As I get older each year that goes by we lose names from my NBA childhood. The beginning of my love for basketball began with Mike and his Chicago teams but my real passion and drive came from playing the game and watching Kobe, Tim, Tracy, Allen, and everybody else during the early 00s.
Father time is undefeated, and the only prominent players left from my basketball childhood are Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter, both having served two decades on the NBA hardwood. While high profile retirements like Manu Ginobili and the upcoming farewell tour for Dwayne Wade are hard to miss, each year we also lose guys that don’t make as much of a splash on the radar on the way out. Here we will take a look at who we lost this summer and their contributions to the game.
1. Nick Collison
NBA Stats: 5.9 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, 1 assist per game
Team: Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder
Nick Collison will be remembered as the godfather of Thunder basketball. There is a bunch of cliches here for how he was a “good locker room guy” and “came and worked hard every day” and all those other things they say about guys who didn’t have big statistical careers. However, Collison truly delivered with the art of effective screening and for some time he and James Harden solidified the bench mob for those early Oklahoma City Thunder teams.
There is something to be said for surviving in the league when you are not a superstar. There are a ton of thankless hours spent working out and studying scouting reports to be able to meaningfully contribute as a role guy. Personally, I will most remember Nick Collison for one of his rare moments of airtime. He has my eternal recognition as the man who showed me that Zach Randolph truly lacks the ability to get in the air at all in 2012 with a store brand version of a Blake Griffin poster.
Collison was there for the transition to Oklahoma City, the arrival and departure of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook staying, taking the Lakers to six games as an 8 seed, and a finals appearance. In the era of player mobility and high profile egos, Collison was a model of the stability and humility that is required of glue guys in the NBA.
2. Mo Williams
NBA Stats: 13.2 points per game, 2.8 rebounds per game, 4.9 assists per game
Teams: Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets
Mo Williams will be remembered mostly as a journeyman but the 13-year-vet came a long way from his humble start as the 47th overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft. After spending his first year in Utah he quickly became a solid scoring guard in the league averaging at least 15 points per game from 2006-2010.
Williams is also the impressive owner of the worst shot selection during a 50 point performance in NBA history. Back in 2015 in the heat of the NBA season, Mo tapped into the power of the basketball gods and delivered the most random display of hot shooting that I have seen in my life. It was some bizarre extended version of being “ON FIRE” in NBA Jam, with the only rule being “take shots that would give your coach a heart attack.”
Though he does not carry the accolades of some of the other retirees, Mo Williams really carved his way into the league after getting an opportunity following career-threatening injuries to T.J. Ford while he was with the Bucks. He was traded in 2008 and made it to the All-Star game as a replacement in 2009. After the nomination he had a great “yea, that’s right!” performance the very next game by delivering 44 points.
As a basketball public, we owe Mo a great thanks because it was his trade that brought dribbling sage Kyrie Irving to Cleveland. Cleveland traded Williams to the Los Angeles Clippers for Baron Davis’s fossil and a first-round pick that turned out to be Uncle Drew. The basketball gods rewarded his sacrifice by bringing him back to Cleveland for their first ever championship run in 2015.
It should also be noted that Mo kept things real after LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland the first time, famously refusing to shake his hand prior to a game. This was significant because though many people felt slighted about LeBron’s decision but did not publically speak out or demonstrate against it. It was an authentic move from Williams that reminded me of the 80s and 90s before everyone was friendly.
3. P.J. Hairston
NBA Stats: 6 points per game, 2.4 rebounds per game
Teams: Charlotte Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies
P.J. Hairston will likely be remembered more for his days as a promising young stud for the North Carolina Tar Heels. He spent two seasons under Roy Williams and came alive in his second year. He forced his way into the starting lineup and averaged 14.6 points per game. Troubles off the court derailed his return to Chapel Hill and after being denied reinstatement, Hairston began his professional career.
P.J.’s off the court troubles persisted through his entire career and for many, especially North Carolina fans will likely see his story as a case study in wasted potential. The Tar Heel team he was supposed to be on landed the #6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, eventually losing in the second round. As that was happening, he began a career that began and ended in the D League, interrupted by stints in the NBA for the Hornets and Grizzlies.
Though his career may not have gone the way he envisioned, Hairston still achieved the dream of many by playing and starting in the NBA. With the Memphis Grizzlies, he participated in meaningful playoff action. At only 25 years old, he is still young enough to train for a return if he gets the itch.
4. Roy Hibbert
NBA Stats: 10 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 1.3 assists per game
Teams: Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Charlotte Hornets
Roy Hibbert will forever be the benchmark for the NBA’s change in style during my basketball lifetime. From 2012 to 2014, Hibbert was the anchor of one of the best defensive units in the league. At 7’2 Hibbert was big enough and talented enough to master the NBA’s verticality rule. The rule states that a player is entitled to his vertical position including when holding his arms straight up above his shoulders. No one was better than this than Hibbert. His ability to jump straight up and avoid foul calls gave the Pacers a tremendous advantage on defense. LeBron James agreed after one of the many Heat/Pacers battles for the Eastern Conference during the regular season.
“He takes a lot of teams out of what they are accustomed to doing, because he is so great at the rim, protecting the rim, and they allow him to use his verticality rule more than anyone in our league.”
How does a player go from a two -time All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year runner-up to out of the league in 5 seasons? In 2013-2014, Hibbert posted 2.2 blocks per game and made an All-Star appearance en route to setting the record of 4 scoreless games by a current All-Star in that year’s playoffs. Hibbert could score. He averaged 22 points per game vs. LeBron’s Heat in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. But in this series, his confidence took a nosedive and he was never able to regain that same dominance again.
A larger part of Hibbert’s decline was by design. After the 2014-2015 season, Larry Bird announced that the big man would see his role decline as the Pacers sought to keep up with the rest of the league in heading toward an uptempo game. The game is now played with more versatile bigs that can score and defend away from the basket. Hibbert’s inability to defend or score beyond the foul line made it very tough for him to remain effective on the floor. The NBA truly abandoned Roy Hibbert, and that will leave him forever underappreciated.
5. Manu Ginobili
NBA Stats: 13.3 points per game, 2.2 rebounds per game, 2.5 assists per game
Team: San Antonio Spurs
My fondest memory of Manu Ginobili will always be his 29 point barrage that made Argentina the first country to knock Team USA out of Olympic Contention since professionals were added in 1992. It was a beautiful basketball lesson of technique and effort beating out raw talent and taught all future team USA’s of the arrival of foreign basketball as a true threat on the global stage. The following is an HD account of the rest of the basketball world tapping America on the shoulder, led by Manu Ginobili. Note the faces of the American players as the game wore on towards the ending. Their faces paint a beautiful story of expectation, surprise, and then despair.
Manu is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the precursor to James Harden as the Godfather of the Euro Step. With his retirement and Tony Parker’s departure, we close a basketball chapter with the San Antonio Spurs dynasty of the late 90s/early 00s. In many ways, Ginobili embodied the culture of the Spurs’ mature, “get it done” approach to basketball. Many of his signature performances came as the sixth man off the bench.
Manu has an unorthodox, lefty style that gave him the ability to always find a little space to get his shot off or a crease to go to the basket. The fancy footwork that James Harden gives people headaches with now was born with the likes of Manu, who along with Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford defined the spark plug role with their own unique, circus-like style of play that allowed their teams to maintain pressure on any team despite resting their starters.
Ginobili retired in Spurs history as a top-5 franchise leader in games played, points, assists, and steals.
6. David West
NBA Stats: 13.6 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game
Teams: New Orleans Hornets, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors
David West was already a decorated veteran when he arrived in Golden State to assist the Warriors. He had already been a 2-time All-Star with the New Orleans Hornets and anchored one of the best post defenses of the decade alongside Roy Hibbert in Indiana. His outspoken brand of toughness to go with a steady midrange jumper complimented his excellent passing ability that helped any team he was on. He was the quieter addition alongside Kevin Durant to replace the physical, defensive backbone that they lost when Andrew Bogut was lost in that summer’s series of moves.
West retired on top as a two-time champion after winning back to back titles in Golden State. Those who paid attention will remember him as a player who wasn’t all about the money. West took less money to leave Indiana to compete in San Antonio with the Spurs and then did it again (with large success) with the Golden State Warriors for the last two seasons. Truly being all about winning is a move that can cost money and guys around the locker room had to respect him for just wanting to contribute to a championship culture.
West will be missed and retires as one of the great enforcers and big-man passers in NBA history. Maybe the Big 3 can knock on the door after he gets some rest.
7. Boris Diaw
NBA Stats: 8.6 points per game, 4.4 rebounds per game, 3.5 assists per game
Teams: Atlanta Hawks, Pheonix Suns, Charlotte Hornets, San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz
Boris Diaw announced his retirement with a 20-minute video from a boat. That’s pretty boss.
— Boris Diaw (@theborisdiaw) September 6, 2018
The former Most Improved Player award winner and key 2014 Spurs championship contributor is done after 14 seasons. He last played in the NBA for the Utah Jazz in the 2016-2017 season. He spent last season overseas with the French team Levallois Metropolitans.
Diaw came into the league as an athletic, versatile big man with the vision of a point guard that was the perfect fit for the run and gun Suns. After he was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats his career took a dip as the motivation did not seem to be there while playing for a losing team. The old Diaw resurfaced once the San Antonio Spurs placed him back alongside fellow countryman Tony Parker, where he averaged 9.1 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game en route to an NBA championship in 2014.