We have reached the final article in my series of the Greatest Players in NBA History by position.
Some of the great ones who would make my list of Best Centers, if it were a top 10, include Dave Cowen, who was basically a “Floor Burn” in green Converse tennis shoes. The guy gave 150 percent every single game.
I'd have to include Moses Malone, who was one of the greatest offensive rebounders the game has ever seen, even if most of those misses were his own. My favorite quote from Mo was when he won the MVP in 1979 and he thanked Rudy Tomjanovich and Calvin Murphy for missing so many shots.
Willis Reed and Robert Parrish are two others who deserve a mention in this article, landing just outside the Top Five, which follows in the upcoming slideshow. Enjoy!
“Shaq-daddy,” “Shaq-Fu,” “The Big Aristotle,” "The Diesel,” and of course “Superman” are just a few of the many nicknames that Shaq has earned/coined during his career.
Shaq currently owns the NBA record for averaging more 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in an NBA-record, 13 consecutive seasons from 1992-2005.
He is the youngest member of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. Shaq has been a member of four NBA championship teams so far in his career, including three straight with the Los Angles Lakers from 2000-2002.
He was a member of the All-NBA team for his first 14 seasons in the league and has led the NBA in scoring average twice, in points scored three times, and in field goal percentage on nine occasions (tying Wilt Chamberlain for the NBA record).
Like many of his fellow great centers, Shaq's biggest Achilles' heel has been his free-throw shooting, a dismal 50.1 percent for his career, with a season best of 64.9 percent in 2001. At the end of the 2006 season, Shaq ranked in the all-time Top 10 in field goal percentage (third), free throw attempts (fourth), scoring average (tenth) and blocked shots (eighth).
Besides a star-studded NBA career, Shaq has recorded albums, made movies and countless commercials, and even stared in a TV reality series.
"The Dream" has been my personal favorite since the early '80s when he accidentally wound up in Houston because of his “broken” English. He was on his way from Nigeria to Austin, but the cab driver misunderstood “University of Austin” for University of Houston, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Thanks to a childhood background as a soccer goalie, Olajawon was an immediate impact on the defensive side, first in college as he helped lead the Cougars to three straight Final Four appearances, then in the NBA where he was the top pick of the 1984 draft by the Houston Rockets.
Under the tutelage of Moses Malone at Fonde Recreation Center, Dream developed into one of the most fluid, graceful centers of all time. In his rookie year, Olajawon and Ralph Sampson teamed together to become the first teammates since Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor to average more than 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Dream would go on to average these number for 12 straight seasons. The Dream is one of only three NBA players to have recorded a quadruple-double (the others are Nate Thurmond, Alvin Robertson and David Robinson), but Olajawon did it twice in the same season, first on March 3, 1990 getting 29 points, 18 rebounds 10 assists, and 11 blocks; then again on March 29 with 18 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, and 11 blocks.
Olajawon finally reached the top of the mountain by becoming the first player to be named NBA MVP, NBA Defensive Player of the Year and NBA Finals MVP in the same season. The following season, he rallied the Rockets from a sixth seed in the playoffs to their second straight NBA crown, making Houston the fifth NBA franchise ever to win back-to-back titles.
Dream finished his career as a Top Five player in many statistical categories, including N.1 in blocked shots, seventh in steals (the only center in the top 20) and points scored, and 11th in rebounds.
He was basketball's unstoppable force, the most awesome offensive force the game has ever seen. Until Kobe came along, no other player had ever scored more than 80 points in a game.
The “Big Dipper,” as he liked to be called (a nickname given to him because of his height and the need to dip or duck his head every time he entered the room), Wilt Chamberlain was truly one of the great centers.
He is the only NBA player to score 4,000 points in a season. He set NBA single-game records for most points (100), most consecutive field goals (18) and most rebounds (55) in a game.
Perhaps his most mind-boggling stat was the 50.4 points per game he averaged during the 1961-62 season, and, if not that, perhaps the 48.5 minutes per game he averaged that same year, playing every single minute of every game.
Another storied record that is truly amazing is the fact that in the more than 1,200 games he played, Wilt never once fouled out of a game, amazing for a center in the NBA.
