As LeBron James, Steph Curry and other stars create a new NBA before our eyes -- while standing on the shoulders of giants -- we are presenting the 100 NBA players who have done the most to change the way we play the game, how we talk about the game, and the culture of basketball.
For this special edition of #NBArank, we asked our panel to choose the players who have influenced the game most, both on and off the court: the real game changers.
Our NBA panel -- with members from across ESPN, including TV, Radio, ESPN.com, The Undefeated and ESPN The Magazine -- voted more than 11,000 times to select the top 90 game-changers, and a smaller committee of writers and editors selected the final 10.
#NBArank Game Changers: 75-51
75. Jeremy Lin
Was Linsanity the start of something, or a phenomenon that will never be duplicated?
Both, probably. When Lin came off the bench and took over the NBA for a few weeks in 2012, leading the woeful Knicks to a seven-game winning streak, there was no precedent for an Asian-American player playing such a dominant, spectacular role for an NBA team. What's more, he did it in the world's media capital, and his exploits resonated instantly in New York, from coast to coast and across the globe.
Though his career has taken several twists, Lin remains a popular and productive player when healthy, and he has done more than any player other than Yao Ming to force NBA observers to reconsider the talents of players of Asian heritage. -- Royce Webb
74. Chris Bosh
Without Bosh, how does today's NBA look?
Would LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have joined the Heat, made four NBA Finals in four years and won consecutive titles?
Would a "stretch 5" (aka small-ball center) be the kind of player every team wants?
Before his career was halted prematurely, Bosh, an 11-time All-Star, was maligned by critics for his nontraditional game, including not scoring a point in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. But emblematic of his overall impact, the Heat would not have won the game without his defense or even played the game without his clutch rebound two days earlier.
Bosh was also a pioneer in the NBA's transition to the digital age, securing rights to previously cybersquatted domain names for himself and many other players and advocating for computer science education, including coding, for students at all levels. -- Adam Reisinger
73. John Lucas
Houston Rockets (1976-78), Golden State Warriors (1978-81), Washington Bullets (1981-83), San Antonio Spurs (1983-84), Rockets (1984-86), Milwaukee Bucks (1986-88), Seattle SuperSonics (1988-89), Rockets (1989-90); Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers (head coach)
John Lucas had Hall of Fame talent as a waterbug point guard who was selected No. 1 overall in 1976, but his career was undermined by addiction to cocaine and alcohol. The turning point came in 1986 when the Houston Rockets, on their way to the NBA Finals, cut him even though he was the starting PG.
From there, the Lucas story is one of salvation, for himself and others. Lucas went to rehab, got clean, began a second life as a basketball coach and created his own foundation to help other people -- not just NBA players -- beat their own addictions. Today he works in player development for the Rockets and his foundation is still salvaging the lives of others threatened by addiction and mental stress. -- Curtis Harris
72. Bill Bradley
New York Knicks (1967-77)
Bradley is the NBA's renaissance man: legendary All-America basketball star, Rhodes scholar, NBA All-Star and two-time champion, accomplished author, U.S. senator and presidential candidate.
Basketball fans of the Sixties and Seventies likely remember him best for being the subject of the renowned book "A Sense of Where You Are," leading Princeton to the Final Four and his self-effacing, team-oriented play for the Knicks. More recently he gained fame from his competitive run for the Democratic nomination, endorsed by Michael Jordan and former teammate Phil Jackson.
71. Earl Monroe
Baltimore Bullets (1967-71), New York Knicks (1971-80)
Whether you called him "Black Jesus" or "The Pearl," Earl Monroe was an original -- and impossible to guard. A playground legend in Philadelphia and New York, an HBCU standout, an All-Star with the Bullets, and a champion with the Knicks, Monroe entertained fans and opponents with a style all his own.
The way he could spin, whirl and twirl the basketball all while not traveling left defenders bedeviled. Even a great defender who knew Monroe's spin moves would be caught off guard by his unorthodox, off-balance shooting style.
Today's guards who fake out opponents with phantom dribbles, shoulder shimmies, and hesitation moves owe a major debt to Earl the Pearl. -- Harris
70. Kevin McHale
Given his sense of humor and gregarious personality, McHale didn't seem like the kind of player who would ravage opponents with post moves dubbed "the Torture Chamber." But when McHale got to operating in the post with his gangly arms and slippery footwork, it all made sense. Any type of shot imaginable within 10 feet of the basket, he conjured into existence to finish off opposing centers and forwards, making him a cornerstone of one of the all-time great frontcourts alongside Boston teammates Larry Bird and Robert Parish.
