The Great Debate: Who Are the Top 10 Players in NBA History?
Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of heated debate around Bleacher Report as to whether Kobe Bryant is the greatest player to ever play the game.
But instead of debating No. 1, I and five of Bleacher Report's top NBA writers decided to determine Kobe's place among a group of all-time greats.
Erick Blasco, Dave Finnochio, Dave Metrick, Zander Freund, Andrew Ungvari, and Jordan Holz all took part in the longest roundtable column in Bleacher Report history...
Whenever I make a case for an all-time great, championships are often looked at—but at the same time they don't always define a player's career.
Guys like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley—who never got to taste a championship are still looked at as all-time greats.
Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant are still playing the game to this day, but they both recieved the nod from me as a top ten player of all-time.
So without further ado, this is my list of the NBA's top 10 players of all-time as of today.
1. Michael Jordan (1984-2003)
Considered to majority of die-hard NBA fans as the greatest of all time.
To me, listing his stats just isn't enough to make a case for him as the greatest.
Whenever a young and up-and-coming stars enters the league, the media loves to label them as "The Next Jordan".
There will never be another MJ, and labeling guys as the next Jordan is kind of an insult to Michael himself.
If guys like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird—who were considered the greatest before Michael say that he is the best, then I have to agree.
One of the things I loved about Michael Jordan, was his competitive spirit. I don't think any player that steps foot on a basketball court can match that competitive edge.
Aside from the scoring titles, MJ also won Defensive Player of the Year in 1988 and made the all-defensive team nine times.
And away from the hardwood, Jordan revelutionized the tennis shoe industry as well.
Notable Accomplishments: 1985 Rookie of the Year, Six NBA titles, Five-time league MVP, 10 All-NBA first teams, and nine-time All-Defensive First Team
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1969-1989)
Because the Lakers have had so many greats, it is hard to determine who was the best. But if were to ask me, I would tell you that Kareem is the greatest Laker.
Magic, Wilt, Jerry West, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kobe Bryant are some of the Laker greats, but Kareem was the best.
The only guy to perfect the sky-hook, with many of his 38,337 career points coming off that signature move. By the way, he is the NBA's all-time points leader.
What was Milwaukee thinking when they traded him?
Notabale Accomplishments: Six-time NBA champion, six-time MVP
3. Magic Johnson (1979-1996)
Magic isn't just one of the greatest point guards of all-time—but he is "arguably" the greatest point guard to play the game.
Although he was oversized at his position standing at 6'9", Magic was still a pure point guard.
His size gave him the advantage against other guards, and allowed him to play all five positions.
Excellent in the run-and-gun transition, Magic made some of the most eye-popping passes. Not only was he a magnificent passer—but he was very unselfish. He helped popularize both the behind-the-back and the no look pass.
He averaged double-digit assists nine straight seasons from 1982-1991.
Notable Accomplishments: Five NBA championships (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988), three league MVPs, and three Finals MVPs
4. Larry Bird (1979-1992)
"Arguably" the best closer during his era, and was an intimadator to all his competitors.
He might not have had the quickness or athleticism to use to his advantage—but that didn't matter because he still knew how to get it done.
Notable Accomplishments: 1980 Rookie of the Year, Three NBA Titles, Three MVP Awards, Nine-time All-NBA First Team, and three-time All-Defensive Team
5. Wilt Chamberlain (1959-1974)
Aside from Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt is considered the most dominant center to play the game.
Wilt was literally unstoppable on offense, and is probably the greatest scoring center to step foot on the hardwood.
The guy averaged 37.6 PPG along with 27 RPG his rookie season, something that will never be done again.
He is tied for first all-time in career PPG with Michael Jordan, with a 30.1 PPG career average.
Notable Accomplishments: 1960 Rookie of the Year, Two-time NBA championship, Four-time MVP, Seven-time All-NBA team, and Two-time All-Defensive First Team
6. Bill Russell (1956-1969)
Russell is the best shot blocker ever, and maybe the best low post defender as well.
He helped the Celtics win 11 championships in 13 seasons.
A career average of at least 22 rebounds per game is something only Russell and Chamberlain will ever accomplish.
Notable Accomplishments: 11-time NBA champion, Five-time MVP
7. Oscar Robertson (1960-1974)
Robertson, also known as the "Big O," is the only guy in NBA history to average a triple-double in a season.
The Big O made the triple-double was it is today, and is the all-time leader in that department with 181.
He is known as the best post-up guard, and some say he was way ahead of his time.
