The NBA's 75th anniversary is here, and the 2021-22 campaign will definitely be special in the sense that the league will celebrate its history at every turn. The NBA often does a great job of looking back at where it comes from, with former players who are legends of the league always showing up on special occasions.
For the 75th anniversary, the league will do the same it did for the 50th anniversary, selecting the best 75 players in history. While it'll definitely be a controversial dynamic, it's always fun to discuss who should be included or who shouldn't.
The NBA turns 75: These players defined the league decade by decade
In this article, however, we will take a broader approach and have a look at the best players from each decade of NBA basketball. Every decade in the league's history has had its fair share of particularly interesting facts and tremendously great players.
While it might be a straightforward exercise, it is not always easy to choose from such a deep talent pool.
Without further ado, let us start.
George Mikan - Late 1940s and 1950s
George Mikan led the NBA's first dynasty in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the Minneapolis Lakers' center was the most dominant in his era.
Mikan arrived in the league in the 1948-49 season, when it was still known as the Basketball Association of America. In his seven seasons in the BAA/NBA, Mikan won five championships with the Lakers.
He led the league in scoring three times and also led twice in rebounds per game. Mikan averaged 23 points and 13 rebounds per game in his regular-season career, earned six All-BAA/NBA selections and went to four All-Star Games.
Bill Russell - 1960s
Bill Russell is the greatest winner in NBA history as the Boston Celtics' legend won 11 NBA championships during his 13-year career. He even won his last two titles while being a player/coach for Boston.
While his overall impact on the game did not really show in terms of scoring, Russell was a dominant defender and definitely the best leader of his era and perhaps in NBA history.
Russell won five NBA MVPs, received 11 All-NBA selections, won an All-Star Game MVP and led the league four times in total rebounds. For his career, Russell averaged 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds and four assists per game.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 1970s
The 1970s were arguably the most competitive era in terms of the number of teams that were able to compete for the NBA championship. There were no back-to-back championships in the 1970s, but there was a center that truly dominated: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Kareem won the first of his six NBA championships in 1971, during his sophomore year with the Milwaukee Bucks. That same year, he won regular-season MVP and received Finals MVP honors.
He averaged 28.6 points, 14.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.5 blocks per game in the 1970s, while making 55.1% of his field goals. He received five of his six MVPs in the 1970s, with the sixth coming right at the end of the decade in the 1979-80 campaign.
Throughout his career, Abdul-Jabbar went to a record 19 All-Star Games, received 15 All-NBA honors, 11 All-Defensive selections and won two Finals MVP awards. Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA's all-time scoring leader, with 38,387 points scored in his career.
Magic Johnson - 1980s
The 1980s in the NBA were defined by the LA Lakers-Boston Celtics rivalry and mainly the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird rivalry. While the duel between Magic and Bird is close and will always be subject to debate, there are no questions about who achieved more in the league.
Earvin Johnson won five NBA championships and three Finals MVP awards in his NBA career, all coming in the 1980s. His most stunning performance came in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, when he led the LA Lakers to the championship as a 20-year-old rookie and without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Johnson also won three regular-season MVPs and was the undisputed leader of the 'Showtime' LA Lakers. Johnson was a 12-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA and led the league four times in assists.
Michael Jordan - 1990s
The greatest NBA player ever for many, Michael Jordan simply dominated the 1990s, individually and collectively. 'His Airness' guided the Chicago Bulls to six championships between 1991 and 1998 with two different streaks of three titles in a row.
He also grabbed the Finals MVP each time, while also winning four of his five regular-season MVPs in the 1990s. For his entire career, Jordan went to 14 All-Star games, won a record 10 scoring titles, one Defensive Player of the Year award, received 11 All-NBA selections and nine All-Defensive picks, among many more unique accolades.
He is the all-time leader in career average of points per game with 30.1.
The 2000s were very competitive in terms of individual players. While many showed tremendous greatness and brilliance, it all came in different ways. Kobe Bryant was surely the most skilled player at the time, but Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan were equally great.
O'Neal won four championships, three Finals MVP awards and one regular-season MVP in the 2000s, while Duncan grabbed three titles, two Finals MVPs and two regular-season MVPs in that span.
Bryant, on his side, won four championships from 2000 to 2009, one Finals MVP award and one regular-season MVP.
It was definitely close between these three players in the 2000s and leaving one or two out would not be telling the whole story of such a great era in the NBA.
LeBron James - 2010s
LeBron James should've been in the discussion for the best player in the 2000s too, but the debate was already crowded and James did not achieve team success in that span, at least not in the form of NBA championships.
However, there aren't any doubts about LeBron James' spot in NBA history (possibly the greatest player ever) and his place as the greatest player of the 2010s.
From 2010 to 2019, James guided his teams to eight NBA Finals (of the total of 10 he's played in) and won three titles in that stretch, with three Finals MVPs. He also won three regular-season MVPs in that time, including the back-end of the 2009-10 season.
James' career will not be remembered for just one decade, though, as he perhaps remains the greatest player on the planet even today. In his entire NBA career, James has four NBA championships, four Finals MVPs (second-most in history), four regular-season MVPs, a scoring title, 17 All-Star appearances, a record 17 All-NBA selections and six All-Defensive.
Giannis Antetokounmpo - 2020s so far
Since 2020, Giannis Antetokounmpo has won one of his two regular-season MVPS, a Defensive Player of the Year award, an All-Star Game MVP, an NBA title and one Finals MVP award.
Greatness cannot be described without including achievements, and the 'Greek Freak' has definitely been the greatest of the incipient 2020s decades so far in that regard. The 26-year-old superstar is cementing his legacy as perhaps the greatest European player ever and his future looks tremendously bright due to his efforts on both ends of the floor and his dominance.
He is a dominant big man that probably is not fitting for this era of NBA basketball, but we saw in the 2021 NBA Finals that he is virtually unstoppable. Giannis won the 2021 NBA Finals MVP after leading the milwaukee Bucks to their first title in 50 years with two 40-point outings and a record-equalling 50 points in the clinching game.