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Editorials

Updating and Ranking The 50 Greatest Players of the NBA

Updating and Ranking The 50 Greatest Players of the NBA

In 1997, the 50 greatest players of all time were assembled at Gund Arena during the halftime ceremony of the All-Star Game. They were chosen in 1996 by a panel of former players and coaches, current and former general managers, and media members. The selection of the players on this esteemed gathering of legends of the game was met with applause but it was also filled with controversy.

Many believed that there were some deserving players who didn’t make the cut while there were others who shouldn’t have been in it in the first place. 21 years since then, I have decided to dip my hand into the controversial listing with a list of my own and I made it even more controversial by ranking them. The NBA’s official list also needs updating since there have been a number of great players who have come along since then.

In order to rank the players properly, I first had to come up with a list of 10-13 of the best players in history at every position and ranked them as well. But not all who made it to the top 10 of each list made it to my final 50. A player who was at number 12 at the center spot, for example, made the cut while my ninth best shooting guard was left out. Regardless of a player’s position, if he is better than another player in the top 10 of another position, he can make it to this prestigious list.

Charles Barkley, Suns

Without further adieu, here are my 50 greatest players in NBA history, ranked and updated for everyone to debate:

50. Bob McAdoo

Career Averages: 22.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 1x First Team, 1x Second Team

All-Star: 5x

Championships: 2

Curiously missing from the NBA’s official 50th Anniversary All-Time Team was a certain former MVP named Bob McAdoo. It was a travesty to see McAdoo’s accomplishments ignored when the league made its announcement in 1996.

McAdoo was an unstoppable scorer during his heyday, winning the scoring title in three of his first four years in the league. He won the MVP in 1975 after averaging 34.5 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.12 blocks per contest. Later, McAdoo would win his two championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982 and 1985 as a valuable player off the bench.

49. Paul Arizin

Career Averages: 22.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 3x First Team, 1x Second Team

All-Star: 10x

Championships: 1

Upon entering the NBA in 1950, Paul Arizin made the jump shot his signature move, one that was unusual in an era when players routinely took two-handed set shots. Today, the jump shot is a thing of beauty and everyone can thank Arizin for that. With this new weapon in his arsenal, he led the league in scoring twice (1951-52, 1956-57).

The 10-time All-Star would eventually deliver a championship to the Philadelphia Warriors in 1956.

48. Dolph Schayes

Career Averages: 18.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 6x First Team, 6x Second Team

All-Star: 12x

Championships: 1

Dolph Schayes was one of the first superstars of the very young NBA. The 6-foot-7 forward could score and rebound against anyone. But don’t let his boy-next-door looks fool you. The 6-foot-7 forward is one of the toughest and strongest forwards during his playing days.

He led the Syracuse Nationals to the NBA championship in 1955 and was chosen to play in a dozen All-Star Games.

47. Paul Pierce

Career Averages: 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 1x Second Team, 3x Third Team

All-Star: 10x

Championships: 1

It took years before anyone was worthy of becoming a Boston Celtics legend after Larry Bird retired until Paul Pierce landed on their laps as the 10th pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. Pierce could score inside and out and was a fantastic defender as well.

How good was the 6-foot-7 swingman? If I were to create an all-time great Celtics team, I would put him at the shooting guard spot right alongside Bob Cousy at the point, John Havlicek at small forward, slide Larry Bird at the power forward position and then Bill Russell at center. His 2008 NBA Finals MVP trophy showed everyone that Pierce is definitely the Truth.

46. George Gervin

Career Averages: 25.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 5x First Team, 2x Second Team

All-Star: 9x

Championships: 0

The Iceman isn’t just a member of the X-Men, but a member of the Hall of Fame, too. Of course, I’m talking about George Gervin who confounded defenders with his cool and savvy game. The finger roll was his signature shot and nobody utilized it better than Gervin on the way to 20,708 points in the NBA alone.

If we include his playing days in the ABA, he would have an astounding total of 26,595 points. How cool is that?

45. Dave Cowens

Career Averages: 17.6 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 3x Second Team

All-Defensive: 1x First Team 2x Second Team

All-Star: 8x

Championships: 2

He may be undersized for a center but his heart towered over the other big men of his time. Dave Cowens scratched and clawed his way to becoming one of the best players in league history. The 1973 MVP was the center of the Celtics championships in 1974 and 1976. He successfully carried the torch from the Bill Russell era to the Larry Bird era, keeping the flame alive for the Boston faithful.

44. Gary Payton

Career Averages: 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists

MVP Awards: 0

Defensive Player of the Year: 1

All-NBA: 2x First Team, 5x Second Team, 2x Third Team

All-Defensive: 9x First Team

All-Star: 9x

Championships: 1

No other point guard may be as good defensively as Gary Payton. For nine consecutive years, Payton was an All-Defensive First Team member and won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1996, the same year he led the league in steals.

