NBA / Jun 16, 2010 / 5:39 pm

Who is the NBA’s best role player of all-time?

Michael Cooper at USC

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?

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  • Celts Fan

    I’d go w/ Worm too

  • A.R.

    As a Laker fan I’d wanna go with Coop but also as a realist I think i’m gonna go with tha worm. No he didn’t ever really come up with any timely shots or game winning shots (horry, fish) but he definitely did the hell out of his job. People tend to forget how pivotal he was on those championship teams. Of all the players to be named on this list he’s the one who should definitely be in the hall of fame. Shame the NBA hasn’t honored him already idgaf how crazy the guy.

  • that’s what’s up

    Roll player?
    Oliver Miller

  • dagwaller

    Lol@ 3. I can’t say that Rodman was a role player. What was his role, exactly? Defend and rebound? Isn’t that half of the game? I don’t see too many offensive “role players” on this list, unless you count Horry.

  • Jonathan

    At #3…

    “Roll player?”

    You seriously think Oliver Miller had just one? Bakery player may be closer to the truth!

  • Khalvin

    For the sake of conversation… Ron Harper?

  • @

    Rodman is one of the best. Ben Wallace and Mutombo are along that same mold (just blocks and rebounds/controlling the paint).

    Steve Kerr comes to mind for being a spot up shooter to spread the defense.

  • Tim

    Vinnie Johnson?

  • Tim

    wait wait, i know…Darko Milicic

  • Khalvin

    *To extend on that,
    Ron Harper 5 rings
    One of only three NBA players to win consecutive rings with multiple teams
    Key part of triangle offense
    Big component of the perimeter offense

    Granted I didn’t have the basketball insight that I do now that I am older but as a teen seeing him on the Bulls and Lakers it seemed he did a good job playing his role.

    So yeah… Ron Harper.

  • jzsmoove

    are you fucken kiddin me? this conversation starts and ends with Horry as the best role player of all time. Scoring, defend and rebound. Say what? he was a key cog in all of his championship teams.

  • “Tha Boddy” Building the DC Wall

    Horry was a bum there are plenty of other players who if given his chances with his loaded teams could hit those shots.The reason at the end of his career nobody picked him up is because they realized that their susperstar should have the ball in their hands at key moments and not some nub who doesn’t do anything special and nothing good or great.If you call making a shot or two during an entire series but doing nothing else the whole time best material then you haven’t been watching basketball long.
    My vote is for Robert Horry one of the most overrated players in basketball then and now.

  • Steve Nash

    Anthony Mason
    Otis Thorpe
    Sam Cassell
    Charles Oakley
    Dan Majerle
    Mario Elie

  • LakeShow84

    Robert Horry..

    TOO many big shots on TOO many teams..

  • REPZ

    Ya’ll mustve forgot…

    If we are talking about current NBA role players, then i’d have to give it to James Posey. That guy is the ULTIMATE utility guy.Great defence, size, never gets a big head and hits 3’s. What more can you ask for?

  • REPZ


    Robert Horry and D Fish are overrated.

    I always find it hilarious that they are considered clutch when it was their fault that they got into such a tight situation in the first place.


    LEBRON JAMES TO THE CLIPPERS ! ! ! WOOHOOO, That would be an awesome line-up.

    PG – Baron Davis
    SG – Eric Gordon
    PF – Blake Griffin
    SF – Lebron James
    C – Chris Kaman

    If that is not STACKED, then i dunno what is… also, you can count on B Diddy to step up in the playoffs unlike Mo Williams or Delonte West.

  • kevin k

    to all you scrubs and wannabe basketball junkies or what not… the clear answer is


    if your fucking nickname is the Boston Strangler against THE Boston Celtics of the 80s and you are a 6th man… that should tell you who the best role player is.

  • LoBezn0

    I agree with Dennis Rodman

  • Nyeme

    Role player in not a chance in hell of being a Star or All-Star?

  • dk

    Kwame Brown, hands down… no pun intended.

  • dk

    Kwame Brown, hands down… no pun intended.

  • Celts Fan

    gotta toss a shout-out to the Microwave too. Vinnie was before a lot of y’all’s time, but dude could rain buckets on your head.

