Top 10 NBA Players Ever

Updated on February 5, 2020
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I'm a lifelong sports fan. I grew up watching the Browns, Cavs, and Indians. I know winning and losing, and that stats tell all. Argue on!

Who is the Best Basketball Player Ever?

The NBA has been around since 1946 and in that time we have witnessed some of the greatest athletes of all time duke it out on the court. There have been different styles of play that crossed over several different eras. Today, shooters dominate the sport, but only a few decades ago the center position ran the game. We've seen defensive dominance, sharpshooting snipers from 3, crafty slashers, and all-around godlike athletes. With all of these varying skills, differences in play style, and levels of athleticism, skill, and coaching, it's hard to determine who the best single-player of all time is. Arguments can be made for players like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Bill Russell, and all could be thought to be great for different reasons. When looking at the entire picture we must look at stats, accolades, what the era gave at the time, and what strengths and weaknesses each player had in order to determine who was truly the greatest. This article will cover my top ten players who I believe are the greatest to ever play.

The Black Mamba
The Black Mamba

10. Kobe Bryant

Kobe "The Black Mamba" Bryant defined the 2000s. He was drafted directly out of high school in the 1996 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th overall pick. The Los Angeles Lakers had worked out a deal the day prior to obtain the pick from the Hornets, instructing them to take Bryant for them. He never played a game for the Hornets, and immediately was traded to the Lakers, signing a $3.5 million rookie contract.

He was an all-time great scorer with a killer instinct that struck fear in his opponents. Bryant earned his nickname, being as deadly on the court as the venomous snake he donned the name of. He played in the NBA for 20 years, winning 5 championships along the way, including 3 in a row. To this day, Bryant remains one of the most cold-blooded shooters of all time, making 17 game-winning shots in his career and another 7 game-tying shots that led to victories in overtime.

Kobe Bryant is known for his incredible athleticism and clutch shots. You can find highlight tapes of vicious dunks and game-winners with no time left on the clock. What can't be seen on a highlight reel is the laser focus and mental strength he possessed. Kobe is well-versed in many languages, including English, Spanish, and Italian fluently. Kobe is famously known for learning French so he could trash-talk Tony Parker, and was recently heckling Luka Doncic from the sideline in his native tongue of Slovenian. Bryant's mind was as dangerous as his physical skills any given game during his career.

Kobe Bryant's Greatest Moments

  • On January 22, 2006, Kobe Bryant had the greatest game of his career when he scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. His 81 points are second all-time only to Wilt Chamberlain's 100. After trailing by 18 points in the third quarter, Kobe helped lead the Lakers back by shooting 28 of 46, going 7 of 13 from 3-point range. He also hit 18 of 20 free throws in the game. The Lakers won the game 122–104.
  • On March 7, 2010, Kobe faced off against Matt Barnes and the Orlando Magic. In the third quarter, Barnes had the ball, looking to inbound the ball from the baseline with Kobe standing in front of him. As Barnes looked for an open man he quickly faked a pass directly towards Kobe's face. Even though the ball was within an inch of Kobe's nose, he didn't even blink. Kobe continued staring directly at Barnes as if nothing happened and the legend of his mental toughness carried on.
  • April 12, 2013, is one of the greatest, and saddest moments of Kobe's career. Despite it being the beginning of the end of his career, it was a defining moment that personified exactly who "The Mamba" was. With just over three minutes remaining in the game, Kobe turned to drive towards the basket and popped his Achilles tendon as he was fouled. After remaining on the floor for about a minute, and realizing the extent of his injury and the fact that his season was over, Kobe walked to the free-throw line and drained both of his shots. The Lakers went on to win the game by two points and the legend of the Mamba's greatness and ice-cold focus was solidified once again.

Accolades

  • 1996-1997 All-Rookie selection
  • 18x All-Star selection (2nd all-time)
  • 15x All-NBA selection (tied for 1st all-time)
  • 12x All-Defensive selection
  • 2x Scoring Champion
  • 2007-2008 Most Valuable Player
  • 5x NBA Champion
  • 2x NBA Finals MVP

Remembering Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant died tragically alongside his daughter Gianna on January 26th, 2020 in a helicopter crash. His memory will live on forever in our hearts. The world will never forget the Mamba.

Kobe Bryant Stats

 
Points
FG%
3pt FG%
Assists
Rebounds
Steals
Blocks
Career
25.0
44.7%
32.9%
4.7
5.2
1.4
.5
Playoffs
25.6
44.8%
33.1%
4.7
5.1
1.4
.7
Finals
25.1
41.6%
32.1%
5.1
5.6
1.7
.9
The Dream
The Dream

9. Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon is one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history. He was born in Lagos, Nigeria, where he began his basketball career before he traveled to the United States to play for the University of Houston. Despite never playing basketball until the age of 15, he dominated wherever he played. During his time in college, he took the Houston Couguars to three Final Four appearances in the NCAA Division One National Tournament. In 1984, the Houston Rockets selected Olajuwon with the first overall pick, selecting him above other greats like Michael Jordan, John Stockton, and Charles Barkley.

