Written by: Prospect-Central
In 1891, the Canadian-American Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball at a YMCA training school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Given the cold Massachusetts winters, Naismith needed to find a recreational activity that could be played indoors. He preferred a sport that would develop skill as opposed to relying only on strength and thus the game we've all grown to love was created.
|Dr. James Naismith (1861-1939)|
On June 6th, 1946, the Basketball Association of America was founded. The BAA was an 11-team league that consisted of the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Philadelphia Warriors, and others. Three years later in 1949, the BAA and the NBL merged into the greatest basketball league in the world, the NBA.
Many leagues have formed since then, both nationally and abroad, but the best baller's in the world come to the NBA to play. There's been a number of exceptional players to put on NBA jerseys over the years, but this is the story about those that had the potential to play at the highest level, but for one reason or another never did.
|The First Basketball Court (Springfield, MA)|
In order for a player to be selected there were two pieces of criteria needed to be met. If a player was balling before the NBA's inception in 1949, they were ineligible for a selection. The same thing went for a player that currently has a chance to play in the NBA today.
With so many great players from the past, there were obviously some that didn't make the cut. Of all the names left off the list, former Harlem Globetrotter Medowlark Lemon has to be the biggest snub. When Wilt Chamberlain says your the greatest basketball player he's ever seen, there's no question your name should be among the very best to have never played in the NBA. Medowlark Lemon was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003, so he's probably better than a number of players that made the cut, but I wanted to tell the stories of some lesser known names. With that being said, here's Prospect-Central's Top 25 Baller's NEVER to Play in the NBA. * Prospect-Central's #05 - #01 baller's never to play in the NBA.
(5) Ben Wilson sg/sf / 6'8'' 210 / High School
There's been a recurring theme as to where the majority of Prospect-Central's Top 25 Baller's Never to Play in the NBA have come from; New York, Chicago, and L.A. Not only have these three cities produced some of the greatest basketball players of all-time, they still continue to develop the game's aspiring young talent as well. It's definitely debatable as to which city produced the best baller's over time, but as far as the city that's producing the best high school basketball players as of right now...well...that has to be The Chi in my opinion. Unfortunately for Chicago, basketball is not the only thing it's known for. Like the majority of cities in the United States, violent crimes are slowly becoming an epidemic and the neighborhoods of Chicago (especially the south side), are some of the most dangerous in the nation. From Garfield Blvd. & 51st Street, to Wentworth Ave & Halsted Street, the south side of Chicago currently has 4 neighborhoods ranked in the Top 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the Untied States. Hopefully the city of Chicago can fix their problems over time, but some things never change. This is where the tragic story of Ben Wilson begins. Born March 18, 1967, Wilson (who was called Benji by close friends), began to hone his skills at Cole Park in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood. Chatham is just one of 77 community areas divided amongst the city. As I stated before, there's a number of sketchy areas in the Chi, but Englewood and Washington Park are currently the most infamous. In fall of 1981, Benji began his freshman year at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago's Auburn Greshham neighborhood on the south side. Simeon is of course the Alma mater of Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose as well as recent Duke commit Jabari Parker, who's currently the #2 rated senior in the country. Simeon never plays freshmen (Jabari Parker was the exception), so Benji played J.V. during the 81-82 season. Going into his sophomore year however, Benji hit his growth spurt and went from a 6-foot point guard with skills, to a 6-foot, 8-inch wing with athleticism. Even though he had the size of a forward, Benji still managed to keep his guard skills, which obviously made him a mismatch waiting to happen. Since he was still growing into his body, his sophomore numbers were modest, but once he started his junior year, the entire nation began to take notice. Benji averaged 20 ppg, 8 rpg, and 5 apg as a junior, and went onto lead Simeon to a 30-1 record as well as their first ever state championship. The summer going into his senior year, Benji was invited to the Athletes For Better Education showcase, which was the most prestigious high school basketball camp in the country at the time. The AFBE Camp later became known as the ABCD Camp, and provided coaches and recruiters an opportunity to scout the best players in the nation. Benji lit the camp up. With his size and length, coupled with his offensive repertoire and vision, Benji was being compared to Magic Johnson, only with a jump shot!!! After the week-long event concluded, Ben Wilson was named the #1 player in the country.
