Forgotten NBA Players Who Deserve More Recognition: Where Are They Now?
The NBA always has a select few athletes whose overwhelming popularity transcends the sport itself. These celebrity athletes are recognizable to the diehard fan and casual observer alike. But what about those mega stars’ contemporaries? There are the generational talents, cult heroes, and Davids who never feared staring their Goliaths in the eye. Let’s take a look at some of the past stars and ballers whose names have lost the luster their fantastic careers still deserve. What are these forgotten NBA players up to today?
1. Mehmet Okur
Let’s be honest, the vast majority of great players who happen to rock Utah Jazz gear do not get the credit they deserve. Mehmet Okur is a shining example of basketball fans’ lack of love for forgotten NBA players on the SLC-based team.
Whether it’s because of Utah’s old school, defensive style of play or just due to being in a small market, Okur was an anomaly in the clutch.
The big man with the soft touch retired from on-court action in 2012, but has remained actively involved in the NBA. Okur held an ambassador role for the Jazz before joining the Phoenix Suns as a player development coach. However, that came to an end in 2017 after Phoenix… you know, played like Phoenix.
2. Marques Johnson
Marques Johnson was a. Straight. Up. Baller.
After leaving UCLA, the national champ and inaugural John R. Wooden Award winner went on to enjoy an outstanding NBA career. Five All-Star selections later, Johnson left an everlasting impression as one of the earliest innovators of the point forward role.
Since retiring from his playing days, Johnson has kept close to his various basketball roots, working as an analyst for Milwaukee Bucks games and hosting a morning radio show for the Clippers, whom he also played for, in L.A.
3. Ben Wallace
The name Ben Wallace occasionally pops up when recalling the Pistons’ David vs. Goliath NBA championship win over the Lakers. Yet many fans forget just how good the ridiculously undersized center was. At 6’9″ Wallace played D-III college ball and was named Defensive Player of the Year FOUR times.
We haven’t had the pleasure of hearing the gong after Big Ben made a play since 2012, but Wallace is still running things like a boss. Well, more than just “like” a boss; Wallace is now the co-owner and chairman of G-League team Grand Rapids Drive.
4. Bob McAdoo
Bob McAdoo’s NBA journey was as standout as they come, so why his name elicits merely an “Oh yeah, I think I’ve heard of him,” from the casual fan is a real headscratcher. Two championships, one MVP and five All-Star selections beg to differ… Yeah, McAdoo deserves to be on the radar.
What’s even more surprising given the general lack of recognition McAdoo gets today is that he’s still crushing it in the coaching game. As an assistant coach for the Miami Heat, McAdoo has raked in another three championship rings working from the sideline.
5. Willis Reed
Willis Reed was a man among men. The 6’9″ Knicks center didn’t bat an eye at the thought of going toe-to-toe with centers like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. Reed’s most iconic moment came during his MVP season in the 1970 Finals. Limping through a leg injury, he still managed to win the title.
In his post-playing days, Reed has held various basketball roles, working his way up from coaching college ball to the NBA. After serving as an assistant with the Kings and Hawks, Reed briefly coached the Nets before transitioning to a managerial role.
During his stint as their Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations, the Nets made back-to-back NBA Finals appearances (2002, 2003). Reed last served as Vice President of Basketball Operations for the New Orleans Hornets.
6. Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Before LeBron James, Cleveland had Zydrunas Ilgauskas – and he was really the only help the King had during his first stint with the Cavs. The 7’3″ center’s soft touch from midrange was truly a thing of beauty. Outside of Cleveland, though, Big Z went largely unappreciated.
The Cavs showed Big Z some love by bringing him back on as an assistant in 2012 and retiring his number in 2014. In 2015, Ilgauskas turned to another Cleveland team, joining high school powerhouse St. Ignatius as an assistant coach.
7. Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s name could have very well been up there with the many stars of the ’96 NBA draft. Instead, he served as the sacrificial lamb, enduring a largely thankless career in his prime as the first ever draft pick for the Vancouver Grizzlies.
