|PROSPECT-CENTRAL (15 - 11)|
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 #15 - #11 baller's never to play in the NBA.
(15) Bob Kurland c / 7'0'' 220 / NCAA & AAU
There are a lot of exciting plays in the game of basketball, but there's no play more exciting than the Slam Dunk. Just thinking about it makes me want to rise up and jam on somebody right now!!! While players in today's game have taken the art of dunking to another level, the man credited for starting it all was none other than Bob Kurland. With an unintentional, spontaneous play, Kurland threw down the first recorded dunk in Philadelphia in 1945. At the time it was called the "duffer shot", and while there were many players able to jam in this era, it was viewed as unnecessary showboating. Kurland obviously felt differently, becoming the first player to regularly dunk in games. Born December 23, 1924 in St. Louis, Missouri, Bob Kurland was the first celebrated 7-footer in college basketball history, but it wasn't always smooth sailing. Even though he led Jennings High School to two state finals, college coaches didn't want to take the time to develop tall players. Henry Iba was the only coach to take a gamble on Kurland, and boy did it pay off. He offered Kurland a scholarship to Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) and the rest is history. In 1945 & 1946, with Kurland at the helm, the Oklahoma A&M Aggies became the first college basketball team to win back-to-back national tittles. Kurland was named tournament MVP both years, averaging 21.7 ppg & 24.0 ppg respectively.
Even though he played during the time of George Mikan, it was actually Kurland who was the most dominating big-man in the college game. He was such a force that the NCAA banned defensive goaltending in 1945 because he would regularly leap above the rim to grab opponents' shots. Kurland still owns a number of Oklahoma State scoring records, including the single-game record with 58 points. He was also a 3-time All-American and National Player of the Year as a senior, when he led the country in scoring with 19.5 ppg. After graduating college, he was selected in the 1947 BAA Draft, but turned down the chance to play pro ball. Instead of playing professionally, Kurland went to work for the Phillips Oil Company and played for their AAU team the 66 Oilers. He won 3 AAU National Championships in six-years with the Oilers, and was named an All-American each year. Since Kurland never played professionally, he was eligible as an amateur for the 1948 & 1952 Olympics, becoming the first U.S. player to win 2 gold medals. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1961, the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, and he's considered one of the 50 Greatest College Basketball Players of All-Time. Despite the fact he had a chance to become an NBA legend, Kurland doesn't regret his decision to become an executive with the Phillips Oil Company. Even though he was never a pro, there's no denying Bob Kurland was a pioneer for the game of basketball.
(14) Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell pg / 5'9'' 200 / Streetball
Playing in the NBA is certainly not guaranteed, but when the likes of Jason Kidd, Gary Payton & Brian Shaw say there was a basketball player better then all three of them when they grew up in the late 80's, it makes you wonder why that person never made it to the league. Unfortunately for Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell, the answer to that question was drugs. Born September 10, 1968 in Oakland, California, Hook Mitchell was a legendary streetballer from the Bay Area and truly a product of his environment. Hook's parents were both drug addicts and abandoned him soon after birth. He was raised by his grandmother on the mean streets of West Oakland, and without any guidance or role models, his talent ultimately ended up being wasted. Looking back at his life, Hook Mitchell's story is a perfect example as to why you shouldn't use drugs. By age 10 Hook was smoking weed, at 12 he was sniffing coke, and by 17 he started messing with heroin. The drug use ultimately caught up to him in more ways than one, but even with these deadly narcotics poisoning his body, Hook was still able to dominate the courts of Oakland, California. He attended McClymonds High School with former NBA great Antonio Davis, and together these two made a formidable duo. With a vertical leap of over 50-inches, Hook's athleticism was unmatched by any high school baller in the country, and he quickly became the most exciting player on the West Coast, if not the entire nation. He started playing above the rim at 5'3'', and at just 5'9'', Mitchell was putting on dunking exhibitions against everyone he faced. In fact the first player he ever jumped over and dunked on was Jason Kidd. In 10th grade, Hook built his legendary street status by jumping over a Volkswagen for a throw down. He also jammed on a 12-foot rim and tore that down as well. Unfortunately for Hook, drug dealers like watching basketball too.
