It was Damon Jones who understood his role best when he proclaimed in no uncertain terms: “I’m Alfred.” Here are the NBA’s greatest sidekicks.
Most people dream of the lead role; after all, to imagine one’s self as anything other than the title character in one’s own life requires a great deal of imagination in a world where imagination is at a premium.
Anyway, a list of Batmans this is not, although Robins do make occasional appearances. Declaring something over- or underrated is a difficult task. The rating always depends on the context. Some players can become drastically over- or underrated depending all on the category of comparison. For example, one can’t really make the argument that Michael Jordan is an overrated scorer, but one probably could argue he’s an overrated shooter, at least from behind the arc. Meanwhile, comparing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to, say, Rik Smits drastically overrates one of them while underrating the other.
Also, this list is much more likely to feature a Rik Smits than it is to feature a Kareem because the only way to underrate Kareem is to say he’s not the greatest in the game or at his position. Then again, Smits is less likely to show up as a featured player in these slides than Otis Thorpe because for almost an entire decade, Smits was one of the two or three best players on his team and his team never considered him dispensable in the way the Houston Rockets dispensed with Thorpe.
Trading a player is almost always a way of underrating the player. The Oklahoma City Thunder undervalued James Harden. They saw him as not being worth a max contract and therefore, they traded him to the Houston Rockets. They wanted him to prove himself. The rest of the league must have also underrated him, however, because the Thunder could not garner more than Steven Adams and some draft picks in return.
Most likely, this all occurred because James Harden in his role as a reserve for the Thunder remained too much of an enigma for anyone to judge accurately, and many of the players in these slides are just that — enigmas because so much of what they contributed and achieved was part of someone else’s contributions and achievements. In many ways, compiling this list felt like sorting through discarded Jenga pieces. None of these teams exists as towers anymore; they are all rubble.
These players and their teams have, for the most part, had their say, and their potential has already been capped by their various circumstances, degrees in talent and career choices. In some ways, that makes them no more knowable or unknowable than when they were playing. Regardless, they contributed, and many of them contributed many times over to various regular season and playoff results in a variety of cities spanning the continent.
Surely some players that should have been included were left out. Surely some players who have no business being here are featured. But that’s how rosters work. Everyone thinks they should make the cut — that’s why they tried out in the first place. For what it’s worth, here’s a collection of NBA players who, in no particular order, always found a way to flash the bat signal or pick up the phone.