Recruiting legend Bob Gibbons was actually the person who bestowed the honor to Wilson, and considering Gibbons track record with evaluating talent, Benji was definitely a legit #1. As his senior year approached, everything was rounding into place for Benji. Simeon was a lock to repeat as State champions and he was considering scholarship offers from Indiana, DePaul, and Illinois as well. He was also going to play with his childhood friend Nick Anderson, since Nick transferred to Simeon from nearby Prosser Career Academy. Little did anyone know, the two friends would never have a chance to play together. On November 20, 1984, the day before his first game as a senior, Benji's life would come to a tragic ending. About a block from Simeon, Benji was walking down Vincennes Avenue with his girlfriend Jetun Rush, when an altercation ensued between Wilson and 16-year old Billy Moore & 15-year old Omar Dixon. One thing led to another and Billy Moore pulled out a .22 caliber pistol. In a recent ESPN 30-for-30 documentary about Benji, Moore said his grandfather once gave him words to live by as a young boy; "Don't ever pull out a gun on somebody, and don't use it." Billy Moore shot Benji two-times, puncturing his liver & aorta. Due to his grave condition, Ben Wilson was removed from life support at 6 a.m. the following morning. Billy Moore was sentenced to 40 years in prison & Omar Dixon received 30 years for his role in the murder. Dixon only served half his sentence however, but was convicted of armed robbery in 2007. Moore was released from prison in 2004, and I'm sure there's not a second that goes by he doesn't regret that fateful day in November. Words can't even begin to describe how Benji's death affected the city of Chicago. Wilson was a future star in the making and everyone knew it. His wake lasted 12 hours and was attended by more than 10,000 people. The people of Chicago will never forget Ben Wilson however, as his legacy lives on with today's talented Chitown baller's. Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, and Cliff Alexander are just a few of the cities brightest stars ready to emerge within the upcoming years, and they will no doubt make the city of Chicago proud. One can't help but think what type of player Ben Wilson could've become though. There were some decent players to come out of the Class of 1985, including Chicago's own Tim Hardaway, but it's hard not to think Benji wouldn't have been right up there with the best of them. After all, it was Danny Ferry who became the #1 player in the class after Benji's passing. In my opinion, Ben Wilson's probably the greatest high school baller of all-time never to play in the NBA. Life is a constant circle however, and for every person that passes away, another one is born. Ironically my sister came into this world the day Benji left it. This might have no meaning in the scheme of things, but it does show life goes on, even when we don't.
(4) Oscar Schmidt sg/sf / 6'8'' 230 / International
While the game of basketball is indeed a global sport, it still can't compare to the popularity of soccer. Known as the "World's Most Beautiful Game", no nation has dominated soccer quite like the country of Brazil. The Brazilian soccer stars simply go by one-name; Pelé, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaká, but when it comes to the sport of basketball, there's only one Oscar!!! Having scored a total of 49,737 points in his career, Oscar Schmidt is the unofficial all-time leading scorer in the history of basketball. Holy Schnikes!!! Born February 16, 1958 in Natal, Brazil, Oscar Schmidt is known by his fellow countrymen as "Mão Santa" - The Holy Hand. With his incredible range and lack of conscious, the nickname is quite fitting. Schmidt was absolutely lights-out from beyond the arc during his career, and is without question one of the greatest 3-point shooters the game has ever seen. Selected by the New Jersey Nets in the 6th round of the 1984 NBA Draft, Schmidt turned down the offer to play in the NBA because he wanted to maintain his amateur status for the Olympics (until 1989, NBA players were not allowed to play for their national teams). There are a number of iconic moments in Oscar Schmidt's legendary career, but perhaps his crowing achievement came during the gold medal game of the 1987 Pan-Am Games in Indianapolis. Trailing by 14 points at halftime, Schmidt single-handedly led Brazil to a stunning 120-115 upset victory over a U.S. team led by David Robinson. Not only did Schmidt finish the game with 46 points, it was actually the first time an American national team was ever defeated on their home soil.
