This article was something that I have always wanted to do as a huge basketball fan. My brothers and I constantly have arguments about basketball, and one of our biggest arguments have always been on the best basketball players of all time. Now, I know you will not agree with everything I say, but I'm going to give you my top ten basketball players of all time.
10. Hakeem Olajuwon
Houston Rockets C
Career Averages: 21.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 1.7 APG, 3.1 BPG, 1.7 SPG, 51.2% FG, 71.2% FT
Career Accolades: 12-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA Team member, 9-time All-Defensive Team member, 2-time Defensive Player of the Year, 2-time Champion, 2-time Finals MVP, MVP (93-94), and Hall of Famer
Greatest Season: 1993-94 27.3 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, 3.7 BPG, 1.6 APG, 52.8% FG, 71.6% FT
Greatest Playoff Performance: 1993-94 28.9 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 4.3 APG, 4.0 BPG, and 1.7 SPG
Arguably the greatest defensive center this side of Bill Russell, Hakeem Olajuwon picked up the game of basketball at the age of seventeen. He was the number two pick in the draft and would’ve been the best basketball player in his draft had it not been for another player on this list.
He was the best center of his generation, besting even David Robinson and Patrick Ewing. While Shaq was probably more dominant and averaged more points, “the Dream” took the defensive center position to new heights with his speed and athleticism. Olajuwon is the only player with 3,000 blocks and over 2,000 steals, making him the only player in the top-ten in both. He was a big man who could face up, and dominant on the block.
Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas once said when they scouted him: “He’s two people. We got Hakeem who give you the shake, and I got to guard Olajuwon on the block.”
Olajuwon also had one of the greatest moves in NBA history, coined “The Dream Shake.” Up above is his most famous one against David Robinson.
9. Wilt Chamberlain
Philadelphia and San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, and Los Angeles Lakers C
Career Averages: 30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG, 54.0% FG, 51.1% FT
Career Accolades: 13 Time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA Team member, 2-time All-Defensive Team member, 2-time NBA Champion, 1-time NBA Finals MVP, 1959-60 Rookie of the Year and All-Star Game MVP, 4-time MVP, 5th All-time Leading Scorer, Hall of Famer
Greatest Season: 1961-62 50.4 PPG, 25.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 52.8% FG, 61.3%
Greatest Playoff Performance: 1966-67 21.7 PPG, 29.1 RPG, 9.0 APG, 57.9% FT, 38.8% FT
When it comes to stat sheet stuffing, there is no player who has done it better than Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt Chamberlain’s 1961-62 is probably the greatest statistical season in NBA history. To average 50 points and 29 rebounds in a game is ridiculous. This was also the season he scored 100 points in the game. He is also the number one rebounder in NBA history and has pulled down the most rebounds in a game, coming in at 55.
On one side note, he also leads the league in assists one year. So why is Wilt Chamberlain so low? For all of his statistical success, it never really translated to team success. So while he is definitely a top ten player, I wouldn't necessarily catapult him to the top. His coach against the Boston Celtics in 1969-70 Finals benched him down the stretch in Game 7. It's unconscionable for me to believe a player of his talent would be able to do that, but unfortunately, it's true.
8. Kobe Bryant
Los Angeles Lakers SG
Career Averages: 25.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 44.7% FG, 83.7% FT, 32.9% 3FG
Career Accolades: 18-time All-Star, 15-All NBA Team member, 12-time All-Defensive Team member, 4-time All-Star Game MVP, 2007-08 MVP, 5-time champion, 2-time Finals MVP, 3rd All-time Leading Scorer
Greatest Season: 2005-06 35.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.4 RPG, 45.0% FG, 85% FT, 34.7% 3FG
Greatest Playoff Performance: 2008-09 30.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.5 APG, 45.7% FG, 88.3% FT, 35% 3FG
Kobe Bryant is my favorite basketball player of all time and that will never change. He desperately wanted to be Michael Jordan, more so than anyone else, and he came so close– but in reality, his greatness lies in that competitive desire to win. He was the best scorer of his generation, as evidenced by him scoring sixty points in his final game, but we always knew Kobe was a gunner. A man who scored eighty-one points in one game. A person who wanted to win on his terms and if he couldn’t, then he probably wasn’t going to win at all.
His greatest game was to me was Game 7 in the 2010 Finals against Boston, when he had 23 points and 15 rebounds. This was when he finally realized that he couldn’t do it by himself and he allowed Metta Word Peace, and more importantly Pau Gasol, to carry him to the championship.
Mr. Bryant is the only guard to have a twenty-year career pushing the limits of what a guard can do in the NBA. This future Hall of Famer is the second greatest shooting guard and the third best guard ever. There was no shame in shooting to be Jordan especially when you have the career he had.