He is the only center in NBA history to lead the league in assists, which he did in the '67-'68 season, proving that he could do anything he wanted to on the basketball court except win a championship.
Despite leading the league in scoring for seven straight seasons, Wilt only won a championship when he, at the urging of his coach, deferred to the “team concept” and, in doing so, helped the '66-'67 Philadelphia 76ers go a staggering 68-13, blowing out his nemesis the Boston Celtics and Bill Russell four games to one in the Eastern Conference Finals, and then dispatching the San Francisco Warriors four to two in the Finals.
If that record was not good enough, in 1971-72 with the Lakers Wilt joined Jerry West and Gail Goodrich and led the Lakers to a 69-13 record, including a mind-numbing 33 straight wins and going 12-3 throughout the playoffs.
For his career, Wilt averaged an amazing 30.1 points per game, tied with Michael Jordan as the highest of all time, and an even more amazing 22.9 rebounds per game. When asked if Wilt was the greatest of all time, Oscar Robertson once replied “The books don’t lie.”
Let's start with Kareem, who, following a three-year varsity career at UCLA, went 88-2 and win three straight NCAA championships, three straight Player of the Year awards and three straight Most Outstanding Final Four Player awards.
The former Lewis Alcindor only had three of each, because back then, freshmen were not allowed to play varsity.
When Kareem retired after a 20-year NBA career, no player had ever scored more points, blocked more shots, won more Most Valuable Player Awards,and played in more All-Star Games or logged more seasons.
His list of personal and team accomplishments is perhaps the most awesome in league history: Rookie of the Year, member of six NBA championship teams, six-time NBA MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP, 19-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion, and a member of the NBA 35th and 50th Anniversary All-Time Teams.
He also owned eight playoff records and seven All-Star records. No player achieved as much individual and team success as did Abdul-Jabbar.
All that after many experts said he would not enjoy the success in the NBA as he did in college. I wonder what those experts say now.
Kareem was a very private person and rarely showed any emotion on the basketball court. It wasn’t until he joined the Lakers in 1979 that he would let his guard down enough to show everyone that he was not only a great player, but had a genuine human side to him also.
Kareem won his first championship with the Milwaukee Bucks, teaming with Oscar Robertson, which gave the “Big O” his one and only championship in 1971.
Kareem was unhappy living in the small town life of Milwaukee and asked for a trade to either Los Angles or New York, where he could feel more comfortable with his Islamic faith.
After the trade and the Lakers drafting Magic Johnson in 1979, the Lakers and Kareem went on to win five championships.
Bill Russell was the cornerstone of the most amazing streak in U.S. team sports, the Boston Celtics' win of 11 championships in 13 years, eight of those in a row.
Russell revolutionized the defensive concept, won five MVP awards, was named to 12 All-Star teams and no doubt would have won numerous defensive player of the year awards if they were awarded when he played.
He would be the league leader in blocked shots if they had recorded them and probably among the Top Five in steals if those had been recorded also.
He also is the only player to win back-to-back championships while coaching himself. He and the Celtics would probably be the owners of a 12th championship if not for an injury in the 1958 championship final, where the Celtics lost to the St. Louis Hawks.
The angular center amassed a total of 21,620 career rebounds, an average of 22.5 per game and led the league in rebounding four times.
He had 51 boards in one game, 49 in two others, and a dozen consecutive seasons of 1,000 or more rebounds.
He was a member of the NBA’s 35 and 50 Greatest Players and was a star player in college, leading the San Francisco Dons to two straight NCAA championships and 60 consecutive victories in 1955 and '56, a steak that lasted until the early '70s before it was broken by the great Bill Walton-led UCLA Bruins.
Russell's greatest adversary, Wilt Chamberlain, entered the NBA and joined the Philadelphia Warriors for the 1959-60 season, setting up a decade-long rivalry.
The debate over who was the greater player would last even longer.
Chamberlain put up incredible numbers during the period in which the two went head to head, but Russell helped the Celtics hang nine NBA championship flags in the Garden in his first 10 seasons, while defeating Chamberlain-led teams many times.