Olajuwon went on to become one of the most powerful forces in the NBA. He was an incredible rebounder and defensively he was entirely unmatched. Olajuwon led the league in rebounds twice and led in blocked shots three times. In fact, he still leads the all-time list for blocked shots in the NBA by over 500 blocks, with a total of 3,830. This incredible feat led to him being a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Olajuwon wasn't just a defensive force though, he was also great on the offensive end. He also averaged 21.1 points per game for his career. He was also a winner, winning two NBA championships during his career and being the Finals MVP in both. There's great speculation as to whether he would have won those rings if Michael Jordan hadn't retired, but there are also rumors that Jordan retired in order to avoid Olajuwon to keep his finals record perfect. Regardless, Olajuwon was one of the greatest defenders and big men in league history. Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to win the League MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP awards all in the same season.

Hakeem Olajuwon's Greatest Moments

  • During the 93–94 NBA Finals, Olajuwon had to face Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing in order to win his first ring. Ewing was considered one of the best centers in the league and was going to be the toughest matchup Olajuwon had seen yet. He dismantled Ewing and the Knicks. Olajuwon outscored Ewing by 57 total points when the 7 game series ended. Aside from that, he also held Ewing to only shooting 18.9 points per game with a field goal percentage of only 36.4%. Olajuwon went on to win the Finals MVP award for his dominant play.
  • The year after Olajuwon's first ring was rough. The Rockets had only won 42 games and went into the playoffs as underdogs, sitting as the sixth seed. Despite this, Olajuwon was able to overcome the adversity and met the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs had the best record of the year, 62–20, and they had the current League MVP in David Robinson. Olajuwon dominated once again in incredible fashion. He led the Rockets to win the series in six games, averaging 35.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.3 steals, and an incredible 4.2 blocks per game. He held Robinson to only 23.8 points per game on 45% shooting.
  • The 1995 Finals came and Olajuwon had a chance to repeat as an NBA champion. A young Shaquille O'Neil and the Orlando Magic stood in his way. Shaq was a known his for absolutely bullying form of play, and while Olajuwon had a hard time stopping him, he made it just as hard on Shaq to stop him in return. Olajuwon outscoring Shaq in every single game of the Finals. He never scored less than 30 points in a game. Olajuwon went on to win his second ring and was the Finals MVP once again.

During the three games listed above, Olajuwon dominated three of the greatest centers to ever play basketball. In fact, in the 17 total games he played described above, Olajuwon wasn't outscored by Ewing, Robinson, or Shaq even once. It was the peak of excellence in his career and we've yet to see anything like it since.

Accolades

  • 1984-1985 All-Rookie selection
  • 12x All-Star selection
  • 12x All-NBA selection
  • 9x All-Defensive selection
  • 2x Total Rebound league leader
  • 3x Blocked Shot league leader
  • 2x Defensive Player of the Year
  • 1993-1994 League MVP
  • 2x NBA Champion
  • 2x NBA Finals MVP
  • Hall of Famer

Hakeem Olajuwon Stats

 
Points
FG%
Assists
Rebounds
Steals
Blocks
Career
21.8
51.2%
2.5
11.1
1.7
3.1
Playoffs
25.9
52.8%
3.2
11.2
1.7
3.3
Finals
29.8
47.4%
4.5
10.3
1.8
2.95
Mr. 11 Rings
Mr. 11 Rings

8. Bill Russell

Bill Russell currently has the most championships in NBA history with 11. In fact, he only failed to win a championship in 2 of his 13 seasons in the NBA. Russell also won at other levels, winning the NCAA Championship twice in 1955 and 1956. He also won a gold medal for the USA in the 1956 Summer Olympics. Russell is mostly known for his rings, but he should be known as one of the greatest rebounders and defensive men in NBA history.

While Russell wasn't the main focus of the dynasty Celtics, he was still more than impactful in other ways. Russell rebounded better than anyone, leading the league in rebounds 5 times, and averaging over 20 rebounds a game 10 times in his 13-year career. Russell is one of seven players to ever win an NCAA championship, an NBA Championship, and an Olympic gold medal.

Russell also helped to bridge the gap for the color barrier in the United States. While he wasn't the first black player to play basketball, he was the first to become a superstar level player. He also was a players-coach for the Celtics near the end of his career, making him the first black coach in the NBA and the first black coach to win a championship.

While the NBA didn't record blocks as a statistic until the '70s, it's believed that Russell is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, shot blocker of all time. There are various newspaper reports that record Russell blocking as many as 17 shots in a single game, often earning triple-doubles by way of points, rebounds, and blocks! It's unknown exactly how many shots Russell blocked in his career, but it's safe to say that he blocked at least six shots a game, and that's on the lower end of the spectrum. In fact, with a culmination of fans who independently searched for the answer, an unofficial list claims Russell averaged 8.1 blocks per game in his career.

