He brought the NBA from the world of sports to the world of entertainment with his tongue-wagging dunks, his 60-point outbursts and his must-see commercials. Before Air Jordan became the best player, he was the ultimate showman.
2 of 10John D. Hanlon/SI
Hang time is an elusive concept. Does it exist? Can players make themselves stay in the air longer? We never thought much about it until Dr. J arrived to the NBA with a surreal aerial game and, if that wasn't enough, a friendly personality and an all-world Afro.
3 of 10Heinz Kluetmeier/SI
His career was shortened by knee problems and he never went to an NBA Finals, but Maravich was among the game's most charismatic showmen. He loved to make acrobatic no-look passes in the open floor.
4 of 10Andy Hayt/SI
The engine driving the Lakers' Showtime offense, Magic was a one-man fast break. Playing a freewheeling style Magic—along with some guy named Bird—dragged the NBA out of the tape-delayed postseason era to unprecedented popularity.
5 of 10Greg Nelson/SI
Blessed with the speed and playmaking of a guard and the size and strength of a power forward, James is electric. The evolution of his game—the improved jump shot, the presence in the post—has made him arguably the toughest player to guard, ever.
6 of 10Andy Hayt/SI
Sure, he didn't dunk much, but true basketball fans appreciated all the little things Bird did. Most of all, it was competitive spirit. Few, if any, wanted it more.
7 of 10Heinz Kluetmeier/SI
He could whoosh right by you, break your ankles with a crossover (remember, Mr. Jordan?) and sometimes elevate over you. You could knock him down, but you had to catch him first, and, anyway, he always got right back up. The Answer wasn't fun to guard, but he sure was fun to watch.
8 of 10John W. McDonough/SI
What a gift to fans. The game's greatest personality resided in the body of one of its greatest athletes. He'd throw down a 360 dunk over a center one minute, spout wry commentary two hours later and then throw someone through a nightclub window in the wee hours of the next morning.
9 of 10Manny Millan/SI
One thing he could do was finger roll. From anywhere. Another was score in bunches, including 33 points in a quarter (and 63 in that game) to win the 1978 scoring title. "He's the one player I would pay to see," said Jerry West. Yep.
10 of 10Walter Iooss Jr./SI
Dervishing, double-pumping, almost mummer-strutting, Earl the Pearl had a spin-dribble style never seen before or duplicated since. When he turned his back on an opponent, he would win over the crowd.
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