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Top 10 NBA Centers of All-Time

herman munster basketball

Do you have the NBA Lockout blues?  We feel your pain and have a cure for you.  The Hoops Manifesto has gathered together Bloguin’s best basketball writers to rummage through the annals of NBA (and ABA) history (sounds dirty, but it’s not – honest) to bring you rankings of the best players to have ever laced them up.  Next up: Top Ten NBA (or ABA) Centers of All-Time.

Voting panel: Jeff Fox from The Hoops Manifesto, College Wolf and Dan Bonk from the TWolves Blog, Philip from Orlando Magic Daily, Don and brumbygg from With Malice and Ezra from the Purple and Gold Blog. 

10) Bill Walton – Portland Trail Blazers, San Diego/L.A. Clippers, Boston Celtics – 1974 – 1978, 1979 – 1980, 1982 – 1986, 1987 

bill_walton_feature

Career accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- member of the two NBA championship teams
- one-time NBA Finals MVP
- one-time NBA MVP
- two-time NBA All-Star
- two-time All-NBA selection
- two-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection
- one-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year

“The ultimate ‘What if…’ player.” – Jeff Fox

“Walton was an absolute technician of the game, to an extent that was surprising in such a big man.  And but for the injuries, he’d be top 5 on this list.  The guts and determination and the very heart and soul of Rip City.” – Don 

“Due to injuries Walton didn’t play all that much over his 10 year NBA career and his numbers don’t stack up against many of the greats. However, he won a title with a no-name brand Portland team as well as a second with the ’86 Celtics. Walton was one of the more technically gifted centers with a great understanding of the game. Something that continues to be demonstrated in the announcing booth – if you can make sense of what he is saying!” – brumbygg
 
“Definitely a much better player than he was as an announcer. If Bill wasn’t injured as much in his career, who knows where he’d be on this list. Walton’s greatest contribution to the game is his selflessness and passing ability. He took as much pride and joy scoring the basket as much as opening things up for his teammates.” – Ezra
 

9) Patrick Ewing – New York Knicks, Seattle Supersonics, Orlando Magic – 1985 – 2002

Career accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- eighth all-time in defensive rebounds in NBA history
- sixth all-time in blocks in NBA history
- 11-time NBA All-Star
- NBA Rookie of the Year
- NBA All-Rookie Team
- three-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection
- seven-time All-NBA selection

“Twice NBA finalist, no championships. Despite his lack of titles Ewing is deserving of a place on this list. A great defensive player (despite always being in foul trouble) Ewing could score too. Should have won a title in ’94 against the Rockets, but John Starks’ all-time Game 7 bomb ensured that Patrick would go home empty handed.” – brumbygg

“Ewing always seemed to come up short and it stained his otherwise great career. A great defender and dynamic offensive player, he never rose to the heights that Robinson and Olajuwon did. And that made him more of an afterthought at the end of his career when looking at the 1990s centers.” – Philip
 
“Never won the elusive Championship, but he was an 11 time All-star who played against some of the best centers in the history of the NBA.  He also tallied almost 25,000 career points and 12,000 career rebounds.” – College Wolf

8) David Robinson – San Antonio Spurs – 1989 – 1996, 1997 – 2003

Career accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- member of two NBA championship teams
- fifth all-time in blocks in NBA history
- fourth all-time in blocks per game in NBA history
- 10-time NBA All-Star
- NBA Rookie of the Year
- NBA All-Rookie Team
- one-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year
- one-time NBA MVP
- 10-time All-NBA selection
- seven-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection

“Before the Twin Towers there was just The Admiral. A 7’1″ almost unstoppable juggernaut, who could hit the mid-range jumper or take you to the hole. Needed Timmy D to make it to the next level with the Spurs, but still an outstanding player in his own right. His career numbers would have been even more impressive if he hadn’t completed his two year Navy commitment.” – brumbygg

“Much like his contemporaries at center, Robinson was super athletic and anything but a traditional back-to-the-basket center. He was a fantastic player, but lacked perhaps the killer instinct to be a true champion. He was one of the true great men in the NBA, devoting a lot of time to the community in San Antonio.” – Philip

“One of the most ripped players I have ever seen in real life, along with Karl Malone, Dwight Howard, Corey Maggette, and Ray Allen‘s calves.” – Dan Bonk

