NBA: 50 Greatest Players Of The 1990s

1 of 50
NBA (Photo by Allsport/Getty Images) /

Perhaps no decade was as defining for the NBA as the 1990s were, featuring a practically unbeatable superstar in Michael Jordan and a cast of worthy, but ultimately complementary stars driving the narrative home.

Look no further than the 10-part documentary The Last Dance, which aired in 2020. It told the story of Jordan’s strive for a second three-peat in the 90s and featired a cast of opponents and teammates as dynamic characters in the plot that was Jordan’s thrilling career.

While the 1990s began with the Detroit Pistons delivering the second of back-to-back NBA titles and ended with the San Antonio Spurs becoming the first of the four refugees from the old American Basketball Association to be crowned champs of the NBA, the decade was ruled by the Chicago Bulls.

The Houston Rockets won two titles in the middle of the decade, but those were two years when Jordan decided to try his hand at another sport.

If not for Jordan’s self-imposed baseball hiatus, history will always wonder if Chicago could have matched the seemingly unmatchable run the Boston Celtics had from 1959-66 of eight straight titles.

But while Jordan ruled the decade, there were other developments, too.

For the first time in its history, the NBA went an entire 10-year calendar decade without having a franchise change cities.

That was despite the continued growth of the league in a decade that saw it expand to 27 teams in the first season of the new decade, 1989-90, with the addition of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic. That continued in 1995-96 when the NBA went north of the border for the first time in almost a half-century by welcoming in the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies.

The Toronto Huskies, in the old Basketball Association of America’s inaugural 1946-47 season, was the only other Canadian member in league annals.

The decade was also marked by the first prolonged work stoppage the NBA had to endure as the 1998-99 season was delayed and eventually truncated to 50 games after a nearly seven-month-long lockout that began at the start of the league year on July 1, 1998.

The 50 greatest NBA players of the 1990s

But onto the 50 greatest players of the 1990s. Here is the criteria for consideration:

  • Play in at least 205 games in the decade (25 percent of the available 820 games per team).
  • The “decade” was defined as the seasons 1989-90 through 1998-99, inclusive, given that more than half of each season is played after the New Year.
  • Stats figured into the tabulation, of course, but other factors such as awards and accolades such as All-NBA, All-Star and All-Defensive selections also were counted.

As with any list, yours will be different—which is what always makes exercises like this so much fun.

Without further ado, here are the top 50 players!

All statistical information from

Latrell Sprewell, NY Knicks
Latrell Sprewell, NY Knicks (Mandatory Credit: Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images) /

50 greatest NBA players from the 1990s — 50. Latrell Sprewell

The Golden State Warriors struck gold, for a while, anyway, with Alabama swingman Latrell Sprewell with the 24th overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft.

Sprewell bloomed into an All-Star in his second season, the first of three All-Star berths as a Warrior.

He led the NBA in minutes and minutes per game in 1993-94, when he was an All-NBA and All-Defensive pick. Sprewell was also fourth in the NBA in 3-pointers made in 1993-94 and sixth in scoring in 1996-97.

But his tenure in Golden State came to an abrupt end in December 1997, when he was suspended for the remainder of the season after attacking coach P.J. Carlesimo during a practice.

In six seasons with the Warriors, Sprewell averaged 20.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 40 minutes a game, shooting .436/.332/.791.

After the lockout ended, Sprewell was traded to the New York Knicks for Terry Cummings, Chris Mills and John Starks.

In his lone regular-season campaign of the 1990s with New York, Sprewell averaged 18.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, four assists and 1.3 steals in 40 minutes per game, shooting .435/.346/.866.

Spree averaged more than 20 points a game in the postseason as the Knicks made an unlikely run as a No. 8 seed all the way to the NBA Finals, where they fell to the San Antonio Spurs.

In the decade, Sprewell was 19th in scoring with an average of 19.8 points per game.

Sprewell remained with the Knicks through the 2002-03 season, when he was dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He didn’t so much retire as just drift away after the 2004-05 season after entering free agency.