You know all the big names in basketball by heart; if you’re a fan, you can probably name their leading stats right off the top of your head. Even people who don’t like basketball know Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and all the other mega-stars in the NBA. However, just because these guys are awesome doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best players, or the most deserving of recognition—there are countless underdogs who deserve some press time, too.
Scottie Pippen: The Unsung Baller
Pretty much everyone agrees that Scottie Pippen is vastly underrated, in spite of the wins he brought to the Rockets, the Bulls, and the Trail Blazers over the course of his career. People know about Scottie too, they’ve heard his name even if they’ve never watched a game, and yet he’s still not as widely recognized as he deserves. You might argue that, given his place on the official list of the 50 Greatest Players, he’s got everything he needs, but that’s not true.
Pippen was an all-around fantastic player. He spent so much time hidden in Michael Jordan’s shine that few people realize how perfect his defense techniques really were. They definitely don’t know about his awesome offensive skills, perhaps because this is the age of the one-shot superstar. The versatile players who can do it all simply don’t get the love their skills merit.
Alex English: The ’80s Icon
Alex English exploded onto the pro courts in the 1980s and he dominated the game—but not necessarily his fellow players. Alex came to the forefront at around the same time Larry Bird and Magic Johnson became superstars, so in a way he never had a chance to get the recognition his performance deserved.
Still, during his time with such teams as the Bucks, the Nuggets, and the Mavericks, he consistently scored high. When he retired, he hit 6th place on the list of all-time scorers and he’s now at 12, yet few up-and-comers even know his name these days.
Mark Aguirre: The Magical Maverick
If you don’t live in Texas or aren’t otherwise a fan of the Mavericks, you may know Mark Aguirre’s name but not his legacy. Many basketball fans and professional commentators consider him one of the best players in the entire franchise, second only to Nowitzki.
He played eight seasons for Dallas, with a 24 point average that included four assists and six rebounds in total. Most games saw him scoring at least 20 points and he played in several All-Star Games, so he has definitely enjoyed some recognition. The problem is that no one seems to recall his membership in the elite Detroit Bad Boys, nor do they realize that without his help, the 1989 and 1990 titles just wouldn’t have been.
Jack Sikma: The Free Throw Giant
Jack Sikma played for 14 years. He topped out at 6’11” and he was an All-Star seven times. How do so few people know about his accomplishments? He’s certainly not forgettable, because his height alone makes him stand out even in a crowd of basketball legends.
What happened? Although his free throws were sometimes miraculous and his shooting always solid and stable, the leagues never named him a leader. They recognized him, certainly, but clearly not enough. People are actually vocally calling out the Hall of Fame for snubbing this man for so long. You can’t get away with ignoring such an awesome percentage forever, HOF.
Bernard King: The Bounce Back
The Hall of Fame really isn’t gaining itself any fans by ignoring Bernard King, either. From 1977-1993, even after bouncing back from a devastating ACL injury, this man was a powerhouse. Throughout his career, he made the All-Stars four times, he won a 1985 scoring title, and he was on two solid All-NBA First Teams. In one season alone, he scored 1,909 points for the Nets—and that was as a rookie.
So what’s the deal? No one knows. If for nothing else, the grit, determination, and outright skill it took to get back to an average of 20 points per game after his ACL injury should have basketball fans cheering his name—and it definitely earns him a place in the Hall of Fame.
Kevin Martin: The PPG King
He won’t necessarily come up right away when you Google him, but Kevin Martin is the best player no one’s discussing. When you think of high PPG averages, you think about LeBron, Kobe, and Dwyane Wade. However, very few players have a higher average than Kevin Martin. He’s always on the leader board, always topping the lists, and yet he’s consistently overshadowed by his contemporaries.
There’s still time for Kevin to make his mark, and he’s arguably doing better now than he was a few years ago. Still, he doesn’t get nearly as much love, press time, or tabloid coverage as many of his peers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though; it gives him much more time to focus on tearing up the court.
Dominique Wilkins: The Human Highlight Film
Dominique Wilkins really was the Human Highlight Film. He was a legend and a maverick and his dunks were flawless. He dunked like a dream, consistently winning contests that proved it. His offense was equally flawless, and his averages were insane. This man steadily scored an average of 25 points each game through his entire career. For 10 seasons, he topped even that, making him one of only an elite six basketball wizards to do so.
So why is he so overlooked and underrated? Why don’t you hear his name spoken alongside Shaq, Michael, Iverson, and Karl Malone? Because his teams just never lived up to his skills. That might seem like a cop-out, but it’s statistically true—and remember, there’s no “I” in team.
Basketball players come and go, and legends are generally created by much more than their game averages or leader board statuses. What underdogs do you fight for, past or present?