“The Admiral may be too nice a guy to really carry a team to a championship, but his 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3 blocks per game career stats say he was nasty enough to be on this list.” – Ezra 

7) George Mikan – Minneapolis Lakers – 1948 – 1954, 1955 – 1956

george-mikan

Career accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- member of five NBA/BAA championship teams
- four-time NBA All-Star
- one-time All-BAA selection
- five-time All-NBA selection

“The original.  The very first true center as we’ve come to know them.  How good was he?  The backbone, the anchor of five championships.  That good.  Mikan casts a long shadow on every other name on this list.” – Don 

“George Mikan forced the NBA to bring in 24 second shot clock, widened the lane from six feet to 12 feet and established goaltending rules. Oh, and he won five titles!  “Without 99 (Mikan), there is no me” – Shaquille O’Neal.” – brumbygg
 
“His career stats are underwhelming to look at now, but at the time when he was the first great big man, he had no equal.  Also won five Championships in seven years.” – College Wolf 


6) Moses Malone – Utah Stars, Spirits of St. Louis, Buffalo Braves, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Bullets, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, San Antonio Spurs – 1974 – 1992, 1993-1994

Rockets accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- member of one NBA championship team
- ninth all-time in games played in NBA history
- second all-time in free throws made in NBA history
- fourth all-time in free throws attempted in NBA history
- all-time leader in offensive rebounds in NBA history
- fifth all-time in defensive rebounds in NBA history
- fifth all-time in total rebounds in NBA history
- seventh all-time in points in NBA history
- three-time NBA MVP
- one-time NBA Finals MVP
- 13-time NBA/ABA All-Star
- two-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection
- eight-time All-NBA selection
- ABA All-Rookie Team

“In my opinion, one of the most overlooked greats the game has ever seen.  Just look at that resume.” – Jeff Fox

“Almost the forgotten man on this list.  Held court for a decade, and by “held court” I mean dominated it.  Not quite as big as some of his peers, he more than made up for it by playing with a combined intelligence and ferocity that’s rarely been seen.” – Don 

“After anyone who played for the Celtics, Moses Malone was my favourite player to watch in the late 70s and 80s. Played on a great 76ers team in ’83 with Dr J, Andrew Toney and Mo Cheeks to win his only championship. A beast, a workhorse and almost guaranteed 20 and 10 double-double every night. Also shot free throws at 76% over his career – stats that Shaq could only dream of!” – brumbygg
 
“Malone’s numbers are about as prolific as any from the last 30 years. He was a 20/20 guy at a time when the 20/20 game was becoming a rarer thing (even if he was just playing volleyball with the rim to pad his stats sometimes). His longevity was something to admire too.” – Philip
 
“A lot to be said when you’re the first ABA/NBA player to ever come out of high school and to finish a 21-year career a Hall of Famer and to be called one of the absolute best to ever play the game. Well that and being the only player to ever average at least 20 PPG/10 RPG for four teams in history. Talk about being consistent!” – Ezra  

5) Hakeem Olajuwon – Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors – 1984 – 2002

Career accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- member of two NBA championship teams
- seventh all-time in field goals made in NBA history
- eighth all-time in offensive rebounds in NBA history
- fourth all-time in defensive rebounds in NBA history
- eighth all-time in steals in NBA history
- first all-time in blocks in NBA history
- ninth all-time in points in NBA history
- third all-time in blocks per game in NBA history
- two-time NBA Finals MVP
- one-time NBA MVP
- two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year
- 12-time NBA All-Star
- nine-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection
- 12-time All-NBA selection
- NBA All-Rookie Team


“At both ends of the floor, The Dream had few peers.  Big man size, small man skills.  Hakeem possessed one of the most recognizable moves of all-time in basketball.  I’m talking about “the dream shake”, grace in a man that size is simply never seen.  And with The Dream, we saw it night in, night out.” – Don

“If Hakeem had been a foot shorter he would have been one of the best PGs the game has ever seen! His agility, ball handling skills and speed enabled him to blow past his opponents with ridiculous ease. A great defender with an astounding career steals total. Houston’s Dream, certainly David Robinson’s nightmare!” – brumbygg

