Highly regarded as one of the best draft classes ever, the 1996 draft class features 11 future All-Stars and four Hall of Famers (so far). Just going down the list of draftees brings up plenty of familiar names that had pretty long NBA careers.
The ‘96 draft class is perhaps more special because it brought in several characters that created so many interesting stories, including a few awesome tales that fell through the cracks of casual NBA fandom.
The following is a collection of stories about some of the ‘96 draft’s well-known names that colors in the spaces between a special collection of diverse people.
This list is organized in no particular order, except for Allen Iverson needing to be on top.
Iverson might be the most interesting NBA superstar ever. Basketball culture shifted seismically when he entered the league – from introducing the coolest crossover ever to sporting cornrows. To say that Iverson wasn't well-received would be putting it lightly. The league infamously implemented a dress code in 2005 that banned clothing like large jewelry, oversized shirts, throwback jerseys, Timberlands, durags, and shades indoors – pretty much 90 percent of Iverson’s wardrobe. There were other players affected by the rule, but the move represented the league and much of the public's resentment towards what Iverson represented: hip-hop and street culture becoming mainstream and making its way into the NBA.
“I was just being me. I never planned none of it. I simply dressed like the dude from my hood that I grew up with. In the end, it was a bittersweet feeling, because I took an ass-whooping for it… just for being myself,” Iverson said in a 2017 interview.
Now, the league pretty much endorses the fashion and personalities around the league. It's now very common to see players wearing compression gear – another trend Iverson started in 2001. Looking for a way to alleviate the pain from Iverson's elbow bursitis, then Philadelphia 76ers trainer Lenny Currier cut off a compression stockinette and advised Iverson to wear it on his elbow. Iverson ended up scoring 51 points that game and wore the sleeve throughout the season. Iverson deserves a cut from all the companies that wear exposed compression gear because he's the reason on-court accessorizing is cool.
Iverson was also a physical marvel. At barely six feet, Iverson was averaging 30 points in an era that featured dominant big men and brute defenses. He was seemingly injured or suffering from a minor ailment all the time, but he kept playing. His desire to play was so intense that former Sixers GM Bobby King recalled the team needing to hide Iverson's jersey and shoes just to prevent him from playing on some nights.
Most younger NBA fans know Iverson from the infamous practice rant. Even that bit about him is misunderstood. Aside from having a genuine gripe about having to answer a question about practice after a playoff loss, he was also going through the tragic death of his best friend Rashaan Langeford throughout the 2002 season.
Iverson deserves his due and a documentary to truly put his NBA career into perspective. The beauty of Iverson is he probably doesn't care that much. He's now a fixture in NBA games and talk shows, gassing up the current generation of stars. It doesn't matter to him that he's the reason stars of today can talk like Kyrie Irving or dress like Russell Westbrook.
Kobe Bryant’s shock death in 2020 brought out so many beautiful stories. From Julius Randle adapting Mamba Mentality to the countless stories of charity, Kobe affected many lives directly and indirectly.
My favorite Kobe story has to be the one of his jersey retirement ceremony in 2017. Kobe, looking like off-duty Bruce Wayne in his black suit, brought his entire family – even his then one-year old daughter – to Staples. The Lakers retired both numbers 8 and 24 in a ceremony that featured everything you'd expect from retired Kobe.
The Lakers were playing the defending champs Golden State Warriors and unexpectedly pushed them to overtime. Kobe left after regulation because it was his kids' bedtime. Watching Kobe Bryant enter the league as a brash kid out of high school then turn into #GirlDad post-retirement was satisfying as a fan. The worst fear any Kobe fan had when he retired was that he was too dedicated to truly step away from basketball; that he would return like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and add an unnecessary footnote to their careers.
Instead, Kobe brought Mamba Mentality into his other passions and, most importantly, being a dad. Kobe was mostly glares and gritted teeth on the court. But Kobe the dad was mostly smiles, especially when he was bringing his daughter Gigi to basketball games. Watching Kobe fully embrace fatherhood brought me peace that the next chapter of my life as a Kobe fan was still going to be great.
Beyond the five rings, the MVP, Mamba Mentality, the 81 and 60, and the numerous buzzer-beaters, becoming the poster boy for “girl dads” everywhere is probably the one achievement Kobe would have cherished the most.
Steve Nash is in the same boat as Iverson as being wildly underappreciated superstars. Nash was the long-haired, baby-faced floor general for some of the most exciting teams of the 2000s, particularly the Seven-Seconds-or-Less Phoenix Suns. Nash could have scored like Steph Curry, but that wouldn’t have made his teammates better.
And Nash was all about being the best teammate possible. On the Knuckleheads podcast, Quentin Richardson never runs out of anecdotes about how great of a teammate Nash was, even praising how comfortable he was hanging out with black teammates in various establishments. Former Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce recalled how Stephen Nash was called Nashty during his time at Santa Clara University. Pierce offered this story to The Undefeated of how Nash recruited him in college.
“After multiple team events, campus partying and other forms of persuading a 17-year-old to attend their school — mind you, SCU is a very distinguished Jesuit Catholic university! — we had a free afternoon. So Nashty asked, ‘What would you like to do now?’ Being a pretty bashful kid at the time, I quietly stated that I would like to head 10 minutes south to my high school (Yerba Buena High School in San Jose, California) and partake in our homecoming activities. Nashty’s response? ‘Let’s do it!’”
Nash is beloved everywhere he goes by teammates and coaches. It shouldn’t be a surprise why he was Kevin Durant and Kyrie's preferred coach for the Brooklyn Nets this season.