During games, local dealers would sit in the stands and give Hook cocaine for every highlight dunk. The drug dealers would actually try and outdo themselves. One dealer would give him a gram of coke for a dunk, the next dealer would give him an 8-ball for a jam, and on and on it went. Hook was so addicted to the devils dandruff, he would actually bump a gram of coke during halftime of games. Despite being high as a kite, he still handled his business on the court. While he was mostly known for his hops, Hook had a sweet jumper, tight handles, and could literally score on anyone. His lack of discipline ultimately kept him from developing his game, but he was definitely more than just a highlight dunker. Even though he never graduated high school, Hook still managed to be a star on three Junior College teams. The schools actually forged his high school transcripts, and Hook never even enrolled in classes. Apparently he was exploited by schools and drug dealers alike. His decent into drugs and crime however, would slowly diminish any chance of playing pro ball. On December 7, 1999, Mitchell was arrested for armed robbery and eventually sentenced to 5-years in prison. While incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, the documentary entittled, "Hook: The Legend of Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell" was filmed. The film makers had no idea who Hook was at the time and thought he was just telling jail house stories. That was until they saw him throwing down 360 jams over inmates. The film is actually regarded as one of the 10 best basketball documentaries of all-time, and is must see for any historians of the game. Hook played in prison league games while in the joint, and obviously dominated. To tell you the truth, I wouldn't be surprised if he was getting paid with commissary items and spud juice for his dunking exploits. Prison is a cold place though, and not even basketball games or fifi bags can make you forget about the real world. Like so many inmates before him, Hook found Islam while locked up and changed his name to Waliy Abdur Rahim. He was released from prison in 2004, and at 36-years old was actually good enough to be invited to the Golden State Warriors training camp. He was eventually cut, but that's still pretty impressive. Ironically, Hook's the cover boy for this article as well. I'm not exactly sure if Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell is clean and sober today, but he's still regarded by many as the greatest streetballer never to play in the NBA.
(13) Stew Johnson pf / 6'8'' 220 / ABA
The American Basketball Association (ABA) was founded on February 1, 1967 by a man named Dennis Murphy and a group of investors. Mr. Murphy and his colleague's wanted to establish a league that could compete with the NBA. While the ABA only lasted nine season before eventually merging with the NBA in 1976, there's no question it produced a number of exceptional basketball players. Most of the ABA's stars eventually fled to the NBA, but there were a few that stayed loyal. Of all the players that finished their careers in the ABA, there's no player that scored more points than Stew Johnson. Born August 14, 1944 in Clairton, Pennsylvania, Johnson was one of the ABA's all-time pure scorers, and in my opinion somewhat underrated. Before his illustrious professional career, Johnson was a star at Murray State in the early 60's. In four seasons with the Racers, Johnson averaged 16.7 ppg, 12.9 rpg, and was a 2-time All-Conference selection. He's also ranked 9th on Murray State's all-time scoring list with 1,257 points, and was inducted into Murray State's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979. Following his collegiate career, Johnson was selected by the New York Knicks with the 21st pick in the 1966 NBA Draft.
Instead of joining the NBA however, Johnson decided to play with its rival the ABA. He played nine seasons (1967-1976) in the ABA with seven different franchises, and If you like old-school basketball jerseys, it seems Stew Johnson had quite a collection. He was almost as well-traveled as former NBA great Jimmy Jackson, who played with eleven teams in thirteen seasons. During his nine years in the ABA, Johnson was one of the smoothest shooting big-men in the game and absolutely lights out from behind the arc. The release of his jumper was picture perfect and he was truly a matchup nightmare on the offensive side of the ball. Johnson averaged 16.3 ppg during his career, and in 1971 set the ABA single-game scoring record when he erupted for 62 points against The Floridians. His record only lasted a year however, as Zelmo Beaty scored 63 points against the Pittsburgh Condors in 1972. While he played for seven different franchises, Johnson actually played for twelve different teams, and probably had his best years with the San Diego Conquistadors during the early 70's. Johnson was a 3-time ABA All-Star and he's ranked 9th all-time among ABA scoring leaders with 10,538 points. Johnson's also ranked 19th all-time in rebounds with 4,263. Besides being such a terrific baller, he was also regarded as one of the ABA's most personable players and genuinely a nice guy. We'll never know how Stew Johnson would've played had he joined the NBA back in 1966, but it's safe to assume he would've more than held his own.
(12) Dejan Bodiroga pf / 6'9'' 240 / International
Basketball literally runs in the bloodlines of the Serbian icon Dejan Bodiroga. Dejan's grandmother is sisters with the grandfather of Drazen Petrovic, making Bodiroga second cousins with the NBA legend. While this may sound like a scene from the movie "Spaceballs", blood is definitely thicker than water, and with basketball lineage like this, it's easy to see why Dejan Bodiroga is considered one of the greatest European baller's of all-time. I have no idea if there was ever a "Black Larry Bird", but apparently Bodiroga's countrymen thought he was the "White Magic." It would be blasphemous to even consider Bodiroga in the same class as Magic Johnson, but there were some similarities between the two. At 6-foot-9, Bodiroga had the ball handling skills of a guard and was essentially a point forward. He obviously never had the vision of Magic, but was still an exceptional play maker, especially for his size. Born March 2, 1973 in Zrenjanin, Serbia, (Yugoslavia), Dejan Bodiroga started playing structured basketball at 13, and quickly became one of the top rising baller's in his country. At 17 he started playing professionally in Yugoslavia, but was forced to leave the war-torn country in May of '91. Bodiroga began to play in the Italian and Croatian leagues in the early 90's, and quickly made a name for himself. He was playing at such a high level, NBA scouts eventually began to take notice.
