The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the pinnacle of basketball in the world. It’s the biggest league and home to more than 100 international players from more than 40 countries. The NBA has seen a host of superstars grace its hardwood since the league was founded in 1946 till the present moment. Players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Julius Erving, LeBron James, and Stephen Curry to mention a few have mesmerized the fans with their exceptional offensive skill set, leaving us begging for more. Basketball fans from all over the world are glued to the tv screens to watch their national stars play a game in the NBA. In Sweden it’s Jonas Jerebko, in Nigeria Hakeem Olajuwon and in Arab basketball it’s Lebanon born Rony Seikaly.

But there are also players who don’t get enough credit for
the part they play to ensure success for their teams. We are talking about the
defense. Let’s give some credit to five of the best defensive players of all
time in the NBA.

Ben Wallace

Born Benjamin Cameron Wallace in September 1974, to a family
of 11 children, Ben Wallace was one of the best defensive centers of his era
and of one the best of all time. He is often considered as the best-undrafted
player of all time, after going undrafted in the infamous 1996 NBA draft.

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After trying out in Italy, Wallace joined the Washington
Wizards in 1996, appearing in 34 games but failing to play any minutes. He
started 16 games each in the 1997-98 and 1998-99 season with the Wizards before
being traded to the Orlando Magic.

Wallace started 81 games for the Magic, solidifying his role
as a starter only to be traded at the end of the season to the Detroit Pistons
as part of the sign-and-trade agreement for Pistons superstar Grant Hill. His
first stint with the Pistons turned out to be very successful, as the Pistons
won the NBA title in 2004, whilst also appearing in the finals in 2005 where
they lost in seven games to the San Antonio Spurs.

Wallace also won a host of individual accolades in six years
in Detroit, winning the NBA Defensive Player of the year award four times, four
NBA All-Star selections, and five NBA All-Defensive First team.

He played for the Chicago Bulls from 2006-08 and the
Cleveland Cavaliers (2008-09) before returning to Detroit for three more years.
His number 3 jersey hangs in the rafters at the home of the Pistons, who
retired his number back in 2016.

Wallace was the NBA leader in blocks in 2002 and also led the
league in rebounds in 2002, 2003.

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Walt Frazier

Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier was drafted by the New York Knicks as
the 5th overall pick back in the 1967 NBA draft. Frazier spent 10 years with
the Knicks, guiding them to two NBA championships in 1970 & 1973. Known for
his offensive abilities, Frazier was named to seven consecutive NBA All-Defensive
First teams from 1969-1975. Steals weren’t a recorded stat in the NBA until the
1973-74 season, six years after Frazier was drafted and the point guard went on
to average 2.0 and 2.4 steals per game in his seventh and eighth seasons.

Clyde is believed to have possessed one of the fastest hands
in the history of the NBA coupled with good instincts and anticipation which
helped him strip the ball away from opponents.

His number 10 jersey is hanging in the rafters in Madison
Square Garden, but Clyde also spent two years with the Cleveland Cavaliers
before calling time on his career.

Scottie Pippen

Most defensive lists would be incomplete without the name,
Scottie Pippen. Pippen was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History
during the 1996-97 season and is also considered one of the greatest small
forwards of all time.

The Central Arkansas alumnus is widely regarded as the
greatest perimeter defender of all-time in the league and was named to eight
consecutive NBA All-Defensive First Team.

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Pippen is also considered the greatest side-kick ever, as he
was the co-star to Michael Jordan when the Chicago Bulls won six NBA titles
eight years -a stretch which involves two separate three-peats. He spent 11
years of his NBA career with the Bulls who drafted him 5th overall in the 1987
draft before unceremoniously departing for the Houston Rockets in 1998, despite
helping the Bulls to a championship in his final season in Chicago. He also had
a four-year stint in Oregon with the Portland Trail Blazers, whom he helped
reach Western Conference Finals in 2001 before

returning to Chicago to sign for the Bulls in 2003

The Bulls retired his number 33 shirt in 2005, making him
only the fourth Chicago Bulls player to have his number retired by the team.

Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon is considered a top-five center
and one of the greatest basketball players of all time. The Nigerian-American
was the first overall pick in the star-studded 1984 draft class which had
players like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton after he was
selected by the Houston Rockets.

Olajuwon is one of the three players to have won the NBA
Defensive Player of the Year and NBA Most Valuable Player in the same season,
with Michael Jordan and Giannis Antetokoumpo being the other two. A two-time
champion with the Rockets in 1994 & 1995, Olajuwon was also named to five
NBA All-Defensive First Team (1987, 1988, 1990, 1993 & 1994). He also led
the league in rebounding twice (1989 & 1990) and in blocks three times
(1990-91 and 1993).

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Hakeem spent 17 years in Houston before being traded to the
Toronto Raptors in 2001 after refusing a $13 million deal with the Rockets. He
eventually called time on his career in 2002, due to a back injury.

Olajuwon remains the all-time leader in blocked shots with
3,830 blocks. His #34 jersey was retired by the Houston Rockets shortly after
his retirement.

Bill Russell

Blocked shots only became a recorded stat in the NBA at the start of the earth 1973-74 season, so one can only guess after the great Bill Russell had called time on his illustrious playing career.

Born William Felton Russell on February 12, 1934, he was
selected 3rd overall in the 1956 draft by the Boston Celtics, with whom he
spent the entirety of his playing career. He’s the only player in NBA history
to average 20 rebounds per game in a season and also a four-time rebounding
champion (1958, 1959, 1964, 1965). He also has 11 NBA championships to his name
alongside five NBA Most Valuable Player awards (1958, 1960-63 & 1965).

Regarded as the greatest center of all-time in the NBA, and
of the best players ever, Russell’s legacy goes beyond the hardwood of the
basketball court. He was active in the Black Power Movement and supported
Muhammad Ali’s decision to refuse to be drafted by the Military. Russell was a
strong advocate against racism, something he was a victim of as a child till
his days as the star player of the Celtics.

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He was the first-ever black NBA coach, winning two more NBA
titles as a coach with the Celtics, and the award for the Most Valuable Player
in the NBA finals was named after him.

Honorable mentions:

  • David Robinson
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Gary “The Glove” Payton
  • Dennis Rodman
  • Dikembe Mutombo

Author: Bright Elemeje

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