Now that the NBA season is over and the retirement of two of the game’s greatest players is official we here at GameDaySportsBlog.com takes a look at the ten best players to ever lace them up in the NBA.
Michael Jordan’s placement on this list is obvious. Nobody has done what Jordan has in the sport of basketball, and less than a handful have dominated their sport the way Jordan dominated at hoops.
MJ led the league in scoring 10 times on his way to 14 All-Star selections and 5 MVP awards. And that only tells part of the story of what Michael Jordan was for basketball. More than a scorer and an all-around great basketball player, Michael Jordan was a winner, maybe more so than any player in history regardless of sport. Jordan won 3 NBA titles in a row from 1991-1993 before taking time off to pursue a career in baseball. And once MJ decided to return to the Chicago Bulls he led his team to another 3-peat before retiring again.
Now you would think being the best basketball player in the world, and a six-time NBA champion who won the Finals MVP in each of his championship appearances would be enough to make him the greatest basketball player of all-time. But there is even more that goes into Jordan’s greatness.
Jordan was a brand, and I don’t just mean Jordan brand sneakers. Jordan was the face of basketball during a time when basketball was being introduced to the world. Jordan was the best and most popular player on the 1992 Dream Team that took the world by storm in the Olympics. With Jordan being the best player on the best team that excited the world with high-flying play MJ became not only the face of basketball around the world, but it can be argued that Jordan became the face of the country, even more so than the President of the United States.
No player in basketball history has ever played as well as Jordan, or competed as intensely, and without a doubt, no player in any sport has become the worldwide face of their game like Michael Jordan was. And that’s why he is the greatest of all-time.
Shaquille O’Neal ranks higher on my list than he does on just about any other list you will find. And there’s a reason he’s so highly thought of in my mind. It’s because Shaquille O’Neal is arguably the most dominant big-man to ever play the game, and arguably the most physically unstoppable player in any sport.
At 7’1” 325 lbs. the NBA’s original Superman was bigger than any player in NBA history, and his overwhelming size matched up with his surprising athleticism made Shaq unstoppable on both ends of the floor. Shaq ranks in the top 10 in career blocked shots and defensive rebounds, proving his dominance on the defensive side of the ball. And ranking in the top 10 in career points and top 3 in FG% shows just how unstoppable he was offensively. That’s why he is a 15-time All-Star with 4 championship rings. And that is why he is the greatest big-man of all-time, and the 2nd best player in NBA history.
Michael Jordan was the face of basketball. Shaquille O’Neal was the most physically dominant player of all-time. Larry Bird however may be the greatest all-around player to ever pick up a basketball.
Most people know Bird by his incredible jump shooting ability, which is accurate. He the was the first player in the ever-impressive 50-40-90 club (FG%-3pt%-FT%), and one of only two players to twice accomplish that feat (Steve Nash). If you younger readers need a reference for just how good you need to be to get into the 50-40-90 club, Steph Curry barely made the list this season despite people saying it was the greatest offensive season ever. Bird did that twice. Of course, the Celtic legend is much more than just the most efficient offensive player ever. Larry Legend could guard too.
He made three All-Defensive teams and it was that impressive defense along with his offensive genius that won him three NBA titles and three league MVP’s. His offense alone would have gotten him into the top 10. Leading the dynasty of the 1980’s to three titles despite having to compete with the Showtime Lakers and the Detroit Bad Boys makes Larry not only a legend but the 3rd best player of all-time.
Bill Russell is considered the greatest champion of all-time. He won eleven championships in his 13 seasons with the Celtics, something unheard of in major American sports. Of course this was before the NBA became a truly competitive league, but still eleven championships as a player is something we will never see again.
Now it’s true that Russell played with a lot of great players, including Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, and Tommy Heinsohn, but Russell was the heart and soul of the Boston team. Bill Russell was a great defender and a great rebounder, more so than he was a scorer, but his offense was good enough for him to win five MVP awards to go along with those eleven championships. In other words, there is just too much hardware in Russell’s trophy case for the Boston big-man not to be on this list.
Kareem played in the NBA for two full decades, and was consistently great throughout those 20 years. He won 6 NBA Titles, 6 MVP awards, and still owns the all-time scoring record with 38,387 points. He was the best player in the league during the 1970s but won only one championship during that decade. Luckily he joined the showtime Lakers of the 80’s winning another five titles with LA. During that time he unleashed the most devastating shot the NBA has ever seen, using the sky hook to score many of his league points, something he did more than any player in history.
Tim Duncan’s style of play is simple and down to earth. Nothing flashy, Duncan stays quiet on the court but his accomplishments speak for themselves. The greatest power forward ever won two MVPs, four titles, and went 13 straight seasons on both an All-NBA and All-Defensive team. And he was able to do so without much in the way of flash and pizazz.
