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10 Greatest Basketball Players to Never Play in the NBA

There were several great basketball players that never made it to the NBA for various reasons, and we bring you the best 10 from that list
Len Bias & Hank Gathers

Len Bias & Hank Gathers

The NBA is the goal of every basketball player when he starts playing the sport we all love. However, the dream sometimes fails to come true because of the many adversities and obstacles we encounter along the way. Many great players throughout history have never played in the NBA, either due to circumstances seemingly beyond their control or because they chose to play professionally in other leagues. However, they left such a trace that they left such a trace on the game that they ultimately developed 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.


Nikos Galis is a retired Greek professional basketball player. He is widely considered one of the greatest European players of all time and one of the best players Greece has ever produced. Inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame and Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017, he also won 5 Greek League MVPs thanks to his tremendous scoring ability.

Galis averaged over 31 points per game throughout his entire career and turned down an offer by the Celtics because FIBA had banned NBA players from playing for their teams.


Received 250 college basketball scholarship offers before settling in Cal State Los Angeles in 1972. The following year, Lewis was the youngest player ever drafted and signed for 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.


Marques Haynes was a professional basketball player and coach best known for his time with the Harlem Globetrotters. He played for the team from 1948 to 1953 and then again from 1972 to 1979. Haynes was known for his incredible ball-handling skills and ability to entertain audiences with his trick shots and ball-handling abilities. Legends says Haynes could dribble the ball 6 times in a second, and he was the inspiration for great NBA point guards like "Pistol" Pete Maravich, and Bob Cousy. He was also a coach with the team from 1979 to 1993. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998 and is also a member of the International Basketball Hall of Fame. He was considered one of the greatest ball handlers of all time.


Like many of the players on this list, Joe was a streetball legend with many offers from NBA teams, but he turned them down because he was making much more money in the streets. Hammond was fierce on offense, and he used to destroy the opposing team's defenses, thus the nickname "The Destroyer". He is best known for setting a Rucker Park single-game record with 82 points, and that time, he walked into a game against Dr. J during the second half and torched him for 50 points. Hammond could have been one of the greats, but he had no desire to do it.


Ben Wilson was a highly touted high school basketball player from Chicago. He was considered one of the country's top high school basketball players and was widely considered the top player in his class. Sadly, Benji Wilson never had a chance to show the world what he was capable of. He was shot and killed on November 20, 1984, at the age of 17, just before the start of his senior season in high school. His death was a tragic event that brought attention to the problem of inner-city violence and profoundly impacted the city of Chicago and the basketball community. His nickname was "Magic Johnson with a jump shot," which best describes his immense talent. ESPN did a phenomenal 30-for-30 documentary on Benji.

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Hank Gathers was a college basketball player who played for Loyola Marymount University in the late 1980s, and anyone who was a college basketball fan in that era knew about Loyola's duo – Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. Hank was known for his scoring ability and for his powerful dunks. Gathers was diagnosed with a heart condition during his college career but continued to play despite the diagnosis. He collapsed and died during a game on March 4, 1990, after a powerful alley-oop dunk. His death was a tragic event that brought attention to the issue of heart conditions in athletes and prompted many changes in how such situations are treated and monitored. Loyola Marymount University retired his jersey number, and the West Coast Conference (WCC) established the Hank Gathers Student-Athlete of the Year award in his honor.


Oscar Schmidt is like Michael Jordan of international hoops. He was known for his scoring ability, earning him the nickname "The Brazilian Bomber." He competed in five Olympic games, winning a silver medal at the 1987 Pan American Games and leading the tournament in scoring. He also won three gold medals at the South American Championships. He scored over 50,000 points in his 26-year-long career, playing both in Brazil and Italy. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013 and the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2011.


Kirkland is famous for turning down an NBA contract to play for the Chicago Bulls because he made more money hustling on the streets of New York. He was considered one of the greatest streetball players of all time, known for his flashy style of play and scoring ability. During the '60s and '70s, Pee Wee would pull up to the Rucker in a Rolls Royce and drop a casual 50. In college, coaches often described him as "the fastest man in college basketball," and he also had the opportunity to play with the great Kareem at UCLA, but the gangster lifestyle got too much for him. If he would've chosen a different path, Pee Wee could've become a great NBA player.


Earl Manigault is, unfortunately, another guy who got caught up with the wrong crowd. Known for his incredible jumping ability and ball-handling skills, Earl was considered one of the most talented streetball players of his time and was widely regarded as one of the greatest playground legends in the game's history. 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.

Manigault died in 1998 due to a heart attack. Nevertheless, his legacy lives on through the many players who have been inspired by his incredible talent and his troubled life story. A movie, "Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault" was released in 1996, starring Don Cheadle as Manigault, and tells the story of his life and legacy.


Len Bias was a college basketball player at the University of Maryland. He is considered one of the greatest college basketball players of all time and was a two-time ACC Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American in both his junior and senior seasons. The Boston Celtics selected Bias as the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft, but he tragically died of a cocaine overdose just two days later. 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.

Bias' death was a shock to the sports world and had a significant impact on the NBA. It also highlighted the issues of drug use and abuse in the league. It led to the creation of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which mandated longer prison sentences for drug offenses, and the formation of the NBA's Anti-Drug Program.

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