After a playing career lauded with seven All-Star Games, three titles and two Sixth Man awards -- and infamous for his 1984 Finals takedown of Kurt Rambis -- McHale continued in other NBA roles, including as coach of the Rockets and a television commentator. Most importantly, as GM of the Timberwolves, McHale had the daring foresight to draft Kevin Garnett out of high school and reopen the pathway for prep-to-pro stars in the NBA. -- Harris
Oklahoma City Thunder (2008-present)
It seemed no one would ever average a triple-double again -- until Westbrook did last season. Only he and Oscar Robertson know how it feels to average more than 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for a season.
But stats are not what makes Westbrook most special. Rather, it's his relentless, powerful style of play from the point guard position -- again, much like Robertson in his day.
"I admire Westbrook's all-around command of the game," Robertson wrote after Westbrook's amazing 2016-17 season. "He is a marvelous athlete who plays with intensity and flair and is exciting to watch. His performance this season is impressive. He would have been great in any era."
One difference: Westbrook's wardrobe is as flamboyant off the court as he is driven on the court. Not since Walt "Clyde" Frazier has a player made a flair for fashion his trademark quite the way Westbrook has. -- Reisinger
68. Tracy McGrady
Given his incredible talent, sometimes McGrady is remembered for what his career wasn't, but he was a game changer for what it was.
In 1997, he followed directly on the heels of Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant among the new generation of high school stars who went directly to the NBA. McGrady showed unique flair, including a legendary off-the-backboard dunk in the 2002 All-Star Game. He won two scoring titles, sometimes making it look easy, and the league has never seen anything quite like McGrady's 13 points in 35 seconds to erase a huge deficit in the final minute.
"He was a player who was ahead of his time, a wing built with the ability to be a great scorer and a great playmaker," Brian Windhorst wrote when McGrady was inducted into the Hall of Fame. "A guy who could dunk and shoot 3-pointers. His ability to draw young people to the game was vital for the league in those years. His signature shoes were huge sellers. There was a time when TMacs sold better than the shoes of any other active player. That was really important." -- Reisinger
On opening night of the 2017-18 season, the NBA sent out a press release announcing that the league's rosters featured 108 players from 42 countries outside the United States, including 64 from European nations.
That was far from the case when Sarunas Marciulionis made his NBA debut for the Golden State Warriors in 1989. Marciulionis was the first player from the Soviet Union to play in the NBA, opening up a pipeline to Russia, Lithuania (his home country, which he represented at the Olympics after the breakup of the Soviet Union) and eventually all of Eastern Europe.
"He was really the first guy I can remember who came over [and] established himself," former Warriors teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Chris Mullin told Sports Illustrated. "I think everyone else said, 'Wow, we can do this.' Guys had been coming, and they were OK, but they weren't staying. Then Sarunas was on a great team, with really good players in front of him, and he had a huge impact on all of us." -- Reisinger
66. Draymond Green
Golden State Warriors (2012-present)
The NBA has seen lots of versatile players, but only Green has shown he can be both the NBA's best center when needed and lead an all-time great offense in assists, while also winning Defensive Player of the Year.
"Green is the firing brain circuitry of perhaps the greatest team ever, nearly as important to Golden State's top-five defense as Curry is to their all-time offense," Zach Lowe wrote in 2016. "He would be a star anywhere."
Noting Green's talents on both ends, Lowe wrote, "Green can play up a position for entire games if need be, and that is the launch code to basketball's nuclear bomb: the Death Lineup, with Green as a sneering, rampaging, fast-breaking center, and shooters raining death around him."
Green's passion has a breaking point -- most importantly resulting in a suspension that swung the 2016 Finals to LeBron and the Cavs -- but his irreplaceable skill and intangibles made his Golden State crew forgive and forget.
The bottom line: Every team wants a Draymond Green. -- Austin Tedesco
65. Bill Sharman
Washington Capitols (1950-51), Boston Celtics (1951-61); San Francisco Warriors, Los Angeles/Utah Stars [ABA], Los Angeles Lakers (head coach)
Few people prepared for success like Bill Sharman. The shooting guard was religious with his physical training and kept a strict diet. Then as coach of several NBA and ABA teams, Sharman emphasized a fast-breaking attack and instituted the gameday shootaround to keep his players sharp.
