The 50 Best Players In NBA History May Surprise You

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Introduction

intro
Brian Spurlock USA TODAY SPORTS

With the All-Star break upon us, it is kind of a dead time in basketball. The weekend has lost a lot of its luster over the years and a not a lot of people watch it anymore. However, it is a perfect time for some NBA debate. Today, I am bringing you my list of the 50 best players in NBA history. This list is certainly going to cause a stir and it should be quite fun.

With any list, there is going to be debate about it. This list is certainly going to cause a stir because people love to argue for their favorite player or argue against someone that they do not like. That is the true beauty of sports these days. You can always debate and both sides can have good arguments.

For instance, I bet that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are the two most debated players on this list. Both of them are successful and both are still high profile players. This means a lot of people have seen them and love to spend time picking them apart. An older generation might say that they couldn't compete in an older era while the new breed would argue that they would dominate in an era when athleticism was not that prevalent. That is what makes stuff like this fun.

If you feel like you want to debate, go ahead and leave a comment in the section below. However, let us keep it civil. There is no point in debating if it is going to devolve into people insulting each other instead of looking up stats and highlights and making their own judgments and understanding where other people are coming from on certain issues.

With that, it is time to get into the list. These 50 players are certainly debatable but that is what makes sports fun.

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Dennis Johnson

johnson
Source: NBA.com

DJ was an absolute beast on defense. He could frustrate even the most accomplished scorer and he was a key cog in those dominant Boston Celtics teams. That's good enough to make this list.

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James Worthy

worthy
Source: ESPN

Would Big Game James have had a different career if he didn't end up playing with Magic Johnson? Probably, but you can't fault him for that. Worthy had a very good career as a key player on some dominant title teams.

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Paul Pierce

pierce
Mark L. Baer USA TODAY SPORTS

You might be shocked to see Pierce this high but the guy has had one heck of a career. He has a ring and he's been a guy who has still produced, even in old age. He makes the cut for this list.

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Billy Cunningham

cunningham
Source: NBA.com

Since Cunningham played well before I was born, I had to use some reading to determine how to rank him. Although he does not look it, the guy could flat out dunk on people. Throw in some great stats and lots of success and that makes him perfect for this.

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Dave DeBusschere

debusschere
Source: ESPN

Here's another guy that I never watched but I did read about. He was a lockdown defender and one of those guys that did all the little things. Sounds like my type of player.

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Nate Thurmond

thurmond
Source: NBA.com

Thurmond could rebound and block shots with the best of them. He received tons of accolades in his career, which includes making the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History list. That's good enough for me.

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Clyde Drexler

drexler
Bob Donnan USA TODAY SPORTS

Drexler was always overshadowed by Michael Jordan and he seemed to never get the most out of himself. He had a terrific career but he always left you wanting more. Good enough for the list, but I wish I could move him higher.

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Dwyane Wade

wade
Mark D. Smith USA TODAY SPORTS

Wade is going to continue to climb up lists before he retires. He has a couple of titles and he convinced LeBron James to come play with him. That's worth at least a spot a year at this rate.

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Wes Unseld

unseld
Source: Washington Post

The master of the outlet pass, Unseld had a lot of success early in his career. He may have not been able to keep that up, but the guy could simply change games with his passes and his screens. Of course, he sucked as a GM, but we can't know him for that.

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Patrick Ewing

ewing
Joe Camporeale USA TODAY SPORTS

Like Drexler, Ewing always left you wanting more. He looked like he had all the tools but once his knees started to go, that was the end of that. A very good career but one that will be marked because he does not have that title to go along with it.

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Jason Kidd

kidd
Joe Camporeale USA TODAY SPORTS

For a guy who simply could not shoot when he entered the league, Kidd has spent the last few years killing teams from three. He was a key member of the Dallas Mavericks squad that won a title and he may jumpa few more spots before he hangs it up.

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Gary Payton

payton
Bob Donnan USA TODAY SPORTS

Payton was an absolute terror on defense. He was probably the best point guard in the league during the 1990s, but he didn't win a title until he was a role player. The young guys probably remember that, but they need to watch old tapes of GP. The man was called The Glove for a reason.

