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Top 10 NBA Players of All-Time

nba 50 greatest players

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) Players of All-Time.

UPDATE: CLICK HERE FOR OUR 2014 UPDATED LIST

 

 

Voting panel: Jeff Fox from The Hoops Manifesto, College Wolf from the TWolves Blog, Philip from Orlando Magic Daily, and Don & brumbygg from With Malice.
Honourable Mention: Jerry West, Hakeem Olajuwon.

10) Oscar Robertson – Cincinnati Royals, Milwaukee Bucks – 1960 – 1974

Career accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- member of one NBA championship team
- third all-time in free throws made in NBA history
- sixth all-time in free throws attempted in NBA history
- fifth all-time in assists in NBA history
- third all-time in minutes per game in NBA history
- eighth all-time in points per game in NBA history
- fourth all-time in assists per game in NBA history
- 12-time NBA All-Star
- 11-time All-NBA selection
- NBA Rookie of the Year
- one-time NBA MVP

“The original Magic Johnson, back when the only “magic” Earvin was making was in his diaper.” – Jeff Fox

“Like Chamberlain, Robertson’s numbers precede him. His triple double season is legendary and probably has more myth around it than actual fact at this point. One thing we know is that Oscar was one of the great distributors and passers in league history.  However, he never found success with the Cincinnati Royals and his teams did not start really winning until Kareem Abdul-Jabbar arrived in Milwaukee.” – Philip

9) Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs – 1997 - present

Career accomplishments:

- member of four NBA championship teams
- three-time NBA Finals MVP
- two-time NBA MVP
- 13-time All-NBA selection
- 13-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection
- 13-time NBA All-Star
- NBA Rookie of the Year
- NBA All-Rookie Team
- ninth all-time in defensive rebounds in NBA history
- ninth all-time in blocks in NBA history

“In the future, when human basketball players have been replaced by robots, they all will be programmed to play like Tim Duncan.  Same for facial expressions.” – Jeff fox

“Few players in NBA history have combined the ability to pass the ball and the brute force to be one of the best post players in the league. Duncan had that deft touch. His game was complete and if he was not 6-foot-10, I am sure he would have found a way to be a great point guard. Duncan had that kind of drive and ability. Not to mention versatility. His quiet leadership is overlooked even in his own time period, but there is no denying his greatness.” – Philip

“No one has ever made the game look so easy. Duncan never seems hurried, never seems like he is struggling, always has it in hand. Will probably be even more appreciated once he has retired.” – brumbygg

8) Kobe Bryant- Los Angeles Lakers – 1996 – present

kobe vs jordan

Career accomplishments:

- member of five NBA championship teams
- sixth all-time in free throws made in NBA history
- eight all-time in points in NBA history
- tenth all-time in points per game in NBA history
- 13-time NBA All-Star
- two-time NBA Finals MVP
- one-time NBA MVP
- NBA All-Rookie Team
- 13-time All-NBA selection
- 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection

“How good a career has Kobe Bryant had?  So good he’s forced haters (like myself) to recognize his greatness.” – Jeff Fox

“Probably the closest we have come to seeing another Jordan. Watching Kobe adapt and change his game as he has aged has been nothing short of miraculous. Has won titles with Shaq, has won titles without Shaq. Basically, a winner.” – brumbygg

“It’s a pity so many people find him so polarizing, because they are missing out on being able to appreciate a talent the like of which has almost never been seen in the game of basketball.  Forget if you like him or not: just watch, and enjoy.” – Don

7) 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

“There will always be a special place for him on any list like this.” – College Wolf

“When you get the league to change its rules, you know you have made a big impact on the game. The NBA brought back zone defenses because teams simply could not handle O’Neal’s massive size and agility. When motivated, Shaq was as good as any center the league has ever seen. He was so big, defenders almost had to gravitate toward him to challenge him. And that likely would not work. O’Neal was one of the big matchup nightmares in league history.” - Philip

