Jay C. Brandriet
I want to share this with Rusty’s family. I’m most excited for his son Jayden to see this list. He is now 12 years old, and a huge sports fan just like his father.
Your dad’s first memory of going to an NBA game was with your grandpa Steve. It was the home finale for the Jazz, April 11th, 1985. Portland was in town and Utah crushed them by 38 points. Rusty remembers the crowd beginning a chant. “WHOPPER…WHOPPER….WHOPPER.” He said, “dad, why are they saying that?” Steve told him, “they are chanting for Billy Paultz, “The Whopper.” Paultz scored his one and only basket and the Salt Palace crowd went wild.
Rusty was hooked from that point on. He invested a lot of his time into the NBA and its athletes.
This is my memory and interpretation of how he would rank these players. The top three are exactly how he felt.
#20- EVERY UTAH JAZZ AND BYU PLAYER EVER- Darrell Griffith, Rickey Green, Blue Edwards, Antoine Carr, Paul Millsap, Mark Eaton, and Mike Smith to name a few.
#19- ZACH RANDOLPH- He liked how Randolph worked in the paint without jumping. Russ said, “He’s a ground bound bully with sweet moves.”
#18- BLAKE GRIFFIN- He was enamored with Blake’s explosion. He was also convinced that Griffin would become “more than just a SportsCenter highlight guy.”
#17- PENNY HARDAWAY- Two days before Christmas in 1992, your dad and I watched Hardaway and his Memphis team play, and lose against BYU. If you competed against his Cougars at some point, Russ had a higher chance of liking you. He called Penny, “Kinda like Magic with hops.”
#16- DERON WILLIAMS- He believed in Deron. Russ was caught up in the Deron vs. CP3 comparison. He was also objective when he knew Chris Paul was better.
#15- LARRY BIRD- He was into Bird’s trash talking swagger. He was a Larry, over Magic guy.
#14- CHARLES BARKLEY- When Charles was throwing elbows and mouthing off on the original “Dream Team”, Rusty was behind him 100 percent. His favorite sports show was “Inside the NBA” on TNT. He got a kick out of Barkley.
#13- REGGIE MILLER- Reggie impressed Riggs right away. “Shooting aside, he makes himself so hard to cover. He won’t stop moving. This skinny dude will become a star. Period bro.”
#12- ANDREI KIRILENKO – Andrei was a unique talent. Russ was proud that he played here in Salt Lake City. When Kirilenko blocked Kobe, your dad felt like he made the block himself.
#11- JIMMER FREDETTE- Jimmer coming back to the NBA, is what sparked this idea. Fredette was a phenomenon in college. Russ and your mom lived through “Jimmer Mania.” It was important to him that this young man stayed in the league.
#10- SHAWN BRADLEY- Shawn was the hope for all BYU fans. “The Stormin’ Mormon.” He was 7-6 and was drafted number two overall. Russ bragged him up and went overboard with it. On his mission, he looked for the newspaper every day to see Shawn’s stats. Though Bradley never sniffed stardom, he did play 832 games and blocked a ton of shots.
#9- VINCE CARTER- “Vinsanity” made your dad scream weird crap on my voice mail. He thought Carter was an elegant aerial artist and called him “the greatest dunker of all time.”
#8- JEFF HORNACEK- He was that third star Russ was always waiting for. Jeff was the x-factor that pushed the Jazz to back to back Finals. He enjoyed Jeff’s crafty play and ability to pass.
#7- THURL BAILEY- He was a fan of Thurl because of his reliability on the court, and the man he was off it. He met “Big T” multiple times.
#6- ALLEN IVERSON- At first your father saw Iverson as a selfish rebel. He later saw him as a trend setter. Riggs noted his quickness, and how his body was always hitting the ground. He thought A.I. was the worlds best player during the 2000-2001 season.
#5- DANNY AINGE- Rusty saw Ainge as the face of BYU in the NBA. He would brag about Danny’s baseball exploits and his big game resume in the pros.
#4- PATRICK EWING- He was such a Ewing homer, I thought Rusty played like him. Patrick’s outside shooting from the baseline helped attract Riggs to this Knicks star. We argued Ewing vs. Olajuwon from 1991 to 1998.
#3- LEBRON JAMES- Russ always said, “LeBron James is the most unselfish superstar in the game.” In our sports debates, he made sure to tie himself to LBJ. He loved his style. He used James to battle against my “Kobe and Jordan worship” as he put it. He text me one morning in late 2008 saying, “King James is the best player in the NBA and it’s not close.” That argument between us lasted almost six years.
#2- JOHN STOCKTON- He believed John was the best, most pure point guard ever. It seems like he wanted a ring for John more than anyone. Each time Stockton broke a record, Rusty wanted to see it or hear “Hot Rod” Hundley break it down.
#1- KARL MALONE- “The Mailman” was always his favorite player. Russ studied his game and copied his moves. He argued on Karl’s behalf with fuel and passion. In the mid 1990’s, I remember Derrick Coleman saying some negative words towards Karl. Rusty never let it go. He always pointed Coleman out as….”just talent…not half the man Karl Malone is.”
He loved you kids more than anything.
He wants you to know lame things like this about him.
Jay C. Brandriet