Throughout the history of the NBA, the center position has always been vital to the success of an NBA franchise. As the game of basketball has evolved, the prototypical center has changed. In today’s NBA, the position is not as important as it used to be. NBA teams used to build around a center who could dominate at both ends of the floor. This list is meant to rank the Top Ten NBA Centers of All-Time.
Patrick Ewing, Dave Cowens, Walt Bellamy, and Wes Unseld.
10.) George Mikan (Mr. Basketball)
6 NBA Seasons – 22.3 points, 13.4 rebounds, 40.1 FG%, 78.4 FT%
4x All-Star, 5 NBA Championships
George Mikan was truly an innovator. He was Russell before Russell, and Wilt before Wilt. He was the centerpiece to the NBA’s first dynasty; the Minneapolis Lakers of the 1950’s. They won 4 NBA Championships in 5 years. Mikan was known as a hard nosed player on both ends of the floor, and was known to play through broken bones. As time goes on, his name fades into the background, but we must pay homage to those who helped paved the way for the future. Without the innovation of George Mikan, there is no telling what superstars the NBA would have missed out on.
9.) Elvin Hayes (The Big E)
16 NBA Seasons – 21.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 45.2 FG%, 67.0 FT%
12x All-Star, 1 NBA Championship
Elvin Hayes was Bret Favre and Deion Sanders wrapped into 1 player. He did it all. Over his 16 year career, Hayes only missed 9 games. He was also a great two way player, with his tenacious defense and consistent scoring. Hayes is still top 10 in points scored, rebounds, and field goals made. What’s most impressive about those numbers is that Hayes is the shortest center on this list, standing just 6’9″ tall.
8.) David Robinson (The Admiral)
14 NBA Seasons – 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, 51.8 FG%, 73.6 FT%
10x All-Star, 1x NBA MVP, 2 NBA Championships, 1990 Rookie of the Year , 1x Defensive Player of the Year
He was the definition of an all around player and as consistent as they come. Standing at a lean 7’1″ tall, Robinson posed a threat at both ends of the floor. If it weren’t for that guy Dikembe Mutumbo, there is no telling how many Defensive Player of the Year awards he would have won. Robinson made up one half of the twin towers, along side Tim Duncan, en route to 2 NBA championships. Robinson’s rise to stardom had to wait as he honorably served in the NAVY for 2 years prior to the start of his playing career. Robinson’s all around talents produced one of the most impressive performances of all time. On February 17th, 1994, Robinson became only the 5th player ever to record a quadruple double (34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 blocks).
7.) Willis Reed (The Captain)
10 NBA Seasons – 18.7 points, 12.9 rebounds, 47.6 FG%, 74.7 FT%
7x All-Star, 1x NBA MVP, 2 NBA Championships, 2x NBA Final’s MVP, 1965 Rookie of the Year
Willis Reed was “The Captain” before Derek Jeter was even born. Reed proved to be a leader and a clutch performer throughout his career. As an undersized center, at 6’10”, Reed was able to bang with the best of them under the boards. Offensively, he showed a rare combination of power and finesse around the rim. This style of play led to many battles with Wilt Chamberlain and the Los Angeles Lakers. The first of these battles came in the best year of Willis Reed’s career; 1970. He was in the prime of his career, he won the regular season MVP, and was carrying his team through the playoffs. Then he got hurt. Up until that moment, Reed had dominated the first 4 games of the NBA Finals (averaging 31.75 points per game). What transpired next turned Reed into a living legend. Reed famously hobbled from the locker room during game 7 to score 4 of the most courageous points in NBA Final’s history.
6.) Moses Malone (Chairman of the Boards)
19 NBA Seasons – 20.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 49.1 FG%, 76.9 FT%
12x All-Star, 3x NBA MVP, 1 NBA Championship, 1x NBA Final’s MVP
In 1974, Moses Malone became the first player to be drafted to the NBA directly out of high school. After 2 seasons with the ABA, Malone transitioned to the NBA. Over the next 19 seasons, Malone proved to be one of the best scorers and rebounders the game has ever seen. Upon entering the league, Malone was an undersized 6’10”, 215 pounds, but that didn’t stop him from averaging 13.4 rebounds that year. When Malone retired in 1995, he ranked in the top 10 in points scored, rebounds, games played, minutes played, and free throws made.
