The “Point God” is clearly among the best at his position (even as he approaches his late 30’s). Paul simply plays the game in a way which harkens back to an earlier generation. He’s never been known as the biggest, quickest, or fastest player on the floor. Instead, Paul operates with terrific skill, exceptionally high basketball I.Q., and dogged competitiveness.
Paul cultivated many of these traits during his childhood in North Carolina. Both his father and grandfather taught him everything he needed to know about the game of basketball. Born in Winston-Salem, he was raised in the small town of Lewisville. Eventually, Paul developed into one of the country’s top prep point guards. He was a McDonald’s All-American, and chose to play at Wake Forest over a host of other prominent programs.
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Before becoming one of the NBA’s most lethal scorers, Kevin Durant was your average kid on the Eastern seaboard of the United States. Born in the nation’s capital, Durant grew up around the D.C. area (in a city called Seat Pleasant, Maryland). Durant chronicled his childhood in an article he penned for The Undefeated. Durant spoke about using basketball as a mechanism to get himself out of the impoverished environment he grew up in — which was riddled with violence, rampant drug use, crime, and police brutality.
Ultimately, Durant ended up going to the University of Texas — where he became the nation’s best player. Since then, Durant has dominated the NBA with his scoring prowess. He’ll go down as one of the best to ever play the game.
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Giannis Antetokounmpo’s journey to the NBA was far from the norm. Based upon his upbringing, the odds of him becoming an NBA Champion and a multi-time MVP were astronomical. Antetokounmpo’s parents both hailed from Nigeria, though raised their family in Athens, Greece. As a young child, Giannis and his brothers would sell little trinkets on the street to tourists as a means to help make money for the family. As a second-division player in Greece, one random scout discovered Giannis and the potential he brought to the table. From there, the secret was out.
Still a raw prospect, the Bucks took a chance on him midway through the first round. Steadily, ‘The Greek Freak’ continued to get better and better. As we’ve recently seen, Antetokounmpo is now squarely in the discussion as arguably the best player in all of professional basketball.
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Russell Westbrook has always been a fighter. Growing up in Los Angeles, he’d often be seen competing against other kids — mostly older — at parks throughout the area. A late bloomer, it wasn’t until his senior year of high school until he reportedly dunked for the first time. It’s hard to believe considering Westbrook is likely one of the best athletes to have ever played the game. After a growth spurt, he finally garnered college attention as a senior. UCLA took a late flier on Westbrook (whom otherwise was considered to be an average prospect at best).
The gamble paid off, as Westbrook’s athletic ability — coupled with his immense competitiveness — led to him being a top-five pick of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Since then, Westbrook has shattered the triple-double mark, and is a clear lock for the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame once he retires.
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By now, the story of the late great Kobe Bryant has been discussed quite thoroughly. Kobe was born in Pennsylvania before eventually spending a great deal of his childhood in Italy (where his father was playing professionally). This dichotomy was quite fascinating, as Kobe combined the competitive nature of American basketball along with the more skilled version being played in Europe. When further adding in his background in soccer, it’s no surprise that his footwork was spectacular.
Eventually, the Bryant family returned to the states. Kobe went on to star at Lower Merion High School in suburban Philadelphia. The Charlotte Hornets drafted him originally — though he was then dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers. The rest…as they say…is history.
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He was just a kid from Akron who turned out to far surpass even the most lofty of expectations. Raised by a single mom in a rough neighborhood, LeBron James beat all the odds. By the time he was in high school, ESPN were televising his games. James would be appearing on the fronts of magazines and newspapers. People were expecting him to be the greatest player since Michael Jordan.
To some today, he’s even better than MJ (which is highly debatable). James has enjoyed a spectacular career in which he will likely shatter all of the major statistical records. Though he’s only won 3 NBA Titles (which most players would kill for), James alone has been in nine of them. This sorta thing just doesn’t happen unless you’re a truly transcendent, elite basketball player.
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Young grew up in Oklahoma primarily — though he also has roots to the state of Texas. He was born in Lubbock, which is the home city of Texas Tech (where his dad played). Despite having a tiny frame, Young was a Oklahoma high school legend. He’d score 30+ points in his sleep on a nightly basis. It eventually led to Young earning a scholarship to hometown OU.
While at Oklahoma, Young continued to light it up. He averaged over 27 points a game as a true freshman. No one could check him — whether it be future elite NBA talents or veteran college players with size and strength advantages. Though some were skeptical as to Young’s ceiling, the Atlanta Hawks wisely scooped him up to be the face of their franchise. Based upon his career so far, the Hawks are thrilled by his development.
