Latest News, NBA / Feb 24, 2010 / 8:30 am

The NBA’s 10 Toughest Players

From the cover of Dime to the cover of GQ, Kobe Bryant has been everywhere lately. Except the basketball court. And it’s been killing him. Previously on his way to one of the most impossible Iron-Man like seasons in recent NBA history — playing through well documented injuries to his fingers, back, knees, shoulders and ankles — Kobe finally had to show human frailty and miss some games sandwiching the All-Star break, including the All-Star Game itself. (Kobe may be the only guy in the League who takes the ASG seriously.)

Last night he returned to the lineup, and in storybook fashion, dropped 32 points and the game-winner in Memphis. This entire season for Kobe has been a self-inflicted cross-examination of his toughness, but is KB24 the toughest man in the NBA?

First, you have to define “tough.” A lot of people confuse it with “intimidating” or “ornery,” traits that don’t always match up. For me, a tough basketball player is one who plays through injuries, commits to defense on a daily basis, relishes the opportunity to crash the boards and mix it up in the paint no matter his size, knows he can still impact a game when his shot isn’t falling, and — this is very important — doesn’t have to go around telling everybody how tough he is. The Top-10:

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10. JASON MAXIELL — I could easily fill all 10 spots with so-called “undersized” power forwards who were drafted several picks too late, but I’ll try to keep it in check. Maxiell is the prototype bruiser sculpted from that mold, who has the extra benefit of years spent banging in practice with Ben Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace. It also helps that Maxiell kind of looks like Ron Artest in the face (or at least Daniel Artest), and he’s even a tough interview. I talked to him once, and it was the question-and-answer equivalent of fighting through one of Maxiell’s screens.

9. ALLEN IVERSON — Sorry, but he has to be here. Pound-for-pound, A.I. may be the toughest NBA player of all-time, and since he is still in the League, he has to crack any active ranking devoted to toughness. Unfortunately, the last two seasons have put a machete-like gash on Iverson’s reputation. He was accused of quitting on the Pistons when he couldn’t start, he definitely quit on Memphis when he didn’t start right away, and now the rumor mill suggests he’s quitting on the struggling Sixers.

8. GERALD WALLACE — While he does miss a lot of games (never playing more than 72 per season his entire run with Charlotte), Crash also plays through a lot of pain. The guy has had like 4-5 concussions and still throws his body all over the court (and into the crowd) because he doesn’t know any other way to play. Talk around the Dime office was that Wallace should lose points for clearly mailing in this year’s dunk contest and All-Star Game when he had a sore hamstring, but I’m not holding that against him. Crash hasn’t even sniffed the postseason in his six-year stint with the Bobcats; I think he’s simply got his eye on the bigger prize now that his team has a chance to be winners.

7. ERSAN ILYASOVA — As I wrote before, he plays like he’s auditioning for a role in a Universal Soldier sequel. Ilyasova is the new Kurt Rambis: Possibly the most awkward player in the League, but he’s undeniably tough and his teammates love having him on their side.

Jason Kidd, Dime #40

6. JASON KIDD — One of the few high-profile athletes to come back from microfracture surgery and regain his old form. About a month away from his 37th birthday, Kidd still grinds it out for 36 minutes per night, hitting the boards (5.2 rpg) better than any point guard in the League and giving it his all on defense (1.9 spg) despite obviously having lost some quickness and lateral movement over time. There’s a reason Kidd has universal respect around the NBA even though he’s never really been a vocal leader. He can play until he’s 40 and still be a starter somewhere.

5. DWYANE WADE — Seemingly headed down the same path as Penny Hardaway, D-Wade somehow came back indestructible last season, and only recently had to sit out a few games this season with a calf injury. If you’re building a franchise around D-Wade you have to worry about his borderline reckless style, but you also have to love his relentlessness.