Oscar Schmidt played professionally in the Italian, Brazilian, and Spanish League's from 1974-2003, but spent the majority of his career dominating in Italy. The Italians actually had their own nickname for him, "Oscar the King". He was the first person to score 10,000 points in the Italian League's, and he even tore-up Joe "Jelly Bean" Bryant as a young Kobe would watch in the stands. Some of Schmidt's accolades include; 8-time Brazilian League top scorer, 7-time Italian League top scorer, 1-time Spanish League top scorer, and he was a 3-time Olympic top scorer as well. He's also the only player in the history of the Olympics to score more than 1000 points (1,093 to be exact). Even though Brazil has never been an Olympic power when it comes to basketball, that's certainly not "The Holy Hand's" fault. Schmidt was to Olympic basketball what his fellow Brazilian Anderson "The Spider" Silva is to MMA, a stone-cold assassin!!! In 38 career Olympic games, Schmidt averaged 28.8 ppg and set a number of scoring records as well. What's most impressive however, is how he performed against some of the greatest NBA players of all-time. Schmidt played against the U.S. national team 3-times in the Olympics, and while Brazil lost each game, he showed he was more than capable of scoring against the best players in the world. In the 1988 Olympic Games, Schmidt went for 31 against a U.S. team made up of collegiate All-Americans. Then in 1992 he dropped 24 against the Dream Team, and in 1996 he scored 26 points against Dream Team II. Schmidt was named one of FIBA's 50 Greatest Players of All-Time in 1991, and he was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2001. It's definitely debatable, but Oscar Schmidt just might be the greatest international player of all-time never to play in the NBA.
(3) Hank Gathers sf/pf / 6'7'' 235 / NCAA
On Sunday March 4, 1990, Loyola Marymount was playing the University of Portland in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament in Los Angeles, CA. Paul Westhead was the coach for LMU at the time, and had instituted an extremely fast-paced game plan. On offense, the Lions would try and shoot the ball within 10 seconds of gaining possession, and their defense was a full court press designed to speed up their opponents tempo. LMU was having their way with Portland and were slowly running the Pilots out of the gym. In the middle of the first-half, LMU's point guard Terrell Lowery threw a dime from half court that found Hank Gathers for his patented two-handed slam. The spectacular play put the Lions up 25-13, and was just another example as to why Hank Gathers was one of the best players in college basketball at the time. As Gathers ran back on defense, everything appeared to be normal. Nothing could have been further from the truth. With 13:34 left in the half, only a yard or two away from Miami Heat's current head coach Eric Spoelstra (then a point guard for the Portland Pilots), Hank Gathers collapsed from a heart-muscle disorder. He struggled to his knees, reportedly telling trainers, "I don't want to lay down", right before he went into a seizure and stopped breathing. At 6:55 p.m., an hour and 41 minutes after his spectacular alley-oop dunk, 23-year old Hank Gathers was pronounced dead. Gathers death not only rocked the landscape of college basketball, but the entire sports community as a whole. As a result of his passing, the 1990 WCC tournament was cancelled and Loyola Marymount was given the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament due to its regular season championship. Even though LMU would lose to eventual champions UNLV in the Elite Eight, they certainly honored their fallen teammate with grace and dignity. Gathers teammate and lifelong friend Bo Kimble had his own way of paying homage.