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George Mikan

mikan
Source: Tumblr

The face of the NBA when it first started, it is really hard to find a spot for Mikan on this list. He was dominant but his era was not exactly difficult for tall people to dominate. He gets a spot because success is hard to argue, but I don't think he matches up well in the new era.

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George Gervin

gervin
Source: Georgegervin44.com

The Iceman could score and he could score in bunches. Unfortunately, that was about all he could do. If he gave defense more than a lick and a prayer, he could have won a title. Alas, it was not to be. Still, he had an amazing career.

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Sam Jones

jones
Source: Complex.com

Jones was the perfect role player on the old Boston Celtics teams. He wasn't a guy who wanted the spotlight, but he could come up clutch when you needed him to. People may forget about him but people should read up on him. You'll learn a lot.

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Steve Nash

nash
Steve Mitchell USA TODAY SPORTS

Nash may be a little bit high on this list, but the two time MVP played on of the most entertaining teams in history. However, it seemed like greater forces conspired to keep him from winning a ring. I can see how you would knock him down the list, but his play speaks for itself.

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Kevin McHale

mchale
Kyle Terada USA TODAY SPORTS

McHale had some of the best post moves in the world. If his feet didn't betray him, he could have played a few more years and climbed even higher on this list. Then again, he won some rings as the second best player on one of the best teams of the 1980s. Hard to argue with that.

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Walt Frazier

frazier
Source: NY.com

People today know Frazier because of his broadcasting. When the man played basketball, he was a force of nature. He loved the high post game and elbow jumpers were his weapon of choice. A big guard for his era, Frazier was one guy that you had to watch.

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Dave Cowens

cowens
Source: ESPN

Cowens has two rings and a MVP award. Those only scratch the surface of the awards the man won but that is not what stands out to me. Cowens played balls to the wall every single night and that is something that you can't teach. Add that in with his stats and you have a guy worthy for this list.

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Willis Reed

reed
Source: NY Daily News

Reed had one of the most memorable moments in basketball history. However, he also had a great career to go along with it. He was the man on that first New York Knicks team to win a title and that is plenty to get onto the list. "Here comes Willis" is just the icing on the cake.

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Allen Iverson

iverson
Mike DiNovo USA TODAY SPORTS

AI was one of the most influential players in history. He forced the league to accept the hip-hop era, whether they liked it or not. People may look at his shooting percentage and knock him down a few spots, but he was one of the most feared players in the league during his prime. You did not want AI to have a game winning look against you, no matter how poorly he had shot during the game.

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David Robinson

robinson
Source: Busted Coverage

Robinson looked like he could have been one of the best to ever play. However, that never came to fruition. He was a very good player but he only won a ring because Tim Duncan came into his own. Howver, you can't knock a guy who was good enough for the Dream Team and a man who had a very long and successful career.

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Bill Walton

walton
Christopher Hanewinckel USA TODAY SPORTS

If Walton did not get hurt, he could have easily been one of the best players of all time. However, we were robbed of him due to his feet. His teams were dominant and he was the force that drove it all. At least we still have him as a broadcaster, even if he can't hide his hate for Ben Howland.

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Dirk Nowitzki

nowitzki
Jerome Miron USA TODAY SPORTS

You may think Dirk is too high on this list, but the man showed that he was one of the best power forwards to play the game. The man has his MVP and he now has a ring. His career is on the down slope but he could still jump up a few spots. Plus, the Dirk fadeaway is an actual term for a shot now.

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Rick Barry

barry
Source: SF Examiner

Barry was a jerk but he could also play the game. He could do it all on the court, but his attitude tended to rub players and fans the wrong way. Plus, he shot free throws underhanded. With the way that some players struggle today, it should be making a comeback.

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John Stockton

stockton
Russ Isabella USA TODAY SPORTS

Stockton played forever and his play almost never dipped. Then again, it almost never peaked either. He had a very, very good career but there were not a ton of good point guards around during his prime. He is one of the best to play the game but you wonder how he would hold up against some of the PGs that play today.

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Scottie Pippen

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Rob Grabowski USA TODAY SPORTS

There are going to think that Pippen is too low but I always wondered what he would have been like without MJ. Pippen played great defense and was a man that could fill up the stat sheet. To me, he sits just outside the top 20, although I could be talked into moving him higher.

