I was born in 1978 which puts me at thirty-five as of the writing of this post. A lot of professional basketball was played before I was born. Having said that, I started watching and understanding basketball in the mid-Eighties. Many would argue the best era in the history of professional basketball. I think I have a pretty good grasp on who the Greatest players of all time are.
Titles mean a lot to me. It’s the reason why my all time favorite football player, Dan Marino, won’t be in the top 3 when I do my quarterback list. I think he may have had the most talent but without a title he can NOT be ranked higher than some of the others.
The Top 5 Greatest NBA Players in the History of the Game.
5. Larry (Legend) Bird 6’9″, 220 pounds. 4 years at Indiana State
- 13 Seasons — 1979-1992 Boston Celtics
- Three-time MVP (84-86)
- Three-time Champion (81, 84, 86)
- Twice a Finals MVP (84, 86)
- Twelve time All Star
- Rookie of the Year
I didn’t want to put Bird on the top 5 as I gave so much credit to the length of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career and NBA titles. But after thinking about it and reviewing the Legend’s stats I had to make a change. Bird averaged 24.3 points, 10 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. He was as clutch as any player we have ever seen and was so dominant in the heart of his career that he won three MVP awards in a row!! Bird was a key part of the 1979 NCAA Basketball Championship which is often given credit for changing NCAA basketball. Bird would then enter the NBA and continue the revival of basketball as we entered the Golden Years of the NBA.
4. Wilt (The Stilt) Chamberlain 7’1″, 275 pounds. 3 years at Kansas
- 15 Seasons — 58-59 Harlem Globetrotters, 59-65 Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriers, 65-68 Philadelphia 76ers, 68-73 LA Lakers
- Four-time MVP (60, 66-68)
- Two-time Champion (67, 72)
- 1972 Finals MVP
- Thirteen time All Star
- Rookie of the Year
Over his career, Chamberlain averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game! In his 1967-68 MVP season he averaged 23.8 boards, 8.6 assists and 24.3 points per game. On March 2nd, 1962 Chamberlain would have the single greatest game in the history of basketball and perhaps all of professional sports as he scored 100 points in a 169-147 victory over New York. Chamberlain, who was always known as a poor free throw shooter, also set a record for most free throws made that night. His points per game average in the ’61-’62 season was 50.4! In 1967-68 Chamberlain managed the unthinkable, becoming the only Center in NBA history to lead the league in assists.
Wilt Chamberlain was the most dominant player in the history of the game. But with only 2 titles he is NOT in the top 3.
3. Ervin Magic Johnson 6’9″, 220 pounds. Two years at Michigan State
- Thirteen seasons-All with the Los Angeles Lakers (’79-’91, ’96)
- Three-time MVP (87, 89-90)
- Five-time Champion (80, 82, 85, 87-88)
- Three-time Finals MVP (80, 82, 87)
- Twelve-time All Star
SHOWTIME!!! The Lakers not only won 5 times in the Eighties but also lost three more times. Magic played the game like no one else before. Johnson and Jabbar led the Lakers to a 60-22 record in Magic’s rookie season and advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since Jabbar had come to LA. Jabbar would sprain his ankle in a Game 5 win for the Lakers which kept him out of Game 6. With the Lakers up 3-2 in the Series against the Dr. J led 76ers, Coach Paul Westhead decided to start the rookie Johnson at Center. Magic would go on to play center, guard and forward in the decisive game 6 scoring 42 points while grabbing 15 rebounds with 7 assists and 3 steals. Larry Bird would win Rookie of the Year but Magic would secure the Finals MVP becoming the first and only rookie to do so.
That was just the beginning for Magic Johnson. His career numbers show that he was one of the most versatile players of all time. 19.5 points, 11.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game. He was in the playoffs every year of his career even his return season of 1996. In November of 1991, Johnson would shock the world by announcing he had tested positive for HIV. Twenty-two years later it appears that he even found a way to win that battle.
Did You Know?
Only five teams went to the NBA Finals in the Eighties.
The Lakers-8 times (5 Titles)
The Celtics-5 times (3 Titles)
The 76ers-3 times (1 Title)
The Pistons- Twice (1 Title)
The Rockets-Twice (0 Titles)
2. Bill Russell 6’9.5″ 4 years at San Francisco
- Thirteen Seasons all with the Boston Celtics (56-69)
- Five-time MVP (58, 61-63, 65)
- Eleven-time Champion!!!
- Twelve-time All Star
Eleven Titles in 13 seasons! That is the reason he is the second greatest player in the history of the NBA. Most will argue that Chamberlain had more talent. What Chamberlain didn’t have was the leadership ability that Russell had. Some will say that the Celtics had better players around Russell but Boston’s first title came in Russell’s rookie year and they wouldn’t win again until four years after his retirement. Nobody will argue that Bill Russell wasn’t the leader of the greatest dynasty in the history of sports. He didn’t have the skill set that others had and he wasn’t as popular or as exiting as many of the players in the NBA today. But he had the ability to lead a team to the title eleven times. There was only 1 season in which the Celtics did not make it to the Finals (Sixers-Chamberlain, 67).
The Finals MVP was not given until Russell’s last championship in 1969. Jerry West won the trophy in a losing effort. But in 2009, commissioner David Stern announced that the trophy would be known as the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award.
1. Michael “Air” Jordan 6’6″ 216 pounds 3 years at North Carolina
- 15 Seasoms- 13 with Chicago (’84-’93, ’95-’98), 2 with Washington (’01-’03)
- Six-time Champion (91-93, 96-98)
- Five-time MVP (88. 91-92, 96, 98)
- Six-time Finals MVP (see above)
- Fourteen-time All Star
- Rookie of the Year
Go ahead…argue with me. He is the Greatest Player in the History of the Game. He may be the Greatest “athlete” of all time. He was without
question the single most exciting player ever to watch in any sport. We have never seen anyone more clutch than Michael Jordan. We all have our favorite memories of Jordan that we can pull up in our head a second’s notice. Perhaps none as spectacular as his 44th and 45th points of the night in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals. Down one with 18.9 seconds left and Utah with the ball, Jordan would steal the ball from Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone. Neil Funk made the call for the Bulls radio network…..
“Michael against Russel. 12 seconds…11…10. Jordan, Jordan, a drive, hangs…fires….SCORES! HE SCORES! The Bulls lead 87-86 with five and two tenths left…..”
“That may have been, who knows what will unfold over the next several months, but that may have been the last shot Michael Jordan will ever take in the NBA.”
It wasn’t but it is one of the most memorable plays ever in the history of the sport.
Top Three since Jordan retired
3. Tim Duncan. I am writing this post as I’m watching Tim Duncan go for his 5th title. And he may be having the best game of his career in this Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. Even if they do not win this series he has been one of the top 3 players in the last 15 years.
2. Kobe Bryant. I love Kobe. I liked him a lot more when he wore #8 and had a beautiful afro but I still do and always will love him. Five rings, 7 Finals appearances. He is an all-timer and if he can come back from his injury than he may find himself back in the Finals again. When he is on the court there is always a possibility.
1. Shaquille O’Neal. The most dominating presence I have ever seen on a basketball court. During the first 3 years of this century there was NO one that could stop him. He ended his career with 4 titles and six Finals appearances (ORL-1, LAL, 4, MIA,1). He has been the best player in the last 15 years.
Do you agree with my picks? Should Jabbar or West or Havlicek be in the top 5? What about the top 3 since Jordan?
Please share your thoughts.