Bill Russell's Greatest Moments

  • Game 7, 1962. Bill Russell and the Celtics faced the Los Angeles Lakers in a tough series. At one point the Lakers led the series 3–2, but the Celtics didn't quit. In the final game of the series, Russell led the Celtics to overcome the Lakers, winning his fourth ring in a row. Russell had 30 points and 40 rebounds in game 7, completely taking over and annihilating the Lakers himself.
  • While not in the NBA, Russell had an incredible feat during college when he led the San Francisco Dons to their second NCAA Championship in a row. On March 24th, 1956, Russell led his team to defeat Iowa 83–71. He did what no one had done before, he recorded a double-triple-double. Russell scored 26 points, had 27 rebounds, and 20 blocked shots. Unfortunately, this would go down unofficially because blocked shots weren't considered a recorded stat at the time. Still, it was one of the most dominant performances of all time.

Accolades

  • 12x All-Star selection
  • 11x All-NBA selection
  • 1968–1969 All-Defensive selection
  • 4x Total Rebound league leader
  • 5x League MVP
  • 11x NBA Champion
  • Hall of Famer

Bill Russell Stats

 
Points
FG%
Assists
Rebounds
Steals
Blocks
Career
15.1
44%
4.3
22.5
N/A
N/A
Playoffs
16.2
43%
4.7
24.9
N/A
N/A
Finals
16.5
47.1%
4.5
25.1
N/A
N/A
Both steals and blocks were not officially recorded during the games Russell played.
The Big Fundamental
The Big Fundamental

7. Tim Duncan

Tim "The Big Fundamental" Duncan is the greatest power forward to ever play in NBA history. He was selected first overall by the San Antonio Spurs in 1997 and would play his entire 19-year career with the Spurs. Duncan wasn't a flashy player but was incredibly efficient both offensively and defensively. With the guidance of coach Gregg Popovich, Duncan was able to be the head of a dynasty that lasted nearly two decades. During his career, he won five championships over elite players such as LeBron James twice, Ben Wallace, Jason Kidd, and others.

Duncan was known for being efficient, but his defensive skills are what truly made him a remarkable player. To this day he is ranked third all-time in NBA defensive efficiency. Even though he never won a Defensive Player of the Year award, he was a 15-time All-Defensive selection and a 2-time MVP. Duncan was able to play a solid fundamental form of basketball, making the right passes and plays, to win games with players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili who would be relative unknowns if not for the success they had while being led by Duncan.

Duncan isn't a flashy player by any means, which is why I believe he falls down many all-time lists. He never was about the money or jewelry, he was simply about winning. Duncan can still be found wearing his flannel shirts and bad-fitting jeans even after retirement. Though he doesn't have a crazy shoe deal or a million commercials, it can't be argued that Duncan is one of the greatest players to ever step on a court.

Tim Duncan's Greatest Moments

  • During Game 6 of the 2003 Finals against the Nets, Duncan did what is so rarely done. While his official stat line claims he scored 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, and 8 blocks, videos and analysts alike both show differently. During the game, Duncan is clearly seen with 10 blocks for the game, with two not being counted for reasons unknown. Regardless of the official record, it's very clear that Duncan had a quadruple-double in the Finals. Only four have ever been officially recorded, but we all know it should be five.
  • In 2007 in a game against the Dallas Mavericks, Duncan received a technical foul from referee Joey Crawford while sitting on the bench. To this day, we don't know exactly what the reasoning was for the first foul call, but what came after is absolutely bizarre. The Mavericks missed their free throw shot as a result of the foul call, and Duncan began to laugh with his teammates on the bench. Crawford immediately issued a second technical foul on Duncan, which resulted in his immediate ejection from the game. The moment led to many fans hate of Crawford, who seemed to want to be bigger than the game. It also led to moments such as when Duncan and Tony Parker dressed up for Halloween, pointing guns at a first dressed up as Crawford.
  • Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals is most iconically known for Ray Allen's incredible buzzer-beating shot to tie the game and save Miami's championship hopes. However, had that shot not stolen Duncan's thunder, it would have been remembered for his incredible performance. All night long, Duncan destroyed Chris Bosh. He had 30 points on 62% shooting along with 17 rebounds. In a game that should have given him his fifth ring, Duncan was unstoppable. Instead, he had to wait another year before earning his final ring.

Accolades

  • 1997-1998 Rookie of the Year
  • 15x All-Star selection
  • 15x All-NBA selection
  • 15x All-Defensive selection
  • 2x League MVP
  • 5x NBA Champion
  • 3x Finals MVP

Tim Duncan Stats

 
Points
FG%
Assists
Rebounds
Steals
Blocks
Career
19
50%
3
10.8
.7
2.2
Playoffs
20.6
50.1%
3
11.4
.7
2.3
Finals
20.8
49.2%
2.8
13.1
.8
2.3
Magic
Magic

6. Earvin Johnson Jr.

Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. was one of the pillars of the NBA during the '80s. He was drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1979 draft. The same year he was drafted, Magic won the Rookie of the Year award and won the NBA championship. He was also the Finals MVP that year. As a point guard, it was his job to run the offense, and he did it to perfection, leading the league in assists four times during his career.

