Many consider the 1990s to be the golden era of basketball in the NBA. Granted, a large part of that may well be due to the fact that the ‘90s is at that Goldilocks Zone point of nostalgia. Sorry, everyone, but we have to face a hard reality that when we argue how, “back in my day, the NBA had more talent than any guys playing today,” may just be our bitter selves refusing to accept our past as anything other than the glory days. Then again, the type of legends that represented the ‘90s era, from Michael Jordan’s Bulls to John Stockton and Karl Malone’s Jazz, make a very strong case that the league really was all that and a bag of chips before Y2K hit.
Amongst the all-time greats that came out of the ‘90s were some high-caliber players that were stars in their own right throughout the decade. With time, many of those names eventually fade in the background and eventually disappear. Here is a look into some of those star players who stood toe to toe with the legends on any given night. Going through the NBA’s biggest ‘90s names – now forgotten – raises one big question: where are they now?
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16 Kevin Johnson
The Phoenix Suns are a rotating door of incredible point guards, and Kevin Johnson was their guy in the ‘90s. Johnson was a pure scorer that could always find a way to the rim. The three-time All-Star had some of the filthiest handles and most memorable dunks over big men at the time. Johnson and Charles Barkley were a dynamic duo that made the retro Suns jersey the icon it is today. They also made it a hard to choice to pass up when playing NBA Jam.
After his retirement from the NBA, the Sacramento native returned to his hometown to start a very different career path: mayor. Johnson ran for, and was elected, to be the mayor of Sacramento in 2008. After his first term in office, Johnson ran for re-election in 2012 and won again. From a basketball career with numerous accolades to a long run in office, Johnson has been dominating whatever it is sets out to do.
15 Mookie Blaylock
Mookie Blaylock was one of the premier point guards in the league through the ‘90s. Blaylock was selected 12th overall in the 1989 draft by the New Jersey Nets and finished his career with the Warriors, but it was with the Atlanta Hawks from 1992-99 where he spent a majority of his radical ‘90s career. During his time with the Hawks, Blaylock was selected to the All-Star team in 1994. The same year (and next) he was All-Defensive First Team then in ’97 and ’98 he held the title as the NBA steals leader.
Blaylock may have had an illustrious NBA career, but he’s not living the high life today. In May 2013, Blaylock was behind the wheel in Clayton County, Georgia when his car drifted into the wrong lane and struck another car head-on. The woman hit in the accident did not survive, and Blaylock was charged with vehicular manslaughter. The former professional point guard pled guilty in October 2014. Blaylock, now 49, was sentenced to 15 years, which will include seven years of jail time and eight on probation.
14 Clifford Robinson
Clifford “Uncle Cliffy” Robinson had an unbelievable career that somehow nobody remembers. The Portland Trailblazers selected the former UConn Husky in the 1989. At 6-10, Robinson proved to be a unique athlete years ahead of his time, switching from power forward to small forward to center. What made the big man’s career so special was how long he managed to keep it going. Robinson’s career spanned an absurd 18 years, as he played from a spry 23 to the ripe old age of 40… Uncle Cliffy, indeed. Though Robinson was voted an All-Star in 1994, his stellar play continued long after. Even at age 38, as a Golden State Warrior, Robinson managed to start all 82 games in the season, averaging just shy of 35 minutes per game.
Uncle Cliffy hasn’t slowed down since retiring. Robinson’s face was still on TV, appearing as a contestant on the 28th season of Survivor, Survivor: Caragayan. He may not have made to the end, but that didn’t stop Robinson from continuing to win life. Uncle Cliffy continues to prove that he’s years ahead of his time. Portland, Oregon will soon know him by a new name and profession – Uncle Spliffy, your friendly neighborhood marijuana man. That’s not just a witty nickname, it will be the name of Robinson’s dispensary will be called when it opens, which should be sooner than later since Oregon can legally sell recreational cannabis in fall 2016. It’s a fitting career choice for a guy who was suspended twice for his “green thumb.”
13 Charles Oakley
Only a select few have spent more time playing in the NBA than Charles Oakley who went for a marathon-like 19 seasons. Ten of those years were spent in New York with the famous Knicks of the ‘90s. Oakley played power forward alongside HOF center Patrick Ewing. Oakley – who was actually traded by Chicago to New York – was a part of one of the NBA’s most famous rivalries in the star-studded Knicks-Bulls matchups. In 1994, Oakley’s seemingly automatic double-doubles earned him an All-Star selection and an appearance to the NBA Finals.
