10. Hakeem Olajuwon
Career Stats: 21.8 PPG, 11.1 REB, 3.1 BPG
Career Accomplishments: 2x Champ, 2x Finals MVP, 1x MVP, 12x All-NBA, 9x All-Defense
Hakeem Olajuwon doubled as not only the greatest defensive center the NBA has ever seen, but also, the most skilled big man the league has ever seen. His footwork for his size was unreal, he had a deadly midrange game that wreaked havoc against big guys who couldn’t defend outside 10–15 ft (*cough cough* Shaq), and the Dream shake is the greatest go-to move the league has ever seen.
9. Bill Russell
Career Stats: 15.1 PPG, 22.5 REB, 4.3 BPG
Career Accomplishments: 12x All-Star, 11x Champ, 5x MVP, 4x REB Champ
Bill Russell was the NBA’s first “GOAT.” Before there was Kareem, Michael, or Lebron, there was the undersized center from the University of San Francisco, drafted by the most storied franchise in NBA history.
Sure, you could argue that his era was the weakest time period in NBA history, and that’s absolutely fair. The ’50s and ’60s are easily the weakest time periods the league has ever seen, but it’s unfair to hold that against Bill or any other legend from those time periods as they obviously can’t help the eras in which they played. That argument only matters when you’re comparing legends from that time period to legends of later years. That’s it.
Bill was the ultimate teammate, the definition of unselfishness, and the polar opposite of Wilt Chamberlain. Yes, it is true that Bill played with multiple hall-of-famers, but the Celtics wouldn’t be the Celtics without the big guy in the middle. Period.
8. Kobe Bryant
Career Stats: 25.0 PPG, 5.2 REB, 4.7 AST
Career Accomplishments: 5x Champ, 12x All-Defense, 1x MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 15x All-NBA
Kobe Bean Bryant — one of the guys who made me fall in love with the NBA, and also, one of the guys who made me fall in love with debate. The Kobe/Lebron debates from 2008–2013 were just as legendary as the player who inspired them. Kobe wasn’t always politically correct, he wasn’t always a great teammate, he wasn’t always the most likable guy, but there’s no arguing with his very likable resume.
The second greatest shooting guard who ever lived and the second greatest player from my generation, Kobe is a basketball icon whose talents were only eclipsed by the likes of a few other players.
Career Stats: 23.7 PPG, 10.9 REB, 58 FG%
Career Accomplishments: 15x All-Star, 2x Scoring Champ, 4x Champ, 3x Finals MVP
The most dominant force the league has ever seen, Shaq from the late ’90s to the early 2000s was the most unstoppable player in NBA history. Brute force and strength powered his way to number seven on this list.
The most amazing thing to think about with Shaq is that it’s very possible that he didn’t truly live up to his potential, which is scary when you think he’s still unanimously considered a top ten all-time player.
6. Larry Bird
Career Stats: 24.3 PPG, 10 REB, 6.3 AST
Career Accomplishments: 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA, 3x Champ, 3x MVP, 2x Finals MVP
Larry Bird (along with Magic) saved the NBA in the 1980s. Larry doubled as not only one of the two greatest small forwards ever (hint hint), but also, as the most skilled small forward who ever lived. He could pass the ball just as well any point guard, he could rebound as well as any big man, and he could shoot lights out before 3-point shooting was the cool thing to do.
Larry is considered one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, and he only attempted two three-pointers per game for his career. Just imagine if he played during an era when 3-point shooting was favored more. Scary.
5. Tim Duncan
Career Stats: 19 PPG, 10.8 REB, 2.2 BLK
Career Accomplishments: 15x All-Star, 15x All-NBA, 5x Champ, 15x All-Defense, 3x Finals MVP, 2x MVP
There is no player in NBA history more important to the success of their team than Tim Duncan was with the Spurs. Not only was Tim the best player on the Spurs (obviously), but he was the entire system that Coach Pop so effortlessly implemented. Easily, the greatest defensive forward in NBA history, Tim is also the oldest player in NBA history to make an All-Defensive team, making it in his 15th season. That’s insane.
The highlight of Duncan’s career has to be the 2003 Finals when he averaged 24 PPG, 17 REBs, 5 AST, and 5 BLKs. I’m willing to bet that we will never see a statistical performance like that ever again. Incredible.
4. Magic Johnson
Career Stats: 19.5 PPG, 7.2 REB, 11.2 AST
Career Accomplishments: 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA, 3x MVP, 4x AST, 5x Champ, 3x Finals MVP
Magic is the greatest point guard in the history of basketball. He was as flamboyant and flashy as he was great, and that’s part of why he’s so amazing. There wasn’t a player more fit to run the showtime Lakers than Magic, and honestly I don’t care how great Steph Curry’s résumé will be; he will never be better than Magic.
3. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Career Stats: 24.6 PPG, 11.2 REB, 2.6 BLK
Career Accomplishments: 19x All-Star, 2x Scoring Champ, 4x BLK Champ, 6x Champ
The greatest big man the league has ever laid eyes on, Kareem is #1 all time in career points for a reason. His sky hook is one of the greatest go-to moves in NBA history, and his résumé is right up there with my number one and two players on this list. I’m open to any arguments for Kareem being number one or number two, but for now, he has to take a backseat to a GOAT and a King.
2. LeBron James
Career Stats: 27.2 PPG, 7.4 REB, 7.2 AST
Career Accomplishments: 4x MVP, 3x Champ, 3x Finals MVP, 6x All-Defense, 14x All-NBA
Damn, LeBron. You caused this list to have way too much purple and gold on it, but I’d be crazy to leave you off. The greatest player from my generation, the greatest small forward who ever picked up a basketball, and the most polarizing athlete that the world has seen over the last 20 years, LeBron is the only athlete I can remember who not only lived up to the expectations he had as a teen, but exceeded them as well.
Now, as LeBron enters the twilight years of his career, we’re going to see if he can do enough in these final four years or so to finally claim GOAT status, but considering how great this #1 guy is, I don’t think that’s possible.
- Michael Jordan
Career Stats: 30.1 PPG, 6.2 REB, 5.3 AST
Career Accomplishments: 14x All-Star, 10x Scoring Champ, 6x Champ, 6x Finals MVP, 5x MVP
Michael Jeffery Jordan is #1. I mean, was there really much surprise here? His title as the GOAT hasn’t changed since ’97, and it likely won’t change unless LeBron captures about two more titles, two more finals MVPs, about nine more scoring titles, and wins another MVP or two.
Michael isn’t just the greatest player ever, though. There’s much more to it than that. He’s also the greatest perimeter defender ever, the greatest scorer ever, the greatest competitor the NBA has ever seen, and quite possibly the greatest athlete the world has ever seen as well.