Basketball is one of the most popular games in the world. And the NBA is the most popular league worldwide. Millions of people tune in to watch their favorite players and teams battle it out on the court.
But who among all the thousands of players who have come and gone is the greatest? Is it even possible to quantify greatness? Isn’t greatness itself a subjective opinion?
But that didn’t stop me from compiling a list of the players I deem the very greatest basketball players in history.
Jordan is widely accepted as the G.O.A.T. in basketball. When ESPN conducted a survey in 1999 using a panel of sports journalists and observers to find out who were the Top 50 Athletes of the 20th Century, Jordan topped the list, defeating both Muhammad Ali and Babe Ruth.
Michael Jordan joined the Chicago Bulls in 1984. In 1985, he was voted Rookie of the Year. During his illustrious career, Jordan won 6 championships, 5 NBA MVPs, and was a 3-time All-Star MVP, having played 14 times in the All-Star Game. In 1988, he was Defensive Player of the Year.
He had a per-game average of 30.1 points, the highest career scoring regular season average in NBA history. He was a shooting guard and during his career wore the 23, 45, and 12 jerseys.
Bill Russell is a legend. Born in 1934, Russell played basketball for the Boston Celtics from 1956 to 1969. He played center and wore the number 6.
Bill Russell has been the idol for many basketball players who came to the game in later generations; for instance, Magic Johnson admired Russell’s ability to win many championships.
He had a staggering 11 championships (with consecutive wins from 1959 to 1966), 5 MVPs, 1 All-Star MVP, and played in a total of 12 All-Star Games.
He still holds the record for most championships won by any athlete in a North American sports league. He is no doubt one of the best, if not the bonafide G.O.A.T.
Born in 1947, Abdul-Jabbar started his basketball career in 1969 and played for first the Milwaukee Bucks and afterward the Los Angeles Lakers until 1969.
Kareem Abdul-Jabar had a long and illustrious career in professional basketball: 20 years. He played center and wore the number 33 jersey. And his statistics are impressive.
He is the leading scorer in NBA history (38.387 points), and leads in career wins added in the regular season. He won 6 NBA champions, 2 Finals MVP awards, and 6 NBA MVP awards.
He played in a record 19 All-Star Games. He was a 4-time blocks leader, a 2-time leading scorer, and a 1-time rebounding champion.
Elvin “Magic” Johnson is the president of basket operations at the Los Angeles Lakers today, but in his heyday, he was a superb point guard playing for the Lakers.
Like Jordan, he is such a legend that even people who don’t know who he was have certainly heard his name.
Magic was born in 1959 and started his career in 1979. He played for the Lakers until 1991, when he retired. He did return briefly to play 1992’s All-Star Game, in which he became the All-Star MVP. In 1996, he again returned to the game, aged 36, and played 32 games for the Lakers, and then retired for good.
He won 5 NBA championships, 3 NBA Finals MVP, 3 regular season MVPs, 2 All-Star MVPs, and played in 15 All-Star Games. Magic Johnson wore the number 32 jersey.
Shaq was unbeatable during his 19-year career which began at Orlando Magic in 1992 and ended at Boston Celtics in 2011.
He also played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, and Cleveland Cavaliers.
He won 4 NBA championships, 3 Finals MVPs, 1 regular season MVP, 3 all-star MVPs, as well as gold medals at the Olympics and World Championships.
He played 15 times in the All-Star Game. In 1993, he had been voted NBA Rookie of the Year.
One of the qualities of a top-level player is the ability to face off with other greats and defeat them. This is what Shaq did when he played against the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.
Shaq played center and wore the following numbers during his career: 32, 34, 33, and 36.
LeBron James began playing at the professional level when he was 18 after his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, selected him in 2003. He played for them until 2010, when he left for Miami Heat.
In 2013, thanks to LeBron’s leadership, Miami Heat won 27 games in a row, the third-longest winning streak in league history.
In 2014, he came back home to the Cavaliers and led the team to two consecutive finals. In 2016, he led Cleveland to a championship win.
This was LeBron James’s third championship win. He has been Finals MVP thrice, participated in 13 All-Stars and been All-Star MVP twice.
James plays small forward and wears the number 23 jersey.
Tim Duncan had a career spanning 19 years (1997 to 2016), all spent at the San Antonio Spurs. He wore the number 21 jersey. Many basketball fans and pundits consider him one of the greatest power forwards ever.
He won 5 NBA championships, was a 2-time NBA MVP, 3-time Finals MVP, and started out as Rookie of the Year. He played in 15 All-Star Games.
His per-game career statistics: 19.0 points per game, 15.091 rebounds per game, and 3.0 assists per game.
People called him “the Big Fundamental”.
Wilt Chamberlain was born in 1936 and played from 1959 to 1973. He was a center, and wore jersey number 13, playing for the Harlem Globetrotters, Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Even today he is considered one of the G.O.A.T. and most dominant players in the history of the league. He has a string of NBA records, including single-game scoring record (100), single-season scoring record (4,029), single-game rebounding record (55), and many others.
During his career, Wilt Chamberlain won 2 NBA championships, 1 Finals MVP, 4 regular season MVPs, 1 All-Star MVP, and he played in 13 All-Star Games.
Hakeem Olajuwon is a Nigerian-American who had a fantastic career from 1984 to 2002. He began with the Houston Rockets and played on the All-Rookie First Team of 1985. In 2001, he moved to the Toronto Raptors. He played the center position for both teams, wearing a number 34 jersey.
He won back-to-back championships for the Rockets in 1994 and 1995. So he had 2 NBA championships, 2 NBA Finals MVPs, 1 regular season MVPs, and was a 12-time NBA All-Star.
2008 saw him inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame; and in 2016, the FIBA Hall of Fame. The player who was fondly referred to as “The Dream” during his career is counted as one of the greatest centers of all time.
Born in 1956, Larry Bird had a flourishing career playing for the Boston Celtics as small forward as well as power forward from 1976 to 1992. He wore the number 33 jersey.
Bird won 2 NBA championships, 2 Finals MVPs, 1 All-Star MVPs, and played in 12 All-Star Games.
Remarkably, Larry Bird holds the distinction of being the only person in the history of the league to have been named Most Valuable Player, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year.
While you may not agree with every selection on this list, I am sure that you and I can agree that each one of these players (even those you don’t consider top 10 quality) is a champion and a great player.
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