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Isiah Thomas

thomas
James Lang USA TODAY SPORTS

People may remember Thomas for being a horrible GM but the guy was a great point guard. He wasn't the biggest guy but he willed his team to win two titles. He was the man on the Bad Boys, which is good and bad. Good because they won but bad because they tended to infuriate almost everyone across the league.

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Bob Cousy

cousy
Source: Celtic-nation

Cousy is another guy that retired long before I was born, but I have heard plenty of good things about him. A six time champion, Cousy made everyone on the floor better. He could score when he wanted to but his passing is what really set him apart. He may have played in an era that was set up perfectly for him but you can't knock him for that.

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Karl Malone

malone
Russ Isabella USA TODAY SPORTS

Malone's career could have been made if he won just one title. Alas, that did not happen. The Mailman had some great numbers but his choking when the big game was on the line has to be held against him. He could have easily been a top 15 player, but top 20 is about where he falls these days.

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Charles Barkley

barkley
Mark J. Rebilas USA TODAY SPORTS

Barkley also could have had a better career if he won just one ring. Like Malone, he ended up being bested by Michael Jordan. Barkley could do a lot of things on the court but his attitude seemed to doom him. He never really dedicated himself to being the best that he could be. If he would have, Barkley could have been a top 10 player.

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Bob Pettit

pettit
Source: USA TODAY

I bet there are a lot of people out there who do not know a lot about Pettit. He was one of the early stars in basketball and he had the accolades to back it up. He won a couple MVPs and he won a title. He averaged over 20 points and 12 rebounds per game every season he played. He may be old school but he needs to be recognized.

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Kevin Garnett

garnett
Greg M. Cooper USA TODAY SPORTS

Garnett may be a spot or two too high but the Big Ticket has had a great career. He won his ring in Boston and his career is still chugging along. If he gets a chance to win another one, his career is going to go down as one of the best ever.

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Julius Erving

erving
Howard Smith USA TODAY SPORTS

Dr. J was the stuff of legends when he played in the ABA. His play was not quite the same in NBA but he was still successful. He helped make the game more popular and his trademark dunk is something that almost every fan knows about. He certainly belongs on this list.

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Elgin Baylor

baylor
Nelson Chenault USA TODAY SPORTS
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LeBron James

james
Mark D. Smith USA TODAY SPORTS

People will say LeBron is too high but look at the results. He is going to be a four time MVP award winner and he already has a ring. He probably has a few more of those coming as well. He is an absolute freak of nature and he is starting to dominate the league. A top five spot when his career is over is not out of reach.

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Moses Malone

malone
Source: Hardwoodparoxysm

Malone could rebound with the best of them. In fact, he may be the best rebounder to ever play the game. He was also a star, even if he wasn't the most public friendly guy. You can try to pick apart his resume but there is really no point. The man is easily one of the best 15 players to play the game.

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John Havlicek

havlicek
Source: Celtic-nation

Havlicek was another old school player but he had some of the best numbers ever. He won eight titles in his career and was a menace on defense. Hondo is a guy that might start to slip with time but we need to avoid that. He was simply that guy.

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Shaquille O'Neal

o'neal
Kim Klement USA TODAY SPORTS

Shaq could have been the most dominant center in basketball but he just never seemed to want it. He had all the physical tools but he seemed to have spent a lot of time playing himself into shape instead of showing up into shape. He was one of the most dominant players that I have ever seen but I know that he could have done more.

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Hakeem Olajuwon

olajuwon
Source: Spokeo

Olajuwon had one heck of a career and his post work was amazing. He had some of the best footwork in the league and the "Dream Shake" is something that everyone wishes they could do. He brought home two MVPs and two titles. He was also one of the most dominant defensive forces in history. No wonder why he's so high on this list.

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Oscar Robertson

robertson
Kyle Terada USA TODAY SPORTS

Robertson put up some amazing numbers in his day. Heck, the guy averaged a triple-double during a season. That is way too absurd to believe. He was great but he was well-known for being extremely tough on his teammates. That is something that seems to have held him back. He couldn't be stopped on the court but his off-the-court antics seem to have hurt him.

