Photo of James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Image Credit: Erik Drost (CC BY 2.0)

The glory days of the NBA may have surpassed but that doesn't mean us fans can't reminisce on our favorite players growing up. We have compiled a list of our top ten greatest NBA players of all time. Our exact ordering may upset some people but these ten players are unanimously the greatest players the game has ever seen.

10. Julius Erving

There are only two NBA players that come to mind that were more known for their nickname than their actual name. "Magic" Johnson and "Dr. J" Julius Erving. In the days before the NBA/ABA merger, Dr. J is mainly what helped the ABA gain so much notoriety with his flashy play and leaping ability. He was the ABA's most popular player in his days with the Virginia Squires and the New York Nets. He joined the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers in 1976 and would finish his career in Philadelphia. The UMass grad played 16 professional seasons and averaged more than 20 points and 5 rebounds per game the first 14 seasons. His career accolades include being an 11 time NBA All Star selection, 1 time NBA Champion, 1 time NBA MVP and being a part of the NBA's 50 year all time team. One little known fact about Dr. J is that when he began his career, he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks. Had he signed with the Bucks, he would have subsequently been teammates with Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul Jabaar. 





9. Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan is easily the most underrated player on our all time greatest NBA players list. With his sleepy demeanor and fundamental play, Duncan has often been referred to as "boring" by both fans and analysts. That's OK. Because there's nothing boring about 25,000 points, 14,000 rebounds and 5 NBA titles. Like so many other NBA greats also on our list, Tim has spent his entire NBA career with one team; the San Antonio Spurs. Tim was selected by the Spurs as their number 1 pick in the 1997 NBA draft out of Wake Forest University. When he joined the Spurs, former NBA great David Robinson quickly made Tim his protege and showed him how to prepare like an NBA legend. Among Tim's other career accolades include being a 14 time NBA All Star selection, 3 time NBA Finals MVP, 2 time NBA Most Valuable Player and 1998's NBA rookie of the year.






8. Hakeem Olajuwon

A native of Nigeria, Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon (formerly Akeem Olajuwon) grew up a soccer player and didn't pick up basketball until his teenage years. Olajuwon's years of playing soccer are believed to be what attributed to his excellent footwork. Olajuwon was a "finesse" center. He moved with a lot of grace, could shoot, defend and pass. While many NBA fans probably assume Olajuwon spent his entire NBA career with the Houston Rockets, they are wrong. Hakeem played his final season in 2001-2002 with the Toronto Raptors after refusing a $13 million deal with the Rockets. He retired in 2002 due to a back injury after 18 productive NBA seasons. During those 18 seasons, Hakeem nearly amassed 27,000 points, 14,000 rebounds and blocked the most shots in NBA history. When Hakeem finished his career, he had been selected to the NBA All Star game 12 times, won 2 NBA titles, was the NBA's Most Valuable Player once, the Houston Rockets all time leading scorer and a 6 time all NBA first team selection. 




7. Oscar Robertson

Oscar Robertson, or "The Big O" as he was nicknamed was the only player to average a triple double for an entire NBA season in 1961-1962. And according to Basketball's Reference's Oscar Robertson page here, Robertson averaged nearly a triple double every season during his first five seasons in the NBA. By the time he had finished his career in 1974, Robertson had compiled nearly 27,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists. Among his long list of other accomplishments include being a 12 time NBA All Star, 1 time NBA champion and 1 time NBA most valuable player. The 1971 title Robertson won with Kareem Abdul Jabaar and the Milwaukee Bucks is the organization's lone NBA championship. Oscar being much older than any other player on our list, experienced great adversity and racism during his playing days especially as a prep player in Indianapolis. Oscar went on to excel at the University of Cincinnati before being drafted by the NBA's Cincinnati Royals in 1960 (now the Sacramento Kings). During his time with the Cincinnati Bearcats, Robertson would sometimes have to sleep at college dormitories instead of at the team's hotel due to segregation laws. 




6. Kobe Bryant

Not having Kobe Bryant in our top five list of all time NBA greats could get me in trouble. But I've got to pay tribute to the Los Angeles Lakers legends that set the stage for Kobe many years ago. Similarly, Kobe began the trend of skipping college and entering the NBA draft right out of high school. He was the first guard ever taken out of high school and was actually drafted by the Charlotte Hornets before being traded to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. When he debuted for the Lakers, he was the youngest player to ever debut in an NBA game. Kobe recently surpassed Michael Jordan to become 3rd on the all time NBA scoring list. Despite having 5 NBA titles, Kobe has been selected to a whooping 16 NBA All Star games and once scored 81 points in a single game vs. the Toronto Raptors. Three of Kobe's five NBA titles came consecutively (2000-2002) under the mentoring of head coach Phil Jackson. He has also been the NBA's most valuable player once, the NBA Finals most valuable player twice and is the Los Angeles Lakers all time leading scorer. It's unclear how much longer Kobe will continue playing in the NBA. However, he is currently averaging 24 points and 5 assists per game which is more than his totals in his first four NBA seasons. How is that for defying age? 



5. Bill Russell

Bill Russell is the only player in NBA history with more championship rings than fingers. In his 13 NBA seasons, all with the Boston Celtics, Russell won 11 NBA titles. He was winning championships before joining the Celtics though. He led the University of San Francisco to two NCAA titles during the 1950's. He is also the first African American coach in NBA history when he agreed to be the Celtics player-coach in 1966, a position he would hold for three seasons. Like Oscar Robertson, Russell grew up playing in a time period where black basketball players experienced a lot of racism. He was sometimes refused admittance to restaurants and hotels when traveling with the Celtics. During his 13 year career, Russell amassed nearly 15,000 points, 22,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists. He was voted the NBA's most valuable player five times, was an NBA All Star twelve times and was selected to the NBA's 50th anniversary all time team. There is a state of Bill Russell outside of Boston's City Hall Plaza building downtown. 





