The staff at ESPN have compliled a Top 100 list of the Most Influential NBA players of all time. Several former members of the Portland Trail Blazers qualified for inclusion. The list, complete with photos and histories, spans the entirety of the league. Talent was not necessarily the only determining factor for inclusion. The list represents ESPN’s interpretation of the players “who have done the most to change the way we play the game, how we talk about the game, and the culture of basketball”.
The tally starts with Rasheed Wallace at #84.
Wallace remains the ultimate eye-of-the-beholder NBA star. There are as many different ways to interpret his career as there were distinctive expressions -- from amusement to shock to outrage -- on his face when he played.
Sheed won a lot in multiple stops but frustrated teammates, coaches and fans just as much. His emotional outbursts earned him technical fouls at unprecedented rates, and he could be moody and difficult -- such as telling reporters repeatedly, “Both teams played hard.” But he also became a beloved teammate and the key addition helping the Pistons to the 2004 NBA title when the Trail Blazers decided to move him.
His game was also a mixture, as he eschewed the opportunity to dominate down low and stayed outside to show off one of the NBA’s sweetest shooting strokes, becoming a forerunner of today’s stretch-4s and 5s.
Wallace is remembered for his one-of-a-kind talent and personality, but ultimately it might be three words that outlive everything else: “Ball don’t lie!”
Danny Ainge falls at 82.
He began as college player of the year at BYU and a cross-sport athlete who played 211 games for MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays. Drafted into the NBA by Red Auerbach in 1981, he took his brash, combative style to Boston and became a starting combo guard for two title teams. One of the most prolific 3-point shooters of his day, he also helped two more teams reach the Finals -- Portland and Phoenix -- before a short stint as coach of the Suns.
Steve Kerr (Trail Blazer for one year in 2001-02) gets a mention at 76, then Clyde Drexler shows up 62nd position.
Clyde the Glide took his acrobatic game to Portland in 1983, and his budding stardom there influenced the Trail Blazers to draft Sam Bowie and pass on Michael Jordan, who played the same position as Drexler. But Drexler thrilled fans in Portland for a dozen years with his swooping forays to the basket and led the team twice to the NBA Finals.
Eventually Drexler would make 10 All-Star teams, play on the 1992 Dream Team and win a title in Houston -- and set a stylish template for athletic wing play for a generation to come.
Fan favorite, and international sensation, Arvydas Sabonis appears at 52.
Sabonis played seven seasons for the Blazers, but NBA fans didn’t get the best version of him. That existed earlier, in Lithuania and other European locales, especially before injuries slowed him...
With typical hyperbole, Bill Walton, in an interview for Grantland, captured the appeal of Sabonis’ game: “He could do everything. He had the skills of Larry Bird and Pete Maravich. He had the athleticism of Kareem, and he could shoot the 3-point shot. He could pass and run the floor, dribble. We should have carried out a plan in the early 1980s to kidnap him and bring him back right then.”
Fellow international player Drazen Petrovic gets a mention in 42nd position, elevated for his influence on European basketball.
Before Drazen Petrovic, there was no such thing as an international guard who could not only make it in the NBA, but maybe become a star. It was unimaginable. The best international players were lumbering big men with rare passing chops -- and the best of those, Arvydas Sabonis, came to the NBA well past his prime. European guards were too slow and too soft.
And then came Petrovic -- a fearless sharpshooter who drained audacious 3s, shouted trash talk right into the ears of the league’s biggest stars, and made an All-NBA team months before his tragic death. He was ahead of his time in every way, a basketball pioneer in the truest sense.
Then come the two heaviest hitters to wear a Trail Blazers uniform. Bill Walton steps into 28th...
Walton is considered by many the greatest college player ever, with three college player of the year awards and two NCAA titles, and he won an NBA title and MVP award as well. The teams he led are legendary -- the UCLA Bruins of John Wooden and the Portland Trail Blazers coached by Dr. Jack Ramsay. Late in his career, after years of injuries and frustration, he returned to play a key sixth man role for the Boston Celtics and win another championship.
Walton had a complete and unselfish game -- he could shoot, pass, defend, block shots and rebound, all at the highest level. He elevated the precision with which a center could play, with pinpoint passing and efficient scoring, including his legendary 21-for-22 shooting performance in the 1973 NCAA championship game.
Wearing a long red ponytail and embracing the counterculture, Walton became known equally well for his iconoclastic personality. Early in his career, he had a stutter, but he worked hard to overcome it and became one of the NBA’s and college game’s most distinctive, amusing broadcasters, effusive on basketball and almost every other topic.
...and Scottie Pippen at 27th, though not for his Blazers tenure:
Scottie Pippen played a unique role in the evolution of position-less basketball, with his length and smarts setting the standard for wing defenders and his ability to run a great team from the point forward position. Michael Jordan might not be the icon he is today without Pippen, who was by Jordan’s side on MJ’s greatest squads, including the Dream Team.
Jordan himself tops the list.