Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Derrick Rose looks like he’s back, Russell Westbrook is dunking in practice … who’s the toughest, most resilient NBA player you’ve ever seen?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Jerry Sloan was the Dick Butkus/Mike Ditka of Chicago basketball in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He didn’t get that clenched-fist profile hoisting pretty jumpers. Long before he was a Hall of Fame coach, Sloan was a spit ‘n’ vinegar Bulls guard alongside also-nails-tough Norm Van Lier. Those two — and more important, their opponents — needed cut men in their corners more than coaches on their benches.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Pound for pound, it’s got to be Allen Iverson. The little guy was bounced off more courts than anything without “Spalding” stamped across its face and kept right on coming back for more. Runner-up: Isiah Thomas.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Certainly it’s impossible not to immediately think of Michael Jordan, who played in at least 78 games in a season 12 times and through all kinds of injuries and illness. Larry Bird, too, with his awful back issues and Kobe Bryant, who had seemed almost impervious to injury until his Achilles blowout. Steve Nash is another guy who took all kinds of punishment and kept on coming. But one player fresh on my mind is Rudy Tomjanovich. I recently finally read John Feinstein‘s book “The Punch.” Tomjanovich wanted to walk right back on the court even though the punch Kermit Washington delivered caused Tomjanovich’s skull to leak spinal fluid (of course he didn’t quite know it at that moment). For him to come back after an injury that could have killed him and required multiple surgeries, to average 19.0 points and 7.7 rebounds a game the next season and make the All-Star team is nothing short of remarkable. Tomjanovich was always tough, but that brand of toughness stretches well beyond the imagination.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Kobe Bryant could have been a hockey player. Ultimate compliment. John Stockton is in the conversation. He didn’t battle serious injuries, but he was a point guard constantly setting hard screens on bigs, he never missed games. Grant Hill and Zydrunas Ilgauskas defined resilient — the number of times they could have retired because of injury, refused, and built lengthy careers through determination as much as talent.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s easy to recall both Jason Kidd and Steve Nash playing playoff games with one eye mostly swollen shut. I’ve heard stories about Chuck Hayes separating his shoulder on multiple occasions, popping it back in and getting back on the floor. But I don’t think anyone tops Kobe Bryant playing through the various injuries that he’s had over the years. In ’09-10, he put up over 1,500 shots with a broken finger on his shooting hand!
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: That’s a ridiculously tough question to answer given what passes for toughness in today’s NBA. I think the toughest and most resilient player I have seen during my time as a conscientious observer of the NBA would certainly have to be two different players (I always go with Charles Oakley and Derrick Coleman as the two toughest, based solely on the eyewitness testimony of guys who played with and against them during their era). If we’re talking about guys who have bounced back from significant injury to regain their status in the league or the guy who are willing to sacrifice life and limb to stay on the court, the guy willing to drag around a dangling limb if he has to in order to keep his team in a position to win, that’s another story. You never really know what kind of pain threshold a particular guy might have and you certainly have no idea if they are willing to push it to the limit in this day and age, not with all of the science out there that indicates physical trauma of any kind can having a detrimental and lasting impact on an athlete’s life for year and years to come. That said, Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo strike me as guys who have and will give it all up to compete and compete at the highest level. Kobe popped an Achilles and got up and walked down the floor and shot free throws, man. And you remember when Rondo got his arm twisted the wrong way and came back later and played, or when he tore his ACL last season and finished the game like it was no big deal. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if those things make you tough, resilient or just plain crazy.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Kevin Willis. Considering he started playing for the Hawks when I was a kid and then was still playing in the NBA by the time I was out of school and working covering the NBA… I mean, that’s a pretty wide span. He always kept himself in tip-top condition, which is why he was able to play until he was 44 years old. I had the pleasure of being able to share a few meals with Kevin toward the end of his career, and he was always terribly careful about what he would order and what he would allow himself to eat. (I was not so careful.) There may have been guys who were “tougher,” meaning guys who were ready to fight at the drop of a hat, but I don’t think anyone has ever been more resilient than Kevin Willis.
Karan Madhok, NBA.com India: The player that immediately springs to mind is Allen Iverson. Perhaps the greatest pound-for-pound player ever, Iverson played much bigger than his 6-foot stature and dominated opponents on a nightly basis in his prime. He was also tougher than nails when it came to playing through injury, highlighted by the memorable 2001 season when he carried the undermanned 76ers to the Finals while also carrying various sprains, contusions and who knows what other pain in his body.
Jacopo Gerna, NBA.com Italia: I’ll pick up Bill Laimbeer. Despite an ordinary body, he was a four-time All Star and a clutch player for the Detroit Pistons when they won two championships. Coaches, players, fans … when they talk about “playing hard,” what does it mean? I suggest a Laimbeer DVD. Look how he was able to face down bigger centers, opening the court with his silky mid-range shot and 3-pointers, playing pick-and-pop alongside Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. For sure he committed many hard fouls, and sometimes he flopped to the ground after a slight brushing. But his reputation for physical play (“he’s a thug”, said his former teammate Dennis Rodman) overshadowed his skills. To me, he was always more than a “bad boy.”
Aldo Miguel Aviñante, NBA.com Philippines: Kobe Bryant, no doubt. He has been playing through injuries throughout most of his career — mentally and physically no one can match the Mamba. He prepares himself and uses every advantage he can to take care of his body. The image of Kobe walking by himself with a ruptured Achilles is a testament of his incredible toughness and resiliency.