Ranking the NBA's 15 Greatest 7-Footers of All Time

Preston EllisContributor IApril 23, 2020

Ranking the NBA's 15 Greatest 7-Footers of All Time

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    Vernon Biever/Getty Images

    Throughout nearly 75 years of the NBA, those blessed with size to both kiss and defend the rim have been the stewards of NBA glory. 

    The Larry Bird-Magic Johnson era began the game's evolution as it blended with Michael Jordan's timeline. Still, bigs remained the focal point of the NBA in every other championship iteration until the mid-2000s. That track record of success tied to NBA bigs prompts the question: "Is the center position the most valuable in NBA history?"

    While you ruminate on that, take a look at the best 7-footers to don an NBA uniform, based on their Hall of Fame credentials, career achievements, playoff performances and individual season performances. 

                          

    Also check out Bleacher Report's ranking of the top 15 NBA players of all time under 6 feet tall.

    *Heights according to Basketball Reference.

15-11. Kevin Willis, Vlade Divac, Rudy Gobert, Dikembe Mutombo, Pau Gasol

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    Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

    15. Kevin Willis

    Awards: 1x All-Star

    Per Game: 12.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Career Highs: 19.1 points, 15.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Advanced: 15.7 PER, 52.5 TS%, 81.8 WS, .102 WS/48, -1.0 VORP

    Willis, the 11th pick in 1984, played 22 seasons and was one of 14 players ever to amass at least 17,000 points and 11,900 rebounds

    His value over replacement player suggests empty calories, but Willis was a critical part of a Hawks team consisting of Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb that punched a ticket to the playoffs in six of his first nine seasons. 

                              

    14. Vlade Divac

    Awards: Hall of Fame, 1x All-Star

    Per Game: 11.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.4 blocks

    Career Highs: 16.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 2.2 blocks

    Advanced: 17.7 PER, 54.3 TS%, 96.4 WS, .137 WS/48, 36.3 VORP 

    The Sacramento Kings' general manager earned a trip to the Hall of Fame by becoming one of six players in NBA history to have exceeded 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocked shots. Divac is one of 20 players to have totaled over 1,450 points, 900 rebounds, 250 assists and 150 blocks in the playoffs

    Though he spent the majority of his career in Los Angeles and Sacramento, he was a bit of a trail blazer, becoming one of the first European players to distinguish himself in the NBA. He is probably best known for being an above-average playmaker with functional mobility and touch from the mid-range. He also was admittedly one of the game's first flop artists. 

                                   

    13. Rudy Gobert

    Awards: 1x All-Star, 2x All-NBA, 3x All-Defensive, 2x DPOY, 1x BLK Champ

    Per Game: 11.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.2 blocks

    Career Highs: 15.9 points, 13.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 2.6 blocks

    Advanced: 21.5 PER, 65.8 TS%, 62.9 WS, .219 WS/48, 20.1 VORP

    Gobert, 27, has turned from late-first-round selection into one of the best defenders in NBA history. Already one of nine to win the award in back-to-back seasons, Gobert needs just one more to tie Dwight Howard and come within one of Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo for the most ever.

    He's already earned a place in rare company by becoming one of 11 players to score at least 5,000 points, grab at least 5,000 rebounds and block a minimum of 1,000 shots despite playing fewer games than all but one on that list.

                              

    12. Dikembe Mutombo

    Awards: Hall of Fame, 8x All-Star, 3x All-NBA, 6x All-Defensive, 4x DPOY, 2x TRB Champ, 3x BLK Champ

    Per Game: 9.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.4 steals, 2.8 blocks

    Career Highs: 16.6 points, 14.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 4.5 blocks

    Advanced: 17.2 PER, 57.3 TS%, 117.0 WS, 0.153 WS/48, 34.0 VORP

    The man who made the finger wag an icon shares the most Defensive Player of the Year trophies with Wallace, cementing him as one of the best rim protectors of all time. 

    Mutombo is second all-time in blocks (behind Hakeem Olajuwon), is tied for the most triple-doubles that included blocks (10, Olajuwon) and is first all-time in double-doubles consisting of points and blocks. 