Magic began his winning ways in college when he took the Michigan State Spartans to the NCAA Championship to face off, for the first time, against his career rival Larry Bird. Magic was able to overcome Bird, winning the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four. Their rivalry would continue into the NBA, where Magic and Bird faced off in the Finals three times. Magic and the Lakers came out on top twice.

Magic and the Lakers were part of the greatest dynasty the Lakers have ever had. They became known as the "Showtime Lakers" due to their fast-paced, run and gun style offense. With Magic's passing abilities and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's scoring skills, the Lakers and Magic were able to win five rings while appearing in the Finals nine times.

Magic's career was absolutely outstanding. Even though he won five championships during his career, he could have won even more if not for his health. Magic had to retire abruptly in 1991 when he announced to the world that he had contracted HIV. He didn't play again for four years until he returned for a brief 32 game stretch before retiring for good in 1996. In Magic's 13-year career, he went to 9 Finals and won 5.

Magic Johnson's Greatest Moments

  • The final game of Magic Johnson's rookie year put him on the biggest stage, in the biggest moment. Not only did Magic have the opportunity to win a championship in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals, he had to do it without superstar Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Jabbar was injured and center Spencer Haywood was suspended. With the two big men sidelined, Magic was forced to play three positions in the championship-clinching game, point guard, forward, and center. Magic showed that he was going to be a force in the league for years, scoring 42 points, grabbing 15 rebounds, and dishing 7 assists. He won the Finals MVP award as a rookie while earning his first ring in the process.
  • In Game 4 of the 1987 Finals, Magic was trailing the rival Celtics 105–106 with only seven seconds remaining. At the time, the Lakers held a 2–1 lead over the Celtics, with a road game ahead of them and a chance to lose their lead if they didn't pull through. Magic had to steal a play from a former teammate to get the job done. He dribbled toward the center of the court and used a signature skyhook shot, made famous by Kareem Abdul Jabbar, to make a shot over Celtics' defenders Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. The shot led to the Lakers winning, and they ultimately won the series in six games.

Accolades

  • 1979–1980 All-Rookie selection
  • 12x All-Star selection
  • 10x All-NBA selection
  • 4x Total Assist league leader
  • 2x Total Steals league leader
  • 3x League MVP
  • 5x NBA Champion
  • 3x Finals MVP
  • Hall of Famer

Magic Johnson Stats

 
Points
FG%
Assists
Rebounds
Steals
Blocks
Career
19.5
46.6%
11.2
7.2
1.9
.4
Playoffs
19.5
50.6%
12.3
7.7
1.9
.3
Finals
18.9
50.5%
11.4
7.7
1.9
.3
Larry Legend
Larry Legend

5. Larry Bird

There's nothing more difficult than deciding who is better between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. The two have the greatest rivalry in the history of basketball, and possibly in any sport ever.

Bird was drafted sixth overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1978 NBA Draft. He started at small forward and power forward for the Celtics for his entire 13-year career. Bird excelled in all aspects of the game, particularly his shooting, but also defensively and in his passing game. Bird was the first player in NBA history to shoot 50% on field goals, 40% on 3-point shots, and 90% on free throws in a season. He did this twice in his career. He also won three consecutive 3-point shooting contests. He would even practice shooting 3-pointers with his eyes closed.

Bird's craft and practice was one thing that led to his perfection and dominance. Bird would dribble throughout the Celtics court, one that has it's original Tennessee oak wood still in place to this day, to find the difference in each board. It was known that the old floor had "dead spots" where the ball wouldn't bounce quite as high and Bird knew every one of them. He would defend players in the direction of these areas and use the spots to aide him in stealing the ball. This, among other things, is one of the examples of amazing practices that gave Bird the nickname "Larry Legend."

Bird led a great dynasty for the Celtics, winning three rings and three consecutive MVPs during his career. Bird is one of three players to ever earn the award three years in a row. He was a great fundamental ball-player who could score with the best of them and defend anyone who came his way. His career is filled with things that few have accomplished, such as winning three consecutive MVPs, shooting unmatched field goal percentages, and sweeping Michael Jordan twice in the playoffs. He was a killer on the court and he'll forever be known as one of the greatest players of all time.

Larry Bird's Greatest Moments

  • Bird was known for his competitive spirit. On March 3, 1985, teammate Kevin McHale broke Bird's franchise record for points in a game when he scored 56. Afterward, Bird was interviewed and asked how he felt about his record being broken. Bird said, "He should have scored 60." Just a few days later, Bird played against the Atlanta Hawks and regained his franchise scoring record. His final point tally was exactly 60 points. It was unbelievable.
  • Bird was primarily known on the court for his shooting skills, and off the court for his trash-talking. In 1986, Bird was defending his 3-point shooting title at the All-Star game. Before the event started, he walked into the locker room and said, "I'm just trying to see who will come in second." Not only did Bird win for the second year in a row, but he also set a record at the time for most points in the final round of the event with 22.
  • A little known fact about Larry Bird is that not only did he sweep Michael Jordan twice in the playoffs, he never lost a playoff game to him in his career. While many consider Bird and Magic to be some of MJ's greatest opponents, it's clear that Bird got the best of him when they played together.

