Once, the NBA, like all of sports, was segregated with only white players allowed. That began to change in the 1960s with the rise of the civil rights movement and teams realizing the athletic potential of black players. Since then, the jokes abound of how white guys are at a disadvantage and just not as good as their black teammates. Some take it more seriously, arguing some real division and it shows how the league (and society itself) have a ways to go to fix racial issues. However, talent overcomes skin color so one can see that it doesn’t matter what race a man is, as long as he can play well on the court.
Of course, some can’t. Too many guys have proven the “white men can’t jump” line all too correct with utterly horrible play. Some of them have lucked into a title but nothing really major and just look wildly bad on the court. But others have managed to prove the doubters wrong, not just good but truly great and even legendary with championships and Hall of Fame spots. It may be rough to say but white NBA players are judged a bit differently than black ones, whether they’re good or bad. The bad just stink while the great can shine well. Here are the 10 best and 10 worst white players the NBA has seen.
20 BEST: Dave Cowens
Some felt Cowens was too light for the NBA despite being 6-foot-9. He was the all-time rebounder at Florida State, still holding records for his work there. Drafted by the Celtics, Cowens soon was a high scorer but also a rough manner, leading the league in personal fouls. He was named league MVP in 1973 as well as MVP of the All-Star game. He was a key component to the success of the Celtics in the 1970s, helping them win two NBA titles. He is one of only five players to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals, all in one season. Cowens was known for his intensity that could get him in trouble with some fights. But when he retired in 1980, he was still regarded as one of the better players the Celtics ever had and overcoming his skeptics well.
19 WORST: Todd Fuller
This is a man drafted ahead of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. The fact you may not remember him just showcases more how much of a total disaster he was on the court. Despite being seven feet tall, Fuller couldn’t put it all together for a decent career, never even reaching 850 points in his time. That was remarkable considering he’d led the Atlantic Conference in scoring and most assumed he’d make it work in the NBA. Instead, Fuller averaged about three points with worst field goals and barely able to do blocking. He spent three seasons before the Warriors cut him and bounced around the league before heading to Europe. Today, Fuller ranks high among the bigger draft busts in NBA history and that he was drafted ahead of a couple of future Hall of Famers remains one of the biggest head-scratchers in recent League history.
18 BEST: Bill Walton
His name is a legend in basketball circles. At UCLA, Walton was part of the powerhouse Bruins squad that dominated the NCAA with multiple trips to the Final Four. Walton was named National College Player three years in a row, two of those years winning the National championship. Drafted by Portland, Walton had to sit out his first year due to a knee injury. But he came back big time, leading the Trail Blazers to the NBA title in 1977 and named MVP. He was named MVP the next year despite breaking his foot and many feel those injuries kept his numbers from being even higher. After several seasons with the Clippers, Walton signed with the Celtics where his experience aided an already great team, he and Larry Bird quite the effective combo. He was the winner of the “Sixth Man” award and helping the Celtics win the 1986 championship.
After retiring, Walton gained new fame as a broadcaster with his wild catchphrases and moments to certify his place as one of the most colorful players ever.
17 WORST: Cherokee Parks
Look up “Journeyman” in the dictionary and you’ll see his face. A promising player at Duke and part of the squad that won a national championship, Cherokee (named in honor of his grandmother’s heritage) was drafted 11th by the Mavericks in 1995 but lasted just one season. From there, he began filling out his travel case well, playing for the Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Wizards, Clippers, Suns, Clippers again and the Warriors. His best season was averaging seven points a game with Minnesota and was more famous for his wild style of tattoos and crazy hair. One would think with all those teams, Parks could have picked up some good skills and maybe even landed a title but he managed to avoid all that. Retiring at last, he moved on to try his hand as a club owner and playing in France and sadly Cherokee hardly lit up the courts in his time.
