BROOKLYN’S 25 GREATEST PLAYERS

In honor of the Nets moving to Brooklyn, I give you my top 25 greatest basketball players of all-time from Brooklyn. Keep in mind high school, college and pro performance was considered.

1-Billy Cunningham: Erasmus Hall – “The Kangaroo Kid” scored 21 PPG and pulled down 10 RPG over an 11 year career. Billy C could drive the ball to the rim and also pull up for the mid-range. During the 1970 season Cunningham had 3 straight triple doubles. Came off the bench for arguably one of the best teams ever,  the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers. 5-time all-star. Knee problems cut his career short in 1976; he was 32.

2-Lenny Wilkins: Boys High – Played just one season at Boys; his senior year. The left-handed point guard played 15 years in the league. 9-time NBA all-star. Considered to have one of the highest basketball I.Q.’s in the game. Wilkins dished out 6 assists per game over his career and scored 16 PPG. Was like a coach on the floor. Matter of fact, he was a player-coach in Portland.

3-Connie Hawkins: Boys High – ‘The Hawk”. I read a great book on him titled, ‘Foul’. Hawkins scored 18 PPG over 9 years in the ABA and NBA. 5-time all-star. Attended University of Iowa but never played a game for the Hawkeyes due to his alleged connection with point shaving. Hawkins was never found guilty of any charge.

4-Chris Mullin: Xaverian – The smooth-stroking, 6’6″ left hander with the feathery touch scored 18 points per game over 16 years. 5-time all-star. Mullin pulled down 4 rebounds per game and dished out 3 assists during his career. All-time leading scorer at St. John’s University. Great teammate, excellent passer and always played hard. Member of the original Dream Team. Played his grammar school ball at STA. Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. Now announcing games for ESPN.

5-Bernard King: Ft. Hamilton – One of the toughest offensive players in the low post I have ever seen. Not to mention he was like an express train on the fastbreak. BK scored 22 PPG over 14 years. 4-time NBA all-star. Take away his knee injury, his numbers are a lot higher. Dropped 60 on the Nets on Christmas Day in 1984 but lost the game. Can’t forget his back-to-back 50 point nights in ’84 vs the Spurs and Mavs. The Hall of Fame is making a major omission by not having him in Springfield.

6-Mark Jackson: Bishop Loughlin – Crafty point guard that played 17 years in the NBA. Career average of 8 assists per game. The ultimate team player. Wasn’t the fastest or quickest but had a high IQ and got the job done. Watched him in high school; was rated behind Pearl Washington and Kenny Smith. Led the Lions to the State title. Played his college ball at St. John’s University. 18th pick of the 1987 NBA Draft. Was named rookie of the year with 13 PPG and 10 assists. Not too shabby. Now the head coach of the Golden State Warriors.

7-Rolando Blackman: William E. Grady – Panama-born but raised in Brooklyn. Great outside shooter; the 6’6″ gunslinger scored 18 points per game over 13 years. In college at Kansas State he was 1st team all-american. Was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team. Great teammate. Finished his career with the Knicks.

8-Stephon Marbury: Lincoln – Played his college ball at Georgia Tech; lasted just one year in Atlanta. Heck of a player. Could score in a variety of ways. Career average of 19 PPG. Great passer too; dished out 7.6 assists per game. Now playing pro ball in China. His brothers could also ball.

9-Roger Brown: Wingate – Turned out to be one of the greatest ABA players in the history of their league. Dark side of career was being involved with the 1961 betting scandal, though he was never convicted of any wrongdoing. Received a lifetime ban from the NBA. Interesting tidbit in Brown’s career; he was removed from the University of Dayton before playing a game, worked a job in town then got the call from the Indiana Pacers at the age of 25. All thanks to Oscar Robertson’s recommendation. Scored 17 PPG while leading Indiana to 3 league titles. In high school Brown scored 37 points in the 1960 PSAL semi’s at MSG against Boys High with Connie Hawkins; who fouled out in the 3rd quarter.

10-World B. Free: Canarsie – A colorful, flamboyant scorer. ‘All-World’. ‘Prince of Midair’. Started out as “Lloyd” but then switched his name to ‘World’. Twice in his 13 year career he was runner-up in scoring to George Gervin. There haven’t been many guys to get up as high as World on their jumper. Left Guilford after his Junior season. In 1980, with the San Diego Clippers Free scored 30 PPG. Career average of 20 PPG.

11-Rudy LaRusso: James Madison – Attended Dartmouth where he led them to the Ivy league championship in 1958 and 1959. Once pulled down 32 rebounds in a college game. Was a 5-time NBA all-star. Played in the NBA from 1959-69. Drafted by the Lakers and later played for the Warriors. Helped the Lakers reach the finals 4 times. Regarded as one of the league’s “original power forwards”. 6’8″ 220. Once scored 50 points in a game against the Hawks. 16 PPG and 10 RPG over his career. Regarded as a great teammate and a great person. Member of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.

