The 30 best NBA quotes of all time

By Andrew D

October 29, 2022

Image provided by alamy

The 30 best NBA quotes of all time

Ok, so let’s be honest. We don’t always expect our favourite sports stars to speak profound, eloquent words of wisdom.

That’s not why we love them. And it’s not really their job.

But it is true that we put those stars up on pedestals

We idolise them and hold them up as beacons of all that is good about humanity. 

And that’s perfectly natural. They are exceptional

You only have to read our article ‘What are the odds of making it to the NBA?’ to see just how extraordinary their achievements are.

But in many ways, it is also quite unfair. Certainly unrealistic. 

We hold our sporting heroes up as impeccable ambassadors that represent us. Bastions of virtue showing us the dizzy heights that mankind can hope to ascend to. Rôle models to be emulated.

Does that mean we should always listen to their thoughts and musings? We aren’t tuning in or showing up at games to hear them speak. We’re hoping to see our favourite NBA basketball player rip up trees on the court and dazzle us with their athleticism right?

Aren’t there also some unpleasant characters among them? Whose ideals and morals we actually abhor?

Of course. They’re only human

But we elevate them to a level above and beyond that of almost any other individual. We hang on their every word and expect great pearls of wisdom to pour forth.

And yet, the irony is that many of the world’s greatest sporting heroes were not extensively, expensively educated. They surely spent more of their youth practising their chosen sport than they did studying. 

Their wisdom comes through battling against hardship and odds that are viciously stacked against them. By staying the course. Believing in themselves when others gave up. Persevering in the face of adversity. 

What's not to love about that?

Image: Public Domain

The relationship between us mere mortals and our sporting heroes is a curious one. They ignite our emotions as almost no other strangers can and that is clearly a very powerful thing. 

The closest comparison might be that which some of us have with rock stars. We idolise them similarly for doing something that makes our passions soar. But we hold them to much lower standards of behaviour and moralistic fibre. In fact, our expectations of them are completely at odds with each other.

Rock stars are supposed to behave badly. Get drunk and trash hotel rooms. Lack good judgement and generally behave however they wish. 

Maybe we want to live vicariously through them...

Exist without fear. Without the gnawing self-doubt that cripples so many of us. Or the dreaded repercussions of making poor life choices. Secretly wishing that we could throw televisions through windows (do they still do that?)

But we demand that our sports stars are clean living. Hard-working. Dedicated. Focused on the goal. Team players. Selfless and supportive. Superhuman

We expect their mental strength to match their physical one.

Image Courtesy of Alamy

There have clearly been sports stars since the onset of professional competition that proved themselves to be unworthy of our adulation.

They performed remarkably at their given tasks but were otherwise not to be admired in any way.

And then there have been those who transcended even those other exceptional characters around them. 

Their words are worthy of being printed and read again

Whether the names that follow fall into the former category or the latter is not for us to determine. Each of us has our own set of values and ideal attributes.

What we can say without too much fear of reprisal, is that we found all the following quotes inspirational. 

Or they amused us in some way

They have a profundity above and beyond what we should really be able to expect from individuals whose only job is to play their favourite game to the best of their ability. And be handsomely remunerated for doing so.

We were unable to agree on ‘the greatest’ NBA quote in The Jump Hub office. We can’t even agree on what time to go for lunch. So, here we present our favourite basketball quotes for your delectation.

A lot of them only really apply to basketball and aspiring NBA players. We are neither of those.

But they still spoke to us on some more fundamental level.

A disproportionate number of them seem to come from Michael Jordan. But maybe he just did more talking than most.

Image Courtesy of Alamy

We do not necessarily endorse the behaviour of those who made them. But we found their words either meaningful or moving in some way. See if you agree…

Inspirational basketball quotes

“Promise to wear a cheerful appearance at all times and give every person you meet a smile.”

John Wooden

“You have to go through good times and bad times to get where you’re trying to go.”

Allen Iverson

“Talent sets the floor, character sets the ceiling”

“I’ve never lost a game I just ran out of time.” 

Michael Jordan

“Keep practicing. Never let someone tell you you’re too small or too slow.”

Chris Paul

“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”

John Wooden

“Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”

Michael Jordan

“You always have to be on edge. You always have to take every practice, every game, like it is your last.”

Kobe Bryant

“There’s no reason to hold yourself back and say you can’t do something in life unless you go for it and try to do it.”

Russell Westbrook

“I treated it like every day was my last day with a basketball.”

LeBron James

“The idea is not to block every shot. The idea is to make your opponent believe that you might block every shot.”

Bill Russell

“In order to achieve to achieve positive results, one must work for them, not hope for them”

Bobby Knight

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan

“No one knows how big your potential is, how big your heart is, when you start.”

Muggsy Bogues

“Excellence is a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.”

Shaquille O'Neal

“You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.”

Michael Jordan

“Anything can happen with hard work and dedication”

Jerry West

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

Michael Jordan

“Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference.”

John Wooden

“Every morning you have two choices: continue to sleep with your dreams, or wake up and chase them.”

Carmelo Anthony

“Don’t let winning make you soft. Don’t let losing make you quit. Don’t let your teammates down in any situation.”

Larry Bird

“You can’t stop people from trying to limit your dreams, but you can stop it from becoming a reality. Your dreams are up to you. I encourage you to always be curious, always seek out things you love and always work hard once you find it.”

Kobe Bryant

“I never looked at the consequences of missing a big shot… when you think about the consequences you always think of a negative result.”

Michael Jordan

“Basketball doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”

James Naismith

“For me, when I get knocked down, I really try to get back up and go at it again. I don’t like to give up.”

Jeremy Lin

“The most important measure of how good a game I played was how much better I’d made my teammates play.”

Bill Russell

“You are responsible for how people remember you—or don’t. So don’t take it lightly.”

Kobe Bryant

“Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise”

Michael Jordan

“The guys who take shortcuts, who aren’t ready, they fail when their opportunity comes”

Tom Thibodeau

“Working hard is one thing, but working hard with purpose is what separates the good from the great”

Thad Matta

Final thoughts

So, that's our list. A lot of them reveal more about ourselves than we might care to admit.

But there certainly seem to be some common threads. They focus on working hard and refusing to give up. Shunning criticism and naysayers. Believing in your own talents and giving yourself the best possible chance of success.

Yet the most poignant quotes might be those by the late, great John Wooden. All of his revolve around thinking about others. Showing character and class. Having a smile for everyone you meet. And at the end of the day, it is how we treat others and make them feel that best reflects how we will be remembered.

It seems only proper then that the last word goes to the inimitable 'Wizard of Westwood'

“Happiness begins where selfishness ends.”

John Wooden

Amen to that brother.

We hope you enjoyed our list.

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