The composition of players who make up a list of the greatest to step foot onto an NBA court will be debated for eternity. Whether you side with LeBron James, or Michael Jordan. Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain. All of the players on this list have a case for being the greatest of all-time.
In an effort to bring resolution to the topic, I have tackled the age-old question: ‘who are the greatest players of all-time?’ The criteria I used to evaluate the players for my list is a combination of individual accolades, team accomplishments and statistical achievements.
10. Karl Malone
- 1985–2004: 2x MVP; 14x All-NBA; 4x All-Star; 4x All-Defensive
- 25 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.4 SPG
The 2010 Hall of Fame inductee Karl Malone earned his beloved nickname “The Mailman” with the Utah Jazz throughout his 19-year career. Malone always delivered, representative of the 36,928 points he scored, making him the second-highest scorer in the history of the NBA. In addition to his scoring, Malone has the seventh most rebounds and eleventh most steals all-time with 14,968 and 2,085 respectively. Despite his great statistical accomplishments, Malone was never able to win a title; he came up short in the NBA Finals three times, two of those times being to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
9. Bill Russell
- 1956–1969: 11x NBA Champ; 5x MVP; 11x All-NBA; 12x All-Star; 1x All-Defensive; 4x TRB Champ
- 15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
One of the true pioneers of the NBA and one of the greatest defensive anchors to step onto the hardwood. Russell’s legacy will not soon be forgotten as he became an NBA champion 11 times in the 13 seasons he played in the league. Russell was a glass cleaner, as well, finishing with the second-most rebounds in NBA history with 21,620. Measuring 6-foot-10, his lanky presence around the rim made the Boston Celtics a dynasty throughout the 1960s with his impressive shot-blocking ability which revolutionized defensive concepts.
8. Hakeem Olajuwon
- 1984–2002: 2x NBA Champ; 2x Finals MVP; 1x MVP; 12x All-NBA; 12x All-Star; 2x Def. POY; 9x All-Defensive; 2x TRB Champ; 3x BLK Champ
- 21.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 3.1 BPG
Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon is among the elite of low post players, on both sides of the ball. His patented “dream shake” kept defenders on their toes making him virtually un-guardable down low. Olajuwon ended his career with 26,946 points total which is the 11th most all-time. However, his ability to be a defensive menace is not to be overlooked as he tallied 3,830 blocks in his 18-year career, the most of any player. Additionally, he was a master pickpocket landing number nine on the list of most steals in league history with 2,162. Lastly, “The Dream” had a strong rebounding mindset which resulted in him being the 13th highest rebounder ever as well.
7. Magic Johnson
- 1979–1996: 5x NBA Champ; 3x Finals MVP; 3x MVP; 10x All-NBA; 12x All-Star; 4x AST Champ; 2x STL Champ
- 19.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 11.2 APG, 1.9 SPG
Earvin “Magic” Johnson entered the league the year the three-point shot was introduced (1979), but he chose to make use of his 6-foot-9 stature instead, with a rim running offensive strategy. He led his fast-paced “Showtime” Lakers to nine NBA Finals, constantly being put up against his college rival, who became his NBA rival, Larry Bird. Johnson walked away with five rings and will be remembered as one of the greatest passers and triple-double machines ever. He sits fifth on the all-time assists list and has the third most triple-doubles all-time behind Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook.
6. Tim Duncan
- 1997–2016: 5x NBA Champ; 3x Finals MVP; 2x MVP; 15x All-NBA; 15x All-Star; 15x All-Defensive
- 19 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3 APG, 2.2 BPG
“The Big Fundamental” was the driving force behind the San Antonio Spurs dynasty being a constant championship threat throughout his 19-years with the franchise. In coach Gregg Popovich’s system, Duncan was able to subtly capture five rings, and the most regular-season wins by a single player with one team ever. Duncan was a silent assassin who played textbook defense landing him fifth amongst the all-time block leaders. Duncan’s offensive playstyle was not flashy either, but he quietly sits fourteenth in all-time points scored. His demeanor on and off the court was always reserved which brought a calming presence, similar to that of a coach. In retirement he can be found on the Spurs’ sidelines, fully embracing the role he had when he played, as an assistant coach.
