50 Greatest NBA Players of All Time: Where Do LeBron James and Kobe Bryant Rank?

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50 Greatest NBA Players of All Time: Where Do LeBron James and Kobe Bryant Rank?
Harry How/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James

At the 1997 NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland, the league announced the 50th Anniversary Team, representing the top 50 players in NBA history.

Since that historic season, basketball fans have witnessed several star talents who have had impressive careers. Previously, with the NBA having finished its 64th year of business, I proposed a top-64 team by adding 14 players to the original top-50 team.

From these 64 players, I am attempting to delve into the ultimate basketball history debate: Where do NBA players rank against each other through the history of the association?

In this analysis, I rank the top 50 players in NBA history. This number was chosen because it’s a nice even number. With some of the greatest NBA talents in the past 14 years, I was also interested in seeing which original members might be knocked out by recent players. 

As with all of my analyses on determining the greatness of NBA legends, I use a consistent approach. I judge players by their overall offensive and defensive games, their ability to play and dominate in any NBA era and their ability to win and lead teams to multiple championships. I consider defense to be nearly as important as offense.

Among things I considered in this analysis are: scoring ability, shooting ability, rebounding, playmaking, defensive ability (both team defense and one-on-one), clutch ability and leadership. I considered All-NBA Team and All-Defensive Team selections, MVP awards and basic statistics among other factors.

I also took into account NBA rule changes and varying factors between eras. For instance, with the foul lane being six feet and 12 feet wide in the early decades of the league and no three-point line, the game was played closer to the basket allowing big players to potentially have a bigger impact on the game.

Some eras have experienced significantly higher scoring than the past two decades. For example, from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, teams scored up to 54 percent more with a similar number of extra possessions compared the modern NBA era. Even the 1980s saw teams score about 15-25 percent more with extra possessions. Such high-scoring eras obviously had an effect on the statistics put up by many players.

I factored all of these into these rankings.

As always, I appreciate your feedback. Let me know in the comments where I went right and where I went wrong. Which players deserved to make the list but were left off? Who is ranked too high or too low?

And without further ado, I present the best 50 players in NBA history.

(Please note: Statistics marked with an asterisk were not measured during a player’s entire career.)

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