4. CARON BUTLER — And if you think it’s just because he once spent time in juvie and his nickname is “Tough Juice,” you need to watch Caron play more often. Dude never backs down and will go head-to-head with anybody, relying on an unwavering confidence that he’s the better player. Somebody as competitive as Caron had his mental toughness tested by still coming to play every night while the Wizards were falling apart.

3. KOBE BRYANT — It’s like he ran out of challenges from other players, so he’s spent this season seeing just how far he can push his body. From what I’ve seen and heard, there’s a good chance Kobe’s right hand is going to be almost useless for him when he’s an old man. He’ll have to wear his fistful of championship rings on the left.

2. KENYON MARTIN — Another microfracture success story who actually had the surgery done on both knees, and yet at an old 32 still draws defensive assignments against some of the fastest, best players in the world. Who else could get a huge pair of lips tattooed on his neck, a tat inspired by his girlfriend who has put her own business very much in the street, and nobody dares make fun of him about it?

1. RON ARTEST — Like Gerald Wallace, Artest almost misses his share of games due to injury, but it’s understandable considering the amount of punishment he gives and receives. Artest fits every description of an NBA tough guy from his defensive mentality and willingness to take on anyone at anytime, but what sets him apart from the pack is what he does in those months when he’s not playing in front of 20,000 people every night. Artest is one of the few NBA ballplayers who still gets out there in the summer and plays all-out on concrete. Not just that, but on concrete against dudes with nothing to lose who go at him like he’s nobody special. That’s a kind of toughness most NBA guys either don’t know, or forgot about years ago.

How do you define “tough” when it comes to basketball? Who do you think are the toughest players in the NBA?

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  • ToAn

    when you put allen iverson in you should also put ben wallace in – he is still in the nba a i don’t know nobody (well except for your No. 1 on the list) who wants to mess with him

  • Name (required)

    Carl Landry got shot and then came back after less then 3 weeks. Then he lost 5 teeth and didnt miss a game…….. where is he on the list?

  • ab_40

    wel I had a guy on my team once and the american ballers called him forrest gump haha so you know he was tough. nah a player who sacrifices his body and plays through injuries from time to time that’s tough.

    playin through all injuries breaking other people off with your pics, knees and elbows you’re a dumb player who will get suspended or F’ed up from time to time

  • Prof. TX

    agreeing with #2

    Carl Landry has quickly built a good list of reasons for being on this list.

  • karizmatic

    I think the criteria is good, I would have put Paul Pierce on this list.

    Also I think pretty soon Kobe isn’t going to be the only one who takes the All Star game seriously, this last all star game was great and Melo, LBJ, Wade, and even Bosh all looked like they were taking the game at least semi-seriously, it looked like it actually meant something to those guys whether they won or lost. Not that it meant much, but it did mean something. I also think it has brought a little extra competition out of those guys for the last half of the season.

  • kevin

    also agree with #2

    where’s carl landry?

  • foolio_iglesias

    KB24/LAL < JB24/CTU

  • Chris

    I miss Matt Harpring. I know he is out of the league, but he was the ultimate “tough guy” that nobody wanted to play against. Harpring is one of the few players in the league that gave Lebron James some trouble. I remember lasyt years Utah-Clevland game where Harpring got under Lebron’s skin and forced him into taking a shot at Matt and he picked up a technical. Also, just ask Dirk who he thinks the toughest player he went against was.

  • len-e

    wheres larry hughes on the list

  • dvs

    i think Big ben and Landry cold def be on this list. Big Ben is 6″9 and has been playing against the biggest dudes in the league and was dominating them back in the day. He ain’t doing that bad now even at 35..

  • http://www.WhyCandaceWhySheldon.thatbastard.com Chicagorilla

    Good write up
    Carl Landry and Ben Wallace. Kenyon Martin should also be number 1. remove Ersan, Iverson because akward doesn’t make you tough. and he’s terrible at defense. Iverson is also terrible at defense and quitting is “very not gangsta” which Iverson seems to do often. Landry and Wallace easily are better than those guys. Even if you don’t want undersized PF’s filling the list.

