Upon Lebron James’ arrival to his 7th consecutive NBA Finals, I began brainstorming. If Lebron won the Finals (which no one in their right mind thought he would), where would he rank on the all-time list?? Lebron lost, however, his career accomplishments still rank amongst the greatest to ever play the game. Naturally, this leaves us with only 1 thing to do. Make a list of the top 10 NBA Players of All-Time. This list will consider everything these players have accomplished until present day. Since Lebron is still active, you must read this list as if the NBA were to cease to exist tomorrow. Do not take into account the potential for the rest of Lebron’s career, as that would create a bias. He’s not done climbing the list Lebron fans..relax.
Since the association became the NBA (National Basketball Association) in 1949, there have been a host of amazing players to grace the hardwood. However, a small group of living legends stand out from the rest. Why do they stand out?? What makes them the best?? It is a combination of their physical skills, ability to win, and intangibles (heart/leadership/will to win). I will take all of these factors into account. I will be looking at the complete makeup of each player and what made/makes them great.
Any list must start with honorable mentions. We must pay homage to the men just outside the top 10, for their contributions also brought the game to new levels.
- Oscar Robertson
- Hakeem Olajuwon
- Karl Malone
- Elgin Baylor
- Julius Erving
- Jerry West
Oscar Robertson not making the list was the toughest decision I made today. The “Big O”‘s numbers speak for themselves, as he is the all-time leader in triple-doubles (181). Hakeem is next on my tough decision list. There are only 10 spots!! It’s not my fault!! Hakeem “The Dream” had the smoothest skillset we’ve ever seen from the center position. Combine that with amazing shot-blocking ability, and you’re looking at a top 5 center of all-time. Elgin Baylor and Karl Malone fall into the same category, no championship..no list. Sorry. The “Mailman” is 2nd on the all-time scoring list thanks to his scoring ability and longevity (19 seasons), however he had the unfortunate pleasure of playing at the same time as Michael Jordan. Baylor was one of the most talented players you never saw play, however was also unfortunate to play against the likes of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Baylor made 8 NBA Finals appearances and came away empty handed. Julius Erving (“Dr. J”) could have made the list had he not played 5 seasons in the ABA. He was an innovator and should not be overlooked when discussing the history of the NBA. Jerry West IS the NBA logo. Enough said.
Now, without further a due, I present the top 10 NBA Players of All-Time:
10.) 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?? This nickname speaks for itself. Shaq was the most physically dominant force the NBA has ever seen. He was an unstoppable wrecking ball that could only be slowed (or fouled) but couldn’t be stopped. Watching Shaq, in his prime, was something special. For a man of his stature, he showed an amazing amount of offensive skills. He won a few games along the way too. He won 4 Championships, 1 MVP, and 3 Finals’ MVPs. It is no surprise he won Rookie of the Year in 1993. And who doesn’t want a strategy named after them (?)….’Hack A Shaq’.
9.) Bill Russell (Russ)
13 NBA Seasons – 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 44 FG%, 56.1 FT%
Bill Russell will always be the ultimate winner. He led the Boston Celtics teams of the 1950’s and 60’s to 11 Championships in 13 years. While he played with some great teammates over the years, he is regarded as the best defensive center of all-time (Wilt may have something to say about that). He is also one of the best rebounders ever. It was Russell’s intangibles though, such as leadership, that put him head and shoulders above the rest. During Russell’s era, they didn’t keep track of Finals’ MVPs, however, I can safely say he would have won 4 of them (I did my research..don’t worry). In a time where Wilt Chamberlain dominated the NBA statistically, it shows how impressive Bill Russell’s Championship tenure was.
8.) Tim Duncan (Timmy, The Big Fundamental)
19 NBA Seasons – 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 50.6 FG%, 69.6 FT%
Tim Duncan had (shhhh..very quietly) one of the most impressive careers in NBA history. He is without question the best power forward ever (sorry Karl). By they way, his nickname should be “The Bank”. Have you ever seen anyone shoot a better, more effective jump-shot off the backboard than Tim Duncan?? Without dominating the game physically, or landing on highlight reels, Tim Duncan did 1 thing better than most; win. He won 5 Championships, 2 MVPs, and 3 Finals’ MVPs. He also won the Rookie of the Year in 1998. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, “Timmy” was also one of the best defensive power forwards ever.
7.) Kobe Bryant (Black Mamba)
20 NBA Seasons – 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 44.7 FG%, 83.7 FT%
While there will only be one Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant came pretty close. Kobe emulated Jordan in as many ways as possible. That’s not a knock on Kobe, that’s just plain smart. Kobe was as talented a scorer as you’ll ever see, and was also one of the best on-ball defenders ever. Don’t forget, he jumped straight from high school to the NBA. The only other person on this list to do that is Lebron. Kobe was an assassin. His desire to win and cutthroat attitude was seemingly unparalleled. He liked to win, and did plenty of it. The “Black Mamba” won 5 Championships, 1 MVP (he deserved more), and 2 Finals’ MVPs.