The Glove could hold his own against almost every guard in the NBA during the 90s. In the 1996 NBA Finals, with the Bulls up 3-0 in the series, Payton requested that he guard Michael Jordan and it resulted in two lopsided wins by the Seattle Supersonics in Games 4 and 5. They eventually lost Game 6 but who knows if the Sonics could have won the series had he guarded His Airness from the start?

43. Dominique Wilkins

Career Averages: 24.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 1x First Team, 4x Second Team, 2x Third Team

All-Star: 9x

Championships: 0

The Human Highlight Reel not only had a cool nickname but he had a game that truly warranted the moniker. Dominique Wilkins was one of the most gifted, creative and ferocious dunkers on the court. Wilkins recorded 26,668 points for his career, 13th in the all-time scoring list.

One of the few who was snubbed but truly deserved to be named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest, Wilkins was an All-Star nine times and an All-NBA selection seven times. If only the Hawks didn’t trade him in the 1993-94 season, he might have received a more favorable response from voters.

42. Rick Barry

Career Averages: 24.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists

MVP Awards: 0

1966 Rookie of the Year

All-NBA: 5x First Team, 1x Second Team

All-Star: 8x

Championships: 1

The Warriors’ first championship was accomplished due in large part to the mercurial but very talented Rick Barry. He was an outstanding scorer but is also one of the first do-it-all forwards of the game. A 12-time All-Star, Barry’s intellect is matched only by the passion with which he plays every game.

The Hall of Famer is most famous for his underhand free-throw shooting but he’s a legend because he’s one of the best passing forwards ever and one of the best scorers ever.

41. Russell Westbrook

Career Averages: 23.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 8.2 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 2x First Team, 5x Second Team

All-Star: 7x

Championships: 0

For the past two seasons, Russell Westbrook has averaged a triple-double. That accomplishment alone is mindboggling. Though he may have padded his stats in order to get to that averaged, averaging a triple-double for a season is nonetheless an amazing feat. Not only that but during that time, Westbrook also had time to lead the league in scoring (2017, his second) and assists (2018).

Westbrook’s competitive fire is only matched by few of his peers. He is relentless on the court, taking no prisoners as though his life was on the line every time he attacked the rim. At only 6-foot-3, we could be witnessing one of the most uniquely special individuals to ever set foot on the court.

40. Allen Iverson

Career Averages: 26.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists

MVP Awards: 1

1997 Rookie of the Year

All-NBA: 3x First Team, 3x Second Team, 1x Third Team

All-Star: 11x

Championships: 0

The Answer was known in most NBA circles as “pound-for-pound the best player in the NBA” during his career. Generously listed at 6-feet, Allen Iverson attacked the basket with reckless abandon as if he was eight inches taller. Despite his size, Iverson led the league in scoring four times, steals three times and minutes played seven times.

No one ever did more with what he had than Iverson who also added an MVP award to his resume. What more could anyone ask?

39. Clyde Drexler

Career Averages: 20.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 1x First Team, 2x Second Team, 2x Third Team

All-Star: 10x

Championships: 1

“Michael Jordan West” was one of the ways people would describe Clyde “The Glide” Drexler. He didn’t pattern his game after Jordan the same way Kobe Bryant did since Drexler came to the NBA ahead of His Airness, but Glide played above the stratosphere as well. His all-around game distinguished him and Jordan from other shooting guards.

Starting his career with the Portland Trail Blazers and going to the Finals twice with them, it wasn’t until he was traded to the Houston Rockets in 1995 when he won a championship. For his career, the 10-time All-Star recorded more than 20,000 points, 6,000 rebounds, 6,000 assists and 2,000 steals. That’s a testament to his complete game.

38. Chris Paul

Career Averages: 18.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 9.7 assists

MVP Awards: 0

2006 Rookie of the Year

All-NBA: 4x First Team, 3x Second Team, 1x Third Team

All-Defensive: 7x First Team, 2x Second Team

All-Star: 9x

Championships: 0

The playmaking point guards are almost a dying breed but it lives on in Chris Paul. Paul is a throwback to a time when point guards sought to create for others first and scoring second. He has led the league in assists four times in his career so far but his scoring ability is not one to be taken lightly as he averages nearly 19 points a game.

Paul is an excellent defender, leading the league in steals six times and accumulating 2,036, good for 12th most in league history.

