There are many basketball legends that never played in the NBA but still left such a trace on the game that they ultimately developed an iconic status. Some of them streetball legends, some international stars, and some even high school players — we bring you the 10 greatest basketball players to never play in the NBA.
9. Marques Haynes
Marques is often regarded as the best ball handler the world has ever seen. He inspired legends like Bob Cousy and "Pistol" Pete Maravich. Legend says, Haynes could dribble a ball six times in a second. He revolutionized ball-handling, and his exploits in that field helped him to secure a spot with the Harlem Globetrotters. Haynes retired in 1992 after a 46-year professional career, and was inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998. He died at the age of 89 in 2015.
8. Raymond Lewis
Received 250 college basketball scholarship offers before settling on Cal State Los Angeles in 1972. The following year, Lewis was the youngest player ever drafted and signed in the NBA. Unfortunately, Lewis never played a game in the NBA after a contract dispute with the Sixers. He proceeded to torch NBA players in the highly-regarded Los Angeles Summer Pro League, dropping 54 a game. Lewis claims he was blackballed, as he tried out for multiple NBA and ABA teams, but never got a contract. He died at the age of 41 back in 2001, after a lengthy illness.
7. Joe "The Destroyer" Hammond
Known for setting a Rucker Park single-game record with 82 points. After high school, Joe had the Lakers knocking on his door, but like some street-ball legends of his era, he turned them down because he was making much more money in the streets. Hammond used to destroy defenses, thus the nickname "The Destroyer". Joe once walked into a game against Dr. J during the second half and torched him for 50 points. Hammond could've been one of the greats, but he had no desire to. He played ball in his spare time and figured the drug game would last forever. Today, he is a recovering addict.
6. Benji Wilson
Sadly, Benji Wilson never had a chance to show the world what he was capable of. When MJ was dominating with the Bulls, Benji was taking the amateur hoops world by storm. Sadly, he was gunned down in an altercation near his school during his senior year. He was named the nation's No.1 high school player a couple months prior to being murdered on the streets of Chicago. He was 17 years old. They used to call him "Magic Johnson with a jump shot." The ESPN did a phenomenal 30 for 30 documentary on Benji, it's a must see.
5. Hank Gathers
Every true basketball fan knows about the unstoppable duo of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. They led Loyola Marymount to national prominence with their monstrous offense. Gathers was already labelled as the next NBA star until he first experienced problems with his heart in December of 1989. Gathers had an abnormal heartbeat, but did not take the necessary medication because he felt that it negatively impacted his performance. Following and alley-oop dunk in the 1990 WCC tournament, Gathers suffered a hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and passed out on the court. He never recovered, dying only months before he was projected to be the #1 pick in the NBA.
4. Oscar Schmidt
Oscar Schmidt once scored 46 points in a Pan-Am game against a US team that featured David Robinson, Danny Manning, and Pervis Ellison—a game Brazil won 120-115 after trailing 68-54 at halftime. Schmidt is like the Jordan of international hoops. The Brazilian legend played for 26 years (1974–2003) and scored a total of 49,703 points, approximately 11,000 more than Kareem! He also scored the most points in an Olympic game with 55 and averaged damn near 30 per contest in his Olympic career. Oscar had plenty of chances to play in the League, but he instead chose to stay overseas, in Brazil, Italy and Spain. This way he would be eligible to play for the Brazilian national team.
3. Pee Wee Kirkland
Kirkland famously turned down a contract to play for the Chicago Bulls because he made more money hustling. Legend has it, Kirkland executed the first crossover and spin to the basket. During the ’60s and ’70s, Pee Wee would pull up to the Rucker in a Rolls Royce and drop 50. While in jail, he scored 100+ points a couple times in various prison leagues. He had the opportunity to play with Kareem in UCLA, but was too caught up in the gangster lifestyle. If he would've chosen a different path, Pee Wee could’ve become a great NBA player.
2. Earl "The Goat" Manigault
Earl Manigault was unfortunately another guy who got caught up with the wrong crowd. He was one of the most gifted players to ever step on a basketball court. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went so far as to say that "The Goat" was the greatest basketball player he had ever played against. Legend has it that “The Goat” had a 52″ vertical leap, which would be 4″ higher than Michael Jordan’s NBA-record 48. Regrettably, “The GOAT” developed a heroin addiction in Harlem and spent several years in prison early in his adult life and it all went downhill from there.
1. Len Bias
Len Bias was the total package. In his senior year at Maryland, Bias averaged 23 PPG along with 7 RPG and was a first-team All-American. He was the two-time ACC Player of the Year. Boston Celtics, the reigning NBA champions drafted Bias with the No. 2 pick in the 1986 NBA draft (behind Brad Daugherty). Sadly, Bias was found dead in his Maryland dorm room from a cocaine overdose only one day after he was drafted, at the age of 22. Len Bias had a unique mix of talent and athleticism, and many believe he would've been one of the best to ever play in the league. The ESPN did a phenomenal 30 for 30 documentary on Bias, also a must see.