The 1990s were the golden age of basketball. Loaded with superstars at every position, the ’90s were graced with some amazing players. From Michael Jordan and John Stockton at guard to David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon at center, every position seemed to boast multiple superstars. So the question must be asked: Who was the best player of the 1990s? With so many dominant players, some legends (like Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley) had to fall short of the top five. Which other legends were snubbed? The rankings may surprise you.
Honorable mention: Charles Oakley
The 1990s were a decade known for players who were incredibly talented and motivated by hatred of their opponents. Charles Oakley, one of the best defensive forwards of the ’90s, is one of the best examples of this type of player.
Oakley spent the majority of the ’90s with the New York Knicks, averaging 9.8 points and 9.8 rebounds across the decade. Oakley’s best season came in 1993-94, when he helped the Knicks become Eastern Conference champions. That year, the 30-year-old Oakley earned his first (and only) All-Star nod. His stats don’t warrant top-30 honors, but you couldn’t tell the story of basketball in the 1990s without mentioning Charles Oakley.
Honorable mention: Rod Strickland
Rod Strickland may be one of the best NBA players to never make an All-Star team. Some blame the guard’s exclusion on his ego, and that’s fair to an extent. But considering the impressiveness of Strickland’s 1997-98 season and lack of a selection, it’s easy to see why he was frustrated.
During the 1997-98 season, Strickland averaged 17.8 points per game and a league leading 10.5 assists per game — yet he wasn’t selected to the All-Star game. After being snubbed, Strickland once said he wouldn’t attend the 1999 All-Star game if he was selected. Averaging 15.7 points and 8.5 assists per game across the decade, Strickland is definitely worthy of an honorable mention here.
30. Dan Majerle
Shooting guard Dan Majerle was one of the biggest sharpshooters of the 1990s. Playing alongside Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley for some loaded Phoenix Suns teams in the early ’90s, Majerle emerged as a star. Averaging 15.5 points on 44.9-percent shooting in six seasons with Phoenix, “Thunder Dan” helped the Suns re-establish themselves as a perennial contender.
After a quick stop in Cleveland, Majerle finished the latter part of the decade with the Miami Heat, playing alongside Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway and Jamal Mashburn. Majerle averaged 13.1 points per game throughout the 1990s, Majerle was selected to three All-Star teams.
29. Dominique Wilkins
Though the majority of his dominance came in the 1980s, Dominique Wilkins was still one of the best players throughout the 1990s. Wilkins started the decade with a bang, winning the 1990 Slam Dunk contest. He also kept impressing on the court, continuously finishing near the top of the league in scoring each season.
Wilkins spent two seasons during the ’90s playing in Europe, and in 1996, he helped Panathinaikos win the EuroLeague title. With six All-Star appearances, six seasons averaging more than 20 points per game, and six seasons averaging more than one steal per game, Wilkins is a no-doubt top-30 player of the 1990s.
28. Mookie Blaylock
One of the most underrated players of the 1990s, Mookie Blaylock was a special player. The point guard’s ability to be so quick and agile with the ball in his hands was incredible for fans to watch, and the skillset defined him as a player.
Averaging 14.4 points and 6.9 assists per game across the decade, Blaylock formed a solid duo with teammate Dominique Wilkins. Blaylock was selected to the 1994 All-Star game, averaging 17.2 points, 7.7 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Blalock’s defense became a trademark throughout his career; he led the league in steals on two different occasions.
27. Vlade Divac
Another underrated player of the 1990s, Vlade Divac is someone whose basketball in the ’90s goes unnoticed. That’s because Divac has the unfortunate distinction of being the player the Los Angeles Lakers dealt to acquire Kobe Bryant. Divac spent nearly a decade in Los Angeles, helping the team reach the NBA Finals in 1991.
Though he wasn’t selected to an All-Star game until 2000, Divac put up solid numbers throughout the decade, averaging 12.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. He also averaged 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game throughout the span of his entire career. Divac’s teams only missed the playoffs twice in his 14-year career.
26. Kevin Johnson
A leader on and off the court, Phoenix Suns point guard Kevin Johnson was one of the most dominant players of the decade. Johnson averaged 18.8 points and 9.3 assists per game throughout the 90s, all while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field. The court general led the Suns to nine straight playoff appearances, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 1993.
A three-time All-Star, Johnson was a fearless slasher who didn’t mind getting fouled when he drove to the basket. The 6-foot-1 point guard had a penchant for scoring high-percentage shots, attempting about seven free throws per game over the course of the decade.
25. Grant Hill
Though he only played for five seasons during the 1990s, Grant Hill was one of the decade’s most successful players. With the exception of points per game, Hill’s production during his first five seasons is shockingly similar to that of current NBA star LeBron James: 20.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game — all while shooting 47.2 percent from the field.