A right-handed player, Kimble would shoot his first free throw of each game left-handed in memory of Hank. He would continue this touching gesture for the rest of his career. While this may not sound like much, the iconic SI photo of Bo Kimble shooting left-handed has kept the memory of Hank Gathers alive and well to this day. When talking about Gathers, it's hard not focusing on his untimely death, but when it came to elite college basketball players in the late 80's, he was right up there with the best of them. Born February 11, 1963 in Philadelphia, PA, Gathers played his high school ball with Bo Kimble at Dobbins Technical, where in 1985 the dynamic duo led the team to a Public League City championship. Both Gathers and Kimble were recruited to USC, but ended up transferring together to Loyola Marymount after their freshmen year with the Trojans. Due to NCAA regulations they had to sit out a year before joining the team, but once they were cleared to play, Hank Gathers became an instant star for LMU. During the 1987-88 season, Gathers helped LMU to a 28-4 record, while leading the team in both scoring (22.5) and rebounding (8.7). He was also an All-WCC First Team selection as well as the WCC Tournament MVP. In the 1988-89 season, Gathers became the second player in NCAA Division I history to lead the nation in both scoring (32.7) and rebounding (13.7). He was once again an All-WCC First Team selection and WCC Tournament MVP. He also took home WCC Player of the Year honors. As a senior in 1989-90, Gathers was a candidate for Player of the Year and had been projected as an NBA Lottery pick. Despite passing away before the season finished, he was still a consensus 2nd team All-American. There have been a lot of sad stories from players over the years as to why they never made it to the league, but Hank Gathers story might be the most tragic. While questions will always remain as to what type of player he could have became, there's no denying Hank Gathers future had NBA written all over it.
(2) Earl "The Goat" Manigault pg/sg / 6'1'' 180 / Streetball
Whenever a person needs to make change for a dollar, they usually just go to a convenience store like a normal human being. Not Earl "The Goat" Manigault, he would make his change on the top of backboards. With a reported 52-inch vertical leap, The Goat could fly up to the top of a backboard with a dollar bill in his hand, and come down with four quarters. While this may sound like something only David Copperfield could do, The Goat was truly magical on the basketball court. Another tale that is somewhat more realistic, Manigault's signature double dunk. It's exactly what it sounds like. The Goat would leap in the air and dunk a basketball, grab it while it falls out of the hoop, then slam it home again. All this was done without hanging on the rim of course. These are just a few stories that have supplanted The Goat into legendary status, but it's still debatable just how good he really was. He obviously had elite athleticism, but at just 6-foot-1 with questionable perimeter skills, no one will ever truly know how his game would have translated at the next level. Be that as it may, The Goat's iconic legacy more than justifies his lofty ranking. Born September 7, 1944 in Charleston, South Carolina, Manigault was raised where the majority of dominating streetballer's came from during his era, Harlem, New York. It was in middle school however, when The Goat earned his legendary nickname after one of his teachers kept pronouncing his last name "Mani-Goat". Before he became a streetball sensation, Manigault set the NYC Junior High School scoring record with 56 points and then went onto star at Benjamin Franklin High School, averaging 24 ppg & 11 rpg. At the time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) was dominating at nearby Power Memorial and the two friends would actually practice together in the early 60's. Manigault had some bad influences in his life though, and was eventually expelled during his senior year for smokin' da ganja. The Goat ended up finishing high school at a private academy in North Carolina, despite the fact he was illiterate. He could still read defense's however, averaging 31 ppg & 13 rpg during his one year at Laurinburg Institute.
