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10 most Influential Players in NBA History

Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls is interviewed in the locker room after the Bulls win game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals
Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls is interviewed in the locker room after the Bulls win game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals
Josh Lynch
Modified 17 Feb 2021

There have been many NBA players in the history of the league that we, as fans, can deem as legends or superstars. But the NBA stars who place themselves inside the influential category are the ones who leave a lasting mark on the history of the game.

From Michael Jordan to the late Kobe Bryant, to even players like Jeremy Lin - being influential is what makes a player change the landscape of a game in the most special way. It's creating a unique culture within the NBA for the benefit of the fans on and off the court.

We take a look at 10 of the most influential players the NBA has seen in the history of the league.

10. Larry Bird

Larry Bird 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony
Larry Bird 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony

One of the greatest shooters the NBA has ever seen, Larry Bird was appreciated by fans and opponents alike in his day and age. His amazing 3-point shooting would set the tone for players all over the league in today's era. These include sharp-shooting players like Stephen Curry, Ray Allen and Klay Thompson.

Bird was the most versatile forward of his time and went down as an all-time great. He is the only man in NBA history to win Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Finals MVP, as a player and then win Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year. It is a special achievement that is unlikely to be matched.

9. Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson at the BIG3 - Championship
Allen Iverson at the BIG3 - Championship

You can love him or hate him, but Allen Iverson deserves to be on this list; the man who changed the culture of the NBA and stood at just 6"0 tall. The way he slipped past his defenders with that infamous crossover inspired an entire generation.


Iverson was deemed the league's MVP during the 2000-01 season and named an 11-time All-Star for his career. When you talk about Allen Iverson (who was nicknamed The Answer), you talk about someone who was one of the most charismatic players in history.

From bringing his hip-hop fashion into vogue to rocking the cornrows hairstyle, fans seemed to gravitate to Iverson more than people of this era would ever realize. The man even made the NBA implement a dress code!

But in the end, Iverson stands as one of the NBA's most unique, yet influential, icons to date.

8. Oscar Robertson

He was the NBA's most notable triple-double scoring savant in his time. Robertson changed the game in so many ways and his triple-double prowess paved the way for players like Russell Westbrook, Magic Johnson and LeBron James.

But most importantly, what made Robertson influential was his work off the court. Serving as president of the National Players Association, along with being a civil rights activist hero for the NBA, Robertson pledged hard to fight for what he envisioned.


He went to court against the NBA in basketball's most well-known case, Robertson vs. the NBA, in what was an antitrust lawsuit filed to abolish the clause that permanently tied a player to one team.

7. Jerry West

The Logo! Many seem to have forgotten that Mr. Jerry West is the man behind the familiar NBA logo. But why is he the face of the world's most popular basketball league?

Jerry was the most dominant point guard the game had seen at the time. He was named an All-Star for all 14 of his NBA career seasons and won six championship rings with the Lakers.

West's jump-shot was like magic in big-time moments and he was known as the most efficient off-the-dribble shooter of his time. He was fundamental, smart, and knew how to get his team to win when they needed him most. The legend was one of the greatest competitors to date.

6. Kobe Bryant

Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a play against the Phoenix Suns in the fourth quarter of Game
Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a play against the Phoenix Suns in the fourth quarter of Game

Kobe will never be loved and honored enough, and it was inevitable he would make this list. Known as the "Black Mamba," Kobe was arguably the closest thing to Michael Jordan.

One of the most dedicated players the NBA has seen, it was always obvious that Kobe was the hardest working guy on the floor. He always gave 110% and never settled for anything less. Drafted right out of Lower Merion High School in 1996, Kobe's game resonated across the league immediately.

Kobe Bryant was a 5x NBA Champion and one-time league MVP during the 2007-08 season. Creating one of the league's most interesting and dedicated fan bases over his career, Kobe showed that his love for the game was unmatched by anyone. And that's what made people love him.

5. Kareem Abdul-Jabar

You can certainly categorize Kareem in the "GOAT" Category. The heights of his career are captivating to look back on today.


The iconic figure would win six championships and serve as the NBA's all-time scoring leader. A philosopher of his well-known hook shot, Kareem's 7"2 frame made the sky-high shot impossible to stop.

But what really made Kareem the likable guy that he still is today, was his off-the-court deeds. The six-time MVP's take on social injustice, racial inequality, and civil rights has made his presence reverberate in the most poignant way.

Kareem has set the foundation for more players to speak up, as many have referred to him as the NBA's most iconic figure. Kareem made it known, regardless of the societal opinions thrown at him, that there is a world that needs help from superstar athletes such as the ones in the NBA.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the perfect combination of legacy, courage and influence.

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Published 17 Feb 2021, 02:00 IST
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