When thinking of the greatest NBA player to play the game. The player that automatically comes to mind is Michael Jordan. There's never been a player like Jordan even though their will be comparisons.
There are two examples that comes to mind. When Vince Carter first came out from the University of North Carolina based on his dunking ability and his scoring ability, but that's about it. Carter has never been known as a team player and isn't very good defensively.
Kobe Bryant is the other player who has been compared with Jordan. Yet, even though Bryant is the closest thing to Jordan, he just doesn't have the mentality that Jordan had—the will to win in tough situations whether it meant taking the last shot or giving it up to an open teammate.
Bryant has never been like Jordan in terms of practice demanding the best effort from his teammates, and Bryant takes too many plays off defensively, and Bryant takes too many questionable shots as well.
There's arguments for Bill Russell as being the greatest player to play the game considering the fact that when he played blocked shots were not an official stat at the time.
Russell has certainly the credentials to be the top player in NBA history with five Most Valuable Player Awards, three first team All-NBA, eight second team All-NBA, and one all-defensive team selection, was a part of 11 NBA championship teams which also includes five NBA Finals MVP's as well.
For his career Russell averaged 15.1 points per game, 22.5 rebounds per game, and 4.3 assists per game. The rebounds and assists are impressive for a center, but the 15.1 points is decent at best.
Also, his field goal percentage is far from impressive at just 44 percent and free throw shooting he was terrible at 56.1 percent. His stats came in 13 years in the league.
During Russell's years with the Celtics he had players like Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Tom Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, and Bailey Howell.
Russell no doubt was a huge contributor especially on the defensive end and rebounding wise, but he also always had tremendous talent around him as well and usually two-to-three players averaging more points then he did.
Also, Russell was relatively undersized for a center at 6'9", 215 pounds. In today's game, he wouldn't have been nearly as dominant as he was during the decade he was in.
Throughout Jordan's time frame in the league there were very athletic centers who were much bigger and stronger than Russell. Centers like Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Alonzo Mourning, Brad Daugherty, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, etc...
Even power forwards like Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, Karl Malone, Dennis Rodman, Otis Thorpe, etc...
It's hard to imagine that Russell would have the ability to dominate on the glass during the time period Jordan played in.
Magic Johnson is another player mentioned in terms of being the greatest player to play the game.
Johnson had the ability to score, rebound, and pass. He wasn't really known for his defense though, but one of the greatest memories of Johnson was him leading the Los Angeles Lakers at the center position after Abdul-Jabbar was too injured to play.
Another problem was that Johnson's career was cut short due to his HIV announcement, although he did attempt a comeback but it didn't last long.
Johnson throughout his career had the second most triple doubles in NBA history with 138 and he also has the most in the playoffs with 30.
For his career Johnson averaged 19.5 points per game, 11.2 assists per game, and 7.2 rebounds per game. His field goal percentage was much higher than Russell's at 52 percent, way better free throw shooter at 80.8 percent, and a subpar three-point shooter with a 30.3 percent average for his career.
Johnson won three MVP Awards, three Finals MVP Awards, one all-rookie team selection, nine NBA first team, and one second team.
Johnson also was a part of five NBA championship teams. He also had the fortune of playing alongside James Worthy, Abdul-Jabbar, Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon, Byron Scott, and Cedric Ceballos.
Now, Johnson had definitely a lot of talent around him which he made better with his passing ability. Johnson was athletic and was a tough matchup for any team in the league. Even though he's got less rings than Russell, Johnson just edges him out based on his all-around game.
There was an interesting article on bleacherreport by Josh B titled "Michael Jordan Is not the Best player in NBA History." In it he makes an argument for Abdul-Jabbar as the greatest in NBA history.
One of the arguments that stated why Abdul-Jabbar would be possibly picked as the best was due to the fact he was a winner. When he was drafted to the Milwaukee Bucks the team went from 29 wins to 56 wins. Which, is a great improvement for any team.
Yet, like Russell and all the others that will be on the list he also needed help as well. He did end up winning six championships one with the Bucks and five with the Lakers.
With the Bucks Abdul-Jabbar had help from Flynn Robinson, Jon McGlocklin, Oscar Robinson, Bob Dandrige, and Lucius Allen.
With the Lakers Abdul Jabbar had Gail Goodrich, Cazzie Russell, Adrian Dantley, Jamaal Wilkes, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Norm Nixon.
Abdul Jabbar was usually the one that his teams looked to get the ball. He had the infamous "skyhook" and he is the leading scorer in NBA history. He was also a superb defender and he had great longevity.
Like the rest during his time on the Bucks and Lakers he had help offensively from players as well and it definitely helps to have the two best passing guards in NBA history leading the way in Robertson and Johnson.
For his career Abdul-Jabbar averaged 24.6 points per game, 11.2 rebounds per game, 3.6 assists, .9 steals per game, and 2.6 blocks per game. Like Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar had a way better field goal percentage with 55.9 percent from the floor and was a solid free throw shooter at 72.1 percent.
Abdul-Jabbar won the rookie of the year, six Most Valuable Player Awards, and two finals Most Valuable Player Award, first team all-rookie, five second team all-defensive, five first team all-defensive, five time second team All-NBA, and 10 All-NBA first team.
Larry Bird also is another player who comes into the mix when talking about great players. Bird has three championship rings as well.
