NBA Power Rankings: The Best 7-Footers of All Time

Peter Emerick@@peteremerickSenior Writer IIFebruary 8, 2012

NBA Power Rankings: The Best 7-Footers of All Time

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    When it comes to franchise talent in the NBA, there might be no more enticing player than the seven-footer.

    A seven-footer is a player at any position, whether it be the center position or power forward position, that is 7'0" tall or taller.  For the past 40 years, NBA franchises have been building their teams around these seven-footers, and while some situations have worked out better than others, I think it's undoubtedly time to rank the best seven-footers of all time.

    This list will rank the best seven-footers in NBA history, based on criteria like personal accolades, career production, NBA titles won and the success of their respective teams.

    Will your favorite seven-footer make the list?  Read on to find out. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Here's a list of the five guys who just narrowly missed the list of best seven-footers of all time:

    15. Shawn Bradley (7'6")

    No list of seven-footers would be complete without mentioning Shawn Bradley.  When you say "seven-footer," Bradley is undoubtedly going to be the first name that comes to mind.  Bradley never really reached his potential, being on the wrong end of dunks more than he was on All-Star rosters or good NBA teams.

    14. Ralph Sampson (7'4")

    Ralph Sampson was one of the most heavily recruited collegiate and professional basketball players of all time.  While Sampson never truly lived up to all that hype, he undoubtedly had a solid career in the NBA, ending with career averages of 15.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.  Sampson's 13-year NBA career was hampered with injuries, which is one of the main reasons why he doesn't make it higher on this list.

    13. Rik Smits (7'4")

    I really wanted Smits to make the top 10, but I just couldn't put him any higher than the 13th spot, which earns him only an honorable mention.  In addition to being a seven-foot center, Smits also had the ability to step back and beat you with his jumper, which is why he was such a great basketball player.

    Smits never made an NBA All-Star roster, and he didn't win an NBA title, but he ended his career with impressive averages of 14.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

    12. Pau Gasol (7'0")

    Pau Gasol has been one of the most dominant seven-footers in the NBA over the last decade.  Gasol has won two NBA titles, and has made four NBA All-Star appearances.  While Gasol is barely over the seven-foot mark, he's undoubtedly one of the best seven-footers of all time because unlike other big men, he can actually step back and shoot the ball.  

    11. Artis Gilmore (7'2")

    Artis Gilmore is an NBA Hall of Famer that you probably have never heard of.  In his 17-year NBA career, Gilmore made 11 ABA/NBA All-Star appearances, was a one-time ABA MVP and won one ABA Championship.  Gilmore averaged 18.8 points and 12.3 rebounds per game throughout his long ABA/NBA career, which is an impressive feat.  

    Gilmore used his size to solidify himself as one of the greatest centers in ABA/NBA history, and that's why he just nearly misses the top 10 seven-footers of all time.  Maybe next time, big guy.

10. Dikembe Mutombo: 7'2"

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    Dikembe Mutombo was an absolute monster on the defensive side of the ball, which earned him four NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors in addition to three NBA All-Defensive First Team honors.

    The reason why Mutombo isn't higher on this list is because of his inability to produce consistently on the offensive side of the ball, only averaging 9.8 points per game for his career.

    There's no debating the fact that Mutombo was one of the greatest defensive centers of all time, which is why he starts off our list at No. 10.  If Mutombo had been a better offensive talent he probably would have ended up with an NBA title, and he'd undoubtedly be higher on this list.

    But because he never developed offensively, I've got to do his patented finger wave back in his face, keeping him at the No. 10 spot on this list.  

9. Yao Ming: 7'6"

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    Yao Ming is one of the rare players in the NBA that lived up to all the hype that was built around him.  In his eight years in the NBA, Yao earned eight straight All-Star appearances, which is an impressive feat for any player.

    While those All-Star appearances are more because of his popularity in China than his production on the court, there's no doubting that he was deserving of those honors.  Yao averaged an impressive 19.0 points and 9.2 rebounds per game during his eight years in the NBA, which is impressive seeing that he was always being double-teamed in the paint by opponents.

    If Yao could have managed to stay healthy longer he could have easily moved up on this list.  What most don't know about Yao is that while his NBA career was cut short, his professional career, which included six years in China, was decently long.  

    Yao will always be remembered as one of the greatest seven-footers in the NBA, and he's earned that honor.

8. Dirk Nowitzki: 7'0"

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    This selection might get a lot of heat, but Dirk Nowitzki makes the list at No. 8 because he's one of the most versatile seven-footers in the history of the NBA.

    Nowitzki is the one seven-footer in the NBA with legitimate range from downtown, which is an absolute rarity.  Over the span of his now 14-year NBA career, Nowitzki has won an NBA title, earned an NBA Finals and regular-season MVP, and has been an NBA All-Star each of the past 10 seasons.

    What's even more impressive than all those honors themselves is the fact hat Nowitzki has earned all those honors while being the foundation of the Dallas Mavericks franchise for the past decade.

    Nowitzki has earned the eighth spot on this list by averaging 22.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game over the span of his career.  If Nowitzki can manage to grab another NBA title before his days in the NBA are over, he could very well find himself moving up this list.   

7. Patrick Ewing: 7'0"

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    What makes Patrick Ewing stand out among the seven-footers in NBA history is the polish that he has on his offensive game.  Throughout his NBA career, Ewing averaged 21.0 points per game, which included dominance both inside and outside of the paint.

    Unfortunately for Ewing he was never able to win an NBA Championship, which is one of the major reasons why he didn't make it higher on this list.  Ewing set the tone on a gritty New York Knicks team that just never could put a complete playoff series together.