“Very few players in the league’s history understood how best to use his size and athleticism to topple opponents. There are many guards who understand how to keep perimeter defenders off-balance, but Olajuwon might have been the master at keeping his post defenders off-balance. His array of spins, step backs and counter moves made him a genius in the low post. Even though he rarely got individual accolades during the season, he found ways to win one-on-one matchups. On his way to two titles, he toppled Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal.” – Philip

“He was an amazing offensive player, and also one of the best defenders of his time.  Not only that, he scored over 26,000 career points and had over 13,000 career rebounds, made 12 All-star games, and is the only player in NBA history to win the NBA’s MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP awards all in the same season (1993-94.)” – College Wolf 

4) Shaquille O’Neal – Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics – 1992 – 2011

Career accomplishments:

- member of four NBA championship teams
- fifth all-time in field goals made in NBA history
- second all-time in field goal % in NBA history
- third all-time in free throws attempted in NBA history
- sixth all-time in offensive rebounds in NBA history
- seventh all-time in defensive rebounds in NBA history
- seventh all-time in blocks in NBA history
- fifth all-time in points in NBA history
- 15-time NBA All-Star
- three-time NBA Finals MVP
- one-time NBA MVP
- 14-time All-NBA selection
- three-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection
- NBA Rookie of the Year
- NBA All-Rookie Team

“It says much about Shaq’s talent that, despite his multitude of accomplishments, most people feel like he could (and should) have done more.” – Jeff Fox

“No one, and I mean no one was more physically gifted for basketball than Shaq.  He was bigger than you.  He was quicker than you.  Unfortunately, he never had the drive of Kobe or Jordan… because if he had, I think it quite possible that we’d be talking about a center as the Greatest Of All Time.” – Don

“Proved that you can be big, but also athletic. Shaq’s ability to dominate a game was incredible. Trips to the finals with three teams and has four championships. Had his ego not been as big as his body, he could have ended up with even more titles. Oh, and maybe if he had worked on his free throws a little!” – brumbygg

“Very few players dominated the paint the way O’Neal did. His mere presence, even at an advanced age, demanded the defense’s attention. He changed the rules the game was played as zone defense was re-implemented to deal with him. He could have been better if he was motivated to keep himself in shape throughout his career. Incredibly moody and always an entertainer, he had the athleticism and power that makes for a perfect center. Still, his career feels empty in a lot of ways.” – Philip

“No doubt The Big Fella is a future Hall of Famer, but he’s been underrated when it comes to this kind of list. Not sure why. He’s got four titles, three Finals MVPs, a league MVP, two scoring titles and has been an All-Star a bunch of times. Then add to the fact that he was a 7-foot, 300-something pound behemoth that could jump like a kangaroo and move like a swingman.” - Ezra

3) Wilt Chamberlain – Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers – 1959 – 1973

Career accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- member of two NBA championship teams
- fourth all-time in minutes played in NBA history
- third all-time in field goals made in NBA history
- second all-time in free throws attempted in NBA history
- first all-time in total rebounds in NBA history
- fourth all-time in points in NBA history
- first all-time in minutes per game in NBA history
- second all-time in points per game in NBA history
- first all-time in rebounds per game in NBA history
- 13-time NBA All-Star
- one-time NBA Finals MVP
- four-time NBA MVP
- 10-time All-NBA selection
- two-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection
- NBA Rookie of the Year

“Wilt Chamberlain was ahead of his time, both in terms of being an athletic, mobile, multi-talented big man and also of being accused of caring more about personal stats than about winning.” –

“Statistically, does The Big Dipper have any peers at all?  His single-minded pursuit of greatness was awe-inspiring… but he only got the two titles he won late in his career, his nemesis Bill Russell’s Celtics being just that little bit better – Wilt never had the supporting cast that Russell did.  As a player?  Completely dominating.” – Don

“No player has the scoring numbers Chamberlain has. The legendary 100-point game is going to go unmatched. But Chamberlain often cared more about himself than his teammates. He would score to the detriment of his teammates – the year he led the league in assists was almost to spite his detractors more than to help his teammates. As Bill Simmons would say, Chamberlain just did not understand the Secret.” – Philip