Soon after, recruitment letters from North Carolina, Duke, Indiana, and hundreds of other major college basketball programs started pouring in. Manigualt felt he wouldn't be able to handle academics at such prominent institutes, so he ended up attending Johnson. Smith University in Charlotte, NC. Due to poor grades and inadequate playing time, The Goat only lasted one semester and eventually returned to Harlem. Once back in New York, Manigault began to dominant games at the famous Rucker Park. He would put on dunking exhibitions against the likes of Earl Monroe & Connie Hawkins, and was such a force that the park was eventually renamed "Goat" Rucker Park. As dope as Manigault was on the basketball court, that would eventually be his downfall; dope. While back in Harlem, The Goat fell in love with Lady Heroin and was never the same after that. He ended up doing a 16 month bid from 1969-1970 on drug possession charges and once he was released actually had a tryout for the Utah Stars of the ABA. The Goat was still using dope at the time, so his skills were obviously not up to par and he was eventually cut. From 1977-1979, Manigault served another two years in the joint, this time for a failed robbery attempt. After his release, Manigault quit the deadly narcotic for good and spent much of his later years helping kids in Harlem avoid the same pitfalls that ultimately derailed his career. He was once quoted as saying, "For every Michael Jordan, there's an Earl Manigault. We all can't make it. Somebody has to fall. I was the one." In 1998, Earl Manigault passed away from congestive heart failure. There have been a number of documentaries about The Goat since then, including the popular HBO film Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault, but nothing can compare to the words of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. When asked who was the greatest player he ever played with or against, Jabbar paused for a moment then said, "That would have to be The Goat." Of all the streetballer's that never made it to the NBA, Earl Manigault might be the greatest of all-time, or in other words, The G.O.A.T.
(1) Len Bias sf / 6'8'' 230 / NCAA
There's a lot of legendary players littered throughout Prospect-Central's Top 25 Baller's Never to Play in the NBA. While some of the players as well as their rankings are definitely debatable, there's no question who the top spot belongs to; Len Bias. At 6-foot-8, 230 pounds, Bias was basically the equivalent to LeBron James, minus the ball handling and vision. As far as athleticism, strength, and overall talent is concerned, Bias & James are essentially cut from the same cloth. As similar as the two players appear to be, it's actually Michael Jordan who Len Bias has been compared to. With Bias at the University of Maryland and Jordan at UNC, the two had a number of epic battles during the early 80's and would go onto dominate the ACC in the process. Duke's Mike Kryzewski certainly knows a thing or two about basketball, and felt Bias & Jordan were the toughest opponents he ever faced. Kryzewski is quoted as saying, "During my years as an ACC coach, the two most dominant players we've faced were Michael Jordan & Len Bias. I always thought those two were a cut above the rest. They did things no one else could do." Michael Jordan would later call Len Bias his toughest adversary while at UNC. What more needs to be said after that! After being selected by the Boston Celtics with the 2nd pick in the 1986 NBA Draft, Len Bias was truly destined for greatness. And then just like that, it was over. Two days after being drafted by the Celtics, with his whole life in front of him, 22-year old Len Bias died from a cocaine overdose.
Len Bias' sudden death not only shocked the sports world, but an entire nation. People of a certain generation mark time in their lives by the death of Len Bias, just like previous generations do with the passing of John F. Kennedy. The result of his death would lead to serious drug reform in the United States, which actually might have done more harm than good. With Len Bias on the verge of joining the Celtics trio of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, the future landscape of the NBA would be altered for years to come as well. Before he died however, Len Bias would play the game of basketball in a way few could only fathom. Born November 18, 1963 in Landover, Maryland, Bias' ascent to stardom began modestly. He went to Northwestern High School before attending the University of Maryland in 1982, and was by no means a star at the time. Fast forward to his senior year, and Len Bias was considered one of the best players in the country. Bias finished his college career averaging 16.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, and was a 2-time ACC Player of the Year. After being selected #2 overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA Draft, everything appeared to be rounding into place. He would only bump 2 lines of the devils dandruff on June 19, 1986, but that's all it took to induce cardiac arrhythmia and end his life. Len Bias' legacy will never be forgotten, but it does show that when life looks like easy street, there's danger at your door. From streetballer's and ABA professionals, to high school standouts and former college stars, Len Bias is without question the greatest baller of all-time never to play in the NBA, and for anyone that feels differently, they're obviously bias.
PC's Top 25 Baller's Never to Play in NBA