    Ewing recorded 10 straight NBA All-Star appearances, starting in 1988, and is a member of the NBA Hall of Fame.  While Ewing never won an NBA Championship as a player, he still has the chance to do so, only this time it would be as a coach.

    Ewing is one of the greatest NBA centers of all time, who just so happens to be seven-feet tall.  Ewing never really relied on his size to help him dominate in the NBA; he relied more on tenacity and his polished jumper, which is why he's perfect for the No. 7 spot on this list. 

6. Robert Parish: 7'0"

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    Much like Patrick Ewing, Robert Parish made a name for himself in the NBA by using his seven-foot frame to dominate on the defensive side of the ball, while relying on his jumper to dominate offensively.

    Parish was an integral piece of the Boston Celtics' championship run in the 1980s, which included NBA titles in 1981, 1984 and 1986.  With Parish at the center position, averaging 19.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game during those three seasons, the Celtics were nearly unstoppable and that's what made Parish such a special player.

    Parish's production declined during the final years of his career, spending time in Charlotte and Chicago with minimal production, but those late years can't tarnish his dominance during the 1980s.  In addition to his four NBA Championships, Parish earned nine All-Star appearances and he is a member of the NBA Hall of Fame.

    Parish will not only go down as one of the Celtics greats, but also as one of the greatest big men/seven-footers of all time.

5. David Robinson: 7'1"

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    David Robinson, better known as The Admiral, is one of the most decorated centers in the history of the NBA.  He won two NBA Championships with the San Antonio Spurs in addition to racking up four All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team honors.

    Robinson was also named the Rookie of the Year in 1990, which happens to also be the year of his first of 10 NBA All-Star appearances.  If Robinson's accolades aren't impressive enough, the fact that he averaged 21.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game over the span of his 14-year NBA career should be enough to earn the fifth spot on this list.

    Robinson also played for the same team, the San Antonio Spurs, for the entirety of his career, which is something that most players don't manage to do.  The Admiral was one of the most intimidating and dominant players of his generation, and that's why he's not only on this list, but also in the NBA Hall of Fame. 

4. Hakeem Olajuwon: 7'0"

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    Here he is, Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, coming in at the No. 4 spot on this list.  Over the span of his 18-year career, Olajuwon averaged 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game, which earned him a coveted spot in the NBA Hall of Fame.

    Olajuwon spent 17 years with the Houston Rockets, winning two NBA Championships, two NBA Finals MVP trophies, 12 NBA All-Star appearances and two Defensive Player of the Year honors.  In addition to being one of the most decorated centers in NBA history, Olajuwon is also arguably the greatest player in Houston Rockets history.

    Impressively enough, Olajuwon averaged 51.2 percent shooting for his career, which is quite a feat for a seven-footer with some serious range.  What makes Olajuwon different than other seven-footers on this list is that he had a legitimate jump shot, and that's one of the reasons why he's so high on this list.  

3. Wilt Chamberlain: 7'1"

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    Wilt Chamberlain's career statistical production speaks for itself, with averages of 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game over the span of his 16-year NBA career.  Yep, you read that right.  Wilt is the only player in NBA history to average over 20 rebounds per game over the span of an NBA career.

    Chamberlain is a two-time NBA champion, 13-time NBA All-Star, seven-time NBA scoring champion, seven-time All-NBA First Team and a four-time NBA MVP.  Chamberlain's production and his accolades earned him entry into the NBA Hall of Fame, which is a main reason why he's No. 3 on this list.

    The one thing that keeps Chamberlain from being higher on this list is the fact that he produced at such a high level against competition that was ridiculously smaller and less powerful than him.  It would be interesting to see how Wilt would stand against guys his size like Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal.  Still, Chamberlain is definitely deserving of the third spot on this list.  

2. Shaquille O'Neal: 7'1"

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    Shaquille O'Neal finally makes his way onto the list of the best seven-footers of all time, and he does so just short of the No. 1 spot.  There aren't many players in the history of the NBA with the mix of size, agility and pure strength that O'Neal had, and that's what made him such a dominant player over the span of his 20-year NBA career.

    Shaq's career numbers aren't outrageous, averaging 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game over his career, but those numbers are tainted by his decreased production in this last six or seven years of his career.  Taking those years away, Shaq's numbers would be closer to 26.9 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, which makes him all that much more impressive.

    Shaq was a four-time NBA champion, a 15-time NBA All-Star, a two-time NBA scoring champion and an eight-time member of the All-NBA first team.  O'Neal's accolades don't adequately describe the absolute dominance that defined his career, consistently facing double- and even triple-teams in the paint.  You could argue that Shaq could even be No. 1 on this list, but his lack of any skill outside of the paint keeps him at No. 2.

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 7'2"

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    Here it is: the coveted No. 1 spot on the list of the best seven-footers in NBA history, and it goes to none other than the king of the sky hook himself, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

    Kareem is one of the most decorated players in the history of the NBA, and the most decorated player on this list, hands down.  Just take a look at his list of NBA achievements: 19-time NBA All-Star, 10-time All-NBA First Team, six-time NBA champion, six-time NBA MVP, five-time NBA All-Defensive First Team and two-time NBA Finals MVP.

    Any of those accomplishments by themselves would be enough to get a player on this list, but all them together catapult Kareem into the top spot, without question.  If those accolades aren't enough to prove that Kareem's deserving of the top spot on this list, look at his career averages of 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, with an impressive 55.9 percent field-goal percentage.

    There might never be another seven-footer like Kareem in the NBA, and that's what makes him so special.  He perfected the hook shot, to the point where he was literally unstoppable.

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is without a doubt the best seven-footer of all time, and he's more than deserving of this top spot.

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