Accolades

  • 1979–1980 Rookie of the Year
  • 1979–1980 All-Rookie selection
  • 12x All-Star selection
  • 10x All-NBA selection
  • 3x All-Defensive selection
  • 3x League MVP
  • 3x NBA Champion
  • 2x NBA Finals MVP
  • Hall of Famer

Larry Bird Stats

 
Points
FG%
3pt FG%
Assists
Rebounds
Steals
Blocks
Career
24.3
49.6%
37.6%
6.3
10
1.7
.8
Playoffs
23.8
47.2%
32.1
6.5
10.3
1.8
.9
Finals
22.9
45.5%
44%
6.1
11.5
2
.7

Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson

With Bird and Magic being so close in the standings, I thought it would be nice to put a brief comparison of their careers side by side and look at their head to head matchups. In their careers, the two rivals faced each other 18 times in the regular season, and 19 times in the playoffs. The final record in the regular season was 11–7 in favor of Magic Johnson, and the final record in the playoffs was 11–8 in favor of Magic as well. Magic also has a 2–1 record lead in head-to-head Finals series. Below are how the two matched up statistically in their matchups.

Bird vs. Magic Head to Head Stats

 
Points
FG%
3pt FG%
Assists
Rebounds
Steals
Blocks
Bird Regular Season
21.7
50%
47.4%
6.2
10.9
1.9
.6
Magic Regular Season
19.4
49.6%
31.6%
11.5
6.8
2.6
.3
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Bird Post Season
25.3
46%
47.8%
4.6
11.1
1.7
1
Magic Post Season
20.7
53.3%
40%
13.5
7.5
2.2
.4

Who was the better player, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson?

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Diesel
Diesel

4. Shaquille O'Neal

Shaquille "Shaq" O'Neal is the most dominant player in the history of the NBA. He played center for the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics. Shaq was also known as "Diesel" due to the fact that he was a hulk of a man. He stood 7'1" and weighed in around 325 pounds. Despite Shaq's enormous size and power, he was much more than an unstoppable force due to his size. Shaq was incredibly athletic, handling the ball well and being able to find his way in and out of lanes to score and grab rebounds. He famously played Michael Jordan one-on-one and crossed Jordan on his way to the basket.

Shaq dominated the court both offensively and defensively. During his career he scored 28,596 points, sitting 8th all-time currently. He also grabbed 13,099 rebounds, which places him 15th all-time. Defensively, he also blocked 2,732 shots, placing him 8th all-time in that category as well. So not only could Shaq score, but he could also rebound and defend with the very best ever.

Shaq went on to create a great career for himself outside of basketball as well. It's rare to find a person who doesn't know who he is, even if they didn't watch him play. He's been an actor, spokesperson, rapper, and more. His impact on the game and pop culture are unmatched, and his play is often forgotten or dismissed as "great due to his size." The fact remains that Shaq was an absolute GOAT at his position and his exemplary play is the reason he's a four-time champion and an MVP. It's also why he's one of the greatest to ever play the game.

Shaquille O'Neal's Greatest Moments

  • In 1993, Shaq showed his astonishing power when he went up for a put-back dunk against the Phoenix Suns and dunked so hard that he destroyed the hydraulic system meant to keep the hoop upright. The hoop slowly descended until it laid useless. Later that season against the New Jersey Nets, Shaq went for a power dunk and brought down the entire hoop on top of him. Instead of breaking the hydraulics, he literally destroyed the hoop, snapping it and almost injuring himself in the process as it crashed to the court. After that, the NBA had to reinforce their hoops and change the material they were made with in order to make them "Shaq-proof."
  • In October of 1996, the NBA named it's "50 Greatest Players in History." Despite Shaq only being 24 years old, and only playing in the league for four years, the NBA named him as the youngest member of the group. In fact, he was the youngest by six years, with the next youngest player being Scottie Pippen at age 30. This gesture of confidence in Shaq's ability proved to be truly prophetic.
  • Shaq won three consecutive Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers against the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Newe Jersey Nets. Shaq earned Finals MVP in each of the three trips, and averaged incredible numbers of 35.7 points, 14.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, .6 steals, and 2.9 blocks per game. When a ring was on the line, Shaq wasn't going to let anyone stop him!

