Friday, January 11, 2013

Prospect-Central's Top 25 Baller's NEVER to Play in the NBA!!! (25-21)


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)
In 1898, the first professional league was formed, the National Basketball League.  The NBL consisted of six teams in New Jersey & Pennsylvania and laid the foundation for what was soon to come.  Twenty-seven years later in 1925, the first major professional league was created, the American Basketball League.  There was more than one ABL, but the original league disbanded in 1931 due to the Great Depression.

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)
From streetballer's and international players, to ABA stars and former high school standouts, these 25 players are just a few that had a chance to make a name for themselves in the NBA, but ended their careers never logging one minute in the league. Some of them turned down the NBA, while others just never lived up to the hype, but everyone of them has an interesting, albeit sometimes sad story as to why they never stepped foot onto the NBA hardwood.

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 #25 - #21 baller's never to play in the NBA.

(25) Ed "Booger" Smith pg / 5'10'' 180 / Streetball
Possibly the first streetballer ever featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Ed "Booger" Smith was ultimately more hype than substance.  That's not to say the 5-foot, 10-inch speed demon didn't have the skills to run the point in the NBA, but given his mental makeup to the game, his dreams of playing at the highest level never came to fruition.  Representing the concrete jungle of Brooklyn, New York, Booger was no stranger to trouble.  Growing up in a single parent home, he never met his father and had a rocky relationship with his mother at best.  From the looks of it, it seems like he basically raised himself in the Tompkins Projects of Brooklyn, NY.  Despite being named All-City as a junior and considered one of the best players in the nation, Booger dropped out of Westinghouse High School after 3-years of enrollment.  In the summer of '93 the documentary Soul in the Hole was in the makings about the streetball culture of New York City.  It was suppose to feature three of the City's most promising guards at the time; God Shammgod, Rafer Alston and Booger. After watching Booger play and witnessing his daily trials and tribulations, the documentary was exclusively focused on him.  It was eventually released in 1997.

Even though school was clearly never his cup of tea, Booger did attend Arizona Western Junior College for one year.  He averaged 23.1 ppg during the '93-94 season, but only played in 17 games and eventually went back to the street life.  In 1997 he'd already been shot twice, but was still playing ball with the LaCrosse Bobcats of the CBA.  He was actually teammates with current San Antonio Spur Stephen Jackson.  In 2000 he played 15 games for the Rochester Skeeters of the IBA before being suspended from the team.  In 2001 he had an NBA tryout arranged by Michael Jordan's trainer Tim Grover, but it ultimately fell through.  Booger was once quoted as saying, "If I don't make it into the NBA, I'm going to be a drug dealer."  He went to jail in 2004 on drugs and weapons charges and was released in 2008.  Today the 37-year old's just another person who once had aspirations of making the league.  Booger might have been a nice player if he followed the rules of basketball, unfortunately he chose to live by the ten crack commandments instead.

(24) Warren Jabali sg/sf / 6'2'' 200 / ABA
The American Basketball Association was established in 1967 and throughout it's nine years of existence had many notable baller's playing at a very high level.  While most of the big names eventually made the leap to the NBA, there were still a number of excellent players that never gave into temptation.  One such player was Warren Jabali.  Born Warren Edward Armstrong, Jabali changed his name while attending Wichita State University to reflect his African roots.  The name has no religious connotations as it's Swahili for "rock", but that's exactly what Jabali was on the basketball court, a rock.  He had exceptional strength and was an explosive athlete as well.  The 6-foot, 2-inch guard could allegedly touch the rim with his forehead.  He was drafted 44th overall by the New York Knicks in the 1968 NBA Draft, but ended up signing with the Oakland Oaks after being selected in the ABA Draft the same year.

Warren Jabali was an instant star.  In his first season in the ABA, he won Rookie of the Year honors, averaged 33.2 ppg in the Finals, and was named Playoffs MVP.  He also helped the Oakland Oaks capture the 1969 ABA championship.  He was such a beast it prompted his teammate Hall-of-Famer Rick Barry to comment, " No doubt Jabali is one of the best guards I've ever played with, or against."  Jabali suffered a severe knee ligament injury early in his career, and even though it diminished his athletic ability, he was still considered one of the best ABA players of all-time.  In seven seasons in the ABA, Jabali was selected to four All-Star Games, named All-Star Game MVP once, made First Team All-ABA once, and in 1997 was one of thirty players selected to the ABA All-Time Team.  He finished his career with averages of 17.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.0, spg, and scored the 24th most points in ABA history.  Warren Jabali recently passed away in July of 2012 at the age of 65, and should definitely be remember as one of the best basketball players that never played in the NBA.

(23) Sergei Belov pg/sg / 6'3'' 180 / International
Let me officially welcome you..."Back in the USSR"!!!  The first of four international players selected to Prospect-Central's Top 25 Baller's Never to Play in the NBA, Sergei Belov's basketball career was one for the ages.  Born January 23, 1944 in Naschyokovo, Soviet Union, Belov is an iconic legend pure and simple.  He's widely regarded as the greatest European basketball player of all-time, and he's easily the most admired athlete from his native USSR.  In fact Belov was so popular he was picked to light the Olympic Torch during the opening ceremonies of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.  While he may not be as well known in the States as one would think, Belov could hoop with the best of them.  His skills on the hardwood were so legendary he was dubbed  the "Jerry West of Russia", and his basketball accomplishments are second to none for any European baller.  Belov's playing career spanned from 1964-1980 and during those 16 seasons he was absolutely dominant.  What Segei Belov did to Russian basketball is what Ivan Drago did to Apollo Creed; he murdered the competition!!!

