Legacy. Tradition. A who’s who of American sport. As the Gatorade Player of the Year program celebrates its 30th anniversary year of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes, fans can count many a household name on the roster of former award-winners. Over the past three decades, prep sports’ most esteemed honor boasts Super Bowl, World Series, NBA, WNBA, MLS Cup, NCAA and Olympic champions among more than 13,000 State Players of the Year and 270 National POYs across 12 sports. Let’s not forget the scores of program alumni who have gone on to capture league-MVP, All-Star and All-American recognition. Today, we’re catching up with the 16 former Gatorade Boys Basketball Players of the Year left in the NBA playoffs.
If Las Vegas were handicapping the NBA playoffs by the number of Gatorade Boys Basketball Players of the Year on the roster, then the Cleveland Cavaliers would be heavy favorites among the final four teams remaining.
Each of the teams set to take the court this week in the conference finals features multiple former Gatorade winners on the 15-man roster, but the Cavs take the cake with seven alumni sharing 10 trophies between them, including two Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year winners.
LeBron James, of course, was the first two-time Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year in the program’s 30-year history, taking home the award as a junior and senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High in Akron, Ohio.
Even without the services of 2006-07 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year Kevin Love, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in a first-round sweep of the Boston Celtics, James is joined by a handful of Gatorade honorees: Kyrie Irving (2009-10 New Jersey), J.R. Smith (2003-04 New Jersey), Mike Miller (1996-97, 1997-98 South Dakota), Joe Harris (2009-10 Washington) and Brendan Haywood (1996-97 North Carolina).
While none of Atlanta’s four All-Stars this season captured a Gatorade award at the prep level, the Hawks still have 1996-97 Gatorade New York Boys Basketball Player of the Year Elton Brand and 2008-09 Gatorade Tennessee Boys Basketball Player of the Year John Jenkins on the end of their bench. No matter who takes the court, Atlanta’s fortunes depends on whether or not anybody can stop James from reaching a fifth straight NBA Finals.
The Golden State Warriors have the second-most Gatorade Boys Basketball POYs on the roster, as Harrison Barnes (2008-09, 2009-10 Iowa), David Lee (2000-01 Missouri), Shaun Livingston (2003-04 Illinois) and James McAdoo (2009-10, 2010-11 Virginia) share six awards between them. Interestingly, the Warriors also feature Justin Holiday, older brother of two-time California winner and 2007-08 Gatorade National POY Jrue Holiday.
The only Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year left standing in the Western Conference, though, is 2003-04 recipient Dwight Howard, whose 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Houston Rockets in Sunday’s Game 7 helped complete a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against the Los Angeles Clippers, cementing the conference finals’ field. Howard is joined on the Rockets by a pair of Gatorade winners from the Class of 2003-04—Tennessee honoree Corey Brewer and Howard’s childhood friend, Virginia recipient Josh Smith.
For the record, the Warriors are the official Vegas favorites at 1-to-2 odds to win the NBA title, followed by the Cavaliers (14/5), Rockets (10/1) and Hawks (13/1). And regardless of who takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy, only one thing is certain—the winning team already possesses at least two Gatorade trophies already inside their own locker room.
To see the legacy for yourself, visit the Gatorade Player of the Year winner archive, where you can relive history and see which future stars won their first national recognition as high school athletes. To see the cream of the crop, visit the roster of Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year winners, showcasing Gatorade’s top male and female National Player of the Year honoree, selected annually from each POY class.