Even other great players of the decade like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, John Havlicek, and Elgin Baylor proclaimed the Big O as the best player from the 60s.
Notable Accomplishments: 1961 Rookie of the Year, 1964 MVP, One-time NBA champion.
8. Isiah Thomas (1981-1994)
As great as he was, he wasn't even the best point guard during his era, thanks to Magic Johnson.
One of the toughest, if not the toughest point guard to play the game.
Thomas stood at 6'1, yet he his one of the greatest scorers the game has seen.
It's amazing that he never won an MVP award.
His lack of fear and competiveness is one of the things I loved most about him.
Notable Accomplishments: Two-time NBA champion (1989 and 1990)
9. Shaquille O'Neal (1992-present)
Although he is still playing today, Shaq will go down as the most dominant center ever when it's all said and done.
During his prime, there was no way of stopping this man, and the fact that he was 7'1 and over 300 pounds didn't help.
It's hard to watch the slow and declining Shaq today, but he has already punched his ticket in the Hall of Fame.
Notable Accomplishments: 1993 Rookie of the Year, 2000 MVP, Four-time NBA champion, and three-time Finals MVP
10. Kobe Bryant (1996-present)
While the media loves to compare every young star to Michael Jordan, this guy is the one even close to MJ.
Some say he is better than Jordan, and some say that he is already the greatest player ever. But when he finally hangs it up, he might very well be the best ever.
The killer instinct and the competiveness on both sides of the floor is what reminds me of Jordan the most.
He is the best player in the league today, the best closer as well.
Why he hasn't won an MVP yet remains a big mystery to me.
Notable Accomplishments: Three-time NBA champion, and Seven-time All-Defensive Team
Honorable Mention: Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Jerry West, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon
#1) Michael Jordan
Jordan is unquestionably the greatest of all time. He's one of (if not the) best defensive guards to ever play and truly revolutionized the conception of what a man at his position was capable of on the offensive end—first with his athleticism, ball-handling, and penetrating ability early in his career, and with his uncanny knack for nailing mid range jumpers from anywhere on the court, from any angle, with anyone in his face later in his career.
Jordan won six championships with the Bulls and was the unquestionable focal point of the team throughout his tenure in Chicago. He likely would have taken home eight consecutive titles had he had not retired from the game in the mid 90's for two seasons.
On the individual accomplishment front: how does 10 consecutive scoring titles sound?
More importantly, however: there simply is no player you would rather have taking the shot at the end of the game than MJ. He is a competitor and leader in the truest sense, and arguably the most impressive athlete in the history of sports.
#2) Bill Russell
What's more impressive: the fact that Bill Russell won eleven championships in 13 seasons, 5 MVP awards throughout his career, or that he dominated the most impenetrable offensive force the world had ever seen every time they squared off?
Any way you cut it, Mr. Russell absolutely has to go in the two slot.
#3) Magic Johnson
Three MVP awards; five championships. Lead the league in assists on four occasions and was runner up on six other occasions.
The greatest passer ever and a man who redefined what a point guard was capable of. The leader of showtime and a cultural icon to boot.
Did I mention that he scored 42 and grabbed 15 boards playing center in the NBA finals!?
#4) Larry Bird
The epitome of an all-around player who worked every single day of his life to improve his game. He wasn't naturally talented like some of the players on this list, but his fundamentals were flawless—he could pass, shoot, and rebound better than anyone at his position.
And of course he was a feerless competitor, fighting for the ball with every ounce of his energy at all times.
Winner of three MVP awards and three championships, Larry Legend was a reliable bet to make a big shot at the end of the game. He will always be remembered for his gutsy play and leadership in the stickiest of situations.
#5) Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Revolutionizing the nature of his position as the league's first legitimate center with an outside game, Kareem holds NBA records for points scored and most career MVP awards (6). His unstoppable skyhook allowed him to win six titles throughout his career with two different teams.
#6) Wilt Chamberlain
The greatest scorer of his time—and perhaps of all time—Wilt the Stilt did things on the court that no one will ever do again.
He averaged over 50 points in a season. Never again.
He scored 100 points in a game. Never again.
He won 11 career rebounding titles. Never again.
Bill Russell may have gotten the better of Wilt in their famous showdowns, but that should not distract us from Chamberlain's unprecedented productivity as a scorer and rebounder.
#7) Oscar Robertson
The Big O led the league in assists on seven occasions, and is the only man in league history to AVERAGE a triple double in a single season.