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Earvin “Magic” Johnson grew up in a working class neighborhood in Lansing, Michigan. Watching both of his parents overcome obstacle after obstacle, Johnson learned the value of working hard at a very young age. He was able to take those skills to the basketball court. Johnson starred at his local high school before furthering his legendary status at Michigan State.
At 6-foot-9, he could virtually play any position on the floor. Johnson’s ability to manipulate the basketball both scoring and passing-wise made him a truly transcendent player. In fact, the only player in NBA history resembling a somewhat similar skill-set to Johnson would be LeBron James.
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Weirdly enough, LeBron James wasn’t the only future league MVP born in the city of Akron. Steph Curry — the son of former NBA player Dell — was born in Akron at the same hospital where LeBron came into the world. Dell had been playing for the Cavs at that point. The family bounced around to a number of locations which corresponded with Dell’s playing career. For a stretch, Steph grew up in the city of Toronto. However, the family ultimately settled in the city of Charlotte.
Steph was not a big-time recruit coming out of high school. He was a good shooter with a rail-thin frame and a baby face. While the baby face has remained, the shooting ability has exploded. We could make a case that Curry developed into the best shooter in the history of the NBA. We saw how special he was with Davidson in college, and that level of play has only further transitioned into the league today.
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“The Hick from French Lick” is one of the greatest sports nicknames of all-time. Larry Bird is by most accounts billed as a borderline top-10 NBA player of all-time. When looking at Bird as a child, few probably saw this pasty, below-average athlete as someone who would one day turn into an absolute killer on the court.
Bird and his family resided in a rural part of Indiana. His family was poor, and things were not easy for Bird as a youngster. His father committed suicide when he was a kid — something that was understandably quite difficult for a family with six children to deal with. Ultimately, Bird emerged as a real high school prospect. He attended Indiana State, where the budding rivalry between himself and Magic Johnson became national news. Upon being drafted by the Celtics, Bird won 3 NBA Titles, 3 MVP Awards, 2 Finals MVP Awards, and was a 12-time All-Star.
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If you’ve not yet watched the original Space Jam, that would give you a perfect encapsulation into the early part of Jordan’s life. However, the odds are you’ve already heard this tale before. Jordan was born in the borough of Brooklyn, though shortly after moved with his family back to their native North Carolina. Jordan wasn’t even considered the best athlete amongst his siblings. He was cut from his high school team before eventually reemerging as an elite national prospect.
From there, Jordan was a star at the University of North Carolina before landing with the Bulls. You know the rest of the story…
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Harden is yet another fantastic basketball player hailing from the Greater Los Angeles area. Growing up in Compton, Harden reportedly dealt with a father who was in-and-out of his life. Raised primarily by his mother, Harden was a big gamer growing up. It corresponded with having asthma (which sometimes to this day hinders his conditioning). In somewhat of a surprising move, Harden ended up signing with Arizona State out of high school. To this day, Harden is one of the highest-ranked recruits to ever play in Tempe.
Utilizing craftiness and a silky shooting stroke, Harden was an impact freshman. Simultaneously, he was working tremendously hard to redefine his body. He went from being a bit doughy into someone highly muscular. Since entering the NBA, one can make an argument that Harden is the best one-on-one player in the game today.
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The one they call ‘Luka Legend’ was just at one time a little kid hoping to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Luka initially played soccer at a young age. However, he soon outgrew the sport — which was just fine with Luka’s dad, Sasa. Sasa was not only a former player himself, but he’s also a basketball coach in their native Slovenia. Luka’s father intentionally had him playing against older kids as a means to toughen him up.
This worked terrifically well, as Luka became a professional basketball player by age 16. He starred for famed European club Real Madrid. It got to a point where he quickly became the best player in all of Europe despite still being a teenager. Though there were some questions about his athleticism, Doncic quickly dispelled all of those myths. At age 22, he’s already one of the NBA’s best players.
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Robin to LeBron’s Batman, Anthony Davis has changed quite a bit from his days growing up on the southside of Chicago. Growing up, Davis was always a guard. He never had the terrific size he now sports. It wasn’t until very late in his high school career when Davis enjoyed a gigantic growth spurt. He went from being a fringe guard prospect into the nation’s No. 1 high school player. Davis picked Kentucky over a host of other prominent programs. He then led the program to a National Title.
