Rebounding is human driven. In rebounding, not only the talented thrive. "You don't need a lot of talent to be a great rebounder," says the Celtics' Robert Parish, ninth on the all-time NBA list. "You don't have to be that strong. You don't have to be a great leaper."
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, third on the all-time NBA list, agrees: "Bob Pettit wasn't real tall and wasn't a great jumper, but he was a great rebounder. Dan Issel, too. Fat Lever (a 6-3 guard) has been a great rebounder.
"There are a lot of ways to skin the cat. Fat Lever and Karl Malone, they don't play alike. They don't look alike. But they both get the job done rebounding."
The most important single skill of a rebounder isn't an athletic skill. It is character.
"Rebounders have a very good work ethic," Williams says. "I think the way they go about their business tells a lot about what type of person they are: to take on a task, probably a task that a lot of other people are afraid to take on, or are unwilling to take on, and make a living at it."
"Rebounding's not a real glamorous thing," Willis says. "It doesn't look as pretty as a shot. It's not as fancy as a great pass. But I love rebounding."
Karl says, "It takes a lot of concentration, a lot of work, and it gets very little reward."
Nets Coach Chuck Daly despairs at the lack of rebounding fundamentals in the NBA: "There's such a lack of effort for boxing out now. Players have the athletic ability to go and get the ball."
Interesting concept: using ability as a crutch. Why? Easy. Coaches, players, everybody might disagree about what qualities it takes to make an impact as a rebounder, but they all believe it demands hard work. Barkley wrote of his passion for rebounding in his book, "Outrageous": "Nothing in the game gives me as much of a rush as the feeling I get when I grab an offensive rebound over two or three guys in the final three minutes of a game ... it completely demoralizes the other team."
"Your body has to be willing to take a beating," Oakley says. "You can't say, 'Last night was a tough night, I'll take the night off.' I never take a night off. I just keep coming."
Parish says the same of six-time rebounding champion Moses Malone, the only other active player in the Top 10 at fourth: "He was in a position to take a night off and cruise if he wanted to, but he never did." There aren't any great rebounders who lack lower or upper body strength. "I think you've got to have both," Karl Malone says. "When you think about rebounding, you have to have the strength to get position. You have to have the strength to get off the floor."
Abdul-Jabbar says, "I think it takes more lower body strength. You have to send your hips into somebody. At least that's how I did it." Baylor averaged 15.4 in his first seven seasons, then split his kneecap in half in 1965. In his final seven seasons, he averaged 11.0. "I wasn't even near the same rebounder after the injury," he says. "My legs were not the same. I just didn't have the leg strength."
Most everyone in the NBA agrees that rebounding is vital to winning, even if it's not No. 1 with all the fans. "I think a lot of people who aren't true basketball fans don't give rebounders a lot of importance," Buck Williams says. "But if you talk to coaches or players, they know how important it is."