Showtime’s ‘NYC Point Gods’ relishes city’s point guards, from Bob Cousy to Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith to Sue Bird

The Dominican Republic has long been a hotbed of future MLB talent. Many of the NFL’s best players hail from Florida, Texas or California. In the modern NBA, there’s no clear breeding ground for stardom that stands out above the rest. For example, this year’s All-NBA first team featured players raised in Greece, Serbia, Slovenia, Missouri and Michigan — hard to find a more disparate amalgamation of origins.

There was a time, however, when there was one basketball city to rule them all — at least when it came to point guards. New York City has produced some of the greatest floor generals in NBA history, and had a run spanning from the 1960s well into the 2000s that developed its reputation as perhaps the nation’s greatest basketball city.

Ten-time All-NBA performer Kevin Durant, who has long classified himself as a student of the game, paid homage to New York City’s legendary point guard lineage through the documentary, “NYC Point Gods,” which premieres on Showtime on Friday at 9 p.m. ET (click here for viewing information).

There are 49 players born in New York that Basketball Reference currently lists as “active.” Of course not all those players grew up in the city, but it shows that its impact on the game remains strong. In advance of the documentary’s debut, let’s take a look back at some of New York City’s most prominent point guards. We all know that some of the city’s most talented streetball legends never made it to the professional ranks, but this list will focus on those who played in the NBA or WNBA.

Bob Cousy (NBA: 1950-70)

High school: Andrew Jackson (Queens)

Cousy is one of the preeminent figures of the NBA’s early days, leading the Boston Celtics to six NBA titles between 1957 and 1963. There’s not enough room — even on the Internet! — to list all of the accolades of this 1971 inductee of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Despite recently retired NBA guard JJ Redick claiming that the Celtics legend played with “plumbers and firemen,” Cousy laid the groundwork for the future success of the league, and paved the way for a swath of NYC point guards to follow.

Lenny Wilkens (NBA: 1960-75)

High school: Boys (Brooklyn)

Perhaps known as much for his coaching prowess as his playing days, Wilkens was a nine-time NBA All-Star as a member of four different franchises. He averaged 16.5 points, 6.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game for his career, and was second all-time in assists at the time of his retirement. Wilkens was inducted to the Hall of Fame as a player in 1989, and then again as a coach in 1998, putting an exclamation point on a tremendous career.

Nate “Tiny” Archibald (NBA: 1970-84)

High school: DeWitt Clinton (The Bronx)

A playground legend from the South Bronx, Archibald didn’t let his relatively diminutive stature (6-foot-1, 150 pounds) prevent him from a Hall of Fame NBA career. He was named to the All-NBA team five times, taking home the league’s scoring title in 1979 while winning a championship as a member of the Boston Celtics in 1981. Archibald was named to both the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary teams, and his No. 1 jersey was retired by the Sacramento Kings. Until Trae Young accomplished the feat in 2021-22, Archibald was the only player to lead the NBA in total points and assists in the same season when he did in the 1972-73 campaign.

Dwayne “Pearl” Washington (NBA: 1986-89)

High school: Boys and Girls (Brooklyn)

Washington’s pro career didn’t turn out as he’d hoped, but he makes this list due to his legendary status as a playground phenom. He earned the nickname “Pearl” as an eight-year-old at the Howard Housing Project in Brownsville, a comparison to Knicks hero Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. Washington played just three NBA seasons for the New Jersey Nets and Miami Heat, but will forever be remembered as a legend on the basketball courts of New York City.

Kenny “The Jet” Smith (NBA: 1987-97)

High school: Archbishop Molloy (Queens)

Perhaps best known to younger generations as one of the faces of TNT’s wildly popular “Inside the NBA,” Smith was a McDonald’s All-American for Archbishop Molloy in Queens before starring at North Carolina. Drafted sixth overall by the Sacramento Kings in 1987, Smith went on to win back-to-back titles with the Houston Rockets in 1994 and 1995. After retirement, Smith quickly became a household name through TV and film appearances, most recently starring alongside Adam Sandler in “Hustle.”

Mark Jackson (NBA: 1987-2004)

High school: Bishop Loughlin (Brooklyn)

Jackson is New York through and through, having grown up as a streetball fixture in Queens before starring in college at St. John’s and then being drafted by the New York Knicks, where he spent the first five seasons of his career. The hometown hero was named NBA Rookie of the Year in 1988, and followed that up with an All-Star appearance in his second season. Jackson, who played 17 NBA seasons, has the fifth-most assists in league history, and spent three seasons as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors before segueing into a successful broadcasting career.