                                 

    11. Pau Gasol

    Awards: 2x NBA Champ, 6x All-Star, 4x All-NBA

    Per Game: 17.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.6 blocks

    Career Highs: 20.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.1 blocks

    Advanced: 21.4 PER, 56.5 TS%, 144.1 WS, .169 WS/48, 57.5 VORP

    The older Gasol, Pau, may go down as one of the most underappreciated players in NBA history. For starters, he collected 144.1 regular-season win shares (27th all-time) and 15.5 in the postseason (39th).

    In the Lakers' back-to-back title runs in 2008-09 and 2009-10, Gasol collected more combined win shares (8.5) than Kobe Bryant (8.3). In those two years, Gasol became one of five athletes to collect 420 points and 245 rebounds in a single playoffs more than once. 

    Kobe earned two Finals MVPs, proving his success didn't depend on Shaquille O'Neal, but Gasol should be remembered as so much more than a "Robin."

10. Nikola Jokic

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Awards: 2x All-Star, 1x All-NBA 

    Per Game: 16.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Career Highs: 20.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Advanced: 24.9 PER, 60.4 TS%, 48.0 WS, .213 WS/48, 25.0 VORP

    Putting a fifth-year veteran this high may appear radical, but Nikola Jokic's early numbers and unique skill set are indicative of an all-time great. 

    For starters, Jokic might already be the best passing 7-footer ever. He's averaged 5.4 assists per game over five seasons. That has only been done twice in a year by someone of that size—both by Wilt Chamberlain. However, Wilt didn't accomplish this feat until he had turned 30. 

    Jokic, 25, has done it in each of the past three seasons. 

    He's scored plenty as well. Only 15 7-footers have scored 6,319 points in their first five seasons, and only Bill Cartwright did it with a better true shooting percentage than Jokic. His value over replacement is equally impressive (25.0), trailing only David Robinson in his first five seasons among this same group. 

    Should he remain healthy over the next five-plus seasons, there is no question The Joker will definitively become the best passing big of all-time, let alone among 7-footers. His sheer size married to his Magic-like vision and playmaking make him an unstoppable offensive force.

9. Robert Parish

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    Awards: Hall of Fame, 4x NBA Champ, 9x All-Star, 2x All-NBA

    Per Game: 14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.5 blocks

    Career Highs: 19.9 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.9 blocks

    Advanced: 19.2 PER, 57.1 TS%, 147.0 WS, 0.154 WS/48, 40.7 VORP

    As the Bird-Magic era took shape in the '80s, Robert Parish became one of the first complementary bigs to serve a dynasty, helping to supplement the playmaking of Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson, among others. 

    He contributed at least 14.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest over 14 consecutive seasons, an incredible mark to sustain over the most games by one athlete in NBA history (1,611). Parish's win shares also put him 19th all-time

    He was just as active come the postseason, averaging 15.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per contest. He's also one of eight players to amass 2,800 points and 1,700 rebounds in the playoffs.

    The Chief's excellence and steadiness helped push the Boston Celtics to three NBA titles (he later won a ring with Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1996-97) and earned him a much-deserved place in the Hall of Fame.    

8. Artis Gilmore

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    Associated Press

    Awards: Hall of Fame, 1x MVP, 11x All-Star, ABA Champ, 5x All-ABA, 5x All-Defensive

    Per Game: 18.8 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.6 steals, 2.4 blocks

    Career Highs: 24.6 points, 18.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 5.0 blocks

    Advanced: 21.4 PER, 62.3 TS%, 189.7 WS, .193 WS/48, 51.6 VORP

    That Artis Gilmore played the first five seasons of his career in the ABA before he moved to the NBA in 1976 complicates things. For example, Gilmore's 189.7 combined win shares between both the ABA and NBA would rank him in the top 10 all-time if his ABA days counted. 

    Still, there can be no arguing Gilmore belongs here.

