To make it to the ranks of the NBA is a tremendous accomplishment for any basketball player. It’s the culmination of years of preparation, a validation for the hundreds of hours of sweat and sacrifice that go on behind the scenes. Finally making an NBA roster is the realization of a lifelong dream for any aspiring hoops star, and being recognized as one of the 200 or so best people in the world at your chosen profession is something anyone would be proud of.
However, even among the cream of the crop there’s always another level to aspire to. Fringe guys want to become role players, role players chase starting spots, and starters are always hoping to get a special kind of recognition, one that affirms their position among the league’s elite: a spot on one of the All-Star teams. The midseason game between the Eastern and Western Conferences is a tradition almost as old as the league itself, celebrating the very best players in a fun and fan-friendly environment.
Unfortunately, just like on a regular NBA team, there’s a ton of deserving players competing for a limited number of coveted spots. Inevitably, this leads to players who, despite having fantastic seasons, don’t get invited to the party. Some of this is an unfortunate byproduct of putting the vote for the starting lineups in the hands of fans, who don’t always make the most logical, informed choices (looking at you, Zaza Pachulia). The league has tried to combat this problem this year by giving players and media members a chance to weigh in on the proceedings, but ultimately no matter what you do, some very talented players are bound to become victims of a numbers game.
More often than not, these players will get an opportunity to shine some other year, but in a few tragic cases, that chance never comes. And unlike a distinguished actor who never wins an Oscar, there isn’t even a lifetime achievement award to act as a consolation prize. Here’s an attempt to rectify that, a list to recognize the “Almost-Stars” that never got their due.
15 Brent Barry
One of three Barry brothers to make it to the NBA—following in the footsteps of their father, Hall-of-Famer Rick Barry—Brent had the most successful career thanks in part due to his physical superiority. Standing 6’6” with dunk contest-worthy athleticism, he possessed ideal tools for the shooting guard position. Oh, and speaking of shooting, he was pretty good at that too. In fact, Barry ranks 25th in career three-point accuracy (40.5%), and is the only player in NBA history to have led the league in three-point percentage (2000-’01) and two point percentage (2001-02).
His best season came in 2001-02, when he put up 14.4 points, 5.4 boards, 5.3 dimes and 1.8 steals, to go along with the aforementioned insanely efficient shooting. It still wasn’t enough to make him an All-Star, but I’m sure he’d take his two rings over a chance to play a glorified pickup game any day.
14 Mike Bibby
Being from the west coast of Canada, I’ll always have fond memories of Bibby, who was taken second overall by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 1998 NBA draft. Do I wish they’d taken Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, or Vince Carter instead? Absolutely; it would be insane not to. But to his credit, Bibby was great enough himself in those first few years that the sting of regret never got to an unbearable level. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies still sucked, but a change of fortune was in store for Bibby that would allow him to really come into his own. He was traded from a last place laughing stock to Sacramento, a 61-win juggernaut in his first season with the team.
It was here that he would have his most success, on both a team and individual level. In arguably his best season, he averaged nearly 20 points and seven assists per contest for a 50-win Kings team, but he couldn’t barter those strong numbers into an All-Star appearance.
13 Derek Harper
Harper was highly regarded coming out of college, hearing his name called just 11 picks into the 1983 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks. His size at 6’4” gave him an advantage over other point guards, and he used it to score with uncommon efficiency for his position. He was also a pesky defender, ranking 14th all-time in steals and making two All-Defensive teams. However, most of his 10 years in Dallas were spent in the shadow of his teammates Rolando Blackman and Mark Aguirre, who combined for seven All-Star appearances. By the time Harper got traded, he was past his prime, and although he came within one game of a championship in his first season with the Knicks, he never again achieved the kind of individual success he’d had in Dallas.
12 Marcus Camby
From day one, Camby was a defensive juggernaut, leading the league in blocks per game in just his second season as a pro. Over the course of 17 seasons, Camby would amass three more shot blocking titles, four All-Defensive team nods, and one Defensive Player of the Year award. Unfortunately for Camby, defense is an often under-appreciated aspect of the game, particularly from the standpoint of fans who would rather vote for a flashy scorer than a stingy rim protector. He showed some early promise on the offensive end, averaging 14.8 points per game as a rookie, but he never bested that number and finished his career averaging under 10 points per contest.