37. George Mikan

Career Averages: 23.1 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 6x First Team

All-Star: 4x

Championships: 5

As the league’s very first elite big man, George Mikan led the Minneapolis Lakers to five championships in six seasons from 1949 to 1954. No one could stop the 6-foot-10 center from entering the lane and dominating the smaller players.

Mikan literally changed the game as the league widened the lane from six to 12 feet in 1951 to prevent him from scoring too easily. He powered his way to 23.1 points and 13.4 rebounds per game. His patented hook shot was the progenitor of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s more famous skyhook.

36. Willis Reed

Career Averages: 18.7 points, 12.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 1x First Team, 4x Second Team

All-Star: 7x

Championships: 2

The New York Knicks have two championships which would not be possible without the presence of Willis Reed. Every Knicks fan knows about Reed’s heroic effort in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals that galvanized his team to win against the Wilt Chamberlain-led Lakers. As iconic as that image may be, fans should also remember that Reed was an MVP and Finals MVP twice and a seven-time All-Star.

35. Steve Nash

Career Averages: 14.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 8.5 assists

MVPs: 2

All-NBA: 3x First Team, 2x Second Team, 3x Third Team

All-Star: 8x

Championships: 0

Only a handful of point guards have won MVP and fewer still have won it more than once. Steve Nash won back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards after guiding the Phoenix Suns to 62-20 and 54-28 records. The year before Nash arrived? The Suns had a 29-53 record.

Nash was one of the most lethal shooters in the game with a career 42.8 percent three-point shooting average and a 51.8 percent average from inside the arc. He also led the league in assists five times including three straight from 2004-05 to 2006-07.

34. Walt Frazier

Career Averages: 18.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 4x First Team, 2x Second Team

All-Star: 7x

Championships: 2

There wasn’t a better point guard in the league when Walt Frazier was on the floor in the 70’s. He was the Knicks’ ringleader who gave them their only two championships in franchise history. Additionally, he exhibited coolness both on and off the court.

To this day, Frazier is a legend in New York and is the epitome of Knicks greatness.

33. Elvin Hayes

Career Averages: 21.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 3x First Team, 3x Second Team

All-Star: 12x

Championships: 1

Considered one of the greatest power forwards in the game, Elvin Hayes was both a scoring and rebounding machine. Not only was he unstoppable on offense, but he was also an excellent defender as well.

Hayes was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team in 1974 and 1975. He led the Washington Bullets to three NBA Finals appearances and won an NBA title against the Supersonics in 1978. He played in 12 All-Star Games and led the league in scoring once and in rebounding twice.

32. Stephen Curry

Career Averages: 23.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists

MVPs: 2

All-NBA: 2x First Team, 2x Second Team, 1x Third Team

All-Star: 5x

Championships: 3

The only unanimous MVP in league annals, Stephen Curry is arguably the greatest shooter to ever walk the hardwood floor. With the 6-foot-3 point guard around, no part of the court is a safe zone for defenders because he can make a shot from virtually every area of the court.

His three-point records are likely going to stand for a long, long time unless his backcourt mate, Klay Thompson, eclipses them, that is. Curry currently owns three championships and two MVPs with the Golden State Warriors.

31. Scottie Pippen

Career Averages: 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 3x First Team, 2x Second Team, 2x Third Team

All-Star: 7x

Championships: 6

No one played a better complementary role to a bigger star than Scottie Pippen. He grew and blossomed in Jordan’s shadow and was the most versatile player in the game during his time in Chicago. In the 1993-94 season when Jordan first retired, Pippen led the Bulls to a 55-25 record, won the All-Star Game MVP award and was a regular season MVP candidate, finishing third in the voting behind Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon and San Antonio’s David Robinson.

Pippen was the creator on offense, allowing the Bulls’ point guards to be specialists, specifically shooters. And though he was a very good offensive player, Pippen’s calling card was his defense. He was a 10-time All-Defensive Team member, often guarding the opponent’s best player.

30. Patrick Ewing

Career Averages: 21.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 1x First Team, 6x Second Team

All-Star: 11x

Championships: 0

Patrick Ewing is one of the 10 best centers in NBA history. Ewing’s career shouldn’t be defined by his lack of championship rings and the fact that his Knicks team lost several times to Michael Jordan’s Bulls. He’s a warrior of the highest order and the face of the franchise for more than a decade.

Everyone should remember that he carried the Knicks franchise to the playoffs for 13 years including a Finals appearance after years of mediocrity before he was drafted in 1985. He’s an 11-time All-Star and a member of several All-NBA teams.

29. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant, Warriors

CP

Career Averages: 27.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 6x First Team, 2x Second Team

All-Star: 9x

Championships: 2

Kevin Durant is already the second-best player in the game today and he is slowly climbing up the charts of the greatest players ever. With an MVP and two championships, the Durantula is as tall as a center at seven feet tall with the skills of a shooting guard, playing the small forward position and defending the paint like a power forward.