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Jerry West

west
Jake Roth USA TODAY SPORTS

The Logo was a terrific player in his day. He only has one title and one MVP but he seemed to have the worst luck when it came to title opportunities. He was a great defender and that is something that tends to get overlooked these days. You may not remember him as being this good but a lot of teams would have killed to have a guy like West leading the way.

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Kobe Bryant

bryant
Jayne Kamin-Oncea USA TODAY SPORTS

Bryant is going to have his career broken down more than most. He has five rings and he should have multiple MVPs. However, his first three titles came while playing with Shaq and many think his selfishness held some of his teams back. Then again, you can't deny how dominant he could be. He is creeping up the list and more success will keep moving him up.

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Wilt Chamberlain

chamberlain
Source: Mental Floss

Chamberlain had some eye-popping numbers but he always left you wanting more. He was dominated by his chief rival over and over again. He seemed more concerned with his own numbers instead of winning. As a basketball player, that is a cardinal sin. If Wilt would have dedicated his time into winning instead of stat hunting, he could have been the best of all time.

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Bill Russell

russell
Steven Bisig USA TODAY SPORTS

Russell is one of the hardest guys to peg on the list. Yes, he won 11 titles but the competition wasn't exactly difficult. However, you can't forget about how much better he made his teammates. He dominated when it mattered the most and that is something that can't be overlooked. Russell is easily one of the best 10 players but finding a permanent spot for him is certainly difficult.

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Tim Duncan

duncan
David Richard USA TODAY SPORTS

People will scoff at having Duncan at five, but the man continues to put in work. He has four titles and he won them during four different styles of play. He could win when teams ground out victories. He could win when things were opened up and his play has barely dropped off. If he adds another ring, he would certainly become a lock for one of the top five players of all time.

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Larry Bird

bird
Steve Mitchell USA TODAY SPORTS

Bird is a player who gets knocked these days but for reasons that are unclear. He was an absolute dead-eye shooter and no one wanted to go up against him in his prime. Bird led those Boston Celtics teams into battle and you knew he would put on a show. His back betrayed him too soon, but he was an icon in basketball. You can't forget that.

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Magic Johnson

johnson
Kirby Lee USA TODAY SPORTS

Johnson could run the point like no one ever could. He was the key cog of the Showtime Lakers and he thrived when basketball was booming during the 1980s. In fact, you could say that he and Bird helped save basketball in America. They helped make it one of the most popular sports in the world. Throw that in with his numerous titles and MVP awards and you have a great player.

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

abdul-jabbar
Jayne Kamin-Oncea USA TODAY SPORTS

The skyhook may have been the easiest two points in basketball. You were not going to block it and you could only hope to force Kareem off of the block. He was a dominant presence for an incredible amount of time and he still succeed well after most players started to fall off. He may have looked goofy but he is clearly one of the best to ever play the game. If it wasn't for a certain number 23, he probably would have been the best to ever play.

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Michael Jordan

jordan
Brian Spurlock USA TODAY SPORTS

Jordan is going to be number one on any list. The man had no peer and he was obsessed with winning. He simply had to win at everything that he did. That is what made him the best to ever lace up a pair of basketball shoes. He sought out rivals and systematically destroyed them. He left no doubt that he was the best player out there. People have always been compared to Jordan, but there will never be another Jordan. He (originally) left the game on top and that is where he should stay.

Top 15 Players Who Could Beat LeBron James 1-on-1

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  • Veeral Patel

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  • Raymond

    Way to overrate Tim Duncan. Not even a top 5 Big let alone top 5 all time

  • imntacrook

    Dumb shit – I don’t see Pistol Pete on the list.

    • bobby womack

      his career was to short

    • Geoff Grenert

      Pete could score. He was an unbelievable passer. But he was selfish and never won. He was great and should be in the top 20. If he played with Russell or Wilt or even Shaq, he could have been in the top 10. They would have turned him into a great all-around player or they would have stuffed him in a locker.

  • http://www.amazon.com/False-Murdering-Neocon-Crazies-ebook/dp/B00DVDJQGW/ Gary Anderson

    I like the list. I remember Sam Jones. He had a dead eye bank jumpshot. Duncan’s play this last year was very awesome. Iceman was awesome. I saw Rick Berry score 50 points. Before he was hurt he could sky. I like Walton, who, at his prime, outplayed the great Jabbar. Very impressive list.

