Heads of Fame

Every year the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame honours a class of the best of the best; from players to coaches, from referees to complete teams.

But what about those who have achieved other extraordinary feats? The players whose giddy heights transformed them into pop culture references? The ones who become fan favourites for their off-court behaviour?

To us, they’re the real heroes of the game, the ones who belong in COURT’s very own Hall of Fame. We’ve worked with illustrator and sculptor William Edmonds to induct our very first class.


“My homie Strick told me, ‘Dude finish your breakfast.’” This line from Jay Z’s Public Service Announcement was my introduction to streetball legend John Strickland. The man they called “The Franchise” was larger than life, as charismatic a showman as he was talented on the court. He once averaged over 40 points a game playing for Nike Pro City, considered one of the premier streetball leagues. The Franchise was invited to training camp with the Knicks in 1996; he even scored 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a pre-season game against New Jersey, but didn’t make the team and never appeared in the NBA. Strickland was a career journeyman, once dubbing himself “MLK”, for “Minor League Killer”. John Strickland passed away in 2010 in his sleep from an apparent heart attack at the age of 38. He will not be remembered with countless highlight reels or professional achievements. But I’m confident that the impression he left on those who saw him will help carry on his legend.


Before he was Metta World Peace and later The Panda’s Friend, he was Ron Artest, one of the best two-way players in the league, with his tenacious defence and ability to bully opposing players on both ends of the floor. Before his rookie season with the Bulls he applied for a job at Circuit City because he wanted the employee discount. In Indiana, he became infamous for his role in the Malice at the Palace. During his brief tenure in Sacramento, he teamed up with Bonzi Wells to bring optimism to a dormant Kings franchise. In Houston, he boarded the team bus for a Game 7 in his underwear. With the Lakers, he finally reached the pinnacle for any individual player, winning the 2010 NBA Finals, and hitting a crucial three-pointer late in the fourth quarter of Game 7 against the Celtics. Artest finished with 20 points, five rebounds and five steals in the deciding game, and was ecstatic afterwards (“I can’t believe Kobe passed to me!”), apologizing to his Pacers teammates for being immature, thanking everyone from Phil Jackson, to his father, to his doctor. Jeff Van Gundy, when you see this, say Queensbridge.


Stephon Marbury’s career is either a blueprint, or better, truly one of a kind. That was the description that befit Marbury when he first came into the league, and seem poised to form a decade-long partnership with Kevin Garnett in Minnesota. But the two parted ways, and Marbury became somewhat of a journeyman before landing back home with the New York Knicks. He was touted as a savior but things disintegrated; he was involved in a lawsuit, benched by Larry Brown, and the last memory of him was one of eating Vaseline in an online chat room.

So, it’s a marvel that he’s managed to recreate himself both as a player and a brand in China, where he’s hailed as the Chinese Basketball Association’s superstar, having won three championships, including in 2014 and 2015 with the Beijing Ducks. Fans might forever view Marbury as a failure, but he ended up an icon in another part of the world, far away from the North American spotlight.


As recently as 2014 Ricky Davis was still hanging onto his professional basketball career, toiling in the D-League with the Erie Bayhawks until he was released. That one final call-up to the NBA might never come, but Davis long ago cemented his legacy as a fan favourite.

In 2003, while with the Cavs, Davis was one rebound shy of a triple double. Up by double digits late in the fourth quarter, Davis decided to shoot at his own basket, in hopes of creating a rebounding opportunity off an intentional miss. The play did not go off as planned, since shooting at your own basket and grabbing the miss does not result in a rebound. Even though some called for a suspension for his unsportsmanlike conduct, there was also something refreshing about a player willing to do anything necessary to accomplish an individual goal. After all, we’ve all been in that predicament before, haven’t we? He might have bounced around in the league, but Davis gave us a single iconic moment we’ll always remember, flying too close to the sun in pursuit of his dreams.


Long before Matt Bonner started collecting championship rings with the San Antonio Spurs, he was a fan favourite in Toronto, where he was known as The Red Rocket because of the color of his hair and because it was the name of the city’s subway system, which he often used to travel to the stadium for games. He picked a fight with Kevin Garnett once, inciting the crowd like a wrestling heel after his ejection. Bonner never did turn into the league’s next great villain, though; with the Spurs, he became the self-proclaimed Red Mamba, finally ditching the subway, getting himself a car (he currently drives a Chevrolet Impala) and starting a Sandwich Hunter blog. He also landed a shoe deal once by practically begging for one on social media.

People have tried to assume the everyday man role in the NBA, but Bonner doesn’t try, he simply fits it. He is a supporting player on a title contender, but a champion in our eyes. With a humble approach to the game and a wicked sense of humor, Bonner is a reminder that the game of basketball is still fun, and still has room for people like him.

Words: Steven Lebron
Ceramic heads: William Edmonds
Photography: Oskar Proctor