Regardless of the issues surrounding him and his future, Durant has shown that he is one of the greatest players in the game.

28. Jason Kidd

Career Averages: 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 5x First Team, 1x Second Team

All-Star: 10x

Championships: 1

Jason Kidd carried one of the most unusual teams to the Finals when he led the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003.

After joining the Nets in 2001, Kidd immediately turned the team’s fortunes around. The team had a 26-game improvement from a year ago with a 52-30 record, the first 50-win season in the Nets franchise’s history. That phenomenal turnaround alone should have earned the 6-foot-4 point guard his first MVP award but the voters chose Tim Duncan instead, a mistake that cost Kidd his best shot at the league’s most prestigious individual award.

Kidd led the league in assists five times including three straight from 1998-99 to 2000-01.

27. Bob Pettit

Career Averages: 26.4 points, 16.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists

MVP Awards: 2

All-NBA: 10x First Team, 1x Second Team

All-Star: 11x

Championships: 1

One of the games earliest superstar forwards, Bob Pettit won a championship before the Celtics started to hoard them in the late 50s and 60s. He was a force to be reckoned with and carried the St. Louis Hawks to a championship in 1958.

Pettit had a spectacular game with 50 points in Game 6 of the Finals, clinching the series with a 110-109 victory.

26. Bob Cousy

Career Averages: 18.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 10x First Team, 2x Second Team

All-Star: 13x

Championships: 6

As good as Bill Russell was, the one who held the keys to many of the Celtics championships in the 1960s was Bob Cousy. Cousy led the league in assists for eight straight years, a mark that has never been eclipsed.

He won the 1957 MVP and won six championships with Russell. As a testament to his greatness and popularity, Cooz was named to 13 NBA All-Star Games while playing 13 full seasons for the Celtics.

25. Isiah Thomas

Career Averages: 19.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 9.3 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 3x First Team, 2x Second Team

All-Star: 12x

Championships: 2

The Detroit Pistons Bad Boys begin and end with the littlest guy on their roster—Isiah Thomas. No matter his size, Thomas was the heart and soul of the rough and tough Pistons who pummeled anyone on their way to winning back-to-back championships from 1988-89 to the 1989-90 seasons.

One would be hard-pressed to find another player with Zeke’s combination of handles, scoring ability, and passing acumen along with his feistiness. He should have been on the original Dream Team in 1992 but wasn’t included due to a conflict with some members of the team particularly Jordan and Karl Malone.

24. John Stockton

Career Averages: 13.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 10.5 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 2x First Team, 6x Second Team, 3x Third Team

All-Star: 10x

Championships: 0

The greatest passer in NBA history by a mile, John Stockton could have been a 20-point scorer but chose to distribute the ball to his teammates instead, whether it was Karl Malone or any of their supporting cast.

His 15,806 career assists is 3,715 more than second-placer Jason Kidd’s total. Stockton is also the NBA’s career leader in steals (3,265) and one of the most durable players in the game playing all 82 games of a season 16 times in his illustrious 19-year career.

23. Dwyane Wade

Career Averages: 22.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 2x First Team, 3x Second Team, 3x Third Team

All-Star: 12x

Championships: 3

Even as an undersized shooting guard, Dwyane Wade played big especially in the biggest stage. In just his third season, Wade led the Heat to the 2006 title versus the Dallas Mavericks after going down 0-2 in the Finals. He was unstoppable and showed everyone that he was the league’s next great high-flying superstar.

Wade promptly showed everyone since then that he was in the conversation for the top five shooting guards of all time. With his career winding down this season, the 6-foot-4 shooting guard has accomplished a lot more than anyone ever thought he could when he was drafted with the fifth overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft.

22. Dirk Nowitzki

Career Averages: 21.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists

MVPs: 1

All-NBA: 4x First Team, 5x Second Team, 3x Third Team

All-Star: 13x

Championships: 1

He has the most unstoppable fadeaway jumper off of one leg in league history. Dirk Nowitzki won a championship in 2011 while he was at the peak of his powers.

Nowitzki is climbing up the charts in career all-time scoring where he is currently in sixth place at 31,187 points and counting. He owns an MVP, a Finals MVP and a championship ring. He’s a 13-time All-Star and a 12-time All-NBA team member. He is considered one of the best international players we’ve ever seen grace the hardwood. Scratch that. He’s one of the best we’ve seen period.

21. Julius Erving

Career Averages: 22.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 5x First Team, 2x Second Team

All-Star: 11x

Championships: 1

The greatest gift that the ABA gave to the NBA is none other than Julius Erving. With his long arms, big hands, huge afro and high-flying act, Dr. J was one of the most entertaining and unstoppable forces in the game.