Reef played out his final years with the Sacramento Kings. After retiring in 2008, he remained with the team as an assistant coach and eventually attained a front office role.
Those executive duties prepared the former lottery pick to serve as the NBA’s Vice President of Basketball Operations, a position he’s held since 2016.
8. Marcus Camby
Another frequently forgotten baller repping the ’96 draft is Marcus Camby. He was such a defensive nightmare, he earned the nickname “The Camby Man.” Despite injuries, which plagued seasons throughout his career, the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year still managed to lead the league in blocked shots for four years.
Camby finally received a well-deserved retirement ceremony for his National Player of the Year and for helping the Minutemen to the Final in 2013. Before declaring for the NBA draft, Camby played three years at UMass. He had reason to celebrate in Massachusetts again in 2017, when he earned the degree he was one year away from nearly 25 years prior.
9. Tommy Heinsohn
You may recognize Tommy Heinsohn as the Celtics’ color commentator with his unabashedly in-your-face Boston accent (and bias for his team). What you may not know is that Heinsohn’s support stems from WAY more than growing up in the area.
Heinsohn has, in some way or another, been a part of every single one of the Celtics’ 17 championships.
After he played college ball at Holy Cross, the Celts selected Heinsohn as a territorial pick in 1956. He went on to win eight championships in nine seasons.
After three years of calling the play-by-play for WKBG, Heinsohn took over as Boston’s head coach in 1969. He led the team to another two championships before taking on the role he still has today.
10. Lloyd Free (World B. Free)
As with so many others throughout the game’s history, the name “Lloyd Free” has been lost among forgotten NBA players. On the other hand, mention “World B. Free” and someone will, at the very least, recognize the unique NBA name.
Free was a journeyman, but the baller was so talented that his friends considered him “all-world.” He consistently delivered as an unstoppable scoring machine. Since retiring in ’88, The Prince of Midair has served as an ambassador for the Philadelphia 76ers, where he spent four seasons as a player.
11. Rashard Lewis
Back when the Supersonics were still alive and well (RIP), Rashard Lewis made up one-half of their dynamic scoring duo, alongside Ray Allen. After proving he was an elite offensive talent, Lewis scored a massive contract offer from the Magic. For three years, he was the highest paid player in the league.
After finally securing a championship in his final years as a member of the Heat, Lewis called it a career in 2014. A few years removed from NBA balling, Lewis joined Ice Cube for the inaugural season in the BIG3 (2017) and led his team to the championship as captain of the 3 Headed Monsters.
12. Alex English
It is an absolute shame how little we praise Alex “The Blade” English. Considered the greatest Denver Nugget player to date, the dominant forward earned his nickname based on his reputation as an unstoppable slasher.
After retiring, English continued to make impact on the NBA. He served in various roles on the coaching staff of the Raptors, 76ers, Hawks and Kings. In 2014, the former South Carolina Gamecocks standout returned to his college conference as a color commentator for the SEC Network.
13. Horace Grant
Those rec specs! Other than the fact that he was probably laying down a whooping on your favorite team, the 4x NBA champ’s iconic goggles made him a fan favorite. The reason Grant rocked his ballin’ binoculars throughout his career only heightens his legend.
Grant wasn’t done putting in work for the Bulls when he left Chicago to play in Orlando. In 2016, the organization hired Grant – along with fellow teammate and NBA great Scottie Pippen – to join Toni Kukoc as Special Advisors to the President & COO.
14. Moses Malone
By no means has Moses Malone’s legacy been lost to time, buried beneath names of other forgotten NBA players. However, acknowledging that Malone “is a legend” is about as far as we go when talking about him. The man was an NBA champ, 3x MVP and 12x All-Star who averaged a career 20.6 points and 12.2 rebounds!
The Chairman of the Boards was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, his first year of eligibility.