7. Larry Bird
Boston Celtics SF
Career Averages: 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 49.6% FG, 88.6 FT%, 37.6% 3FG
Career Accolades: 12-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA Team member, 3-time All-Defensive Team member, 1981-82 All-Star MVP, 1979-80 Rookie of the Year, 3-time NBA Champion, 2-time Finals MVP, 3-time MVP, and Hall of Famer
Greatest Season: 1984-85 28.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 52.2% FG, 88.2% FT, 42.7% 3FG
Greatest Playoff Performance: 1985-86 25.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 8.2 APG, 2.1 SPG, 51.7% FG, 92.7% FT, 41.1% 3 FG
Larry Bird is a BAD man! In terms of complete basketball players, there is no one outside of LeBron James and Michael Jordan that was more of a complete basketball player. Before LeBron James, Larry Bird was the greatest forward who ever lived– there wasn't even a close contender. There are only three players who have won three straight MVPs: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird.
He came in as the “Great White Hope," and many players thought he was overrated. They quickly found out that he was one of the greatest players who ever lived. To hear old basketball players talk about Larry Bird, you would think they were talking about MJ. Injuries were the only reasons that held Larry Bird back from a longer career. But his brilliance over his 13-year career was as good as anybody who has ever played in this league.
6. Tim Duncan
PF/C San Antonio Spurs
Career Averages: 19.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.2 BPG, 50.6% FG, 69.6% FT
Career Accolades: 15-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA Team member, 15-time All-Defensive Team member, 1997-98 Rookie of the Year, 1999-00 All-Star MVP, 5-time Champion, 3-time Finals MVP, and 2-time MVP
Greatest Season: 2001-02 25.5 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 2.5 BPG, 50.8% FG, 79.9% FT
Greatest Playoff Performance: 2002-03 24.7 PPG, 15.7 RPG, 5.3 APG, 3.3 BPG, 52.9% FG, 67% FT
If there were one word to describe Tim Duncan, it would be consistency. Who knew a man born from the Virgin Islands, who went to Wake Forest would be the greatest player of a generation? He is a silent killer, a man who conquered Shaq and Kobe, the re-incarnated Bad Boy Pistons, LeBron James and the Big Three in Miami. When I looked up his career stats, he was almost scary consistent. Watching Tim Duncan play, it was almost like watching basketball at its purest. Getting on the block turning over the right shoulder, turning over the left shoulder and shooting a jump hook. His face up game was unstoppable. Tim Duncan team’s won over 50 games every single year, except for the 1999-00-lockout year. He is cut from the same cloth as Bill Russell: consistent, competitive, and a winner. That’s all you can ask for. Tim Duncan is the greatest player of a generation including Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kobe Bryant. I’ll take his career and his production over 95% of the players that have ever played in the NBA.
5. Magic Johnson
Los Angeles Lakers PG
Career Averages: 19.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 11.2 APG, 1.9 SPG, 52% FG, 84.8% FT, 30.3% 3FG
Career Accolades: 12-time All-Star, 10-time All NBA Team member, 2-time All-Star MVP, 5-time NBA Champion, 3-time Finals MVP, 3-time MVP, Hall of Famer
Greatest Season: 1986-87 23.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 12.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 52.2% FG, 84.8% FT, MVP
Greatest Playoff Performance: 1986-87 21.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 12.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 53.9% FG, 83.1% FT
Magic. The greatest Laker of all time. He and Larry Bird were the ones who established the league– but Magic was global. His smile was electric and his play was like lightning. From the time he entered the league in 1979, he was a winner. He ran the greatest offense, Lakers Showtime, in NBA history, better than 7 Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns and better than the Golden State Warriors today.
Magic was a conductor. He knew every note to play, every button to push, each beat to orchestrate. He was a real maestro; I could watch highlights of his passes for hours. But most importantly, his activism for AIDS is so significant and deserves commemoration. Even though I hadn't been born yet, many people who have had told me that it was one of the most controversial events of their lifetime. His experiences with the illness was an inspiration to many around the world, and his philanthropy has improved the lives of much of the black and LGBT community.
Magic made the greatest clutch shot that I had ever seen. The only shots that have the same type of pressure as his junior sky hook in Game 6 in the Boston Garden were Jordan's Last Shot Game 6 versus the Jazz and Ray Allen game: tying 3 against the Spurs.
4. Bill Russell
Boston Celtics C
Career Averages: 15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 AP, 44.0% FG, 56.1% FT
Career Accolades: 12-time All-Star, 11-time All NBA Team member, 1968-69 All-Defensive Team member, 1962-63 All-Star game MVP, 11-time Champion, 5-time MVP, Hall of Famer
Greatest Season: 1961-62 18.9 PPG, 23.6 RPG, 4.5 APG, 45.7% FG, 59.5% FT
Greatest Playoff Performance: 1961-62 22.4 PPG, 26.4 RPG, 5.0 APG 45.8% FG, 72.6% FT
The goal of any game is to win. Yes, stats do matter, but winning is the penultimate barometer of greatness. Why is Bill Russell this high? He is the greatest winner in NBA history. There is no one who matched his leadership, consistency, and desire for winning. The complete antithesis of Wilt Chamberlain: unselfish and committed to the team concept. It is said that Bill Russell puked before every game because he wanted to get all his nerves out to focus on the game. But my favorite Bill Russell story is during the 1969-70 Finals against the heavily favored Lakers. The Celtics battled back from a 3-1 lead to a pivotal Game 7. The owner of the Lakers had balloons in the rafters to celebrate a supposed Lakers victory, and Bill Russell said,“I was the coach and I said to my players, It may be a better show to watch them take those balloons down one at a time.” Just to show his passion watch this video up above.
3. LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat SF
Career Averages: 27.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.7 SPG, 50% FG, 74.2% FT, 34.2% 3FG
Career Accolades: 14-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA Team member, 6-time All-Defensive Team member, 2003-04 Rookie of the Year, 2-time All-Star MVP, 3-time NBA Champion, 3-time Finals MVP, 4-time MVP
Greatest Season: 2012-13 27.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 56.5% FG, 75.3% FT, 40.6% 3FG
Great Playoff Performance: 2011-12 30.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 5.6 APG 54.9% FG, 73.9% FT, 25.9% 3FG
I have been a LeBron critic for a long time, but I know greatness when I see it. As a Kobe fan I have religiously defended Kobe against LeBron and have torn down literally every argument between the two, but I can do it no longer. When he took his team back from a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors this past season, he is beyond scrutiny in my eyes. LeBron has achieved something very few people do: exceed astronomical expectations.
15 years ago, he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “The Chosen One.” For someone to have these expectations and to meet them is legendary enough, but LeBron has become “The Chosen One.” The greatest performance I have ever seen in my life was his Game 6 versus the Boston Celtics in 2011-12 playoffs. His legacy was as good as done. Nobody outside of Miami believed they would win that series. He responded with a 45 point, 15 rebound performance for the ages. I had never seen a man annihilate a team like he did that night. They were powerless to stop him as if had murdered their will. Kobe may have done that in the regular season, but LeBron did it in the playoffs. It saved his legacy and began the process of him gaining my ultimate respect.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers C
Career Averages: 24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.6APG, 2.6 BPG, 55.9% FG, 72.1% FT
Career Accolades: 19-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA Team member, 11-time All-Defensive Team member, 1969-70 Rookie of the Year, 6-time NBA Champion, 2-time Finals MVP, 6-time MVP, All-time Leading Scorer, Hall of Famer
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the statistical argument for the greatest player with over 38,000 points and 17,000 rebounds. He has won six MVPs and six championships, as well as a Finals MVP in 1971 and again in 1985. He is the league’s all-time leading scorer and he only averaged 30 points or more four times. He was the greatest player in an era occupied by Old Wilt, Artis Gilmore, Bill Walton, Jon Havlicek, and Julius Erving– so how was he able to do this?
He had the most unstoppable shot in NBA history: the sky hook. The shot, formed after the stupid rule named after him that made it illegal to dunk in the college game, was indefensible and simple. It prolonged his game and his career because he didn’t need athleticism and he was always accountable.
Kareem was also clutch. He hit a game-winner in Game 6 of the 1974 Finals versus the Boston Celtics that is the stuff of legend. He wasn’t the flashiest player or the most open player; instead, Kareem was cerebral, consistent, and unstoppable.
1. Michael Jordan
Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards SG
Career Averages: 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG 2.3 SPG, 49.7% FG, 83.5% FT, 32.7% 3FG
Career Accolades: 14-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA Team member, 9-time All-Defensive Team member, 1984-85 Rookie of the Year, 1987-88 Defensive Player of the Year, 3-time All-Star MVP, 6-time NBA champion, 6-time Finals MVP, 5-time MVP, Hall-of-Famer
Greatest Season: 1988-89 32.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 8.0 APG, 2.9 SPG, 53.8% FG, 85.0% FT, 27.6% 3FG
Greatest Playoff Performance: 1990-91 31.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 8.4 APG, 2.4 SPG, 52.4% FG, 84.5% FT, 38.5% 3FG
Perfection. Michael Jeffery Jordan was the closest to perfect player that basketball ever got. From 1984-1998, Jordan averaged less than 30 points three times: his rookie year, his injury-filled second year, and the comeback from his first retirement. We primarily look at his scoring, but he was a complete player. He played fantastic defense, he was an underrated passer, a good rebounder for his position, and he shot well with the exception of his shots from the three-point line.
MJ performed some of the greatest athletic feats that have ever been seen in any sport. But it isn’t the stats that justify his greatness: it was the will to win at any costs that puts him at number one. There are so many stories about how he talked trash to coaches, teammates, and opponents alike. His fire and drive to be the best was the stuff of legend among the legends.
His best accomplishment is 6 for 6 in the NBA Finals. We value perfection, especially on the highest of levels of competition. He was a global icon, a man who took stardom to levels never seen. He has enabled both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to do what they have done outside the basketball court. And as the commercial says, everyone wants to be Like Mike.
All stats coming from http://basketball-reference.com.