16 BEST: Rick Barry
At first, the sight of Rick Barry at the free throw line elicited snickers. His underhanded style of shooting seemed just ridiculous to look at. The laughter died when it hit opponents how effective it was as Barry finished his career with a .900 free throw percentage, a record that would stand for years. Drafted by the Warriors, Barry turned the team around instantly into a powerhouse reaching the playoffs. In the 1967 All-Star game, Barry scored 38 points against Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell. The easy winner of the Rookie of the Year award, Barry’s speed and skill helped make him a breakthrough. He also made headlines jumping from the Warriors to the ABA’s Oakland Oaks. Eventually, Barry went back to the Warriors to finally win the NBA title and named MVP. Retiring in 1980, Barry is still regarded as a Golden State icon and one of the best on the court in his time.
15 WORST: Mark Madsen
The dancing. Mention Mark Madsen to anyone and the first thing that comes to mind is some of the absolute worst dance moves ever seen on a court. It made him famous at Stanford and he somehow was able to use that to get himself drafted by the Lakers. The fact is, his dancing was better than his actual play as he averaged just two points per game. Incredibly, Shaquille O’Neal has stated that Madsen “beat me up in practice” which some assume has to be a joke. In “The Show,” a comprehensive history of the Lakers, Madsen rates literally one sentence.
He was part of the squad that won two titles and his dances at the celebrations somehow made fans think he was important to the team. He would go on to play for the Grizzlies and then cut from the Clippers. Yes, cut by the Clippers. If that’s not a clear sign how bad a player you are, nothing is.
14 BEST: Bob Cousy
At Holy Cross, Cousy twice led his school to the Final Four and a fantastic player. Drafted by the Boston Celtics and led them from a bad season to the playoffs. Soon, Cousy was the cornerstone of the Celtics offense, the man who helped forge the first Celtics dynasty that won six NBA titles. He regularly led the league in points and rebounds and also known for his dynamic power on the court to take it to opponents well. Retiring, Cousy continued his work as the first President of the NBA Players Association. Famously, he and Red Auberbach clashed a few times with Red taking shots at Cousy being a “hayseed” and such. But Red also counted Cousy as one of the best players he ever coached and without him, it’s doubtful the Celtics legacy would have gotten off the ground. For that alone, Cousy is still regarded as a Boston legend.
13 WORST: Pete Chilcutt
A good player at North Carolina, Chilcutt was drafted in the first round by the Kings who thought he could be a good clutch player. Instead, those talents basically vanished, the man scoring very poorly and not much impact on his own. He was just under 44 percent from the field and that got worse as his career went on. Most of the time, he rode the bench and when he did play, his effect was very limited and 4.3 points per game. He bounced around the league a lot, playing for the Pistons and caught a lucky break being part of the Rockets team that won the 1995 championship although his contributions were roughly nil. He played for the Jazz, Clippers and Cavs before hanging it up for a career that is the epitome of “forgettable” despite his potential.
12 BEST: Steve Nash
He’s high on the lists of the greatest players to never have a championship although it wasn’t for lack of trying. After making Santa Clara a more formidable team, Nash was drafted by the Suns and did quite well but was traded to the Mavericks. For four seasons, Nash showed good potential, especially with rebounding but didn’t seem able to get the breakthrough he needed and Dallas suffered. He wanted to stay with Dallas but Mark Cuban refused to pay him for what seemed to be a disappointing career.
So Nash signed with Phoenix and proceeded to turn into one of the best players in the league. He won back-to-back MVPs and led the Suns to several playoff runs (prompting Cuban to make the famous complaint “why couldn’t he play that well for us?”) Nash finished his career with the Lakers and while he sadly never got the championship ring he deserved, he can at least boast a fine Hall of Fame worthy career.
11 WORST: Chris Dudley
He’s not as bad as others on the list but clearly not that great either. He was decent with blocking and rebounding but having him on court for so long seemed baffling. His time at Yale (of all places) wasn’t notable at all so it was curious why Cleveland picked him. He averaged just three points per game and was soon known as one of the worst free throw shooters in the league. In 1989, he set a record for most missed shots from the line, five in one go. He also set a record in 1990 missing 13 consecutive free throws. Dumped by the Cavs, Dudley bounced to the Nets, Trail Blazers, the Knicks (actually making it to the Finals with them), the Suns and finished with Portland. He later ran for governor of Oregon, showing he was a bit better at business and politics than he ever was on the court.
