Photo: Vince Laforget / Pool (Getty)
The ’90s provided an era of basketball when athleticism went to another level, guys like Shawn Kemp wrecking the rim and Tim Hardaway breaking ankles with his killer crossovers. And, of course, the GOAT himself, Michael Jordan.
Let’s rewind the clock 20-some years and remember the best ’90s nostalgic moments in NBA history.
Shawn Kemp Monster Dunks
In what was already a contentious first-round series against the Golden State Warriors, things boiled over when Kemp found himself with an open lane to the basket. After getting a defensive rebound and starting a fast break, Kemp caught a pass near the top of the key, drove in, cupped the ball and stuffed a flashy one-handed dunk right over Lister, forcing the defender to fall to the floor. He then taunted Lister by pointing at him and celebrated on his way back on defense.
Reggie Miller (Indiana Pacers) vs. Spike Lee (New York Knicks)
This is easily the most heated off-court rivalry the NBA saw in the ’90s. The tension between Indiana Pacers guard, Reggie Miller, and film director and outspoken sideline coach, Spike Lee, was one that got more TV time than a lot of guys who played for Lee’s favorite team, the New York Knicks.
Michael Jordan Dominates
There are probably no better descriptors of ’90s basketball than Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. This team made a dynasty worthy of being recognized as the greatest ever to play the game while being led by the consensus greatest basketball player of all time.
Jordan and his Bulls won six championships from 1991 to 1998, winning three in a row on two separate occasions. The only two years they didn’t win titles during that span are when Jordan abruptly retired before the 1993-94 season to pursue a career in baseball. Unfortunately for Jordan, his baseball career didn’t pan out as well he hoped. Fortunately for the Bulls, in 1995 he announced his return to the NBA with a simple fax to the Chicago Tribune that read “I’m back.”
Allen Iverson Owning Everyone
Allen Iverson entered the NBA in 1996 and had an immediate impact. The 6-foot guard played an incredibly physical game for someone smaller in stature, making him a threat no matter what you threw at him.
Then the day came when Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers played Jordan’s Bulls. As Iverson dribbled at the top of the key, Bulls coach Phil Jackson called on Jordan to play defense on Iverson. Jordan, an outstanding defender, stepped up to the challenge. Iverson hit Jordan with his crossover once, and then again, leaving the league’s best player looking like he had to play catchup as Iverson pulled up and hit a jumper.
Bryant was selected by the Hornets as the No. 13 overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. He was a 17-year-old kid who decided to skip college and jump straight into the league. Bryant received a lot of press at the time due to the decision to forgo higher education, but there was little about the potential ceiling for a teenager who didn’t have the resumé of other players in that draft like Iverson, Ray Allen and Stephon Marbury. Oh, how wrong they were!
Hideous All-Star Uniforms
The NBA All-Star games have always been more memorable than the ones the best players wear on their backs. These games marked the first time the league decided to get creative with their uniforms and, oh man, were they something!
In 1996, the league took it to a whole other level with their All-Star jerseys and color scheme of teal green, orange and a graphic that looked like a neon jalapeno spinning a basketball on its tip. There’s no way to justify this monstrosity of a jersey, but it reminds us that even the best players in the world can look silly sometimes.
Center Spotlights vs. Today’s Mighty Mice
Today’s NBA is dominated by what we call “small ball.” It’s a league where the little guys like Stephan Curry get a ton of love long-range game, and deservedly so. But the ’90s was a different time, having dominant big body Hall of Famers like Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing run the court.
The 1992 Dream Team
In 1992, the greatest collection of basketball players ever assembled threw on America’s colors to represent the country in the Olympics. The Dream Team, consisting of the best players in the NBA at the time, took on the world and showed everyone how good they were.
Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Chris Mullen, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Christian Laettner, Ewing, Robinson and Jordan combined to become the greatest force basketball has ever witnessed. This team made the rest of the world realize they had to up their game on the court if they were ever going to compete with the United States. Winning by an average of 45 points, The Dream Team rolled to the gold medal without ever receiving a challenge from any of the national teams.
The Dream Team was unstoppable then, and the United States has selected professionals to compete in national basketball games ever since.