside workforce missed a bunch of games in the last few years because of his injuries but his stock started to grow when he played a wonderful backup role to Ben and Rasheed Wallace in the Detroit Pistons’ championship run in 2004. And then he signed with the Utah Jazz where he averaged 18.0 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game in the 2005-06 NBA season.
9 HEDO TURKOGLU
Here’s another Turkish basketball juggernaut whose game resembles that of Toni Kukoc. Admittedly, I was a fan of Hedo when he played for the Sacramento Kings (his parents were born in Serbia) but it’s with the Orlando Magic that he became scoring threat – averaging 19.5 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game for the Magic in the 2007-08 NBA season.
8 WALT HAZZARD
This two-time NBA All-Star also represented the United States in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics (Filipinos know this as the Olympics where Anthony Villanueva won a silver medal in boxing). Hazzard had his best year while playing for the Seattle Supersonics (24.0 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, and 6.2 assist per game) in the inaugural season in 1967. His number was retired by UCLA in 1996 but gave permission to let a standout newcomer use it. Perhaps he thought Kevin Love would become a successful player eventually. He would later change his name to Mahdi Abdul-Rahman and it stayed that way until his death on November 18, 2011.
7 SHAREEF ABDUL-RAHIM
When he joined the Sacramento Kings in the 2005-06 season and the Kings scored a playoff spot, Reef ended a dubious record of playing the most number of NBA games without a playoff appearance. Originally drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 1996 NBA Draft, Reef averaged 18.1 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game in a 12-year injury-plagued run. He also represented USA in the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he won a gold medal.
6 RASHEED WALLACE
One of the most popular and hated players of his time, Sheed was the fourth overall pick by the Washington Bullets in the 1995 NBA Draft. He was the leader of the terrorizing Portland Trail Blazers of the late 90’s but it is with the Detroit Pistons where he won a NBA title. The four-time NBA All-Star also had a dubious record of all-time technical fouls with 304. He never backs down when the going gets tough and can drain the rainmakers in awesome accuracy.
5 LARRY JOHNSON
If you’re not a New York Knicks fan back then, you’ll probably be annoyed the “L” gesture he does whenever he hits a trey. “Grandma” was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1991 and had an Alvin Patrimonio-type of career where he started out a ferocious power forward but ended his career as a deadshot outside shooter. He is a one-time All-NBA Second Team, a two-time NBA-All Star, a former Rookie of the Year, and played alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller on Dream Team 2. He also the only player to have his talent get crapped at by the Looney Tunes.
4 JAMAAL ABDUL-LATEEF WILKES
Alongside Bill Walton and Coach John Wooden, “Smooth as Silk” would stir UCLA to a lot of championships. In the NBA, his winning streak continued where he won a title with the Golden State Warriors and three plums with the Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged 17.7 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game in a 12-year career. A three-time All-Star and the 1975 Rookie of the Year, he received his highest citation by being inducted in the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2012. He is a valuable teammate to many and even if he got dethroned by James Worthy at his spot in his later years, he managed to do his best despite limited minutes.
3 SHAQUILLE O’NEAL
In some ways, I find it hard to believe that I’m writing this. This is the same jolly guy who cracks jokes, does a lot of wacky endorsements, and says things without thinking. I am a fan of Shaq but I was thinking on whether or not inserting Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and taking him off the list is a good idea. Fact is, Shaq’s dad is a Muslim. In an interview he told everyone that Hakeem Olajuwon is his brother and he’d like the idea of him and Hakeem going to Mecca together. And oh yeah – Shaq is a one-time MVP, multiple time All-NBA First, Second, and Third Team member, a 15-time All-Star, an Olympic Gold Medalist, a Rookie of the Year winner, and a future Hall of Famer.
2 KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR
Shocked? Oh do tell. The former Lew Alcindor was undoubtedly the best college player in time of the 1968 Mexico Olympics but he didn’t want to do anything with the United States as objection for the country’s participation to the Vietnam War. And then, he changed his name because he wanted to latch on his heritage and that he wants to educate the black people that they came from a positive culture. But then he also sued Miami Dolphins’ running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar after the former UCLA standout (same school as Kareem) twisted his name and used the number 33 (same number as Kareem) as sort of milking off his popularity. Nonetheless, Kareem is the most decorated NBA player ever with six MVPs, 10 First Teams, five Second Teams, two Finals MVPs, 19 All-Star citations, and a Hall of Fame ring.
1 HAKEEM OLAJUWON
Yes, I said it. This Hall of Famer is my top choice for my best. Kareem should have been here but then I thought that I wanted my Best Player to combine his skills with his devotion to his religion. I am not saying that most in the list aren’t devout Muslims but the climb to the NBA must be different for Olajuwon. As a kid growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, he was raised to follow the teachings of Islam ardently. That would have been trying especially when he made the trip to US where the sins of success are at its height. Because he didn’t understand the American ideals, he would go into fights with his teammates and this all changed with him becoming an even more devout Muslim. Even with the frustrating NBA schedule, The Dream remains unfazed in practicing the ideals of his religion. In 1995, he was named NBA Player of the Month even though Ramadan began on February 1 of that year. Olajuwon won a gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and finished his career as a 1-time MVP, a multiple-time All-NBA Team member, the only player to win the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP in one season, and the all time leader in blocks.