After Oakley’s playing days came to a close in 2004, he made his return to the court as an assistant coach for the Charlotte Bobcats 2010-11 season. Unfortunately due to back issues, the return was short-lived and the lone season was his only one spent on the coaching end. It may not be as thrilling, but Oakley is still in business in New York running Oakley’s Car Wash, which he opened back in ’95 when he was still playing.
12 Derrick Coleman
When Derrick Coleman was selected by the New Jersey Nets with the first overall pick in the 1990 draft, he did not let anyone of the fans down. Coleman was a beast on the boards and as a scorer right from the get-go. After being awarded Rookie of the Year, Coleman showed no signs of slowing down. D. C. roughly averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in his five years with the Nets. It was also with the Nets that he made his lone All-Star appearance in ’94.
Though many consider D.C. to be an “epic draft bust” due to his notorious lack of hustle, his talents were unparalleled. That may well be why many disgruntled fans have chosen to push him from their memories. Coleman might have preferred his name to be a forgotten one when it reemerged years after his retirement. It was announced in 2010 that Coleman had filed for bankruptcy. The intentions were good, investing his career earnings in Detroit development deals in an attempt to turn around the city. Unfortunately, we all know that Detroit never saw its resurgence, and the same goes for Coleman and his cash.
10 Mitch Richmond
Mitch Richmond had one of the purest shots in the NBA, hands down. The fifth overall pick in 1988 gave a taste of things to come in the ‘90s by earning Rookie of the Year in ’89. Richmond lit it up all decade long, dropping buckets against everyone as he averaged well over 20 points through until falling to 19.7 in the 1998-99 season. Richmond was the player to see on the Sacramento Kings, named an All-Star an astounding six straight seasons from 1992-98 of which he was the All-Star Game’s MVP in ‘95.
Since his retirement, Richmond has kept himself involved in basketball wherever he can. The Hall of Fame shooting guard made his return to Sacramento as a special assistant to the manager alongside former teammate Chris Mullin. In 2015 he moved from the NBA to NCAA, joining Mullin on a new team and taking the role of special assistant at St. John’s.
9 Alonzo Mourning
Alonzo Mourning was an NBA icon through the ‘90s. The seven-time All-Star center made four straight appearances in 1993-94. If a shot put up anywhere near Zo, it was likely going to get swatted right back in their face, which is why he was named two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Even though Zo only spent his first three seasons in Charlotte, Mourning’s Hornets jersey was one of those must-haves.
Other than a brief stint with the Nets, Mourning played the remainder of his career with the Heat where he continued to be an impact player for years. Mourning’s retired number isn’t the only thing still hanging around in Miami’s arena. He currently has served as Vice President of Player Programs and Development. Now, when kids see him at the games they’re wondering if that giant guy ever played basketball. No, kids… he dominated.
8 Penny Hardaway
Penny Hardaway was on one of the most ‘90s of all ‘90s NBA teams, the Orlando Magic. Hardaway was crazy talented. Many thought of Shaun Livingston as a player that would “change the point guard position” with his incredible 6-7 stature, but it was Hardaway who played three of his four All-Star seasons at the point long before. The versatile guard helped lead the Magic to the NBA Finals in just his second season, though much of his promising career eventually turned into a bunch of “what ifs.” Hardaway was like Grant Hill, one of the top talents in the league, but constantly marred with injuries that never allowed him to flourish.
Hardaway’s post-NBA career move was a powerful one. In 2012, the Memphis native returned home to help his childhood friend (who was also his high school teammate) coach a middle school basketball team. It was a kind gesture to help his friend as he battled terminal colon cancer. After taking home the state championship, Hardaway joined his middle school boys to win another at the high school level in 2015.
7 Glen Rice
Glen Rice was yet another player that made the ‘90s Hornets. Rice was a dominant small forward throughout the decade, playing the first six years of his career in Miami. It was with his second team in Charlotte where he really shined though. Rice only spent three years with the Hornets (1995-98), but all three were All-Star years. In the ’97 All-Star game, Rice was named the game’s MVP. Something about those teal and purple stripes that creates dominance.
In 2008 Rice’s love for another sport became more than just a passion. Rice was the owner and head of G-Force fights, an MMA promotion in Miami. The move was an interesting one, but apparently not one that lasted. The days of big earnings are long gone. It’s been reported that Rice is nearly broke now, struggling to make his child support payments and surviving on an income made primarily from autograph signings and training camps.
6 Gary Payton
Gary Payton was the face of the franchise on the Seattle Supersonics from the start to finish of the ‘90s. The 11-time All-Star earned five of those titles in a row from 1993-98. He was an all-around talent on the floor that could drop dimes, shoot the three, and play lockdown defense with the best of them. Payton was a deserving winner of the Defensive Player of the Year in ’96, eating up 2.9 steals per game.
