Top 10 NBA Centers of All Time

Michael TerrenceCorrespondent IIIAugust 25, 2010

Top 10 NBA Centers of All Time

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    Since the birth of the NBA the center position has anchored some of the greatest teams in league history. It is widely believed that an outstanding center is the foundation for building a championship team. In fact, the game’s first dominant giant was a man named George Mikan. He so thoroughly dominated the game he forced the NBA to widen the lane and institute the goaltending call. Mikan played ten seasons winning titles in five of them.

    In the 60’s it was all about Russell and Wilt. These two men dominated the game and their era like no others in history. Over a twelve year period, Russell and Chamberlain combined to win nine MVP awards. Russell would also win 11 titles with the Celtics (8 in a row) and Chamberlain would set an NBA record that still stands by scoring 100 points in a single game.

     The 70’s and 80’s saw such stars as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a 6 time NBA Champ & MVP. Others greats were Bill Walton, Willis Reed, Wes Unseld, three time MVP Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon and Robert Parish all helped lead teams to titles. The late 80’s & 90’s saw a pipeline of talented big men emerge. Franchise changing centers like, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, David Robinson & Shaquille O’Neal made the 90’s arguably the most competitive era of centers ever. The position has seen a bit of a drop off of talent in the 21st century but nonetheless remains a cornerstone to developing a winning team.   

    So here is my list of the top 10 NBA Centers of All-Time.

Just Missed The List

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    The Chief was a 9-time all-star & a 4-time champion but when comparing him to the others on this list he came up short. He was never a truly dominant center & I believe he benefited from the presence of Bird & McHale more than they did from his presence. Simply put, if I took any of the ten guys ahead of him & put them in green, there would probably be a few more banners hanging in Boston Garden.

10. Patrick Ewing

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    Dubbed a warrior by many, Ewing was the leader of the blue and orange for 16 sweat-faced seasons. He was the backbone of a surly Knicks defense and also its number 1 scoring option. Blessed with one of the best jump shots for a big man, Ewing dominated foes both inside and outside. His career averages of 21PPG and 9.8 RPG helped make him an 11 time all-star. The only real hole in Ewing‟s resume is 0 titles in two finals appearances. Ewing squandered his best chance at a championship in the ‟94 Finals where despite a 3-2 series lead his team was unable to close out the Houston Rockets. Making matters worse Ewing was outplayed by fellow big man Hakeem Olajuwon in all seven games. Despite the fact he never brought a championship to the big apple, Ewing‟s contribution to the Knicks franchise is beyond measure and he is arguably the greatest player to ever suit up for the Knickerbockers.

9. Bill Walton

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    Take away the myriad of injuries and Walton might be closer to the top half of this list. Regardless, “Big Red” was no slouch. He led Portland to its only NBA title in 1977 & won the MVP a year later despite only playing in 60 games before being injured. Injuries plagued Walton throughout his 14 year career never allowing him to play in more than 80 games in a season. His selflessness allowed him to make the transition from the star he was in Portland to the towel twirling backup he became in Boston. The best passing big man ever, Walton is the only player in league history to win the MVP, Finals MVP & Sixth Man awards. When healthy for however brief a period of time Walton made his mark on every team he played for.

8. George Mikan

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    How do you know when you’re truly dominant? When the league widens the lane to help contain you & decides to prohibit blocking shots because nothing gets by you. George Mikan was unstoppable during his 10 year career in which he posted averages of 22.6PPG & 13.4RPG. He was Shaq before there ever was a Shaq. A big man who used his size to crush his foes & put fear in the heart of everyone armed with the task of stopping him. He shot a very high 78.4% from the stripe & often befuddled defenses with his ability to make his trademark hook shot with either hand. He carried the Lakers to their first five titles. Oh and he was also named the greatest player of the first half of the 20th century! Where he ranks amongst the greatest big men is debatable but his dominance is second to none.

7. David Robinson

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    The Admiral was such a talented player on both sides of the court it is a wonder how he only has two rings to show for it. His resume rivals nearly every great player to ever play the game. He was Rookie of the year, an MVP, Defensive player of the year, a scoring champion, a 10-time all-star & one of only four players to ever record a quadruple/double.  Still, when one looks back on Robinson’s career they may point out his inability to win a title without Tim Duncan. In the early to mid 90’s, Robinson saw his dreams of a championship end prematurely twice at the hands of Barkley’s Suns & another two times to Malone & Stockton’s Jazz. Perhaps his most painful post-season loss occurred in the 1995 Western Conference Finals. Robinson’s top seeded Spurs failed to win a game at home before falling to the eventual champion Houston Rockets led by their star center Hakeem Olajuwon. Nonetheless it was the arrival of Tim Duncan that allowed Robinson to finish his career with the one prize that had eluded him, an NBA title.