“He certainly had the flashy stats and averages, but he only won 2 titles.  Could easily have been the best center in the history of the game, but he just didn’t have the DNA that Russell and Kareem had.  If this list was based solely on statistics, then Wilt would certainly be #1… but it’s not.” - College Wolf

2) Bill Russell – Boston Celtics – 1956-1969

Career accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- member of 11 NBA championship teams
- second in rebounds in NBA history
- second in rebounds per game in NBA history 
- second in minutes per game in NBA history
- 12-time NBA All-Star
- five-time NBA MVP
- 11-time All-NBA Team
- one-time All-Defensive Team

“The best defensive center to ever play the game, period.  The way he played defense changed the game of basketball.  Had a pretty good game the other end of the floor too.  And as Kobe Bryant often points out – the all-time leader in the only statistic that matters: titles.” – Don 

“I am probably in the minority here, but I am truly a fan of the work Bill Russell did. You cannot argue with the 11 championships and the way he played. Russell had a drive to win that was simply unmatched for his era. He was a defensive whiz and turned the paint into a no-fly zone. He was a supreme games man too, baiting Wilt Chamberlain into the scoring games that made his teams unsuccessful. Russell had such a large impact on every game he played and his record of success is simply unmatched.” – Philip
 
“He’s wearing a championship ring on his toe.  Enough said.” – Dan Bonk 

“Russell is a bit overrated. He may have 11 championships, but that was because he had teammates who could score most of the points for him. Then again, without his defense and rebounding the Celtics most likely would have less banners.” - Ezra
 

1) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers – 1969 – 1989

kareem vs wilt bucks

Career accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- member of six NBA championship teams
- second all-time in games played in NBA history
- first all-time in minutes played in NBA history
- first all-time in field goals made in NBA history
- eighth all-time in free throws made in NBA history
- fifth all-time in free throws attempted in the NBA
- sixth all-time in defensive rebounds in NBA history
- third all-time in total rebounds in NBA history
- third all-time in blocks in NBA history
- first all-time in points in NBA history
- eighth all-time in blocks per game in NBA history 
- 19-time NBA All-Star
- six-time NBA MVP
- two-time NBA Finals MVP
- 15-time All-NBA selection
- 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection
- NBA Rookie of the Year
- NBA All-Rookie Team

“Forget all of his accomplishments on the court – the man fought Bruce Lee in Game of Death and was a co-pilot in Airplane!.  ‘Nuff said.” – Jeff Fox

“Of grace, of man, and the indefensible sky hook.  Amazingly enough, I think Abdul-Jabbar is perhaps one of the most underrated players of all time.  “Ranked #1 center, yet underrated?  How so?” I hear you ask…  Well, when we talk about the GOAT, and who could challenge Jordan’s status for that epithet, Kareem’s name is almost never mentioned.  And it should be.  Perhaps it was his dour demeanor – Kareem could be one testy S.O.B.  Even now with age, whereas Bill Russell has mellowed, there is still at times an ill humor present that is quite saddening from such a great man.  Still, his resume stands up to anyone’s who has played the game.  And if you talk about the GOAT not being simply just NBA, but HS/College too, then Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has no peer.  None at all.  Not even Jordan.  His place in history is misunderstood, at times, even by Kareem himself.” – Don 

“The cranky, always scowling, old Kareem at the end of his career is not the guy who dominated the league for so long. Kareem was a high school legend, a college star and the best center to grace the hardwood in the history of the NBA. Six titles, six MVPs, all-time leading points scorer and owner of one of the most beautiful and unstoppable shots the game has ever seen – the skyhook. As a Celtics guy, Kareem was the most-hated Laker in the 80s, but it came with a lot of (grudging) respect.” – brumbygg
 
“When you compare his resume to anyone else in league history, I say Kareem is the most underrated player ever historically.  Also, did you know that the dunk was outlawed in college basketball for nine years beginning in 1967, primarily because of Kareem?” – Dan Bonk 

“I don’t think anyone in the history of the NBA can match his combination of durability, skills, and overall greatness.” – College Wolf 



Previous Top Tens of All-Time: Point Guards, Shooting Guards, Small Forwards, Power Forwards.

About Jeff Fox

Jeff Fox is Mr. Manifesto - the Supreme Leader and evil mind behind The Hoops Manifesto & The MMA Manifesto

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