"With the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets select....Kobe Bryant from Lower Merion High School."
These were the words that came out of commissioner David Stern's mouth nearly 20 years ago in a draft that many people would argue is one of the best in history. This was a talented bunch that produced three MVPs, 10 All-Stars and eight players that were on at least one All-NBA team at some point in their respective careers. However, there is one player that will always and forever be the best player in this draft and that's obviously the aforementioned Kobe Bryant.
Coming out of high school, Bryant was looked at as a very talented player with potential, but it was Jerry West who saw the most in the 17-year-old after seeing his pre-draft workouts and made the choice to trade Vlade Divac to Charlotte for the rights to Kobe. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that was the right call.
Over the span of two decades, Kobe Bryant has become one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA. Whether you love him or hate him, that is a fact. He has won five NBA titles, the 2008 MVP, is a 17-time All-Star, has been on the All-NBA First Team 11 times, has been on the All-Defensive First Team 9 times, is a two-time scoring champion, has won two Olympic gold medals, sits third on the all-time scoring list, and has given fans countless moments that we'll remember forever.
It's amazing to think about what the NBA would have been like had somebody else taken that chance on Kobe before the 13th selection. Don't get me wrong, there were some great players taken ahead of him. However, knowing what we now know, there has to be some teams that were kicking themselves only a few years after this draft. Kobe Bryant has been with one team his entire career. The 12 players selected before him have played for a combined 58. Kobe Bryant won five NBA championships. The 12 players selected before him won a total of four.
With all of that being said, it's obvious that nobody from the top dozen picks in the 1996 NBA Draft is quite in Kobe Bryant's league. There are a couple that are just a tier or two below, but there's also some in here that made no real impact at all. Let's go ahead and rank the 12 players that were selected before Kobe Bryant.
12 Todd Fuller - selected 11th by Golden State Warriors
Teams played for: 4- Golden State, Utah, Charlotte, Miami
Career stats: 3.7 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game
Well, somebody had to be last and this was actually an easy call. Todd Fuller was a great player at North Carolina State and was actually first first-team All-ACC in 1996. He was a big guy at 6-foot-11 and 255 pounds, but his game just never translated to the NBA. He spent his first three seasons in Golden State before playing for three teams in his final two years in the NBA. Perhaps the Warriors could have ended that title drought sooner by picking Kobe.
11 Samaki Walker - selected 9th by Dallas Mavericks
Teams played for: 6-Dallas, San Antonio, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami, Washington, Indiana
Career stats: 5.3 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game
Samaki Walker actually has one of those four NBA titles that I mentioned previously. However, it was as a teammate of guess who on the 2002 Lakers. He would win another championship in the Syrian League in 2008, but Walker's claim to fame is actually a shot that shouldn't have counted. In Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, he hit a shot at the buzzer before halftime and replays on TV showed that it shouldn't have counted. The Lakers won that game by one. The shot became the basis for the decision to enable instant replays to be reviewed by officials.
10 Vitaly Potapenko - selected 12th by Cleveland Cavaliers
Teams played for: 4- Cleveland, Boston, Seattle, Sacramento
Career stats: 6.5 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game
I'm really not trying to be mean here, but when the Cleveland Cavaliers want Andrew DeClercq instead of you, a Hall of Fame career isn't in the cards. However, had the Cavs drafted Kobe, they probably would have never been as bad as they were to put themselves in a position to draft LeBron James seven years later. Either way, they still haven't broken that championship curse that seems to plague the city.
9 Lorenzen Wright - selected 7th by Los Angeles Clippers
Teams played for: 6 - Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta, Memphis, Atlanta, Sacramento, Cleveland
Career stats: 8.0 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game
Chalk this up to yet another interesting draft decision by the Clippers in the 90s. Lorenzen Wright was a talented player coming out of Memphis, but I never saw him as a top-10 pick no matter what year it was. He was a very serviceable player throughout his career, and playing for the Clippers for even a few years back then could damage just about anybody's confidence level. Wright's career never recovered and he would switch teams five different times after leaving Los Angeles. He would leave the NBA in 2009 and would be found dead a year later, a crime that is still unsolved.
8 Kerry Kittles - selected 8th by New Jersey Nets
Teams played for: 2 - New Jersey, Los Angeles Clippers
Career stats: 14.1 points per game, 2.6 assists per game, 1.6 steals per game
If it weren't for injuries, I think Kerry Kittles could have ended up much higher on this list, but things are what they are. However, he was able to be a key part of the New Jersey Nets team that went to the NBA Finals two straight times. Jason Kidd was the leader of that team, but without Kittles, I don't think they would have made it as far as they did in either instance.
I think he was on his way to becoming an All-Star caliber player before he had to miss the entire 2000-01 season due to injury. He came back as a good player, but never fully reached his potential and was gone from the NBA after only eight seasons.
7 Erick Dampier - selected 10th by Indiana Pacers
Teams played for: 5 - Indiana, Golden State, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta
Career stats: 7.4 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game
I'd venture to say that Erick Dampier's career could be called a success. It's not easy for anybody to play 16 seasons in the NBA and Dampier fell only 13 games short of 1,000. He played in two NBA Finals and on an interesting note was on the wrong end of the Heat-Mavericks mini-rivalry both times. In 2006, his Mavericks team lost to Wade & Shaq's Heat and in 2011, his LeBron-led Heat lost to Dirk Nowitzki's Mavericks. Overall, Erick Dampier had a very solid NBA career.