Before injuries derailed his career, the four-time All-Star appeared on track to have one of the most well-balanced careers in NBA history. But once he left the Pistons at the end of the decade, Hill’s career wasn’t quite what it had been while he was in Detroit.
24. Hersey Hawkins
One of the best shooters in NBA history, shooting guard Hersey Hawkins was an iconic ’90s player who exemplified the emergence of outside shooting in the NBA. Hawkins played with the Philadelphia 76ers, Charlotte Hornets, and Seattle Supersonics, and he averaged 16.1 points per game throughout the decade.
A career 39.3 percent shooter from three-point range, Hawkins was virtually automatic from downtown. The shooting specialist was only selected to one All-Star game, despite his excellence from three-point range and defensive prowess. Perennially snubbed from the All-Star game, Hawkins deserves recognition on this list for being one of the pioneers who helped the NBA evolve into an outside shooting league over time.
23. Penny Hardaway
Maybe best known for his Nike “Lil Penny” commercials, Penny Hardaway is one of the biggest “what if” stories in NBA history. Standing at 6-foot-7, Hardaway was a massively athletic point guard who not only loved to score but also create opportunities for his teammates. Teaming up with Shaq to create an unstoppable duo on the Orlando Magic, Hardaway had all the tools to be a top-5 player of the decade.
Hardaway averaged 19 points, 6.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game through the ’90s, but everything changed when Shaq left in 1996. Hardaway, a four-time All-Star, started to deal with injury troubles and was never able to recreate the magic without his star teammate.
22. Tim Hardaway
Fans of today’s NBA might not remember the “Run TMC” era of the Golden State Warriors. But anyone who watched Tim Hardaway take the court alongside Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin remembers. Despite missing the entire 1993-94 season with a knee injury, Hardaway earned five All-Star nods throughout the decade with his playmaking ability and clutch shooting.
Hardaway perfected the crossover with his signature move, the UTEP 2-Step. The point guard had some of the best moves of any ball handler, but he also knew how to dish the rock. Throughout the ’90s, Hardaway averaged 19.4 points, 9 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game — all while shooting at a 44.2 percent clip.
21. Chris Mullin
One of the greatest shooters in NBA history, Chris Mullin was another shooter to revolutionize the way NBA teams play the sport. Shooting an absurd 51.5 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three-point territory, Mullin was one of the NBA’s premier scorers throughout his career.
But Mullin could do more than just score. In the ’90s, the four-time All-Star averaged 19 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. Mullin was the epitome of a grinder; where he didn’t have explosive quickness or athleticism, he made up for with hard work and intensity. Mullin’s effort was second-to-none, which is a big reason why he’s on this list.
20. Horace Grant
With four NBA Finals appearances and three championships to his name, power forward Horace Grant was one of the most successful NBA players of the 1990s. Playing for the Chicago Bulls alongside Michael Jordan in the early ’90s, Grant was one of the team’s key role players to give Bulls a physical edge over their opponents.
Grant went on to play with the Orlando Magic afterwards, beating the Bulls in the playoffs en route to another NBA Finals trip in 1995. However, the Magic’s luck ran out against the Houston Rockets. The forward earned one All-Star nod and finished the decade averaging 13 points and 9 rebounds per game.
19. Mitch Richmond
One of the best-kept secrets of the 1990s NBA, Mitch Richmond was one of the toughest players to guard in the league. In fact, Michael Jordan made that claim himself. The shooting guard began the ’90s with the Warriors but quickly moved to Sacramento, where he became the Kings’ first ever star player.
The six-time All-Star averaged 23 points, 4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game throughout the decade. Richmond was a prolific scorer who dominated on the fast break. But as with many players on this list, injuries slowed down what could’ve been a Hall of Fame-caliber career for Richmond.
18. Jeff Hornacek
Another member of some of those high-octane Suns teams from the early ’90s, shooting guard Jeff Hornacek was one of the league’s highest-volume scorers in the first half of the decade. Hornacek was an All-Star in the 1991-92 season, averaging 20.1 points on an unbelievable 51.2 percent shooting and 43.9 percent from three-point range.
The shooting guard was eventually traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and later to the Utah Jazz, with whom he made two NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998. Over the course of the decade, Hornacek averaged 16.4 points per game. He’s one of the more accurate shooters the league has ever seen.
17. Shawn Kemp
Shawn Kemp was one of the most electrifying athletes to ever play in the NBA. An incredibly athletic dunker who knew when to take shots and when to pass up on them, Kemp nearly averaged a double-double for the entire decade. The big man averaged 16.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game throughout the ’90s.
Kemp, a six-time All-Star, also shot over 50 percent from the field — probably because he had a tendency to throw down nasty dunks every night. In 1997, the Supersonics traded Kemp to the Cavaliers. But the big man continued to thrive in Cleveland, putting up 18 points and nine rebounds per game in three seasons.
