NBA: Top 5 centers of all time

Sai Krishnan

Center is probably the hardest position to play in the game. No amount of physicality is ever enough. They need to be able to hold their own against some of the strongest athletes in the world. They need to defend, score and go box to box for the entire game even though most weigh more than 250 pounds. Certainly not a piece of cake.

The most famous and impactful players of this game have always been centers. Some powerful forces have patrolled the paint in the past. I chose five of them, who I believe were the most accomplished, and the most regarded ones. Even if you don’t agree with me, one can’t argue about any of these five men.

5. Shaquille O’Neal, 1992-2011, Orlando Magic; LA Lakers; Miami Heat; Phoenix; Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics

Career Averages: 23.7 ppg; 10.9 rebounds; 2.5 assists; 2.7 blocks

BBVA Rising Stars Challenge 2013

Shaq is a four time NBA Champion, 3 time NBA Finals MVP, 1 time MVP and 15 time All-Star.

He was an overpowering low post presence. He weighed 325 pounds (147 Kg) and stood at 7 ft 1 in. He used his immense physique to accumulate a ton of points and rebounds over a 19 year career.

Shaq achieved a three peat with the Lakers from 2000-02 under legendary coach Phil Jackson. He then won his 4th Championship with the Miami Heat in 2006.

He’s scored the fifth most points of all time. Just imagine if he was a better free throw shooter.

Shaq is currently an analyst at TNT and is a minority owner of the Sacramento Kings.


4. Hakeem Olajuwon; 1984-2001, Houson Rockets; 2001-2002, Toronto Raptors

Career Averages: 21.8 ppg; 11.1 rebounds; 2.5 assists; 3.1 blocks; 1,7 steals

Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Lakers

The Dream is the greatest center to have ever played for the Rockets. He led them to back to back championships in 1994 and 1995.

Olajuwon is a 2 time NBA Champion, 1 time MVP and 12 time All-Star. He was versatile and earned the nickname “Dream” for his incredible footwork. Olajuwon perfected a set of fakes in the low post which began to be called the “Dream Shake”.

He’s the only player to have more than 200 blocks and 200 steals in one season. Olajuwon is also the only center to feature on the top 10 All-time steals leaders.

If I had to pick a center [for an all-time best team], I would take Olajuwon. That leaves out Shaq, Patrick Ewing. It leaves out Wilt Chamberlain. It leaves out a lot of people. And the reason I would take Olajuwon is very simple: he is so versatile because of what he can give you from that position. It’s not just his scoring, not just his rebounding or not just his blocked shots. People don’t realize he was in the top seven in steals. He always made great decisions on the court. For all facets of the game, I have to give it to him.

Know who said that? The greatest offensive player ever, Michael Jordan.


3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; 1969-1989, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers

Career Averages: 24.6 ppg; 11.2 rebounds; 3.6 assists; 0.9 steals; 2.6 blocks

Portland Trailblazers vs. Los Angeles Lakers

The leading scorer in the history of the NBA. Abdul-Jabbar was a record six time MVP, a record 19 time All-Star, a 15 time All-NBA 1st team selection and an 11 time NBA All-Defensive team member. He was also a six time NBA Champion. In 1996, he was ranked No. 1 in the list 50 greatest players in NBA History.

He was well known for his Sky hook, a shot which aided by his 7’2″ frame, made it impossible for defenders to block without goaltending. It contributed to his .559 shooting efficiency from the field. He is the eight most efficient shooter in the history of the game.

Having said all this, the fact that he’s No. 3 on this list shows the greatness of the next two.


2. Bill Russell; 1956-1969, Boston Celtics

Career Averages: 15.1 ppg; 22.5 rebounds; 4.3 assists

Boston Celtics Bill Russell, 1969 NBA Eastern Division Finals

Bill Russell is not considered to be the best center ever. He is considered to be “One of the best two”, the other one being his prominent rival, Wilt Chamberlain.

He was an incredible defender.However, during Russell and Wilt’s time, shots blocked and steals weren’t monitored but it’s safe to say that had it been monitored, he would have had big numbers in both.

Russell was never the key point of the Celtics’ offense, but he still managed 15+ PPG throughout his career. On offense, he used his quickness to score over bigger opponents.

Russell pulled down an incredible 22.5 rebounds per game over his 13 year career. He is the only other player apart from Chamberlain to have pulled down more than 50 rebounds in a single game. He pulled down 51 while Chamberlain holds the record of 55 rebounds in a single game.

His biggest accomplishment was probably his 11 NBA Championships in his 13 year career as a player. Incredible!

Russell was one of the most intense players with a “neurotic need to win”. He was so intense that he often through up in the locker rooms before key games. He was the complete center, an inspirational leader and the consummate winner.


1. Wilt Chamberlain; 1959-1973, Philadelphia and San Francisco Warriors; Philadelphia 76ers and LA Lakers

Career Averages: 30.1 ppg; 22.9 rebounds; 4.4 assists

Philadelphia Warriors

There’s just one word to describe Chamberlain. Incredible. How there ever existed such an astounding athlete, controversial sportsman, we may never know.

Chamberlain was probably the strongest player to have ever played in the NBA. He stood at 7’1″ and weighed 275 pounds. He was the only player to score 30+ PPG and pull down 20+ RPG in a season, a feat which he repeated 9 times. He holds the record for the maximum number of points scored in a single game with his 100 point performance.

He was a notoriously poor free throw shooter. However, he made up for it with his incredible athletic skills. He reportedly had a 50-inch vertical, which enabled him to compete as a track and field athlete too. Chamberlain was physically capable of converting a foul shot into a slam dunk without a running jump.

The Wilt-Russell rivalry is one of the most documented and intense ones in the history of any sport. Anything one did, the other wanted to top it. This led to one of the most exciting sequence of NBA finals series’, first between the Celtics and 76ers then between the Celtics and the Lakers. Out of a combined 8 such series’, the Russell led Celtics won 7 of them.

Chamberlain was in every definition, a Star. He was one of the highest paid athletes ever. He earned $65,000 a year before he entered the NBA when an average NBA player himself earned just $10,000 a year. He drove fast cars, and when he couldn’t fit into them, he designed and built one for himself at a whopping $750,000.

Wilt was also renowned as an incredible pick-up artist and ladies’ man. In his autobiography, A View From Above, he claimed that he had sexual relationships with 20,000 women. While this was most definitely exaggerated, there are many who wouldn’t put it past Chamberlain to achieve this feat, like so many other astounding ones he achieved with ease. Chamberlain died in 1999 of congestive heart failure.

Edited by Staff Editor
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