#8) Tim Duncan
Duncan is the unsung hero of today's era, with his quiet yet effective fundamentals and team-first attitude. He's won four championships and is one of the better defensive big men to ever step on the floor, being elected to the NBA's first team all defense in seven seasons.
#9) Jerry West
"Mr. Clutch" was a four time all-defense first team selection who also finished in the top three in scoring in five consecutive seasons. His knack for the big shot and his abilities on both ends of the floor make it difficult to leave him out of the top 10.
#10) Shaquille O'Neal
Other than Chamberlain, there has never been a more dominating force in the paint than Shaq Daddy.
He took three different teams to the NBA finals, and has four rings to his name. His career field goal percentage of .580 is mind boggling. His defensive and rebounding skills leave a lot to be desired for someone of his size—but from eight feet out, there's no one I'd rather have holding the ball.
Honorable Mention, #1: Hakeem Olajawon
By far the most graceful NBA center to ever step onto the court, it's a shame that Hakeem doesn't crack the top 10. His ability to create his own shot via the "dream shake" and deny the opponents on the other end of the floor with his shot-blocking ability make him one of the most memorable dual threats in league history.
Honorable Mention, #2: Elgin Baylor
Averaging over 30 points a game for three consecutive seasons between 1960 and 1963, Elgin Baylor is an NBA legend that flies under the radar with most mainstream fans.
Honorable Mention, #3: Karl Malone
You want consistency? Malone finished in the top 5 in scoring in 13 consecutive seasons.
The Mailman's ability to create his own reliable 17 foot jumper at any time—coupled with his stellar defense and steady board skills—make him unquestionably the best true power forward in league history.
If it hadn't been for the Chicago Bulls, he'd crack the top 10 without a doubt.
Honorable Mention, #4: Moses Malone
I don't know why the "other" Malone always seems to get left off of these lists. He won a championship, three MVP awards, and has six rebounding titles to his name throughout a career that started in the mid 70's and ended in the mid 90's.
It's as if ever since Karl came along, no one gives any love to Moses. He was a phenomenal player who made consistently stellar contributors on both ends of the floor throughout three decades. But you know I got your back Moses.
Honorable Mention, #5: John Stockton
The all time leader in both steals and assists, Stockton got it done on both ends of the court in Utah for 19 straight seasons. Without a doubt one of the best passers and clutch shooters to ever play the game.
It should be noted that due to my paucity of years, I have never seen the majority of the players included (or omitted) in my list on anything more than highlight reels. Feel free to take the list with a grain of salt.
With that being said, the list:
1) Michael Jordan
Nobody in the history of basketball has had the will to win of Michael Jordan. In his illustrious career, only once did Michael Jordan fail in the clutch (when he lost the ball to Nick Anderson during the 1995 Conference Semis). The number of game-wining shots he’s made are too numerous to count. Plus Jordan was as complete as they come; a great defender, a mid-range shooter, a post player, a passer, a rebounder, and one of the smartest players to ever play.
2) Bill Russell
Russell may have been the best defensive player ever. He anchored a Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships under his watch and he averaged over 25 rebounds per playoff game. Russell was an exceptional shot-blocker, a great passer, had an effective left hook, and was extremely unselfish. If not for Jordan, Russell would be known as the greatest winner to ever play the game.
3) George Mikan
There would not be an NBA today if not for the gentle giant Mikan. Mikan was the game’s first extraordinary big man, and was the NBA’s first superstar. Before one game between Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers and the New York Knicks, Madison Square Garden billed the game as George Mikan vs. The Knicks. Mikan ended up inventing the shot block and won 5 NBA championships with the Lakers.
4) Magic Johnson
Johnson was one of the most versatile basketball players ever. Aside from his magnificent passing skills and court vision, Johnson was also a dominating post player. In fact, despite his natural position being point guard, Johnson was often asked to play the center position with the Lakers. Magic led his “Showtime” Lakers to five NBA Championships.
5) Larry Bird
Bird’s ascent to greatness is a little surprising because he wasn’t particularly strong, wasn’t fast, and couldn’t jump. However, Bird may be the toughest, fiercest competitor to ever grace the NBA. Bird would do everything asked of him to win. He would defend, he would post up, he was an exceptional jump shooter, he was a great passer, and he was incredibly clutch. Bird led the Celtics to three championships.
6) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s unblockable sky hooks and his impressive shot-blocking registered him as the greatest center of the late 1970’s and 1980’s. While not particularly strong, Abdul-Jabbar was graceful and smart at setting up his low post moves and his help defense.
