Three Underappreciated NBA Champion Players

One of my goals when I set out to be a sportswriter -- before my professional career led me down another path -- was to highlight the players who did the dirty work but didn't get the publicity. You know, the type of non-superstar players that every championship team needs in order to win it all.

With the launch of the Sports Fan Journal, there's no better time to help spread the word on players you know, but never really heard enough about. And since we're all eagerly awaiting the NBA lockout to finally end so we can get our basketball back, here are three NBA champions that did a whole hell of a lot to help their teams hoist the Larry O'Brien.

Brent Barry

Some of you may be laughing. A lot, actually, given the most recent news we've heard about this former NBA Slam Dunk champ. But you'd be foolish to think Brent Barry was nothing more than a bit part of the 2005 and 2007 San Antonio Spurs.

Not only was Barry one of San Antonio's most lethal three-point threats, but he was also arguably the team's best perimeter defender. His size and athleticism allowed him to check anyone from point guards to small forwards. And being the son of an NBA Hall of Famer definitely gave him a large basketball IQ. Barry always seemed to make the right play at both ends of the floor, whether it was a timely steal, big bucket, great pass or hustle play. He helped stretch the floor for Tim Duncan, create space for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and often guard the other team's top wing player. Brent Barry could ball.

Ron Harper

Ron Harper entered the league as a scoring machine for teams that could never quite make a whole lot of noise. Spending time as a Clipper will do that to you. But when he joined forces first with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and later Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, he reinvented himself as a defensive force. And few guards were ever as underappreciated defensively as this five-time NBA champion.

It's no secret that Michael and Scottie were elite defenders. To this day, I contend that Pippen and Gary Payton are the two best on-the-ball defenders I've ever laid eyes on. But when Phil Jackson wanted to give those guys a bit of a breather on the defensive end to save their legs on offense, he had a simple solution: let Ron handle it. Harper was so damn good at shutting off passing lanes, denying his man the ball, sending help defensively and pick-pocketing you when you least expected it. And the older he got, the more he flourished defensively.

In the 2001 NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, a lot of talk went into how effective Kobe Bryant was when Phil Jackson had him guarding Allen Iverson throughout his career. But the truth was Kobe had very little to do with it. As great as Kobe was defensively, he couldn't stay in front of A.I. What made it appear like he could was Ron Harper's amazing help. Any time Iverson got a step on Kobe, there was Harper to cut him off, block his outlets and force him to retreat or give up the rock. There he was doubling hard to alter shots. And there he was doing the heavy lifting as Kobe was heaped with praise. It's time Ron Harper got his due.

Udonis Haslem

You may be wondering how I could possibly go with Udonis over James Posey for the 2006 Miami Heat. Well, that's simple: everyone remembers how much play and credit Posey rightfully got for his work in helping the Heat and Celtics win it all, while Haslem went largely unpraised prior to his absence for much of last year.

Udonis was almost an afterthought on that team. When you think of the 2005-06 Heat, you think of Dwyane Wade, Shaq, old Gary Payton, old Alonzo Mourning, old Antoine Walker, old Jason Williams, James Posey, hell even Jason Kapono, before you remember that Haslem was even on that team. But the truth of the matter is the Miami Heat got their snarl from Udonis.

Yes, Wade was the fearless one making reckless drives to the basket and putting his body in harm's way and Shaq was still a dominant force, but Haslem gave the team its toughness. He battled under the boards, set killer screens and outworked bigger and stronger players in the paint. He never backed down from a challenge, always stood up for teammates and did anything Pat Riley asked of him. Wade and Shaq were the stars, a slew of veterans were the calming influences, and Haslem was the glue that held them all together. We saw just how important he was last year, and it reminded me of just how important he was in Miami's first and only championship season to date.

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