It’s the middle of September and we’re mired in the deadest dead of the NBA calendar, when guys are just trying to get their last few moments of training and relaxation in before the grind of the season. If it weren’t for Twitter and guys keeping us updated with all the dumb things they’re doing, we’d have nothing but the classic “15 pounds of muscle” and “looks better than ever” to talk about around these parts. No fun. Instead, we get to giggle at guys enjoying their final weeks of partying and a basketball internet filled with completely subjective and utterly meaningless lists.
All of which is to say, I hope you enjoy this completely subjective and utterly meaningless list.
When we talk about what makes a player cool, it’s basically impossible to describe. That’s going to make this paragraph really fun to read, I know, but I think we all have a basic grasp on the concept. It’s some combination of charisma, accolades, talent, personality and mystique. On-court performance and style play in to this to, but as FreeDarko explained for years, probably not as must as you’d think. Simply put, there are just some guys in the league that are cooler than others. You know who the coolest guys in the league are even if you can’t explain it.
For instance, LeBron James was at his coolest when he was coming in to the NBA, before he took so much criticism and (more importantly) responded to that criticism. It’s hard for the best player in the league to be the coolest player in the league, since there is so much spotlight on them that it’s hard to be anything other than a superstar. Shaquille O’Neal was never the coolest player in the league and neither was Kobe Bryant. Michael Jordan was, even though Sam Perkins was a pretty close second. The sometimes unfair demands of being the top player in the NBA — mass marketability, grace in the media, not outwardly being a jerk or goofball — make it basically impossible for that guy to double as the coolest player in the league.
Trying to be the coolest player in the league doesn’t help either, which is why Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t at the top of this list. For whatever reason, consciously courting cool just doesn’t work. To be cool, you just have to be cool (shoutout to Uma Thurman) without really trying. As Channing Tatum said in “21 Jump Street,” trying hard is for nerds, which I understand is the least cool reference that could possibly be made with the exception of that Uma Thurman/”Be Cool” one from earlier. But then again, the concept of this whole thing is pretty uncool. C’est la vie.
Nonetheless, here is one bro’s guess at who the 10 coolest players in the NBA are, with some reasons for their selection.
1. James Harden — This is kind of an easy pick for me, as he’s at the peak of his power in every way, shape and form. He’s a great player who is fun to watch and didn’t even take that big of a beating for not showing up in the Finals, he looks awesome and he is a 23-year-old enjoying being 23 years old as much as possible. Does James Harden care if you see him wearing a leopard print cowboy hat and dookie chain while partying shirtless with a dozen women? No, because he’s wearing a leopard print cowboy hat and dookie chain while partying shirtless with a dozen women. And unlike a lot of the other swaggy bros in the league, he’s actually pretty well-dressed.
2. Dwyane Wade — Feels like he would have topped this list for a few seasons during his prime, but injuries and constantly complaining to referees has hurt his cause just a little bit. But still, he’s dating Gabrielle Union, which is a major coup, and he’s kind of the first guy to have made it his mission to outdress the other guys in the league. Sure, that sometimes leads to him looking like a putz, but that’s just collateral damage.
3. Stephen Jackson –157 players played more minutes per game last season than Stephen Jackson did, but I guarantee you think about StackJack way more often than guys like Alonzo Gee, Elton Brand and Ben Gordon. Of all the players in the league, he might be the one who cares the least what anyone thinks about him. Plus, he’s also the guy who’s most likely to get in an honest-to-goodness fight, which certainly helps.
4. Kevin Durant — Do you realize how hard it is to be one of the best players in the league, want to release a rap mixtape and not have everyone roll their eyes? Especially during a summer when you made a movie that somehow didn’t lead to you being a joke around the league. When Shaq did both of those things in the early stages of his career, he got blasted for not being serious enough about basketball AND for making horrible entertainment choices. It was a two-pronged blasting. Somehow, that hasn’t happened with Durant.
5. Rajon Rondo — I don’t even like Rajon Rondo, but I’ll admit that the way he carries himself and seems to hate every other person associated with the league who is not Josh Smith is kind of awesome. He’s like a 1970s Clint Eastwood character.
6. Manu Ginobili — Chalk this one up wholly to mystique. Manu showed up as a 25-year-old rookie after being a 57th draft pick and then immediately became one of the league’s most exciting and effective players, all while rocking a legitimate bald spot. Who does that? A decade in to his career, he’s still an almost completely unique player who has only been replicated once, by the guy who’s No. 1 on this list. Mad props, even if the flopping pushes him down the list a bit.
7. Tony Allen — Once upon a time, Tony Allen blew out his knee dunking after buzzer, immediately becoming a laughingstock around the league. Now, he gets interviewed about what the nonsensical ramblings on his Twitter really mean and makes All-Defensive first teams while guarding the league’s best scorer with his hands literally behind his back, just because it’s more fun that way. He is our generation’s Ron Artest and might not even be the coolest Tony Allen in existence.
8. Steve Nash — Steve Nash is the undeniable all-time face of the Phoenix Suns’ franchise to the point that when you think of the Phoenix Suns, you think of Nash first. Of course, this summer, he accepted and encouraged a trade to the Suns’ archrival in order to chase a title and people were OK with it. Sure, they might think it’ll be weird to see Nash in a Lakers uniform, but at the same time they’re like, “Good for him. You get that title, Steve.” You have to have massive street cred to be able to pull that off.
9. Russell Westbrook — Our third Thunder in the top 10, which should tell you something about their team. For me, Russell is here because of the way he’s become more and more Russell Westbrook as people have been calling for him to tone it down. That takes some brass. The wacky shirts and pants are already kind of tired, but everything else is pretty tough.
10. Joakim Noah — Bit of a homer pick, I’ll admit. However, I can’t imagine too many people will disagree that Noah’s entire urban hippy, doesn’t-care-what-anyone-thinks approach to everything is pretty refreshing. You might hate him on the court and the way his hair looks and the way he dances, but that’s of no concern to him. Also, during the summers, he does things like this all the time because that’s what he wants to do.
Honorable mention: LeBron James, Josh Smith, Gerald Wallace, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Jamaal Tinsley, Quentin Richardson, Nick Young
So those are my 10 coolest players in the league, the ranking of which is an inherently uncool exercise. Let’s hear yours in the comments.