7) Wilt Chamberlain
“The Big Dipper” should be higher on the list because he was phenomenally gifted. He once scored 100 points in a game, was a dominating scorer and shot blocker, and was simply unstoppable by anybody not named Bill Russell. However, Chamberlain was selfish, had trust issues with teammates and coaches, and wasn’t clutch. Still, his prodigious numbers, achievements, and the fact that he twice was able to capture titles leaves him unable to be omitted from the list.
8) Tim Duncan
Duncan may be the best passing big man who’s ever played the game and is the consummate winner. His banked jumpers are automatic, and he’s indefensible in the post one-on-one. Duncan’s supreme intelligence, his masterful help defense, and his plethora of clutch plays have led the Spurs to four championships.
9) Shaquille O’Neal
In O’ Neal’s prime, nobody had the bulk to stop him from destroying opposing front lines. In his first 11 year in the NBA, Shaq only averaged less than 26 points per game in his rookie year. Shaq led the Los Angeles Lakers to three titles and captured a fourth with the Miami Heat. However, an inability to defend quicker players, and a refusal to get in shape have curtailed Shaq’s chances to win more titles and to be higher on the list.
10) Kobe Bryant
When he’s on, Kobe is a scoring machine who doubles as a lockdown defender. His athleticism makes spectacular plays look routine, and he’ll score from any spot on the court. Kobe’s won three rings in his career, though his desire to be a team’s number one option broke up a chance for more. Unlike anyone else on the list, Kobe is still in the prime of his career and future successes will give him the ability to move up on the list.
Honorable Mention: Julius Erving, Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy, Hakeem Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen
There's no perfect criteria or building a list of greatest players that spans multiple generations. Let's just say that I took the following into account:
- Ability to win championships
- Stats (career and individual seasons)
- Relative dominance in respective era
- Innovative contributions to the game
- Individual Offensive Skills
- Individual Defensive Skills
- If someone put a gun to my head and said "pick a team to win a basketball game", would I want them on my team
That being said, for the most part, I'll skip the player-by-play justifications, and let my list stand for itself. See you in the comment threads:
1. Michael Jordan
2. Larry Bird
3. Magic Johnson
4. Oscar Robertson
5. Bill Russell
6. Wilt Chamberlain
7. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
8. Shaquille O'Neal
9. Tim Duncan
10. Kobe Bryant
Two bits of commentary on Bryant (as he's in many ways the focal point of this discussion)
1. How did Kobe find his way into the top 10?
I was pretty set on my top 9. Bryant as of right now is a distant 10.
I truly believe that the light bulb came on for Kobe this summer while playing for the Olympic team. Where I used to see a lone gunman, I now see a leader and a winner. You never know for sure, but I really like his odds of being on this list in 10 years as well...right below a guy named Lebron.
He has three championships. When he's on offensively, he's the best scorer in league history.
2. Dave Finocchio's core differences between Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan (sponsored by Staples):
-Kobe has much, much better range.
-Kobe is more creative on the perimeter
-Jordan had more creativity in the paint
-Jordan was tougher (imagine Kobe growing up playing against the bad boy Pistons' teams)
-Jordan was a better team defender
-Jordan was a better athlete (not to take anything away from Kobe's athleticism, but Jordan was one notch above)
-Jordan had more focus as a scorer (especially late in his career). He got the ball in spots where he knew he could score...and dominated. Kobe is more all over the place.
-Jordan's will to win probably qualified him for the insane asylum. His legendary competitiveness is unmatchable...nothing Kobe can do about this.
Honorable Mention (in no particular order): Bob Cousy, Scottie Pippen, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Jerry West
Just Missed (in no particular order): Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone, Elvin Hayes, Walt Fraizer, LeBron James
Putting together a list of the NBA’s Top Ten players of all-time is a little like becoming Britney Spear’s therapist. It’s an unenviable task that once completed, will ultimately leave many people unsatisfied and ashamed.
Basically, I based my list on statistical achievements, impact on the league and winning. Of course, comparing eras is difficult (especially when you’re not alive during some of them) and my top ten is probably too heavy with players from the last twenty-five years. So, if you’re old, you’re probably not going to like my list.
Honorable Mention (in no particular order):
Kobe Bryant – A ridiculous scorer who can do just about everything on the basketball court… except co-exits with Shaq.
Moses Malone – A dominate scorer, rebounder, and three-time MVP.
Bob Cousy – The first superstar point guard and a guy with a lot of rings. Plus, he was great in Blue Chips.