If he had played his entire career in the NBA, he would have ranked higher on this list. He’s a two-time ABA champion, three-time ABA MVP, five-time ABA All-Star and he scored 11,662 points in the ABA’s short existence.

As it is, he’s already quite the accomplished superstar already.

20. Kevin Garnett

Career Averages: 17.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 4x First Team, 3x Second Team, 2x Third Team

All-Star: 15x

Championships: 1

Believe it or not, the Kid is now retired and is arguably in the top 20 greatest of all time. Kevin Garnett is the only player to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for six consecutive seasons, breaking Larry Bird’s mark of five consecutive.

A leader on the court as well as off it, Garnett anchored the Celtics’ stingy defense and let Paul Pierce and Ray Allen take care of the scoring. He won a championship ring after Boston won its 17th title in 2008.

19. John Havlicek

Career Averages: 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 4x First Team, 7x Second Team

All-Star: 13x

Championships: 8

Some people may find it hard to believe but there are a handful of players with more championships than Jordan who had six in his stellar career. John “Hondo” Havlicek is one of them.

After Bill Russell retired, Havlicek carried the Celtics to a couple of titles and earned his place among the game’s elite. No one has scored more points in a Celtics uniform than Havlicek and that includes the great Larry Bird.

18. Elgin Baylor

Career Averages: 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 10x First Team

All-Star: 11x

Championships: 0

The forefather of today’s high-flyers, Elgin Baylor wowed fans with his nightly forays to the hoop. He is also one of the highest scoring small forwards in the game and the best rebounder of the lot with 13.5 rebounds per game.

Despite retiring prematurely nine games into the 1971-72 season and thereby missing out on winning a title, the Lakers fittingly gave him a championship ring since he played in nine games.

17. David Robinson

Career Averages: 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 4x First Team, 2x Second Team, 4x Third Team

All-Star: 10x

Championships: 2

In the unofficial “Golden Age of Centers” in the 90s, David Robinson was one of the best of that era. He became the foundation of today’s San Antonio Spurs with his class act and unselfish play on the court.

He only won one MVP award even though there were at least two other instances when he could have won it. When Tim Duncan arrived in 1997, Robinson gracefully let his frontcourt partner get all the limelight while he focused on defense and rebounding. It resulted in the Spurs winning championships in 1999 and 2003 after which he retired as one of the greatest big men ever.

16. Charles Barkley

Career Averages: 22.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 5x First Team, 5x Second Team, 1x Third Team

All-Star: 11x

Championships: 0

Charles Barkley is one of the most skilled power forwards to play the game. After Chuck Daly coached the Round Mound of Rebound on the Dream Team in 1992, he believed that Barkley was the best player on the roster that included basketball luminaries such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. That’s the highest praise that Barkley has received from a coach.

Despite his lack of height (listed at 6-foot-6) while playing the power forward position, he led the league in rebounds in 1987. If he had been healthier, Barkley would have been in the top ten on this list and could take the title of the greatest power forward ever.

15. Karl Malone

Career Averages: 25.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists

MVP Awards: 2

All-NBA: 11x First Team, 2x Second Team, 1x Third Team

All-Star: 14x

Championships: 0

No one worked harder on those 1980s and 1990s Utah Jazz teams than Karl Malone. The Mailman delivered day in and day out, hardly missing any time on the court during his illustrious 19-year NBA career.

Malone is second all-time to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in career scoring with 36,928 points and seventh in career rebounds with 14,968. Had it not been for a certain No. 23, there’s no doubt that Malone would have won a championship or two before he retired.

14. Moses Malone

Career Averages: 20.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists

MVP Awards: 3

All-NBA: 4x First Team, 4x Second Team

All-Star: 12x

Championships: 1

Few centers can match Moses Malone’s accomplishments at the professional level despite coming directly from high school. Malone knows what it takes to win individually and with a team.

He is a three-time MVP, a six-time rebounding champion, named to eight All-NBA teams and won a championship in 1983. When Julius Erving simply could not win a title with 76ers, the addition of the 6-foot-10 center was the final piece that gave Dr. J his highly-coveted championship ring and it was Malone who took home the Finals MVP award.

13. Jerry West

Career Averages: 27.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.7 assists

MVP Awards: 0

All-NBA: 10x First Team, 2x Second Team

All-Star: 14x

Championships: 1

Jerry West was the best shooting guard during the NBA’s Golden Era. To this day, the Logo is one of the most revered players of all time.