In 2015, Malone got a heart monitor after feeling discomfort from a reportedly irregular heartbeat. One week later, he unexpectedly passed away from heart disease at the age of 60.
15. Detlef Schrempf
Before all the NBA diehards from Seattle and Indiana freak out, let’s make something clear. The legend of Detlef Schrempf has only been lost on those who were not rooting for the hustling German giant. A 3x All-Star and 2x Sixth Man of the Year – now that’s a selfless baller.
After retiring from his playing days, Schrempf traded in his jersey for a suit. Now, he’s keeping the hustle off the court in the business world. After pursuing a few entrepreneurial endeavors, Schrempf is now Director of Business Development at Coldstream Wealth Management.
16. Larry Nance
Thankfully, Larry Nance has been getting some more recognition since the NBA debut of his son, Larry Nance Jr. Still, the underappreciated high-flying dunk machine doesn’t get enough respect for his contributions to the Suns and Cavs.
The inaugural Slam Dunk Contest winner now enjoys watching his son, who jams just like his pops and even rocks his retired No. 22 jersey. Outside of watching Junior carry on his legacy, The High Ayatolla of Slamola indulges in his passion for drag racing.
17. Dell Curry
These days, it’s almost impossible to not hear some mention of Dell Curry, since his sons Seth and 2x MVP Steph Curry started tearing up the NBA. Still, his individual accomplishments are often largely overlooked.
The longtime Charlotte Hornet shooting guard made a living behind the three-point line. He’s neck and neck with All-Star Kemba Walker – fluctuating between first and second – for numerous offensive records, despite Curry having played as a sixth man.
OG Hornets fans still get to see the man who’s been part of the legacy since the team’s inception in 1988. Even though Curry turned down an assistant coaching role in 2007 to watch Steph play college ball, he’s worked as Charlotte’s color commentator since 2009.
18. Latrell Sprewell
The mere whisper of Latrell Sprewell’s name brings back a flood of memories – a flash flood, the kind that consumes everything, choking the life out of anything in its relentless path of destruction.
Spree’s talent was undeniable, but his proclivity for poor decisions always stood in the foreground.
Sprewell’s early retirement came when he rejected a three-year offer worth $21 million; he felt it wasn’t enough because he had “a family to feed.” This proved to be a cold reality.
His decision to refuse offers and retire came back to bite him in a bad way. Several financial issues piled up, including a paternity lawsuit and foreclosures on his yacht and homes. Lately, the spurned All-Star looks back on his past and laughs (or at least puts on a convincing mask). He even appeared on a priceline.com commercial poking fun at himself.
19. Glenn Robinson
Can we get some love for the Big Dog?!
Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson was a staple of the classic Milwaukee Bucks ‘90s squad. At one point, the scoring machine made up one part of the deadly trio that included a young Ray Allen and Vin Baker. Every night, Robinson was the guy bringing relentless hustle.
Today, the top pick of the ’94 draft gets to watch his son, Glenn Robinson III continue his legacy at the NBA level, including his 2017 NBA Slam Dunk Contest win. Meanwhile his son, Gelen Robinson, may be one-upping him pops at his alma mater, Purdue, as a standout defensive end.
20. Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor is another household name whose actual career accomplishments seem to be swept under the rug. The Laker great did so much to grow the organization from its final years in Minnesota to their early years in Los Angeles. The No. 1 overall pick (1958) went on to be an 11x All-Star, leading the Lake Show to eight NBA Finals appearances.
Baylor went on to coach the New Orleans Jazz (when the team name made sense) for a few seasons before taking over as the Los Angeles Clippers’ general manager, a role he held for 22 years.
On April 6, 2018, a long overdue statue of the HOFer was unveiled outside Staples Center.
21. Mitch Richmond
All you ‘90s fans who refuse to believe any good NBA basketball exists outside this decade know that Mitch Richmond the only one we recognize as The Rock. The Sactown legend was a lights out shooter with one of the purest strokes in the game.
