In more than seventy years of its existence, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has seen countless star players. Many of them have even earned enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. But, of those NBA legends, who have been the greatest players of all? We searched through the many statistical leader boards and found the players who dominated the game. Let us look at the top ten NBA players of all times:
10.Kobe Bryant – Kobe Bryant, also called the “The Black Mamba,” defined the 2000s. Drafted out of high school in the Charlotte Hornets’ 1996 NBA draft, he was the 13th overall pick. The L.A Lakers had worked out a deal the day before obtaining the Hornets’ pick, allowing them to take Bryant. His rookie contract with the L.A. Lakers was for $3.5 million.
He was a great scorer with a killer instinct that struck fear in his opponents. He played in the NBA for twenty years, winning five championships along the way, including three in a row. Till today, Bryant remains one of the most cold-blooded shooters of all time, making seventeen game-winning shots in his career and another seven game-tying shots that led to winnings in overtime.
The Black Mamba was known for his clutch shots and incredible athleticism. His dunks were vicious. He deserves an appreciation for his laser focus and the mental strength that he possessed. The five times NBA champion was well-versed and fluent in many languages like English, Spanish, and Italian. He learned French so he could trash-talk Tony Parker. He also mocked Luka Doncic from the sideline in his native tongue of Slovenian. Bryant’s mind was as dangerous as his physical skills in any given game during his career.
Kobe Bryant was honored with 1996-1997 All-Rookie selection, fifteen All-NBA selection (tied for 1st all-time), eighteen All-Star selection (2nd all-time), twelve All-Defensive selection, two times Scoring Champion, 2007-2008 Most Valuable Player, two times NBA Finals MVP, and five times NBA Champion.
On January 26th, 2020, Kobe Bryant died tragically at 41, alongside his daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash. The world will never forget the Mamba, and his memory will live in our hearts forever.
9. Hakeem Olajuwon – In Lagos, Nigeria, Hakeem Olajuwon was born on January 21st, 1963, one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history. He began his basketball career in his home country before traveling to the United States to play for the University of Houston. He started playing basketball after the age of 15 and dominated wherever he played. Olajuwon took the Houston Cougars to three Final Four appearances in the NCAA Division One National Tournament during college. In 1984, with the first overall pick, Olajuwon was selected by the Houston Rockets over other greats like John Stockton, Michael Jordan, and Charles Barkley.
Olajuwon was one of the most potent forces in the NBA. His incredible rebounding skills were unmatched. Hakeem Olajuwon led the league in blocked shots three times and led in rebounds twice. He continues to lead the all-time list for blocked shots in the NBA by over 500 blocks, with a total of 3,830. This feat led to him becoming a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Olajuwon wasn’t just a defensive force but was great on the offensive end too. In his career, his average was 21.1 points per game. He won two NBA championships and was also the Finals MVP for both the series. There’s great speculation as to whether he would have won those rings if Michael Jordan hadn’t retired, but there are rumors that Jordan retired to avoid Olajuwon to keep his finals record perfect. He is the only player in the NBA’s history to have won the Defensive Player of the Year, league MVP, and Finals MVP awards all in the same season.
Hakeem Olajuwon was honored with various awards like 1984-1985 All-Rookie selection, twelve All-Star selection, twelve All-NBA selection, and nine All-Defensive selection. He was also a two times Total Rebound league leader and three times Blocked Shot league leader. He was also a two Defensive Player of the Year, 1993-1994 League MVP, two NBA Championships, two times NBA Finals MVP, and Hall of Famer.
8. Bill Russell – With eleven NBA championships, Bill Russell currently has the highest championships in the history of the NBA. He failed to win a championship in only two of his thirteen seasons. In 1955 and 1956, he also won the NCAA championship twice. In the 1956 Summer Olympics, Russell also won gold for the USA.
While Russell wasn’t the main focus of the Celtics, he was still more than impactful in other ways. Russell led the league in rebounds five times, averaging over twenty rebounds a game ten times in his thirteen-year career. He is one of seven players to win an NCAA championship, an Olympic gold medal, and an NBA championship.
Bill Russell also helped to bridge the gap for the color barrier in the United States. While he wasn’t the first black player in the NBA, he was undoubtedly the first to become a superstar player. He was also a player-coach for the Celtics, making him the first black coach in the NBA who won a championship.
