50 Greatest NBA Players of All-Time: The Top 10
By: Marcus Ferro
Click on the name of the player to see a career highlight reel.
10. Oscar Robertson, PG/SG, Cincinnati Royals, Milwaukee Bucks
Years Active: 1960-1974
Stats: 25.7ppg, 7.5rpg, 9.5apg, 1.1spg
Best Individual Season: 1962, 30.8ppg, 12.5rpg, 11.4apg
Accolades and Achievements: NBA Champion (1971), MVP (1964), 11x All-NBA (1961-1971), 12x All-Star (1961-1972), 3x All-Star Game MVP (1961, 1964, 1969), Rookie of the Year (1961) Scoring Champion (1968), 7x Assists Leader (1961-1962, 1964-1969-1970) 1966, 3rd All-Time In Free-Throws, 10th All-Time in Scoring, 5th All-Time In Assists, 1st All-Time In Triple-Doubles, Olympic Gold Medalist (1960)
Nobody was as good at doing everything as Robertson was. He could score efficiently inside and outside, he could distribute the ball, and he could rebound with the best of them. Robertson is the only player to average a triple-double for a season and came close on four other occasions. Robertson recorded 181 triple-doubles throughout his career, which is the all-time leader by a margin of 43. It’s hard to believe that he has just one championship, which is what probably keeps him from contending for the title of G.O.A.T.
9. Bill Russell, C, Boston Celtics
Years Active: 1956-1969
Stats: 15.1ppg, 22.5rpg, 4.3apg
Best Individual Season: 1962, 18.9ppg, 23.6rpg, 4.5apg
Accolades and Achievements: 11x NBA Champion (1957, 1959-1966, 1968-1969), 5x MVP (1958, 1961-1963, 1965), 11x All-NBA (1958-1968), All-Defensive Team (1969) 12x All-Star (1958-1969)¸ All-Star Game MVP (1963) Olympic Gold Medalist (1956), 5x Rebounding Champion (1957-1959, 1963-1964), 2nd All-Time in Rebounds
He wasn’t a very proficient scorer, but Russell is often considered the greatest defender to ever play the game. His athleticism and intelligence gave him the ability to contest any shot and pull down boards with the biggest and best of that era, including a player a few notches higher on the list. Defense isn’t the only reason he is in the top 10. Russell is in the top 10 because he is a winner, and he won more than any other player. To this day Russell remains the only player to have more rings than fingers to put them on.
8. Tim Duncan, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs
Years Active: 1997-Present
Stats: 20.6ppg, 11.4rpg,3.1apg, 2.5bpg, .508fg%
Best Individual Season: 2002, 25.5ppg, 12.7rpg, 2.4bpg, .508fg%
Accolades and Achievements: 4x NBA Champion (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007), 3x Finals MVP (1999, 2003, 2005) MVP (2002-2003), 13x All-NBA (1998-2010), 13x All-Defensive Team (1998-2010), 13x All-Star (1998, 2000-2011), All-Star Game MVP (2000), Rookie of The Year (1998), Olympic Bronze Medalist (2004), 9th All-Time In Blocks,
Like Russell, Duncan was a winner. I would venture as far as to say Duncan is the Bill Russell of this generation. Duncan is one of the most consistent and fundamentally sound players of all-time. He made the All-NBA, and All-Defensive Team his first 13 season and he has been selected to play in every all-star game since his rookie season. The Spurs won at least 50 games every season since drafting Duncan back in 1997. Duncan dominated both ends of the floor without flash or finesse, just basic fundamentals.
7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, C, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers
Years Active: 1969-1989
Stats: 24.6ppg, 11.2rpg, 2.6bpg 3.6apg, .559fg%
Best Individual Season: 1976, 27.7ppg, 16.9rpg, 5apg, 1.5spg, 4.1bpg
Accolades and Achievements: 6x NBA Champion (1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988) 2x Finals MVP (1971, 1985) 6x MVP (1971-1972, 1974, 1976-1977, 1980), 15x All-NBA (1970-1974, 1976-1981, 1983-1986) 11x All-Defensive Team (1970-1971, 1974-1981, 1983, 1985), 19x All-Star, 1970-1977, 1979-1989) Rookie of the Year (1970), 3rd All-Time In Rebounds, 3rd All-Time In Blocks, 1st All-Time In Points
Kareem was the master of the most unblockable shot in basketball, the Sky-Hook. That deadly post maneuver brought him great fortune as Kareem remains the all-time leading scorer by a considerable margin. His offensive prowess is just one dimension to his game, Kareem was also an outstanding defender, leading the league in shot blocks multiple times and finishing third all-time in the category. On top of that, Jabbar has one of the most impressive trophy cases in all of basketball highlighted by a record six MVP awards.