In 2014, Richmond was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. One year later, Richmond decided to imbue his teachings on young students of the game, taking up a position as assistant coach for the St. John’s Red Storm men’s basketball team.
22. Clyde Drexler
It will be a long, long time before an incredible nickname like Clyde “The Glide” Drexler will be forgotten let alone his bald crowned afro. Drexler’s versatility was dripping with as much unique flavor as his wild noggin – there is a reason he got his No. 22 retired by University of Houston, Trail Blazers and Rockets, after all.
After Drexler played his final NBA season (1997-98) with the Rockets, he returned to his alma mater to coach the Cougars. In 2008, Drexler turned back to his other former team and worked as the Rockets’ color commentator for years. In 2018, The Glide fittingly took over as commissioner of Ice Cube’s BIG3 league of former NBA greats.
23. Tom Gugliotta
Tom Gugliotta is worthy of a shout out on this list for the simple pleasure alone of being able to yell “Gooooogs” as a fan cheering him on or a hater raining down some personalized boos.
Googs’ injury ravaged NBA career makes for a classic “What if?” story. Nonetheless, his work with the early Minnesota Timberwolves helped pave the way for the franchise’s first taste of success.
Since his retirement in 2005, Gugliotta has largely shied away from the media save for his one appearance in national headlines for getting tossed from the stands for heckling a ref in 2012 at an NC State game where he used to play.
Aside from that incident, it seems Googs is chilling out and living it up on the links, working on his golf game all the time… not the worst life.
24. Artis Gilmore
Artis Gilmore is a basketball god whom we have grossly underpraised as the years pass.
The A-Train was a 7’2” unstoppable machine, earning MVP as a rookie in the ABA (1972), winning a championship (1972), then going on to earn six All-Star selections after being selected first pick of the ABA dispersal draft when it merged with the NBA in ’76.
The Florida native still shows love for his home state and alma mater, Jacksonville University. Gilmore accepted a position as Special Assistant to the President to help the university with public relations; he also delivers color commentary and calls into a local basketball show on Jacksonville’s local WJXL radio station.
25. Penny Hardaway
If you don’t recognize the name Anfernee Hardaway, it’s because we were all busy hollering the ‘90s legend’s nickname, “Penny!” While his game couldn’t be any more different, Penny Hardaway’s career is looked on much the way Grant Hill’s is – an All-Star whose unrealized potential due to injury that’s left us imagining what could’ve been.
Before turning pro, Hardaway had grown up playing high school and college ball in Memphis. In a touching gesture, Hardaway returned home to help coach the team of a childhood friend dying of cancer to a state championship. In 2018, Hardaway took over as the head coach of his alma mater, the Memphis Tigers.
26. Clifford Robinson
Even during much Cliff Robinson’s career, the NBA journeyman simply never saw the full credit he deserved. A one-time All-Star as a member of his first team, the Trail Blazers, Uncle Cliffy almost solely played second or third fiddle to another great, but he did it with grace, all the way until age 40.
Once Uncle Cliffy retired from playing, he decided to return to where the NBA journey began in Portland, OR. His love for Oregon’s recreational greenery once got him in some trouble as an athlete, but now is bringing the cash, as he’s opened a dispensary by the most baller of names – Uncle Spliffy.
27. Shawn Marion
Neo’s got nothing on this man.
Shawn “The Matrix” Marion was a walking paradox. His horrifying three-point shot looked something like a child both picking up and shooting for the first time while not being strong enough to reach the basket from beyond the arc. Nonetheless, his versatile skillset included unstoppable offense that will likely earn him a place in the Hall of Fame someday.
Since his retirement, Marion’s had some fun finding new outlets for competition. In 2017, he and fellow former NBA star Cedric Ceballos competed in Season 30 of The Amazing Race. In February 2018, he yet another former NBA player, Matt Walsh, purchased a majority share in the New Zealand Breakers of Australia’s NBL.
28. Vin Baker
Curse you, NBA lockout!