Jerry West – Mr. Clutch. They put his likeness on the NBA logo for a reason.
Elgin Baylor – Before he became GM of the NBA’s most pathetic franchise, he was the real deal.
My Top Ten
10. Karl Malone – If you were asked to create a power forward, you’d create Karl Malone. The rugged Malone is the second leading all-time scorer and possesses two MVP awards.
9. Tim Duncan – He’s not flashy or loud, but he’s one of the best ever. This two time MVP has quietly and consistently put up solid numbers while leading the San Antonio Spurs to perennial greatness and four NBA championships… and counting.
8. Hakeem Olajuwon – The perfect combination of grace and power. The Dream could score, rebound and shut you down on the defensive end. He led the Rockets to championship glory by outplaying two future Hall of Famers – Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal.
7. Larry Bird – Larry Legend’s reputation and flowing blonde hair should precede him at this point. If I have to explain to you why he’s on this list, then you don ‘t know much about basketball.
6. Oscar Robertson – His career numbers are staggering. Statistically, he’s the best all around player ever and the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double.
5. Bill Russell – The greatest winner in NBA history, taking home eleven championships with the Boston Celtics. He also managed to take home five MVP trophies… which is nice.
4. Wilt Chamberlain – The most physically dominant big man ever (sorry Shaq). In addition to great rebounding and scoring numbers (on the court and off of it), he was also a tremendous passer, averaging 8.6 a game in ’67-’68.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - In a word, prolific. The NBA’s all-time leading scorer, six MVP awards, six Championship rings, nineteen all-star appearances… not to mention, most unique and unstoppable shot in the history of basketball, the Sky Hook. Plus, he was great in Airplane.
2. Michael Jordan – His Airness is probably most people’s choice for #1. And maybe he deserves to be there (we’ll get to that in a minute). Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last 25 years, you know about MJ. You know about his high flying and high scoring. You know about his legendary competitiveness, his six championships and his five MVP awards. And you might have seen him in a commercial or two. He is what every youngster dribbling a basketball aspires to be. However…
1. Earvin “Magic” Johnson – One of my biggest problems with lists like these is that everyone and their mother puts Jordan on top of the list and shouts down everyone who has a differing opinion. MJ might be the best player ever. But in no way, shape, or form is he the hands down, undisputable number one. Which is why I submit to you, my choice: Magic Johnson.
Consider the following…Magic won his five championships during the best decade the NBA has ever seen. In addition, Magic led his team to the Finals four additional times. That’s nine Finals appearances in a 12 year career! (not including his comeback year, of course.) That’s domination from wire to wire.
And Magic achieved this greatness against far better teams than MJ faced. If you think the NBA wasn’t watered down by the expansion of the ‘90s, you’re flat out crazy. If you think any of the teams the Bulls faced in the Finals were better than the Celtics of the ‘80s, you’re flat out crazy.
In addition, Magic Johnson is often credited with the following: Resurrecting Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s career, being the best passer in NBA history, redefining the point guard position, being the only non-center who could utterly dominate a game without scoring, and lest we forget, saving the NBA (along with Larry Bird).
Without Magic there is no MJ. There may have been a basketball player named Michael Jordan, but he wouldn’t have been the household name and global icon we know MJ as today. For that to happen, Magic had to come first. Thus he is my number one.
Here's my list of the top 10 players of all time (my knowledge of old NBA players isn't great, so there might be a few more recent guys than other people have)
1. Magic Johnson
2. Michael Jordan
3. Larry Bird
4. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
5. Bill Russell
6. Oscar Robertson
7. Wilt Chamberlain
8. Kobe Bryant
9. Tim Duncan
10. Julius Erving
In coming up with my list of the top-ten players of all-time, I considered four factors—championships, statistics, how they redefined their position and whether or not they could have succeeded in any era and not just the one they played in.
1. Michael Jordan
Timing is everything. When Michael Jordan came into the NBA the best players in the NBA were either at the end of or in the middle of their respective primes. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were already NBA champs and seasoned veterans. Guys like Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone had all seen their best days already.
As a result, MJ was able to thrive once those players had left the game and all that was left for him to be compared to were the guys that came into the league either with him or after him. Instead of going up against the Dr. J’s Sixers, Bird’s Celtics or the Showtime Lakers, MJ won his rings against a Laker team that started Vlade Divac, a Blazers squad with Clyde Drexler and Kevin Duckworth, a Suns team with Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson, a Sonics team with Jim McIlvaine as it’s starting center, and the Utah Jazz.
