When the Sixers selected Allen Iverson with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, a franchise-changing superstar landed in Philadelphia. But unlike in most NBA draft classes, a lot of talent was still available after Iverson's selection. In total, 10 players taken in the first 20 selections of Iverson's draft went on to make at least one NBA All-Star Game roster. While many fans cite the 1984 draft (Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton), as the best ever, the 1996 group will likely have exactly as many Hall of Fame inductees with the first 16 selections its class. Iverson thinks his class is the best of all time. During an interview with Complex Sports, the 2001 NBA MVP gave his opinion with conviction.
"It is the best," Iverson said. "No question about it. Ask anybody that knows about basketball and anybody that has a basketball mind and there's no question. There's too many Hall of Famers all throughout it."
Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Antoine Walker, Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Derek Fisher - those are just some of the names, and most notable, selected in the 1996 NBA Draft.
That group includes at least two (potentially three or four) Hall of Famers, three MVPs, seven All-NBA players, 10 All-Stars, and a total of 58 All-Star appearances. These players also combine for 14 championships. Five of the top six players drafted in ’96 made an All-Star Game. (Camby is the only one who failed to do so, as he was plagued by injuries. However, he was the 2006-07 Defensive Player of the Year).
Bryant, Stojakovic, Nash, O’Neal, Ilgauskas, and Fisher were all selected outside of the top 10. That means this draft produced two MVPs, five All-Stars, and four All-NBA players from picks 13-20. Fisher selected 24th, never won any of those accolades but was a key cog on five championship teams.
Iverson, Bryant, and Nash won in a total of five MVP awards. Throw in Ray Allen, one of the greatest shooters of all time, and you can see the impact this class had.
Adding to the legacy of this legendary class is the off-the-court impact. Iverson is perhaps the biggest cultural icon the NBA has ever seen. He helped show the world that it was OK to be yourself and to accept oneself for the good and the bad. Unlike some of our sports heroes, he was real, and we got to see his human side, not just the prepackaged, marketed athlete. What he meant to those who embraced him cannot be overstated. Iverson, along with Bryant and, to a lesser extent, Marbury led the way in fashion and signature sneakers. This class entered the league at the time many consider to be the golden era of NBA basketball. They joined players like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Chris Webber, and Penny Hardaway and immediately began to make their own mark. They eventually took the torch from those players and carried the NBA from the late 1990s into the early 2000s.
It was a great experience for basketball fans to watch this group grow and mature into who each player ultimately became. The memories these players provided and the things they accomplished on the court will be remembered by true NBA fans.