Vin Baker appeared on the map out of nowhere like a hurricane. Baker was a 4x All-Star and straight beast alongside HOFer Ray Allen on the Bucks and Sonics until the 1998-99 season lockout hit. That’s when bad habits caught up to Baker, which led to a rapid decline in production the remainder of his career.
Baker returned to Old Saybrook, CT where he was raised and, after a long battle with alcoholism, has made a great comeback. From humbly working at Starbucks to a return to Milwaukee to work as an anchor for Fox Sports Wisconsin, Baker earned a role as the Bucks’ assistant coach in January 2018 where he now coaches the first NBA team he played for.
29. Elvin Hayes
To not be familiar with The Big E in Springfield, MA is understandable… unless we’re talking about the one enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Elvin “The Big E” Hayes is nothing more than a name that rings a bell to most fans yet check this list: former No. 1 overall pick (1968), NBA champion (1978), 12x All-Star, scoring champion (1969) and 2x rebounding leader (1970, 1974) amongst other accolades.
The former National Player of the Year returned to his alma mater, University of Houston, to complete his degree after retirement, famously stating, “I played 16 years of pro basketball, but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
It was all worth it, as Hayes can now call himself an alum while working as an announcer at his former college team’s games.
30. Chris Mullin
Chris Mullin has taken over the game from coast to coast. The Brooklyn native became National Player of the Year at St. John’s before becoming a staple of Bay Area basketball. All but three seasons of Mullin’s HOF career featured him as a staple of the Warriors.
For those who don’t recognize his trio’s famous Run TMC, his part on the famous Dream Team should do the trick.
In 2015, Mullin accepted a role to return to his roots and coach the St. John’s Red Storm. Far from the powerhouse they were in hi playing days, Mullin had a lot of work ahead of him, as the team’s first season finished with an 8-24 record.
Since then, Mullin has been coaching up a continually improving team, helping to restore St. John’s as a top Division I basketball program.
31. Bryant Reeves
There isn’t enough bold and capitalized font in the world to capture the love basketball fans had for Bryant Reeves.
The 7’0”, 275-300 lb center out of Oklahoma endured six years of aches and pains, lugging his massive frame up and down the court for the Vancouver Grizzlies, which was exactly how long the new franchise existed in Canada before moving to Memphis, TN.
When overwhelming back pain forced Reeves into an early retirement 2001, Big Country returned to his roots.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy native traded in his basketball sneakers for cowboy boots after buying a 300-acre ranch near his hometown in Gans, OK. Now, Big Country lives up to his nickname as a cattle rancher.
32. Kurt Rambis
Kurt Rambis was the role player of all role players.
His gimongous rec specs couple with a tough-minded attitude and style of play made Rambis, aka “Rambo,” a legend, especially as a member of the Showtime Lakers.
After helping the Lake Show win four championships, it’s no wonder Rambis was a man of the L.A. people.
Rambis has been in some NBA coaching role another since retiring from playing in 1995. In fact, he actually served as a special assistant coach for the Lakers in 1994 before returning to play out the season. Despite bouncing around teams, Rambis likely won’t be stepping away from basketball any time soon.
33. Robert Horry
Big. Shot. Rob.
Those three words flawlessly depict what all three teams think of arguably the greatest role player of all time, Robert “Big Shot Rob” Horry, played for.
Only a starter in six of his 14 seasons, Horry transitioned to a bench role, and thrived in a way that felt like a Disney film. No denying Horry was a keystone on every team, as he retired with seven championships – the Rockets (2), Lakers (3) and Spurs (2). SHEESH.
One of the most clutch shooters in NBA history couldn’t stay away from the court after retiring in 2008. Horry now works for Spectrum Sports as a commentator for his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers.
34. Alonzo Mourning
Many will remember Alonzo Mourning as a pivotal role player of the 2006 NBA champion Miami Heat while others remember him on the nostalgia-inducing ‘90s Hornets.