Another thing about Nash is most fans know him for basketball, but he was a soccer player at heart. Most of what made Nash an incredible basketball player – the footwork, body control and conditioning – all stemmed from his time on the pitch. He was even a soccer analyst for a couple of years, before becoming a coach.
In fact, Nash was great at anything he tried. Steve Kerr told this story to NBC Sports Bay Area of how quickly Nash picked up surfing.
“Steve Nash came out to visit me in San Diego, probably seven or eight years ago, and I used to surf at that time, and he had never surfed before. So he decided to paddle out, he said ‘well what do I do?’ and I’m not a very good surfer, but I tried to give him my advice. We paddle out there, and I said, ‘hey, just you know, paddle into this, you want to do is you turn the board and you paddle. And then you kind of stand, you know, you try to stand up, you pop up real quick and now it’s probably going to take a few times,’ and he’s like, ‘okay.’ The first wave comes, he paddles twice, he pops up, he’s surfing. He surfs the thing all the way into the shore, I’m like, ‘it took me like three weeks to do that.’”
You either know Ray Allen as a part of the 2008 Boston Celtics title squad or from the most important shot in NBA finals history.
How many careers and legacies were altered by that one 3-pointer? Ray Allen is going to be mentioned in a lot of Hall of Fame speeches.
Aside from being a prolific scorer for the Seattle Supersonics, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, Allen was also quite an actor. No former NBA star has topped Allen's acting in Spike Lee's 1998 sports epic He Got Game, where he played Jesus Shuttlesworth, the basketball prodigy son of convict Jake Shuttlesworth played by Denzel Washington.
In the film's climax, Jake challenges Jesus to a one-on-one game for the right to pick which college Jesus attends. The scene, still regarded as one of the best basketball scenes in movies, was pretty much entirely improvised. Spike Lee said on The Ringer's Bill Simmons Podcast that Allen thought the one-on-one game would go down as it was written in the script – with Jesus winning 12-0. But Washington, a former college basketball player himself, had other plans.
“Denzel did not tell me, but I knew that no way in the world was Denzel not gonna try to score a basket. Because Denzel still considered himself a baller. So, we start filming and Denzel's just throwing up some lucky sh*t. I mean, he’s banking it in. It’s like crazy. I'm gonna let them play,” Lee recalled.
“Ray said… instead of saying cut he's saying ‘Time out!’ He's making a time out sign like he's a referee. And the great Susan Batson, who's one of the most phenomenal acting coaches, she's screaming at him, ‘What are you doing?’ Denzel’s laughing and Ray comes up to me and says, Spike says I'm supposed to win 12-nothing'. I go like, ‘What do you want me to do?’”
During his book tour in 2018, Allen recalled being very frustrated by the situation because not only was he caught off guard, he hated to lose. After Denzel scored the first six points of the one-on-one, Allen shut him down the rest of the way. After looking up old Ray Allen workout videos, take time to watch that scene. You can see the maniacal competitor come out of Allen.
The fourth overall pick in the ’96 Draft, Marbury, had his ups and downs in the NBA. He was an All-Star in the US but he became a legend in China.
Starting in 2011, Marbury played for the Beijing Ducks in the CBA. He went on to lead the Ducks to three titles in six seasons. He even has a statue outside the Beijing Ducks arena.
He also has his own shoe company. Starbury began when Marbury was still in the NBA. He wanted to sell inexpensive shoes for kids as he remembered his mom being so disappointed that she couldn’t buy her son $65 Jordans. The first Starburys were just around $20.
After a hiatus, Marbury has since been able to revive his business, thanks to his connections in China. Starbury continues to sell affordable sneakers, coming out with the 25-dollar Starbury 3 last year.
Even if the Starburys haven't caught a lot of mainstream attention, Marbury's message should still be heard. As sneaker culture spirals down a superfluous road, this generation of superstars should think of who gets to buy the products they design and endorse.
One of the forgotten stars of his era, Jermaine developed into one of the best power forwards when Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Dirk Nowitzki were also dominating the position.
After his playing career, O'Neal honed in on becoming a mogul, owning several branches of Church's Chicken and partnering with Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob on a couple of business ventures. He also started Drive Nation, a massive sports facility in Dallas which aims to support youth sports. It took four years and a trade for O'Neal to develop into a starter for Indiana. He needed just a couple of years out of retirement to secure his and about two generations of O'Neal's futures.
Last year, O'Neal was in talks with Tracy McGrady on starting their own player agency. Both stars came out of high school, realized their NBA potential, and saw their primes fizzle out due to injuries. They’re hoping to guide upcoming young players with their extensive knowledge of the league.
Derek Fisher is an iconic Los Angeles Laker. Even if he was never as good as Kobe, Magic, or Kareem, Fisher was the sterling example of a role player – someone who never overstepped his boundaries and did what the team needed.
Forgotten now due to his second run with the Lakers and some unsavory circumstances, Fisher's most emotional moment came when he was with the Utah Jazz. Yes, this was more charged than when he went crazy after he hit the 0.4 second shot in the 2004 playoffs.
In the 2008 postseason, Fisher’s infant daughter was suffering from eye cancer. The Jazz were facing the We Believe Warriors in Game 2, when Fisher only arrived at halftime after flying out to see his daughter. Fisher ended up making huge plays down the stretch to help seal the win. The Jazz went on to reach the conference finals that year, still their best finish after making back-to-back Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998.