With all of the talk surrounding Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday, it has inspired me to construct a list of the top 10 NBA players of all time. This list will consider everything these players have accomplished up until the present day. Since some players on this list are still currently playing, you must read this list as if the NBA were to cease to exist tomorrow. Do not take into account the potential for what current players may still accomplish, as that would create a bias. Since the association officially became the NBA (National Basketball Association) in 1949, there have been a host of amazing players to grace the hardwood. However, there are always a small group of living legends that stand out from the rest. Why do they stand out? What makes them the best? It is a combination of their physical skills, their ability to win, and their intangibles (such as heart, leadership, and will to win). I will take all of these factors in to account. Essentially I will be looking at the complete makeup of each player and what made/makes them an all time great. So, without further a due, here are the top 10 NBA players of all time in order. Let the debate continue.
I must start this list with the honorable mentions. These men showed signs of greatness throughout their entire career, however they simply were outplayed by the 10 legends who made this coveted list. We must pay homage to the men just outside of the top 10, for the game is where it is thanks to their contributions as well. Here they are: Hakeem Olajuwon, Lebron James, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Julius Erving, Karl Malone, and John Stockton. Hakeem is #11 on my list by the slightest of margins. Hakeem “The Dream” had the smoothest game for a center the game has ever seen. Combine that with tenacious defense and you have one of the greatest players of all time. Lebron James is #12 on my list. Lebron when it’s all said and done will be undoubtedly be in the top 5 of all time. He is a unique talent and if he can continue to pile on Championships and MVP’s could find himself in the top 3 players to ever play in the NBA. Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone, and John Stockton fall into the same category in my mind. If you never won a Championship you can’t be on the list. Sorry. The Mailman is the 2nd leading scorer in NBA history and his longevity was unmatched, however he had the unfortunate pleasure of playing during the MJ era. Elgin Baylor was one of the most talented players to ever play the game, however was also very unlucky to play in the time of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Baylor made 8 NBA Finals appearances and came away empty handed every time. Stockton is the NBA’s all time assists leader (and 2nd place is not even close), however the combination of Stockton and Malone that was so much fun to watch never could get past that Michael Jordan guy. Dr. J would have been on this list if he hadn’t played 5 seasons in the ABA. He did win 3 Championships in the ABA, but this is an NBA only list. He was another innovator to the game and should not be overlooked when discussing the greatest players to ever play. Lastly, Jerry West played along side Elgin Baylor for quite some time, but was fortunate enough to finally win a Championship in 1972. He certainly will never be forgotten, I mean he is the NBA’s logo. Now, here are the top 10 NBA players of all time:
10.)Tim Duncan (Timmy)
Currently in his 16th NBA Season – 20.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 50.7 FG%, 69.1 FT%
This was by far the most difficult decision I had in putting together this list. I found myself trying to decide between the careers of Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Lebron James for the 10th and final spot on this list. At the end of the day, the hardware speaks loudest. Tim Duncan has very quietly had one of the most impressive careers in NBA history. He is without question the best power forward to ever play the game (sorry Karl), and his nickname should probably be “The Bank”. Have you ever seen anyone shoot a better more effective jump shot off the backboard than Tim Duncan? Even if he didn’t dominate physically or find himself on highlight reels with flashy moves or dunks, Tim Duncan found a way to win consistently. He won 4 NBA Championships, 2 MVP’s, and 3 NBA Final’s MVP, s. He also won the Rookie of the Year, of course. Oh yeah, I almost forgot yet another facet of his game that attributes to his greatness. Timmy is one of the best defenders at his position in the history of the NBA. He is the most soft spoken champion the game has ever seen.