6.) Larry Bird (Larry Legend, The Hick From French Lick)
13 NBA Seasons – 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 49.6 FG%, 88.6 FT%
Magic and Bird. The best rivalry in NBA history, and my personal favorite NBA era. Larry Bird is regarded as one the best shooters the NBA has ever seen (until Steph Curry that is, haha). Bird didn’t just shoot. He possessed a special all around skillset. He is the only player in NBA history to hold career averages of more than 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. He was also an extremely underrated defender, as his anticipation on the court was unmatched. Just like Magic, his career was cut short. Bird dealt with chronic back problems late in his career (he still averaged over 20 points per game in the last season of his career). His heart and competitive spirit willed his team to victory time and time again. Bird won 3 Championships, 3 MVPs, and 2 Finals’ MVPs. He also won Rookie of the Year in 1980.
5.) Lebron James (King James)
14 NBA Seasons (Active) – 27.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 50.1 FG%, 74.0 FT%
Lebron James entered the NBA straight out of high school. The level of expectations put on his shoulders as a teenager was unparalleled. To say Lebron has simply exceeded expectations would be the understatement of the century. He is one of the most complete players..ever. He can do it all. If he wanted to lead the league in assists, he would. Rebounds, he would. Points, well I think you get the point. He just became the 1st player in NBA history to average a triple-double in the Finals. I don’t have enough paper real estate to list all of his accomplishments, so let’s understand his work in this league is far from done. Lebron has won 3 Championships, 4 MVPs, and 3 Finals’ MVPs. He also has the 2004 Rookie of the Year Award floating around somewhere. Stay tuned….
4.) Wilt Chamberlain (Wilt The Stilt)
14 NBA Seasons – 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 54.0 FG%, 51.1 FT%
The best center of all-time?? Kareem or Wilt?? It is nearly impossible to definitively answer this question. Wilt Chamberlain was the most dominant force in NBA history. He famously holds the record for most points scored in one game (100), a record I doubt will EVER be broken. Another record that will NEVER be broken: Chamberlain averaged over 50 points in a season (and didn’t even win the NBA MVP – yeah the NBA knows what it’s doing). Oh yeah, Wilt didn’t like being told he couldn’t do something. When the buzz around the league was Wilt was a ball hog, he led the league in assists the following season. It’s a shame in Wilt’s era MVP’s were given to a player on the championship team, because no one knows how many MVP’s Wilt could have won. Even with that obstacle, he still managed to win 4 MVP awards, 2 NBA Championships, and 1 Finals MVP. Wilt was also one of those players who burst right on to the scene, winning the Rookie of the Year in 1960. Wilt was a transcendent talent. If you dropped him in the NBA right now, I’d bet good money he’d still be the best center in the league.
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 of the Lakers Championships of the 1980’s. He was part of their 5 Championships in the 80’s. He also won a Championship with the Milwaukee Bucks prior to playing with the Lakers. He was a true innovator. He perfected an unstoppable move, the sky hook, which helped him become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Kareem was a star from the second he entered the league and was named Rookie of the Year in 1970 (averaging 28.8 points and 14.4 rebounds). Of the long list of Kareem’s accolades, I find a center shooting over 72% from the free-throw line highly impressive. He was an outstanding all around player, showcasing offensive and defensive skills throughout his 20-year career. Kareem won 6 Championships, was MVP a record breaking 6 times, and won 2 Finals’ MVPs.
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 revolutionized the point guard position. Standing 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 the Lakers got the better of that rivalry. He brought power forward size and strength to the point guard position (and even played center in the 1980 NBA Finals). He is second all-time (to Oscar Robertson) in career triple-doubles (138). It is a tragedy Magic’s career was cut short due to his battle with HIV. Magic won 5 championships, 3 MVPs, and 3 Finals’ MVPs. Just like Michael Jordan, one can only imagine the potential accomplishments 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 was a one-time Defensive Player of the Year and regarded as the best defender at his position in NBA history. One of his most impressive feats is his perfect 6 for 6 record in the Finals. In each of those finals, he NEVER allowed a 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 Jordan retired TWICE, in his prime, which caused him to miss nearly five full seasons. 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 MVPs and 2 more Championships. He won 6 NBA Championships, 5 MVP’s, and 6 Finals’ MVPs. Jordan won Rookie of the Year in 1985. All others can strive to Be Like Mike, but there will always be 1 Michael Jordan.
What do you think of my list?? Like it, love it, or hate it?? Either way, get your feelings off your chest in the comment section below. I’ll also be looking for your list, so make sure to post it in the comments as well.
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