While the NBA didn’t record blocks as a statistic until the ’70s, it’s believed that Russell is, if not the greatest but is one of the most outstanding shot blockers of all time. There are various reports that record Russell’s blocking as many as seventeen shots in a single game. It’s unknown how many shots Russell blocked in his career, but it wouldn’t be wrong to say that he blocked at least six attempts per game. An unofficial list claims that he averaged 8.1 blocks per game in his career.
Bill Russell was honored with twelve All-Star selection, eleven All-NBA selection, 1968–1969 All-Defensive selection, four times Total Rebound League Leader, five times League MVP, eleven times NBA Champion and Hall of Famer.
7. Tim Duncan – Tim, “The Big Fundamental” Duncan, is the most incredible power forward to ever play in NBA history. He was selected first 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 he was incredibly efficient on both the offense and defense side. Duncan was the head of a dynasty with the guidance of Coach Gregg Popovich, which lasted nearly two decades. He won five championships over some of the greatest players, such as Ben Wallace, Jason Kidd, LeBron James, and others.
Duncan’s defensive skills made him a remarkable player. Currently, he is ranked third all-time in NBA defensive efficiency. He was a fifteen-time All-Defensive selection and a two-time MVP but never won a Defensive Player of the Year award. Duncan also led players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to success.
Duncan was not a flashy player but one of the greatest players to ever step on a court. Tim Duncan was honored with a 1997-1998 Rookie of the Year, fifteen times All-Star selection, fifteen times All-NBA selection, fifteen times All-Defensive selection, two times League MVP, five times NBA Champion, and three times Finals MVP.
6. Earvin Johnson, Jr. – Earvin Johnson Jr., also popularly called Magic Johnson, was one of the NBA pillars during the ’80s. In 1979, he was drafted by the L.A. Lakers. In the same year, Magic won the Rookie of the Year award, the NBA championship, and the Finals MVP. During his career as a point guard, he led the league in assists four times.
Magic took the Michigan State Spartans to the NCAA Championship to face-off against his career rival Larry Bird. Magic overcame Bird, winning the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four.
Magic’s career was excellent; he won five championships during his career. He could have won more if not for his health. In 1991, Magic had to retire as he had contracted HIV. He didn’t play for four years until he returned for a brief thirty-two-game stretch before retiring for good in 1996. In Magic’s thirteen-year career, he went to nine finals and won five.
Magic Johnson was honored with 1979-80 Rookie selection, ten times All-NBA selection, four times Total Assist League Leader, and twelve times All-Star selection. He is also three times League MVP, two times Total Steals League Leader, five times NBA Champion, three times Finals MVP, and Hall of Famer.
5. Larry Bird – In 1978, Larry Bird was drafted sixth overall by the Boston Celtics NBA draft. He was an all-rounder with excellent shooting skills, remarkable in defense, and exceptional in his passing game. He won three consecutive three-point shooting contests.
Legend Larry became the first player in NBA history to shoot fifty percent on field goals, forty percent on three-point shots, and ninety percent on free throws in a season. Bird’s craft and practice was one thing that led to his perfection and dominance.
Bird led a great dynasty for the Boston Celtics, winning three rings and three consecutive MVPs during his career. Larry Bird is one of three players ever to earn the award three years in a row. He was a great fundamental ballplayer who could score with the best of them and defend anyone who came his way. He was also won three consecutive MVPs and swept Jordan twice in the playoffs. He was a killer on the basketball court, and he’ll forever be known as one of the greatest players of all time.
Larry Bird was honored with 1979–1980 Rookie of the Year, 1979–1980 All-Rookie selection, twelve times All-Star selection, ten times All-NBA selection, three times All-Defensive selection, three times League MVP, three times NBA Champion, two times NBA Finals MVP, and Hall of Famer.
4. Shaquille O’Neal – Born on March 6th, 1972, Shaquille O’Neal was one of the most dominant players in the NBA’s history. He played center for various teams like the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics. He stood 7’1″ and weighed around 325 pounds. Due to his size, Shaq’s was an unstoppable force. He was incredibly athletic, handled the ball well, and found his way in and out of lanes to score and grab rebounds.
Shaq dominated the court both on the offensive and defensive side. With scoring 28,596 points, he is currently ranked at the eighth position. He grabbed 13,099 rebounds, which places him fifteenth for the record. On the defensive side, he also blocked 2,732 shots, placing him eighth all-time in that category. His outstanding play is the reason he’s a four-time champion and an MVP.
