It goes without saying that ranking the top NBA players of all time doesn't come without its own set of controversies. In the modern basketball world where too many stats are available to consider, one still can't ignore the qualitative aspects while ranking the greatest NBA players of all time.
Now it goes without saying that these iconic players played in different generations with different rules and different technologies. So to compile a list consisting of all of them is no small task.
It must be noted that in order to be amongst the best basketball players of all time, you need to have some accomplishments backing your claim, and there's no bigger honor in the NBA than the championship itself. So we have only considered NBA players who have won a ring.
Without further ado, we look at top 10 NBA players of all time who have elevated the standard of the game for years to come.
Also read: Top 5 Greatest Point Guards of all time
10. Kobe Bryant (1996-2016)
Kobe Bryant has been an essential cog not just in basketball, but in all sports as an icon and ambassador of the 2000s. His game style, aggression and popularity brought him to be known as the successor to MJ in the sport. He is now part of Lakers' folklore, getting them to 5 championships.
He is also the only player to have two jersey numbers retired by the same organization. But his not so glorious final years mean that he is no higher than number 10 on our list of greatest NBA players of all time which is a significant achievement on its own.
9. Shaquille O'Neal (1992-2011)
Simply put, Shaquille O'Neal in his prime, was a brute force of nature. Another Laker who is regarded as one of the most dominating players of all time, he bullied oppositions with his bulk and size and there is no generation of NBA basketball where this 3-time All-Star Game MVP and 4-time NBA Champion would not dominate.
He could have been at a higher position in this list had it not been for his mercurial nature and lack of interest in fitness, among other things.
8. Larry Bird (1979-1992)
Another unquestioned and one of the most respected legends of the game, Larry Bird is a 3-time league MVP and a 3-time NBA Champion. Larry did not have the average NBA players' athletic or high flying nature. What he lacked, he made up with his excellent basketball IQ and shooting ability.
He was a part of a two-way rivalry in the 80s which made the NBA what it is today. Not many have ever been able to outshine his skills and shooting abilities at his height. From winning three-point contests to trash-talking his heart out, he had it all. He had a career shortened due to injury, and hence this place in this ranking. Otherwise, who knew what kind of records he would have broken!
7. Tim Duncan (1997-2016)
Tim Duncan lacked the flair and flashiness that many of the players on this list possess. However, he possessed something which is way more unique and which led him to incredible success in the form of 5 total MVPs (2 regular season MVPs and 3 NBA Finals MVPs) to go along with 5 Championships.
He was the perfect team player for the greatest basketballing system ever ala the San Antonio Spurs. His famous "bank shot" and his astronomical figures during his prime are legendary in Spurs' history.
The way he went about things, silently leading his team and demolishing the opponent while keeping his integrity and dignity intact sets an example for all of us to follow. A no-nonsense person, he is one of the few players whose final game was a playoff game. Tim Duncan is the greatest Spur and the greatest power Forward of all time.
6. Wilt Chamberlain (1959-1973)
With one of the most flashy numbers of all time, Wilt is an automatic entry on this list. Averaging 50 points in a season and averaging more than 22 rebounds in his entire career are just a few of the mind-boggling stats that he possesses.
Winning 2 NBA Championships and 4 league MVP honors, his 100-point game and staggering numbers place him at number six at our ranking. He was statistically the most dominant player the NBA has ever seen. Seven scoring titles and eleven rebounding titles do seem unreal figures in today's date and time.
5. Bill Russell (1956-1969)
With 11 NBA titles from 13 playing seasons, there is no one who can question the greatness of this man and thus he is part of our top 5 NBA players list. He invented defensive sequences and made sure that defense was considered an equal force in an attack centered league.
Widely regarded as the best defensive player of all time, his 11 NBA championships is probably the safest all-time record around. He also has 5 MVP awards, all of this at a time when it was difficult to be an African-American in the city of Boston. Bill Russel didn't just win in basketball, he won in life.
4. Magic Johnson (1979-1996)
The other half of the famous rivalry of the 80s, Magic Johnson was probably the flashiest player of all time. The greatest point guard of all time dazzled the world with his flamboyant playing style with the Showtime Lakers.
The leader of the Dream Team, Magic Johnson has been a very important player in the history of NBA, racking up championships and MVPs as well as revitalizing the NBA. His passing ability is still unmatched. With record number of assists per game, he was a perfect point guard but with the body frame of a center. Closely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1969-1989)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has 6 NBA Championships to his name. He invented the famous and devastating skyhook shot. He has scored the most points in NBA history. He has the most regular-season MVPs (6) ever.
These are just few of the inhuman stats that he possesses which are still dwarfed by his impact and consistency towards the game. He was the best player in the league in the 70s. His is a historic and decorated career and his longevity is far from being matched in the current league.
2. LeBron James (2004-Present)
LeBron James has been constantly building his case for the "Greatest of all Time" tag. He has easily cemented his place within the top 3 NBA players in any list. What is scary is that he produced one of his best statistical seasons in his 15th season and despite injury troubles, he averaged 27.4 points, 8.3 assists and 8.5 rebounds in the last season (which was also his 16th in the league). His four regular season MVP honors and three NBA Finals MVP honors speak volumes about the value he adds to whichever team he is a part of. LeBron is undoubtedly the best basketball player in the world at the moment.
In pure raw skill sets and overall completeness, there isn't any player greater than him. His lack of a greater number of championships is not a reason enough to place him any lower on this list. Enroute his several NBA Finals appearances, he has faced two outstanding dynasties: Popovich's Spurs and the Golden State Warriors. He also faced Kobe's Lakers and a dominant Celtics in the East during the regular season. No other player can claim to have held his own against so many dynasties.
1. Michael Jordan (1985-2003)
There was no question that Air Jordan would end up on the first place on any all-time list. His aggressive nature, high flying dunks, wagging tongue, and the winning mindset is a legend in basketball.
In his 1988 season, he won the NBA MVP, the Defensive Player of the Year, as well as the scoring title. Need I say more? He is regarded as not just an icon of basketball, but of all sporting history. There has never been a player like him. Going 6 of 6 at the biggest stage (NBA Finals), and winning two three-peats with the Chicago Bulls, the evidence is plenty.
His championships have come against sides loaded with Hall of Famers. What he has done for the sport is unparalleled. Basketball would not be the same without him. Michael Jordan truly is the greatest of all time and is the best basketball player ever.
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