Who made an impact on the basketball psyche without us thinking about it?
Think back on the NBA during the years between 2000 and 2009. Take a few moments to ponder what memories stick in the collective psyche of the average basketball fan during this decade. There are obvious ones that I am sure immediately jump to your mind. Kobe and Shaq dominating those first several years, making it seem like nobody would ever be able to put an end to their obscene dominance. Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming alternating injuries which derailed the Houston Rockets’ chances at competing for a championship. The Spurs quietly taking the ring every year in which you wanted a funner, more exciting team to ascend to the throne (cough . . . Phoenix Suns . . . cough).
What about all of the bit players and storylines though? Don’t they matter, too? Of course! In fact, the random and obscure players that litter pro sports rosters somehow stick with us just as much as the stars do, just in different ways. It’s why so many Lakers fans currently love Alex Caruso and Rockets fans have a fetish for the workhorse mentality of P.J. Tucker. The NBA would actually be quite boring if we didn’t have bench players to laugh at, lean on, and commiserate along side. We feel their highs and lows. They are so much more relatable than the leader of the team, and many times a key play is made by a role guy which determines the outcome of a title.
With all of the that being said, I want to introduce you to the NBA All-Random teams of the 2000’s! Think the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams, but with cooky and unique players which made an impact on the psyche of the pro basketball fandom! I will try to stick to traditional positions as much as possible, with two guards, two forwards, and a center for both teams, but don’t blame me if the nostalgia for a certain player bends these rules just a tad. We’re just trying to have some fun here anyway! Let’s start!
All-Random First Team
Kirk Hinrich — Guard
Kirk Hinrich played for the Chicago Bulls for about four million years. At least it feels this way because he followed his original seven year stint with another four years after an intermission with the Wizards and the Hawks. There aren’t many average point guards throughout history who have played for the same team as long as Kirk did, but he probably can pin his 11 years with Chicago on the fact that they haven’t had much stability around the Windy City in the two decades since MJ and Pippen ruled the sport.
Captain Kirk was someone you knew you would see giving a steady hand to his position the majority of times you turned the game on and his dorky goggles and floppy black hair smattered the screen. He was known for doing anything it took to win, which is usually white baller code for “I don’t have that many other skills”. I can speak from experience on that topic, but here’s not the place.
Hinrich always seemed to be a fan favorite because he wasn’t there for the bullshit. See above. Taking a LeBron shoulder and moving right along to the next play defines him pretty well. A charge taken being one of the career highlights of a player is also as random as it gets. I also think he’d fit in great as a coach in the current NBA, young enough to relate to everyone, but old-school enough to bring discipline.
Raja Bell — Guard
This guy was something. I don’t know what, but I just know when I watched him on the Phoenix Suns, he was annoying. And the Suns were one of my favorite teams, so I should have really liked him. He became most known for being the “nemesis” of Kobe Bryant through many Lakers/Suns battles in the middle of the decade, with this clothesline representing the pinnacle of the rivalry.
People are usually clamoring for basketball to go back to the days of hockey-style fist fights and cheap shots, but when you take Kobe by the neck, that doesn’t sit well with the basketball fandom. He wasn’t quite Bruce Bowen-level dirty, but he straddled that line frequently. A player you sometimes loved to hate, because he did things that you may have done if you were out there on an NBA floor, desperate to gain every advantage.
Despite his likability factor, Bell was a very modern 3-and-D type combo guard/forward, allowing Mike D’Antoni to play him in a myriad of lineups. You could imagine him fitting in with Mike’s now former team, the Houston Rockets, quite well, perhaps in an Eric Gordon role. For those same reasons, he was therefore an integral piece to the fast-paced puzzle in the Valley of the Sun!
Jason Maxiell — Forward
NOTE — MUSIC IN VIDEO NSFW
Maxiell was a fun guy because he looked like he belonged on a football field instead of a basketball court. Then you go to look for his height and it read 6’7’’ so you just had to go with it that he chose the correct sport. With a build that looked like a freight train and an energy which seeped through the television every time he left the pine, Maxiell added a youthful exuberance to the mid-2000’s Detroit Pistons in the years after their upset win over the Lakers in the 2004 Finals.
