The All-Time "Face of the Franchise" for All 30 NBA Teams

Hakeem Olajuwon (left), the face of the Houston Rockets, and Clyde Drexler (right), the face of the Portland Trail Blazers
Hakeem Olajuwon (left), the face of the Houston Rockets, and Clyde Drexler (right), the face of the Portland Trail Blazers
Getty Images/Houston Rockets

When a disillusioned Dwyane Wade chose to take his talents the hell out of South Beach late last week and head back to his hometown of Chicago, it was pretty jarring for fans all over the NBA. Without a doubt, LeBron James is the most talented player ever to don a Heat uniform, but Wade was Heat basketball, the icon of that team and the backbone of the organization, who was there long before LeBron got there and stayed even after LeBron left.

In short, James was their best player, but Wade was the "face of the franchise," the player whom fans most identify with the team and who was at the center of the largest amount of Heat success. So it got me thinking — who is the "face of the franchise" for each of the 30 NBA teams? 

I've come up with a name for each franchise (and bonus — one honorable mention per franchise!) based on the somewhat flexible criteria of the F.O.F being a player who a) spent most of his career in that market, b) was part of one of the most successful chapters (if not the most successful) of that franchise's history, and c) was/is part of the chapter of the franchise's history in the current market, i.e., no Kansas City Kings or San Diego Clippers. 

Basically, in plain English, if each team were putting up a billboard and had to place one long-standing player on it who embodies its culture and glory, the face of the franchise would be the guy it would put on there.

Make sense? Good, let's get cracking...

Atlanta Hawks: DOMINIQUE WILKINS, F (1982-1994)

Having played his college ball at Georgia, Wilkins is an institution in the state. For the Hawks, Wilkins won a scoring title in 1985-86, took them to the playoffs eight times and gave Atlanta fans several hundred ovation-worthy dunks. His battles with Michael Jordan in the Slam Dunk Contest throughout the late '80s were legendary. (HONORABLE MENTION: Bob Pettit, but he did his damage in St. Louis, making a billboard in Atlanta a tad awkward.)

Boston Celtics: LARRY BIRD, F (1979-1992)

How do you pick one face of the franchise off of a team that's won 17 NBA titles? Moreover, how do you not pick someone who won 11 titles, like Bill Russell? I'm taking Bird in part because he is arguably the greatest player in the history of the franchise (as opposed to the one with the most rings), but he, along with Magic Johnson, was the face of the NBA when it made its rise out of the cocaine-fueled dark ages of the '70s. (HONORABLE MENTION: Russell)

Brooklyn Nets: JASON KIDD, G (2001-2008)

If we're counting ABA, then it's Julius Erving in a landslide, but we're only counting the NBA years. Did you know that the Nets have only won 50 games or more in one season? It was in 2001-2002, in the first of their two NBA Finals appearances. Kidd was the straw that stirred the drink on those two teams, so he wins it by default. What a horrid franchise history. (HONORABLE MENTION: Mikhail Prokhorov, their owner...I honestly can't come up with anyone else) 

Charlotte Hornets: DELL CURRY, G (1988-1998)

I didn't realize that, according to basketball-reference.com, the Hornets/Bobcats apparently got to keep the history of the old Hornets that moved to New Orleans back in the day. So the Hornets of the '90s are in play, thankfully. There were certainly more talented players at their peaks than Dell Curry (Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Glen Rice), but Curry is synonymous with that part of the country, and is the franchise leader in numerous categories. (HONORABLE MENTION: Muggsy Bogues)

Chicago Bulls: MICHAEL JORDAN, G (1984-1993, 1995-1998)

One of a handful of no-brainers on this list. Just watch the video and enjoy. (HONORABLE MENTION: None. Why bother?)

Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBRON JAMES, F (2003-2010, 2014-present)

Man, can you imagine telling Cleveland fans back in 2010 that LeBron would be cited fondly as the face of their franchise? But after he returned in 2014, and finally brought a title to Cleveland, this choice is easy. LeBron isn't just the all-time face of the Cavs; he's the face of all sports in Northeast Ohio. (HONORABLE MENTION: Mark Price)

Dallas Mavericks: DIRK NOWITZKI, F (1998-present)

Another easy choice, on the same level as Jordan in terms of importance to his franchise, as Dirk brought the only NBA title in Dallas history to Big D. Continues to sign deals late in his career with the Mavs, so will likely retire someday soon as a 20-year guy with one team, à la Duncan. (HONORABLE MENTION: Mark Aguirre)

Denver Nuggets: ALEX ENGLISH, F (1980-1990)

Wow, what a horrible history the Nuggets have, with just two conference finals trips to show for their nearly 40 years in the NBA. They've certainly had some big stars on their team through the years, but the Nuggets are probably best (positively) known for Doug Moe's high-scoring teams of the '80s, and English was their linchpin and, far and away, the leading scorer in franchise history. (HONORABLE MENTION: Dan Issel and Kiki Vandeweghe)

Detroit Pistons: ISIAH THOMAS, G (1981-1994)

Out of the late-'80s Detroit Bad Boys, Zeke was the baddest of them all. Because he bankrupted the Continental Basketball Association, ran the Knicks into the ground and has failed on every level as a coach, GM and broadcaster, we forget that Thomas was the quintessential point guard of the '80s. (HONORABLE MENTION: Chauncey Billups)

Golden State Warriors: STEPH CURRY, G (2009-present)

Two years ago, this would have been Rick Barry, who'd led the Warriors to their only NBA title to that point. But one title and a 73-win season (not to mention two MVPs) later, Curry is the man in Golden State. Yes, we have father-son faces of franchises! (HONORABLE MENTION: Barry)

Houston Rockets: HAKEEM OLAJUWON, C (1984-2002)

The only debate for the Rockets is "Who is second behind Dream?" Calvin Murphy and Moses Malone have the best argument as players, but there's one player who made his mark in multiple roles with the franchise... (HONORABLE MENTION: Rudy Tomjanovich)

Indiana Pacers: REGGIE MILLER, G (1987-2005)

Yes, the Pacers made their deepest run in the postseason in 2000, but they were never more relevant on the landscape than they were in the early '90s during Reggie Miller's prime years. The battles between the Pacers and Knicks was literally the stuff of a 30 for 30. Miller is the leading scorer in franchise history by a mile, with more than twice as many points as the next-closest player. (HONORABLE MENTION: Rik Smits)

Los Angeles Clippers: CHRIS PAUL, G (2011-present)

Damn, it's hard to find good Clippers, and the dearth of candidates actually makes Paul an easy choice. We are in the middle of the only period of sustained success (and by Clipper standards, making the playoffs is success) in franchise history, and Paul is the catalyst. (HONORABLE MENTION: Blake Griffin)

Los Angeles Lakers: MAGIC JOHNSON, G (1979-1991, 1996)

The Lakers and the Celtics are the two most decorated teams in history, and the decision on whom to select is difficult. The Lakers pose an even tougher choice than the Celtics. I mean, they have the guy who is literally the logo for the league, and I'm not taking him. I'm taking Johnson for three reasons — 1. The same reason I took Bird for the Celtics — he helped usher the league out of the dark ages of the '70s, 2. the Lakers are all about glitz and "Showtime," and Magic was the catalyst for that, and 3. he's the best player in the history of the team. (HONORABLE MENTION: West)

Memphis Grizzlies: ZACH RANDOLPH, F (2009-present)

For the Grizz, I turned to my friend, Memphis radio host Chris Vernon (ESPN 92.9 middays), who is best known for riding the "GRIT, GRIND" wave a few postseasons ago to a quasi-empire in the T-shirt realm. I asked him which player would make the most sense as the all-time face of the franchise, and he didn't hesitate. "Z-Bo," he texted back. If Verno says so! (HONORABLE MENTION: Mike Conley, Tony Allen)

Miami Heat: DWYANE WADE, G (2003-2016)

As mentioned in the open, LeBron is the most talented Heat player, Wade is the no-brainer face of the franchise. (HONORABLE MENTION: LeBron James)

Milwaukee Bucks: SINDEY MONCRIEF, G (1979-1990)

