Ed O’Bannon: #4 NBA Draft Bust


Question: Who is Ed O’Bannon?

  1. A car salesman in Henderson, Nevada (a suburb of Las Vegas). 
  2. The lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against the NCAA regarding its failure to compensate former college athletes for the commercial use of their images.
  3. A former consensus 1st Team All-American college basketball player who led UCLA to the 1995 National Championship.
  4. An NBA bust who recorded only 634 points, 316 rebounds, and 102 assists in 128 career games despite being selected by the New Jersey Nets with the 9th overall pick in the 1995 Draft.

Answer: Sorry, but it’s a trick question because the answer is “All of the above.” Just to be clear, the four statements apply to the same person and not four different people named Ed O’Bannon.


By the time the New Jersey Nets selected Ed O’Bannon with the 9th pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, his life already had been a fairy tale. Earlier that year, he won the John Wooden Award as college basketball’s most outstanding player. How appropriate given that he helped bring UCLA its first championship since Wooden’s last title 20 years earlier! As icing on the cake, he received the Most Outstanding Player Award at the Final Four.

Ed O’Bannon Cutting Down the Net

Ed O'bannon cutting down the net

As the following table shows, O’Bannon developed into a top NBA prospect after steadily improving throughout his four-year college career.

    Shooting Per Game Averages
Season G FG% FT% Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
1991-92 23 41.6% 63.0% 3.6 3.0 0.5 0.3 0.3
1992-93 33 53.9% 70.7% 16.7 7.0 1.7 1.3 1.0
1993-94 28 48.4% 74.5% 18.2 8.8 2.1 1.2 1.1
1994-95 33 53.3% 78.5% 20.4 8.3 2.5 1.9 0.8
Career 117 51.3% 73.9% 15.5 7.0 1.8 1.2 0.8

Unlike other top player awards, the Wooden Award goes to someone who also demonstrates good citizenship and scholastic ability. Maryland sophomore Joe Smith won most of the other major Player-of-the-Year awards (i.e. AP, UPI, Naismith, and Rupp), but apparently didn’t maintain a C average to qualify for the one named after the Wizard of Westwood. Clearly, the Golden State Warriors didn’t care about scholastic ability when taking Smith with the 1995 #1 overall pick. Regardless, O’Bannon still had to feel like a champion.

1995 Draft – Underclassmen Take Over

In the early 1990s, the best college players seemed to declare for the draft after two years of school. For example, 1993 #1 overall pick Chris Webber and 1994 #2 overall pick Jason Kidd left college after their sophomore seasons. In addition to being high draft picks, they had the most productive careers relative to all players taken in their respective drafts. Furthermore, the top four picks in the 1995 Draft (i.e. Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse, and Rasheed Wallace) were “Two-and-Done” players.

Breaking the trend, the Minnesota Timberwolves took Kevin Garnett with the fifth overall pick that year. Of note, he was the first “None-and-Done” player since Darryl Dawkins went fifth overall in 1975. Apparently, Minnesota didn’t care about scholastic ability either because Garnett only skipped college because he didn’t qualify for an NCAA scholarship. Specifically, he didn’t score at least 700 on the SAT. By the way, that was the necessary COMBINED score.

Garnett parlayed his low SAT scores into a Hall-of-Fame career and over $300 million in earnings. More importantly, he came out of the gates strong and earned his first of 15 All-Star selections in his second season in the league. As a result, he showed that high school players could skip college entirely and still become successful at the next level. In essence, he set the stage for future “None-and-Done” players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

With over 190 career win shares, Garnett overwhelmingly has had the most productive career of any player taken in the 1995 NBA Draft. At the same time, O’Bannon had only one career win share. That total was the lowest of all top ten overall picks that year. As a point of reference, the average number of win shares for a top 10 overall pick is almost 60.