    For starters, he led the ABA in rebounding four of his five seasons and didn't slow down from there. It took 15 seasons before Gilmore's averages fell below 15.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Shaq came the closest to replicating that effort with 14 such campaigns.

    Not only was The A-Train one of the world's best in those departments, the man was also a walking bucket. Leading the ABA and NBA in effective field-goal percentage in six of his first 13 seasons helped him assemble some of the best side-by-side true shooting and effective field-goal percentages ever among those who played 100 games or more. 

    But while he was a forceful, impactful long-term player and earned his place by collecting statistics at a consistent pace, he never dominated the NBA, limiting his ceiling on this list. His Chicago teams underwhelmed in his late 20s, as did his San Antonio teams.   

7. Patrick Ewing

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    ADAM NADEL/Associated Press

    Awards: Hall of Fame, 11x All-Star, 7x All-NBA, 3x All-Defensive

    Per Game: 21.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.4 blocks

    Career Highs: 28.6 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 4.0 blocks

    Advanced: 21.0 PER, 55.3 TS%, 126.4 WS, 0.150 WS/48, 50.1 VORP

    Patrick Ewing may be best known among those who haven't seen him play for Bill Simmons' "Ewing Theory" instead of the career that saw him amass 24,815 points (23rd all-time), 11,607 rebounds (25th) and nearly 2,894 blocks (seventh). 

    But Ewing may have fallen victim to circumstance. Through the first 13 of his 17 NBA seasons, all but four championships would go to Magic, Bird and Jordan. 

    1993-94 was Ewing's best shot at a title. But the Knicks suffered a painful six-point loss in Game 7 to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets. While Ewing hardly shrunk from the opportunity with an 18.9-point, 12.4-rebound, 4.3-block series performance, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year would hold him to 36.3 percent shooting throughout the series. Ewing had shot 49.6 percent during the regular season. 

    Ewing joins Charles Barkley and Karl Malone as some of the finest to never win a title, but the Knicks big man didn't quite have the supporting cast to get over the hump. The other four championships during Ewing's tenure went to Detroit and Houston, each of which was represented by multiple Hall of Famers in Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman; and Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, respectively. 

    Ewing had no such teammate during his Finals run. 

    Regardless, the 1985 No. 1 overall pick would go down as a dogged defender and a first-class rim protector with one of the smoothest jump shots in NBA history. 

6. Dirk Nowitzki

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    DON EMMERT/Getty Images

    Awards: 1x MVP, NBA Champ, 14x All-Star, 12x All-NBA, 1x Finals MVP

    Per Game: 20.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Career Highs: 26.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.5 blocks

    Advanced: 22.4 PER, 57.7 TS%, 206.3 WS, .193 WS/48, 84.8 VORP

    I'm just discovering one of Dirk Nowitzki's nicknames is the "Taller Baller," and my life is infinitely better for it. 

    Those old enough to remember can recall the degree of chastisement Nowitzki took for being "soft," a misconception synonymous with European basketball players when he came into the league in 1998-99. Dirk was a volume scorer more akin to Kobe than Hakeem and drew ire because of his unconventionality. 

    Little did we know, the Taller Baller was in the midst of a scoring revolution, a predecessor to the Kevin Durants and Brandon Ingrams to follow. 

    Dirk toppled one of the scariest assemblages of talent in a generation. Before Durant bolted Oklahoma City for a 73-win team, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined forces in Miami.

    Dirk and a bunch of aging veterans would have none of it, as he earned his place in Dallas immortality by averaging 26.0 points and 9.7 rebounds through six Finals games to topple the Heatles for the 2011 title and take the series MVP.

    Dirk finished sixth in scoring, eighth in win shares and ninth in VORP all-time. Of the 22 players to score 25,000 points, he finished sixth in true shooting percentage, separating him as one of the best, most efficient scorers ever. 

