A celebration of the NBA's most infuriating players, both past and present. Read other NBA Shit List entries here.
Eric Leckner was a big body with no discernible skills, but that's exactly why he was able to play eight seasons in the NBA. Leckner's career was entirely forgettable; it's best described in newspaper agate type, in the stilted language of the transaction report: a couple of seasons with this team, a trade to that team, some time away in Europe, a season or two back again—all of it wrapped up nicely with a handful of 10-day contracts and appearances on the waiver wire. Leckner couldn't shoot, couldn't jump, and couldn't pass. He also couldn't move, and he didn't block many shots. So how did such a marginal talent—career PER of 9.8—have an actual role as an actual NBA player for as long as Eric Leckner actually did? One reason:
He could take up space.
The NBA of that time was lousy with players like Leckner, players who occupied roster spots only because there was a roster spot to be occupied. If you aren't familiar with his time in the NBA, all you have to do is call up the memory of Jon Koncak or Will Perdue or Chris Dudley or Joe Kleine and you'll have a good idea of Leckner's game. He was a prototypical Big White Stiff in the last great age of the Big White Stiff, before the league's centers went and got dynamic on us.
They say basketball is all about creating your own space, whether in the air or on the ground, and that that's what makes it so often beautiful. What's infuriating about the Big White Stiff is that his job is entirely negative. He is there only to take away other people's space, to be an obstacle, to do nothing except fill up some not insignificant portion of the court with his pale, sweaty, shambling monstrousness. He is anti-basketball.
And that was Eric Leckner. From the late 1980s until the late '90s, Leckner took up space as well as anyone in the league. He played for six teams in that time, but to call him well-traveled would suggest there was a fullness to his career. Leckner rarely did anything other than show up and be massive.
The Shit List archives: Nick Young | Anthony Carter | Toney Douglas | Bill Cartwright | Dahntay Jones | DeShawn Stevenson | Michael Sweetney | Eddie House | Sasha Vujacic | Voshon Lenard | Dwight Howard | Andris Biedrins | Antawn Jamison
From the beginning, size was everything for Leckner. As a junior in high school, he didn't start for the junior varsity even though he was 6-foot-8. The following year, he shot up to 6-foot-10, excelled for the varsity, and colleges started to notice. UCLA, located not far from his home in Manhattan Beach, Calif., never recruited him, so Leckner made his first move and headed to the University of Wyoming, where he would star alongside Fennis Dembo, a future Pistons benchwarmer best known for making the cover of Sports Illustrated's 1987-88 college basketball preview issue. Leckner added 20 pounds as a senior at Wyoming. He entered the NBA standing 6-foot-11 and weighing 265. The league had room for him.
The Utah Jazz took Leckner 17th overall in the '88 draft, and right from the start, they knew what they were getting: Mark Eaton was by then in his early 30s, and the Jazz wanted Leckner to be his backup. (That's right: The Jazz thought Mark Eaton needed a caddie. It was a very different NBA.) Dave Checketts, the Jazz's president and GM at the time, wanted Dan Majerle, who went to Phoenix at No. 14. Checketts was less than enthusiastic about what he wound up with instead. "This is not saying much, but we got one of the best big men in the draft," Checketts said, according to the Deseret News.
Shortly after the draft, Leckner described himself in an interview as "a blue-collar guy" for whom "work ethic is everything." This was of course the standard code for Big White Stiff, but what's hilarious about Leckner is that he was reputedly a lazy-ass. Checketts knew it, too. "All that seems to be lacking is an intensity, a desire to play. He's got some work to do," he said of Leckner on draft night. There was a stretch during his rookie season that Leckner never got off the bench, and his "work ethic" was apparently the reason: After he finally got some playing time again—and even contributed a bit—Leckner told the Deseret News that he "didn't realize how hungry I was to play. I made some changes in my life—I had to focus on what I was doing." To which Karl Malone added: "Sometimes, I get a little mad at him because I can tell he's not trying hard. It gets kind of frustrating because you see him making the same mistakes over and over. Eric Leckner can be as good as Eric Leckner wants to be."
Leckner settled into a routine of getting into games only when absolutely necessary. On April 9, 1990, toward the end of his second season, the Jazz set an NBA record by committing 52 fouls in regulation. Four players fouled out, and seven others were whistled for either four or five fouls. A chance for Leckner to get significant playing time? Hardly. He played just eight minutes—and still managed to pick up two fouls.
The video to the left shows Leckner at his Lecknerest. In the first clip, he's wide open as he gets the ball in the paint, but he still looks as if he were fighting off the Prussian Army before dunking it home. In the second, he happened to be in the right place at the right time—a trait that was just so very Eric Leckner—allowing him to execute maybe the lowest-flying tip dunk in NBA history. (Also, whoever uploaded that video to YouTube saw fit to caption it with this: "Who the hell is Eric Leckner? That's what I was thinking after watching him throw down a few dunks during one game—never heard from him again.")
After Utah, Leckner became a sort of wandering hobo. His career was an exercise in finding new places to be unwanted. He was traded to Sacramento as a spare part in a three-team deal that sent Pervis Ellison to Washington and Jeff Malone to Utah. Seven months after that, Leckner was shipped to Charlotte for a pair of second-round picks. None of this stopped Leckner from overestimating his value, though. After his first half-season with the Hornets, he was offered a guaranteed contract of $1.6 million for two years. He turned it down. The Orlando Sentinel said his agent convinced him he'd get a better offer in free agency. You can probably gather where this is going. Leckner wound up staying with the Hornets by signing a one-year deal for just $510,000. His contract was not renewed the following summer, at which point no one in the NBA wanted him. He played the 1992-93 season in Italy before the Sixers signed him toward the end of August.
In Philly, he put up his best season as the least-bad center option on a very bad, Barkley-less Sixers team. The alternatives? One was 38-year-old Moses Malone, who was making a regrettable return to the franchise he had led to a title 10 years earlier. The other was 7-foot-6 rookie Shawn Bradley, the No. 2 overall pick, who spent that year (and many more) getting dunked through the hoop. So Leckner it was, and he set career highs in games started (36), minutes played (1,163), field goals (294), assists per game (1.2), blocks per game (0.5), and points per game (5.1).
After Philly, Leckner had two Leckner-esque seasons with the Pistons before playing out the string. He was injured when he signed with the Knicks during camp in 1996, and he was released three months later without having played a minute. The Hornets brought him in on a 10-day contract, only to terminate it after one game because 37-year-old Tom Chambers, of all people, decided to come out of retirement. Leckner finished the season with the Grizzlies and was cut by the Wizards during training camp the following season.
Basketball had moved on. The Big White Stiff was lumbering into obsolescence. Leckner had nowhere to turn but Europe, which was exporting tall, multitalented frontcourt players to America to replace Leckner and his kind. He was a big body with no skills. There was just no space for someone like that in the NBA anymore.