12-Vinnie Johnson: FDR – “The Microwave” helped the Detroit Pistons win 2 championships with his automatic offense off the bench. Played his college ball at Baylor where he scored 24 PPG. In 1979 while at Baylor he scored 50 points in one game. Number 7 pick in the 1979 NBA draft by the Seattle Supersonics. 13 year NBA career saw him score 12PPG. Pistons retired his # 15 jersey; wore 15 because of Earl Monroe.

13-LeRoy Ellis: Jefferson – A 6’10” big man who played his college ball at St. John’s University. Played on the 1972 World Champion LA Lakers team that won 33 games in a row. Six months later, Ellis was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, whose 9-73 record in the 1972-73 season is the worst in NBA history. Ellis was on the first Portland Trailblazers team, selected from Baltimore in the 1970 expansion draft. He was in the starting lineup for the Trail Blazers’ inaugural game. He was their leading scorer (15.9 ppg) and the leading rebounder, averaging 12.3 RPG.

14-Happy Hairston: Erasmus Hall – Started on the 1972 World Champion LA Lakers team that won 33 games in a row. Played his college basketball at NYU where he is a member of their Athletic Hall of Fame. In 11 seasons Hairston scored 14 PPG and pulled down 10 RPG. He has been described as one of the most fierce rebounders the Lakers have ever had. He was tough. He was a leaper and he was very competitive.

(Upon further review, someone wrote in and said Happy did not attend Erasmus, they said he went to HS in South Carolina.) 

15-Jim McMillian: Jefferson – 3rd member from Brooklyn on the 1972 Lakers team in which he was their 3rd leading scorer behind Gail Goodrich and Jerry West. Led Columbia to a three-year record of 63-14, and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 1968. Columbia ended that 1967-68 season the sixth-ranked college team in the nation. 11 year NBA career of 13 PPG and 5 RPG. He played for LA, the Buffalo Braves, New York Knicks and Portland Trailblazers.

16-John Salley: Canarsie – “Spider”. The former Yellow Jacket is a winner; plain and simple. 4 rings with 3 different teams. Ultimate glue guy. Rebounds, defends and is a great teammate. Played with a ton of energy and enthusiasm.  7 PPG and 4 RPG over 11 years. Currently doing a TV work.

17-Albert King: Ft. Hamilton – Solid small forward that could score in bunches. Dropped 12 PPG during his career. Didn’t have the career his older brother had but still was solid. Was one of the main characters in ‘Heaven is a Playground’. One of the most hyped up player in the history of NYC high school basketball. Had an excellent HS career then went on to play at Maryland.

18-Zaid Abdul-Aziz: John Jay – Thanks to Carl Manco, I made a major omission leaving off the guy we all knew as Don Smith who made the conversion to Islam in 1976. The 6’9″ big man they called “Kangaroo” saw light for 10 years dropped 9 PPG plus 8 RPG. The former Iowa State Cyclone (Big 8 Player of the Year in 1968) played with the Royals, Bucks, Sonics, Rockets, Braves and Celtics between the years of 1968 and 1978. In Ames, he scored 23 PPG and ripped down 13 boards over his collegiate career. Taken 5th in the 1968 draft by the Cincinatti Royals.

19-George Thompson: Erasmus Hall – ‘Tip” played his college ball at Marquette where he went down as one of the greatest scorers in the Warriors history. Doc Rivers called Thompson the Father of Marquette basketball. Played 5 years in the ABA and 1 in the NBA. While a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, Thompson scored 10 PPG and I’m trying to figure out what happened to him. While playing with the red, white and blue ball GT dropped 20 PPG. During the 71-72 season scored 27 PPG. Made the all-star team 3 seasons.

20-Doug Moe: Erasmus Hall – Moe is mainly known for his coaching in the 70’s and the 80’s with the Spurs and Nuggets; his run and gun style but few people realize he was a heck of a player. Like Lenny Wilkins, Moe only played one full season at Erasmus. After playing for Frank McGuire at North Carolina Moe, was involved in the point shaving scandal in the 60’s but was never convicted of any crime. After meeting with some wise-guys, one of the gamblers offered him $75 to cover his expenses back to Chapel Hill. Assuming he was doing nothing wrong, he accepted it. Moe was banned from the NBA. Moe scored 16 PPG and grabbed 7 rebounds per game. His career was cut short by knee problems.

