The 10 Greatest Basketball Players of All Time

Ah, the GOAT discussion in the NBA.
It’s probably the league’s most popular water cooler conversation starter, a never-ending source of fervent, strongly held disagreements.

The stars of today are praised by younger generations for advancing basketball, while older generations swear by the greats of their day, claiming their heights can never be attained.

10. Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O’Neal

Shaq, one of the biggest characters in the game in terms of stature as well as other attributes, is the ideal example of the “peak vs. longevity” controversy. O’Neal was notorious for “playing into shape” and not precisely taking every regular season game with the utmost seriousness. At his best, he played at a level maybe only two or three players in history have ever achieved, especially in the playoffs. Nonetheless, he is among the most decorated players of all time with four NBA titles, three Finals MVP awards, fifteen All-Star appearances, and fourteen All-NBA selections. For “peak” enthusiasts, his ranking may even be higher.

9. Wilt Chamberlain

Chamberlain’s ninth-place finish among the all-time greats may seem low based just on statistics. The man continues to hold multiple NBA records that might never be broken, with absurd stat lines such as his 1961–62 season in which he averaged over 50 points and 25 rebounds per game. But even though he played in a much smaller league than what exists today, Chamberlain won just two titles in 15 seasons, and his teams consistently lost in the biggest games to another center we’ll see later on this list. And Chamberlain ends up here because winning a championship at the end of the season is the ultimate aim of NBA basketball.

8. Kobe Bryant

Bryant was one of the best players in the NBA and a contemporary cultural icon, surpassed only by Michael Jordan. A quick summary of Bryant’s incredible career includes five titles, eighteen All-Star selections, and an astounding twelve All-Defensive team selections. He is also known as one of basketball’s genuine “clutch” greats due to his incredibly lengthy list of game-winning and buzzer-beating plays. The basketball community was saddened by Bryant’s untimely passing in 2020, but his enormous contributions to the sport and a generation of fans will never be forgotten.

7. Magic Johnson

Johnson is another unquestionable Lakers legend, similar to O’Neal. Despite the tragic fact that an AIDS diagnosis ended his career, he made the most of every moment he had in the NBA, winning five titles in 13 seasons, twelve All-Star games, three MVP awards, and four crowns for assists. In the decades following his retirement, he has continued to be one of basketball’s greatest speakers and ambassadors, and he will always be remembered as one of the sport’s most recognizable icons.

6. Tim Duncan

Duncan is a very extraordinary example of both longevity and peak performance. Duncan was dependable and outstanding over the course of his 19 seasons, all spent with the San Antonio Spurs. He won five titles, two MVP awards, and was named an All-Star fifteen times. In 1998, Duncan was named Rookie of the Year. Considered as one of the real basketball luminaries, he became a legend in San Antonio thanks to his unassuming yet unwavering dedication.

5. Bill Russell

In many respects, Russell is the antithesis of Chamberlain—the only real peer of his time. Even though his numbers are far inferior than Wilt’s, the legendary Celtics player’s influence on victory was clearly greater, as shown by the 11 titles he won in just 13 seasons, frequently defeating Chamberlain’s squad in the process. Russell was recognized with his name on the NBA Finals MVP trophy in 2005. Russell is widely considered as the best defensive player of all time and one of the real winners of the game.

4. Larry Bird

In addition to being one of the NBA’s most formidable rivals, Larry Legend was one of the game’s greatest marksmen before long-range shooting became popularity. Averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists per game for only one season is something most players would be happy to achieve; Bird achieved those kinds of stats throughout his career, which also included three rings, three MVP awards, and twelve All-Star appearances. He is among the top all-around players in basketball and has a history of doing exceptionally well in crunch time.

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Six names. The most MVPs in NBA history—six. Nineteen appearances as an All-Star. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is deserving of the top slot on this list since he has the most unquestionable and consistent resume of any player in history. Kareem completely defined the NBA in the 1970s and 80s, from his trademark sky-hook to his defensive skills (he made 11 All-Defensive teams). Since retiring, he has only strengthened his reputation as one of basketball’s greatest ambassadors.

2. Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan

Those who will never accept Michael Jackson anywhere other than the top spot will find this placement offensive. Possibly more than any other athlete in history, he is identified with victory: A flawless 6-0 in the Finals, with six nominations for Finals MVP; five MVPs, fourteen All-Star selections, and a Defensive Player of the Year award; he even won MVP of the All-Star Game three times. He barely makes the list, but for many basketball fans, he will always be the greatest of all time.

1. LeBron James

LeBron James
LeBron James

Even if you quibble with James’ place atop this list, there’s no doubting his remarkable greatness. He combines Jordan’s peak with Abdul-Jabbar’s longevity, still going strong in year 21 of his sterling career. His Finals record doesn’t match Jordan’s, sure, but he’s been there more often (and sometimes with lesser supporting casts). He’s racked up four MVPs and the same number of Finals MVPs, plus 19 All-Star games and the most points in NBA history – and he’s still playing!

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