Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant entered the league together in 1996 as shooting guards capable of giving defenses fits. They left the court as two of the greatest to ever take the floor in an NBA game.
They weren’t the only future superstars to arrive in the 1996 offseason. Ray Allen, Stephon Marbury, and Steve Nash were all among those who debuted that year and established what Iverson believes is one of the greatest fraternities in NBA history.
Allen Iverson believes the 1996 NBA Draft class is the best in league history
No one will ever confuse Iverson with a man who keeps his emotions close. He built a reputation around brash comments and brutal honesty, especially after becoming an All-NBA guard on the 76ers.
Iverson, the No. 1 overall pick in 1996, hasn’t adopted a more humble persona since he played his final NBA game in 2010. In a 2016 interview with Complex, the legendary guard made it clear there is “no question” that his draft class is the greatest in league history.
“Ask anybody that knows about basketball and anybody that has a basketball mind, and there’s no question. There’s too many Hall of Famers all throughout it.”Allen Iverson
Complex published that story in March 2016, months before Iverson became the first player from that class to enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Bryant, who later joined him in the Hall, played his final NBA game a month after the interview went online.
Time has only been kinder to Iverson’s argument
Certain draft classes across the four major North American sports will stand the test of time. The 2007 NFL Draft sent the likes of Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson to instantaneous stardom, while the 2011 MLB Draft has already had 13 of the first 60 players selected — including New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick — earn All-Star honors.
When one considers the following facts, however, it’s hard to argue with Iverson.
- Iverson, Bryant (the 13th overall pick), sharpshooting guard Ray Allen (fifth overall), and All-Star point guard Steve Nash (15th) have all entered the Basketball Hall of Fame as of 2020. Ben Wallace, who went undrafted, will join them on Sept. 11, 2021.
- Peja Stojaković (14th) and Jermaine O’Neal (17th), two talented big men, earned All-Star honors and appeared on an All-NBA team at points in their careers.
- Shareef Abdur-Rahim (3rd), Antoine Walker (6th), and Cleveland Cavaliers great Žydrūnas Ilgauskas (20th) earned All-Star honors.
- Although he never reached the All-Star Game, longtime Los Angeles Lakers point guard Derek Fisher (24th) won five championships in his career.
If you prefer analytics, consider this. According to Basketball Reference, Bryant (19th), Allen (30th), and Nash (41st) all rank among the 50 greatest players using the win shares metric. Iverson ranked 92nd through the end of the 2020-21 season, while Wallace is 101st.
There may not always be an easy answer to the “greatest draft class” argument in sports. Those who grew up watching Bryant and Iverson may stick to arguing that class will be better than the 2009 one, which fielded Blake Griffin, James Harden, and Stephen Curry, among others.
The 2003 NBA Draft class could eventually challenge Iverson and Bryant’s group
Iverson wants to go off Hall of Famers, which we’ll grant him. Don’t be surprised if, at least among the more modern classes, the 2003 class challenges the 1996 fraternity if it isn’t already.
Chris Bosh, the fourth overall pick that year, will enter the Hall of Fame in September 2021. LeBron James, the top overall pick, is arguably the greatest player in league history. Don’t forget about the duo of Carmelo Anthony (3rd) and Dwyane Wade (5th), each of whom is locks for the Hall. The 2003 class also produced future All-Stars in Chris Kaman (6th), David West (18th), Josh Howard (29th), Mo Williams (47th), and Kyle Korver (51st).
In a way, it’s Bryant and Iverson against James and Wade for a title. It’s too bad we never got to see such a scenario play out in real life, but that’s what NBA 2K is for, right?
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.