5. Wilt Chamberlain
- 1959–1973: 2x NBA Champ; 1x Finals MVP; 4x MVP; 10x All-NBA; 13x All-Star
- 30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG
Wilt Chamberlain was truly a man amongst boys in his era as he cemented his name in the record book for eternity. He currently holds 72 NBA records, including some of which will never be broken. From grabbing 55 rebounds in a single game to scoring 100 points in a single game to averaging 50.4 points over the course of a season, “Wilt the Stilt” created a legacy from that of which legends are made. Wilt, the statistical phenom he was, notches first for most rebounds ever and seventh for most points in the history of the NBA.
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar
- 1969–1989: 6x NBA Champ; 2x Finals MVP; 6x MVP; 15x All-NBA; 19x All-Star; 11x All-Defensive; 1x TRB Champ; 4x BLK Champ
- 24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.6 APG
Kareem Abdul-Jabaar is arguably the greatest big man to play in the NBA’s 74-year existence. His ability to score over the top of defenders was unparalleled given his patented skyhook which baffled his opponents. A testament to his scoring remains his firm grasp on the most points scored ever in league history. Additionally, his dominance is shown in other areas as he had a knack for blocking shots and grabbing boards, ranking top three in both blocks and rebounds all-time.
3. Kobe Bryant
- 1996–2016: 5x NBA Champ; 2x Finals MVP; 1x MVP; 15x All-NBA; 18x All-Star; 12x All-Defensive; 2x Scoring Champ
- 25 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.4 SPG
The late, great Kobe Bryant’s physical edge over his opponents was plenty frightening, but his mind was actually his strongest asset. Referred to as the “mamba mentality”, Bryant not only approached each game this way but lived his life in such a manner. Drafted as a sprite 17-year old out of high school, the soon to be “Black Mamba” created memory after memory in his 20-season tenure in the city of Los Angeles. As if scoring 81-points in a single game and winning five rings wasn’t enough, Bryant put on a show in his farewell game, tallying a whopping 60 points — the most by any player in the 2015–16 season.
2. LeBron James
- 2003-Present: 3x NBA Champ; 3x Finals MVP; 4x MVP; 15x All-NBA; 16x All-Star; 6x All-Defensive; 1x Scoring Champ
- 27.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG
“King James” has reigned over the NBA ever since the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted the Ohio native number-one overall in 2003. His physicality is that of no other, standing 6-foot-9, weighing 250 pounds, with the ball-handling skills of a guard. James undoubtedly is the most well-rounded and versatile player the NBA has ever seen. Eight consecutive NBA Finals appearances between two different teams tells the story of his relentless pursuit of greatness. Also, James is in an exclusive club of his own as the only player in history to have over 25,000 points, 9,000 assists, and 9,000 rebounds. However, the most impressive feat of James’ career is his longevity, continuing to be in the MVP conversation at age 35 in his 16th season as the leading scorer and facilitator for his team.
1. Michael Jordan
- 1984–1993, 1995–1998, 2001–2003: 6x NBA Champ; 6x Finals MVP; 5x MVP; 11x All-NBA; 14x All-Star; 1x Def. POY; 9x All-Defensive; 10x Scoring Champ; 3x STL Champ
- 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.3 SPG
Michael Jordan has been labeled the “G.O.A.T.” for many reasons, but it ultimately is due to his unrivaled competitive nature. “Air Jordan” took the NBA by storm on the Chicago Bulls, expanding his brand globally like no other in a way that transcended basketball. A perfect 6-for-6 was his NBA Finals record in conjunction with being named the Finals MVP for all of them. On top of that, he sits top five on the list of all-time points and steals, solidifying his case as the best player to ever play the game.