Who is the greatest NBA player of all time? The answer to this question is endless and controversial as many players have shown their potential in the NBA, if not the greatest, the best.
There are no specific criteria for calling one the greatest. Every analyst, player, coach, and fan has their own opinion.
In NBA, 4374 players have at least played one game. So, it’s not a joke to play in the NBA. Similarly, to be in the conservation of greatest is similar to be part of the exclusive club.
No disrespect to players who didn’t make it into the top 10. Let’s look at who takes the crown of the greatest.
10. Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan, probably the greatest power forward of all time, takes the number 10 spot on our list. He also played center in his career.
Moreover, Duncan is known as the “The Big Fundamental,” ruling both ends of the floor for 20 years with his textbook basketball skills like midrange bank jump shot, perfect positioning in the defense.
Furthermore, he is a serial winner. Throughout his NBA career, he played for one single team San Antonio Spurs.
Duncan led them to 5 NBA titles and 1,001 wins in the regular season, most by the player with one single team in NBA.
Likewise, personal accolades in his resume include 15x All-star, 2x NBA MVP, 3x Finals MVP. Similarly, he is the only NBA player to be selected in both the All-NBA Team and the All-Defensive team for 13 successive years from (1997 to 2010).
After retiring from the NBA playing career, Duncan became assistant coach of the Spurs for the 2019-2020 season.
Later, on 17th May 2021, Duncan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
9. Shaq O Neal
Only one thing describes Shaq O’ Neal that dominant. At 7 ft 1 inch and 300 pounds, he dominated the opposition with his raw strength, speed, explosiveness, and skills.
Shaq was dominant at every end of the floor in scoring, rebound, block, a low post, fast-break over 2 decades of his career.
Moreover, his signature post-move called doorstep spin move bullied players. Near deep position in basket, the only way to stop him was fouling, or Shaq would dunk over you.
After joining the Lakers in free agency, Shaq formed one of the deadliest NBA duos with Kobe Bryant.
They won three successive titles from 2000 to 2002, where Shaq claimed every Finals MVP award.
In 2000, Shaq became the third player to claim league MVP, finals MVP, and all-star MVP in the same season.
Later, in 2007 he captured his fourth NBA ring. Likewise, he is also 15 time NBA All-Star, 8 All NBA First team.
In 2016, Shaq O’Neal was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
8. Larry Bird
Next on our list of the ‘best NBA players’ is Larry Bird, who is often considered the greatest Celtics player and small forward of all time.
He is one of the most admired players in the NBA due to his smartness, competitiveness, and ability to perform anything on the floor.
Bird is well known for his excellent passing and defensive ability.
Also, Bird could play both as small or power forward. Likewise, he was one of the first player o take full advantage of newly formed 3 pointers.
Besides his playing style, Bird also dominated opposition players with his confidence and swagger.
In his 13 years, Bird led Celtics to 3 NBA titles. He also won league MVP for 3 consecutive years, which only Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlian have managed to achieve.
Similarly, Bird also has 2 finals MVP, 12 NBA All-star, and 9 All-NBA First Team selections to his name.
In 1998, Bird was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Later, in 2010 as a “Dream Team” member, he was inducted again into the Hall of Fame.
7. Bill Russell
Bill Russell is one of the successful players in NBA history. Moreover, he won 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons with 2 as player/ coach.
However, he is probably disrespected when there is conservation in the goat debate. Russell is the one who raised NBA defensive play to a new height.
Moreover, Russell shot-blocking ability and man to man defense was the main reason behind Celtics domination during his playing time.
If a defensive player of the year existed in the 1960s, probably Russell would have won all of it in his 13 years as an NBA player.
Furthermore, he is the first player to 20 RPG for the season he managed to achieve 10 times.
Alongside 11 NBA titles, Russell is also 5 MVP awards, 12 NBA All-Star, 3 All-NBA First Team.
In 1975 Bill Russell was enshrined into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Likewise, since 2009 NBA starting naming Finals MVP as Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP to honor him.
In 2017, after receiving Life Time Achievement Award, he pointed at Shaq, Robinson, Kareem, Mourning, Mutombo and said, “I would kick your ass.”
6. Wilt Chamberlain
Next on the list is late Wilt Chamberlian. His number throughout the NBA is legendary itself. For instance, in the 1961-62 NBA season, he averaged 50.4 PPG, which no player to date has achieved.
Likewise, in the same season, on 2nd March 1962, Chamberlian scored 100 points against New York Knick’s highest ever socred any NBA players in a single game.
Furthermore, he has won scoring titles 7 times, rebounding titles 11 times, and durability titles once in his career.
Talking about it, Wilt is responsible for many NBA rule changes like offensive goaltending, extending the lane, and revising regulations regarding free throws and inbounding.
Moreover, Bird and Magic revitalized the NBA and the rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers.
In 1967, Chamberlian won one of his two championships playing for the 76ers and later in 1972 playing for Lakers.
Besides that, he has 4 MVP to his name. Likewise, Chamberlain is 13x All-Star, 7 All-NBA First team, and 1980 rookie of the year.
In 1978, Wilt Chamberlian was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Sadly, on 12th October 1999, basketball legend Wilt Chamberlian died at 63 due to congestive heart failure.
5. Kobe Bryant
Late Kobe Bryant is dubbed the greatest Lakers of all time playing 20 years of his whole career. He is an inspirational figure in the sporting world.
Bryant “Mamba Mentality” helped him accomplish everything in his career, and he deserves every right to be in the goat debate.
Pairing with Shaq O’ Neal, Kobe led the Lakers to 3 peat from 2000 to 2002. Later, in 2006 and 2007, he won the scoring title.
Kobe is an elite scorer and ranks fourth in all-time NBA leading scorer. In the 2006-07 season, he averaged 35.4 PPG.
