The 15 Toughest Players in NBA History

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The 15 Biggest Tough Guys in NBA History


In Michael Jordan's recent interview to promote NBA2k14, he raised quite a few eyebrows. He listed off a bunch of the game's greatest players and said that he could beat them all in one-on-one. He also took a shot a Kobe Bryant by accusing him of stealing his moves. But another part of that interview was the question about the differences between today's NBA and the old days when Jordan was first breaking in.

Jordan said, and a lot of people agree, that the league used to be a lot more physical. He put it bluntly when he said that today's kids 'have no idea' of how physical things used to be. If you took the ball in the lane, it was a given that you were going to get hit, and hit hard. Easy lay-ins were not a common thing.

So it got me thinking - who are the toughest guys in NBA history? Who are the guys that opposing players dreaded running into in the paint?

Of course bigger players are going to be tough, but the label of 'tough guy' isn't limited to power forwards and centers. There have been a lot of extremely tough guards and small forwards as well.

This group of players is not a list of the dirtiest players to ever step on the hardwood. Although some of them had reputations of being just that. But if any of these guys did make a dirty play, they could back it up. Most of them didn't need to play dirty, because they were just naturally imposing on the court.

So it's with all that in mind that we'll take a look at the 15 toughest players in NBA history:

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Alonzo Mourning

USA Today Sports

Zo was not a player to mess with. He was known as a shot-blocker and as guy who wasn't afraid to throw down on the court. During his prime, good luck driving the lane on him.

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Steve Nash

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

He might be little by NBA standards, but players don't get any tougher than Steve Nash. He brings a hockey mentality to the basketball court and is known for being able to play through tremendous amounts of pain. I'll never forget the time when he broke and then reset his nose in between plays.

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Darryl Dawkins


You don't get the nickname 'Chocolate Thunder' from being soft. Dawkins was a 6-11, 250-pound beast during his career from 1975-1989.

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Bill Russell


You can't mention all-time great tough guys without tipping your cap to Bill Russell. This guy ruled the NBA for over a decade while averaging 15.1 PPG and 22.5 RPG.

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Kobe Bryant


Love or hate Kobe Bryant, you can't deny that he's tough as nails. This guy has played through countless injuries during his career and done it while maintaining his high level of success. We'll see how tough Bryant really is in 2013-14, as he continues to recover from his most serious injury yet.

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Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett
USA Today Sports

Many people can't stand Keven Garnett. His actions are over the top at times, but he's also the epitome of a hard-nosed basketball player. The Big Ticket is without question a legendary tough guy.

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Anthony Mason


Mason was no doubt one of the enforcers on the New York Knicks teams of the mid-90's that had a lot of success. This dude had one of the meanest game faces you'll ever see. But he not only looked the part, he could back it up too.

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Rick Mahorn


Mahorn was a member of the 'Bad Boys' Detroit Pistons teams of the late 1980's. In his career he only averaged six points and six rebounds a game, but at 6-10, 240, he was someone you just didn't mess with in the paint.

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Xavier McDaniel


Just take one look at the photo above and you'll have an idea of what McDaniel played like during his career. Known by many as the X-Man, he had a lengthy physical career in the NBA. Most notably, he was another member of the mid-90's Knicks.

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Shaquille O'Neal


Shaq was as physically dominant as any player we've ever seen during his 19-year career. Few people challenged Superman, because they knew they didn't stand a chance. Nobody pushed Shaq around, nobody.

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Charles Barkley


Although he rarely displays toughness on the set of Inside the NBA, the 'Round Mound of Rebound' played with one heck of a mean streak from 1984-2000. Barkley wasn't afraid of anybody and he would take on all comers.

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Wilt Chamberlain


Chamberlain is arguably the greatest player in NBA history. At 7-1, 275 lbs, no one was screwing with this dude. To call him dominant, would be a huge understatement. He legitimately wanted to fight the greatest of all time.

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Dennis Rodman


No one was ever sure what was going on between Rodman's ears. The guy made bonehead plays on the regular, but there was never any question about his toughness. Rodman would jump into the first row, dive across the court or elbow his way to a rebound. At the same time, he wasn't afraid of anybody.

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Charles Oakley


'Oak' is legendary when it comes to toughness in the NBA. There's no doubt he was the enforcer on the Knicks in the 1990's. If there was a scrap on the court, you could bet that Oakley was at the center of it.

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Bill Laimbeer


When you're talking about setting the standard for toughness in the NBA, look no further than Bill Laimbeer. He was the meanest of them all on the 'Bad Boy' Pistons teams, if that tells you anything. Laimbeer played dirty at times, but there's no doubt he could have thrown down with any other player in the league and come out on top.

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  • chenzo

    Stupid. Some of these players were simply cheap shot artists.

  • Gregory Camp

    How can you leave the Mailman off this list? How many games did he miss his entire career? Plus just look at how tough that guy is.