Posted Oct 8 2010 6:42PM - Updated Oct 10 2010 11:12PM
Basketball, especially at its highest level, is a game of athleticism and skill. If your team doesn't have talent, it's not going to win many games.
But it takes more than talent to win in the NBA. To get through an 82-game regular season and two months of playoffs requires a lot of resolve.
Toughness is playing through pain, coming back from failure, or outworking a more talented opponent.
It's the difference between Pau Gasol against the Celtics in the 2008 Finals and Pau Gasol against the Celtics in the 2010 Finals. It's how a team can lose its best player in the middle of a playoff series against the eventual champs and still win two more games with a 6-foot-6 guy starting at center. It's draining a clutch three with one eye swollen shut.
It's taking an elbow from Shaq in the post, taking a charge from LeBron on the break, or diving head-first over the first row of seats to save a possession.
Every player in the NBA has worked hard to get here, and they've all displayed a measure of toughness in the league. But this squad is the toughest of the tough, a gritty player at each position ...
It was Game 4 of the Suns' conference semifinals series against the Spurs this past May. Nash took an elbow from Tim Duncan, earning the point guard a nasty cut above his right eye. It took six stitches to sew Nash up and his eye was almost swollen completely shut by the end of the game. But that didn't stop the two-time MVP from scoring 10 points and dishing out five assists in the final 12 minutes, leading the Suns to a close-out win.
There was also the busted nose against the Spurs three years earlier and the time he chipped his tooth against the Jazz, calmly removed the broken piece during a timeout and then joked about it during a halftime interview.
Nash is a 36 year old with a back condition. Yet he's managed to average 79 games over his last nine seasons. Simply, the guy is a gamer.
Second Team: Jason Kidd
It's hard to imagine that any player has played through more pain than Bryant. He played with a broken index finger on his shooting hand for most of last season. He also dealt with a sprained ankle, and had a knee injury that had to be drained during the playoffs and required surgery after the Lakers won the championship.
Two years ago, Bryant tore a tendon in his right pinkie, but didn't miss a single game. Despite a myriad of injuries, he's missed just 16 of the Lakers' 489 games over the last five seasons.
Second Team: Manu Ginobili
Artest's inclusion on this team is less about playing through pain and more about physicality. He's arguably the best perimeter defender in the league because he adds unmatched strength to his quickness, great hands, and tenacity.
Artest has been voted the toughest player in the league by the league's general managers each of the last four years, receiving 37 percent of the vote this year. It's hard to argue with that.
Second Team: Paul Pierce
Wallace probably wouldn't like to be listed as a power forward, but his ability to match up with bigger guys at the four is part of the reason he's on this list. Appropriately named "Crash," Wallace plays with relentless and sometimes reckless energy.
His 76 games last season were the most Wallace has played in his nine-year career. He's suffered countless injuries, but has never changed his style. In addition to being one of the best defenders in the league, he bumped his rebounding average from 7.8 to 10.0 last season. And he's two inches shorter than anyone who averaged more than 8.1.
Second Team: Kevin Garnett
You just can't make a list of the toughest players in the league without including the 6-foot-6 guy who started all 82 games at center last season. Despite his height disadvantage, the Rockets were a much better defensive team with Hayes on the floor last season than they were with him on the bench.
Hayes routinely dislocates his shoulder in the middle of a game, a painful injury that could keep a player out for a few weeks. But he normally just pops it back in the joint and gets back on the floor.
Hayes is the only player on this list that hasn't been an All-Star and he has never come even close to being considered. But he deserves this here recognition as much as anyone.
Second Team: Ben Wallace
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