Top Moments: 1940s & 50s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s
NBA.com takes a look back at the top moments that define the history of the NBA.
Allen Iverson: In a league where size always mattered, “A.I.” proved little men can stand tall – and rise even taller. The former No. 1 overall pick in 1996 slashed and shot his way through any and all defenses, ultimately earning four scoring titles, Rookie of the Year honors, 11 All-Star appearances and three steals titles. Iverson’s 6-foot, 165-pound frame was on full display in 2000-01, when he earned league MVP honors and led the 76ers to their first NBA Finals since 1983. His vintage crossover dribble produced one of the most iconic moments in league history, when he used it to hit a clutch basket in Game 1 against the Lakers – before symbolically stepping over his defender after the shot went in.
Shaquille O’Neal: Considered one of the most dominant big men in basketball history, O’Neal’s peak occurred while playing with the Los Angeles Lakers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The former No. 1 overall pick in 1992 won four NBA championships, including three consecutive with Los Angeles (all of which saw him named Finals MVP) and another with Miami in 2006. O’Neal was named the 1999-2000 NBA MVP and amassed 15 All-Star appearances, two scoring titles and three All-Star MVP awards.
Yao Ming: When he entered the league as the No. 1 pick in 2002, the intrigue surrounding Yao was bigger than his size (7-foot-6, 310 pounds). The big man from China answered any and all questions with hard work and deft touch while earning All-Star honors in all eight seasons he played. The five-time All-NBA center averaged more than 22 points and nine rebounds in three straight seasons (2006-08) before helping lead Houston – the only NBA franchise for which he played – out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time in 12 years in 2008-09.
Chauncey Billups: After being traded three times in three years, the general consensus was out on the former No. 3 pick of the 1997 NBA Draft. Billups, however, never wavered as he continued to hone his game, which finally found a place to flourish in Detroit. It was there that the 6-foot-3 guard became “Mr. Big Shot,” a moniker earned for his propensity to hit game-deciding baskets in the closing minutes. Billups led the Pistons to a monumental upset of the heavily favored Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals, which earned him Finals MVP honors. The five-time All-Star became synonymous with the 2000s Pistons teams that contended for the Eastern Conference crown for half of that decade.
Kevin Garnett: When he was drafted, “The Big Ticket” was considered more of a big risk. Instead, Garnett was the poster child for an era of straight-out-of-high-school success stories. Just as groundbreaking was his style of play: 6-foot-11 with the ability to play inside or out on both ends of the floor. Garnett’s credentials speak for themselves: 15 All-Star nods, four rebounding titles, 12 All-Defensive honors, the 2003-04 MVP award and the 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year Award. After years of postseason frustration with the Timberwolves, Garnett broke through with the 2007-08 Boston Celtics, who beat the Lakers for the NBA championship.
Amar’e Stoudemire: He wasn’t nearly as heralded as the high school prospects that preceded him, but “STAT” made his own impact loud and clear in the Phoenix desert. The former ninth overall pick dunked his way to 2002-03 Rookie of the Year honors, an appetizer for the standout career that was to come. The six-time All-Star teamed up with two-time MVP Steve Nash to form one of the most feared pick-and-roll duos in NBA history — one that left no small amount of posters behind.
Jason Kidd: With and against some of most legendary scorers in NBA history, Kidd excelled at everything else. The former second overall pick used his combination of speed and vision to set up his teammates on offense and stymie opponents on defense. By the time his career was done, Kidd had used his non-scoring dominance to earn 1994-95 co-Rookie of the Year honors, 10 All-Star nods, five assist titles and nine All-Defensive honors. Kidd was the engine behind New Jersey’s back-to-back Finals appearances in 2002 and ’03, but it was in his second stint with Dallas that he finally broke through for an NBA championship in 2011.
Steve Nash: From one college scholarship offer to back-to-back NBA MVP awards, Nash defied the odds with legendary passing and efficient shooting. The former 15th overall pick helped revolutionize the game with the Phoenix Suns, who ran opponents into the ground with a breakneck pace and 3-point shooting that would eventually define the modern NBA game. Nash was at its head, leading the league is assists five times while boasting the most accurate free throw percentage (90.4 percent) in NBA history. By the end of his career, the eight-time All-Star ranked third all-time in total assists (10,334).
Grant Hill: For over half a decade, one the NBA’s most dominant small forwards played in Detroit. Hill’s combination of athleticism and on-court savvy equipped him to do pretty much anything he wanted on the floor, including averaging 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game with the Pistons. Injuries derailed what should have been an impressive prime, but Hill earned even more admirers for overcoming those setbacks and remaking himself into a key role player for contending Phoenix teams in the late 2000s. That, combined with seven All-Star appearances and the 1994-95 co-Rookie of the Year award, was more than enough to see Hill to the Hall of Fame.
Paul Pierce: Being selected 10th overall in the 1998 NBA Draft didn’t sit well with Pierce, and he carried that chip on his shoulder for his entire Hall-of-Fame-worthy career. The 6-foot-7 forward established himself as an iconic Boston Celtic with his ability to score and, eventually, win big. Pierce led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA title — their first 1986 – and earned Finals MVP honors in the process. “The Truth” ranks in the Celtics’ top 10 all-time in games played (fourth), minutes (third), points (second), free throws (first), rebounds (seventh), steals (first), assists (fifth), blocks (fourth), and 3-pointers (first).
Kobe Bryant: The NBA was looking for a post-Jordan superstar. The Lakers were looking for their next version of “Showtime.” Bryant filled both needs with scoring and athletic supremacy equaled by few. The former 13th overall pick and career-long Laker scorched nets, bent rims and willed his way to becoming one of the best players of all time. He won three championships alongside Shaquille O’Neal in his early twenties, led the league in scoring twice in his prime, then reclaimed the NBA crown twice more in 2009 and ’10. By the time his 20-year playing career was done, 18 All-Star rosters, 12 All-Defensive Team lists, two Finals MVP awards, four All-Star MVP awards and the 2007-08 NBA MVP award all bore Bryant’s name.
Tim Duncan: Few could ever meet the lofty expectations that met the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft. Duncan did – and then some. The 7-foot big man used flawless fundamentals on both sides of the court to dominate the paint for nearly two decades. He spent all of that time with the San Antonio Spurs, which rallied behind ‘The Big Fundamental’ for five NBA championships. Duncan was their focal point in both production and leadership, the combination of which earned him 15 All-Star appearances, two MVP awards, three Finals MVP awards and 15 All-Defensive Team honors.