And success came for Sharman, an eight-time All-Star who won four titles with the Celtics. As a coach, he had this surreal stretch: 1970 ABA COY, 1971 ABA title, 1972 NBA COY, 1972 NBA title, and a 33-game win streak unsurpassed in pro sports. And as GM of the Lakers from 1976 to 1982, he assembled the Showtime Lakers that reeled off five titles in the 1980s. -- Harris
64. Gary Payton
Seattle SuperSonics (1990-2003), Milwaukee Bucks (2003), Los Angeles Lakers (2003-04), Boston Celtics (2004-05), Miami Heat (2005-07)
We think of players expressing their style with the ball in their hands, with defense serving as something of anti-style.
Payton might not have been the first to do it, but nobody has broken that mold as well as "the Glove." He played a swaggering, in-your-face style of defense -- and was more than happy to tell opponents about it. No guard has won Defensive Player of the Year since Payton, who was as effective as a scorer and distributor -- particularly on alley-oops to Shawn Kemp -- as he was on defense.
The combination made Payton a nine-time All-Star, a nine-time All-Defensive first-team pick and a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and a player who helped set the tone for today's game. -- Kevin Pelton
63. Joe Dumars
Detroit Pistons (1985-99)
Dumars is such a highly regarded gentleman that the NBA named its sportsmanship award for him. But he also was a member of the Detroit Bad Boys and a fierce competitor who enforced the Jordan Rules, the Pistons' policy of focused, physical play against Michael Jordan -- who cited Dumars as the toughest defender he faced.
MJ is now known for winning six titles, but before that he was known for losing in the playoffs to Dumars, Isiah Thomas and the Pistons, who won consecutive NBA titles with Dumars taking Finals MVP in 1989. In their nine seasons together, Thomas and Dumars formed one of the top backcourts in NBA history.
Upon becoming the Pistons' team president in 2000, Dumars quickly built a winning team, and in 2004 became the first black GM to win an NBA title -- with a legendary group of castoffs who played airtight defense and upset a celebrated Lakers superteam. Dumars held the top job in Detroit for 14 years, guiding the franchise to six consecutive East finals appearances and two NBA Finals. -- Webb
62. Clyde Drexler
Portland Trail Blazers (1983-95), Houston Rockets (1995-98)
In the early 1980s, the college game had never seen anything like Phi Slama Jama. Led by Drexler and Hakeem (then Akeem) Olajuwon, the fast-breaking, slam-dunking Houston Cougars made three straight Final Fours and set a brash new tone for college ball.
Clyde the Glide took his acrobatic game to Portland in 1983, and his budding stardom there influenced the Trail Blazers to draft Sam Bowie and pass on Michael Jordan, who played the same position as Drexler. But Drexler thrilled fans in Portland for a dozen years with his swooping forays to the basket and led the team twice to the NBA Finals.
Eventually Drexler would make 10 All-Star teams, play on the 1992 Dream Team and win a title in Houston -- and set a stylish template for athletic wing play for a generation to come. -- Webb
61. Karl Malone
Utah Jazz (1985-2003), Los Angeles Lakers (2003-04)
Malone set new standards for the power forward play, durability and consistency -- as his nickname implied, the Mailman delivered for 19 NBA seasons, highlighted by two MVP awards and two NBA Finals appearances. He retired as the second-leading scorer in NBA history.
His work ethic became part of the legend, as he built up both his conditioning and his game -- he lifted his free throw percentage more than 40 percentage points and finished with the most FTs made in NBA history. His massive physique was both intimidating and graceful, as he could rebound, defend and score with equal adeptness.
Malone and point guard John Stockton, the all-time assist leader, made the pick-and-roll a work of art, and the two teamed up on countless fast-break baskets in their long partnership for Utah. In all, the two played 1,412 games together, and Malone missed only 10 games in his 18 years with the Jazz. -- Webb
60. Dwyane Wade
Miami Heat (2003-16), Chicago Bulls (2016-17), Cleveland Cavaliers (2017-18), Heat (2018-present)
Wade's fearless brand of basketball became his signature: "Fall seven times. Stand up eight," was the slogan of his first sneaker. He was always in attack mode, even on the defensive end, where his athleticism and exquisite timing made Wade, at 6-4, the best shot-blocking guard the game has ever seen.