Like Johnson Bird's career was cut short too, but this was because of injuries to his back that caused him to retire.
Bird was an outstanding shooter, he could rebound, he could pass, and was a decent defender.
He also got help from Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Cedric Maxwell, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, Reggie Lewis, and Kevin Gamble.
Bird for his career averaged 24.3 points per game, 10 rebounds per game, 6.3 assists per game, 1.7 steals, and .8 blocks per game. Bird shot 49.6 percent from the field, 37.6 percent from beyond the arc, and an outstanding 88.6 percent from the free throw line.
Bird has won the Rookie of the Year Award, three Most Valuable Players, and two finals MVP. He's been a all-rookie first team, three time second team all-defense, one second team All-NBA, and eight time All-NBA first team.
Then there's arguably the man who scored 100 points in a game in Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain is a different story then Russell.
He was a way better scorer and his body at being 7'1" 275lbs he was ahead of his time when he played. He could be a center in any era and do well. His size and strength would allow for that.
Even in his final year at the age of 36 Chamberlain shot an incredible 72.7 percent from the field compared to Russell's best year at 45.7 percent. Which, leads to a whole different argument who's the greatest center of all-time Russell or Chamberlain? That's for another article though.
Chamberlain won two championships for his career and for his career he averaged 30.1 points per game, 22.9 rebounds per game, and 4.4 assists per game. He also shot 54 percent from the field, but was terrible from the free throw line hitting on just 51.1 percent.
He won four Most Valuable Player Awards, one Finals Most Valuable Player Award, two time first team all-defense, and seven time first team All-NBA.
Chamberlain also had Paul Arizin, Tom Gola, Tom Meschery, Nate Thurmond when playing for the Warriors.
With the 76ers he had Hal Greer, Chet Walker, and Billy Cunningham.
On the Lakers Chamberlain also had Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Happy Hairston, and Jim McMillian.
So, like all the other great players there were multiple players who could fill out the stat sheet in the scoring column.
Lastly, we have Michael Jordan. Jordan as mentioned there's no one else going to be like him. He practiced with as much intensity as the game has ever known. He made everyone around him better.
He had 20 point scorers turn into role players just so they can get a shot at winning a championship and if you weren't doing your best or putting out the 100 percent effort he would call the player out on it.
He supposedly gave Steve Kerr a black eye during practice. That tells a lot right there that Jordan cared about the product that was on the floor. This in turn is one of the reasons why Jordan was such a great defender he had the whole package. He could score, he shoot the ball, he made clutch plays and decisions, and he was a great defender.
Like Johnson and Bird, Jordan's career had a retirement in which he came back twice. One was for an obvious reason due to the murder of his father and he wanted to try something else he loved which was baseball. Even though he wasn't a success in baseball it was something that helped him heal and return to basketball.
Jordan then returned because he still had an itching to play, but instead of going back to the Chicago Bulls, he returned with the Washington Wizards. His final retirement was for good though and now he's got a stake in the Charlotte Bobcats.
Jordan will always be remembered for his athletic ability as well as his ability to hang in the air for a dunk, but there was way more to his game then that. He was an excellent defender and he never took a play off.
When he caught fire no one could stop him. When Jordan was on he was unstoppable, the only player that has even come remotely close to that is LeBron James. Yet, James uses strength and power more.
Jordan had his patented fall away jumper, he wasn't that great of a three point shooter though, but when he needed to make a clutch three he'd either take the shot and win the game or tie the game or he'd get it to an open teammate to make that shot.
When Ron Harper joined the Bulls, Harper went from 20 point per game scorer to role player, but in the end it was the best decision for Harper who helped out during the Bulls title runs.
Jordan helped create Horace Grant, John Paxson, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, Stacey King, Bill Wennington, Jud Buechler, Luc Longley, Scott Williams, and Craig Hodges into household names.
Jordan for his career won six titles for the Bulls. He had a sidekick with him through it all in Scottie Pippen who by all means was a great player in his own right, but never gets the credit he deserve because he's overshadowed by the greatest player to play the game in Jordan.
Unlike the other greats on this list Jordan and Pippen were the primary scorers of all the other names on the list each one scored at least 15 points per game in a season while playing alongside the great.
Jordan and Pippen instead were helped by solid contributors who were willing to become role players to win once Jordan established himself as the leader of the team.
He did have some players who did score points with Orlando Woolridge, Quintin Daley, George Gervin, b Tony Kukoc, and Scottie Pippen.
With the Washington Wizards he had Richard Hamilton and Jerry Stackhouse.
By comparison to the other greats Jordan had far less capable scorers. Instead he relied and trusted his teammates to make the big plays as well as play defense.
There's a reason why Jordan is the greatest and this list just proves it even more.
For his career Jordan averaged 30.1 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, and 5.3 assists per game. He shot an incredible 49.7 percent from the floor considering he played shooting guard, 32.7 percent from downtown, and a solid 83.5 percent from the free throw line.
Jordan has been rookie of the year, Defensive Player of the Year, five time Most Valuable Player, six time Finals Most Valuable Player, one second team All-NBA, first team all rookie, 10 time first team All-NBA, and a nine-time first team all All-Defense.
It is clear that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player to play in the NBA. It's just a matter who is second, then third, then fourth, and finally fifth.