5. Hakeem Olajuwon

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Awards: Hall of Fame, 1x MVP, 2x NBA Champ, 2x Finals MVP, 12x All-Star, 12x All-NBA, 2x DPOY, 9x All-Defensive, 3x BLK Champ, 2x TRB Champ

    Per Game: 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.7 steals, 3.1 blocks

    Career Highs: 27.8 points, 14.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.6 steals, 4.6 blocks

    Advanced: 23.6 PER, 55.3 TS%, 162.8 WS, 0.177 WS/48, 74.4 VORP

    This 7-footer was smooth as silk and developed footwork and a shoulder shimmy that would frame the habits of generations to come. Even LeBron utilized Hakeem Olajuwon's move in a critical moment against Jaylen Brown and the Boston Celtics on February 23.  

    The Dream sported iconic moves as well as one of the most intimidating defensive tool boxes in the modern era. His length and size (7'0", 255 lbs) posed a problem for the Ewings of the '90s, but it was his reactivity that earned him to back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year trophies in 1993 and 1994.

    His record number of blocks (3,830) laughably separates him from the competition (Mutombo, 3,289)—and the closest active player won't sniff 3,000 (Dwight Howard, 2,127). 

    Perhaps most impressive is the way Hakeem earned Houston's two titles. Following Jordan's first retirement in October 1993, much of the league was salivating at the first bit of parity it had tasted since the '80s. Olajuwon filled that power vacuum, securing titles in 1994 and 1995 with dominant postseason performances and two Finals MVPs. 

    Hakeem finished first in blocks, 11th in scoring, 13th in rebounds and 19th in win shares all-time, and only six other players had at least 3,700 points and 1,500 rebounds in the postseason.

4. David Robinson

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    JAMES NIELSEN/Getty Images

    Awards: Hall of Fame, 1x MVP, 2x NBA Champ, 10x All-Star, 10x All-NBA, 8x All-Defensive, 1x DPOY, 1x Scoring Champ, 1x TRB Champ, 1x BLK Champ

    Per Game: 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 3.0 blocks

    Career Highs: 29.8 points, 13.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.3 steals, 4.5 blocks

    Advanced: 26.2 PER, 58.3 TS%, 178.7 WS, 0.250 WS/48, 82.0 VORP

    Serving his country may have honed David Robinson into a beacon of professionalism on the basketball court.

    Entering the game at age 24 after his Navy service, the 7'1", 235-pound Robinson possessed length and leaping ability that separated him from the start. His otherworldly athleticism had him thwarting opponents on one end while showcasing an offensive skill set that allowed him to drop 71 points in a game on the other.

    His impact was immediate, leading the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA's most significant turnaround (35 games) in history as a rookie in 1989-90. 

    But Robinson's accolades would initially be overshadowed by his postseason failure at the hands of Olajuwon in the 1995 Western Conference Finals. In the only postseason matchup of their career, Hakeem prevailed 4-2 while accruing 35.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 4.2 blocks per game. 

    So, why Robinson over Olajuwon? Though that postseason shortcoming looms large, Robinson's 30-12 regular-season advantage over Hakeem was decisive. The Admiral also holds a significant lead in win shares despite playing far fewer games (1,238 to 987).

    Robinson's back and foot injuries in 1997 allowed the Spurs to land the No. 1 pick in 1997. San Antonio took Tim Duncan, who would help bring Robinson two titles and match Hakeem's total.

3. Shaquille O'Neal

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    Associated Press

    Awards: Hall of Fame, 1x MVP, 4x NBA Champ, 3x Finals MVP, 15x All-Star, 14x All-NBA, 3x All-Defensive, 2x Scoring Champ

    Per Game: 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.6 steals, 2.3 blocks

    Career Highs: 29.7 points, 13.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 3.5 blocks

    Advanced: 26.4 PER, 58.6 TS%, 181.7 WS, 0.208 WS/48, 75.5 VORP

    One of the most dominant forces ever, Shaquille O'Neal crashed his way into the NBA in 1992, toying with all those who opposed him with imposing size and unfathomable power. 

    The man was one of one. The fact that he was the only athlete to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game every season over his first 13 years separates him from anyone in NBA history.