"Flash," with a nickname granted by teammate Shaquille O'Neal, saved his best for the biggest stage. In the 2006 Finals, down 2-0, Wade led the Heat to a historic comeback against the Mavericks. And in the summer of 2010, in perhaps his career-defining move, he recruited LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami, sacrificing money and alpha-dog status to form the "Heatles," who would go on to make four straight Finals appearances, win two championships and advance the superteam era.
Wade is known for his philanthropy and impact in the community, and his global impact increased when he left Jordan Brand for a deal with China-based Li-Ning, expanding the multibillion-dollar signature shoe game to an untapped market of more than 300 million NBA fans. -- Reisinger
59. Darryl Dawkins
Philadelphia 76ers (1975-82), New Jersey Nets (1982-87), Utah Jazz (1987), Detroit Pistons (1987-89)
With a personality (and physique) larger than life and power dunks that were out of this world, Dawkins entered the NBA straight from high school in 1975. The earthquaking power of his dunks reportedly stirred the sightless Stevie Wonder to nickname him "Chocolate Thunder" and forced the NBA to adopt stronger baskets.
Inspired by the supergroovalisticprosifunkstication of Parliament-Funkadelic, Dawkins would apply some tongue twisting and hilarious names to his slams: Rim Wrecker, Look Out Below, In-Your-Face Disgrace, Cover Yo Head, Yo-Mama, Go-Rilla and Spine-Chiller Supreme. The ultimate name and dunk was the Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam that busted the backboard in Kansas City in 1979. -- Harris
58. Don Nelson
Chicago Zephyrs (1962-63), Los Angeles Lakers (1963-65), Boston Celtics (1965-76); Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks (head coach)
Nelson was a coaching innovator who helped create the modern era. Long before "Seven Seconds or Less" and "Moreyball," Nelson toyed with run-and-gun lineups, often putting the ball in the hands of a point forward, and starting fives without a traditional center.
"They were probably a little ahead of their time, you know, with small ball," current Warriors coach Steve Kerr said to NBA.com in 2017. "Nellie was really the guy that invented small ball in the league, even before Run TMC with Milwaukee, so the Warriors were a perfect team for him."
Nelson's long resume includes the most coaching wins in NBA history, five titles as a player, and many years as an executive. Among his bold moves were drafting Dirk Nowitzki in 1998 and pairing him with Steve Nash, and pushing the Warriors to draft and keep Stephen Curry in 2009. -- Reisinger
57. David Thompson
Denver Nuggets (1975-76, ABA; 1976-82), Seattle SuperSonics (1982-84)
In a career shortened by drug addiction, Thompson nonetheless carved out a new way to play shooting guard.
Like any standard issue scoring guard, he could swish a fine jumper or mix in off-the-ball cuts for easy scores. Unlike other 2-guards, though, Thompson could put opponents in the triple-threat position, blow by them off the dribble and finish with ridiculous dunks. And that was in the half-court.
If you let Thompson get loose on the fast break, you would quickly find out why his nickname was "Skywalker." Shooting guards such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade trace their particular offensive lineage to the trailblazing efforts of this five-time All-Star savant. -- Harris
56. Dennis Rodman
Detroit Pistons (1986-93), San Antonio Spurs (1993-95), Chicago Bulls (1995-98), Los Angeles Lakers (1999), Dallas Mavericks (2000)
There are two Dennis Rodmans.
There is the Rodman who brought a new intensity to defense and rebounding, leading the NBA in boards per game seven times and winning a pair of Defensive Player of the Year awards as an indispensable member of five championship-winning teams in Detroit and Chicago.
Then there's the Rodman who courted controversy, dyed his hair in wild colors and patterns, and wore a wedding dress to a ceremony in which he married himself -- and later visited North Korea.
Both were NBA game-changers in their own way.
"They looked past all the negativity and thought, 'Wow, he actually did change the game a little bit,'" Rodman said when he was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2011. -- Reisinger
55. Penny Hardaway
Orlando Magic (1993-99), Phoenix Suns (1999-04), New York Knicks (2004-06), Miami Heat (2007)
At 6-foot-7, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway blended some of the size and skills of Magic Johnson with some of the spectacular talent of Michael Jordan. In future years, LeBron James would become an even bigger, better version of the same player. But James and many others of his generation cite Penny as an inspiration.
Big-time success came quickly and left quickly, as with several other stars of the '90s. Hardaway twice was named All-NBA first team and was a major marketing star with Nike's Lil Penny character (voiced by Chris Rock). And in his second season, Penny, Shaquille O'Neal and the Orlando Magic made the NBA Finals.