Shaq went on to create an excellent career for himself outside of basketball. He’s been an actor, spokesperson, rapper, and more.
Shaquille O’Neal was honored with 1992-1993 Rookie of the Year, 1992-1993 All-Rookie selection, fifteen times All-Star selection, fourteen times All-NBA selection, All-Defensive selection, two times League Scoring Leader, 1999-2000 League MVP, four times NBA Champion, three times Finals MVP, and Hall of Famer.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Kareem was a dominant basketball player since high school, where he won 71 consecutive games. At UCLA, he went on to win three consecutive NCAA championships, earning the Tournament MVP all three years, a record that he still holds today. In 1969, he was picked up by the Milwaukee Bucks. He played in the team for six seasons before finishing his career with the L.A. Lakers.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of the league’s most prolific scorers and dominated his opponents with his signature “skyhook” shot, an unblockable swing lob. Kareem led his team to the Finals ten times, winning six NBA championships. He was also awarded six MVPs, a record that still stands. At 42, he held the record for most points scored, most rebounds, most blocks, most games played, and most wins at the time of his retirement.
In the Lakers’ history, Kareem was a focal point of the fantastic franchise’s dynasty. He led the team in a fast-paced offense that left opponents in the dust. The team capitalized on the fast-break, scoring quickly by moving up and down the basketball court. Despite his offensive effectiveness, he was also great at defense, earning an All-Defensive selection eleven times.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was honored with 1969-1970 Rookie of the Year, 1969-1970 All-Rookie selection, nineteen All-Star selection, fifteen times All-NBA selection, and eleven times All-Defensive selection. In 1975-1976 he won the Total Rebound League Leader, two times Scoring League Leader, four times Blocked Shot League Leader, six times NBA Champion, two Finals MVP, six times League MVP, and Hall of Famer.
2. LeBron James – LeBron James is considered to be the greatest player of all time. He has dominated the NBA since the age of 18. People believed that James would be the one to take the mantle of greatest from Michael Jordan, and they were right about it. He did things that no other player before him has been able to do, like carrying a decrepit Cleveland Cavaliers team to the finals in 2007 on his own. He also brought a championship to the league after a 52-year championship drought.
James’ defeated not one but two of the league’s greatest dynasties for championships in the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.
James can score on any given night, he can rebound the ball, and he is the most splendid passing forward in the NBA’s history. He currently is the only player in history that sits in the top ten for points scored and assists. He also sits in the top fifty all-time in rebounds. He’s the only NBA player ever to record over 34,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, and 9,000 assists.
Outside of basketball, James has positively impacted the world. His school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, is built for students from poor and broken homes where each student is guaranteed a scholarship. He has also advocated for the black community against police brutality and has spoken publicly against discrimination in the United States of America.
LeBron James has been honored with 2003-2004 Rookie of the Year, 2003-2004 All-Rookie selection, sixteen times All-Star selection, sixteen times All-NBA selection, six times All-Defensive selection, 2007-2008 Scoring league leader, four times League MVP, four times NBA Champion, and four times Finals MVP.
1. Michael Jordan – Michael Jordan is synonymous with the NBA. When people think of basketball sport, they think of him. Jordan has been an excellent shooter in the history of the NBA. He wasn’t born with Shaq’s power or the size of Kareem, yet any player on the court could not stop him. He won the league’s scoring title ten times during his career. In 1996, he set a record for wins in a season with the Bulls when he led the team to seventy-two victories and a championship, a feat that wasn’t broken for twenty years.
Jordan was godlike at offense and was also great at defense. He was an unstoppable force throughout his time in the franchise, even with two retirements.
The six-time NBA champion was a visionary who took his dominant play on the basketball court and created an empire. He’s the greatest scorer; his unblemished finals record is something that many people claim makes him the greatest. He wholly owned the ’90s and created a shoe empire that made him a billionaire.
Jordan was honored with 1984-1985 Rookie of the Year, 1984-1985 All-Rookie selection, fourteen-time All-Star selection, eleven times All-NBA selection, 1987-1988 Defensive Player of the Year, and nine times All-Defensive selection. He also won ten times Scoring League Leader, three times Steals league leader, five times League MVP, six times NBA Champion, six times Finals MVP, and Hall of Famer.