College All-Americans swagged out in designer suits sit alongside mystified foreign prospects who've just visited Times Square for the first time. David Stern stands at the podium, leading the procession like it's his bar mitzvah. Each player goes up to the stage, then bends down awkwardly to shake hands and take pictures with the 5-7 commissioner. Throw in Jay Bilas' rants about wingspan, the last-second trades, Stern trying to pronounce "Giannis Antetokounmpo," the fans feverishly booing Stern before he announces each pick (and his sick pleasure of trolling fans for more boos), how could you not love the NBA draft?
But the draft is just two rounds. Only 60 players get to see their name go up on the big board every year. What happens to the players who waited and waited and never heard their name called? Most of them fade into obscurity, playing a few seasons overseas or in the D-League before giving up and settling down as a real estate agent. But a select few use this public snubbing as motivation, and eventually scratch and crawl their way into the NBA. Here are those players:
Best Undrafted Players In NBA History
Honorable Mention: Chris Andersen
In 1999, Chris Andersen drops out of Blinn College to play professionally in China. Something happens to Andersen in China, transforming the docile shot-blocker into "The Birdman." Over the course of ten years, Anderson slowly covers his body in tattoos, cuts and gels his hair to create a fatally sharp mohawk, and begins flapping his arms and cawing after big blocks. For his career, the big man averages 3.6 blocks and 11.0 points per 36 minutes and wins his first NBA championship with the Miami Heat. Investigators are still looking into what exactly the Chinese did to him.
Honorable Mention: Earl Boykins
The second shortest player in NBA history (behind 5-3 Muggsy Bogues) was initially turned away by the league like it was a roller coaster with a height minimum. The 5-5 Boykins persists, and in 1999, the New Jersey Nets take a chance on him and so the saga begins. Boykins shuffles from team to team but he establishes himself in 2003 with the Nuggets alongside Carmelo Anthony where he averages 12.6 points and 4.2 assists in three and a half seasons.
10. Raja Bell
Bell goes undrafted out of FIU and plays for the CBA’s Yakima Sun Kings before making it to the NBA. Bell never spends more than three full seasons with a single team, but he is most remembered for his sharpshooting prowess on Mike D’Antoni's Suns (aka the only team on which D'Antoni's system has ever worked). Bell finishes his career shooting 41 percent from three-point land and makes the NBA All-Defensive first team in 2007. The shooting guard is shown above dunking on an imaginary hoop.
9. Udonis Haslem
Haslem weighs 300 pounds coming out of the University of Florida, which contributes to him not hearing his name in the 2002 NBA draft. After playing one season in France, Haslem drops 70 pounds and signs with the Miami Heat where he has remained for a decade. Alongside Dwyane Wade, Haslem wins three NBA championships in Miami with averages of 8.9 points and 7.7 rebounds coming off the bench.
8. Jeremy Lin
The undrafted player with the biggest splash into the NBA is, without a doubt, Jeremy Lin. After bouncing around the league for a year, the 6-3 point guard out of Harvard is claimed by the Knicks during the 2012-13 season. Lin makes the most of injuries to the Knicks prehistoric backcourt (Mike Bibby and Baron Davis), and has a coming out party against the Nets in his first game as a starter. Lin records a 25-5-7 (his first of five straight games with at least 25 points and 7 assists), spawning a three-month frenzy in New York dubbed "Linsanity." You know the rest.
7. David Wesley
After averaging almost 21-5-5 in his final season at Baylor, the 6-0 guard is shunned in the NBA draft due to questions about his size. Wesley gets his first real break in Boston where he plays all 82 games of the 1995-96 season, averaging 12.3 points and 4.8 assists with 42.3 three-point percentage coming off the bench. In 1997, he finds a home in Charlotte where he averages 15 points and 5 assists, leading the Hornets to six playoff appearances in seven seasons alongside Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn.
6. Avery Johnson
Undrafted out of Southern University despite leading the NCAA in assists (13.3) during his senior season, Johnson begins playing professionally for the Palm Beach Sting Rays of the USBL. In 1989, Johnson starts his 15-year NBA career in Seattle, but his legacy comes with the San Antonio Spurs. In Game 5 of the 1999 NBA Finals, Johnson hits the go-ahead shot with less than a minute left against the Knicks, which proves to be the difference in the game and in the series. Johnson is also remembered for his unique voice, which some speculate resulted from a freak helium accident during his childhood that left him incapable of being taken seriously ever again.
5. Jose Calderon
The Spaniard begins his pro career playing for his native country in 1998 and remains there for the next seven seasons. In 2005, the Toronto Raptors sign him to complement the recently drafted Chris Bosh. But Calderon didn’t forget where he came from. The very next year he led Spain to the 2006 FIBA Gold Medal, defeating Greece in the finals 70–47. Calderon has a solid career in the NBA, averaging 10.7 points and 7.1 assists, and setting an NBA single-season record for free-throw accuracy in 2009: 151 of 154 for 98.1 percent.
4. Bruce Bowen
Bowen plays basketball wherever he can to make it to the NBA. He plays for multiple French teams, a couple of CBA teams, and even tries to forge a birth certificate and rejoin his old AAU team. Fortunately, Bowen gets his chance in the NBA playing for the Miami Heat at the age of 25 and soon develops a reputation as a defensive stopper. In 2001, he finally settles in San Antonio where he win three NBA championships, earned five consecutive spots on the NBA All-Defensive first team, and had his No. 12 jersey retired by the Spurs in 2012.
3. Brad Miller
After being passed on by all 30 teams in the 1998 Draft, Miller decides to take his talents overseas and play for Italy’s Liga Basket Serie A. The Hornets cut Miller's European tour short after three months by signing the 6-11 center. Back in the good ol' US of A, Miller continues his growth as a player and hits his peak from 2003–2005 as a member of the Sacramento Kings. Miller averages 14-4-8 and 16-4-9 in consecutive seasons, earning him a spot on back-to-back All-Star teams.
2. John Starks
After leaving Oklahoma State, Starks tries his luck in the now defunct CBA and WBL before he finally settled in the Big Apple. Starks was a key player for the 90’s Knicks, a perennial playoff contender, and averaged 14.1 points and 4.0 assists in his eight seasons in New York. His career highlight is the 1993-94 season when he averages 19 points and six assists, and the Knicks make it all the way to the NBA Finals. But in Game 7, Starks shoots 2 of 18 from the field in a losing effort to Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets, relegating Starks to New York sports infamy.
1. Ben Wallace
Big Ben tops the list of Best Undrafted Player in NBA history. Despite the infamy of Troll Doll Afro and brutal free throw shooting (41.4 percent for his career and never above 50 percent in 16 seasons), Wallace is one of the most prolific rebounders in NBA history. At only 6-9, Wallace averages 15.4 rebounds in 2002-03, which leads the league and remains the highest per game rebounding total of the 21st century. Wallace is also an integral part of the 2004 Pistons championship team and finishes his career with four Defensive Player of the Year Awards.