6. Wilt Chamberlain, C, Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers
Years Active: 1959-1973
Stats: 30.1ppg, 22.9rpg, 4.4apg, .540fg%
Best Individual Season: 1962, 50.4ppg, 25.7rpg, 2.4apg, .506fg%
Accolades and Achievements: 2x NBA Champion (1967, 1972), Finals MVP (1972), 4x MVP (1960, 1966-1968), 10x All-NBA (1960-1968, 1972), 2x All-Defensive Team (1972-1973), 13x All-Star (1960-1969, 1971-1973), All-Star Game MVP (1960) Rookie of the Year (1960), 7x Scoring Champion (1960-1966) 11x Rebounding Champion (1960-1963, 1966-1969, 1971-1971-1973), 1st All-Time In Rebounds, 4th All-Time In Points
Wilt Chamberlain was a giant in the early NBA. Never has there been a player as statistically dominant. Some players single game career high is 50 points, Wilt averaged 50 in a season. During that very season Wilt set another unbreakable record, 100 points in a game. It’s tough to put a player like Chamberlain at 6 and I agree it was one of my more controversial rankings, but I had to take into account the era he played in. Many of the Centers he faced would be power forwards today and I couldn’t honestly say he was better than the five players I ranked ahead of him. Still, the dominance of Chamberlain changed the game forever.
5. Shaquille O’Neal, C, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics
Years Active: 1992-2011
Stats: 23.7ppg, 10.9rpg, 2.5apg, 2.3bpg, .582fg%
Best Individual Season: 2000, 29.7ppg, 13.6rpg, 3.8apg, 3bpg,.574 fg%
Accolades and Achievements: 4x NBA Champion (2000-2002, 2006) 3x Finals MVP (2000-2002), MVP (2000), 14x All-NBA (1994-2006, 2009), 3x All-Defensive Team (2000-2001, 2003), 15x All-Star (1993-1998, 2000-2007, 2009), 3x All-Star Game MVP (2000, 2004, 2009), Rookie of the Year (1993), 2x Scoring Champion (1995, 2000), Olympic Gold Medalist (1996), 7th All-Time In Blocks, 5th All-Time In Points
Yes, Shaq is the greatest center of all-time. Aside from a personality as large as his 7’1 330+ frame, Shaq’s athleticism and skill made him the game’s most physically dominant player. Shaq played and dominated at center during an era when the position had it’s greatest abundance of talent. The best example of Shaq’s dominance was during the 2001 playoffs when Shaq went through a gauntlet of big men that consisted of, Arvydas Sabonis, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, and Dekembe Motombo. Between these players there are over 30, All-Star, All-NBA, and All-Defensive Team selections, three MVPs, three Finals MVPs, five Defensive Player of the Year awards, six championships and at least three Hall of Famers. That’s a lineup that would bring the best of big-men to their knees, but not Shaq. He averaged 30-15 on his way to his second of three straight championships and Finals MVPs. He was truly the M.D.E. (Most Dominant Ever) and in his prime he would destroy any center past and present.
4. Larry Bird, SF, Boston Celtics
Years Active: 1979-1992
Stats: 24.3ppg, 10rpg, 6.3apg, 1.7spg, %, .886ft%
Best Individual Season: 1987, 28.7ppg, 10.5rpg, 6.6rpg, 1.6apg, 1.2bpg, 522fg, .882ft%
Accolades and Achievements: 3x NBA Champion (1981, 1984, 1986), 2x Finals MVP (1984, 1986), 3x MVP (1984-1986), 10x All-NBA (1980-1988, 1990), 3x All-Defensive Team (1982-1984), 12x All-Star (1980-1988, 1990-1992), All-Star Game MVP (1992), Rookie of the Year (1980), 3x Three-Point Shootout Champion (1986-1988), Olympic Gold Medalist (1992)
Bird showed us that you don’t have to be a world-class athlete to be a tremendous basketball player. Bird didn’t beat you with blazing speed or a sky-high vertical; he beat you with a high basketball IQ and a complete skill set. Bird is one of the best all-around players to play the game; he is the only 20-10-5 player ever. His lethal jumper made him one of the game’s most elite scorers, his toughness and boxing-out technique allowed him to be a double-double threat and he was one of the best passing forwards there ever was, always getting his teammates involved. Aside from his basketball prowess, Bird was a legendary trash talker, and he always backed it up. He would tell players exactly where he would get the ball and score, and then do it. His most notable trash talking was before the inaugural Three-Point Shootout of 1986. Bird said to the other contestants “I want all of you to know I am winning this thing. I’m just looking around to see who’s gonna finish up second.” He would go on to win the contest.