“The man of steel; an unstoppable force; scared of only one thing – the free throw line. If Shaq had cared enough to work on that part of his game and was able to park his ego at the door he would have been much higher up this list.” – brumbygg

“Shaq… I can never think of his place within history without indulging in a bit of “what if…?”  What if he tried harder during the off-seasons?  What if he had the drive of Kobe or MJ?  Well… quite simply he wouldn’t be Shaq any more I guess.  The Big Fella, biggest on this list, both literally and figuratively speaking.” – Don

6) 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

“Chamberlain’s statistics are simply legendary. He knew how to do one thing — score. Using his height to his advantage he did that as much as he could. And never really stopped. It held back his teams because he was so consumed with his own line in the box score.” – Philip

“The most dominant individual to play the game.” – brumbygg

“Statistically, on an individual basis, the number one guy on this list.  On what an individual player can achieve, set the bar so high that it will never be reached.  Never.” – Don

5) Larry Bird – Boston Celtics – 1979 – 1992

Career accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- member of three NBA championship teams
- tenth all-time in free throw % in NBA history
- three-time NBA MVP
- NBA Rookie of the Year
- two-time NBA Finals MVP
- 10-time All-NBA selection
- 12-time NBA All-Star
- NBA All-Rookie Team
- three-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection

“Perhaps the most unique package of size, skills and average athletic ability (compared to other NBA players – not compared to mere mortals like ourselves) we will ever see on a NBA court.” – Jeff Fox

“The Legend.  Just imagine how much BETTER he could have been if he was athletic.” – College Wolf

“You can’t talk about Magic Johnson without talking about Larry Bird. Bird was a supreme competitor and master scorer. He seemed able to do just about whatever he wanted on the floor with a basketball and he always had the hunger to do more. Few players in league history had the same passion for the game that Bird had.” – Philip

“Blessed with natural ability; fierce determination and the desire to make you earn everything you got on the court. A great three-point shooter, Bird could hit a game winner from the bleachers and possessed an icy calm demeanour. Bird’s Celtics were the antithesis of Showtime.” – brumbygg

“People talk of MJ’s determination, Kobe’s passion… but Bird was on a par with them.  The only difference was that whilst they ran hot, Bird’s fury burnt cold.  Guy wouldn’t give an inch.  Bird took each game on a personal level, and played every play as if opposition were an affront – he was a ferocious competitor.” – Don

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

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

“His longevity and durability helps his cause here, but he was pretty damn good in his own right.” – College Wolf

“Kareem is the league’s all-time leading scorer, rewriting the book on post moves in the process. Abdul-Jabbar simply dominated all centers he came across with his long arms and court savvy. There were shortcomings to his game for sure, he was not the most physical player and not an incredible defender, but Kareem was instrumental in several championships throughout the 1970s and 1980s.” – Philip

“20 years in the NBA – no mean feat for a big guy. But Kareem wasn’t all about longevity. The skyhook was a thing of beauty, Magic’s go-to guy in the Lakers’ glory years and still the all-time highest point scorer in the history of the league.” – brumbygg

“His skyhook was the surest shot in NBA history.  And even in his autumnal years as a 40+ year old center, he remained one of the best players in the league.  Sure, everyone remembers Magic’s amazing, series-clinching game 6 (45/15/7) playing out of position (at CENTER) of the 80 Finals.  But it was Kareem who won the first three games for the Lakers, and averaged 33/14 with better than four blocks a game for the five games he played… and Magic took home the Finals MVP.” – Don
3) Bill Russell – Boston Celtics – 1956-1969

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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

“If I’m picking sides in a dream game of pickup hoops, I’m taking Bill Russell with my first pick.  He’ll do the dirty work, defend and won’t be a ball hog.  Oh, and he’ll ensure that we win, too.” – Jeff Fox