No one has won the Finals MVP trophy in a losing cause and he did it in the 1969 Finals by averaging 37.9 points in the series including a triple-double in Game 7 with 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. Had it not been for Russell’s Celtics, West would have won multiple championships.

12. Hakeem Olajuwon

Career Averages: 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 6x First Team, 3x Second Team, 3x Third Team

All-Star: 12x

Championships: 2

Perhaps the most fluid big man ever, Hakeem Olajuwon was a man of a thousand moves in the low post. The Dream Shake is ballet-like in its beauty and grace, leaving opponents scratching their heads in amazement and embarrassment.

Though Olajuwon won “only” two championships, the way he dismantled premier centers such as David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal on his way to those titles propelled him to the top of the elite big men of his day.

11. Oscar Robertson

Career Averages: 25.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 9.5 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 9x First Team, 2x Second Team

All-Star: 12x

Championships: 1

One of the most difficult decisions of ranking the top 50 players was booting Oscar Robertson out of the top 10. But it all boiled down to a choice between Kobe Bryant and Robertson but the Laker guard won by a hair mostly because of his postseason successes. I could’ve tied the two players at number 10 but I prefer to be definitive with my ranking­.

For years, no one knew what a triple-double was until Robertson did it and he accomplished the feat without thinking of wanting to get one every night. His five-year triple-double average is one of the most insane statistics in league history. Robertson is the precursor to LeBron James but no one has played a more complete all-around game in history than the Big O.

10. Kobe Bryant

Career Averages: 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 11x First Team, 2x Second Team, 2x Third Team

All-Star: 18x

Championships: 5

Some say he’s the greatest Laker of all time and after playing incredibly great for 20 years, Kobe Bryant deserves to at least be part of the argument. He entered the league as a teenager who could barely contain his excitement to be playing hoops as a career. Basketball was the perfect outlet for the young man’s competitive nature.

Bryant has accomplished what most NBA players can only dream of. He won the Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie and was a member of the All-Rookie Team. In only his second season, Bryant became an All-Star, the first of 18 such selections. Soon, he would win three straight titles along with fellow superstar Shaquille O’Neal. When the two parted ways, Bryant waited a few more seasons before he won two more championships, one more than his former teammate.

One of the elite scorers in NBA history, the Black Mamba is third in all-time career scoring with 33,643 points and the Lakers all-time leading scorer. He won his only MVP award in 2008 and was the Finals MVP twice in 2009 and 2010. Bryant won the All-Star Game MVP a record four times (tied with Bob Petit) with one of them as co-winner with O’Neal.

9. Tim Duncan

Career Averages: 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists

MVP Awards: 2

All-NBA: 10x First Team, 3x Second Team, 2x Third Team

All-Star: 15x

Championships: 5

Tim Duncan was big enough and strong enough to play center in the NBA as he did in college but David Robinson was the incumbent at the position so he played power forward instead in a Twin Towers-combo that’s practically unmatched in league history. Because of that positional change, Duncan became arguably the greatest power forward to play basketball.

Don’t let his unassuming demeanor fool you. Duncan is as competitive as any player in the league. He’s a 15-time All-Star, a two-time MVP, a five-time NBA champion and a three-time Finals MVP. And that’s just for starters. He is the only player in league annals to be selected to both the All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams in each of his first 13 seasons.

In Game 6 of the 2003 Finals, Duncan nearly recorded a quadruple-double when he accumulated 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 8 blocks. It would have been the first quadruple-double in the postseason and the first and only in the Finals. His 32 blocks in the series is a record for the Finals and for a six-game playoff series. Such was the omnipresence of the Wake Forest graduate on the court. Most of all, Duncan will be remembered as a gentleman and a great human being. He was a humble leader, encouraging teammate and a good friend to those who had the privilege of playing with him.

8. Shaquille O’Neal

Career Averages: 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists

MVP Awards: 1

All-NBA: 8x First Team, 2x Second Team, 4x Third Team

All-Star: 15x

Championships: 4

An immovable object down low, Shaquille O’Neal is one of the most mobile big men in NBA history. At 7-foot-1 and more than 300 pounds, O’Neal dominated the paint with his unusual combination of strength, skill and speed.

O’Neal nabbed the Rookie of the Year award in 1992 and he never looked back since then. After only four years in the league, O’Neal carried the Orlando Magic franchise, an expansion team in 1989, to the 1995 NBA Finals. In 1996, O’Neal left the Magic to join the Lakers where he would eventually team with coach Phil Jackson and fellow superstar Bryant to form one of the greatest trios in league history. They soon won three titles in a row from 2000 to 2002. O’Neal changed teams again in 2004, this time with the Heat who had up-and-coming superstar Wade in its roster. The two teamed up to give the franchise its first ever championship in 2006 as he won his fourth championship in seven years.

O’Neal is one of only three players to win the regular season MVP, All-Star Game MVP and Finals MVP awards in the same season (1999-2000). The Diesel led the league in scoring twice (1994-95, 1999-2000) and is currently eighth in all-time scoring.

7. Larry Bird

Career Averages: 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists

MVP Awards: 3

All-NBA: 9x First Team, 1x Second Team

All-Star: 12x

Championships: 3

If you want to show a kid how to play basketball, you show him Larry Bird. Looking at 6-foot-9 forward, you would never think that he can play in the NBA but, boy oh boy can he play! The Celtics legend is one of the most revered players to this day because of his intelligence, competitiveness and all-around ability to do just about anything on the court. And that’s from a white man who can’t run and can’t jump. Bird overwhelms you with his cockiness, smarts, supreme confidence and ability to get off his shots with regularity.

No. 33 won three straight MVP awards, the only player in league history to accomplish the feat. He revitalized the struggling Celtics in the 80s and brought back the glory days of the 60s when Boston ruled the NBA. During his playing days, he added three championship banners to the rafters of the old Boston Garden and brought in legions of fans from the NCAA to the NBA along with Magic Johnson, his chief rival and now close friend.

Many have said that there will never be another Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson etc. But, honestly, we’ve seen versions of these two great players in Kobe Bryant and Ben Simmons, respectively. The truth is, Bird is quite possibly the only player that you can confidently say, “there will never be another” because there will truly never ever be another Larry Bird.

6. Magic Johnson

Career Averages: 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 11.2 assists

MVP Awards: 3

All-NBA: 9x First Team, 1x Second Team

All-Star: 12x

Championships: 5

The Lakers would not have had Showtime in the 1980s without Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Magic was perfect for L.A. and Hollywood with his trademark smile and passion for the game. His Finals MVP as a rookie is perhaps his single greatest accomplishment after he replaced the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game 6. He started the game at center and played all five positions by the time the game was over, recording 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.

His near-annual battles with Bird for the championship drove the league to heights of popularity it had never known before. His five championships cemented him as one of the greatest players to play the game.

At 6-foot-9, Johnson was the biggest point guard that had ever graced the basketball court until the Sixers’ Ben Simmons came along. The Lakers playmaker ran the offense with a love for the game that was rarely seen and he orchestrated Showtime to perfection on the way to five championships in nine Finals appearances. He also led the 1988-89 Lakers to the first back-to-back championship in 20 years. Since then, back-to-back championships and three-peats became commonplace.

Johnson retired from the game prematurely in 1991 at 32 years old after contracting HIV. Who knows how much more he could have accomplished had he played five or more seasons?

5. Bill Russell

Career Averages: 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists

MVP Awards: 5

All-NBA: 3x First Team, 8x Second Team

All-Star: 12x

Championships: 11

13 years. 11 championship rings. 10 fingers. That pretty much sums up the legacy of Bill Russell, the man who owns the most championship rings in the game’s storied history. Russell’s philosophy was all about winning titles because, according to him, there were no politics when it came to winning. The individual accolades came anyway as he won five MVP Awards.

If there was a Defensive Player of the Year Award back in the 1960s, Russell would have won it every year that it was handed out. He ignited the Celtics vaunted fastbreak with his defense. Though he would battle Wilt Chamberlain as the most dominant big man in the game, the 6-foot-10 center wasn’t the scorer that his contemporary was. His focus was in taking care of the paint and making sure that everyone was involved in the offense.

There are those who regard Russell as the greatest player in the game because of his unprecedented 11 titles. No matter who was on the floor with him, Boston found a way to win, regardless. When the playoffs came, his teammates knew that they could win any ballgame or series because of his mere presence.

The Celtics won also eight straight titles under Russell’s leadership, still the longest current championship streak in league annals. He not only led by example but by his words as well. For three seasons (1966-67, 1967-68 and 1968-69), he was the team’s playing coach, guiding the team to championships during those last two years.

Is he the greatest? If winning was the basis, then Russell wins that argument hands down.

4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Career Averages: 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists

MVP Awards: 6

All-NBA: 10x First Team, 5x Second Team

All-Star: 19x

Championships: 6

No one has eclipsed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s six MVP awards and that’s for a good reason. His excellence extends over two decades, winning six championships along the way. Before being part of the Lakers’ Showtime, Jabbar had already won a championship ring with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971 but had a long title drought.

His 38,837 points have stood the test of time. It’s been almost 20 years since he retired and the record still stands to this day.

But it’s impossible to talk about Kareem without talking about the skyhook. His signature move is one of the most enduring images in NBA history and one that is likely never going to be replicated.

The Captain won five more championships with Magic directing traffic during the Lakers Showtime era.

In 2016, ESPN ranked him as the second best player in NBA history behind only the great Michael Jordan. But if you ask Isiah Thomas, the Pistons ringleader in the 1980’s who faced off against his Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar is the greatest player of all-time especially if you consider his dominance from his high school days to his college career and all the way to the professional ranks.

3. Wilt Chamberlain

Career Averages: 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists

MVPs: 4

All-NBA: 7x First Team, 3x Second Team

All-Star: 13x

Championships: 2

Wilt Chamberlain was a larger than life figure who is one of the most difficult to rank in an all-time greatest list. The Stilt suffered from the perception that he wasn’t as good as advertised when time and time again his teams would be eliminated by Russell’s Celtics. But can you imagine how many rings Chamberlain would have owned if he and Russell had not played simultaneously? We’d probably rank him number one on this list along with every other sports website.

The 7-footer changed the game as the NBA decided to widen the lane to limit his dominance over smaller players. He was the second real giant (after Mikan) on the hardwood and it was only the Celtics who truly humbled the league’s unstoppable mythical figure with the defensive prowess of Russell, their own immovable object. Despite these setbacks in the playoffs, Chamberlain owns records that will likely never be broken such as his 100-point performance against the New York Knicks and the 55 rebounds he grabbed in a game against the Celtics. There was a season in which Chamberlain never left a basketball game to rest, averaging 48.5 minutes a game. That shows us that he was merely toying with the league through his massive size and talent.

Before Jordan tied him, Wilt held the record for the most consecutive seasons leading the league in scoring with seven. But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was when he led the league in total assists in the 1968 season, averaging a career-high 8.6 assists per game. There was nothing he couldn’t do on the hardwood as long as he set his mind to do it.

2. LeBron James

Career Averages: 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists

MVPs: 4

All-NBA: 12x First Team, 2x Second Team

All-Star: 14x

Championships: 3

16 years into his career and LeBron James has not shown signs of slowing down. Based on his numbers last season, it almost seems as if he just reached his prime.

The first pick of the 2003 NBA Draft straight out of high school is a four-time MVP and a perennial All-Star. He’s the first player to reach 30,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 8,000 assists and he is on pace to reach the unfathomable—40,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists. When James finally pioneers the exclusive 40K-10K-10K club, we may not see anyone else join him for the next 50 years or so.

His resume is filled with accolades and records broken that could fill an entire 200-page book. With today’s advanced statistics and record-keeping, we are able to track what players are doing that are historically great. Atop the leaderboard of history-making and record-breaking is the kid from Akron who continues to add to his legacy with every game that he plays.

The “Greatest of All Time” debate is discussed by the media almost every season because of James’ nightly exploits. In fact, never has this discussion become as prevalent as these last few years after he claimed that elusive championship in 2012. Since then, he has been working his way up the greatest of all time ladder, passing other players in the discussion such as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain.

Before his career is over, he may even take over the number one spot on this list but that’s a debate for another time. For now, let’s just be witnesses and watch in awe of this phenomenon called LeBron James.

1. Michael Jordan

Career Averages: 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists

MVP Awards: 5

All-NBA: 10x First Team, 1x Second Team

All-Star: 14x

Championships: 6

The greatest player ever to lace a pair of basketball shoes is none other than Michael Jeffrey Jordan. The 6-foot-6 legend took the league by storm the moment he set foot on an NBA hardwood. When the lanky but athletic young shooting guard started his career, Jordan was thought of more as a scoring machine even though he was an excellent defender and a willing passer. He averaged more assists per game than most, if not all, of his fellow shooting guards.

It wasn’t until he won his first championship that he was taken seriously as one of the greatest players in the game. Six championships later (with no loss in the Finals), Jordan sits atop the discussion of the greatest player debate despite James’ continuous assault upon His Airness’ accomplishments. The latter player may or may not catch up to the former, but for now, Jordan sits on the throne with the rest of his peers honoring him for his accomplishments.

The five-time MVP was an assassin on the court, taking down opponents of all shapes and sizes. No one was safe from Jordan’s competitive fire as he extinguished all comers on his way to winning six Finals MVPs to go along with his six rings. Jordan owns numerous awards and records, most of which continue to endure to this day.

Aside from the championships, Jordan is well-known for hitting one clutch shot after another, culminating in a number of game-winners and buzzer-beaters that are the stuff of legend. What is especially incredible about Jordan’s legendary status is that none of this is made up. He lives up to the hype and the mystique. None of it is a product of the imagination.

That’s why if there is anyone who deserves to be at the top of the greatest players list, it’s Jordan.