Kobe Bryant will go down as one of the 5 or 10 greatest players to ever play basketball. In 1996, though, he was just a basketball prodigy coming out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia.
Players being eligible for the draft out of High School was reasonably new concept at the time. Kevin Garnett, selected in 1995, was the first player to come out of the High School ranks in over a decade. A total of 12 teams passed on Kobe for this reason and have kicked themselves ever since.
First Selection – Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson, a point guard from Georgetown, was a slam dunk pick for the Philadelphia 76ers with the first choice in the 1996 Draft. He was both a skilled passer and, despite his small frame, was a nearly unstoppable scorer.
The talented player didn’t come without question marks, though. He was arrested while still in High School for a brawl at a Virginia bowling alley. The 76ers overlooked this situation and got a superstar in return.
Allen Iverson Now
Iverson had an incredible career spending 11 years in Philadelphia, moving the Denver Nuggets and then bouncing around a bit at the end. He finished his career with a 26.7 per game scoring average and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
The point guard is still connected to the NBA and often can be seen sitting courtside at various games. Iverson, who made $154 million in his career, has also encountered money problems thanks to hangers-on and poor investments.
Second Selection – Marcus Camby
A great defense can help teams win championships and defenders that can really affect the game are rare. And while Marcus Camby’s offense lagged a little bit behind, his defense made him an incredible prospect for the NBA.
The Toronto Raptors selected the 7-footer out of UMass with the number 2 overall pick in the 1996 Draft. He immediately became the foundation of the Raptors defense and by his second season with the team, he led the league in blocks.
Marcus Camby Now
Camby’s skillset remained in high demand throughout his playing career. After three years with the Raptors, he was traded to the Knicks and played in the 2000 NBA Finals. He later played for the Nuggets before bouncing around the league.
The 17-year veteran was a feared defender for his entire career. He was the 2007 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, made 1st Team All-Defense twice and 2nd Team All-Defense two times as well. The former Center is active in working with charities like Basketball Without Borders.
Third Selection – Shareef Abdur-Rahim
While he only played for one season at The University of California Berkeley, Shareef Abdur-Rahim was one of the more pro-ready players in the 1996 Draft. The Vancouver Grizzlies drafted him with the 3rd overall pick and he became the team’s first star.
In his rookie year, Abdur-Rahim finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting, an impressive feat considering he was a part of one of the best draft classes of all-time.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim Now
While Abdur-Rahim had a very good NBA career, he did so in very quiet cities and markets. He played in Vancouver for 6 years before being sent to Atlanta in a blockbuster deal that netted the Grizzlies Pau Gasol.
After 3 years with the Hawks, Rahim settled into the back-end of his career as more of a role player. A bright student at Cal, the former power forward has worked as an executive for the Sacramento Kings and the minor league Reno Bighorns.
Fourth Selection – Stephon Marbury
The NBA had been ready for Stephon Marbury for a number of years. Growing up in Coney Island he was the subject of the book, The Last Shot, as a freshman in High School.
A legendary recruit, the point guard chose to play his college basketball at Georgia Tech. He was drafted into the NBA by the Milwaukee Bucks, but he didn’t actually play there. He was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves where he would team up with Kevin Garnett.
Stephon Marbury Now
It’s not that Stephon Marbury didn’t have a good NBA career. He actually had the kind of career that most players could only dream of. It always felt, though, like Marbury left fans wanting more.
The point guard played for a number of different teams. He made 2 All-Star teams, finishing with a career average of 19.3 points and 7.6 assists per game. He had an interesting end to his career, playing for many years in China and becoming sort of a folk hero there.
Fifth Selection – Ray Allen
Coming out of the University of Connecticut, Ray Allen provided two things in bunches, polish and shooting ability. He had played multiple seasons for Coach Jim Calhoun, winning the Big East Player of the Year Award in 1996 and being named 1st Team All American.
In most drafts, a player like Allen would have gone 1st or 2nd. In this draft, however, he was selected 5th and traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. He added acting to his resume early on in his career, starring in Spike Lee’s He Got Game.
Ray Allen Now
Despite his immense ability, Ray Allen had to bounce around a bit before finding the right team for him. He starred for the Bucks and SuperSonics before a trade to Boston helped make him an NBA Champion.