The numbers don’t really back my memory of him as a surprisingly good shot blocker, but the highlight videos sure do. He seemed to always come out of nowhere, careening into the path of a taller player and sending their attempt flying into the stands of the Palace of Auburn Hills (R.I.P. to a great stadium of the era).
Those Pistons teams went to five consecutive Eastern Conference Finals, vying for the chip against a myriad of the decade’s best competition, from Reggie Miller’s Pacers all the way to the Big 3 Boston Celtics. Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, the Wallace’s, Tayshaun Prince and Larry Brown are the names that have lived on in NBA history, but Maxiell made me feel like shit was about to get real the second he gave one of the bigger names a minutes of rest.
He’s been retired for a few years now, forgotten by all but the people who watched the Pistons of the time period. It’s hard to find much information on him, and one of the first YouTube videos which comes up when doing research on him is this, um, startling claim.
Well, he’s still got quite a bit of catching up to do with Wilt.
Vladimir Radmanović — Forward
I probably watched Vladi more than any other player on this list, as he was both a surprise and disappointment on my childhood Seattle SuperSonics teams from 2001–2006. A very modern stretch big who would have benefited greatly by simply being born about 10 years later, Radmanović shot a reasonable 37.8% from distance throughout his NBA career.
He was expected to be a big part of the Sonics’ future, and when he didn’t live up to hype he continued to give false hope to Laker fans in the years leading up to the back-to-back rings with Kobe, Pau, and Bynum. His most notable highlight with the LakeShow was lying about an injury sustained during a snowboarding accident, an indiscretion which got him removed from the purple and gold shortly afterwards.
Radmanović is on here because of what he symbolized more than for what he actually was. He was part of the influx of European talent that spread throughout the league during the turn of the millennium. His body type and shooting was a hint to fans of the league of what was to come, an association littered with skill and talent from all around the world. He was the type of player who was unknown unless he was on your team, and obviously brought a lot of conflicted emotions to said organization. And when he WAS actually great, it just made you feel good. It made you feel a relief, and a glimmer of hope for the evolution of the sport.
Michael Olowokandi — Center
The Kandi Man!!! Olowokandi may be a little too famous to be on a list of random players, but I think it’s been long enough since his retirement to do a little bit of reminiscing here. He’s obviously one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history; an enormous example of the incompetence of the Donald Sterling/Elgin Baylor-run Clippers that he was selected with the first pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. He lasted on LA’s less glamorous team for five seasons, despite his peak scoring average being 12.3 PPG.
On an analytical note, the reasoning for him lasting in the league until the mid-2000’s has everything to do with the obsession NBA scouts had during the decade with thinking that any great team started with building around a center. Back-to-the-basket, bruit strength, and lots of height were the name of the game in the wake of the destruction that Hakeem, Shaq, Russell, and Chamberlain created in the previous decades of basketball lore. It’s why an even more famous draft bust, Greg Oden, was taken over Kevin Freaking Durant.
I’ll leave you with this memory from the Kandi Man’s highlight reel. At least he has one of the best nicknames in basketball history!
All-Random Second Team
Earl Boykins — Guard
Nate Robinson is much more famous, and he hovers somewhere between the 2000’s and the 2010’s, disqualifying him from these teams. That means Earl Boykins is the super small guy who comes to mind first for me when thinking of the physical marvels of this decade.
Boykins couldn’t dunk like Nate or Spud Webb, but WOW LOOK AT HOW SMALL HE IS! The skill on this guy was insane, as he averaged nearly 15 points for the Denver Nuggets in 2007 checking in at a mere 5'5'’. You couldn’t even look at him and see yourself in him because he’s probably shorter than you!
