Readers may know me as a former motoring journalist (and now an auto industry executive), but I’m much about basketball as I am about cars. I used to be the founding editor of Slam Philippines, the country’s leading basketball magazine. Although those days are long gone, the love for hoops still runs through my veins. If there’s anything I will gladly write about, it’s cars and basketball. Hence, this article.
The story brief from my editor is simple: ““Pick your all-time favorite NBA players, and then assign a car to each one. If they were cars, what would they be?”
The list would have to comprise basketball superstars who have already solidified—with finality—their contribution to the game of basketball. Similarly, the cars would have to be those that have already captured the fancy of petrolheads around the world. Like the basketball legends, the cars’ impact on the automotive world should be as solid as an engine block.
Finally, I decided that this top five list wouldn’t follow convention. As such, it wouldn’t abide by the typical starting-five roles (point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center). In the same way, the cars would be of any make and model of my choosing, as long as they’re the epitome of excellence in my book. So, disagree if you must, but this, dear readers, is what my first five of NBA greats and their car counterparts would look like.
Shaquille O’Neal: Hummer H1. For those fortunate enough to have witnessed the dominance of The Diesel, this one’s a no-brainer. Shaq Prime was a force of nature. In his 19-year career, he averaged 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game (including the winding-down years, unfortunately). He won four NBA titles, a regular-season MVP, three Finals MVPs and Rookie of the Year. He also garnered 15 All-Star Game selections and 14 All-NBA selections while earning for himself quite a reputation. What most people remember, though, is just how dominant he was. Bodies used to bounce off him. Rims used to snap. Backboards used to shatter. Shaq was literally a basketball monster who brought the pain.
Which is pretty much what you can say about the H1. Originally designed as an off-road vehicle strictly for military use, the H1 was eventually made available to the public for 14 years. It had either a 6.6-liter V8 turbodiesel powerplant or a 5.8-liter petrol-fed V8 engine carrying its massive frame around. Out on public roads, with its impressive 16 inches of ground clearance, there was nothing that looked more menacing than this juggernaut. Comfortable on both concrete asphalt and rough terrain, it was practically unstoppable.
Magic Johnson: Range Rover Classic. Too big to be a point guard but much too talented not to be one, Magic was a basketball player ahead of his time. With his smile and his style, he brought the fun back into the game of basketball. The flashy, do-it-all heart and soul of the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s is the reason basketball’s lexicon has the term “triple-double,” a stat line consisting of double figures in points, rebounds and assists. Sure, today’s crop of stat-padding players has made the triple-double almost commonplace. But none of this—with all due respect to Oscar Robertson—would be possible without the trailblazing performance of the three-time MVP and five-time champion from LA.
Which brings us to the Range Rover Classic. Back when SUVs were not ubiquitous, this Land Rover blazed a trail that would altogether change the way the world viewed “utility vehicles.” It was fitted with coil springs instead of the traditional leaf springs, making comfort in an SUV pretty much standard. Still, it had a permanent four-wheel drive system and four-wheel disc brakes. It could provide the best of both worlds, blurring the previously clear line between utilitarian vehicles and comfortable cars. It was a versatile machine that consistently delivered the goods and brought the fun, and it did so in style. The Range Rover Classic set the standard by which future SUVs would be measured. Yes, it was magical.
Tim Duncan: Tesla Model S. The Big Fundamental retired in 2016 after a brilliant 19-year career that saw him winning five NBA championships, two MVP awards, three Finals MVPs, 15 All-Star Game selections and several other accolades. Like O’Neal, he averaged a career double-double to the tune of 19 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. However, unlike Shaq, he did not do it all in dominant fashion. Instead, he played the game and his position—power forward—with such finesse that he became the paragon of fundamental excellence. In other words, Duncan did not break convention as much as he epitomized it.
Since Tesla exploded into the market, there has been no electric car more lauded than the Model S. It is quite simply the most important product in Tesla’s lineup. As sound as a vehicle can possibly be for a manufacturer in terms of market acceptance and profitability, it is the star player in the company’s stable. It is the immovable stalwart. It is Tesla’s own big fundamental. By the time it is retired, I’m confident the Model S will have had a brilliant run.
Allen Iverson: Peugeot 205 T16. The little guy that could. The little guy that broke the mold. Iverson was nicknamed The Answer. For what exactly? For providing a definitive answer to the question of whether a small guy could actually succeed in a game designed for big men. Standing at a flat 6ft, Iverson quickly became a dynamic offensive force on the floor, grabbing along the way an MVP award and a pair of All-Star Game MVP trophies. He held a remarkable regular season scoring average of 26.7 points per game, but his playoff scoring average was even more impressive at 29.7—second only to Michael Jordan. In spite of his shortness, Iverson’s run as a professional basketball player was just ridiculous.
And so the 205 T16 is AI’s automotive equivalent. The diminutive Pug, which was all-wheel-drive, produced more than 400hp and ruled the World Rally Championship’s Group B era. Not only did it secure the manufacturers’ titles for the French carmaker in 1985 and 1986, it also pretty much changed the way small cars were perceived as serious competitors in global motorsports. The 205 T16 so overachieved that racing fans still remember it in high regard to this day—more than 30 years after it humbled the competition. Yes, very Allen Iverson.
Michael Jordan: Ferrari 812 Superfast. A top five list of basketball superstars isn’t possible without the GOAT (take that, LeBron James fans). Otherwise, such a list would be completely fallacious. And without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest basketball player of all time is His Airness. Jordan had what is definitely the most stellar professional basketball career ever. He chalked up, among others, five MVP awards, a Defensive Player of the Year trophy, six championships, six Finals MVPs, 10 All-NBA First Team selections, nine All-Defensive First Team honors, 14 All-Star Game appearances, 10 scoring titles and three steals titles. On top of all that, he owns the highest career regular season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and the highest career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game). You get the picture. Quite simply, he was (and still is) the best of the best.
Therefore, he should be represented by the best from the pinnacle of car brands. We’re referring to the 812 Superfast. Its unimaginative name notwithstanding, this supercar is the fastest production model Ferrari has ever produced, with a 6.5-liter V12 churning out a crazy 789hp at 8,500rpm. That it goes from zero to 100km/h in 2.9 seconds is merely icing on the proverbial cake. The fact is that it is the fastest Ferrari that can be driven outside the racetrack. It is what all sports cars want to be—the ultimate combination of style and substance—with a marketing slant made in heaven. Like I said, the best of the best.