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Ovie Soko picks five players who inspired him and made him love the NBA

Ovie Soko, Sky Sports NBA analyst

Tuesday 24 March 2020 14:08, UK

Kobe Bryant lines up against Michael Jordan
Image: Kobe Bryant lines up against Michael Jordan

Ovie Soko picks five superstar players who inspired his own basketball journey and fuelled his love of the NBA.

Ovie Soko pictured during UCAM Murcia's loss to Real Madrid

I couldn't say there was one single NBA player who influenced me more than any other. It was more a culmination of players. I played the way I played. I fell in love with the game from streetball and And 1 mixtapes.

After that, I started paying more attention to the NBA and started to appreciate special players. It was never just one player.

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Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan takes flight at the 1988 All-Star Dunk Contest in Chicago
Image: Michael Jordan takes flight at the 1988 All-Star Dunk Contest in Chicago

Michael Jordan was a superhero, a proper blockbuster movie superhero. Even as a young kid in the 1990s, I knew who he was. He was super-competitive and he had super-powerful energy.

Like a superhero, he always overcame adversity. He took over as the face of the league after the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson era, he overcame the Detroit Pistons 'Bad Boys'. He emerged victorious in the 'flu game', fighting through illness to lead the Bulls past the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the 1997 Finals.

Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket against Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals during the 1986 NBA Playoffs on April 20, 1986 0:46
Michael Jordan sets a playoff record by scoring 63 points versus the Boston Celtics in the 1986 playoffs

Skills-wise, his eye-popping athleticism and his tremendous basketball IQ stand out. His competitiveness and drive made him a strong leader.

And as I saw when he walked into a press conference before the recent Bucks-Hornets Paris Game, he still possesses that iconic aura and charisma. The room just stopped for him.

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Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant in action for the Los Angeles Lakers
Image: Kobe Bryant in action for the Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe was one of the first players I remember, one of the first guys who really stuck in my head. Like Jordan, he embodied competing hard at the very highest level.

Coming out of high school straight to the NBA, Kobe had to take his lumps in his early career. That's another thing I love about him. He came into the league knowing what he was capable of but he had some growing to do. He had to take some tough lessons. The basketball world remembers him taking back-to-back airballs in the playoffs so to see him turn the corner after that was so special.

Kobe Bryant in action for the Los Angeles Lakers 9:54
Relive some of the best moments of Kobe Bryant's 20-year NBA career

Back then Kobe was the child of the NBA. We saw him come into the league young, then grow and turn into 'Young Simba'.

The playoffs with him and Allen Iverson, the 2001 Finals between the Lakers and the Sixers, was one of the first full games of basketball I watched. It was Game 1 of the series and Philly got them. Unreal.

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Shaquille O'Neal

Shaquille O'Neal hammers home a dunk against the Sacramento Kings
Image: Shaquille O'Neal hammers home a dunk against the Sacramento Kings

'Shaq Diesel' was an unreal player who changed the game. I've never seen a superstar player so physically dominant and overwhelming.

Shaq played to dominate opponents but he played to entertain fans too. That approach offset what Kobe brought to the table so perfectly, even if neither of them would admit it at the time! Effortless dominance.

Shaquille O'Neal Hair bet 1:25
After Shaquille O'Neal lost a bet to Dwyane Wade, Shaq revealed a new look!

Another thing I liked about Shaq was his post-Lakers run with the Miami Heat. He took on a supporting role and allowed Dwyane Wade to flourish, which helped the Heat to a championship.

Steve Nash

Steve Nash controls possession for the Phoenix Suns
Image: Steve Nash controls possession for the Phoenix Suns

This is a bit biased because I'm a Phoenix fan, but Nash was unbelievable. He made me enjoy watching Suns basketball so much. His ability to impact the game by getting everyone where they needed to be. He was a general.

I really enjoyed watching Nash's partnership with Amare Stoudemire when I was coming up. He was my guy growing up.

Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady throws down a dunk in his Orlando Magic heyday
Image: Tracy McGrady throws down a dunk in his Orlando Magic heyday

T-Mizzle! T-Mac was another one of my guys. I had his jersey, I still have a picture of me wearing it.

I called McGrady one of the NBA's biggest 'what if' players before because of how injuries affected his career. But even so, he went from young superstar with the Orlando Magic in the early 2000s into an assassin during his time at the Houston Rockets with Yao Ming later in the decade. It's just really sad that the injuries took their toll on him.

Tracy McGrady throws down his famous off-the-glass dunk in the 2002 All-Star Game 0:09
Tracy McGrady's 2002 off-the-glass dunk is Ovie Soko's most memorable All-Star Game play

McGrady was one of those guys who had a knack for scoring - it was never, ever going to be a problem for him. But he just couldn't figure out how to translate his ability to score into wins for his team, especially in the playoffs.

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