9.)Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq, The Diesel, Shaq Fu, Shaq Daddy, Superman)
19 NBA Seasons – 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 58.2 FG%, 52.7 FT%
The Diesel. Enough said? I think his nicknames speak for themselves. Shaq was the most dominant basketball player the world had seen since Wilt Chamberlain. Only Shaq was easily the most physically dominating force the NBA ever produced. He was like an unstoppable wrecking ball that could only be slowed (or fouled), but couldn’t be stopped. Watching Shaq play in his prime was something special. He showed an amazing amount of offensive skills with a basketball for a man of his size. He also won a few games along the way too. He won 4 NBA Championships, 1 MVP, and 3 NBA Finals MVP’s. It is also no surprise that he won Rookie of the Year as well. I personally like Shaq more than Kobe, but Kobe gets the edge because he accomplished slightly more in his career than Shaq.
8.)Kobe Bryant (Black Mamba)
Currently in his 17th NBA Season – 25.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 45.3 FG%, 83.8 FT%
While there will only be one Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant has been the closest thing the NBA has seen since MJ retired. Kobe Bryant is as talented a scorer as the NBA has ever seen, and he has been one of the best on ball defenders in the NBA since he stormed his way into the league. And his desire to win and cutthroat attitude is unmatched. He has always cared about one thing and one thing only; winning. He has done plenty of that, winning 5 NBA Championships, 1 MVP, and 2 NBA Finals MVP’s. Another one of the more difficult decisions on this list was deciding who had a more accomplished career, Shaq or Kobe. They may hate each other and not want to sit next to each other in real life ever again, but they are forced to sit next to each other today, on this list.
7.)Oscar Robertson (The Big O)
14 NBA Seasons – 25.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 9.5 assists, 48.5 FG%, 83.8 FT%
When it comes to the legacy of Oscar Robertson, his numbers speak for themselves. Oscar is the only player in NBA history to average a triple double for an entire season. He is also the all time leader in triple doubles with 181. That is a record that will probably never be broken. Oscar Robertson, at only 6’5″ had the most well rounded offensive game the NBA has ever seen. He is the most unfortunate soul in the history of the NBA though (him and Elgin Baylor), having played at the same time as Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. If it wasn’t for them, Robertson surely would have added some more hardware to his trophy case. He still managed to win 1 NBA Championship, 1 MVP, and the Rookie of the Year.
6.)Bill Russell (Bill)
13 NBA Seasons – 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 44 FG%, 56.1 FT%
Bill Russell will always be known as the ultimate winner. He was part of the Boston Celtics teams of the 1950’s and 60’s that won 11 championships in a span of 13 seasons. While he played with some great teammates over the years, he is regarded as the best defensive center of all time. He is also one of the best rebounders in the history of the game. It was mainly Russell’s intangibles, such as his leadership that made him stand out. During Russell’s era they didn’t keep track of NBA Final’s MVP’s, however after the proper research I can safely say he would have won 4 NBA Final’s MVP’s. In a time where Wilt Chamberlain dominated the NBA physically, it goes to show just how impressive Bill Russell’s Celtics reign as NBA Champions was.
5.)Larry Bird (The Hick From French Lick)
13 NBA Seasons – 24.3 points, 10 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 49.6 FG%, 88.6 FT%
Larry Bird led the Boston Celtics to 3 NBA Championships in the 1980’s. One of the most exciting times in the history of the NBA was the rivalry between Magic and Bird. Larry Bird is regarded as one the best shooters and players in NBA history. His heart and competitive spirit willed his team to victory over and over again. Bird won 3 MVP’s, 2 Finals MVP’s, and Rookie of the Year during his career. Bird had one of the most impressive all around games the NBA has ever seen. He is the only player in NBA history to have career averages of at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. He is also probably the most underrated defender the NBA has ever seen. He possessed the unbelievable ability to shut down the opponents best offensive player, and his anticipation on the court was unmatched. Just like Magic and MJ, it is a shame Bird dealt with chronic back problems late in his career (he averaged over 20 points a game in the last season of his career), for if he hadn’t he could have added to his already stellar accomplishments.
