Ingredients of Greatness: The NBA's Top 10 Centers of All Time
The NBA has had its share of great centers throughout the history of the league. People have many different perspectives on what they believe makes a great center.
I personally think the combination of scoring, rebounding and interior defense are the ingredients of the great ones. Along with those ingredients comes the ability to dominate the game.
The center position is said to be by many the key component of a successful team (try to tell that to Michael Jordan). Assuming you don’t have someone as special as Mr. Jordan was on your roster, it is very helpful to have a dominant center.
The center position has had its greats throughout time. Mikan is considered the first great center in NBA history.
He was followed by arguably two of the greatest all-time Russell and Chamberlin. They passed the crown to Lew Alcindor the great big man out of UCLA, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The best era for centers by far is the late 80’s going into 90’s with 6 out of my top 10 centers competing during that time period. I like to call this era the “Golden Age of Centers”.
In recent memory the dominating big man has died down for the most part. The center position has been no stranger to change over the years.
The evolution of the center position has been substantial over last 10 years. It went from the domination of centers like David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Shaquille O’Neal to the more athletic centers like Amare Stoudemire and Dwight Howard.
People may argue with my Top 10, however after you read each player capsule you will understand why I ranked each player in that place. Please read and enjoy this article as I will be following this article with the top 10 power forwards of all-time. The ultimate NBA fans will certainly enjoy this post.
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George Mikan, Bill Walton, Robert Parish, Wills
Reed, Alonzo Mourning and Ben Wallace.
No.10 Dikembe Mutombo
Coming in at No.10 is the defensive specialist out of the University of Georgetown. He was not the most effective offensive threat, but his rebounding, shot-blocking ability and longevity are what landed him in my top 10.
Although Mutombo did not post huge offensive numbers, he certainly made his presence felt at the defensive end of the court. With his continuous efforts on the defensive end of the court Dikembe
helped control one critical aspect of the game.
He ranks among the top five all-time in blocked shots and rebounds. He is one of two players ever to win the Defensive Player of the Year award four times and is one of the most durable centers of all-time.
Although Mutombo did not win a championship in the NBA he certainly made his mark on history, at least statistically.
No.9 Dave Cowens
Power forward No. 9 is Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics. He holds career averages of 17.6 points per game to go along with 13.6 rebounds per game, and was the 1973 NBA's Most Valuable Player.
Helping the Boston Celtics win 2 out their 17 NBA Titles, Cowens was, by all accounts, a warrior. Though undersized at only 6'9", Cowens out rebounded far larger men with his brute strength and sheer
determination, carving out the paint as his own.
Cowens made seven consecutive All-Star teams, and made three All-NBA teams and three All-Defensive teams. Though his career wasn't very long (only ten
years), Cowens gets the nod here because he was the best player on two different championship teams, in 1974 and 1976.
No.8 Patrick Ewing
Patrick Ewing is the last player on this list not to win the NBA's most coveted trophy, the NBA championship. He had two chances in the NBA finals but came up short both times (one of those times in his prime). Losing in Game 7 of 1994 NBA Finals was his only legitimate opportunity to win a championship.
He is one of the best outside shooting big men that this league has ever seen, and though he did not
win an MVP award he was able to make 11 all-star appearances and win two Olympic Gold Metals. The lack of championships could have a little something to do with the fact he played in Michael Jordan's era.
Ewing was one of the first to come out of my "Golden Age of Centers". He tallied career numbers of 21 ppg, 9.8 rpg, and 2.4 bpg in 17 years of action. Take away his final two atrocious season statistically and Ewing's numbers are even better.
In 1990 he made his only appearance on the All-NBA First Team, averaging and 29 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks per game. As my partner Jay King said, "that type of year is equivalent to an MVP season, I don't know how he didn't win it that year."
Statistically, that is one of the best single-season
performances in the history of the league.
No.7 Moses Malone
Moses is arguably the best offensive rebounder to ever play the game. He was 2nd all-time to Karl Malone in free throw attempts, and played on several teams throughout the course of his career.
The teams include the Utah Stars, Spirits of St. Louis, Buffalo Braves, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Bullets, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee
Bucks, and the San Antonio Spurs. He scored 20.3 points per game to go along 12.3 rebounds per game.
Moses was an 11-time NBA All-Star, 3 time NBA MVP and is a Hall of Fame inductee. He finished in the top 10 all-time in scoring.
Considered one of the most underrated centers ever, Malone posted outstanding numbers throughout the course of his career, which lands him on my list at No. 7.
No.6 David Robinson
"The Admiral" is most certainly one of all-time great nicknames in basketball, and the man who had that name was a great player, too. David Robinson was the dominating presence that an organization would love to have in a cornerstone type of player.
He laid the foundation for the San Antonio Spurs, posting outstanding career numbers of 21 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks. Robinson is separated from most centers who have played in the NBA because he was an incredibly mobile, physical specimen.