10 BEST: John Stockton
The list wouldn't be complete without including one of the greatest playmakers the NBA has ever seen. In any other era, John Stockton likely would have won several NBA championships, but unfortunately, he was playing in an era where Michael Jordan was winning year after year and his Jazz teams always had fierce competition out west. Stockton teamed up with Karl Malone to form one of the deadliest duos in NBA history. Stockton retired as the NBA's all-time assists leader with 15,806 and he and The Mailman formed the ultimate pick and roll offense. The Jazz would fall short two years in a row to MJ's Bulls in the late '90, but Stockton racked up 10 All-Star appearances and stayed in Utah for all 20 years of his career.
9 WORST: Nikoloz Tskitshvili
Yet another case of a team who somehow thought a guy who played mostly abroad would be a good fit for the NBA. The Nuggets actually passed on Amar’e Stoudemire to get this guy and at least Stoudemire was a competent player. What makes this weirder is that Nikoloz wasn’t even that good, averaging about six points in fifteen games, making it baffling why any NBA team would think he was worth a high draft pick. Sure, at seven feet tall, he looked impressive but as most know, tall size doesn’t automatically equal great basketball skills. In 172 games, he shot just 30 percent off the floor before the Nuggets finally dumped him.
In the span of two years, Nikoloz went to the Timberwolves, the Suns and the Warriors and made no impact for any of them. He returned to Italy for about a dozen more teams, making this one of the worst choices the Nuggets ever made.
8 BEST: George Mikan
“Mr. Basketball” was well known for the thick glasses he wore through his career which got some teasing at first from opponents. That ended with Mikan proceeded to run rings around them on the court. After a good time at DePaul, Mikan played for the Chicago Gears of the old NBL and led them to a title. He then moved onto the Lakers in the BAA which then merged to form the NBA.
Mikan was soon the dominant player of this new league, winning scoring titles and leading the Lakers to the first-ever NBA championship. Mikan shattered a leg in 1950 but still averaged 20 points with it taped up before it finally got too much for him so he underwent surgery. He led the Lakers to two more titles and later became their coach and part of the first NBA Hall of Fame class, a deserving award for such a groundbreaker.
7 WORST: Shawn Bradley
You can’t do a list of “worst players” without including the “Storming Mormon.” After a great career at BYU, Bradley was drafted by the 76ers at second. Philadelphia assumed a seven and a half foot tall guy would be a great addition to their offense, a fine rebounder and blocker if nothing else. It turned out what they got was “nothing else.” His blocks were good but his rebounding numbers very poor for someone his size. Instead of a dominant force on the court, Bradley only averaged eight points a game as it soon turned out his size was holding him back, slow on the court and often uncoordinated. Even the legendary Moses Malone couldn’t do much to help the guy get on track.
Just 12 games into his third season, the 76ers traded him to the Nets where he did slightly better but still nowhere near as good as expected. He finished with the Mavericks, once more showing inconsistent play that ruined his potential. Today better known by his mocking nicknames, Bradley showcases how a big size doesn’t mean a good player.
6 BEST: John Havlicek
Only Bill Russell and Sam Jones can boast more championship rings than this man. And he has a better record in the Finals. While those two got more of the attention, Havlicek was just as key a component to the Celtics dynasty that won eight NBA titles from 1963 to 1976. Havlicek was already a star, having been part of the Ohio State team that won the 1960 national title. Havlicek was actually drafted by the Cleveland Browns and played briefly but figured basketball was a better pick for him. He was dead right as Havlicek basically became the first “sixth man” of the modern NBA era, his clutch plays helping the Celtics win several of those titles.