Moreover, in 2006 against the Raptors, Kobe scored 81 points second-highest in a single game. Likewise, in his last game dropped 60 points against Jazz, most in the last game by any player.
True MVP of the Game
In 2008, Kobe won the first and only MVP award of his career. Later, in 2008, he led the USA “Redeem Team” to the gold medal in Beijing Olympics and another gold in London Olympics.
Later, in 2008 and 2009, Bryant led the Lakers back to the back championship and was named Finals MVP both years.
In 2021, Kobe Bryant was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
On 26th January 2020, 41 years old Kobe Bryant, alongside his daughter Gianna and six family friends, and the pilot died in a helicopter crash.
Later, to honor Bryant, NBA changed the All-Star MVP name into Kobe All-Star MVP since 2020. That’s a fitting tribute to record consecutive 18-time all-star starter and joint 4 times all-star MVP.
4. Magic Johnson
Many NBA around the world loves Magic Johnson’s trademark smile and passion for basketball.
He is probably the best point to ever play in NBA, and his legacy backs the facts. As a 6 ft 9 inches guard, he was walking triple-double, ranking third in all-time triple-double leader with 138.
Without Magic Johnson, there would not have been”Showtime” Lakers. His fast breaks and no-look passing, alley-oops took Lakers basketball to the next level.
Furthermore, his rivalry with Larry Bird took NBA to a height where it is at present.
One of the most memorable games is replacing injured Abdul-Jabbar in Game 6 of the NBA finals during rookie season.
Magic started as a center and played all of the positions registering 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists.
After that, he won his first NBA championship and finals MVP. Later, Magic went to win 4 more NBA titles and 3 Finals MVP in his career.
Besides that, Magic is league MVP 3 times, 12 times NBA All-Star, and 9 times All NBA First Team honor.
Due to HIV, Magic prematurely retire at the age of 32 in 1991. But he returned in the 1992 Olympics to form the greatest basketball team of all time known as “The Dream Team.”
Magic Johnson is a two-time Basketball Hall of Fame for his individual career in 2002 and as a “Dream Team” member in 2010.
3. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Onto the final 3, Kareem Abdul Jabbar ranks third on our list of best NBA players of all time.
He is one of the players whose career stats and achievements definitely back why he is one of the greatest.
Firstly, Kareem Abdul Jabbar is the leading scorer in NBA history, with 38,837 points in 20 seasons.
Abdul-Jabbar has collected every individual accolade that a player can win in the NBA. Moreover, he has won most league MVP in league history with 6. Kareem also won rookie of the year in his debut season.
Furthermore, he is 19 times NBA All-star most in NBA history and previous record 15x All NBA First Team.
After signing for La Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar became a captain of the “Showtime” Lakers, leading the team to 5 titles in 14 seasons.
Moreover, it’s not possible to talk about Abdul-Jabbar without mentioning his signature shot skyhook. Probably, his unblockable shot made him score many points.
He credits Bruce Lee for teaching him martial arts discipline and spirituality that helped him play in NBA for 2 decades with quite a few injuries.
Later, in 1995, Abdul-Jabbar was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
2. Lebron James
Onto his 19th season in the NBA, Lebron James has never slowed down since making his debut.
Whenever there is a debate about a goat, one name definitely pops out that’s King James.
Although ranked second in our list by the end of his career, James may take the number 1 spot. So talking about his accolades and resume, one can write a whole book of 200 pages.
Lebron joined Miami Heat in 2010 to form BIG 3 alongside Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh after winning back-to-back MVP.
Later, he captured 2 NBA titles, 2 Finals MVP, and 2 league MVP in the Heat.
Furthermore, in the 2016 NBA Finals, Lebron James’ consecutive 41 points game and chase-down block in deciding game 7 helped Cavaliers complete a historic 3-1 comeback against GSW.
Before joining the Lakers in 2018, Lebron appeared in 9 consecutive finals. After missing out in his first season, he again claimed NBA ring and Finals MVP next season.
Lebron already holds the record for 16 All-NBA team selection. Likewise, he is also a 17-time All-Star and 3 time NBA All-Star MVP.
Similarly, Lebron is the top scorer in a playoff with 7632 points and ranks third in the all-time point leaders list with 35,367 points.
Lebron James is the future hall of fame inductee. Moreover, by the time he retires, he will definitely break many records and add more accolades to his name.
1. Michael Jordan
The greatest player ever to play basketball is Michael Jordan. Jordan is the name that comes to mind when basketball comes.
Jordan’s brilliance set a standard for future generation players in the league.
After winning his first NBA championship, his journey towards being the greatest began. Later, with two 3 peats and 6 Finals MVP, there is no denying why he is the goat.
His “Airness” Michael Jordan brought basketball back to life when its rating went to its lowest point. His Jordan brand skyrocketed the popularity of basketball.
The 5 time MVP was an assassin in the court, taking down any opposition. Although mainly regarded as a scoring machine, Jordan was a great defender too.
NBA defensive player of the year
As a result, he is the first NBA player to win NBA defensive player of the year and NBA MVP in the same season.
Furthermore, Jordan has a record 10 scoring title to his name and holds records for career scoring average of 30.1 and 33.4 PPG in the regular season and playoffs.
Likewise, he has 14 times NBA All-Star, 10 times All-NBA First-team selection under his belt.
For Jordan’s individual career, he was inducted into the hall of fame in 2009 and a “Dream Team” member in 2010.
Michael Jordan takes the number 1 spot in our list of best NBA players of all time. But the debate on a goat is a never-ending cycle.
As active players like Lebron James, Kevin Durant’s careers are still left to end and young talents like Zion Williamson, Luka Doncic coming into the league, anybody can claim the crown from Jordan in the future.