Remember when we all briefly entertained the idea of LeBron James coming off the bench for the Cleveland Cavaliers? It’s absurd — James is no sixth man. After all, he’s the best player on the team. Some would argue he’s the best player on the planet. But last February, and probably not so seriously, LeBron admitted he would be more than willing to make the sacrifice.
James said this after the team’s practice on February 4: “It’s all about the team and for me being the leader of the team, it doesn’t matter. Whatever this team needs in order for us to win, I’ll come off the bench. I’m serious. I’ll come off the bench.”
No one really expected this to happen, but it was clear that James was sending a message to the rest of the Cavs players. Championships are won when players decide to put their personal egos aside for the betterment of the team. And that is exactly what it means to be the sixth man on an NBA franchise.
Sixth men are skilled enough to crack the starting lineup, but it’s their spark off the bench that proves to be their most useful quality. Their energy, coupled with their knack for instant offense, can often times change the momentum of the game. They are more than just role players. They are a vital part of any team looking to make a run at an NBA Championship.
In honor of LeBron James’s willingness to play this part, let’s take a look at our top five sixth men who actually did make the sacrifice.
5. Jamal Crawford
Statistics: 15.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.7 APG
Jamal Crawford is a naturally gifted scorer. From the moment he comes off the bench, you can expect slick dribbling, killer crossovers, and an unflappable willingness to shoot the ball. He is the epitome of instant offense, and if his shots start falling, he can singlehandedly take over a game. His skills as the first man off the bench have helped him win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award twice — once with the Atlanta Hawks and then with the Los Angeles Clippers.
4. Toni Kukoc
Statistics: 11.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.7 APG
Forward Toni Kukoc was a luxury for the Chicago Bulls during their second three-peat run in the mid 1990s. At 6-foot-10, he had great control of his body and a very smooth lefty stroke. Kukoc had a solid handle, quality basketball IQ, and the trust of Michael Jordan. He was everything you’d want in a sixth man, and he picked up the trophy for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in the 1995-96 season.
3. Manu Ginobili
Statistics: 14.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.0 APG
The San Antonio Spurs are the ultimate team-first franchise. They have a system that has produced a winning formula, and to be a member of this organization means to buy into this philosophy. And few have taken to this ideal as much as Manu Ginobili, who transitioned into the sixth man role and continued to have a major impact on the game. Ginobili does what it takes to win, and that’s why he’s not only received individual accolades, but is a four-time NBA Champion as well.
2. Kevin McHale
Statistics: 17.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 APG
During the beginning of his pro career, Kevin McHale was a dominant sixth man for the Boston Celtics. In his time as first man off the bench, McHale won back-to-back NBA Sixth Man of the Year awards (1984-85 and 1985-86), and the Celtics won three championships. It doesn’t appear that he could’ve performed this role any better.
1. John Havlicek
Statistics: 20.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.8 APG
John Havlicek was born to play the sixth man. He was the ultimate spark plug and provided the Celtics with an instant boost. From the moment he stepped foot on the floor, Havlicek was a lethal scorer with high energy and unrivaled endurance. It was truly unfair that Boston had a player of this caliber coming off their bench.