Accolades

  • 1992-1993 Rookie of the Year
  • 1992-1993 All-Rookie selection
  • 15x All-Star selection
  • 14x All-NBA selection
  • 3x All-Defensive selection
  • 2x League Scoring leader
  • 1999-2000 League MVP
  • 4x NBA Champion
  • 3x Finals MVP
  • Hall of Famer

Shaquille O'Neal Stats

 
Points
FG%
Assists
Rebounds
Steals
Blocks
Career
23.7
58.2%
2.5
10.9
.6
2.3
Playoffs
24.3
56.3%
2.7
11.6
.5
2.1
Finals
29.2
60.2%
3.6
13
.5
2.1
The Captain
The Captain

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., at the age of 24, converted to Islam and took the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, meaning "noble one, servant of the Almighty." Kareem was a dominant basketball player from the time he stepped on a court. In high school, Kareem won 71 consecutive games. After joining UCLA he went on to win three consecutive NCAA Championships, earning the Tournament MVP all three years, a record that still holds today. He was drafted first overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969, where he played six seasons before finishing his career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kareem became one of the league's most prolific scorers and all-around players. He used his signature "skyhook" shot, an unblockable swing lob, to dominate his opponents. During his career, Kareem took his team to the Finals ten times, winning six championships. He also won six MVP awards, a record that still stands. At the age of 42 when Kareem retired, he held the record for most points scored, most rebounds, most blocks, most games played, and most wins.

Kareem was a focal point of the greatest Lakers dynasty in the franchise's history. He led the team, later known as "The Showtime Lakers," in a fast-paced offense that left teams in the dust. The team capitalized in the fast-break, quickly moving up and down the court and scoring quickly. Despite his offensive effectiveness, he was also an incredible defender, earning an All-Defensive selection 11 times.

More importantly than the game of basketball, Kareem was also an advocate who stood for what he believed in. He protested multiple times to stand up for what was right. In 1968, he boycotted the Olympics to protest the way African-Americans were treated in the United States. When Muhammad Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War, Kareem traveled to join other outspoken black athletes like Jim Brown to support his decision. Kareem's activism is still seen as a strong area of influence, with young athletes like Colin Kaepernick continuing to fight for their beliefs through the platform sports creates. Without Kareem, this may never have been able to happen today.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Greatest Moments

  • In 1980, Kareem set himself apart from everyone else in NBA history when he won his sixth MVP award, a record that still stands to this day. That season he averaged 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1 steal, and 3.4 blocks per game. He'd capitalize on his success by winning his second championship. It was also his first of five rings he would win with the Los Angeles Lakers.
  • In 1995, Kareem joined Magic Johnson on a tour throughout the country to promote awareness of AIDS. Magic has recently retired due to contracting HIV, and he struggled mightily with the diagnosis. He was quoted saying "Other players thought they could catch it by shaking my hand." Despite this, Kareem joined his longtime friend and teammate in extinguishing some of the false rumors and misunderstandings about the disease. It was just another example of Kareem standing for what he felt was right in a world that didn't fully understand what it pushed away.

Accolades

  • 1969-1970 Rookie of the Year
  • 1969-1970 All-Rookie selection
  • 19x All-Star selection
  • 15x All-NBA selection
  • 11x All-Defensive selection
  • 1975-1976 Total Rebound league leader
  • 2x Scoring league leader
  • 4x Blocked Shot league leader
  • 6x NBA Champion
  • 2x Finals MVP
  • 6x League MVP
  • Hall of Famer

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Stats

 
Points
FG%
Assists
Rebounds
Steals
Blocks
Career
24.6
55.9%
3.6
11.2
.9
2.6
Playoffs
24.3
53.3%
3.2
10.5
1
2.4
Finals
23.4
52%
3.1
9.2
.8
2.2
Kareem's blocks and steals weren't recorded in his first Finals appearance because the stats were not recorded until 1972. The averages above are all accurate except for blocks and steals, which are averaged based on all of his other Finals appearanc
Air Jordan
Air Jordan

2. Michael Jordan

I know what you're thinking, Michael Jordan at #2 is blasphemy. His "Airness" brought the game of basketball back to life when it's ratings were at their lowest point. He marketed better than anyone, putting the Jordan brand on a pedestal that has yet to be reached. Jordan is synonymous with basketball. When people think of the sport, they typically think of Jordan. Yet, he still sits as the second-best all-time for me.

Jordan is the greatest scorer in the history of the game. He wasn't born with the power of Shaq, or the size of Kareem, and yet he could not be stopped by any player on the court. He won the league's scoring title ten times during his career, and this piled on the wins. Jordan won more than anyone. He set a record for wins in a season with the Bulls in 1996 when he led the team to 72 victories and a championship, a feat that wasn't broken for twenty years. He also has two separate threepeat championship runs, and a perfect 6–0 record.

Jordan was offensively godlike and was also a great defender. Jordan led the league in steals three times and was an all-defensive selection nine times! He also led the postseason in steals twice and led the postseason in scoring ten times. Jordan was an unstoppable force throughout his time in the league, even with two separate retirements during his career.

Michael Jordan was a visionary who took his dominant play on the court and created an empire with it. He's the greatest scorer the game has ever seen, and his unblemished Finals record is something that many people claim make him the greatest. He completely owned the '90s, he created a shoe empire that made him a billionaire, and he made of the greatest kids movies of all time. Jordan is absolutely one of the greatest to ever do it.