6. Moses Malone

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    When you think of the greatest players some jump out without much thought others… go into the “I forgot about him category.” Moses is often overlooked when you mention the greatest big men but make no doubt about it there are few who were better. Malone leapt from Petersburg High to the professional ranks where he won 3 league MVP’s, was a 12-time all-star & along with Dr. J won a championship with one of the greatest NBA teams of all-time in the “fo fo fo Sixers.” He may have never parted the red sea but he did play a ridiculous 21 professional seasons where he averaged 20.6PPG & 12.2RPG. A great rebounder, scorer & champion, Moses is one of the greatest prep-to-pro players of all-time.

5. Shaquille O'Neal

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    The Biggest & baddest of them all, he audaciously proclaimed himself MDE (Most Dominant Ever). Shaq may be known as a comic but there is nothing funny about his accomplishments; a 15-time All-star, 1-time MVP, & 3-time Finals MVP. For much of his career he was the most unstoppable force in the NBA. He led the league in field goal percentage a record 9 times & his 58.1% from the field is 2nd best all-time. You may ridicule his multiple, late career pit-stops in effort to win another title but make no doubt about it he made most everyone he played with better. If only he were able to put his ego aside & shot a more respectable number from the free throw line, he might have a few more rings on those gigantic digits. Still even with the shenanigans, enjoy him while you can. Shaq is one of the last of a dying breed of dominant big men.

4. Hakeem Olajuwon

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    “If I had to pick a center [for an all-time best team], I would take Olajuwon, that leaves out Shaq, Patrick Ewing, it leaves out Wilt Chamberlain, it leaves out a lot of people.” This is what Michael Jordan said when asked about Olajuwon. “The Dream” was a nightmare for opposing players & dominated the hardwood for nearly two decades. He was an MVP, two-time Defensive Player of the year, 12-time all-star & All-NBA defense 9 times. Olajuwon is the league’s all-time blocks leader & somehow 8th all-

    time in steals! Add that to the fact that his “Dream Shake” use to leave opposing defenders stumbling like your inebriated uncle after a family gathering. He was the greatest center in the 90’s & you don’t need me to tell you so just look at what he did in the 1994 & ‘95 playoffs. Olajuwon dominated Ewing, David Robinson & Shaq in three individual matchups & led the Rockets to back-to-back titles. He had arguably one of the greatest individual seasons of all-time in ’94; he won the MVP, Defensive Player of the year & NBA Finals MVP.

3. Bill Russell

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    The greatest winner of all-time, period. Eleven titles, 5 MVP’s, 12 All-star appearances, averaged over four assists per game & collected more rebounds than any other player to ever play the game (4,104/ 24.9RPG). I could stop there but why? He is considered by many to be the greatest defender of all-time & had a passion to win that could not be matched by anyone. The Celtics won 8 straight titles from 1959-1966, the team was so dominant during Russell’s career that only twice did they not hoist the trophy at season’s end. The man has more rings than fingers, won three titles as a player-coach, oh & he is so revered that NBA commissioner David Stern decided to name the NBA Finals MVP trophy after him.     

2. Wilt Chamberlain

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    The man averaged 40 & 50 points in two different seasons! He scored 100 points in a game (still an NBA record), he pulled down 55 boards in one game (still an NBA record) & he even somehow managed to lead the league in assists. Wilt was an uncontainable force, a 4-time MVP, 2-time champ, 13-time all-star, Rookie of the year & he led the league in field goal percentage a record 9 times. Chamberlain won titles with arguably two of the greatest teams of all time, the 76ers who went 68-13 led by Wilt & the ’72 Lakers who won a ridiculous 33 straight games & went on to win the NBA Finals with Chamberlain being named MVP. Had he played with a better supporting cast for his entire career, he might own a few more championships. As it stands, Wilt will probably always be remembered for two things. Scoring more points than anyone else & losing to Bill Russell.

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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    Scored more points than anyone - 38,387 to be exact. At 24, Jabbar led Milwaukee to its only championship. He played twenty seasons & was an all-star in 19 of them! He won a record six MVP’s, matched that with six NBA titles & twice was named Finals MVP. Did I forget to add that his second NBA Finals MVP came at age 38? “Cap” as he was nicknamed also mastered the “sky hook,” a shot that was nearly unblockable when the 7’2”Jabbar elevated & tossed the ball over his head. He was the ultimate team player & a solid defender who helped take his teams to 10 Finals appearances. It was his unselfish & team centric attitude that allowed him to achieve so much success during his career. “A team will always appreciate a great individual if he's willing to sacrifice for the group,” Jabbar once said. Milwaukee & Los Angeles are so very grateful for his contributions.