Okay, many of you youngsters out there are probably like "Who?" There are certainly greater individual Bucks players. Lew Alcindor (before he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) won a title and multiple MVPs. Ray Allen was a flat-out stud for the Bucks his first several years in the league. However, both of them left for greener pastures and titles elsewhere. Moncrief, aside from an aborted comeback year with Atlanta after retiring for a year, was a career Buck and one of the greatest defensive guards of all time. Just trust me, kids. (HONORABLE MENTION: Alcindor) 

Minnesota Timberwolves: KEVIN GARNETT, F (1995-2007, 2015-present)

The Timberwolves have had few great players in their nearly three decades of business. Garnett is their greatest and most prolific. Ultimately, he had to leave Minnesota to win his only career title, but you know someone is beloved when they welcome him right back into the fold as a franchise icon to wind down the final few years of his career. (HONORABLE MENTION: Kevin Love)

New Orleans Pelicans: ANTHONY DAVIS, F (2012-present)

Because the Hornets left the history of the Charlotte version in North Carolina, the Pelicans history covers the period after George Shinn moved the team to New Orleans, including the handful of seasons the league was running the team. The Pelicans name began just three years ago, so in the spirit of looking forward, we're going with a current Pelican as the face of the franchise. (HONORABLE MENTION: Chris Paul)

New York Knicks: WALT FRAZIER, G (1967-1977)

Focal point of two title teams and in the top two in most of the all-time categories, Clyde Frazier's role on TV for the team puts him over the top. (HONORABLE MENTION: Patrick Ewing)

Oklahoma City Thunder: RUSSELL WESTBROOK, G (2008-present)

Ten days ago, this would've been Kevin Durant, but along with his hoops manliness, he also forfeited face-of-the-franchise status in OKC. Now, it'll get weird next season after Westbrook leaves and we have to determine if anointing Nick Collison is appropriate. (HONORABLE MENTION: Durant, since by rule, we're not using the Seattle part of the franchise's history)

Orlando Magic: NICK ANDERSON, G (1989-1999)

Okay, I swear I'm not being a wise ass by picking Anderson. I know it looks that way since he missed the four free throws in 1995 that sent the whole organization sideways. However, the three biggest stars in this team's history — Shaq, T-Mac and Dwight — all left totally disgruntled. Anderson was practically a career Magic, which, sadly, is enough to get him the accolade. (HONORABLE MENTION: Dwight Howard)

Philadelphia 76ers: JULIUS ERVING, F (1976-1987)

Doc may not be one of the top ten best players of all time, but he is one of the three or four most influential. What kid in 1980 didn't want to be Doctor J? (HONORABLE MENTION: Allen Iverson)

Phoenix Suns: STEVE NASH (1996-1998, 2004-2012)

Two-time MVP and league leader in assists six out of first eight seasons after returning to Phoenix in 2004. Take notes, Rockets fans: Mike D'Antoni was the coach. (HONORABLE MENTION: Paul Westphal)

Portland Trail Blazers: CLYDE DREXLER

As we all know him in Houston, it took Clyde's coming back home for him to finally win his only ring; however, he left behind a legacy in Portland in which he led the franchise in nearly every career category and got to two NBA Finals. (HONORABLE MENTION: Bill Walton)

Sacramento Kings: VLADE DIVAC

Since the Kings don't get to use their stint in Cincinnati under the rules of this exercise, Oscar Robertson is out as their franchise face. Given how futile most of the Kings' history has been, Divac is the perfect choice in that a) he was actually part of the team in their only sustained successful period in Sacramento, b) he is with the team now as the GM, and c) he is best known for flopping, like the Kings. (HONORABLE MENTION: Chris Webber)

San Antonio Spurs: TIM DUNCAN (1997-2016)

Next. (HONORABLE MENTION: David Robinson)

Toronto Raptors: VINCE CARTER

In the late '90s, early 2000s, the most electrifying NBA player was Carter, who amazingly is still going and getting by without having to 360 degree dunk on people. (HONORABLE MENTION: Kyle Lowry)

Utah Jazz: JARL STOCKLONE

These two are inextricably linked, and you can't choose one over the other. (HONORABLE MENTION: Kohn Malton) 

Washington Wizards: WES UNSELD

My apologies for the grainy video on the Wizards/Bullets selection, but don't blame me...blame them for not having a player worth the "face of franchise" designation since the Carter Administration. (HONORABLE MENTION: Elvin Hayes)

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.    


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >