Size Does Matter: The Five Best Centers in NBA History

Cecil RileyCorrespondent IIJune 5, 2011

Size Does Matter: The Five Best Centers in NBA History

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    What position does O'Neal hold in the line of great NBA center?
    What position does O'Neal hold in the line of great NBA center?Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    As the sun finally sets on the illustrious career of Shaquille O'Neal, it becomes obvious that true big man play in the NBA is steadily becoming obsolete.  While I can appreciate the desire for seven-footers to want to shoot with range and put the ball on the floor, there is something pure and special about punishing big men who can dominate the paint. 

    Shaq was that type, and we will probably never see another Shaq again.  But where does Shaq sit in the Mt. Rushmore of NBA centers?  Let's take a look at the top five big men in NBA history.

#1: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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    Abdul Jabbar hold the top spot and the NBA's greatest middle man.
    Abdul Jabbar hold the top spot and the NBA's greatest middle man.Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images

    For whatever reason, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar seems to never recieve the credit he truly deserves.  Even when excluding his brilliant college career, Abdul-Jabbar's resume is incomparble.  Rookie of the Year in 1970, 15 All-NBA selections, 10 NBA All-Defense selections, 19 All-Star apperances, six league MVP awards, six championships and two Finals MVP awards is unimaginable in today's game. 

    Currently, the 7'2" center is the NBA's all-time leading scorer, racking up over 38,000 points in his 19 seasons.  He is third all-time in blocked shots, fourth in rebounds and was an underrated passer, averaging almost four assists per contest for his career.  Probably his greatest contribution to the game, however, was the sky hook, one of the most unstoppable weapons in basketball history. No one before or since has been able to master the shot. 

#2: Wilt Chamberlain

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    Chamberlain's dominance is unimagiable in today's game.
    Chamberlain's dominance is unimagiable in today's game.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    "The Big Dipper" remains the NBA's most mythical figure. Standing 7'1", Chamberlain is one of the NBA's most athletic players ever, even by today's standards.  Wilt's resume is truly unbelieveable: career averages of 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds, two NBA championships, a Finals MVP in 1972, 13 All-Star appearences, seven scoring titles, 11 rebounding titles and 10 All-NBA selections. 

    Looking deeper into his gaudy statistics, you see how truly dominant Wilt was.  We all know about the year where he averaged over 50 points and 25 rebounds, but add to that 17 free-throw attempts per game!  The block shot was not a recorded stat when Wilt was patrolling the lane.  Who knows how many he would have recorded? 

    In the '67-'68 season, he avgeraged 24.3 points, 23.8 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game, ranking him sencond on average for the season.  Finally, there is the 100-point game, which will probably never be duplicated.  A giant in every way, "the Stilt" only ranks second because, dispite the mind-blowing stat line, he was able to grab only two titles. 

#3: Shaquille O'Neal

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    Shaq holds the third spot and the league's greatest in the piviot.
    Shaq holds the third spot and the league's greatest in the piviot.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    The unexpected odyssey Shaquille O'Neal took in the second half of his great career has tarnished his legacy somewhat. Had he and Kobe Bryant been able to coexist in La La Land, the "Big Diesel" could have been higher on this list. 

    Even so, Shaq's accomplishments are impressive.  With Rookie of the Year honors in 1993, a league MVP in 2000, three Finals MVPs, 14 All-NBA selections and four NBA titles, Shaq hovers in rare air. 

    His .583 field goal career mark is No. 1 in league history.  His 28,596 points and 13,099 rebounds rank him seventh and 13th all time.  He also ranks eighth in blocks, swatting 2,732 in his 18 seasons.  Much like Wilt, his mix of size, athleticism and explosiveness was unrivaled during his era.

#4: Hakeem Olajuwon

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    Olajuwon's supreme quickness and precise footwork lands him fourth best all-time.
    Olajuwon's supreme quickness and precise footwork lands him fourth best all-time.Glenn Cratty/Getty Images

    Hakeem "the Dream" Olajuwon was truly one of a kind. Earning 12 All-Star bids, back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards, two MVPs and two titles where he took aways Finals MVP honors, Hakeem was a force during his 15 seasons. 

    The perfect combination of footwork and quickness, Olajuwon regularly dazzled and embarrassed opposing big men.  With range that extended to 17 feet, Hakeem was easily the best shooter of the top 5. His 26,946 career point total ranks him 11th on the all-time list. 

    More impressive than his offensive ability, Olajuwon was an absolute terror on the defensive end. He holds the all-time mark in blocked shots, collecting 3,830 throughout his career.  His 13,748 rebounds place him 12th in NBA history and his 2,162 steals rank him ninth all-time.

#5: Bill Russell

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    With eleven rings, Russell is the league's greatest winner.
    With eleven rings, Russell is the league's greatest winner.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Bill Russell's name has become synonymous with winning.  Russell's 11 NBA championships is a feat that will never be duplicated, and he was the foundation those great Boston Celtics teams were built on. 

    Russell's resume reads like this: five NBA MVPs, 11 All-NBA selections and 12 All-Star appearances.  His 21,620 rebounds and 22.5 rebound per game average rank him second all-time in both categories.  Blocked shots were not recorded at the time, but many credit Russell with perfecting the art of the swat. 

    His 4.3 assists per game career average is often overlooked, but is a clear indicator of his commitment to team play. What brings him to fifth place on the all-time list is his inability to dominate offensively.  His 15.1 points per game and .440 field goal shooting percentage pale in comparison to the other bigs on this list.  His impact on the game, however, is undeniable.


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