It seems many forget the incredible comeback the 7x All-Star displayed by returning to play five NBA seasons after missing one (2002-03) due to kidney problems that actually required a transplant.
Mourning’s impression on the Heat was a lasting one. After Miami hung his No. 33 jersey in the rafters in 2009, the former shot-blocker returned to the Heat the same year, this time as a member of the front office. Mourning has since served as the Heat’s President of Player Programs and Development.
35. Joe Dumars
Joe Dumars’ NBA career was something we almost never see anymore. He played the entirety of his 14-year career with the Detroit Pistons, making the defensive stalwart’s six All-Star selections and two championships even more special.
The scorer whom Michael Jordan once called, “The best defender he’s ever faced” continued to make an impact felt with his organization by taking up the position of the Pistons’ President of Basketball Operations.
In 2017, Dumars joined Independent Sports & Entertainment (ISE) – “an integrated sports, media, entertainment and management company” – as the agency’s President of Basketball Division.
36. Rip Hamilton
Richard “Rip” Hamilton is one of those utility players who could do it all. Rip spent the prime of his career in Detroit, helping the Pistons defeat the Lakers in an unforgettable underdog journey to win it all in 2004.
Rip is best remembered for rocking the mask for the majority of his NBA career, but it was the man behind the mask that made Detroit one of the most lovable teams of the 2000s.
Rip City hung up his threads for the final time in 2013 and took his newfound freedom to spend time with his family.
In 2017, Rip made returned to basketball, seeing his No. 32 hung in Detroit’s rafters and joining TNT’s Players Only segment as an NBA commentator alongside fellow former professional players.
37. Ralph Sampson
Ralph Sampson is a name far more synonymous with his NCAA accomplishments than NBA, and that’s a shame. Sampson was a beast at UVA, earning three consecutive National Player of the Year awards. Then, the No. 1 selection of the 1983 NBA draft earned four straight All-Stars selections (and ROY) before knee surgeries stripped his gift.
After Sampson’s retirement from playing, he remained close to hoops by working various coaching roles at the collegiate and professional level. Sampson has also suffered some legal troubles in recent years and financial issues stemming from child support.
38. Bob Lanier
After the Detroit Pistons selected Bob Lanier with No. 1 overall pick in the 1970, the center out of St. Bonaventure proved that, while his size 22 shoes were huge, his impact on the court gigantic.
Lanier was an 8x All-Star whose contributions to both teams he played for – the Pistons and Bucks – retired his No. 16.
With his playing days over in 1984, Lanier’s brief stint as an NBA coach did not mark the conclusion of his relations with the league. Lanier took up a job as Special Assistant to NBA Commissioner David Stern where he essentially created the role the now prominent role as global ambassador of the league.
39. Dennis Johnson
Another victim of the megastar teammate.
Dennis Johnson was an impact player from his rookie to 14th and final year in the league. Named a 5x All-Star, Johnson won three NBA titles with the Supersonics (1979) and Celtics (1984, 1986) before retiring.
Despite his No. 3 hanging up in the rafters of Boston, too many people remember the supreme talent as “one of Larry Bird’s teammates.”
Johnson played his final game in 1990 before taking up a variety of head and assistant coaching roles for the NBA and NBADL (now NBA G League).
On February 22, 2007, Johnson was coaching an Austin Toros (now Spurs) practice when a heart attack unexpectedly took his life at age 52.
40. Larry Johnson
What big arms you have, Grandmama! What gold tooth you have, Grandmama!
All the better for Larry Johnson to posterize and talk trash with, my throwback dears.
LJ’s rebounding and scoring was a staple of the iconic ‘90s Hornets squad alongside Mourning, Curry and Bogues.
Unfortunately, LJ’s tenure was reminiscent of a star that burned as fast as it did bright. After two All-Star selections in Charlotte, back problems led to a decline in Johnson’s play over the second half of his career in New York.
Though Johnson ran into financial issues after his playing career, he returned to the Knicks as a Basketball & Business Operations Representative in 2011 where he’s been working since.