Suppose that your son flashed a penchant for basketball. Suppose that through raw talent, dogged perseverance and just plain hard work, he blossomed into an outstanding college player. Suppose that he envisioned himself an NBA player in the mold of, maybe, Ben Wallace, or Bruce Bowen, or Avery Johnson. Would you sign up for that?
Though Wallace, Bowen and Johnson had/have had respectable NBA careers, they share an uncommon trait: They were not drafted. They all negotiated the thicket of NBA obstacles as free agents.
The plight of players like that resonates loudly and deeply right now with the ascension of the New York Knicks' Jeremy Lin to the pinnacle of public consciousness. The son of two engineers from Taiwan, the 6-foot-3 Lin has risen from the obscurity of the D-League to become the king of New York. He has averaged almost 27 points in leading the Knicks to five consecutive wins.
|Slideshow: The 10 best undrafted players|
Just as Lin is getting started to perhaps a long and prosperous NBA career, Wallace's is winding down. On Tuesday night he played his 1,055th career game, which broke Johnson's mark as the most ever by an undrafted player.
Like Lin, Wallace was unwanted coming out of college despite a terrific four-year run. Whereas Lin's basketball accomplishments at Harvard were overlooked, so was Wallace's career as a Division II All-American at Virginia Union. He had to spend a year in Italy before he finally got a chance to play in the NBA.
Wallace made his mark as a defender and rebounder, with his toughness being the intangible that finally got him noticed by NBA teams. The same could be said for Bowen, who actually spent four years overseas – in France – before getting a call from the NBA.
Bowen did play four years in a Division I program, but he was a basketball player in a baseball school. Cal State Fullerton is one of those rare places where baseball outdraws basketball and the College World Series is the holy grail, not the NCAA Tournament. While Bowen was a Titan, Phil Nevin was the BMOC before he was taken first overall in the baseball draft.
Though he went undrafted, Bowen's perseverance and tireless work on both ends of the floor eventually paid off. With the San Antonio Spurs, he became a three-time NBA champion and was named to eight consecutive All-Defensive teams. In his heyday, Bowen was considered the finest perimeter defender in the league, with a deadly 3-point shot on the side of the court to boot.
Those players surely provided Lin with some inspiration, as he also went undrafted after graduating with an economics degree from Harvard, a school that has produced more U.S. presidents than NBA players. (Lin is earning $762,195 this season, so if this whole basketball thing doesn't work out and he can stomach the pay cut, he could run for president.)
But if politics is in Lin's future, it can wait. Right now he's making a push for inclusion on our list of top 10 undrafted NBA players.
- Avery Johnson