5.) Hakeem Olajuwon (The Dream)
18 NBA Seasons – 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, 51.2 FG%, 71.2 FT%
12x All-Star, 1x NBA MVP, 2 NBA Championships, 2x NBA Final’s MVP, 2x Defensive Player of the Year
Here’s one #1 overall draft pick that lived up to the hype. Hakeem Olajuwon possessed a unique skillset that may never be seen again from a ‘true’ center. His smooth offensive game was a thing of beauty, while at the same time, he became the NBA’s most prolific shot blocker (he is still the career blocks leader in the NBA). He is also the only player in NBA history to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, NBA MVP award, win a championship, and be named the NBA Final’s MVP in the same season (1994). The only knock on Olajuwon is that he only won a championship when Michael Jordan was on hiatus from the NBA. Other than that side note, Hakeem The Dream was everything you’d wish for in a center.
4.) 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%
15x All-Star, 1x NBA MVP, 4 NBA Championships, 3x NBA Final’s MVP, 1993 Rookie of the Year
The Diesel. Enough said? Shaq was easily the most physically dominant force the NBA has ever seen. He was like an unstoppable wrecking ball that could only be slowed (or ‘hack a shaq’d’), but couldn’t be stopped. Watching Shaq play in his prime was something special. He showed an amazing amount of offensive skills for a man of his size. Also, his 58.2% shooting from the field is the third highest mark in NBA history. But most importantly, he may be the #1 interview of all time.
3.) Bill Russell (Bill)
13 NBA Seasons – 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 44 FG%, 56.1 FT%
12x All-Star, 5x NBA MVP, 11 NBA Championships
Bill Russell will always be known as the ultimate winner. He was part of the Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1950’s and 60’s that won 11 championships in 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 (ranking 2nd all time). It was 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 by my research, I believe he would have won 4 NBA Final’s MVPs. They also did not record blocks in Russell’s playing days, but it is said that Wilt and Russell would have had double digit blocks every night. In an era when Wilt Chamberlain was the NBA’s best player, it shows how impressive Bill Russell’s run of championships was. He continuously went head to head with Wilt Chamberlain and came out on top.
2.) 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%
19x All-Star, 6x NBA MVP, 6 NBA Championships, 6x NBA Finals MVP, 1970 Rookie of the Year
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the centerpiece of the Lakers championships in the 1980′s. He was part of all 5 of their championship titles in the 80′s, and also won a title with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1970’s. Kareem still holds the record for winning the most NBA MVP awards (6), while also remaining the NBA’s all time leading scorer. He was a true innovator to the game of basketball. During his career, he perfected an unstoppable move called the sky hook. Kareem was a star from the second he entered the league and was the runaway Rookie of the Year in 1970 (averaging 28.8 points and 14.4 rebounds). He was an outstanding all around player, showcasing his offensive and defensive skills throughout his 20 year career.
1.) Wilt Chamberlain (Wilt The Stilt)
14 NBA Seasons – 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 54 FG%, 51.1 FT%
13x All-Star, 4x NBA MVP, 2 NBA Championships, 1x NBA Finals MVP, 1960 Rookie of the Year
One of the most difficult decisions I had to make was Kareem vs. Wilt. It is difficult to definitively state who the best center in the history of the NBA is, but Wilt Chamberlain was one of the most dominant forces in NBA history. He famously holds the record for most points scored in a game (100), a record that I believe will NEVER be broken. During the 1961-62 season, Chamberlain averaged over 50 points for the entire season, another feat that will probably never happen again (he didn’t even win the NBA MVP that year!). It’s a shame that MVPs were usually given to a member of the championship team, because no one knows how many MVP’s Wilt would have won otherwise. Even with that obstacle, Wilt still managed to win 4 NBA MVP awards. The different era’s of the NBA vary greatly, but I if you put Wilt in today’s NBA, he would undoubtedly be the best center in the league (sorry Dwight). And, if all that isn’t impressive enough, Wilt led the NBA in total assists for an entire season!! Oh yeah, and Wilt just happens to be the NBA’s all time rebounding leader as well. These things make Wilt the greatest center to ever play in the NBA.
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One thought on “Top Ten NBA Centers of All-Time”
Not sure who number 10 was but it’s always great learning from you oh Master of Sportsdom!
Thanks again Mr. Reed even if you disagrees with your greatness!
Peace and Happy Thanksgiving ALL!
BTW – I miss ole J. Madden’s “turkey”!