He is still the Celtics’ all-time leading scorer (26,395 points) and the most games played (1,270) a 13-time All Star and go this due by winning the MVP for the 1974 Finals. While Russell got the press, Havlicek was key to the Celtics dynasty.
5 WORST: Adam Morrison
It takes a lot to be called bad when you have two NBA championship rings. Adam Morrison managed that remarkable feat. What makes it worse is that the guy looked to be a true star in the making. His fantastic play for Gonzaga earned him numerous awards and a Sweet Sixteen spot and the Bobcats were overjoyed to grab him. However, a knee injury in his rookie year appeared to rob Morrison of his greatness. When he returned, he was clearly slower and not as good on the court, missing easy plays and his contributions declining. Traded to the Lakers, he was part of the team that won back-to-back titles but only had limited time in 39 games and two playoff games.
Released after the second title, he eventually made his way to Europe to close things out. Maybe without that injury, things would be different but as it stands, Morrison makes people shake their heads that he has two rings when so many more deserving guys don’t have one.
4 BEST: Jerry West
He is, quite literally, the logo of the NBA, that shadowy figure dribbling along. Mr. Clutch and Mr. Outside are also among his legendary names as in his prime, West was one of the greatest players ever seen. He is an honored figure in Los Angeles, playing his entire career for the team, including when they were still in Minneapolis. He helped them rise well, a 14-time All-Star and managing to win MVP even when the Lakers lost the Finals in 1969. In 1972, he finally got them to the title and seen as a fine capper on his career. After he retired, West went on to become coach to lead the Lakers to the playoffs in three straight seasons. Soon rising as general manager West pulled off moves (like landing Magic Johnson and Pat Riley) to forge the “Showtime” dynasty of the 1980s.
Under his run, the Lakers won six titles and West’s legacy is secure as not just one of the best players but best GMs the NBA ever seen and most credit him with making the Lakers so iconic.
3 WORST: Jon Koncak
Today, a $13 million contract is chump change for an NBA player. In 1989, this was a huge amount, bigger than anyone else in the league. And did it go to Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan or Isiah Thomas? No, it went to a man who basically a reserve player whose college career had been middling at best. Koncak wasn’t as bad as some say but in no way whatsoever did he deserve to be so highly paid and most in the NBA could not believe Atlanta choked this out. For ten seasons, Koncak played for Atlanta, dependable but simply not a star guy or even that leading a player on the court.
He averaged barely five points a game in his career and was only with Atlanta so long because they couldn’t afford to get rid of him. Retiring in 1996, Koncak is better known today as “Jon Contract” and still held as arguably the most overpaid player in the history of the league.
2 BEST: Larry Bird
Stories abound of how so many NBA players in the 1980s first faced off against Larry Bird, figuring he was just another gawky white guy. The next thing they knew, the man had scored at least 30 points off of them while leaving them in the dust with his amazing speed and skill. Bird was the force that helped the Celtics reclaim their former glory, leading them to three NBA titles and for three straight seasons was the MVP of the league. This in a time when Magic Johnson and Julius Erving were in their primes yet Bird was the one noted as the better player. He could be amazingly intimidating, trash-talking with the best of them and his temper led to some wild fights. But Bird and Johnson forged one of the greatest rivalries around despite how they truly respected and even liked one another. Retiring in 1992 after injuries, Bird is the only man to be named MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year and his legacy as one of the greats of any skin color is certified.
1 WORST: Darko Milicic
Let’s put this in perspective. In the 2003 draft, Milicic went after LeBron James and before Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Let that sink in. Yes, he was part of the Pistons’ 2004 championship team but was mostly on the bench for that season, only appearing in eight games with a single point. He seemed to lack the basic instincts of play, making mistakes a high school freshman would avoid and his utterly baffling inability to make the easy plays threw his team off. Finally cut, Milicic bounced around the league with the Timberwolves, Magic, Grizzlies, Knicks and Celtics, most of the time seeing no time on the court. Finally retiring, he stands as probably the worst example of the NBA’s obsession with European players and has a very underserved ring.