Ranking the top ten players in NBA history
I love rankings. Doesn't matter if someone is ranking their favorite bands, colors, fruits, ect. You rank it, I'll read it. But nothing get's me going like ranking the greatest of something. In this case, the 10 greatest basketball players of all time. Of course there will be debate - not everyone is going to see eye to eye on these things, but that actually makes it more fun in my opinion. This set of rankings in particular was spurred on by an e-mail chain of CelticsLife writers. The guy who really seems to be the biggest source of debate - one Kobe Bean Bryant. I ranked Kobe higher than some would have, but again, that's what makes these things fun.
Let's get it started with three honorable mentions.
Lebron James - 1-time NBA Champion, 3-time MVP, 6-time 1st team All-NBA, career averages of 26/6/7 (Pts/Reb/asst).
- I'm sure this will be another popular one on here. What Lebron has accomplished, both on and off the court just a month after turning 28 years old is astonishing. He's on track to destroy records all over the NBA map (he's already 38th on the scoring list - again he's only 28), he's won 3 MVP's (and should have 4), and he's been to 3 NBA Finals. He's also managed to become one of the great villains in NBA history for 'taking his talents to South Beach', and fell on his face spectacularly in both the 2010 and 2011 playoffs. Check back in three years though, and the resume will be so great, that even the most staunch James haters will have him in their top 10.
Kevin Garnett - 1-time NBA Champion, 1-time MVP, 4-time 1st team All-NBA, career averages of 19/10/4.
- I've written about KG's all-around greatness before (link), so this should come as no surprise, but Garnett is quite possibly the most well rounded player in history. His scoring repertoire, knack for rebounding, passing from the low post and legendary interior defense all add up to the most complete player of his time - and maybe all-time. Black mark for Garnett, missing the playoffs three consecutive seasons from age 28-30. His supporting cast was terrible, but very few all-time greats missed the post-season (which over 50% of teams qualify) in three straight 'prime' seasons.
Hakeem Olajuwon - 2-time NBA Champion, 1-time MVP, 6-time 1st team All-NBA, career averages of 22/11/3/3 (blocks).
- The Hakeem or Shaq debate for this spot was nearly impossible. Similar career averages, similar stretches of great play, Shaq was more dominant in the paint, Hakeen a more graceful player who could knock down free throws. In the end Hakeem winning "only" two titles kept him just outside the top 10 - but he was one of the most fun players to watch in NBA history. (P.S. Why the hell did this have to happen Hakeem. Doesn't look right.)
Shaquille O'Neal - 4-time NBA Champion, 1-time MVP, 8-time 1st team All-NBA, career averages of 24/11/3/2 (blocks).
- Mentioned some of this above, but Shaq was perhaps the most dominant presence the game has ever seen. Averaged 20/10 for each of his first 13 seasons, and took home 4 titles. He was a terrible foul shooter who also sold himself a little short by not being in great shape for much of his career, but he was also a great passer and a dominant shot blocker before weight issues started becoming an issue. Took 3 teams to the Finals, two of them for the first time in franchise history (Orlando/Miami). Once asked Kobe how his ass tastes (My guess: horrible).
- Considering I was born 13 years after his final game, it's safe to say I never saw the Big O play, but that doesn't mean I don't have love for his game. Averaging a triple-double during the '61-62 season, even if it was against a bunch of 5'11" white dudes, is one of the greatest feats in NBA history. Hell, Robertson was only 2 boards away from averaging a triple-double - for his career. He was also a really good shooter; 49% from the field, 84% from the line, in an era without many.
#8: Wilt Chamberlain - 2-time NBA Champion, 4-time MVP, 7-time first team All-NBA, career averages of 30/23/4.
- I know, the stats are overwhelming. When a player gets 30 points and 23 rebounds in a game today, it's huge news. Wilt averaged that over a span of 14 years. However the consistent losing to Russell, despite in many cases, more talented teams, leaves a black mark on Chamberlain's otherwise brilliant career. Not to say he wasn't the most prolific scoring big man of all time (he was), but it's hard to put him higher when Russell and the Celtics so consistently beat him. Fact: Chamberlain and Russell's careers overlapped by ten seasons, in those ten years Russell won 9 rings, Wilt won 1.