But seriously, imagine how skilled someone like this is! Only in professional basketball do you get the type of wackiness that ensues when Earl Boykins takes Tim Duncan to the rim and scores! This was the type of player who would have been perfect for the social media era, but he’ll just have to live on in our memories and the rare highlight tape on the web.
Rafer Alston — Guard
Skip to my Lou was pure fun. I remember him most for adding some flair to the Orlando Magic team that went to the Finals in 2009, although at this point he was considered more of a veteran presence. He was more of an integral part of the Houston Rockets for a little while with T-Mac and Yao.
From certain ignorant sectors of the NBA community, Alston was never able to be viewed as anything more than a street ball player who didn’t have the fundamentals to contribute to winning. Even the referees were numb and dumb to the simplest of plays exhibited by the loose and fun style of the point guard.
Alston was an example of what the NBA needed in the wake of Michael Jordan’s retirement and the cratering of the television ratings in those years. He clearly resonated with a great deal of fans despite those working against him, and showed the way for guys like Steph Curry and Trae Young to play the point guard position in an unorthodox way.
Jason Kapono — Forward
This guy is basically known for one thing: winning the Three-Point Contest in consecutive years, the 2007 and 2008 All-Star Weekends. Kapono did back those trophies up with actual lights-out shooting during in-game play, leading the league in shooting percentage from three those same years. He also won a ring with the Heat in 2006, albeit not in a very high contribution role. At 6'8'’, it kind of feels like Kapono falls in the same category as Radmanović: a player who helped usher in the era of efficient and deadly shooting forwards, but someone whose star burnt out quite quickly.
On a personal note, I always thought Kapono was a bonafide badass because three pointers were kinda my thing growing up. Most kids love dunks, whereas I just wanted to see the shots fly from long range. I elevated Kapono’s relevance because of my own preferences, typical of the ego-centric world kids live in. Still, dude could shoot the rock and I’d love to see him in today’s game. I cannot imagine how much leeway he’d be allowed on a team like the current Houston Rockets.
Tim Thomas — Forward
If you’re a Lakers fan, cover your eyes for this next selection. Nothing makes a fanbase cringe more than when someone overachieves against your team in a big moment, helping to send your favorites packing for the offseason. Especially when it’s a guy who had big expectations entering his career, only to live up to them THIS ONE TIME. Exhibit A: Tim Thomas sending Game 6 of the 2006 Western Conference First Round series between Phoenix and L.A. to overtime, a series the Suns would eventually win after being down 3–1.
Thomas is yet ANOTHER example of a player who would translate to the 2020 NBA in fascinating ways, a wing with a very unique combination of shooting, movement, and athleticism. He never lived up to the hype or the skillset he was gifted with, but the smile on his face during the 2006 Playoffs was one that fans could feel gleaming through the TV.
Redemption stories are ones that we can empathize with the most. We all want a second chance to readjust others’ judgements about us. Tim Thomas was disappointing, but maybe we just needed to bring the original expectations down on him. And it would appear I just cannot resist shoving more Nash-era Suns into the article.
Ronny Turiaf — Center
The former Gonzaga star began his career with those downtrodden Lakers teams that were between the Shaq and Pau years. He wasn’t just another one of those scrubs that Kobe was burdened with though. He became an immediate favorite of many fans after they learned of his traumatic open heart surgery, inspiring kids to continue to fight in the face of whatever grave danger may be overtaking their life.
Turiaf played the game like someone who indeed had been freed from the shackles of fear, someone who was given a whole new lease on life and was going to live it to the absolute fullest. He always looked like he was having more fun than anybody else on the court with him, a childlike exuberance you could say. I think that’s one of the greatest compliments you can give an athlete. Someone who works his ass off and has fun doing it!
And he makes faces like this!
The 2000’s were a unique decade in basketball, filled with wacky individuals. The game was in a transitional phase between centers dominating the paint in the 90’s and three point shooting taking over the 2010’s. I think these random players give a pretty fulfilling picture of the pros at this stage in the association, but maybe I’m missing somebody. Who were your favorite random players of the 2000's?