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments

  • In Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Jordan was facing a tied series 2–2 against the Utah Jazz. He was also facing the flu. Jordan was weak, sickly, and taking it tons of fluids every chance he had. Despite his illness, he refused to sit out of the game. In fact, he played 44 minutes. Jordan played the same way Jordan always did, dropping 38 points in a slim victory, winning 90–88. When the game ended Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen's arms, completely wiped. The Bulls took a 3–2 lead and secured their fifth NBA Championship the next game in Chicago.
  • The most iconic image of Michael Jordan is "The Shot" over Cavaliers' player Craig Ehlo. In a pivotal Game 7, Jordan was moving left when he pulled up, falling left, and kept his body straight as he shot over the extended arms of Ehlo. He had a hand directly in his face. Jordan had to hold the ball until his descent back to earth began, and then he released. If Jordan missed, the Bulls went home, if he made it they advanced. The shot went in. The image became famous as Ehlo crumpled to the ground and Jordan immediately jumped back up, legs out and fist-pumping. It's the moment most people think of when they think of Jordan.

Accolades

  • 1984-1985 Rookie of the Year
  • 1984-1985 All-Rookie selection
  • 14x All-Star selection
  • 11x All-NBA selection
  • 9x All-Defensive selection
  • 10x Scoring league leader
  • 3x Steals league leader
  • 1987-1988 Defensive Player of the Year
  • 5x League MVP
  • 6x NBA Champion
  • 6x Finals MVP
  • Hall of Famer

Michael Jordan Stats

 
Points
FG%
Assists
Rebounds
Steals
Blocks
Career
30.1
49.7%
5.3
6.2
2.3
.8
Playoffs
33.4
48.7%
5.7
6.4
2.1
.9
Finals
33.5
48.1%
6.1
6
1.8
.6
King James
King James

1. LeBron James

LeBron James is the greatest player of all time. He has dominated the NBA since he came into the league at the young age of 18, fresh out of high school. When James came into the league he was looked at as "The Chosen One" who would take the mantle of greatest from Jordan, and he did. LeBron has done things that no other player before him has been able to do. He carried a decrepit 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers team to the Finals all on his own. He's defeated not one, but two, of the league's greatest dynasties for championships in the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. He also brought a championship to Cleveland after a 52-year championship drought.

Not only has James accomplished great things, but he also plays at a higher level and a more well-rounded level than anyone in history. James can do it all. He can score any given night, he can rebound the ball, and he is the greatest passing forward in league history. He currently is the only player in league history that sits in the top-ten for points scored and assists. He also sits in the top-fifty all-time in rebounds.

James is currently playing in his 17th season, and yet he still is arguably the best player in the league, and is unarguably a top-five player. He has dominated in his youth, his prime, and now in his later years. When the game is on the line, even if he doesn't win, he is going to be the best player on the court.

Outside of basketball James also impacts the world in a positive manner. He created a school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio that is specifically made for students who come from poor and/or broken homes. He's guaranteed each of the students a full-ride scholarship if they graduate through his school, ensuring 2,300 kids will become college-educated who may not have had the chance to be otherwise. He has advocated for African-Americans against police brutality and has spoken publicly against discrimination throughout America. He's an advocate for positive change and improved culture. All of these things, combined with his many accolades, make him the greatest basketball player in the history of the game.

LeBron James' Greatest Moments

  • In Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron and the Cavaliers faced off against the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons had won the Finals two years ago and were coming off a Finals loss the year before. LeBron had been knocked out of the playoffs by the Pistons the year before and was looking for redemption. In one of the greatest games in playoff history, LeBron took over in the fourth quarter. With about six minutes left in the game, LeBron began a scoring streak that ended with 25 straight points and scoring 29 of the Cavs' final 30. LeBron led the Cavs to win in a double-overtime thriller, 109–107. The game led to the Cavs making their first-ever Finals appearance when they put the Pistons away in Game 6.
  • LeBron and the Cavs faced the record-setting 73-win Golden State Warriors in the 2016 Finals. After falling 3–1, all hope seemed lost. LeBron had other plans, however. In Game 5, he dominated with 41 points, 16 rebounds, and 7 assists, winning 112–97. He followed up the performance by destroying the Warriors again and leading with another great performance of 41 points, 8 rebounds, and 11 assists. These two performances led to the greatest comeback in NBA history when LeBron, registering a triple-double, and the Cavs won Game 7 with incredible plays along the way. In the game, neither team had scored in minutes. A fast break occurred when Andre Iguodala started a fast break, passing to Stephen Curry who passed back to Iguodala. As Iguodala went up for what should have been an easy layup, LeBron soared in to block the shot. The famous call by Mike Breen has become a staple of LeBron's legacy. "Iguodala to Curry, back to Iguodala, up for the layup! OH! BLOCKED BY JAMES! LEBRON JAMES WITH THE REJECTION!"