Rod Strickland (NBA: 1988-2005)

High school: Truman (The Bronx)

After winning a state title in high school, Strickland joined Jackson when he was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1988. Despite being extremely productive at virtually every stop, Strickland bounced around to 10 different franchises over the course of his 17-year career. He led the league in assists as a member of the Washington Wizards in 1998, when he was named to the All-NBA second team. For his career, Strickland averaged 13.2 points and 7.3 assists, and is considered one of the best ball-handlers to ever play the game.

Kenny Anderson (NBA: 1991-2005)

High school: Archbishop Molloy (Queens)

The first four-time Parade All-American since Lew Alcindor, Anderson was anointed New York’s next basketball legend at an extremely young age. After starring at Georgia Tech, he was drafted second overall by the New Jersey Nets, and he was named to the All-Star team in 1994. Anderson’s NBA career is sometimes viewed as a disappointment because of the lofty expectations he carried with him, but he wound up playing 14 NBA seasons with nine different franchises, averaging 12.6 points and 6.1 assists.

Stephon Marbury (NBA: 1996-2009)

High school: Abraham Lincoln (Brooklyn)

Following in the path of Jackson and Anderson, Marbury earned New York State Mr. Basketball honors (and the nickname, “Starbury”) at Lincoln and was eventually being selected fourth overall in 1996 by the Milwaukee Bucks, who sent him to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Ray Allen and a first-round pick on draft night. Marbury earned two All-Star appearances and two All-NBA selections as a member of the New Jersey Nets and Phoenix Suns, and was then traded to his hometown New York Knicks in 2004. He finished his NBA career with averages of 19.3 points and 7.6 assists per game before heading overseas to resurrect his career. Marbury became a three-time champion in the Chinese Basketball Association and one of the league’s most popular players ever.

Nancy Lieberman (WNBA: 1997, 2008)

High school: Far Rockaway (Queens)

Lieberman is one of the formative figures in women’s basketball history, earning the nickname, “Lady Magic” because of her combination of ball-handling, passing, scoring, flash and charisma. She played professionally in the WABA, winning a title with the Dallas Diamonds in 1984. She hung around long enough to play in the WNBA’s inaugural season in 1997, becoming the oldest player in league history at age 39. She came out retirement briefly in 2008 to break her own record, playing a game for the Detroit Shock as a 50-year-old. Lieberman was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999. She has also coached in the WNBA, the G League, the NBA and the BIG3.

God Shammgod (NBA: 1997-98)

High school: La Salle Academy (Manhattan)

Shammgod’s legend runs so deeply through basketball culture that he even has a move named after him.

After two years at Providence, Shammgod was drafted in the second round by the Washington Wizards in 1997. He only played 20 NBA games, but virtually every basketball fan knows his name because of his influence on the sport.

Rafer Alston (NBA: 1999-2010)

High school: Benjamin N. Cardozo (Queens)

Better known as “Skip to My Lou,” Alston is a New York streetball legend who helped launch the popular AND1 Mixtapes of the late 1990s and early 2000s. After stops at three junior colleges and finally Fresno State, Alston was selected 39th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998, eventually playing for six different franchises over his 11-year NBA career while averaging 10.1 points and 4.8 assists per game.

Sue Bird (WNBA: 2002-present)

High school: Christ the King (Queens)

Another in the long line of New York point guards, Bird’s accomplishments speak for themselves, and she’s already widely recognized as one of the greatest players in basketball history. In addition to all her collegiate and Team USA honors, Bird is a four-time WNBA champion, a 13-time WNBA All-Star and is the league’s all-time leader in assists. She has played all 20 of her WNBA seasons for the Seattle Storm, with whom she will retire after the 2022 season.

Sebastian Telfair (NBA: 2004-13)

High school: Abraham Lincoln (Brooklyn)

A standout recruit at Lincoln who’s also a cousin of Stephon Marbury, he was expected to carry the torch of NYC point guards. Telfair entered the NBA straight out of high school — the year after LeBron James did — with plenty of hype behind him, having been the subject of the 2005 documentary, “Through the Fire.” He was drafted 13th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers, but never quite found his footing as an NBA player. He played for eight franchises in 10 years, averaging 7.4 points and 3.5 assists per game.

High school: Rice (Harlem)

A McDonald’s All-American at Rice, Walker thrust himself into New York City lore during a standout 2011 Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, when he led UConn to five wins in five days, including a buzzer-beater against No. 3-ranked Pittsburgh.

UConn went on to win the NCAA title that season, with Walker earning Most Outstanding Player, and he was drafted ninth overall by the Charlotte Bobcats a couple of months later. Walker is a four-time All-Star, and he also earned third team All-NBA honors in 2019, when he averaged a career-high 25.6 points per game. 

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