While I missed the majority of Lakers/Celtics Game 6 for my cousin’s high school graduation, everyone I know who watched the game had to come up with something to talk about during L.A.’s cold-blooded beatdown.
During the third quarter, one of my boys texted me: “Best role player ever in the NBA? Pippen?”
Depends on how you define a role player. To me, Scottie Pippen doesn’t count because he was too good. On almost any other team but Chicago during the Jordan era, Pippen would have been The Man. Same goes for Kevin McHale, Tony Parker and James Worthy. Dennis Johnson might be the best example of a borderline guy: He was arguably the best player on the ’79 Sonics title team, but would fit most people’s “role player” description in Boston.
To me, a role player is someone who would never be the No. 1 option on a good team, and is only asked to do a few things on the court. And due to the nature of the job, the best role players will always be found on the best teams, where their talents can be used in a specialist role.
Dennis Rodman is not only my pick as the best role player of all-time, he’s the best example of my definition of a role player. Rodman’s role was clearly defined as rebounding and defense, and no coach would ever put The Worm in place as the headliner of his squad. By no coincidence, Rodman has five NBA championship rings to go with his two Defensive Player of the Year trophies.
Michael Cooper (5 rings) deserves a nod, an 8-time All-Defensive Team pick and former Defensive Player of the Year. Bruce Bowen (3 rings), Robert Horry (7 rings) and Derek Fisher (4 rings) belong in the conversation as far as more recent standout role players.
Who do you think is the best role player of all-time?