Tim Duncan - 4-time NBA Champion, 2-time MVP, 9-time first team All-NBA, career averages of 20/11/3/2 (blocks).
- The 'Big Fundamental'. Could've been a Celtic, instead he's spent his career meticulously grinding out wins and piling up huge numbers in the shadow of the Alamo. He's enjoying a renaissance season at the age of 36 right now, and in what is probably the most amazing stat ever - has never played on a team that has finished with less than 50 wins (or in shortened seasons, had the requisite winning percentage to win 50). 16 seasons of being the best player, on one of the best teams, makes Duncan the best power forward of all time, and #7 on this list.
- This may not be the most popular spot for Kobe, but he's flat out earned it. He's currently averaging 29 PPG in his 17th season, something that we've never come close to seeing before. And if he decides to play until he's 37/38, he will be the all-time scoring leader (until Lebron blows that number out of the water in 8 years). The biggest complaint I hear about Bryant is 'He needed Shaq and Gasol to win titles!'. Um yea, he did. Because basketball is a team sport. Michael needed Scottie, Magic needed Kareem, Kareem needed Magic, Bird needed McHale and Parrish, Russell needed several Hall of Famers. Basketball has always been, and will always be a sport that relies on several Hall of Fame talents coming together to win a title, except in very rare cases (the '04 Pistons). Kobe seems to get ripped for not winning a title by himself a lot, but the fact is - no one can.
#5: Larry Bird - 3-time NBA Champion, 3-time MVP, 9-time first team All-NBA, career averages of 24/10/6.
- #1 in points, #3 in rebounds and #3 in blocks all time, Abdul-Jabbar/Lew Alcindor had the rare combination of longevity, and dominance. His first 8 years he put up 29 points and 15 boards a game, staggering numbers. Then he turned 30 - and somehow managed to play another 11 seasons (averaging 20 and 8). Nobody can match Jabbar's 6 MVP/6 ring career, and the sky-hook always has been, and always will be, the most unstoppable move in NBA history.
#3: Magic Johnson - 5-time NBA Champion, 3-time MVP, 9-time first team All-NBA, career averages of 20/7/11/2 (steals).
- The greatest point guard of all time, and that's despite his career being cut short because of HIV. Keep in mind, Magic originally retired at age 32, just one season removed from winning an MVP award, in other words, the guy could still play at a high level. Johnson went head-to-head with Bird three times in the NBA Finals, winning two of them, and staking his claim as the best player of the era by a slim margin. Had he not been forced into early retirement, his assist numbers would've been staggering. Also worth noting that he and Bird brought the NBA from taped delay Finals, to what they are today.
#2: Bill Russell - 11-time NBA Champion, 5-time MVP, 3-time first team All-NBA, career averages of 15/23/4.
- The greatest winner in sports, and the ultimate 'stats don't do him justice' player in NBA history. 11 titles in 13 seasons will never be matched, and it's worth noting that the NBA didn't keep track of blocks until 1972, 3 years after Russell retired. The Celtics/Lakers rivalry is the greatest in league history, and Russell dominated it to the tune of a 7-0 Finals record against LA/Minnesota. He had a lot of talent around him, but he was the lynchpin that held those Celtic teams together. He also won two titles as player-coach (Would have liked to see Wilt try that).
#1: Michael Jordan - 6-time NBA Champion, 5-time MVP, 10-time first team All-NBA, career averages of 30/6/5/2 (steals).
- There are probably two million of these lists floating around the internet, and I'm willing to guess that nearly every one of them has MJ #1. His numbers speak for themselves, but the thing that separated Jordan was his need, not want, to destroy everyone else on the court. He never missed the playoffs until the fateful Wizard comeback, and in six trips to the Finals he won 6 Finals MVP's. Jordan is the only player for whom you could make an honest argument for being a top 3 offensive and defensive player of all-time. While Russell is the greatest winner, Jordan is the greatest player in the history of the league.
Ok so that's my list, I'm sure some of you agree and many disagree. Just know that if you disagree - you're wrong.
Follow Mike on twitter - Mike_Dyer13