    And if you really want a tough little man, Nate Robinson fits that mold. Maybe Russell Westbrook too.

  • sweetv0mit

    Didnt Artest lose a tooth in a pickup game in the offseason and still came back and played? Sick…

  • JD

    1) D-Wade should be in the top 3
    2) Where’s Landry?
    3) KG??

  • Celts Fan

    Paul Pierce HAS TO be on the list and should be near the top. Dude got stabbed a few weeks before the season, almost died, then didn’t miss a game. He also, literally, took a faceplant and lost some teeth, had 9 hours of dental surgery, then dropped 30 on someone that night. Say what you will of the knee in the ’08 Finals, everyone gets a pass once (before Laker fans jump in, I’ve got 2 words for you: Chris Childs. It happens…)

    Much as I’m not a huge fan of him, Nate Robinson has to be on the list too. Call it Napolean Complex or whatever, dude is ALWAYS ready to scrap. Who else could make a guy that’s a ft. taller, about 100lbs heavier, and straight from B’More backpedal like a b(tch?

    Special mention to anyone that’s in their late 20’s and older from any of the former Soviet countries. You know those dudes saw/did some CRAZY ish.

  • Brown

    My biggest problem with AI is that he lacks emotional toughness. When it was obvious his best days were behind him and he would be best suited as a scorer off the bench (that any team in the league could use), he refused to swallow his pride. He has essentially ended his own career way before it should have been over.

    I’ll second what people have said about Carl Landry. If that’s not tough, I don’t know what is.

  • Celts Fan

    also Ime Udoka may need to be on the list too. I’ve heard a story about him (back in the day on the Nigerian national or club team) being in the middle of a riot on the court (started by the fans, they were the away team,) and Udoka just cleaning house with the fans that wanted to test him until people just stopped. According to the story, he basically single-handedly stopped a riot with your bear hands.

  • Dagger

    Okay, so here’s why Lebron should be on this list:

    He takes a TON of hits but is almost never injured – or if he is you never hear about it. You could argue the same about Dwight Howard, although Dwight’s still a good deal bigger than Lebron.

  • FallODaLdr

    Horrible list. Kobe is #1 just for his ability to play through injuries. Kenyon Martin? Really? Doesn’t anyone remember he’s fugazi? LBJ is not close to this list. He missed 5 games a few years ago with a spraind pinkie finger oh his NON SHOOTING hand! Where is Shaq? Yea he misses games, but thats lazyness. He has taken more abuse than anyone in the history of the game. Oh and CP3 is a one tough S.O.B.

  • http://dime eyes

    @12…It got knocked out. He picked it up off the floor. Put it in his sock & continued to play. The next play down the player that got him wth the elbow. Got clotheslined almost to heaven. Which he had to take like a man. The Daniel Artest in the face LOL. Was hilarious. Nigerians. I have a few friends. They’re strength is terminator like. I’ve seen a few do 100 pullups like jogging.

    I also give lil/big NATE all the respect in the world. I love that lil dude. His heart & passion for the game is tremedous. If you don’t like or understand the problem is with you. He’s 5’6″ hanging with MEN. I could only picture him on the football field.

    Reggie Evans is baby Ben Wallace.

  • sh!tfaced

    What??? No TMAC and Eddy Curry?

  • LakeShow84

    But Kenyon Martins game is so soooffftttttt sometimes lol.. and coming from a Laker fan who has watched his frontline ABUSE Kmart, he aint that tough..

    Ill take the 2/3 being Lakers tho..

  • mavs all the way

    hey, easy on Penny.

    I must agree on Carl Landry. though i feel like he still have to prove that he belongs on this list that’s why he is not on the list.

    One player who needs to be included on the list? James, first name Jerome. Tough dude. any man who is 7’0″ and a cheer leader should be real tough. kudos to him.