He was a two time NBA champion going out in
style with a ring in his final season. Winning two Olympic Gold Medals also puts David in an elite class.
David's most impressive moment, individually, came in the 1993-1994 season when he needed 71 points in
the final game of the season to capture the scoring title. Well, what did he do but go out and score 71 in one of the most impressive scoring performances in NBA history.
He was 10-time NBA All-Star, 1995 NBA MVP, 1990 NBA Rookie of the Year, 1992 NBA Defensive Player of the
Year and a two time Olympic Gold Medalist. David Robinson was the real deal as he put up all those stats while competing in the "Golden Age of Centers".
No.5 Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon is one of the all-time greats, and had a tremendous basketball career, winning at all levels. He went to the final four on two different occasions while he was at the University of Houston.
Getting drafted No.1 overall by the Houston Rockets in arguably the best draft class of all-time started "The Dream's" career in the right path. The list of awards for this basketball machine go on and on.
He was a 2-time NBA champion, winning Finals MVP in both years. He won the 1994 NBA MVP, and was a 2-time NBA Defensive Player of Year.
He dominated on both ends of the court probably better than anyone else in the history of the NBA. He was a 6-time All-NBA First Teamer, appearing on five NBA All-Defensive First Teams.
He was a 12-time NBA all-star and won a Gold Medal in 1996 Olympics. In 1994, he became the only player in league history to have won MVP, Finals
MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season.
To top it all off, he is one of the four players in NBA history to have ever recorded a quadruple-double. Hakeem Olajuwon had a wonderful NBA career and he garnered these accolades in that dangerous era of great NBA centers.
No.4 Shaquille O'Neal
This dude is the most dominant force to ever play the game of basketball. Shaq has produced some fine numbers throughout the course of his career, averaging 24.7 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks
over his 16-year career.
He was the force inside that made championship teams what they were. With his incredibly unique combination of strength, power, and mobility, Shaq remains maybe the best athlete in the NBA's history.
Though his career is yet to be over, O'Neal has won four championships, three NBA finals MVP's, one
regular-season MVP, the Rookie of the Year, and been named to the All-NBA Team 14 times, including eight times on the first team. Still an NBA All-Star at the age of 36, Shaq has been steadily brilliant throughout his entire career.
No.3 Wilt Chamberlain
If basketball were an individual game, Wilt Chamberlain would easily be considered the best player in NBA history. This seven-foot monster
posted the most ridiculous numbers in his 14-year career, averaging 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game.
He had arguably one of the best seasons in sports history in 1961-1962 when he averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game. He also set the single game scoring record of 100 points during that season, which is one of the most memorable moments in basketball history.
For his career Chamberlain made 13 all-star appearances, and was a 4-time NBA MVP, 8-time first
team all-nba, and 2-time first team all-defensive team. Winning two NBA titles is what helped define his career.
He played in the era of Russell so winning championships were not very easy to come by. "The
Big Dipper" was one of the most dominant forces that this league has ever seen.
No.2 Bill Russell
Unlike Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell isn’t near the top of this list because of gaudy statistics. Sure, career averages of 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists (not to mention a ton of blocks, which weren’t counted as a statistic during his career) are very impressive, but they don’t truly reveal Bill Russell’s greatness.
He was the consummate team player, winning 11 (yeah, eleven) championships in his 13-year career. Russell was known for always making his teammates perform at a consistently higher level than they would without him and his five MVP’s were more for the effect he had on his teammates than his own individual play.
The greatest winner in the history of team sports, Bill Russell forever changed the way people viewed centers. Before Russell, center was more catered to plodding, slow, unmovable objects.
Russell, though, changed the game, and made a lot of people realize that mobility and athleticism were key, even for a center. Despite playing in an era that didn’t track blocked shots, he is known as the greatest shot-blocker ever, a guy who transformed shot-blocking into an art form.
Bill Russell may not have been the best player in NBA history, but there is no question that he is history’s greatest winner.
No.1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
In the scheme of basketball history, perhaps no outstanding player has been as overlooked as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Though Kareem was consistently terrific throughout his twenty-year career, almost nobody mentions him in the same breath as any of the NBA’s greatest players ever.
He is the all-time leader in scoring, second all-time in games played (behind only Robert Parish), and 3rd all-time in rebounding. How can anyone seriously mention another center better than Abdul Jabbar?
To add to his ridiculous totals are many other significant achievements. He was a 19-time All-Star, six-time NBA MVP, 10-time All-NBA first team, five-time NBA All-Defensive first team, and the 1970 Rookie of the Year.
Add those honors with that fact that he won 6 NBA titles during his NBA career and you have the “Ingredients of Greatness”. In college he was a three-time champion, three-time tournament MOP, and a three-time first team All-American at UCLA.
This was back when players had to play on the freshman teams when they were freshman, so he probably would have been a four-time All-American if he’d been allowed to play four varsity years.