The decorated hooper was a 10-time NBA All-Star and won titles in 2008 and 2013. Shortly after his career was over, Allen was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Following his career, the sharpshooter was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
Sixth Selection – Antoine Walker
Antoine Walker played alongside a very famous teammate at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago. That teammate, point guard Donovan McNabb, became much better known for his football playing abilities than his basketball ones, though he played both sports at Syracuse.
Walker went to play for Rick Pitino at Kentucky. After two spectacular years for the Wildcats, he was selected by the Celtics with the sixth pick. He would go on to partner with Kansas’ Paul Pierce for many successful seasons.
Antoine Walker Now
Walker would go on to become a dynamic player for the Celtics. He was one of the team’s top players during his rookie year and was averaging over 22 points a game by the end of his second season.
The forward would go on to make 3 All-Star games during his 13 seasons. Walker ran into issues after his playing career ended with money and gambling. He now works as an analyst with the SEC Network.
Seventh Selection – Lorenzen Wright
Lorenzen Wright had a significant basketball pedigree. His father Herb was a center who played professionally in Finland and later worked as a police officer. Lorenzen played his high school ball in Memphis and stayed local playing at the University of Memphis.
He was selected by the Clippers with the 7th pick in the NBA draft. While he didn’t become a star in the league, he became a very serviceable center and played in the league for 14 seasons.
Lorenzen Wright Now
Lorenzen Wright is unfortunately known better for the tragedy that befell him than for his playing career. In 2010, only a year after his career ended, he was found lifeless in Germantown, Tennessee.
For a number of years, his case went unsolved. At the end of 2017, though, his wife, Sherra Wright-Robinson was arrested on charges of murder. In 2019, she pled guilty to the crime so she could accept an insurance policy.
Eighth Selection – Kerry Kittles
Despite his almost impossibly skinny frame, Kerry Kittles became a star at Villanova. The shooting guard might have only packed 179 pounds onto his 6-5 frame, but his silky touch and outside shooting ability led to plenty of scoring.
He was selected by the New Jersey Nets and quickly fit right into their rotation. Kittles became an effective scorer for the Nets in his second year, where he averaged career highs of 17.2.
Kerry Kittles Now
Kittles spent the vast majority of his career in New Jersey. He played there for 7 years before spending one season with the Los Angeles Clippers. In his post-playing days, he’s become a coach and is currently an assistant at Princeton University.
With the eighth selection, the Nets were hoping to draft high school superstar Kobe Bryant. Through his agent, though, Bryant let other teams know that he only wanted to play for the Lakers, so the Nets pulled the trigger on Kittles.
Ninth Selection – Samaki Walker
Samaki Walker grew up in Columbus, Ohio and played his college basketball for Denny Crum at Louisville. He was a force of nature for the Cardinals, setting a school record against the Kentucky Wildcats with 11 blocks.
He was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks and spent the majority of his career bouncing around from team to team and later played in China. Walker has become passionate about charity in his post-playing career and works with underprivileged children in Los Angeles.
Tenth Selection Erick Dampier
While Erick Dampier was selected in the lottery after his junior year at Mississippi State, it was going to take some time for him to reach his full potential. The Pacers didn’t have this patience and shipped him to the Golden State Warriors after one year.
Dampier became a starter and double-double machine for Golden State. He would go on to play in the NBA for the next 16 seasons. The retired Dampier now enjoys the nearly $100 million he made in his playing career.
Eleventh Selection – Todd Fuller
The first 10 players selected in the 1996 Draft all went onto long and successful careers, even if they were role players like Lorenzen Wright or Samaki Walker. The same can’t be said for North Carolina State’s Todd Fuller.
Drafted by the Golden State Warriors, Fuller never averaged more than 13 minutes a game. By the end of the 2001 season, at the age of 26, Fuller was out of the sport completely. He now works a an Executive for Bank of America.
Twelfth Selection Vitaly Potapenko
In the early 1990s European born players began to come into the NBA in waves. Drafted twelfth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ukraine’s Vitaly Potapenko was a part of that wave.
He was never a star in the NBA, but Potapenko had a nice career in the NBA. He played 12 seasons for a variety of teams before becoming a coach. He won a ring as an assistant coach for the Cavaliers and now works with the Memphis Grizzlies.