In the brief sliver of time between Michael Jordan and Lebron James, the basketball world was treated to another #23. This came in the form of a 6’11” center out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) who could swat a jumper, corral it, and go the other way for an acrobatic, Wade-esque layup. A man whose free throws brought images of a medieval trebuchet and its destruction into the minds of his fans. A man who could turn with the grace of a ballerina and release a shot so high that no defender could ever dream of touching it. No player before or since Marcus Camby has brought beauty and strength to the game of basketball in such perfect unison. For this, he deserves endless praise and adoration, but most of all, he deserves a spot among the greatest centers of all time.
Marcus Camby launched himself into the national spotlight during his three years at UMass. During this time he led the Minutemen on two deep tournament runs, as well as received the Wooden Award and the Naismith Player of the Year Award. Most impressively, however, he did all of this while wearing quite possibly the largest t-shirt ever seen by mankind.
When he finally felt like he had had enough fun dominating college basketball for three years, Camby chose to enter the 1996 draft, one of the deepest drafts in NBA history. He was taken second overall by the Toronto Raptors. He quickly left a mark, being named All-Rookie First Team and leading the league in blocks his second year.
After solidifying his place as a star, he moved to the aging Patrick Ewing’s Knicks team. The simple fact that Patrick Ewing was really old gave Camby a chance to display his pure excellence and complete control of the game. After Ewing suffered a torn achilles, Camby was able to take over the ‘98-’99 team and will them into the NBA Finals as an eight seed, the only team to ever do so. Aside from befriending Latrell Sprewell, Camby could do no wrong in New York.
Following his dominance in New York, a dominance comparable only to that of the Holy Roman Empire, Camby moved on to Denver. Here he snagged a Defensive Player of the Year award, launching him into the company of Michael Jordan and Big Ben Wallace. He averaged around eleven rebounds per game, led the league in blocks per game three consecutive years, and added a healthy two or three assists per game.
While Camby’s stats are indeed impressive, they pale in comparison to his unparalleled display of heroism on a fateful December night. During a 2006 game against the Knicks, Camby sacrificed his own career and well-being for another teammate. Carmelo Anthony was retreating after nailing Mandy Collins with a solid punch during what has been called the worst brawl since the Malice at the Palace, but Melo could not get away fast enough.
Quickly, like a charging rhinoceros, the Knicks’ Jared Jeffries was bearing down on him. Camby saw this and quickly threw himself in front of Jeffries, but, being the sizable man that he was, he immediately tripped and fell down. During this tumble, however, Camby’s hefty 6’11” frame caught Jeffries, bringing him down as well. This act saved Melo from a potential career ending punch in the face that he absolutely deserved. But hey, who wants to watch a Melo-less NBA? I sure don’t. It was this kind of teammates-first attitude that set Camby apart from the pack.
When it comes down to the best center in NBA history, you may look at the stats and the rings and mindlessly put Bill Russell, Shaq, or Kareem in that spot. Sure, they were great, but they did not possess the same fire—the same boost—that Camby brought to a team. He had the intangibles, the things coaches could only dream of finding in a player. Marcus Camby, the ultimate role player and teammate, has certainly earned a shot at being named the greatest center of all time.