Class '96: Looking back at the BEST(?) ever

Before the NBA regular season kicks its 60th year, it would be nice to look back what happened 10 years ago when the league was it’s 50th. It was 1996 when the Chicago Bulls started their second three-peat after having a 72-10 finish. Atlanta became the host of the centennial year of the Olympics, where “Dream Team III” dominated (what do you expect?). It was also in this year that throwback jerseys were reintroduced to the league, having seen the Toronto-New York match on opening day (Damon Stoudamire and the Raptors, and Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks wore their team’s throwbacks) where the Knicks won by a convincing margin.

But what stood out that rocked the league later on as the years went by is the 1996 NBA draft class. Nobody gave a damn or nobody ever thought that this class produced MVPs, scoring champs, three-point kings, All-Stars, players with rings, current leaders of their teams, a couple of ballhogs, and a jinx (until recently), among others. You might think that with the things I mentioned, it might be just an ordinary draft class because every class have marvelous players who can be those in the aforementioned. Believe me, that’s what I thought when I first picked the 96th issue of SLAM magazine, which gave me an idea on this piece I’m doing. But no! This class is very special. Here’s why:

Class ’96 should lead Team USA
C’mon! They’re better than the “already legendary” ’04! Except for the foreigners, they can dominate the international scene with Kobe, Starbury, a player named “Jesus” in He Got Game, and the remarkable A.I. Seriously, can LeBron, Melo, D-Wade, and Captain Kirk’s squad do better? I doubt it.

Most Valuable Players
This class has two (and one more to be added in the next few years in this list for this class) and well, well, they are guards with two different styles! Allen Iverson has been scoring champion four times with a finals appearance to boot in 2001, when he made a Herculean effort to lift Philly past two Seven-Game deciders against Toronto and Milwaukee, plus the fact that he made more than 40 points to defeat the LA Lakers in Game One of that year’s finals, proving that “El-Ey” isn’t invincible as what everyone thought they were. On the other hand, Steve Nash became the messiah for the Phoenix Suns and was indeed, an important piece of the Valley’s puzzle. Nash, having won his second straight MVP award just last season, turned Phoenix from a set-play squad to a high-octane, jet-fueled offense that made the Suns the most exciting team to watch. Nash lured defenders, made big shots, and made Phoenix’s pick ‘n roll play the most vaunted (and flexible) play on the white board…errr…hardcourt. Amare Stoudemire and Nash (and the rest of the Suns) looked like Karl Malone and John Stockton (and the rest of the Jazz band), only that Phoenix is much more exciting. Oh yeah, Nash started his career in Phoenix as the team’s first pick in the 1996 draft. The next MVP joining Nash and A.I. would none other be Kobe Bryant. I’ll get the list. Skills? Check! Attitude? Check! Right coach? Check! Respect?…CHECK! He definitely earned this when the Lakers almost beat the Suns in the first round of last season’s playoffs. Kobe can shoot, score, hit the big shots, pass (yes, he has matured), and defend, and has leveled down his arrogance.

Shooters: Blazing Hot
Like I said above, the ’96 has its scoring champs…but you can’t deny the fact that some of their scorers are plain shooters. And I’m talking about mean shooters. Leading the way is none other than “Jesus” himself, Ray Allen, who has torched the NBA with buttloads of threes, not to mention, breaking the previous scoring record last year, set by Reggie Miller. He is big, agile, and has the sweetest-looking quick release in the NBA today. He should be on Team USA! Other than that, Class ’96 has Peja Stojakovic, Tony Delk, Kerry Kittles, Derek Fisher, Antoine Walker, and Nash. You hafta admit, Delk, Kittles, and Fisher are not known scorers lately but they sure have lit up the net with their own fireballs. In fact, Fisher was hot in the 2001 Playoffs by helping burn the San Antonio Spurs en route to a sweep. Plus, he got the ring anyway.

Point-producers: Scoring champs
Iverson and Kobe top the list. Heck! They were the top two players in the scoring list last year. Need I say more?

Heavy bombers: Three-point champs
Stojakovic and Allen really had an epic encounter in one three-point shooting contest. I just forgot when. But regardless, these brought the house down with their uncanny ability to hit those shots from long range. Both have an uncanny-looking style of jumpshot, Stojakovic’s catapult-like shot and Allen’s quick release. Leave these stars a couple of inches away from the defense, you better add three more points to their stats.

Ballers with rings: The Finals Experience
With or without a ring, they each have a story to tell. Kobe already has three rings and he is not even in his 30s. This time, it’s different. Kobe hasn’t played in the finals for more than two years and he doesn’t have a sidekick to boot (unless you consider Lamar Odom as his Robin). A.I. has made the Last Dance once but he was up against a stronger Laker team, with Shaq and classmate Kobe in it. He’s been itching to get back and snag one before he retires. Walker’s full first year out of Boston has made him an instant winner. With superstars like Shaq, D-Wade, and veterans Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton, Walker has definitely made one of the easiest ways out, except that they had to hurdle crucial games down the stretch in the playoffs to win the championship at Dallas.

And lastly, you have the ballhogs in A.I. and Stephon Marbury and a jinx until recently in Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who finally made the playoffs after so much kris-crossing from one team to another. A.I. is a legit ballhog because he knows when to pass and for Steph, no offense, but he doesn’t know when to pass the carom. No wonder the Knicks can never play like the Suns’ whose offense is orchestrated by a classmate in Nash. And Abdur-Rahim? I wish him luck…but this I am sure that he will never get a ring, unless he is with a classmate from 1996.

The list on what the draft should’ve been (according to SLAM):
1. Allen Iverson
2. Kobe Bryant
3. Ray Allen
4. Stephon Marbury
5. Steve Nash
6. Jermaine O’Neal
7. Antoine Walker
8. Shareef Abdur-Rahim
9. Peja Stojakovic
10. Marcus Camby
11. Zydrunas Ilgauskas
12. Derek Fisher
13. Kerry Kittles
14. Erick Dampier
15. Lorenzen Wright
16. Malik Rose
17. Tony Delk
18. Jeff McInnis
19. Jerome Williams
20. Othella Harrington
21. Shandon Anderson
22. Walter McCarty
23. Moochie Norris
24. Samaki Walker
25. Vitaly Potapenko
26. John Wallace
27. Travis Knight
28. Jamie Feick
29. Mark Pope

So you still think that Lebron’s ’04 is better? I’ll put my money anytime on Class ’96.