  • Frederick Shaw Jr.

    Bill Walton belongs on the list if we count NBA stars that were great for a couple of seasons, but he should not be compared to Kareem, Wilt or Shack. What about Nate Archibald or David Thompson, if you are going to list players that had great seasons in a career. It is not the 50 greatest players if they were not drug addicts, injured or never played in the NBA. If that was the case Raymond Lewis would have topped the list. The Pistol most certainly belongs on the list.

    • Hubert Brandon

      Stupid list…..Steve Nash and Jason Kidd?,,,,but no Bob Lanier, Pete Maravich or Bob McAdoo?..LMAOROTFFFFFFFFF

  • CelticHarvest

    You lost me at #50-Dennis Johnson. He was a good player on a great team. Take a look at his similarity score (http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/j/johnsde01.html) and tell me that Michael Finely should also be on this list. Poop.

    • Antipub

      He also led Seattle to a ring. He has no peer defensively, and Bird said he was the best he ever played with. Now, you were saying?

  • Der Dan

    The list looks ok, except for Iverson, who could be replaced with Monroe or Maravich.

    • bobby womack

      iverson 24000 points average 26pg, points pete 15000 avg 24pg, monroe 17000 avg 17 get serious if anything iverson should be higher and look at the playoff numbers

  • Ocie

    Wilt at 6, come on. You obviously don’t know the game! Wilt a stat hunter? Check the team he played with. No Pistol Pete? Your either way too young to know or just not informed. Baddddddddd list!!! Kareem and Bird over Wilt

    • EssEffArr

      I’m with you Ocie. No Earl the Pearl, Pistol Pete, Dominique Wilkins, or Bob Lanier. These people are crazy!

  • John Brown

    How can you denigrate Wilt’s competition when fully 20 percent of your list of greatest players of all time played when he played? And it’s funny how you decline comment on some players because you “never saw them play,” yet you comment on players who played when those other players did. Either you do the research or don’t make a list like this, plain and simple.

    The pictures accompanying the players are at times baffling. Like you typed each player’s name into a Google search and just copied and pasted the first picture that came up. Why not have a picture of each of these players from their playing days, instead of Bill Russell in a Mariners jersey (of all things)??

  • greg williams

    earl monroe was left off the list he was better than at least 10 other players that was selected. He also has a champions ring.!!!’

  • Jelani

    I am not complaining like a consistent, annoying KD fan, but I think Kevin Durant and possibly Chris Paul could have been on this list. One more, Timmy-D at 5 is preposterous. He could have been at around 15, and Wilt was maybe 3rd all-time. With Bill Russell at 2, and Larry Bird… Don’t hate me, but 10. Kobe should be higher, and I’m not a big Kobe fan either, but he is probably going to be around 4th best by the end of his career. Thank you.
    P.S. Pete Maravich…

  • NBAfan

    Hard to argue with ya… But ‘Pistol Pete’ deserved a nod… And check out ‘Clyde The Glides’ Sport Coat, the “Broadway Joe” of Basketball,.. cool list !

  • Dave Bruns

    Walton- No. Johnson, Dennis- No. Barkley- No. I’m good with most picks being on the list but to say Russell’s competition wasn’t very good is absurd. The talent pool wasn’t diluted, and there were no good European players so he got the best of the best. Zelmo Beatty, Walt Bellamy, Thurmond, Chamberlin, seems like every team had a great center and Russell was the best. He can give Jordan rings and still have more. He’s number one. No, he won’t beat Jordan one on one or jump as high as Gus Johnson (although he was a good high jumper) and no he couldn’t shoot well. He just won. and won. And won. as a player. As a coach. As both at the same time. Just won. He’s numero uno, Jordan probably second.

  • Mark Faulk

    Leaving Pete Maravich off the list just makes you look like everyone who tried to guard him. Inept. And surely I just overlooked Isiah Thomas, because he could play circles around some of the the more recent players you included.

  • EssEffArr

    Another dumb list that didn’t include Dominique Wilkins! What the hell is wrong with you so-called sports analysts???? Dominique had a stellar career. So did Bob Lanier.