16. Dennis Rodman
One of the greatest defenders and rebounders in NBA history, Dennis Rodman was a huge difference-maker throughout the ’90s. The four-time NBA Champion led the league in rebounding seven times and won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award twice. One could only imagine how good Rodman could’ve been had he been able to establish more of an offensive game.
Though Rodman averaged a pedestrian 6.8 points per game throughout the nineties, his 15.1 rebounds more than made up for his lack of offense. Plus, he shot over 50 percent from the field — that doesn’t hurt. The two-time All-Star is one of the more memorable players in NBA history, and it’s unlikely anyone in the future will ever play the game quite like Rodman did.
15. Dikembe Mutombo
Dikembe Mutombo’s 3,289 blocked shots are good for second-most of all-time. The original finger wagger dominated throughout the ’90s, leading the league in blocks three times, earning NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors three times, and making five All-Star appearances.
But Mutombo was more than just a shot blocker. The massive center averaged 12.9 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks per game throughout the 1990s, while shooting 52.5 percent from the field. Mutombo wasn’t quite finished when the ’90s ended, going on to play until he was 42 years old. He won a record-tying fourth Defensive Player of the Year award along the way.
14. Detlef Schrempf
One of the NBA’s first point forward, Detlef Schrempf was a unique talent who spent the ’90s with the Indiana Pacers and Seattle Supersonics. At 6-foot-9, Schrempf was on the tall side, but he could shoot and handle the basketball like he was a point guard.
Schrempf made his first All-Star appearance in 1993 and was traded to Seattle soon after, where he really found his stride. The German forward shot a near-impossible 51.4 percent from three-point range in the 1994-95 season, and a season later he led the Sonics to the NBA Finals. Schrempf finished the decade averaging 16.8 and 7.4 rebounds per game.
13. Alonzo Mourning
One of the best centers to ever play the game, Alonzo Mourning dominated the ’90s. The superstar big man was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1999, and he made four All-Star appearances over the course of the decade. In an era where dominant big men ruled the league, Mourning was no exception.
Averaging 20-10 across an entire decade seems impossible, but it’s a feat Mourning managed to accomplish. The center’s stats across the ’90s are ridiculous: 21 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game. Plus, he shot 52.1 percent from the field. Mourning was always known for his intense work ethic and leadership, and that leadership paid off as he eventually led the Heat to a championship in 2006.
12. Gary Payton
The 1990s were a decade known for stellar defense, mostly by big men who could rebound and block shots. But as far as steals go, Gary “The Glove” Payton was one of the best. Though it took him a while to get going in the early ’90s, Payton was well worth the wait.
In the mid-to-late ’90s, Payton earned five All-Star selections. He took over in 1995-96, leading the league in steals, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors, and locking down Michael Jordan in the NBA finals. The star point guard finished the decade with averages of 16.3 points, 6.8 assists, and an absurd 2.3 steals per game.
11. Patrick Ewing
At 7-feet tall and 240 pounds, Patrick Ewing was one of the most intimidating NBA players one could ever come across. Ewing did it all for the Knicks, leading his team to the playoffs in every season for the entire decade. New York was one of just five teams to reach the NBA Finals multiple times in the ’90s, thanks in large part to the big man.
Spending most of the career in his thirties, Ewing posted ridiculous numbers throughout the ’90s: 24.1 points, 11 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game while shooting 50.3 percent from the field. Despite missing a massive chunk of the 1997-98 season due to injury, Ewing was selected to eight All-Star teams throughout the 1990s.
10. Reggie Miller
In the ’90s, you couldn’t find a better three-point specialist than Reggie Miller. Known for his heroics in the playoffs but inability to reach the finals until after the 1990s, Miller was a unique player who could shoot and score in ways no one else could.
Throughout the ’90s, Miller averaged 21 points, 3.2 assists, and 1.2 steals per game; he also earned four All-Star nods. Miller’s efficiency was second-to-none, as he shot 48.2 percent from the field throughout the decade, as well as an absurd 40.5 percent from three-point territory. Though he never managed to win an NBA championship, Miller has been praised for his mental toughness and leadership.
9. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq entered the NBA in 1992 and instantly became one of the most dominant players of the league. Teaming up with Penny Hardaway, he helped transform a bad Magic team into a championship contender in just three seasons. Through the ’90s, Big Diesel averaged 27.1 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game while shooting 57.8 percent from the field.
With six All-Star appearances and a scoring title in the ’90s, O’Neal was one of the best players of the decade. Shaq would go on to win four rings, but his individual success didn’t translate into those titles until after the decade was over with.