Accolades

  • 2003-2004 Rookie of the Year
  • 2003-2004 All-Rookie selection
  • 15x All-Star selection
  • 15x All-NBA selection
  • 6x All-Defensive selection
  • 2007-2008 Scoring league leader
  • 4x League MVP
  • 3x NBA Champion
  • 3x Finals MVP

LeBron James Stats

 
Points
FG%
3pt FG%
Assists
Rebounds
Steals
Blocks
Career
27.1
50.4%
34.3%
7.3
7.4
1.6
.8
Playoffs
28.9
49.1%
33.2%
7.1
8.9
1.8
1
Finals
28.3
47.8%
32.4%
7.7
9.8
1.7
.8
LeBron James is still an active player in the NBA. Because of this, these stats will be updated throughout his career at midseason and the end of the season each year.

Who is the Greatest Basketball Player of All Time?

Who do you think is the GOAT?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Jesse Unk

    Comments

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      • JesseUnk profile imageAUTHOR

        Jesse Unk 

        7 weeks ago from Ohio

        Wilt,

        I'll await your facts to prove me wrong then since no one voting seems to agree with you.

      • profile image

        Wilt the G.O.A.T. 

        7 weeks ago

        From what you say to Paul, you know that you don't know anything about basketball. I think you're that slow white guy.

      • JesseUnk profile imageAUTHOR

        Jesse Unk 

        7 weeks ago from Ohio

        Idiot,

        You are aware that public readers are the ones voting right? Not me. Clearly people don't agree with whatever it is you have an issue with. Cry about it I guess.

      • profile image

        troll hater 

        7 weeks ago

        Admit it, you're just a troll.

      • profile image

        idiot article and vote 

        7 weeks ago

        This stupid list doesn't even have the goddamn Wilt, LeBron has even more votes than MJ, and Bird has gotten 3rd place votes and others haven't even got votes. wtf?

      • PBinLostAngeles profile image

        Paul Burt 

        2 months ago from san pedro

        Google Wilt Chamberlain 1962 and or 1967 and hit the "Images" tab - There were a boatload of brothas.

        On the other hand, and by the same token, the league's rosters today are dominated by guys who wouldn't have made the rosters on the teams of the very players you present, LeBron being an exception.

        You do know the single game rebound record is 55, right? FIFTY FIVE - against a prime Bill Russell. Wilt took down everything in sight, demoralizing Russell, and no one will ever come near that record. Look at some film -

        And wait a minute; athletic? You're talking about the man who triple jumped 45' 9" to finish 3rd at KU Relays in 57. Wilt put the shot over 55' and was undefeated in the shot put while at KU. Further, he was the Big 8 Conference high jump champ his junior year, which was the year before he left school to join the Trotters. He also ran a sub 45 second 440 yard dash and a sub 25 second 220 yard dash.

        And further, I'd ask, in which decade that Wilt dominated was the league "far less athletic"? The 70's? He led the league in rebounding his final season - 72/73 - @ 19+ RPG he was 36 years old.

        And BTW, Elvin Hayes would destroy any of the forwards on your list, Duncan in particular...You've got some reading to do Jesse. Peace

      • JesseUnk profile imageAUTHOR

        Jesse Unk 

        2 months ago from Ohio

        Paul,

        Gotta agree to disagree. The league was far less athletic then. Same reason Russell isn't higher. He was athletically advanced and much bigger. Hard to give Wilt the GOAT status when no one else was near his size and it was a bunch of slow white guys.

      • PBinLostAngeles profile image

        Paul Burt 

        2 months ago from san pedro

        Wilt Chamberlain, who never fouled out of a game - high school, college, or professional - is the only individual associated with the NBA responsible for rules changes, period. No other player, administrator, coach, or league official can make that claim. In April of 1968 - don't give me that "modern era" crap - Wilt Chamberlain accomplished the only double-triple-double to date in pro basketball; 22 points, 25 rebounds, and 21 assists in single game. Wilt is also the only player in NBA history to record a quadruple double double (40-40) game - Having achieved the feat eight times in his career. In 1967, the Big Dipper scored 78 points and 43 rebounds in one game. The real GOAT is most remembered for his 100-point game in 1962, considered one of basketball’s greatest records. Decades later, the closest any player had come was the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, who scored 81 points in 2006. Afterward he said that breaking the record was “unthinkable.”

        Wilt also holds the record for most career double-doubles with 1,111. Plus, he was a nice, gentle guy who “never got mad.” In fact, he never fouled out of a game. He once said, “They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you that practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their minds.”

        Less we forget, the NBA didn't even COUNT blocked shots in the box score, until after Wilt had retired. Wilt and all the guys on this list are 27 years of age today, with the same access to 21st Century training, nutrition, and medical? 1 on 1 against Wilt, Jordan and James wouldn't even get a shot off!

        "I don't know that Wilt would dominate today's NBA as he did in the 50's, 60's, and 70's but I do know this. If he were 27 years of age in today's NBA he'd lead the league in scoring. He'd lead the league in rebounding. And he'd lead the league in blocked shots."

        ~ Jerry West ~

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