4.)Wilt Chamberlain (Wilt The Stilt)
14 NBA Seasons – 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 54 FG%, 51.1 FT%
One of the most difficult decisions I had to make on this list was Kareem vs. Wilt. It is nearly impossible to definitively state who the best center in the history of the NBA was. Wilt Chamberlain was one of the most dominant forces in NBA history. He famously holds the record for most points scored in one game (100), a record I doubt will EVER be broken. Chamberlain even averaged over 50 points for an entire season, another feat that will most likely never be accomplished (a season where he didn’t even win the NBA MVP). It’s a shame that MVP’s were usually given to a player on the best team or a member of the championship team, because no one knows how many MVP’s Wilt could have won if the award was given appropriately. Even with that obstacle, Wilt still managed 4 MVP awards, 2 NBA Championships, and 1 NBA Finals MVP. Wilt was also one of those players who burst right on to the scene, winning the Rookie of the Year award. It is difficult to place Wilt correctly on this list due to the difference of playing era and level of competition, however I guarantee if you put Wilt in the NBA today, he would still be the best center in the league (sorry Dwight). Oh yeah, and as if all those statistics aren’t impressive enough, Wilt led the NBA in total assists for an entire season!!
3.)Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Cap)
20 NBA Seasons – 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.6 blocks, 55.9 FG%, 72.1 FT%
Kareem Abdul Jabbar was the centerpiece that the Lakers championships of the 1980’s were built around. He was part of their 5 championship titles in the 80’s. He also won a title with the Milwaukee Bucks prior to playing with the Lakers. Kareem was the league’s MVP a record breaking 6 times, he won 6 NBA Championships while being named Finals MVP twice. He was a true innovator to the game of basketball. During his career, he perfected an unstoppable move called the sky hook and it helped him become the NBA’s all time leading scorer. Kareem was a star from the second he entered the league and was named the Rookie of the Year (averaging 28.8 points and 14.4 rebounds). Out of the long list of Kareem’s accolades, I find a center shooting over 72% from the free throw line most impressive. He was an outstanding all around player, showcasing his offensive and defensive skills throughout his entire 20 year career.
2.) Earvin Johnson (Magic)
12 NBA Seasons – 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 11.2 assists, 52 FG%, 84.8 FT %
As the leader of the “Showtime” Lakers, Magic Johnson reinvented the fast break. He was an innovative player who revolutionized the point guard position. At 6’9” tall, Magic was a nightmare match-up for anyone who tried to guard him. Well, they didn’t guard him they only slowed him down, sometimes. Larry Bird was his most formidable opponent , but as we all know the Lakers got the better of that rivalry. He brought power forward size and strength to the point guard position (and he even played center in an NBA Finals when necessary), and he is second all time (to Oscar Robertson) in career games with a triple double (138). It is a tragedy that Magic’s career was cut short due to his battle with HIV. Magic won 5 championships, 3 MVP, s, and 3 Final’s MVP’s in just 12 short seasons. Just like Jordan, one can only imagine what he would have accomplished if he played another 4 or 5 seasons.
1.) Michael Jordan (MJ, Air Jordan)
15 NBA Seasons – 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 49.7 FG %, and 83.5 FT%
What can be said about Michael Jordan that hasn’t been said already? Michael Jordan is hands down the greatest basketball player to ever walk the face of the planet. He won 6 NBA Championships, 5 MVP’s, and 6 NBA Finals MVP’s. Jordan won the rookie of the year award, he was a one-time defensive player of the year, and regarded as the best defender at his position in the history of the NBA. One of the most impressive feats Michael ever pulled off was he was a perfect 6 for 6 in Finals appearances, and he NEVER allowed an NBA Finals series to reach a decisive 7th game. If that is not the epitome of greatness; I don’t know what is. What you also have to remember is that Jordan retired TWICE in his prime, which caused him to miss nearly five full seasons. Just imagine if he never retired and played straight through the age of 40 (where he averaged over 20 points). I think it’s fair to say he would have won at least 2 more MVP’s and 2 more titles. All others can strive to Be Like Mike, but there will always be only one Michael Jordan.