Jay C. Brandriet
A few years ago I was texting with my buddy Jon Brown. He was with his son. Jon’s message said, “Boston wants to know who your favorite NBA players are.” I remember sending a few texts full of names. Jon wrote back, “he says, basically you like everybody.”
His smart aleck remark was true. It made me think of the players I had followed or cheered for the most. It’s like a fan x ray, or DNA test.
I enjoy knowing who other people have supported over the years.
I’m a Kawhi Leonard backer. I followed Shaq in his prime. I liked Thurl Bailey, Terrell Brandon, Sam Cassell, and Kevin McHale. In today’s NBA, I like watching DeMar Derozan.
Basically, I like everybody.
Let’s narrow it down to my 20 favorite players of all time.
#20- SEDALE THREATT- Not everyone we follow or root on is a household name. Sedale was a scrapper.
#19– KARL MALONE- Karl makes this list because I grew up 10 miles away from where he played ball for a living. Karl Malone was just a big deal here. He consumed much of my NBA conversations. Many of us have a collection of stories about meeting him.
#18- LEBRON JAMES- I’m actually not a LeBron fan. I am however, a fan of greatness. I’ve spent too much time thinking about LBJ to not call him a favorite. My friendships with Russ Riggs, Tony Abbott, Jon Brown, and Conner Hawk all look different without James.
#17- STEPHON MARBURY- Marbury’s game was nasty. He was so hated, it was easy to like him. My friend Eddy Thompson and I would burn hours talking about this guy.
#16- KEVIN DURANT- Kevin’s first pro action was right here in Salt Lake City. I watched him for a week with a front row seat. I’ve always been a fan of Durant’s tools and hungry approach.
#15- JOHN STOCKTON- The Jazz were in Houston in the winter of 1988. John missed a wide open shot at the buzzer. I started clapping loudly several times over. My mom was disappointed at the outcome. She said, “why are you clapping?” I said, “John Stockton, wide open from 20 feet? I’ll take that every night.”
#14- GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO- He’s just likeable to me. Giannis is one of the greatest talents to come into the NBA. I’m curious if he can be as good or better than LeBron by this spring.
#13- ZION WILLIAMSON- Even the fan boy in someone like me starts to die as I’m getting older. Zion has rekindled some of the fun of following an athlete. I’m sold on this cat.
#12- A.C. GREEN- I just liked him. The hustle, the boards, the consecutive game streak. The hair.
#11- LARRY BIRD- I’ve grown into seeing Larry as part of Magic Johnson’s basketball soul. Bird’s swagger was thick. My buddy David Schultz always claims, “I was watching Larry when you were in diapas kid” (That’s diapers with no r).
#10- PAU GASOL- Pau was a special player. He was vital support to my guy Kobe. He’s also at the top of the list of kind, intelligent NBA players I’ve ever interviewed.
#9- KEVIN GARNETT- I’m talking about the KG in Minnesota. I was attached to his development and his pain of not getting past the first round. His intensity led to him not letting opponents put the ball in the basket, even after the whistle had blown.
#8- STEPHEN CURRY- His handles, passing skills, and movement without the ball are quite a sight. It rarely comes up because Steph will do things like, make 105 straight three pointers in practice last month.
#7- JAMES WORTHY- The goggles. Palming the ball like it was a grapefruit and waving it at you. That first step and the tricky spins.
#6- BYRON SCOTT- I thought his shooting form was butter. I dug that he was from Ogden, Utah. I used to have Byron versus Jeff Malone debates on the school bus with Cory Hansen.
#5-HAKEEM OLAJUWON- My bro Jared Adams and I loved “The Dream.” Hakeem’s best, was as good as anyone who’s lived.
#4- DWYANE WADE- D Wade had me from hello. I was just a huge fan. At Dwyane’s peak I told Russ Riggs, “he’s better than LeBron right now.” That accounted for eight years of intense arguments. It became a unique debate once James and Wade teamed up in Miami.
#3- MICHAEL JORDAN- I’ve always been fascinated with how good MJ was. I have more access to his career today, than I had living through it. I’ve discovered something amazing. He was better than I remembered.
#2- KOBE BRYANT- I went a ten year stretch, where I saw every game Kobe played but two. Seriously. I was not going to miss out on seeing what I said he would become. He didn’t let me down.
#1- MAGIC JOHNSON- Magic is the biggest reason I have a passion for the NBA. His charisma and style was so appealing, he made me adore an entire sport. Best, most fitting nickname ever.
Jay C. Brandriet