Injuries also played a huge role in his All-Star absence; it wasn’t until his eighth season that he was able to play more than 70 games, and consequently most of his best years came after the age of 30. Had he been healthy during his prime, it’s not impossible to imagine that Camby could have developed into a defensive-minded perennial All-Star like Kevin Garnett.
11 Jason Terry
Jason “The Jet” Terry is probably best remembered as Dirk’s sidekick on some great Dallas teams, but he was a terrific scorer in Atlanta for several years before. The change of scenery from a mediocre-at-best franchise to a title contender did wonders for Terry’s efficiency while doing little to dampen his prolific scoring output. Given the tremendous success of the Mavericks during Terry’s tenure, it’s unfortunate that Terry’s invaluable contributions were left unrecognized, with the assumption being that Dallas was Dirk’s team, and Dirk’s alone.
While Nowitzki was and still is certainly the face of the franchise, it seems strange that other highly successful teams almost always have at least one other All-Star. Hell, LeBron even turned Mo Williams into an All-Star for a year. If you ask me, being the second-leading scorer on a 60-win team should result in an almost automatic invitation to the All-Star game.
10 Jerome Kersey
An unheralded prospect coming out of a NCAA Division II school, Kersey was selected by Portland near the end of the second round of the 1984 NBA draft after future all-time greats like Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. It didn’t take him long to establish himself as one of the most explosive wings in the league, finishing runner-up to His Airness in the 1987 Dunk Contest. Together with Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler, Buck Williams, and Kevin Duckworth, Kersey helped form one of the most formidable starting lineups in the NBA, which took Portland to the Finals twice in a three-year span.
Unfortunately, Kersey was the odd man out when it came to individual accolades, with all four of his teammates earning multiple All-Star nods in their careers. It may simply have been a case of too much talent on one team for him to stand out. Tragically, Kersey died suddenly two years ago from a pulmonary embolism, but true Blazers fans will always remember him as a franchise great, All-Star or not.
9 Sam Perkins
Another member of the historic 1984 draft, Perkins was so highly regarded that he was picked fourth overall, right between Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. Having won a national title as a Tar Heel in 1982 with Jordan, and a gold medal in 1984—also with Jordan—Perkins was no stranger to success prior to becoming a pro. He was never quite able to recreate that success in the NBA, failing to win a championship—despite three Finals appearances—or garner an All-Star nod.
Combined with his lofty draft position, his lack of awards and accolades make it easy to write him off as bust like Sam Bowie, but “Sleepy Sam” was definitely no slouch. He averaged double figures in scoring for his first 13 seasons thanks to his silky smooth shooting stroke and mobility at the forward position. Unfortunately, consistency and durability are traits that are only appreciated once a player retires. It’s too bad Perkins wasn’t born 30 years later, as his size and shooting would have made him the perfect stretch-four in today’s game, and his talents may have been better utilized and rewarded.
8 Kevin Martin
Since he officially announced his retirement a couple months ago, it’s now safe to say that Martin will never make an All-Star team, a travesty for a player with five seasons of 20+ point per game production under his belt. Martin’s famously ugly but accurate shot was the definition of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and he regularly killed opposing teams from the three-point and free throw lines. What kept him from becoming an All-Star was a lack of major contributions in any area—especially defense—other than scoring, and, more than anything, a brittle body.
His nearly constant injury woes caused him to miss significant time, and was likely one of the main reasons he’s now retired at just 33 years old. On better teams with better health, he easily could have carved out a Richard Hamilton-type role and made multiple All-Star teams.
7 Al Jefferson
Big Al’s playing days are far from over, but he’s not getting any younger, and his production has been steadily declining for the past few seasons. If he was going to make an All-Star team in his career, it’s almost certain he would have done so by now. So why has a player with an All-NBA selection and three seasons averaging 20+ points and 10+ rebounds never been an All-Star? Certainly some of it has to do with his questionable at best defense, but other bigs with similar liabilities, like Carlos Boozer, have been perennial All-Stars.
