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The spoof videos of LeBron James winning an Oscar for his acting antics during the NBA playoffs have racked up millions of views. They feature James, who is roughly 6’9” and weighs about 275, writhing on the ground after barely getting touched, faking contact altogether, and dropping to the floor after supposedly getting laid out by guards half his size.
The sad part isn’t that one of the five best NBA players of all-time has resorted to such nonsense (actually, that is the sad part, but maybe just not the saddest part), it’s that the NBA no longer has the actual enforcers on the floor who wouldn’t think twice about flattening James for real.
You know who I’m talking about.
The thick dudes. The bad attitudes. The scowling, snarling, jacked up tough guys who liked nothing better than to burn a foul by tattooing the other team’s best player into the pavement. In honor of the 2021 NBA playoffs, here’s M&F’s All-Iron Enforcer Squad.
Xavier McDaniel had the nickname (X-Man), the intensity and the trash talk to be the smallest, but maybe the toughest man on our team. McDaniel, who became a hometown hero for the Seattle Supersonics in the late ’80s and early ’90s after a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals, was an exceptional scorer and defensive powerhouse who set the tone for the Sonics. After his time in Seattle, he played for the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks, where he painted the final enforcer masterpiece of his career: bringing the thunder to Scottie Pippen in a seven-game series for Pat Riley in 1992.
Rick Mahorn became a cornerstone of the Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” championship team in 1989 and according to Pistons’ announcer George Blaha he was the “Baddest Boy of them All.” Built like a Mack truck, Mahorn’s playing style was part basketball, part UFC fighter, and all intimidation. After being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, he became half of the NBA’s famous rebounding tandem with Charles Barkley, dubbed “Thump ‘N Bump.” Mahorn belongs on this list for that nickname alone, although we still aren’t sure if he was Thump or Bump.
“Oak” was the quintessential enforcer, bullying and bashing his way through the NBA as an on-court protector for stars like Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing. In his early days, his main responsibility was to make anyone who fouled MJ pay with an elbow or a shove, or an elbow then a shove and a possible hip check and forearm to the back. During the 10 years he was with the New York Knicks, Oakley was essentially the Knicks’ defensive bouncer; any opposing player who attempted to go the paint would get thrown out on their ass.
“Mase” was the third member of one of the ’90s most brutal NBA frontcourts with Patrick Ewing and the aforementioned Charles Oakley. While Mason slightly resembled D-Bo from the movie Friday, he had the frame of a tight end with the arms of a heavyweight boxer. Unlike some of the other dudes who filled the enforcer spot on this list, Mason had a slightly larger role with his teams, winning Sixth Man of the Year in 1995, All-NBA Third Team in 1997, and becoming an All-Star in 2001.
The newly minted Basketball Hall of Famer won NBA Defensive Player of the Year four times in the 2000s for the Detroit Pistons. He was also a four-time all-star and NBA champion, making him the most accomplished player on our list. But make no mistake, Wallace was every bit the punisher of his enforcer brethren. Not only did he have shoulders any bodybuilder would envy, but he had long, muscular arms that allowed him to grab boards, block shots and box out the other team’s big men with ease. And for a large guy, he had one hell of a motor. Never stopping, never quitting, and always outhustling double teams and undercutting guards for rebounds.
Coming out of the University of Florida, Udonis “UD” Haslem went undrafted because he was considered too small to play power forward in the NBA. Bummed out, he ended up signing a contract to play in France and notoriously showed up tipping the scales at 300 pounds. Over the course of the season, he lost 50 pounds and finally found himself at the perfect size to become a rebounding and defensive specialist for the Miami Heat. He played his entire career with the Heat, at first patrolling the lane for payback on anyone who tried to take out a young Dwyane Wade, and then eventually as the “dirty work, deep in the trenches” guy on the LeBron James, Wade, and Chris Bosh championship teams.
Kendrick “Perk” Perkins is probably the biggest and strongest man on this list. All you had to do was take one look at the ornery power forward from southeast Texas and you’d know he was not a man to be trifled with. Less gym strength and more raw country boy power, Perk emanated a “don’t mess with me” attitude throughout his entire career. During his first eight years with the Celtics, he won a title and served as the stalwart defensive presence in a starting lineup of all-stars that featured Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo.
Jon Finkel is the author of the new book 1996: A Biography ― Reliving the Legend-Packed, Dynasty-Stacked, Most Iconic Sports Year Eve. Follow him on Twitter at @Jon_Finkel and visit www.jonfinkel.com.