After thunderous applause of just over a million citizens of Cleveland, Lebron looked over to Sasha Kaun: "Sasha, now a good friend of mine texted me the other day by the name of Mario Chalmers. And he said, um, you know you can't win a championship without a Jayhawk on your team. I said damn you're kinda right [Mario]. You know this is... I won two in Miami with you and then I get another one here with Sasha being the ex-Jayhawk at Kansas. Sasha everything you did this year that no one seen working out with the team every single day committing to the game every single day. You worked out every single day."
LeBron praised Kansas basketball because he understands that Kansas asks the most out of its athletes. With a Jayhawk by his side, LeBron has won 3 NBA Championship with former Jayhawks Mario Chalmers and Sasha Kaun. And LeBron seems to think it isn't just a coincidence. LeBron understands the importance of developing work ethic and determination as a young athlete. It's clear that both him and many of KU's athletes possess similar qualities. Regardless, Kansas fans should celebrate the teamwork and dedication of newly NBA champion Sasha Kaun.
Along with Sasha on the Cavaliers and Mario on the Grizzlies, there are many other former Jayhawks in the NBA. Paul Pierce looks to enter his 19th season on the Clippers and the Morris brothers separated last year with Markieff going to Washington and Marcus joining the Pistons. Andrew Wiggins continues to shine on the young Timberwolves. Ben McLemore holds down the backcourt for the Sacramento Kings. And a bunch of other former Jayhawks continue to light up the NBA.
LeBron's speech made me think: what is Kansas' role in the NBA? How have they helped their perspective teams? How can they continue to evolve from their time at KU? Because of these questions, I've compiled a list considering statistics, influence and potential for success among Jayhawks in the NBA.
1. Andrew Wiggins
3. Mario Chalmers
I can still remember that shot. The shot that froze time in the home of every Kansas fan's home; the shot that rocked college basketball. The shot that beat Derrick Rose, John Calipari and Memphis back in 2008 to win the NCAA men's basketball championship. Chalmers has since continued his winning ways in the NBA; he won two NBA championships in South Beach with LeBron. Today, Chalmers plays for the Memphis Grizzlies behind Mike Conley Jr. who recently signed the biggest contract in the history of the NBA. The Grizzlies get Marc Gasol back from injury and have signed Chandler Parsons to a maximum contract. It's clear that the Grizzlies are making a playoff push. And it's hard to argue with their moves--they have a Jayhawk on the team.
4. Marcus Morris
Marcus, one of the almost indistinguishable twins, was traded to Detroit this year from Phoenix. He played valuable minutes for them during the first round of the NBA playoffs vs. the Cavaliers. Although they got swept, Morris was one of the shining spots on the Pistons averaging 18 points (that's a lot). The Pistons also resigned the impressive Andre Drummond and added Henry Ellenson from Marquette. They look to pressure the East for another playoff run this upcoming year.
5. Brandon Rush
Even though he isn't the biggest contributor, Rush plays for the record setting 73 win Golden State Warriors. Love them or hate them, its impossible to ignore their success. Now waiting on a decision from Kevin Durant, the Warriors look to rebound from the shock of the NBA finals. For this reason alone, Rush must be mentioned after his time at KU winning the championship along with Chalmers in 2008.
6. Ben McLemore
This star shooting guard adds 10 points a game for the Kings since being drafted 7th overall in 2013. Although the Kings have struggled for a couple of years, the strong young core of McLemore, DeMarcus Cousins and rookie center Georgios Papagiannis can hopefully push them into the playoffs this year.
There are many other Jayhawks in the NBA including Kirk Hinrich, Thomas Robinson, Drew Gooden, Kelly Oubre Jr., Cliff Alexander, Nick Collison, etc. But these 6 Jayhawks seem to have the most panache in the NBA at this point in time.
What do you think about Kansas' influence in the NBA? Did I miss any notable players? Feel free to discuss anything related to KU in the NBA in the comment section below.