While all of those teams that MJ beat en route to his 6 titles were very good, not one of them could be compared to those Sixers, Lakers and Celtics teams from the 80s.
So why is MJ number 1 on my list? Because of all the guys you could compare him to, none were as good on both ends of the court or had the ability to dominate the game from the guard position. The fact that he was able to win titles with Bill Cartwright and Luc Longley starting at center tells you all you need to know.
2. Bill Russell
Eleven rings. At 6’9” and playing center, Russell was the consummate teammate. He won five MVPs in his career, with the first and last one being won 7 years apart. His athleticism and basketball IQ are unparalleled. Russell won two championships as a player-coach. If Russell played today, he’d still be considered one of the best to ever play the game because of his timeless ability and desire.
3. Oscar Robertson
Everyone knows that Robertson averaged a triple-double for an entire season. What people don’t remember is that he came within one-tenth of a rebound per game of doing it twice. Robertson can take a slice of credit for all of the point guards that came after him. He redefined the position. He was a 6’5” point guard. Without Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson is probably a power forward.
4. Wilt Chamberlain
The Big Dipper was 7’1” and an athletic marvel. He was a 4-time MVP and even led the league in assists one year. He averaged more than seventeen rebounds in a season nine times in his career. He was First-Team All-NBA nine times as well. He is the only player in NBA history to average more than 40 and 50 points-per-game for an entire season.
5. Earvin “Magic” Johnson
Easily the most gifted player in NBA history, Magic was a 6’9” point guard who led the Lakers to five NBA titles. Each of those titles came against a team that is considered one of the greatest of all-time. He was the NBA Finals’ MVP as a rookie. In the deciding Game 6, Magic started at center and scored 42 points, and had 15 rebounds and 7 assists.
6. Larry Bird
The only reason Bird isn’t ahead of Magic is because Magic has the edge in head-to-head match-ups. Both played with some of the greatest teams ever so it’s hard to discount that Magic beat bird both in the NCAA championship game as well in two of their three NBA Finals’ meetings. Bird finished with two fewer titles than Magic as well.
But that doesn’t take anything away from Bird. He was as good of an inside/outside player the NBA has ever seen. He could get his shot off whenever he wanted to and his outside shot was a thing of beauty. He made all of his teammates better and thrived in the biggest games. He had a killer instinct like none other. He averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists as a small forward, despite not really being athletic.
7. Karl Malone
If not for Michael Jordan, Karl Malone would have two championship rings. Malone played 19 seasons in the NBA and averaged 20 or more points in all of them except his first and his last. For the first 18 seasons of his career, he never missed more than 2 games in a season. He averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds for his career. What makes the Mailman so remarkable was how his game evolved from a power player early in his career to a finesse player towards the last third of it. For a position that has seen some of the best player of all time, Malone was the greatest of them all.
8. Kobe Bryant
From the second he stepped on an NBA court, Bryant was compared to Michael Jordan. Even though both he and MJ tried to stop the comparisons you couldn’t help but do it. The problem with Bryant is that a lot of people don’t like him. When you’re unpopular people tend to refrain from giving you the benefit of the doubt so they come up with creative ways to make you look bad. People would much rather say that he hasn’t won anything without Shaq than say he took a team that started Smush Parker and Kwame Brown to the playoffs in a dominant conference. They would much rather say he was selfish for scoring 81 points in a game instead of admitting he did it because his team was down by 18 points in the second half.
I’ve never seen an athlete more scrutinized. I’ve never seen anyone in any field constantly compared to the best there ever was in that particular area. So instead of people saying he’s no MJ, what they should be saying is that he’s the closest thing to him. In that context we can truly appreciate how competitive and exemplary his career has been. When you consider he hasn’t turned 30 yet, it’s even more remarkable. There are players who live for the roar of the crowd, and there are a few others, like Kobe, who live to shut the opposing crowd up. Perhaps that’s why he’s so hated.
9. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
In addition to being the league’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem is third in total rebounds and blocks and 31st in assists. He was an All-Star 19 times.
He was a six-time champion and won six MVPs in his career. He played for twenty seasons and averaged more than 25 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks per game for his entire career.
10. John Havlicek
Hondo won 8 NBA titles in 16 seasons. He is considered one of the NBA’s greatest defensive players. He was such a great athlete that he was also drafted by the Cleveland Browns to play wide receiver. He was a 13-time All-Star and averaged close to 21 points, 5 assists and 6 rebounds for his career.
Honorable Mention: Shaquille O’Neal, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Jerry West, Bob Cousy
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