    Because of his sheer size (7'1", 325 lbs) and relentlessness in the post, few scoring opportunities didn't convert. O'Neal used this advantage to lead the league in effective field-goal percentage in six of his 19 seasons, which combined with his poor free-throw shooting (.527 career) to initiate the Hack-a-Shaq era.

    But as destructive as O'Neal was in regular-season play, he ramped up the voltage in the postseason. Among those to suit up for 25 playoff games or more, O'Neal was one of three players to average at least 24.3 points and 11.6 rebounds per contest (Bob Pettit and Elgin Baylor). He joins only Duncan among those to have scored 5,000 points and grabbed 2,500 postseason rebounds. 

    Shaq is eighth in career points (28,596), eighth in blocks (2,732), 11th in win shares (181.71) and 15th in rebounds (13,099). 

2. Wilt Chamberlain

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    Associated Press

    Awards: Hall of Fame, 4x MVP, 2x NBA Champ, 1x Finals MVP, 13x All-Star, 10x All-NBA, 2x All-Defensive, 7x Scoring Champ, 11x TRB Champ, 1x AST Champ

    Per Game: 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists

    Career Highs: 50.4 points, 27.2 rebounds, 8.6 assists

    Advanced: 26.1 PER, 54.7 TS%, 247.3 WS, 0.248 WS/48, 4.153 MVP Shares

    Wilt Chamberlain dominated in a way no athlete ever had. It seemed almost a child's game to him, the way he amassed statistics daily.

    One of two to ever win MVP and ROY in the same year (1960; Wes Unseld did so in 1969), Wilt put up a volume of points and rebounds throughout his first nine seasons that is unprecedented and ridiculous: 36.0 points and 24.6 rebounds per game. 

    No one has averaged 30 points and 20 rebounds in even a single season before or since. 

    To make matters more absurd, Bob Pettit accomplished the feat in 94 games, the closest to Wilt's 416. The closest active player, DeMarcus Cousins, has done it just 10 times. 

    He was only player to score 4,000 points in a season, score 100 in a game and secure 55 rebounds in a contest—but there's simply no measurement by which we can quantify just how dominant Wilt was. 

    As Oscar Robertson once told the Philadelphia Daily News (via NBA.com) of Wilt, "The books don't lie."

    That Bill Russell was able to thwart his title attempts until 1966-67 was impressive in and of itself.

    Wilt the Stilt is first in career rebounds, seventh in points and second in win shares. While Jordan, Russell, Kobe and LeBron's collection of rings challenge his claim as the greatest player ever, there can be no argument as to who dominated his era the most.

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    Awards: Hall of Fame, 6x MVP, 6x NBA Champ, 2x Finals MVP, 19x All-Star, 15x All-NBA, 11x All-Defensive, 4x BLK Champ, 2x Scoring Champ, 1x TRB Champ

    Per Game: 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 2.6 blocks

    Career Highs: 34.8 points, 16.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.7 steals, 4.1 blocks

    Advanced: 24.6 PER, 59.2 TS%, 273.4 WS, .228 WS/48, 85.7 VORP

    This one is inarguable. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is No. 1 in MVPs (six), points (38,387), minutes (57,446) and win shares (273.4) in the history of the NBA. 

    With the passage of time, Magic, Bird, Jordan and LeBron have all wrestled with the GOAT title. Before Kareem, that title belonged to one of Russell or Wilt. But Kareem owned it without contest during his prime. 

    Kareem played from 1969-70 to 1988-89, and his numbers were impressive, but the way his body endured as he aged was astounding. He patented one of the greatest, most unassailable shots in modern history, the sky hook.

    He earned Finals MVPs 14 seasons apart (1971, 1985), something that hasn't happened since. For reference, if LeBron were to match the feat, he would have to do so in 2026, when he'd be 41 years old and his son, Bronny, could be in his third NBA season.

    The era in which Kareem flourished seems a lifetime ago, but his legacy of excellence will follow him for decades. 

                                     

    Stats via NBA.comBasketball ReferenceCleaning the Glass and ESPN unless otherwise noted. 

    Preston Ellis covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@PrestonEllis).