3. Magic Johnson, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Years Active: 1979-1991, 1996
Stats: 19.5ppg, 7.2rpg, 11.2apg, 1.9spg,
Best Individual Season: 1989, 22.5ppg, 7.9rpg, 12.8apg, 1.8spg, .509 fg%, .911ft%
Accolades and Achievements: 5x NBA Champion (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987-1988), 3x Finals MVP (1980, 1982, 1987), 3x MVP (1987, 1989-1990), 10x All-NBA (1982-1991), 12x NBA All-Star (1980, 1982-1992), 2x All-Star Game MVP (1990, 1992), 4x Assist Leader (1983-1984, 1986-1987), Olympic Gold Medalist (1992), 4th All-Time In Assists, 2nd All-Time In Triple-Doubles
Magic almost makes me wish I was born ten years earlier so I could have marveled at his abilities year in and year out. I couldn’t write enough about Magic to do his legacy justice. He could not only play positions 1-5, he could dominate them. His combination of size, court vision, ball handling and passing ability is almost ironic.. You don’t get to nine Finals and win five championship rings without a competitive spirit and Magic is also one of the most relentlessly competitive players there was. Magic was more than just a player. Like Shaq, Magic has remained of the most appreciated personalities in the game.
2. Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
Years Active: 1996-Present
Stats: 25.3ppg, 5.3rpg, 4.7apg, 1.5spg
Best Individual Season: 2006, 35.4ppg, 5.3rpg, 4.5apg, 1.8spg
Accolades and Achievements: 5x NBA Champion (2000-2002, 2009-2010), Finals MVP (2009-2010), MVP (2008), 13x All-NBA (1999-2011), 11x All-Defensive Team (2000-2004, 2006-2011), 13x All-Star (1998, 2000-2011), 4x All-Star Game MVP (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011), 2x Scoring Champion (2006-2007), Slam Dunk Champion (1997), 6th All-Time In Pointss, 6th All-Time In Free Throws, Olympic Gold Medalist (2008)
This will be my most controversial ranking, but I stand by it. Kobe has been the best player of the league’s most talented era to date and the Greatest Laker Ever. The idea that Kobe was a sidekick to Shaq during their three-peat is sheer folly. Kobe had equal or maybe even more cumulative responsibilities on those teams. From 2005-2007, Bryant lit the league on fire. During that stretch he did unprecedented things for this day and age such as outscoring the entire Dallas Mavericks throughout three quarters 61-62, dropping 50+ points five games in a row, and scoring 81 points, which the greatest scoring performance of all time. Yes, the era Kobe played and the skill it took for a 6’6 player to score 81 points makes it much more impressive Chamberlain’s 100 point game. He is one of the greatest perimeter defenders of all-time as well, becoming a staple in the all-defensive first team for the last decade and once finishing in the top 5 for DPOY. He has a complete game, with no flaw. Let’s not forget that he is a proven winner with one of the fiercest killer instincts the game has ever seen. Kobe will probably never be as good as or better than MJ. However, when that is being held against him it means that Kobe is closer to His Airness than anyone else has been and he the only player worthy of comparison. So naturally, the second G.O.A.T can be none other than Kobe Bean Bryant.
1. Michael Jordan , SG, Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards
Years Active: 1984-1993, 1995-1998, 2002-2003
Stats: 30.1ppg, 6.2rpg, 5.3apg, 2.3spg
Best Individual Season: 1989, 32.5ppg, 8rpg, 8apg, 2.9spg, .538fg%
Accolades and Achievements: 6x NBA Champion (1991-1993, 1996-1998) 6x Finals MVP (1991-1993, 1996-1998) 5x MVP (1988, 1991-1992, 1996-1998), Defensive Player of the Year (1988), 11x All-NBA (1985, 1987-1993, 1996-1998), 9x All-Defensive Team (1988-1993, 1996-1998), 14x All-Star (1985-1993, 1996-1998, 2002-2003), 3x All-Star Game MVP (1988, 1996, 1998), Rookie of the Year (1985) 10x Scoring Champion (1987-1993, 1996-1998), 2x Slam Dunk Champion (1987-1988), 4th All-Time In Free Throws, 2nd All-Time In Steals, 3rd All-Time In Points, 2x Olympic Gold Medalist (1984, 1992)
Ranking the all-time greats is almost entirely subjective. I respect the fact that other sports writers and basketball historians alike may have different rankings and would disagree with mine. However, if you don’t agree that Michael Jordan is unquestionably the greatest to ever play the game, you are wrong.