“I am going to be “that guy” and go against the grain here (editor’s note: Philip voted Russell #1 on his list). Michael Jordan is great, but the same things we revere Jordan for, Russell arguably did better. Jordan won six rings… Russell won 11. Jordan had two three-peats. Russell won nine in 10 years including eight in a row. Jordan dominated the game on the offensive end. Russell completely dominated the game defensively. Why don’t we give Russell his due? He was not an offensive player, he left that to his teammates like hall of famers Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman. We also don’t have the vibrant color videos and marketing packages Jordan had. But when you think of winning and sacrifice for the team, Russell’s name should be first in line.” – Philip

“The best team player to play the game. Russell made everyone around him a better player.” – brumbygg

2) Magic Johnson – Los Angeles Lakers – 1979 – 1991, 1996

Career accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- member of five NBA championship teams
- fourth all-time in assists in NBA history
- first all-time in assists per game in NBA history
- 12-time NBA All-Star
- three-time NBA Finals MVP
- three-time NBA MVP
- NBA All-Rookie Team
- 10-time All-NBA selection

“Magic Johnson was supposed to be a trailblazer, pointing the way to the future of the NBA where players his size would run the point.  Until we all realized that there never will be another Magic Johnson – he was a one-off.” – Jeff Fox

“There aren’t many players that displayed the versatility and skill that Johnson had. And he did it all with a childish enthusiasm and excitement that endeared him to fans everywhere (yes, even Boston… maybe). Johnson had the ability to play every position and had an incredible grasp on how to manage his team and keep his teammates involved. He embodied Showtime and was what made the Lakers truly great in the 1980s.” – Philip

“The best passer of the ball I have ever seen. A 6-foot 10-inch PG…. almost impossible to guard. Magic even played at center when the Lakers needed him there. No NBA conversation in the 80s was complete without comparing Magic and Larry Bird. Alex Schulz on the Bleacher Report wrote this about Magic in 2010 – “He’s LeBron James plus four inches and a whole bunch of championships, which is why James has lots of work to do if he wants to be included in a top 10 conversation.”" – brumbygg

“Amazing, amazing player.  No-one made the game look more effortless than Magic, no-one enjoyed the game more than he did.  And as a Laker fan, it’s tough.  I think that Kareem’s been grossly underrated as a player, and a large part of that is Magic.  Both should be appreciated – Magic is, Kareem is not (it’s kinda weird – being a Laker fan in this position, but I’m not ripping on Magic, just bemoaning the lack of appreciation for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).  The war he waged with Larry Bird was incredible, and their battles lifted the Laker/Celtics rivalry to new levels.  Do yourself a favour and read When the Game Was Ours.”- Don

1) Michael Jordan – Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards - 1984 – 1993, 1995 – 1998, 2001 – 2003

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Career accomplishments:

- basketball Hall of Fame
- member of six NBA championship teams
- fourth all-time in field goals made in NBA history
- fourth all-time in free throws made in NBA history
- eighth all-time in free throws attempted in NBA history
- second all-time in steals in NBA history
- third all-time in points in NBA history
- first all-time in points per game in NBA history
- third all-time in steals per game in NBA history
- 14-time NBA All-Star
- Rookie of the Year
- Defensive Player of the Year
- five-time NBA MVP
- six-time NBA Finals MVP
- All-Rookie Team
- 11-time All-NBA selection
- nine-time All-Defensive Team selection

“Mentally and physically the greatest player to ever lace them up.  Period.” – Jeff Fox

“At this point Jordan really needs no description or introduction. He is the one guy that seems to be ubiquitously known in NBA history. His greatness is almost unquestioned and he is revered unlike any other player.” – Philip

“Nothing I can write here that comes close to doing MJ justice. No one else comes close.” – brumbygg

“If you need it explained, why are you here?” – Don

 

CLICK HERE FOR OUR 2014 UPDATED LIST

 

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

Related: Is LeBron better than Jordan?

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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