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New Jersey's Biggest Basketball Icons

Basketball is one of the most beloved sports in America, and New Jersey is home to some of the biggest basketball icons the sport has ever seen, despite not officially being home to an NBA franchise. If you're closer to New York, then your best bets are the Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets. If you happen to love on the opposite side of the state, however, you might be better off at Wells Fargo Center cheering on the Philadelphia 76ers cheering on last season’s MVP Joel Embiid and the legendary James Harden. 

Perhaps you're support of one of those three, or any other team for that matter, doesn't depend on their location, but rather their stature. As those that have been betting on basketball odds will tell you, the reigning champion Denver Nuggets are the favorites for a second consecutive Larry O'Brien Championship trophy next term at odds of +490. If you prefer rooting for the underdog then the Nets may very well be the team for you, with odds of +10000 for glory next term. 

While the Garden State hasn't given its inhabitants a team to root for, it has certainly produced some of the best basketball players in the world to get behind. Here are some of New Jersey's biggest basketball legends and why their exploits have been so 

Shaquille O'Neal

When it comes to basketball, the name Shaquille O'Neal is one that will forever be etched in the history of the sport. Born in Newark, New Jersey, he attended Cole Elementary School before moving to San Antonio, Texas. The towering American star played college basketball at Louisiana State University before being drafted first overall by the Orlando Magic in 1992.

Throughout his Hall of Fame career, Shaq featured prominently for a number of teams however, the majority of his success came with the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, picking up four NBA Championship rings, three with the former and one with the latter. He is considered by many as perhaps the best center in NBA history. However, Serbia’s Nikola Jokić might have something to say about that in the years to come. 

For those in New Jersey, however, the seven-foot-plus behemoth is more than just a talented athlete. He is a true representation of the state's grit, determination, and passion - qualities that are deeply ingrained in the culture of the Garden State.

Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving was born in Melbourne, Australia, but he grew up in West Orange, NJ. He attended St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, where he honed his skills and earned the title of the best high school basketball player in the country when he was named a McDonald's All-American. After one year at Duke University, the Aussie starlet was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2011 NBA draft and he went on to be named Rookie of the Year in his maiden campaign with the franchise. 

The New Jersey adoptee has gone on to play for some of the highest-profile teams in the sport. He won his first and only NBA Championship in Cleveland in 2016 before moving on to the Boston Celtics the following year. After three years at the TD Garden he then made the move closer to home, signing to the Brooklyn Nets. He was then traded to the Dallas Mavericks, towards the latter half of last season and has since gone on to form a formidable partnership with Slovenian sensation Luka Dončić. 

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Although Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was raised in New Jersey, he was actually born in Philadelphia, but when it comes to basketball in the Garden State, few names are as iconic as his. The former St. Patrick's High School standout made a name for himself in the New Jersey prep basketball scene, winning multiple state championships and earning top honors from recruiting scouts across the country, as well as McDonald's All-American honors. The Charlotte Bobcats selected the small forward second overall in the 2012 NBA Draft however, he hasn't didn't live up to his lofty expectations and found himself without a team in 2020 after an ill-fated run with the Mavericks. 

Karl-Anthony Towns

Karl-Anthony Towns was born in Edison, NJ in 1995. He played high school basketball at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, NJ, where he won several Player of the Year awards. Towns played college basketball at the University of Kentucky before being selected first overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2015 NBA draft. He was named Rookie of the Year in 2016, and he has since become one of the best centers in the NBA.

Rick Barry

Rick Barry was born in Elizabeth, NJ in 1944 and played college basketball at the University of Miami before being drafted by the San Francisco Warriors in 1965. Known for his incredible shooting accuracy and his unmatched scoring ability, he cemented his place in basketball history during his time as a professional player with the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and Washington Bullets. He was a 12-time NBA All-Star and won an NBA championship with the Warriors in 1975. 


New Jersey has produced some of the biggest basketball icons the sport has seen. From Shaq to Kyrie Irving, these players have left their mark on the game of basketball and inspired generations of young athletes. They are a testament to the talent and heart that New Jersey has to offer, and their legacies will continue to be celebrated by basketball fans all over the world.