By: Dan Grant
As we approach the playoffs, it’s important to remember that the NBA is a delightfully weird and wild place. Frequently, completely unique physical specimens enter the league the likes of which we’ve never seen before or will again. From the towering Manute Bol to the tiny Muggsy Bogues; from the insanity of Isaiah Rider to whatever the hell is going on with the body of Giannis Antetokounmpo, some players are just singular.
More often in this 24/7 sports media cycle we swish and swirl around in, NBA writers and common blog hacks (ahem) try to find corollaries between current and former players. Sometimes we don’t have to look any deeper than a last name; legacy star players like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins beg easy comparisons to their parentage. A barrage of ‘same-name, way less talent’ sons such as Patrick Ewing, Tim Hardaway Jr. Glen Rice, Gerald Henderson III and Glenn Robinson have cracked NBA rosters, which always leads to war stories being exchanged about their superior paternal figures. This Isaiah Thomas is no relation to that Isiah Thomas. Really? What are the odds?! Michael B. Jordan feels your pain my friend and he doesn’t even play basketball. Hell, LeBron James Jr. is already getting scouted and he’s just eleven. The stories write themselves. They’re low hanging fruit.
What’s way more fun is going on a true deep dive. You’ll often hear announcers compare a certain player or playing style to an all-time icon.
A great no look pass leads to: ‘Looking like Magic out there!’
A beautiful turn around, with a dash of Marv Albert gets you: ‘A truly Jordan-esque fade-away!’
Literally any injured player returning in the playoffs is now: ‘Shades of Willis Reed!’
And these tropes are fine and fun, if a bit overdone. But as I was watching the movie Twins the other day, as I often am, I started to think about our current crop of NBA stars and just how striking the similarities are between their current play and that of previous NBA teammates. Then I started to think ‘Do you think it’s possible that these players conspired to combine their genetics, with the intention of creating SUPER PLAYERS?’ a la the Schwarzenegger character in the movie.
In the spirit of Twins, I decided not to get hung up on likelihood of this occurring or the science behind it, because why would I? And without further ado, I came up with the following wondrous examples of NBA Parentage.
The player must have been ‘sired’ by former NBA players who were teammates at some point during their careers. Just like with true genetics, he may have acquired specific characteristics of one parent and only bear a mild resemblance to the other, or he may be a true 50/50 mix.
5. You don’t look the same, but you can really see the similarities around the eyes!
1984-86 Utah Jazz: Adrian Dantley + John Stockton = James Harden
Dantley was the pioneer of a box score phenomenon that Harden now champions, namely making a minute amount of actual field goals and getting to the line an ungodly amount of times. He was a physical beast of a player, leading the league in scoring and playing power forward, despite only being 6’5. He definitely passed his soft touch and foul-drawing ability down to James, as well as his ability to grow spectacular facial hair. James went a different way with it, but the key is in the genes!
Stockton was an incredible play maker and remarkably durable player throughout his NBA career. He clearly passed down some of his passing skills and durability to young James. But more importantly than anything else, he passed on the ability to have completely dead eyes, even as he systematically eviscerates his opponents. Have you looked closely at these two? Stockton and Harden – you guys don’t even blink, do you?
Also, nut shots. Stockton was notorious for hammering his opponents with low blows when they set screens, something that is clearly genetic:
4. You know, you look exactly like this guy I know… that’s not a compliment.
1972-1981 Baltimore/Washington Bullets: Wes Unseld + Elvin Hayes = Kevin Love
Listen, this one definitely happened. Unseld and Hayes formed the dominant front court for one of the greatly under-appreciated teams of the 1970’s. Unseld was known for being tough as nails and throwing gorgeous outlet passes the length of the court. Hayes was known for padding his stats and generally being an unlikeable dickhead. Still having trouble making connections to Kevin Love? Let’s look deeper!
Hayes was a superstar in college and was drafted first overall by the Rockets franchise in 1968. He wore out his welcome after four seasons, despite leading the league in scoring during his rookie season and generally throwing up Wilt Chamberlain like numbers across the board. Once he left, he joined a winning team in the Bullets, where his scoring stats quickly declined. He routinely faded in big moments and complained about how he was being used by the coaching staff. Sound familiar?
The funny thing is that the most frequent comparison for Love upon his entry to the league was Unseld; Love has the ability to throw rocket outlet passes with incredible precision when he’s on his game.
The Bullets finally peaked in 1979 to capture the NBA title. Unseld was voted the Finals MVP despite averaging pedestrian numbers. His teammates were unanimous about his selection; Big Wes set screens, played physically and generally did the little things that helped his team win. Hopefully he passed that gene down to Kevin, because right now we’re seeing a lot more of Elvin’s side of the family.
3. Your dad used to be so hot! He married WHO?
1986-87 New York Knicks: Patrick Ewing + Jawann Oldham = Nerlens Noel
It was a brief and torrid romance when Oldham backed up young Ewing for one season in the mid-80’s, but it produced magic. I mean, we really just need to go to the photos on this one:
Combine those glorious flat top genes with Oldham’s bean pole body (7’0, 215! I mean, was he a centre or one of these guys?) and young Ewing’s unbelievable shot blocking ability and who else could you have but Nerlens Noel?
Nobody, that’s who. Get that garbage suggestion outta here!
2. Moms are the real MVP’s
2006-2012 Boston Celtics: Rajon Rondo = Kawhi Leonard
Listen, single moms are people too, goddammit and I won’t stand for you pointing out that I’m breaking my own rules. And if there is any current player that young Rondo sired (solo!) during his time in Boston, it’s definitely the currently emerging darling of the league, Kawhi Leonard.
Both were middle-to-late first round picks that quickly exceeded expectations via their pure physicality; Rondo with speed, play-making and rebounding from the guard position, Leonard with sheer length and incredible athleticism. Both excelled because of their willingness to play defense and fit in on winning teams. Both quickly established themselves as the young caddies for an aging ‘Big Three’. Both made two NBA Finals in their first four seasons in the league, winning once. And both began to step out of the the shadow of their more decorated peers, before those peers actually exited the scene.
We know what happened with Rondo; without Allen, Pierce and Garnett, he struggled to carry a rebuilding Celtics team, his play declined and he was eventually dealt to Dallas for a pittance. What really happened was that a flawed player was exposed once he no longer had the security of being able to lean on three future Hall of Famers at any given moment. Young Rondo could carry the team at times in Boston, but more often than not, it turns out that the Big Three let him play a game he couldn’t play without them.
What happens with Kawhi remains to be written. He’s the same kind of athletic freak as his predecessor, and of course, the Spurs seem to have this ‘winning’ thing wired. He seems like a better bet to make it on his own; he’s a much more efficient player from the field than Rondo, he’s not afraid to get fouled and he’s improved his three point shooting to ‘above-average’ this season, something Rondo was never able to do. The ending to this story won’t be written until Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili hang it up, which could be as soon as this off-season, but the parallels are spooky so far, ain’t they?
1. Check this man’s birth certificate!
1990-1997 Seattle Supersonics: Gary Payton + Shawn Kemp = Russell Westbrook
I mean, if you combined Gary Payton’s sheer intensity and size, with Shawn Kemp’s athletic ability (to say nothing of his child-rearing abilities), what do you think would happen?
Oh yeah, that.