4. Magic Johnson

Earvin "Magic" Johnson redefined the way the point guard position was played. Historically a position for the smallest player in the starting lineup, Magic Johnson stood at a massive 6'9 and 220 lbs. His mobility and deceptive passing skills were his greatest assets. Defending Johnson on a fast break was a nightmare and nearly impossible. In 2007, ESPN rated Magic as the NBA's greatest point guard of all time. His rivalry with Larry Bird both in college and in the pros still stands as perhaps the greatest personal rivalry in basketball history. Magic's career was unfortunately cut short in 1991 after announcing that he was HIV positive. This created a great scare throughout the NBA and Johnson subsequently decided to retire. Heroically, he attempted a comeback during the 1995-1996 season and did very well averaging just under 15 points per game. After just 32 games, Magic decided to retire once again and focus on his overall health. In 13 seasons, Magic tallied nearly 18,000 points, 6,500 rebounds and 10,000 assists. Today, he is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in America and owns hundreds of Starbucks chains as well as Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers.




3. Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain or "The Big Dipper" as he was often called is perhaps the most dominant center to ever play in the NBA. Wilt was "Shaq before Shaq" and once scored 100 points in a single game in Hershey, Pennsylvania which is an NBA record that still stands today. He is also the only NBA player to average more than 30 points and 20 rebounds every single season during his playing career. Wilt was also a 13 time NBA all star, won 2 NBA titles, 4 times the NBA's most valuable player and is the NBA's all time leading rebounder. Unlike many players on our list, Chamberlain left the Kansas Jayhawks program after his junior year because he wanted to earn money. The NBA at the time, however, did not allow players to enter the draft if they hadn't completed their final year of studies. Wilt was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors (now the Golden State Warriors) in 1959. He would also go on to play for the Philadelphia 76ers (1965-1968) before finishing his career with the Los Angeles Lakers (1968-1973). At the conclusion of Chamberlain's career, he had scored almost 31,500 points, grabbed nearly 24,000 rebounds and dished out almost 5,000 assists. Wilt is the only player on our list that is no longer with us. Rest in peace, big guy. 




2. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar

Formerly named Lew Alcindor, Kareem played a whopping 20 seasons in the NBA and is the league's all time leading scorer ( 38,387 points). Although he was one of the main components of the "Showtime Era" in Lakers basketball, he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969 and would play there for his first six NBA seasons with Oscar Robertson. All of this after rejecting a $1 million dollar offer from the Harlem Globetrotters, of course. Kareem was just as dominant in the NBA as Wilt Chamberlain, the two squared off a few times towards the end of Wilt's career. In 2007, ESPN named Kareem the NBA's greatest center of all time and the greatest college basketball player in NCAA history. By the end of his career in 1989, he had grabbed more than 17,000 rebounds - good for 3rd on the all time NBA list. He also was the NBA's all time leader in games played, minutes played, field goals made, field goals attempted, blocked shots and personal fouls. Jabaar's most notable accolades, however, are his 6 NBA titles and mind-boggling 19 NBA All Star game selections. He was also voted the NBA's most valuable player six times throughout his career. Is your head spinning yet? Mine too. Kareem won at virtually every level of basketball he competed at. During his prep years at Power Memorial Academy in New York City, the team went 79-2 including a 71 game winning streak. While at UCLA alongside John Wooden, his teams went 88-2 with three NCAA championships. The NBA has seen some great big men since Kareem's retirement in Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan and Patrick Ewing. But will there ever be another big man in the NBA to play with such dominance and longevity? It's very doubtful. 




1. Michael Jordan

This man needs no introduction and is unanimously the greatest basketball player to ever step foot on the hardwood. Michael Jordan had a work ethic that just couldn't be tamed. Among Jordan's long list of accolades includes 6 NBA titles, 5 times the NBA's most valuable player, a 14 time NBA All Star selection and was the 1985 NBA rookie of the year. A pure scorer, Jordan averaged right at 30 points per game his entire NBA career. When it was all said and done, Jordan had just over 32,000 points which is good for fourth all time. Not bad for a guy that was cut from his high school basketball team in North Carolina. Michael led the Chicago Bulls to three NBA titles from 1991-1993 but abruptly retired in 1993 following his father's murder.

During his year away from basketball, Michael gave minor league baseball a try and played with an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Deciding that he missed the game way too much, Michael returned to the Bulls for the final 17 games in 1995. Without missing a beat, Jordan led the Bulls to yet another 3 peat with NBA titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998. The end of the 1998 season marked the end to the Michael Jordan era in Chicago for good. He retired following the 1997-1998 season and was away from the game for three seasons before deciding to make the final comeback of his career. Only this time, Jordan would join the Washington Wizards, a team he was part owner of. While with the Wizards, he became the first NBA player over the age of 40 to score 40 points in a single game. His final professional game occurred on April 16th, 2003 vs. the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wachovia Center. He had 15 points in the loss and was surprisingly fired from his front office position with the Wizards two weeks later. Today, Michael is still very involved with basketball as the owner of the Charlotte Hornets and operating the Jordan clothing brand. It's been common knowledge that Michael still misses competing but as we know all too well, father time eventually catches up with you.


Just Missed the Cut

  • Larry Byrd
  • Shaquille O'neal
  • Karl Malone
  • Moses Malone
  • George Gervin
  • Lebron James



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