Duncan’s style which was so vanilla he was nicknamed “The Big Fundamental”, and his signature move was so bland that it is literally a turn-around bank shot. Duncan was a once in a lifetime defender and leader who is by far the greatest power forward in the history of basketball. However with the little style that Duncan displayed his achievements are often overlooked and he is arguably the most under-appreciated player the sport has ever seen.
The argument against Kobe Bryant is a valid one. He is inefficient, missing more shots than any player in history. He won titles only when he had All-Star talent around him and the greatest coach in history on the sideline. But nonetheless Kobe is a player who will be on every top 10 list you will find.
Bryant was simply a player who was unstoppable at times, and his clutch gene made those dominant times happen when his team needed him the most. He led the Lakers to seven NBA Finals appearances, winning five of them. Bryant was named to 15 All-NBA teams during his career, and most people believe that it was Bryant’s offense that got him that recognition. After all he led the league in scoring multiple times and is 3rd all-time in points scored. But it was actually Bryant’s defense that helped the shooting guard get to 18 all-star games. Twelve times Bryant was named to an NBA All-Defensive team, which is hard for a lot of Kobe-haters to understand. So with offense, defense, and an intense competitive drive that led to 5 NBA titles it is no wonder why Kobe makes every top 10 NBA list you will ever see, even if this is the only list you will ever need.
Oscar Robertson is the player against whom all others labeled “all-around” are judged, and he may remain the standard forever. His game much like Bird’s is under-appreciated for just how good he was in every facet.
Statistically, one need look no further than the numbers Robertson put up in the 1961-62 season, just his second year in the league where “The Big O” put up 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game, an average of a triple-double for an entire season. Not even Magic Johnson or Larry Bird could match those numbers.
During his 14-year NBA career with the Cincinnati Royals and the Milwaukee Bucks, Robertson became the top-scoring guard of all time, amassing 26,710 points. Among all players, only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, and Hakeem Olajuwon have scored more, putting Robertson in elite company offensively. And it was more than just his shooting.
Although John Stockton and Magic have surpassed Robertson’s career record of 9,887 assists, the argument has been made that Robertson’s total came in an era when an assist was credited much less generously than it is today. As for Robertson’s rebounding he averaged 7.5 boards for his career and was even able to lead his team in rebounding one season, something rarely done for a guard.
“Akeem The Dream” was the smoothest big man the league has ever seen. Olajuwon could do absolutely anything he wanted on the offensive end, scoring with a plethora of moves, and easily becoming the most skilled big-man in history. As for those who think he was just an offensive weapon, if you look at the record book you will see Olajuwon’s name at the top of the career blocks list with 3,380. It’s his offensive skill and suave mixed with his underrated defense that allowed Hakeem Olajuwon to win an NBA MVP and two Finals MVP’s. And it’s why the former Rocket big-man is one of the 10 best players in NBA history.
Most lists you will see have Erving “Magic” Johnson much higher on their top 10’s than this writer, however a lot of lists overlook Johnson’s defensive deficiencies. Still, Magic was one of the best players of his generation and one of the best players of all-time.
Magic Johnson the winner of 5 NBA titles, 3 MVP awards, Olympic Gold, NCAA title and High School title, proved to be a great winner no matter what level he was playing at. And it was Johnson’s passing ability that was his best feature. It was simply surreal. He made the art of passing fashionable in the NBA, throwing no look passes and sweet bounce passes people had never seen before. He was the true pioneer of making the league fun and bringing swagger and style to the game. No 6’10″ player should be able to play point guard with such grace and skill, yet Magic broke that unwritten rule. Magic Johnson was the only player who one-upped Larry Bird during the 80s, winning more titles than Larry Legend (Magic had the better team though). If he didn’t share an era with Larry Bird, Johnson surely would have won more than the five championships he was able to get and the three MVPs won. He would have owned the ’80s by himself. Instead he has to settle for making the NBA’s all-time top 10 list.
For those wondering where Wilt Chamberlain is:
It’s hard to really know how good Wilt really was considering he played in an era where there were only 9 teams in the league, and the average center he was going against was 6’6” as opposed to the modern times where centers on average are over 7’ tall. If Wilt played better competition while putting up the numbers he did he would undoubtedly be on the list.
For those wondering where Lebron James is:
There is little doubt that he will be on this list when he retires well down the road from now. Before his Finals heroics earlier this summer it would be much more of a question of whether or not King James would make this list, after the Finals I’m not sure how anybody could think he doesn’t end up top 10.
And if he can win another title before he hangs ‘em up for good, he will be much higher on this list than the Lebron-Haters feel he should be.