Dominique Wilkins, Charles Barkley, Joe Dumars, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller could be summed up as a dunker, a rebounder, a leader, a pick-and-roller, a defensive specialist and a 3-point shooter, respectively, but that would do a disservice to these all-time greats.
A quick summation doesn’t describe 52 combined All-Star bids, 14 appearances in the NBA Finals, eight rings and three league MVP awards.
A pigeon-holed description doesn’t communicate that all six of these players were Dream Teamers (albeit, Dumars, Miller and Wilkins were on Dream Team II – but, come on, they still had USA across their chests).
A CliffsNotes’ version doesn’t parlay how these six players helped build the NBA from a successful American sports league in the 1980s to a global phenomenon in the ‘90s.
They are six players who weren’t just stars; they were superstars, and every superstar deserves his due. With Wilkins, Barkley and Dumars elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and Malone, Pippen and Miller having their jerseys retired this season, the super six began to receive proper appreciation for their stellar careers.
‘Nique started out as a dunker and was anointed the “Human Highlight Film” long before SportsCenter had its Top 10 Plays. Wilkins won the Slam Dunk contest in 1985 and 1990, but who can forget his epic second-place finish to Michael Jordan in the ’88 contest in Chicago? His specialty was the windmill, which he threw down with such ferocity that the motion was rumored to cause a stiff breeze to sweep through the mezzanine level of NBA arenas across America.
The dunks were breathtaking, but his 26,668 career points, not including 47 in a showdown with Larry Bird in Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, showed the true scope of his ability as a player.
He was "The Round Mound of Rebound" before he was an analyst, an author, or a deodorant spokesman. Charles Barkley came into the league as a wide-body who had a penchant for snatching caroms and hitting big shots.
The boards may have gotten him noticed, but it was his all-around game and personality that made him memorable. In addition to his dominance on the glass – he finished with over 12,000 rebounds – he amassed a 22.1 career scoring average and an MVP award in 1993, carrying the Phoenix Suns to within two games of a championship. Unfortunately for Sir Charles, he ran into Jordan, Paxson and the wrong side of history.
His true gift, though, was his mouth, which usually made everybody laugh, sometimes made everybody cringe, but always made everybody listen.
He wasn’t the star, but he was the leader of the Detroit Pistons back in the late ‘80s. Isiah Thomas got the attention, but it was Joe Dumars who was named Most Valuable Player of the 1989 NBA Finals, averaging 27.3 points per game during a four-game sweep of the Lakers. And despite the Pistons’ reputation as the NBA’s "Bad Boys," he led in a special way, taking home the first ever NBA Sportsmanship Award in 1997 – an award later named in his honor.
Dumars continued his leadership role even after his playing days were done, taking over as Detroit’s General Manager and President of Basketball Operations during the 1999-00 season and assembling the roster that would go on to win the 2004 NBA Finals, again over the Lakers.
It was a signature play that the power forward ran with the point guard. The big man sets the screen to free up the little guy, then No. 32 either slides through the lane to the hoop or pops out for an open jumper, where No. 12 hits him with a perfect pass. Karl Malone from John Stockton was like clockwork.
Malone’s pick-and-roll prowess resulted in him retiring as No. 2 on the NBA’s all-time points list, but it doesn’t tell the story of his two MVPs in ’97 and ’99. It fails to mention him muttering to himself at the foul line, going through his free throw routine as NBC showed him coming precariously close to the 10-second limit, a box in the corner of the screen counting down as he readied himself at the line during the Finals against Jordan’s Bulls. And it can’t portray him putting his left hand behind his head as he glided in for a trademark one-handed “Mailman” delivery.
The Defensive Specialist
He was a walk-on in college and a sidekick in the pros, but his defense (honored by seven appearances on the NBA’s All-Defensive First team) made him a standout nevertheless. Scottie Pippen retired with the fourth most steals in NBA history and six championship rings on his fingers.
But for as well as he could close out on a shooter and smother him on the wing, “Pip” could take a defensive rebound down court and set up the Bulls’ triangle offense as a forward playing the point. He could stick a big jump shot and carry either the offensive load or a flu-ridden Michael Jordan off the court at the end of another spectacular performance in the Finals.
The 3-Point Shooter
He didn’t have picture-perfect form, or a body that evoked thoughts of a world-class athlete, but he had ice water running through his veins, and that’s all that mattered. Reggie Miller retired as the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made. No. 31 hit 2,560 trifectas and once scored eight points in a little more than eight seconds against the Knicks in the playoffs.
But as much as he was the clutch shots from downtown, he was also the attitude lines shaved into his funky hair line. He was his twirling celebration on a bum ankle after hitting a game winner against Michael Jordan. He was the red-tinted Oakleys he rocked after coming back from an eye injury in the 1996 playoffs, inspiring kids across the country to modify pairs of 3-D glasses so they could be like Reggie in their driveways.
When Wilkins, Barkley and Dumars were selected for the Hall of Fame on April 4, and when Malone’s digits were retired by the Jazz on March 23, Pippen’s by the Bulls on Dec. 9 and Reggie’s by the Pacers on March 30, the six assured that they will be remembered as much more than just a dunker, a rebounder, a leader, a pick-and-roller, a defensive specialist and a 3-point shooter.
They’ll be remembered as legends, and their stories will be told forever.