  • Name (required)

    Nene? he had Ball cancer, gotta be a tough sumbitch to come back from ball cancer.

    @ Dime. Are you gonna follow this piece up with a “NBA’s 10 Biggest Bitches” piece…. that would be fun.

  • Jayo

    Big snubs in not listing Carl Landry & Ben Wallace. How bout KG or Udonis Haslem tho. How can AI be on the list when he quit on 2 teams cause they wouldn’t start him? That’s not tough that’s spoiled. Gotta mention McDyess too. Dude is playing on rebuilt rubber knees & still bangs down low with the best of’em.

  • JAY

    Is that the actual medical term? Ball cancer? Lol. “I’m sorry sir, you have ball cancer…”

    I agree w/ you. Should come up with top 10 NBA Bitches. In no particular order, here’s 5 that I could think of.

    Reggie Evans – bcuz he grabs nads. Only bitches go for the nads
    Sheed – Gangsta bitch
    Vince – bcuz he went from arguably best/most exciting 2-guard in the league to a pussy voluntarily
    Doug Christie – he ain’t in the league anymore but between him and his wife, he’s the bitch
    Stephon Marbury – cried to Lean on Me during his webcast, aka “end-of-his-NBA-career” video.

  • JAY

    What about Dajuan Blair??? That dude doesn’t have cartilage in his knee.

  • Ape

    Why the fuck is KG not on this bitch-ass list?!

  • JBaller

    I like Carl Landry for this list too. Besides getting shot and coming back, didn’t he lose a bunch of teeth to a Nowitski Elbow too?

    HOw about a list of the softest players…
    Tmac is #1 on that list!

  • http://Twitter.com/Daniel_Artest DArtest

    Lol. That’s funny. Someone called me Maxiell the other day. I guess we all look alike. Dime Mag. Y’all cool.

  • Randomized

    KG isnt a ‘tough guy’. Just cause he can talk shit while injured and suited up and most his shit talking is directed at pgs and people smaller than him dont mean hes tough. He is a top 10 bitch in the nba.

  • Claw

    Pound for Pound, I’m going with Durantula, he is one the top scorers and has been boarding lately and for a guy that couldn’t bench the bar I don’t think that guy has missed a game.

    I like the post by Fall on Lebron, “remember 2 years ago when he missed time”, has he missed a game this year? Jordan is soft, remember whe he had to rehab in the pool?

    Jordan, Karl, and Stockton were all time tough guys, mostly Stockton setting picks on bigs and boarding, dude was a straight assasin.

  • Ape

    @ Randomized

    the things you mentioned about KG yelling at smaller players etc are just the little things that makes KG a tough motherfucker out there on the court.

    dont discount the times he spent carrying the T’wolves on his back for so many damned years. this guy (except for 1998 and 2008) never played less than 70 games his entire career. 10 time defensive 1st team and 1-time defensive player of the year (on the year where powerhouse centers and power forwards were all playing in the west coast)..

  • Jay

    Guys who need to make the list.

    DJ Mbenga. Nobody talks about him because he’s barely in the league, but a little background info. When he was a kid, he fought in the wars in Congo. He was literally hours away from being executed before fate stepped in. Now he’s 7′, 290 lbs and a black belt in judo. Dude has been places and seen things and is trained to mess you up.

    Carl Landry. Mentioned above.

    Eduardo Najera. Weird choice, I know, but people who know things say that he’s one of those guys that nobody messes with. He’s legit KO’d at least 3 teammates in fistfights in practice and that’s just what people talk about. He’s one of those guys like Harpring that don’t look like anything special, but they’ve proved themselves enough in practices and hushed up incidents that everyone in the league knows better than to step to them.

  • TR

    Dirk anyone? The dude is constantly playing with bum ankles and still dropping 30. He almost never misses a game. And Andre Miller NEVER misses a game.

  • Make it stiff Biff

    This list is a joke.