Payton was hired as an analyst for Fox Sports in 2013, though he was indefinitely suspended in 2015 following allegations of domestic assault. Seattle’s former 2nd overall pick is now focusing his efforts back on the city that took him in to play professional ball. The former standout point guard has been making an effort to get an NBA team back in Seattle, and he’s made it clear that if the city was to get its team back he’d want in on the action.
5 Vin Baker
Vin Baker was one of the most promising young stars to enter the league in the ‘90s. It was as if Baker appeared out of thin air when he entered the 1993 draft after playing his college career for the completely unknown Hartford Hawks. The Bucks proved they made a great choice, as Baker was an NBA All-Star four straight years (his fourth with the Seattle Supersonics) from 1994-98. His heyday was short-lived. After the NBA lockout ended during the 1998-99 season, Baker’s weight skyrocketed and his game was never the same.
Baker, who had admitted to struggles with alcoholism, was pulled over near Foxwoods Resort Casino in 2007 (not far from where he grew up in Old Saybrook, CT) and was charged with a DUI. The former hero of Connecticut basketball later returned to Old Saybrook to coach his hometown’s middle school basketball to get a chance to coach his son. He has since moved on, working as a Starbucks manager in Kingston, RI in 2015 and living in sobriety since 2011.
4 Horace Grant
Horace Grant may have only earned one All-Star appearance (1994) during his 17-year career, but he brought so much to the game. Grant played a key role in each of his four championships, especially his three straight with Bulls from 1991-93. There was something even greater that that the power forward brought to the game in the ‘90s. The former Bulls and Magic standout reinvented the rec-specs game. While Grant’s fame has disappeared in time, overshadowed by great teammates like Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan, his incredible rec-specs game will live on forever.
The former Bulls standout that helped build the franchise is making his return to Chicago. Grant has been hired as a Special Assistant to the President and COO of the Bulls. It should be a welcome return to his home team after serving as an NBA Goodwill Ambassador for six years before getting his new gig.
3 Larry Johnson
Larry Johnson’s nickname may not be Larry Legend, but its greatness is pretty much equal with the title of Grandmama. NBA players have some great videos playing some pick-up games dressed as grandpas, but Johnson was the OG of the old person look when he dressed up as a grandma in a series of Converse ads. The NBA Rookie of the Year was also a two-time All-Star on the Hornets and continued his great legacy with Knicks. Johnson’s four-point play in ’99 to knock the Pacers out of the playoffs is still one of the most incredible plays in NBA playoff history. Johnson isn’t enjoying the same luxury today as he had in his playing days. In 2015, LJ filed for bankruptcy, and he’s now being sued by Bank of America for almost half a million dollars for stopping his payments on a bank loan back in 2007.
2 Shawn Kemp
The game continues to completely change as players seem to make athletic gains every year. As wild as dunks are today, the aerial feats by Shawn Kemp are still some of the greatest in the NBA. Every great guard needs a forward or center to truly shine, and Kemp was Gary Payton’s guy. Payton threw some unreal alley-oops to Kemp, but Kemp didn’t need a great pass to elevate on his own. The star PF had some shocking handles of his own and would embarrass defenders coast to coast before finishing with a slam.
Back in 2008 Kemp looked like he was going to make a comeback in Italy, but after Hurricane Ike hit, Kemp returned home to Houston to tend to damages to his house and never made a return to Italy. He did get a chance to show he still had some spring in his step by appearing on an episode of Pros vs. Joes. Kemp also owned a sports bar in Seattle, but his local fame wasn’t enough to keep the place running – it closed for business in 2015.
1 Hakeem Olajawon
Hakeem “The Dream” Olajawon was one of the most dominant players to ever play in the NBA. Olajawon was the greatest thing that ever happened to Houston, as he racked up laundry list of accolades. Everyone thinks of Jordan as the man that owned the NBA in the ‘90s, but Olajawon makes a strong case against that. The Dream won back to back championships in ’94 and ’95 (in which he was the Finals MVP both times), Defensive Player of the year in ’93 and ’94, MVP in ’94, and was a 12-time All-Star.
Since his retirement, the all-time NBA blocks leader has split his time between America and Africa. The Nigerian-born HOFer took a job in 2014 as an NBA Ambassador to Africa to help improve global relations. This has been an especially important priority for Olajawon who has faced oppression for his Muslim faith and history as an emigrant to the US.
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