Belov led CSKA Moscow to 11 USSR League tittles, 2 Euroleague championships, and 2 USSR Cup victories.  He was also a 3-time Euroleague top scorer, 1-time Euroleage MVP, and was named MVP of the FIBA Cup in 1970.  As impressive as his accolades may be, Belov really made a name for himself with the USSR National Team.  He led his comrades to 2 FIBA World championships, 4 FIBA European championships, 3 bronze Olympic medals, and of course the gold medal in the controversial upset over Team USA at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Germany.  Belov played extremely well against the Americans, scoring a crucial 20 points in USSR's questionable 51-50 victory. After his playing days were over, Belov became a very successful head coach, winning a number of championships in the USSR Leagues.  In 1991 he was selected as one of FIBA's 50 Greatest Players of all-time and of all the international superstars, Belov was ranked #1. Perhaps his crowning achievement however was becoming the first international player inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  I don't know how successful Sergei Belov might have been had he played in the NBA, but it seems like he would have more than held his own.

(22) Herman "Helicopter" Knowings sg / 6'5'' 190 / Streetball
Herman "Helicopter" Knowings once flew in the air so long, a grounded defender got called for a three-second violation!!!  That's just one of the many legendary tales still told to this day about one of the greatest streetballer's of all-time, Helicopter Knowings.  Born in 1943 in Harlem, New York, Helicopter is considered by many as one of the best streetballer's never to play in the NBA.  Helicopter attended Ben Franklin High School (Harlem, NY), which at the time had one of the better basketball programs in the country, but it was at 155th Street and 8th Avenue where 'Cop really made a name for himself.  The address I'm referring to, the famous Rucker Park of course.  During the 1970's Rucker Park was considered the Mecca of basketball and it attracted some of the greatest players the game has ever seen.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Connie Hawkins were just a few Hall-of-Famer's to play at the Rucker during that time period, but it was Helicopter Knowings who was the main attraction.

With his high flying semantics and flair for the game, Helicopter was a force to be reckoned with at the Rucker.  His athletic ability was second to none, as he dominated nearly ever NBA baller that dare step foot onto the asphalt of the god's.  In one particular game against NBA legends Willis Reed and Bob McCullough, Helicopter's athleticism was on full display.  In McCullough's own words, "The pros brought the ball down and Copter blocked the shot. Whap!  The guy passed the ball to a teammate who tried to shoot.  Whap!  Blocked again. The next guy passed the ball to the third pro.  Whap!  Blocked again.  Get the picture?"  NBA legend Bernard King has his own story about 'Cop, "When I was in 9th grade I saw Helicopter, with my own two eyes, pick a quarter off the top of the backboard to win a bet.  I was in complete shock."  Copter had a brief stint with the Harlem Globetrotters, but there's no question it was at the Rucker where he became a basketball icon.  In April of 1980, Helicopter passed away in a tragic car accident.  He was only 37.  I don't know much, but I have a feeling Helicopter Knowings would'a been one heck of an NBA baller.

(21) Marques Haynes pg / 6'0'' 160 / Harlem Globetrotter
When you can dribble a basketball six times in one second, it's safe to say you can handle the rock.  That was certainly the case with former Harlem Globetrotter Marques Haynes.  For almost fifty-years, Haynes was considered the nicest ballhandler the game had ever seen.  Born October 3, 1926 in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, Marques Haynes played in over 12,000 games, in more than 100 countries, and gave new meaning to the phrase "Global Icon."  It all started in 1941 when Haynes led Booker T. Washington High School to a National Championship.  Then in 1942-46 Haynes led Langston University to a 112-3 record, which included a 59 game win streak.  While at Langston, Haynes caught the eyes of the Globetrotters by hot dogging it during a conference tournament game to ridicule an opponent (Southern University), who had previously ran up the score against an inferior team (Houston-Tillotson University).  At the time, Houston-Tillotson was actually coached by the baseball legend Jackie Robinson.

The Globetrotters then invited Langston University to an exhibition match, and after Haynes led Langston to a 74-70 upset victory, he was offered a contract.  In his rookie year, Haynes led the Globetrotters to two historic victories against George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers. Through 1947-53, Haynes went on a magical run with the Globetrotters and is widely considered their 2nd greatest player of all-time, behind only Reece Goose Tatum. In 1953 Haynes turned down a $35,000 a year offer from the Philadelphia Warriors that would have made him the second-highest paid player in the NBA.  Instead of joining the NBA, Haynes founded his own team the Harlem Magicians and led them around the world for three decades.  Haynes retired in 1992 after 46-years of professional basketball, and was the first Harlem Globetrotter inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  He currently resides in Dallas, Texas.  It's possible he played more professional basketball games than anyone in history and while he never played in the NBA, that shouldn't diminish the fact that Marques Haynes is one of the greatest players the game has ever seen.

PC's Top 25 Baller's Never to Play in NBA

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