There are many basketball legends who never played in the NBA.
Some were streetballers, some international stars, and others never even made it out of school. We bring you the ten greatest basketball players to never play in the NBA.
Marques Haynes is the best ball handler in history, inspiring legends like Bob Cousy and Pistol Pete Maravich. Haynes revolutionized dribbling and reportedly could bounce a ball six times in a second. He gained fame with the Harlem Globetrotters and later started his own team, the Harlem Magicians. Mr. Haynes retired in 1992 after a 46-year professional career and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998. The great Marques Haynes died in 2015, at 89.
Raymond Lewis is considered by many to be the best basketball player ever to come out of Southern California. As a freshman at Cal-State L.A., he averaged 39 points per game and shot nearly 60 percent from the floor. Before the advent of the three-point line, he dropped 73 on UC-Santa Barbara on 75 percent shooting. When he was taken with the 18th pick of the first round in the 1973 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, Lewis was the youngest player ever drafted by the NBA. But Lewis never played an NBA game. During rookie camp, he walked out on the Sixers over a contract dispute and was never able to get his pro career on track. He died at 41 following a lengthy illness.
Nicknamed The Destroyer because that’s exactly what he did to defenses, Joe Hammond set a Rucker Park single-game record with 82 points. He turned down the Los Angeles Lakers because he was making more money selling drugs. Hammond once walked into a game with Julius Erving at The Rucker and torched the Doctor for 50 in the second half. He could have been one of the greats but was more interested in peddling dope. Hammond did a couple of stints in prison and is now a recovering drug addict.
In 1984, Benji Wilson led Simeon High School to a Chicago Public League title and Illinois state basketball championship. The 6’7” silky-smooth swingman was the nation’s top prep player, then was gunned down near his school during his senior year. The 17-year-old Wilson was considered “Magic Johnson with a jump shot” and was featured in the 30-for-30 documentary, Benji, in 2012.
Nikos Galis is the most prolific scorer in European hoops history. The six-foot guard averaged over 31 points per game for his career and led the Greek League in scoring 11 times. Galis was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2007 and Naismith Hall of Fame ten years later. He was offered contracts by the Celtics and Nets but turned them down because FIBA at the time didn’t allow NBA players to compete with their national team.
Hank Gathers was a beast. The chiseled power forward was a three-time All-WCC performer and the conference’s 1989 Player of the Year. He paired with high school teammate Bo Kimble to help Loyola Marymount lead the nation in scoring three years in a row. In December 1989, he was diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat, but Gathers refused to take the necessary medication because it made him feel sluggish. Three months later, he suffered a hypertrophic cardiomyopathy on the court during the 1990 WCC tournament, dying only months before he was projected to be the top pick in the NBA draft.
Dubbed the Holy Hand, Oscar Schmidt was a Brazilian scoring legend for a quarter-century. The 6’8” guard is the all-time leading scorer in the history of basketball, having poured in over 11,000 points more than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s career scoring king. Oscar scored a record 55 points in an Olympic game and averaged over 30 points per contest in his brilliant Olympic career. Named one of FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players, Schmidt chose to remain an amateur so he could play for the Brazilian national team.
Richard Kirkland said “no” to the Chicago Bulls because he made more money hustling. Pee Wee is believed to have invented the crossover. He’d pull up to The Rucker in a Rolls Royce, drop 50, then return to selling heroin. Recruited by John Wooden, Pee Wee had a chance to play with Lew Alcindor at UCLA but the gangster life had a grip on him. He landed at Norfolk State, where Sports Illustrated called him “the fastest man in college basketball” — then in a federal correctional institute in Texas. While incarcerated, Kirkland twice scored more than 100 points in prison league games. Pee Wee now travels the country speaking to youth.
Born in South Carolina and raised in Harlem, Earl Manigault set a New York City junior high school record by scoring 57 points in a game. Although only 6’1”, The Goat dunked on Connie Hawkins and Lew Alcindor on a regular basis at The Rucker. Manigault was immortalized in the 1996 HBO film, Rebound, starring Don Cheadle as The Goat. A legendary leaper, Manigault used his 52-inch vertical jump to grab money off the tops of backboards. He dominated in high school and was highly recruited, but heroin addiction led to prison stints and an early death. The Goat succumbed to heart failure at 53 in 1998.
As the 1986 ACC Athlete of the Year and two-time conference Player of the Year, Len Bias was the total package for Maryland. A first-team All-American forward, Bias was drafted No. 2 overall by the defending world champion Boston Celtics June 17, 1986. Two days later, he died of a cocaine overdose in his Maryland dorm room. The greatest player in Maryland history was the subject of the 2009 ESPN 30-for-30 documentary, Without Bias.