Playing mostly for bad teams hasn’t helped his case either, since casual voters aren’t going to care about who’s scoring 20 on a lottery-bound team. Ultimately, it’s probably a combination of these factors combined with the fading relevance of traditional back-to-the-basket big men like Jefferson. If you can’t shoot threes or protect the rim in today’s game, you’re going to struggle to get playing time, let alone All-Star invitations.
6 Andre Miller
One of the NBA’s great ironmen, Miller has missed two or fewer games in an incredible 15 of his 17 seasons. He’s stuck around the league for so long for good reason too, proving from day one to be a consummate floor general who can still score with the kind of old man’s game that ages well. Though he hasn’t officially retired yet, the 40-year-old has yet to play a game or even sign with a team this season, so his return seems unlikely. He currently sits ninth all-time in assists, and led the league in that category for the 2001-02 season.
His lack of flash may have cost him an All-Star spot or two, but that same workmanlike consistency and below-the-rim craftiness are what have allowed him to ward off injuries and keep playing at a high level for so long.
5 Lamar Odom
Odom’s very public fall from grace has been the lasting impression most casual sports fans have had of the 6’10” forward-turned-reality star. It’s unfortunate that mental health issues and drug abuse have derailed his life and superseded a very successful basketball career. His versatility and unique skill set were apparent early on in his development, leading him to be chosen with the fourth pick of the 1999 NBA draft. He made an immediate impact as a rookie with averages of 16.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists, numbers only Magic Johnson and LeBron James have matched as 20-year-olds.
Unfortunately, he never really improved substantially from that point, and became a victim of his own hype. He was doomed to be labeled an underachiever, even after playing a key role in winning two titles with the Lakers. Still, even if he only ever reached a fraction of his seemingly limitless potential, his jaw-dropping skills and robust production should have been enough to make him an All-Star.
4 Rod Strickland
One in a long line of great New York point guards, Strickland had a tremendously well-rounded game with the perfect balance of scoring and playmaking while providing solid defense at his position. His quickness and elite handles gave him the ability to blow past defenders and into the lane with ease where he would use his creative finishing ability or vision to create scoring opportunities. He did have some weaknesses however, struggling as a shooter (28.2% from three and 72.1% from the line for his career) and never making it past the first round of the playoffs other than his first two seasons. Still, with one assist title and an All-NBA Second Team selection on his résumé, it’s perplexing that he was never once considered an All-Star.
3 Richard Jefferson
As one of the league’s elder statesmen, it’s easy to forget that Richard Jefferson was once a go-to scorer and staunch defender instead of the still-energetic role player he is now. Teaming up with Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin, Jefferson and the Nets made it all the way to the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons to start his career, losing both times. The Nets’ addition of Vince Carter gave them one of the most potently athletic wing duos in the league, but they were unable to replicate their previous team success. Perhaps that's what caused Jefferson to be snubbed.
Jefferson would finally win that elusive title 13 years and five teams later with the Cavaliers last year, but he never did get the All-Star recognition he deserved.
2 Byron Scott
Younger readers might be more familiar with Scott from his coaching career, but he was previously an immensely productive and accomplished player. As Magic Johnson’s starting backcourt mate for the “Showtime” Lakers, Scott won three rings, playing a key role in each of them. Although he had several strong seasons playing for a winning team, Scott was never rewarded with an All-Star invitation. The most inexplicable omission came during the 1987-88 season, in which Scott led the Lakers in scoring, steals, and three-pointers, carrying them to the best record in the NBA and eventually, another championship.
They were still clearly Johnson’s team but Scott’s impact was undeniable. As a champion and proven winner, he deserved the benefit of the doubt, and when you add in his stellar numbers, there’s no doubt that he absolutely got robbed that season.
1 Cedric Maxwell
As a two-time NBA Champion, a member of the legendary Boston Celtics and former Finals MVP, Maxwell’s résumé reads like a veritable wish list of everything you’d ever want out of an NBA career. But there’s one conspicuous accolade missing; a single All-Star appearance. How on Earth does a man who was once the most valuable player on his team during a championship run not see any action as an All-Star? It’s true that his prime was short-lived, but he managed to twice lead the league in field goal percentage and averaged 19.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in his best individual season. His numbers dipped once a certain Larry Bird joined the team and helped turn the franchise around, but as one of the top scorers on multiple 60+ win teams, it’s a shame his talents were never validated by being named an All-Star.