8. Clyde Drexler
Shooting guard Clyde “The Glide” Drexler was such a talented player that the Portland Trail Blazers opted not to select Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft. Putting up 20.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 1.8 steals per game across the ’90s, Drexler was one of the league’s most versatile and dominant players.
The high-flying guard made trips to the NBA Finals throughout the ’90s, and he led the Houston Rockets to an NBA title in 1995. As a player Drexler was best known for his athleticism: He flew around the court with ease, played good defense, rebounded, and regularly found open teammates. The do-it-all guard was selected to seven All-Star teams throughout the decade.
7. John Stockton
The greatest passer in NBA history, John Stockton was easily the best point guard of the 1990s. Leading the NBA in assists is no easy feat, and Stockton led the NBA in assists in each of the first seven years of the ’90s. He was selected to eight All-Star teams throughout the decade.
The star Jazz point guard averaged 14.9 points, 11.9 assists, and 2.3 steals per game, while converting an impressive 51.6 percent of his field goal attempts. Stockton was one of the most intelligent players to ever take the court, and his accomplishments prove that it’s possible to succeed in the NBA without being the most athletically-gifted player on the court.
6. Charles Barkley
Big-time rebounder Charles Barkley was one of the most unique forwards to play in the history of the NBA. Despite measuring in several inches than the typical power forward, Barkley was a dominant rebounder and well-rounded player. Barkley was a trash talker who knew how to get into opponents’ heads, giving himself an advantage in the paint.
Barkley won the MVP award in 1993 and was selected to eight All-Star games throughout the ’90s. Over the course of the 1990s, he averaged 22.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game. He also shot 52.3 percent from the field. Though he was an incredible player, Barkley never managed to win a ring. That certainly hurts his legacy — and his placing on this list.
5. Scottie Pippen
The perfect partner for Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen was a dominant player in his own right throughout the 1990s. The six-time NBA Champion made seven All-Star appearances in the ’90s, helping the Chicago Bulls become one of the greatest dynasties in sports history.
Averaging 19.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.2 steals per game, Pippen was one of the league’s most complete players and dominant defenders. He was also very efficient on offense, shooting 48.1 percent from the field and keeping opposing defenses honest on the wing. Pippen’s tough-nosed, gritty attitude gave the Bulls the edge they needed to dominate the ’90s. Pippen may not have had his success without Jordan, but Jordan also wouldn’t have had his success without Pippen.
4. Hakeem Olajuwon
A NBA champion and NBA Finals MVP in both 1994 and 1995, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon is one of the greatest post players in the history of basketball. The center deployed a deadly arsenal of moves that made him one of the most effective offensive players of the decade. The 1990s treated Olajuwon well, with a both an MVP award and seven All-Star appearances.
Averaging 23.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, and an insane 3.5 blocks per game throughout the ’90s, the big man bested flashier, more athletic players by simply mastering the fundamentals of the game. Olajuwon shot 51.3 percent from the field over the course of the decade, thanks in part to his deadly “dream shake” move.
3. David Robinson
The center position may have been the most loaded of any throughout the ’90s, and David Robinson was the best of the best. In the ’90s alone, the San Antonio Spurs star made eight All-Star appearances, won an MVP award, earned Defensive Player of the Year honors and even delivered the Spurs their first ever NBA championship.
Nicknamed “The Admiral,” Robinson was a leader and mentor to his teammates, as well as one of the league’s most disciplined players. He averaged 24.4 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, and 3 assists per game through the decade, shooting 52.3 percent from the field.
2. Karl Malone
The Utah Jazz made the playoffs in every season of the 1990s — as well as back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998 — and Karl Malone is a big reason why. Malone was the best forward of his generation, consistently putting up huge numbers against some of the biggest big men in history.
Only missing three games during the entire decade, Malone averaged 27.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game on 53.1 percent shooting. Malone was absolutely dominant throughout the decade, winning two MVP awards and earning nine All-Star nods. Nicknamed “The Mailman” because he always got the job done, Malone was only held back by the fact he was never able to win that elusive championship.
1. Michael Jordan
You didn’t really think we’d leave the GOAT off the list, did you? Six titles, six Finals MVP awards, four NBA MVP awards, seven All-Star appearances, seven seasons leading the NBA in scoring, and two seasons leading the league in steals — all in eight seasons during the 1990s. Though he was out of the league for two years of the decade, Michael Jordan is easily the top player of the ’90s.
Averaging 30.8 points, 5.1 assists, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game on 50.1 percent shooting, Jordan put up unbelievable numbers against equally unbelievable competition. The competitiveness and perseverance Jordan exuded throughout his career defined his ability as a player, and it’s possible no one ever manages to match the video game numbers he put up over the course of a single decade. Jordan’s hard work, will to win and massive list of accomplishments are why he’s far and away the greatest player of the 1990s.
This article was originally published on Tiebreaker: The 30 Best NBA Players of the 1990s
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