Since entering the NBA, Davis has consistently been one of the NBA’s best (when healthy). Davis can alter the game in a number of ways — both offensively and in terms of protecting the rim. During the ‘Bubble’ season, Davis’ brilliance was a huge reason as to why the Lakers got over the hump for their 16th World Championship.
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The silent assassin Kawhi Leonard unsurprisingly grew up in the laid back region of Southern California. Though born in Los Angeles, Leonard went to high school in the Inland Empire — an area which isn’t exactly a hotbed for NBA talent (though Leonard, Darren Collison, and the Ball family have changed that narrative somewhat). Leonard flew under the radar, and attended San Diego State. It was the perfect environment for Leonard to thrive. He was able to focus on basketball without the hoopla of a bigger campus (such as UCLA).
The Spurs saw something in him — which is why they dealt a proven veteran (George Hill) for Leonard’s rights on draft night. Leonard made good on San Antonio’s gamble. He not only helped the Spurs win thee 2014 NBA Championship, but he was the franchise’s premier player in the wake of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili aging out of their primes. Since then, Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to another title, and now has eyes on now bringing a championship to the Clippers.
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Yep, the reigning NBA MVP once looked like a kid who enjoyed more than a handful of candy shops. No one will ever confuse Jokic for a swimsuit model. However, he’s worked tremendously hard to go from being a second-round draft pick into the league’s MVP.
It all started for Jokic in the city of Sombor in rural Serbia (on the borders of both Hungary and Bosnia). Both of his older brothers were basketball players at high levels (college, professionally). Being able to bang against the older brothers day after day undoubtedly shaped Jokic into an ultimate competitor. After starring in the Serbian League, he eventually drew interest from the Denver Nuggets. He was drafted midway through the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft. Since then, we’ve only seen him continue to improve on an annual basis.
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Butler’s path to the NBA has been nothing short of sensational. A native of Texas, Butler was kicked out of his house as a teenager. Living homeless on the streets for a time, Butler scratched and clawed for everything he’s earned. He eventually stayed with a friend’s family — which gave him the stability to earn a college scholarship to Marquette. After becoming a legitimate NBA prospect, the Bulls selected him in the first round.
Butler has consistently performed at a high level. Not only is he a 5-time All-Star, but there’s a high likelihood he one day will become a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. At only 32 years of age, there’s still a lot of basketball left in Butler’s career.
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The city of Oakland has a rich history for producing a number of very good NBA players. Brian Shaw, Gary Payton, Antonio Davis, Damian Lillard, and Drew Gooden are only a few from this region. However, the best one to hail from this part of the country is PG Jason Kidd.
Kidd is born and bred in the Bay Area. In high school, he established himself as an all-time great within the state of California high school athletics. That achievement alone is phenomenal. Sticking with a Bay Area theme, Kidd played his college ball at Cal. Eventually, he made his way to the NBA — where he enjoyed a 20-year career. The 10-time All-Star was as complete of a point guard as we’ve seen. Not only was he a tremendous facilitator of the basketball, but he also rebounded the ball immensely well for a player standing roughly 6-foot-4.
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The future Hall of Famer had a rather treacherous road to stardom. Growing up on the unforgiving southside of Chicago, Wade saw divorce, drug use, gang violence, and volatility rule his childhood. Eventually, he left the perils of Chicago for a suburb away from the city. It was in the city of Robbins where Wade was able to develop into a very good basketball player.
Playing both basketball and football in high school, Wade ultimately earned a scholarship to Marquette. Under Tom Crean, Wade exploded into a household name. The Heat loved his game, and thus took him No. 5 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. Wade’s ferociousness on both ends of the floor enabled him to become one of the NBA’s more prolific players. In fact, there are many people who believe the 3-time Champ is the third-best shooting guard to ever play the game (behind only Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant).
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Dirk Nowitzki was undoubtedly a transcendent NBA player. When drafted out of his native Germany, you rarely saw 7-footers launch three-point attempts. It was even rarer to see those big men possess the requisite touch to convert. Using a patented high release, Dirk’s shot was a sight to see. He could score at any spot on the floor. While more of a perimeter player, Nowitzki’s combination of size, length, and release made it nearly impossible for anyone to block his shot.
Dirk’s greatest achievement involved leading the Mavericks to an NBA title over the heavily-favored Miami Heat (featuring Wade, James, and Chris Bosh). The 14-time All-Star made a real case in potentially being the greatest international player in NBA history (though Hakeem Olajuwon is right there as well).
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