  • egypt

    Horry for sure but then again im in my early 20’s…. pre-jordan is before my time… he was just cold vicious

  • alf (from melmak)

    I agree with Tim. Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson should be at the top of the list. Whenever Detroit’s first unit went out, he was the guy counted on the most to provide the scoring punch.

    Anyone who is or was on the starting unit of a team should not be counted as a role player.

    The list should also include the Utah Jazz Antoinne “Big Dog” Carr, Chicago Bulls BJ Armstrong, Phoenix Suns Wesley Person, and the Indina Pacers Dale Davis.

  • I’m just saying

    I like Horry and Toney so far. But my choice is Craig Hodges before he got blackballed. People say bj Armstrong when really the dagger thrower was hodges and paxson. So horry, Toney, hodges, or microwave

  • Heckler

    scoring: Vinnie Johnson and Ricky Pierce
    shooting: Dell Curry and Chuck Person
    defense: Dennis Rodman and Ron Harper
    rebounding: Dennis Rodman and Michael Cage
    toughness: Mario Elie and Charles Oakley
    craziness: Vernon Maxwell and Rick Mahorn

    there are many different roles to fill on a team. and many different players have filled the roles accordingly. list above includes the Best of the Best for some attributes

  • UncheckedAggression

    Alf–That’s bullshit. Lots of role players are starters. If you want to start a separate list of sixth men, then go right ahead. Just don’t expect anyone to fall in line with that. After all, this discussion started with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman for Christ’s sake.

    I think often it’s tough to separate just who is/was a role player. I think Rodman is a good choice (personal opinion), although the guy was a defensive and rebounding superstar. And a guy like Horry was a great role player… but when it comes down to it, he got a lot more opportunities to succeed than almost any other NBA player. He was a contributor for a number of great teams, which most players don’t even get the chance at. So then he gets more cred based solely on something that had a lot to do with luck.

    I would say a great role player is a non-star that excels at the role given to him. Rodman and Hornacek stand out to me.

  • uneek726

    Robert Horry….

  • sh!tfaced

    Worm, definitely.

    Other “roll” players? Josh Howard, Darius Miles, Wilson Chandler, Zach Randolph…?

  • sa

    not a fan but gotta respect ben wallace

  • Seamus

    Ray Allen merely for the pure fact he stays in a Gym till all Hours shooting jumpshots and free-throws. And he’s also won a few NBA Fair Play awards.

  • futuristic handgun

    robert f’ing horry

  • http://www.worldofwatches.com Alisha

    no no no jordan is the best role player of all time..

  • Guitar Hero

    Shouldn´t a great role player be also a RELIABLE teammate, who you can always count on?
    That excludes the Worm.

    Maybe Charles Oakley?

  • 92021SpurMD

    I would give Rodman the nod, by far, but a name that NO ONE is saying, and i’d put him second, is STEVE KERR!!!

  • JAY

    This is a dumb topic. Reason is that a role player’s role is defined by the “stars” around them. They play a part in the team’s success but without the stars on the team they won’t be successful. Therefore they won’t be considered for this silly topic. You notice people are only bringing up role players from championship winning teams??
    What about Dan Majerle?? What about Mark Eaton??
    Can a role player be a leader of the team?? If so, Muggsy Bogues?? Shane Battier?? If you put Battier on the Lakers there’s no doubt he gets consideration for this. But he’s stuck on teams that haven’t gone deep into playoffs so he’s not even included in the discussion. Not his fault.

  • Nyeme

    Rodman was a star though. Unlike Ben Wallace, Rodman could score in the paint (when he wanted to), finish and pass, but most people forget that. He was also an All-Star (less than he should have). To call him a role player, you might as well say Deke was one as well.