21-Ed Conlin: St. Michael’s – Played in the NBA from 1955 to 1962 with 3 different teams; Syracuse Nationals, Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia Warriors (In Philly he teamed up with Wilt Chamberlain, was on the floor when Wilt scored 100 points in 1961) The 6’5″ guard-forward scored 10 PPG and grabbed 4 RPG. Played his college basketball at Fordham and later on became the Rams head coach. Scored over 1800 points and grabbed over 1900 rebounds while playing in Rose Hill while playing for Johnny Bach. During his senior season Conlin scored 26 PPG.

22-George L. Johnson: New Utrecht – They called him “Beanie”. 6’7″ forward from St. John’s University.  Scored 9 PPG and pulled down 5 RPG over an 8 year career from 1978-1986. First round draft pick of the Milwaukee Bucks. One of the toughest players mentally to come out of Brooklyn. During his freshman year at SJU he had a hairline fracture in his right ankle; had surgery and was in a cast for 2 weeks. He removed the cast and was back on the court playing.

23-Max Zaslofsky: Jefferson – Max was known as ‘Slats’. Sports Illustrated named him to the Pre-1950’s All-Decade Team. Played his college ball at St. John’s University. Pro career was 1946-56. Played for the Stags, Knicks, Bullets, Hawks and Pistons. Led the NBA in scoring in 1947-48. For 62 years, Zaslofsky held the record as the youngest scoring champ (22 years, 121 days) until the Thunder’s Kevin Durant won the title at 21 years, 197 days.

24-Jerry Reynolds: Alexander Hamilton – Runner and flyer type that could handle the ball well. Played on an oustanding A-Ham team. Spent 9 years in the NBA the Bucks, Sonics and Magic. Scored 9 PPG and grabbed 3 RPG. His best season came with the Magic in 1989-90 when he scored 12 PPG and grabbed 5 RPG. “Ice” has been credited with the origin of the saying, “24/7”, meaning his his jay is on 24-7-365.

25 (T)-Geoff Huston: Canarsie – Quick, left-handed point guard who could shoot the ball and drive it to the goal. Scored 8 PPG and shot .483 from the field over 8 years.  Huston also dished out 5 APG. The New York Knicks picked Huston in the 3rd round of the 1979 draft; the former Texas Tech Red Raider made the team and played behind Michael Ray Richardson but then was taken by the Dallas Mavericks in the expansion draft the following year.  Also played for the Cavs (In 1982 scored 24 points and had a franchise-record 27 assists in a four-point win over Golden State), Warriors and Clippers. Each summer during his pro days Huston was a fixture around the city summer leagues.

25 (T)-Sidney Green: Jefferson – Tough rebounder and defender. Played his college ball for Tark at UNLV here he was an all-american in 1983. 1st round pick of the Chicago Bulls. Also spent time with his hometown NY Knicks. In 1989 he was the first selection of the Orlando Magic in the expansion draft. Sid has entered the coaching profession. Played for 6 teams over a 10 year period. 7.5 PPG 6 RPG. Outstanding community-type guy. Once brought his nephews down to Brooklyn USA.

25 (T)-Mike Dunleavy: Nazareth – Played for Frank McGuire at South Carolina. 6th round draft pick in 1976 for the Philadelphia 76ers. Solid point guard that coud shoot the ‘3’, run a team and played hard. Best season was 80-81 as a member of the Houston Rockets where he scored 10PPG and led Houston to the finals losing to the Celtics. Coached in the NBA and led the Lakers to the NBA finals. Once played in a summer league down at East 5th street park. Also spent time as a GM in the NBA. Son Mike Jr. plays in the NBA; has a younger brother Kevin that played at South Carolina.

Honorable Mention:

Joakim Noah: Poly Prep – By far my favorite big man in the NBA. Won 2 titles at Florida and has made himself into one of the best big men in the NBA with his energy, defense and willingness to do all the little things. In his first 5 years Noah has grabbed 9 rebounds per game and has scored 9 PPG. I know for a fact that his high school coach Billy McNally taught him that shooting form. Billy got the inspiration from that car rolling down 118th street and Broadway.

Jamel Tinsley – Tilden…Brooklyn USA.

Armond Hill – Bishop Ford

30 thoughts on “BROOKLYN’S 25 GREATEST PLAYERS

  1. The list of 25 is a strong statement for Brooklyn basketball.
    RE: # 14 Happy Hairston, never attended/played @ EHHS.
    Robert S. Lawrence (1957-1961) On the EHHS 1961 NYC Championship team (21&0).

  2. A list of 25 greatest Brooklyn Ballers that doesn’t include “Fly Williams” isn’t a list of baller’s…half of this list idealized “Fly”.

  3. Curtis,

    Body of work was key. HS, college and pro.

