Keeping his eyes on the ball (above) is defensive mastermind of the 1980's and 1990's Alvin Robertson.
NOTE: STEALS HAVE ONLY BEEN KEPT SINCE 1973-74 SO, SORRY OLD SCHOOL!!!
Big men are usually known for their defensive prowess but guards and shorter players are uniquely qualified to steal the ball from their opponents with speed and precision timing.
A steal is absolutely a turnover by the opoosing team and unlike blocks almost always ends in your own team keeping possession.
I always gauge players by their career per minute production and there are only 12 players in the history of the NBA who averaged at least 1.5 steals a game for their career and recorded at least .060 steals per minute for their careers.
The guys in this list did not go by reputation, they actually produced at a really high clip defensively. You will not see overrated stealers on this list; people like Artest and Pippen were pretty close and others, like Kobe, Payton and P. Pierce were no where near the top 12 greatest stealers of all time!
It's an absolute wonder that MJ is on the list because he did everything on the court, but this is how amazing the GOAT was.
Jordan averaged 2.4 steals per game in his rookie year and he never let up including in 1988 when he was named Defensive Player of the Year!
When players had the ball and they saw Jordan staring at them, they lost it. Jordan proceeded to steal or block the ball.
He averaged over 30 points per game for his career and 2.4 steals per game too.
Jordan wasn't all hype: He earned his reputation as the greatest player ever NIGHT IN AND NIGHT OUT!
Gus Williams had the heart of a champion and he knew that defense wins championships. The guard always held on to the ball. In 1979 he became a world championships as he never stopped stealing. In the pic, he fell on the floor protecting the ball after a steal to help win the title!
CP3 is already amongst the big boys of all-time in steals per game at 2.4 per game, but his career has been short. The way to stay on this all-time list is to maintain your steals per minute average for more than just a few seasons. If there is anyone in the NBA who at the moment can maintain, it is Paul.
Rivers averaged 1.81 steals in only 27.3 minutes a night for his entire career. He is not just the coach of Boston, he was a rugged and tough NBA player in a tough NBA era, the 1980's-90's. I remember watching him play while with Atlanta and New York, and yes, he was tough. The only guy he could never stop was MJ. Other than that, he was a class NBA stealer!
Mo Cheeks was a big star in the 1980's. Well, he was actually little by NBA standards, but he was big defensively for various winning teams, most notably the 1983 champs from Philly. Cheeks always stole the ball at the right time and he actually averaged 2.1 steals per game for his career!
Mookie was an awesome passer and stealer for his entire career. When I was younger I liked this guys game so much. I would watch the Hawks just to see Blaylock run the point. He was fun to watch because he had a certain control of his faculties and body at the point that it showed true professionalism. Unfortunately, the little man was often the only guy on his teams that even wanted to play defense. He never won a ring because of it.
The greatest passer of all-time per minute is John Stockton and boy could the little guy play defense. Some players used to try to call John a dirty player, but they were just jealous because they didn't like him playing defense, and they didn't play defense. He played hard at all times and it is unfortunate that he had to go up against another defensive mastermind in MJ in the Finals twice, losing both times. It doesn't take away from him being one of the best defensive little men ever.
Lafayette Lever was an amazing player, who at 6'3" almost averaged a triple double once. Fat was only 6'3" but he grabbed rebounds like a power forward and he passed like a point guard. He scored like a shooting guard and he played defense like a rabid pit bull protecting it's property. I truly do feel sorry for today's NBA fans who think these guys play defense well. No - Fat Lever would lead the NBA in steals in 2011 guaranteed.
He is an OK coach but he was an amazing steal man. If you were loose with the ball around Nate, it would be gone. Even in the 1980's and 1990's, Nate was kind of overlooked but he was not at all a flashy player. He was all about helping the team win. I used to watch Nate play and he would anticipate the ball, and steal it, and then pass it off. He would score if needed, but it never looked pretty. He was what every team should want as a team leader, but they want flash.
Michael Ray Richardson is not only one of the most awesome stealers of all-time he is one of the greatest players in NBA history. He could score, pass and play defense. In the 1984 playoffs, Richardson led the Nets to a shocking upset of the defending champion 76ers. In the fifth and deciding game, he scored 24 points and had six steals. He did not go on to win a title though. Additionally he was banned for failing three drug tests, and no, it wasn't pot.
Quinn Buckner was a backup guard on the 1984 championship wining Celtics but he had always been a great player, at least defensively.
I'll let him explain:
“My strength is defense,” he said once to the Boston Globe. “Another is my overall knowledge of the game and being able to get everybody involved in the game. I’ve never had an illusion that shooting is one of my strengths. In fact, it was a very known weakness that I had.…You play with a lot of pride and work hard every night out.”
He is the second greatest stealer per minute ever, and most current NBA fans have never heard of him. SAD. He averaged 1.9 steals in only 22 minutes a night for his career!
One of the greatest defensive players of all time had an uncanny knack for stealing the ball from anyone. He had a skill for stealing that has never before or since been seen. It seemed like every year Robertson was at the top of the steals charts, but he could score and pass and rebound too.
Current NBA fans have never heard of the guy and that is exactly why I never listen to their measly opinions. I've studied the NBA for years and this guy would tear a new one in the current NBA.
I used to watch him play and I knew he would always be underraprectaied because he was not at all flashy, but he was truly a quality NBA player.
I weep for today's NBA fans.