Draft Pick Team Player Pos Games Points Reb Assists PPG RPG APG Win Shares
#1 GSW Joe Smith PF 1,030 11,208 6,575 1,010 10.9 6.4 1.0 60.3
#2 LAC Antonio McDyess PF 1,015 12,227 7,638 1,300 12.0 7.5 1.3 69.8
#3 PHI Jerry Stackhouse SG 970 16,409 3,067 3,240 16.9 3.2 3.3 52.4
#4 WSB Rasheed Wallace PF 1,109 16,006 7,404 1,994 14.4 6.7 1.8 105.1
#5 MIN Kevin Garnett PF 1,424 25,949 14,512 5,383 18.2 10.2 3.8 190.4
#6 VAN Bryant Reeves C 395 4,945 2,745 623 12.5 6.9 1.6 13.0
#7 TOR Damon Stoudamire PG 878 11,763 3,039 5,371 13.4 3.5 6.1 55.4
#8 POR Shawn Respert SG 172 851 226 177 4.9 1.3 1.0 2.1
#9 NJN Ed O’Bannon SF 128 634 316 102 5.0 2.5 0.8 1.1
#10 MIA Kurt Thomas C 1,110 8,973 7,328 1,204  8.1 6.6 1.1 64.2
#13 SAC Corliss Williamson PF 822 9,147 3,183 972 11.1 3.9 1.2 34.7
#15 DEN Brent Barry SG 912 8,488 2,780 2,892 9.3 3.0 3.2 70.5
#16 ATL Alan Henderson PF 652 5,094 3,249 397 7.8 5.0 0.6 28.0
#18 DET Theo Ratliff C 810 5,809 4,596 465 7.2 5.7 0.6 47.9
#21 PHO Michael Finley SF 1,103 17,306 4,804 3,245 15.7 4.4 2.9 85.2

Depending on how closely you reviewed the above table, you may have noticed that Shawn Respert rivaled O’Bannon for the lowest career totals. While Respert’s candidacy as a potential Top 10 Bust doesn’t warrant a tabloid cover story, I’ll indulge you with a quick digression.

Because “Enquiring Minds Want to Know”
Apparently, “enquiring” minds want to know how long O.J. can hold his breath.

Similar to O’Bannon, Respert had an impressive college career and received numerous accolades as a senior during the 1994-95 season. In addition to being named 1st Team All-American, he received Player-of-the-Year awards from the Big 10 Conference, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, and The Sporting News. As demonstrated by the following table, Respect produced throughout his time at Michigan State.

    Shooting Per Game Averages
Season G FG% FT% Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
1991-92 30 50.3% 87.2% 15.8 2.1 2.1 1.1 0.1
1992-93 28 48.1% 85.6% 20.1 4.0 2.6 0.9 0.2
1993-94 32 48.4% 84.0% 24.3 4.0 2.5 1.3 0.2
1994-95 28 47.3% 86.9% 25.6 4.0 3.0 1.4 0.0
Career 119 48.4% 85.7% 21.3 3.5 2.5 1.2 0.1

As an accomplished college player and high draft pick with an underwhelming NBA career, Respert certainly seems like a deserving Top 10 Bust. However, he had a legitimate excuse. Unknown to all but a few of his closest confidants, Respert had abdominal cancer.


Six years after his last game in the NBA, Respert revealed that he had cancer during his playing days. For an article released by the Associated Press, he said:

I figured that what I did at Michigan State was more than a dream come true, so I didn’t care about anything other than my health and my family. That pushed me away from the mentality that made me successful as a player, but it helped me become more happy as a man.

Respert continued:

It killed me every time my name was associated with being a bust. I really wanted to say, ‘Look. This is what I’ve had to deal with.’ But people don’t want to hear excuses in pro sports, even if the excuse is cancer. I just had to swallow my pride because I knew there would be a time that I would get my story out when my career was over and people didn’t think I had something to gain.

Based on this disclosure, I have two distinct thoughts. First, I wish Respert could have reached out for more support during his time of need. Second, I won’t declare Respert a bust, much less a Top 10 Bust. Said differently, he certainly isn’t the type of player I intend to expose as an underachieving professional player.

If you got to this post because you’re looking for dirt on Respert, you’ll have to go back to your original search results. Then again, you’ve made it this far so ‘ll give you some dirt on other people instead

For Enquiring Minds


Overall, O’Bannon underperformed each of the first 18 picks from the draft. In fact, he did worse than 22 of the 48 players taken after he was. As one of those 48 players, #21 overall pick Michael Finley finished his career 83rd on the career NBA/ABA scoring list with 17,306 points. In comparison, O’Bannon’s career total of 634 points would have put him at 164th on the list of top scorers from the 2014-15 season alone. To repeat, 163 players scored more last season than O’Bannon did in his entire career.

Unlike Respert, O’Bannon doesn’t have the same excuse for his poor NBA performance. For a Sports Illustrated article in 2009, O’Bannon’s former teammate Armon Gilliam said:

[O’Bannon] was kind of thrust into a situation that was not ideal for him. At UCLA they played an open court, up-tempo, finesse-type of basketball. Then he’s playing half-court, bump-and-grind, East Coast basketball. It wasn’t what he was built for. He’s a guy who didn’t find his niche in the NBA. He wasn’t in the right situation to grow and develop. He never got the opportunity to prove what he could do.

Ed O’Bannon – Post NBA

After an underwhelming two-year NBA career, O’Bannon survived seven seasons as an international player and one season in the resurrected ABA. To his credit, he swallowed his pride and became a car salesman in order to provide for his family. While enjoying his retirement, he went to a friend’s house and had a revelation with far-reaching implications.

The following exchange is purely fictitious, but the gist of it is probably fairly accurate. As a background, this hypothetical dialogue occurs between O’Bannon and his “friend.” You’ll find out later why friend is in quotes. To make the exchange more effective, assume that the “friend” is a UNLV fan who has lived in the Las Vegas area for a while.


Friend: Hey Ed, grab a beer and get in here.

Ed: Why?

Friend: Just come in here.  [Handing over the following game cover as O’Bannon walks in the room] Have you seen this?


Ed: Yeah, I don’t get it either. The kid’s lankier than me.

Friend: No, not Durant. The game. Have you seen the game?

Ed: No. Why?

Friend: It has the all-time greatest college basketball teams. See, our kids are playing the ’95 Bruins against the ’91 Runnin’ Rebels.

Ed: So?

Friend: Take a look at #31. Look familiar?

Ed: Hey, that’s me! How cool! Look, there’s Tyus . . . and my brother!

Friend: Don’t get too excited, the ’91 Rebels never lose.

Ed: Well . . .

Friend: Hey, weren’t you supposed to be part of that ’91 team?

Ed: Yeah.

Friend: Well, what happened?

Ed: Huh?

Friend: Didn’t you leave them hangin’ when you thought Tark was done? If you came here, you coulda been part of the greatest college team ever.

Ed: We won too you know.

Friend: Whatchu talkin bout Willis. You only got one. And, you woulda had more if you came here. Hey Junior, post up #31 ’cause he can’t play down low.

O’Bannon: I said “too” as in also. Forget it. You’re being an a$$.

Friend: Hey Ed, how much you makin’ from this game? Bet you make more cleaning the coffee pots at the dealership.

O’Bannon: F#ck off. We’re outta here. [Walking out of the room] The ’91 team lost to Duke in case you forgot.


Granted, I took poetic license in recreating the scene but O’Bannon’s own words don’t tell a much different story. For an Associated Press article recounting the experience, he said:

Initially it was, wow, pretty cool. I was fired up. But I immediately went from being fired up to being embarrassed. Then I thought, “This is BS.”

Apparently, his “friend” embarrassed him when asking him about not being paid despite having his likeness being used for commercial purposes.

Is it real,

ED O'BANNON in college

or Memorex?
Ed O'Bannon video game
Notice any resemblance?

While it’s fair to rebuke a friend who calls you out about money, O’Bannon’s buddy helped elicit a response that might change the way college athletes are treated going forward. For any NCAA athlete who gets paid in the future, thank the wise a$$ from Las Vegas because it would have taken much longer without him.


Several other Top 10 Busts continued to disappoint after they underachieved as professional athletes (e.g. Lawrence Phillips, Art Schlichter, and Ryan Leaf). In contrast, O’Bannon is on the verge of making a positive change for thousands of athletes who haven’t been fairly compensated. I applaud him for his efforts, but I can’t ignore the fact that he had a disappointing NBA career despite tremendous college success. At the same time, I’d like to console the former Wooden Award winner by telling him that things happen for a reason. Despite being a Top 10 Bust, he has the opportunity to become more important than if he were a 15x All-Star or a member of the Hall of Fame.

Perhaps 10 or 20 years from now, Ed O’Bannon will be remembered in the same way that MLB free-agent pioneer Curt Floyd is. If so, I hope every NCAA athlete goes to Henderson, Nevada to buy his or her first car after graduation. At that point, O’Bannon could open his own dealership and may even rival fellow draft classmate Kevin Garnett in career earnings. That would be a real fairy tale ending!

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