But Shaq departed, Penny suffered knee injuries and his reputation, previously spotless, took hits. He eventually faded from the NBA in 2007 and became a coach and community leader in his hometown of Memphis -- where in 2018 he was hired as head coach of his college alma mater, bringing him full circle. -- Webb
54. Kevin Durant
Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder (2007-2016), Golden State Warriors (2016-present)
Durant scores so easily, with four scoring titles and an MVP award to his name, that we take his skills, which now include ballhandling, passing and defense, for granted. And yet, despite a perpetual search for his skill set, the NBA has yet to discover another KD.
He's nearly 7-feet, which is why it's remarkable he shows the dexterity of the 6-9 "small forward" billed on his official NBA profile. Unlike the giants of the past, Durant is thoroughly a perimeter player, firing 3-pointers and jumpers from everywhere on the floor, including a series-sealing 3-pointer over LeBron James in the 2017 NBA Finals.
In more ways than one, Durant has set the pace for the NBA, as the player who outperformed Greg Oden and helped break the NBA's big-man fixation, as the first superstar of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and with his shocking leap from OKC to Golden State, where he won Finals MVP and his first NBA title. -- Reisinger
53. James Harden
Oklahoma City Thunder (2009-12), Houston Rockets (2012-present)
"The Harden trade" will live on in infamy -- a budding star and now perennial MVP candidate swapped for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and picks by one of the most respected GMs in the league, all over a few million dollars.
Everything Harden has done since makes the move look even more lopsided. He has led the league in assists and his scoring talent is so precise and considered that the NBA has instituted new rules and interpretations for gathering, traveling and drawing fouls. And that's just the start. He embraced "weirdo" as a brand. Fans on YouTube apparently shamed him into trying harder on defense. He's ready to run away with the MVP. He's a millennial superstar with a singular style still crafting his legacy.
"You want to go from obscure to unforgettable? Grow the most famous beard in sports history," Pablo Torre wrote in 2015. "You want streams of viral content? Be someone whom GQ dubbed the NBA's 'most eclectic dresser,' the guy who answers my question about the aesthetic of his forthcoming Adidas sneaker line with another question: 'When was the last time you've seen anything normal or standard from me?'" -- Tedesco
52. Arvydas Sabonis
Portland Trail Blazers (1995-2001, 2002-03)
Sabonis played seven seasons for the Blazers, but NBA fans didn't get the best version of him. That existed earlier, in Lithuania and other European locales, especially before injuries slowed him.
Still, he starred in the Soviet Premier League and other leagues and competitions, winning three Olympic medals and demonstrating the ruggedness and skills -- including uncanny passing and accurate shooting -- that the NBA would eventually see. The total package made him Sabonis a legend, a player who many think would have helped the Blazers dominate had he come over when drafted in 1986.
With typical hyperbole, Bill Walton, in an interview for Grantland, captured the appeal of Sabonis' game: "He could do everything. He had the skills of Larry Bird and Pete Maravich. He had the athleticism of Kareem, and he could shoot the 3-point shot. He could pass and run the floor, dribble. We should have carried out a plan in the early 1980s to kidnap him and bring him back right then." -- Webb
51. Chris Webber
Golden State Warriors (1993-94), Washington Bullets/Wizards (1994-98), Sacramento Kings (1998-2005), Philadelphia 76ers (2005-07), Detroit Pistons (2007), Warriors (2008)
Webber's place on this list can be traced back to the Fab Five -- the trendsetting Michigan freshmen who crashed the college basketball scene in 1991. Playing with swagger in baggy shorts and black socks, Webber, Jalen Rose and their teammates went to two NCAA finals and set a tone that remains part of the game today.
"Their generation was the first generation to have hip-hop provide the soundtrack to their entire adolescence," J.A. Adande wrote. "You could hear EPMD booming in the Michigan locker room or see the players jump on the scorer's table and wave their arms like in Naughty By Nature's 'Hip Hop Hooray' video after a victory."
While the Fab Five was famous for its style, it was Webber's play in the NBA that made him a potential Hall of Famer. He finished his career averaging better than 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game, and his passing skills laid the groundwork for a generation of versatile big men.
Webber is also known as a collector of African-American artifacts, and he's finding a new audience as a commentator on TNT. -- Reisinger