  • Aleah Hargrave Guilbeau

    AAAAHHH. Pistol Pete…..Hello

    • bobby womack

      didnt play long enough

      • fribble

        Pete didn’t play long enough? 10 seasons at 24.24 pts per game average which is 18th all time and played nearly his entire career without the 3 point line. With the three he averaged 30 pts a game. from the charting of where his NBA shots were taken..right there with Jordan and Chamberlain who didn’t shoot from the outside.

  • roy

    Your assessment of Wilt Chamberlain is seriously flawed. Wilt did whatever his coaches asked of him. He suffered from poor supporting cast.

    • Geoff Grenert

      Wilt led the league in assists one year, just to prove that he could do it. I saw him play a lot. Unreal. The only flaw in his game was Russell.

  • dadudedd

    Wilt Chamberlain – best ever

  • theronald

    The list maker is flawed, therefore so is the list.

  • fribble

    Chamberlain dominated everyone including Bill Russell. Head to head he dominated him and dominated him statistically. The fact that the Celtics won means the Celtics team won, not that Russell dominated, this shows that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    • Geoff Grenert

      Winning is domination. Plain and simple. I saw Wilt and Russell play against one another over 100 times. Wilt would score more, rebound more and play decent defense. But Russell would win, and win again and again. He would get the rebound that counted, he would be the defensive stopper when he needed to be against Wilt. What people do not realize is that they were great friends off the court and had great respect for one another.

  • jackcandobutwont

    Allan inversion…are you kidding me??? are you kidding me?? practice, we’re tailking about practice??

  • Arty Cohn

    Ernie Vanderweghe. Because he was in Med. school, he only played home and playoff games. Check the difference in the Knicks’ records, with and without him in the lineup.
    He was best of all at moving without the ball, and in intercepting passes, a very important skill before the 24 second clock, when the opposing team went into a stall.

  • Andy Dodd

    Pistol Pete? Hello?!?!?

  • fer

    Wilt and Jabbar were years lifht better than Shaquille, Shaquille was made by Kobe Bryant

  • Mike Fitzgerald

    Bill Russell not in the top 5 of this list, sorry I have to call BS on this list!

  • Geoff Grenert

    It is obvious that you never saw Bill Russell play basketball. It is estimated, from watching old film, that he averaged 15+ blocks per game. His college team was undefeated national champs 2 years in a row and he won 11 NBA championships in the 13 years he played. He even won a title as a player coach. You say he played against little competition. The truth is he played in a smaller, not watered down league, against the very best players in the world.
    I saw one game in which he scored 33 points, had 44 rebounds and blocked 17 shots. And he would block shots to his teammates or to himself. He did not slam the ball into the stands the way most people do it today.
    And remember, Wilt was 7’2″ and weighed 280 lbs. Russell was 6’9″ and weighed a little over 200, on a good day. Russell ate Wilt’s lunch.
    My suggestion for you is to watch more film, appreciate what people did on the court and how they impacted their teams, their teammates and the league.
    And remember, there are 5 players on a team, and 5 will beat 1 every time.. so it’s impossible to say who is the best of all time.
    My top 5: Wilt at Center, Russell and Bird at Forwards and Magic and Jordan at Guards. At some point, barring injury, James will be even more dominate. Until the next one does along.

  • byoy33

    Excellent list. Hard to believe the negative comments on Tim Duncan. Watched game 7 blowout this weekend with Duncan receiving comments during game (with consensus by announcers) “He has become the greatest power forward in NBA history”. Aging gracefully too.
    Sure Maravich was great –the greatest with a major heart anomaly that is (saw him score 47 in person at a college game, but his team still lost –but this prevented longevity which has to be taken into account. Would probably replace Walton with big Bob Lanier– Bill just didn’t play long enough. Would also have added David Thompson, probably the highest jumping guard ever. In N Carolina it’s a tossup between Thompson and Jordan despite the Studio 55 incident with David the college legend and Jordan the NBA. Thompson perhaps best ever at his hight 6’4″ and picked coins off top of backboard. Not a myth. He and Dr J lit up the ABA.

  • lawrence_b

    Earl “The Pearl”, Dave Bing, Elvin Hayes are not on this list? You know nothing about basketball!