Cohen: Ranking Best Players From 1990s
July 30, 2013
#1 Michael Jordan
Josh Cohen’s Analysis: While there are reasons why MJ isn’t categorically the “greatest” NBA player of “all-time,” it would be preposterous to make a claim that he wasn’t the best in the 90s.
Aside from the six NBA titles, five MVPs (four in 90s), perennial All-Star appearances (14 total) and staggering statistics, Jordan was the most celebrated and prominent athlete in the world.
It was also a time when television exposure of the NBA was growing and there was increasing interest in the league across the globe. Jordan, as a result, became the face of an entire sport.
#2 Hakeem Olajuwon
Cohen’s Analysis: Not only did he take advantage of Jordan’s premature retirement by capturing back-to-back NBA titles and a league MVP and besides his unparalleled footwork and exceptional low-post offensive repertoire, Olajuwon proved he was the best center of his generation by eliminating the other premier three big men in the playoffs, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal.
#3 Scottie Pippen
Cohen’s Analysis: Many puncture Pippen’s merit and allege he was just fortunate to play alongside Michael Jordan.
However, Pippen’s value as a superlative defender, elite ball handler, crafty playmaker and his athletic gifts were substantial in Chicago’s six NBA titles.
And remember, in Jordan’s retirement year, Pippen was an MVP candidate and averaged 22 points, nearly nine rebounds and almost six assists per game. He also captured two Olympic gold medals. Only he, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and John Stockton did the same during the 90s.
#4 Karl Malone
Cohen’s Analysis: It always felt like Malone was fingertips away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. He guided the Jazz to back-to-back NBA Finals, but was denied a ring by Jordan and the Bulls.
He, nonetheless, was an All-Star in every season during the 90s (no AS Game in ’99 as a result of lockout), won two MVPs (1997 & 1999), claimed two Olympic gold medals and was named a co-MVP in the 1993 NBA All-Star Game.
The Mailman’s game featured an unrivaled short jumper and a daunting power game that made it almost impossible to stop him.
#5 Patrick Ewing
Cohen’s Analysis: If you told people in 1985 when Ewing was drafted that he would never win an NBA championship they would say you were absolutely insane.
And while you would have been right, it wasn’t because Ewing didn’t flourish in the NBA. Many New Yorkers, in fact, suggest that Ewing is the most iconic and celebrated athlete in New York sports history – even more so than Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Lawrence Taylor or Derek Jeter.
While in his prime Pat never had a superb supporting cast and almost always had to carry his Knicks teams. He guided NY to the NBA Finals in 1994 and, though injured toward the end of the playoffs, was a part of the Knicks in 1999 when they stunningly returned to the title round as a No. 8 seed.
#6 David Robinson
Cohen’s Analysis: The Admiral was at his best before Tim Duncan arrived to help the Spurs become a fringe dynasty. He claimed the league’s MVP award in 1995, was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1992, earned an All-Star bid in every season in the 90s except in ’97 when injuries derailed him for most of that year and eventually did capture a title (two total; 99 and 03) with Duncan’s support.
Many believe Robinson was the most athletically gifted big man in NBA history, but what’s so fascinating about his career is that his injury, which allowed San Antonio to land Duncan in the draft, became arguably the most significant facet of the Spurs’ now illustrious history.
#7 Shaquille O’Neal
Cohen’s Analysis: Remember, this list specifically ranks players in the 90s and how they performed and what their accomplishments were during that decade. Shaq was terrific in those eight years, but it wasn’t until the 2000s that he evolved into the most dominant, menacing and intimidating big man in NBA history.
O’Neal helped the Magic advance to the NBA Finals in 1995 and was a perennial All-Star, but one could argue that the most significant storyline on him in the 90s was his controversial decision to leave Orlando for Los Angeles in 1996.
#8 Charles Barkley
Cohen’s Analysis: Sir Charles reached his peak in the 90s but some classify him as more of a “80s” star when he played alongside Julius Erving, Moses Malone and Maurice Cheeks in Philadelphia.
But it wasn’t until he was traded to Phoenix in 1993 that he had a chance to be “The Man” on a team with championship aspirations. In his first season with the Suns, Barkley captured the league’s MVP award and guided the franchise to the NBA Finals. In what proved to be one of the most exhilarating NBA Finals ever, Barkley’s Suns lost to MJ’s Bulls in six games.
#9 Reggie Miller
Cohen’s Analysis: Along with David Robinson and John Stockton, Miller is one of the few superstars who played the heart of his career in the 90s that stayed with just one franchise.
In addition to being one of the greatest clutch performers in NBA history and one of the premier 3-point shooters, Reggie catapulted the Pacers from the ground up and eventually had Indiana advancing far into the playoffs almost ever year.
#10 Penny Hardaway
Cohen’s Analysis: There was a time when people were comparing Penny to Magic Johnson. His length, adaptability, vision and scoring aptitude were extraordinary. He helped the Magic reach the NBA Finals in 1995 and was a perennial All-Star from 95-98.
Unfortunately, a devastating left knee injury rapidly flattened his career and by the time the decade was over, Hardaway had already enjoyed his best moments on the court.
#11 Shawn Kemp
Cohen’s Analysis: If not for contract disputes, weight problems and a lack of passion, Kemp could have been much higher on this list.
A freakish athlete, the “Reign Man” pushed the Sonics to the NBA Finals in 1996 and was a returning All-Star from 1993-98. However, his status plummeted immediately afterwards and his reputation as an all-time great fell with it.
#12 John Stockton
Cohen’s Analysis: He is the league’s all-time assists leader and one of the most diligent point guards ever. He piloted Utah’s consecutive NBA Finals berths, won two Olympic gold medals and was a perpetual All-Star for most of the decade.
#13 Gary Payton
Cohen’s Analysis: There was nobody more stifling in the backcourt during the 90s than Payton, who claimed the league’s Defensive Player of the Year honor in 1996. In that same year, he steered the Sonics to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t until the 2000s that he would earn a ring (2006 with Miami), however.
#14 Clyde Drexler
Cohen’s Analysis: In totality, Drexler probably was a better all-time great than a few of the others ranked ahead of him on this list. However, when examining his play in the 90s, it’s perhaps safe to suggest that his best years were between 1986-1992.
He did win an NBA title with the Rockets in 1995 and had previously advanced to the NBA Finals twice with the Blazers (1990 & 1992). Drexler was also a member of the distinguished U.S. Olympic Dream Team in 1992.
#15 Grant Hill
Cohen’s Analysis: It feels so long ago, but at one time Hill was climbing up the charts and seemingly bound to evolve into a top 10 all-time NBA player. But as soon as he left Detroit for Orlando in 2000, injuries derailed his career.
Before that, however, Hill was similar to today’s LeBron James. He mostly served as a point forward because of his outstanding versatility. In just his second NBA season, for example, Grant averaged better than 20 points, nearly 10 rebounds and almost seven assists a game.