    Sure Fly could play and he scored a ton of points at Austin Peay but he didn’t last very long in the ABA. Guy played 71 games. No doubt he had game but can you tell us why he didn’t last in the professional ranks like the others on the list. I did see him on a couple of lists like “Greatest schoolyard players” and “Greatest player who never made the NBA.”

    Thanks for checking in…

  4. Entire body of work was the key…

    Pearl was a great HS player, excellent college player and was able to play 194 games in the NBA.

    Thanks for writing.

    Hope all is well.

  5. Lester,

    No doubt Fly could play. The list was composed of full body of work; HS, college and pro. Fly did well at Austin Peay but didn’t have a pro career. Too bad.

  6. The “full body of work” allows you room to dilute the essence of great Brooklyn H.S. players. For instance, Billy C. was very good but not as good as he was to get at N.C and as a pro. Therefore, arguably the greatest pure shooter in city history, Tony Jackson of Jefferson and St. Johns, was omitted. Tony scored at will including 63 in The Garden against New Utrecht. Though 6’4 he rebounded like someone 6’8, better than Leroy Ellis, who was 6’11. (I know. I played for Jeff) He was a great passer and graced the cover of many magazines while at St. Johns. While there he played against and outscored Jerry West and Oscar Robertson at The Garden. He foolishly failed to report an attempted bribe for which the NBA banished him (same era as Hawkins). He played in the ABA but his heart wasn’t in it. He’d have been a “territorial” choice of The Knicks.

  7. Richard,

    Thanks for your contribution. “Full body of work” means from HS to end of pro career. There are millions of great HS high school players that never make it. Have you seen Billy C’s pro stats?

  8. Of course. And my comments were not meant to diminish Billy, who I played against in The Garden my senior year (and got 12 playing a half). We lost. Billy was very good but not yet great. So, if we’re debating Brooklyn’s greatest HS players let’s leave it there, in HS. But Tony was also a fabulous collegian at St. Johns, first along side Alan Seiden, then joined by Leroy. It’s just the non-scandal that ended his run. His play was silky, deceptive speed and leaping and an unstoppable jumper that was deadly and predictable. And a great driver. And he played before the ME generation so there was no fluff. As I said, Perhaps the greatest pure shooter to ever play in Brooklyn.

  9. Good stuff RK.

    We’re not debating Brooklyn’s greatest HS players – so we can’t leave it there. Basketball success is an on-going process. The improvement is what we’re talking about. It’s impossible to name the “best HS players.” I said, “body of work.” Entire career. Hope all is well.

  10. Do it Joe, do it! I found when I went back and had another look, I understood it much more.

    Thanks for stopping.

  11. You cannot have a Brooklyn All Time Greatest Basketball players list without Fly and Pearl they epitomized BK BB
    Mel Tinsley is a hell of a player! I grew up and played with Mel, but he never played for Tilden or any or HS, he was under the radar and went to JUCO

  12. Pearl (rest his soul) didn’t have a stellar NBA career. Loved him at Boys and at Syracuse.

    Fly…heck of a park player. Legend matter of fact. Zilch in the ABA or NBA.

    Mel was Ziggy’s guy. AAU helped him.

    Thanks for checking in…

  13. Like your other list, this should be renamed Best NBA Players Who Came from Brooklyn. You are giving zero credence to their high school and college careers so it’s not overall body of work, just NBA work.

  14. Noah should NOT be on any all time BK BB list, he did not make a name for himself on the courts of BK. Great College and NBA career. And why is Ed Booger Smith and Jamal Faulker not at least honorable mention

  15. I like that idea…time for revision.

    Well if a player has a solid HS career (Poly), wins 2 rings in college at Florida and is having a stellar pro career – that my friend is “body of work.”

    He’s improved so much. Guys like Jamal Faulkner did not improve – means a lot in choosing the best.

  16. Make your list – let’s see it. Would love to have a look.

    By the way, a heads up, you got Jamal’s name wrong; it’s Faulkner.

  17. You dont have Pearl and Fly but you have Noah, this list is NO GOOD! A best NBA career list of players from BK would be a better title for the list, Noah is NOT a BK BB great and NOT a true representation of BK BB. Junie Sanders , Ed Booger Smith
    Tony Jackson Eric Ice Lesley from St Johns Bugeye Devander Mcds AA Boys High are true BK BB

  18. The list must have William “Red” Holzman on it. Red played for Franklin K Lane HS, CCNY, and the Rochester Royals (an NBA Championship team). He coached the Milwaukee Hawks, is in the NBA Hall of Fame, but is best known for coaching the NY Knickerbockers to their only two championships in 1970 and 1973. In the city of Madison Square Garden, the mecca of basketball, how is Red not on this list?

  19. Red was something back in the day…

    Great coach too.

    To answer your question; professionally the guy scored 6PPG in his career. 2.0 assists per game…

    Thanks for checking in…

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