    My opinion great role players were

    Doug Christie
    James Posey
    Avery Johnson
    Fisher is one
    Wesley Person
    Vinnie Johnson
    The Davises
    Hubert Davis
    Charlie Ward
    Darrell Armstrong

    Robert Horry I’m not too sure about. Has he ever not played on a contender? It’s difficult to say whether or not he would still be able to do the same things if not on the court with the HOFers he’s been on court with. I can’t think of many bigs though

  • hoopfiend

    @Nyeme Big Shot Bob also played for the Suns, where he was famous for throwing a towel in then-coach Danny Ainge’s mug. He was traded to the Lakers pretty after that (for Ced Ceballos maybe?)…

  • http://www.cnnsi.com JAY

    Really?!? Hubert Davis?? He gave up as many points as he scored.
    Wesley Person?!?!?! LMAO!!!!!! I loved that suns team but come on… you’re reaching. A “great” role player?? <—your words, not mine. How low is your bar?? May as well put Elliott Perry or Travis Best on that list. So many other players have had more impact than him. Dennis Scott, Nick Anderson, Chris Childs, John Starks…. i could go on forever , and ever, and ever…..

    Other than that, I agree w/ your assessment about Rodman and Dikembe.

  • eyeused2b

    Kevin Garnett. I always felt like he was a sidekick with no side to kick, and then he lucked into Boston where he joined Pierce and Allen (another sidekick with no side to kick).

    KG got “the man” money, “the man” fame, “the man” award (MVP), and will get “the man” recognition when he retires and enters the Hall. That just makes him the Julia Roberts of the NBA. She gets the roles and hype as the hot chic, but she’s always been funny looking at best. Don’t forget, in Minny, KG was notorious for being a three quarter player. During the fourth, he vanished and deferred to Mark Blount. Mark Blount? That’s why I choose KG.

  • M-Intellect

    You forgot about Shawn Marion? The ULTIMATE Role player. He just wasn’t on winning teams.

  • Buddahfan

    If we are going to start calling players like D. Rodman a role player then my vote for the greatest role player of all time is Michael Jordan.

    Jordan’s role was score points.

    In fact he was more of a role player than Rodman

    Rodman had several roles in every game.

    1. Rebound
    2. Play Defense
    3. Bring Energy

    Jordan only had one role in every game

    1. Score

    Yes he could play defense but the Bulls didn’t need him to play defense to win. They just needed him to score.

    And score he did

    So sorry Dennis, Michael not you is the greatest role player of all time.

  • 92021SpurMD

    Why is no one on Steve Kerr? Great shooter, great defender, the Spurs/Bulls role he had throughout his years were vital!!

  • clarky

    Role Player has to be Luc Longley, his role was simple….

    1. Box Out
    2. Set Picks
    3. Get out of Jordan’s way

    3 titles later you can’t really complain….

  • http://www.cnnsi.com JAY

    See how stupid this topic is?!?

    “Rodman a role player”
    “Welsey Person a GREAT role player”
    “MJ is the greatest role player”
    “Kevin Garnett”


    For the record, IMO KG isn’t a role player. Just because he isn’t a finisher, doesn’t make him a role player.

    and the dumbest thing I’ve read all year on this website…

    Buddhafan: “Jordan only had one role in every game
    1. Score
    Yes he could play defense but the Bulls didn’t need him to play defense to win. They just needed him to score.”

    The reason the Bulls on all those years is because he did everything. And don’t kid yourself. To win as much as they did, the Bulls needed him to do everything.

  • Nyeme

    @Hoopfiend, I know he was traded to Phoenix, it lasted half a season…he was shipped with Cassell for Barkley.

    @JAY – To me a role player has no chance at being a star, and if your are EXCEPTIONAL at what you do, and been an All-Star you aren’t a role player (unless you are an All-Star for being a role player) like the Davis boys. But if you put up 15-18ppg as a starter how can you say they are role players? His definition was never a No. 1 option on a good team, but I don’t think you can be called a role player if you were a No. 2 on a good team a No. 1 or 2 option on a bad team either.

    Role players don’t change what they do or the output. I hope this clarifies what I was trying to say

  • http://www.cnnsi.com JAY

    It doesn’t clarify what you were trying to say but I get the point…. the point is everyone’s definition of a role-player is different. Some guys think MJ is a role player… others say Hubert Davis was a great role-player.
    Anytime you can place Hubert Davis and Michael Jordan in the same argument, the topic is stupid.
    Game 7…. Go celts (just bcuz nobody is expecting them to win w/o Perk)