Bodiroga was selected in the second round of the 1995 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings, but ultimately turned down the offer to play in the NBA. The following year the Kings drafted another Serbian player in Peja Stojakovic, and we all know how that turned out. Over the next eleven-years, Bodiroga became a basketball legend in the Spanish, Greek, and Italian leagues, as well as a star on the Yugoslavian national team. He was the first player to win domestic tittles in three countries and was also a 2-time Euroleague champion. Some other notable accolades for Bodiroga include a number of Greek & Spanish League MVP's, 3-time Euroleague 1st Team selection, 2-time Euroleague Final Four MVP, 1-time Euroleague MVP, and he was the MVP of the 1998 FIBA World Championships. Bodiroga was also selected to the Euroleague 2001-10 All-Decade Team, and he's one of the 50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors of All-Time. His resume with the Yugoslavian national team is just as impressive. Bodiroga won 3 Eurobasket gold medals, 2 FIBA World Championship gold medals, and a silver medal in the 1996 summer Olympics. Despite a second place finish to the United States, Bodiroga had a nice game against the Americans with 13 points and 5 rebounds. Throughout his international career, Bodiroga always played well against the U.S., and proved he could definitely hold his own against NBA competition. If you think otherwise, just ask Carmelo Anthony. Bodiroga retired from the game in June of 2007, and was a general manager in Italy for a few years. No one knows if he would've became a star in the NBA, or just another European role player, but Dejan Bodiroga's career speaks for itself and should not be taken lightly.
(11) Joe "The Destroyer" Hammond sg / 6'4'' 180 / Streetball
There's a major difference between Joe"The Destroyer" Hammond and other legendary streetballer's. Most of them had the chance to make it and didn't. The Destroyer on the other hand, he was certain to make it, but just didn't want to. Representing Harlem, New York, Hammond was born in 1950 and is yet another baller who fell victim to the street life. There's no question he could have played professionally, but The Destroyer had aspirations of becoming the "Pusherman" as opposed to an NBA icon. By the time he was 21, Hammond was sitting on $200,000 from the drug game and laughed at the idea of playing pro ball. Even though he was a big-time hustler in the 70's and amassed a small fortune from selling dope, Joe "The Destroyer" Hammond was an even better basketball player, and became a legend in his spare time. The son of a New York City transit worker, Hammond dropped out of Taft High School (Bronx, NY) in the 9th grade and quickly took to the streets to showcase his talents. With his rim rattling dunks, precision shooting, and scoring instincts, Hammond started destroying all competition in the city, and thus was given the nickname "The Destroyer." As he started building a name for himself during his teenage years, Hammond would receive advice from past playground legends he grew up idolizing. Earl "The Goat" Manigault would actually stumble into the parks, all strung out on heroin and booze in his hand to watch Hammond play. The Goat was a man of few words, but he tried to stir Hammond in the right direction. His simple piece of advice for The Destroyer, "Don't fuck up like I did." Of all the venues where Hammond played ball, there's no question it was Rucker Park where he became a legend. In the 1970's Rucker Park was considered the Mecca of basketball and regularly displayed NBA talent. It was Hammond however who ruled the asphalt. At 16-years old, he was dropping 50 & 60 point gems on NBA baller's like Connie Hawkins, Nate "Tiny" Archibald & Cazzie Russel, and to this day no player has come close to matching his 50 ppg average. He also holds Rucker Park's single game scoring record with 82 points.
At 19, Hammond played one year of pro ball with the Allentown Jets of the Eastern Basketball League, but it was at the Rucker where he had his most memorable games. In 1970 a group of pros led by Julius Erving was playing at the Rucker and steamrolling all competiton. The team was called the Westsiders, and were actually coached by Peter Vecesy who's currently an NBA TV analyst. The Westsiders were playing a local squad called Milbank and putting on an absolute clinic. Hammond was suppose to be playing for Milbank, but was nowhere to be found. He eventually strolled into the game during the second-half and proceeded to drop 50 points on Dr. J!!! Milbank lost the game in double-overtime, but it was still a performance that was one for the ages and considered the greatest game in Rucker Park's history. By 1971, Hammond's legend had spread as far as the West Coast and NBA teams were beginning to take notice. The Los Angeles Lakers were very intrigued with The Destroyer, and actually invited him in for a tryout. After a shooting session where Hammond made 32 jumpers in a row, the Lakers had him play 1-on-1 against Pat Riley. At the time, Riley was a 26-years old veteran in his first year with the Lakers, averaging 26 ppg. The contest wasn't even close. Hammond absolutely destroyed Riley, so much so that Pat tried to fight him after the scrimmage (lol). Despite never playing a single minute of high school or college basketball, the Lakers selected Hammond in the 1971 NBA Hardship Draft. They offered him a one year $50,000 contract, but to their astonishment Hammond rejected the deal. Little did they know, he was making way more than 50K from selling drugs and shooting dice. The New York Nets tried to sign him as well, but Hammond rejected that deal also. It seems he never could shake the street life and that would inevitably be his downfall. In 1984, Hammond was hooked on the dope he was slinging and eventually busted for conspiracy to sell narcotics. He did three stints in prison, and has been in-and-out of jail ever since. Like the rapper Nas says, "Everybody is looking for something," and apparently The Destroyer was looking for those Street Dreams.
PC's Top 25 Baller's Never to Play in NBA