6 Shareef Abdur-Rahim - selected 3rd by Vancouver Grizzlies
Teams played for: 4 - Vancouver, Atlanta, Portland, Sacramento
Career stats: 18.1 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game, 2.5 assists per game
Shareef Abdur-Rahim just had a big case of bad luck throughout most of his NBA career. He was a good player on a lot of bad teams. Being drafted by the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies was the start of it. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting and was the standout of those early teams, averaging 20 points or more four out of his five years in Canada.
He continued to score well after going to Atlanta, but the Hawks failed to really put anybody around him. As his career progressed, his teams would continue to struggle and he would set the record for most games played in the NBA without ever playing in the playoffs.
Finally, as a member of the Kings in 2006, he made his postseason debut after a decade in the league. Unfortunately, a persistent knee injury forced him out of the league only two years later. On a bright note for "Reef", he did win a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics. At least he was on one good team.
5 Stephon Marbury - selected 4th by Milwaukee Bucks
Teams played for: 5-Minnesota, New Jersey, Phoenix, New York, Boston
Career stats: 19.3 points per game, 7.6 assists per game
Stephon Marbury is an interesting individual to say the least. Traded to Minnesota for Ray Allen shortly after being drafted, he joined Kevin Garnett and helped the Timberwolves to the playoffs very early in his career. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting and put up very good numbers, but speculation that he was jealous of Garnett's contract and wanting a better market led to his departure to New Jersey.
It wasn't until he left for Phoenix that the Nets would make their run to the NBA Finals. Once again, he put up extremely good numbers and was a member of the All-NBA Third Team in 2003 as a member of the Suns. He spent a very controversial five years in New York, including an extremely public spat with coach Isiah Thomas, before closing out his NBA life in Boston in 2009. But that wasn't it for Marbury.
He has had a very successful career in China, winning three CBA championships and he even had a statue built to honor him. Overall, Marbury had a very good NBA career, but can you imagine what a Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant team would have looked like had Minnesota gone in that direction?
4 Marcus Camby - selected 2nd by Toronto Raptors
Teams played for: 7 - Toronto, New York, Denver, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland, Houston, New York
Career stats: 9.5 points per game, 9.8 rebounds per game, 2.4 blocks per game
Over 17 years in the NBA, Marcus Camby became one of the premier defensive players in the game. He led the league in blocks in his rookie season and would win Defensive Player of the Year honors ten years later as a member of the Denver Nuggets. He would lead the league in blocks on four separate occasions and sits at 12th on the all-time blocks list with 2,331. After the career he had at UMass, it's easily understandable why the Raptors made this choice.
3 Antoine Walker - selected 6th by Boston Celtics
Teams played for: 6 - Boston, Dallas, Atlanta, Boston, Miami, Minnesota
Career stats: 17.5 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game, 3.5 assists per game
There's been a lot of news recently about how close the Celtics were to drafting Kobe Bryant. Even a picture surfaced on Kobe's pre-draft workout in Celtics gear. However, they went another direction in 1996 by drafting NCAA champion Antoine Walker out of Kentucky. Paul Pierce would join him later on and the tandem would lead the Celtics to their first playoff berth in seven years in the 2001-02 season. During his tenure in Boston, Walker would make the All-Star team three times before being traded to Dallas in 2003.
Struggling with an overcrowded roster, he was moved to Atlanta before coming back to Boston in the middle of the 2004-05 season. He would be dealt yet again the following season to Miami in the largest (13 players) trade in NBA history. Coming off the bench, Walker would thrive in the playoffs, with the Heat winning their first championship. People often forget the skill set that Walker had. He could go from deep or drive to the basket and was an above average scorer and a solid rebounder during his dozen years as a pro. And seriously, can you imagine a world where Kobe Bryant was a Celtic instead of a Laker?
2 T1. Ray Allen - selected 5th by Minnesota Timberwolves
Teams played for: 4-Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston, Miami
Career stats: 18.9 points per game, 3.4 assists per game
Yep, I'm copping out. I honestly went back and forth with this decision and just couldn't choose between the final two on this list. So I'm calling it a tie and I'm really okay with it.
On this hand, you have Ray Allen, the man with the prettiest jumper in the history of the NBA. He made more 3-pointers than anybody in NBA history with 2,973. For a while there, he held the record for most triples made in a season, but that's been broken by Stephen Curry, who will probably end up breaking the all-time record as well. He's 22nd on the all-time scoring list with 24,505 points. He's a ten-time All-Star, won an Olympic gold medal in 2000, and has two NBA championship rings, one each with the Celtics and Heat and was instrumental in the winning of both. Throw in the He Got Game movie role and you're left with one hell of a career. Not bad for somebody that Kobe once had a little beef with.
1 T1. Allen Iverson - selected 1st by Philadelphia 76ers
Teams played for: 5-Philadelphia, Denver, Detroit, Memphis, Philadelphia
Career stats: 26.7 points per game, 6.2 assists per game
On this hand, you've got Allen Iverson, the number one overall pick of this historic draft. He doesn't have the championship rings that Ray Allen has, but he does have that MVP trophy from 2001 helping his case. He also led his 76ers past Ray Allen's Bucks to reach the 2001 NBA Finals, only to lose to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. As Ray Allen is 22nd on the all-time scoring list, Iverson is 23rd with 24,368 points. He was an All-NBA First Team selection three teams, an 11-time All-Star, and the Rookie of the Year in this highly-touted class. He led the league in scoring four times and if I were to do a list of all-time press conferences, Allen Iverson would easily be on his own at number one for his epic rant about practice.
That's merely my opinion on the 12 players that were selected ahead of Kobe Bryant in the 1996 NBA Draft. What would you change? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Please feel free to leave your comments at the bottom of this page.