1) Michael Jordan

top10-basketball-players-of-all-time_www.wonders-world_13There isn't a doubt in my mind that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player in NBA history. He was so good that he didn't win MVP awards because of it. People got tired of voting for him so they started passing the award around to other NBA stars. In all, Jordan won six NBA Championships, six Finals MVPs, five NBA MVPs, and three All Star game MVPs. He was even selected to nine first team All-Defensive teams. Had Jordan not retired for two years the first time around, his career accomplishments would have been even more ludicrous. He almost surely would have won two more NBA Championships as well as two additional MVP awards. Luckily for the Houston Rockets, that never happened. Even with multiple retirements, Jordan is easily the best player in NBA history.

2) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I always knew Kareem was good. You don't hold the record for most points in NBA history by being average. What I didn't know was just how good he was. I only got to see the “bald” portion of his career. In his prime, Kareem was unstoppable. He amassed six MVP awards (most all-time), six NBA Championships, two Finals MVPs, and 19 All-Star appearances (most all-time). His patented "skyhook" was an unblockable weapon. His defensive skills earned him five selections to the First Team All-Defense. His all-around skills made him the perfect big man for Pat Riley's up-tempo offense. Kareem has the most First-Team All-NBA selections of any center in history. He has the most All-NBA (first, second, and third) selections of any player in history. He finished in the top five of the NBA MVP voting 15 times. No player has even come close to that.
3) Magic Johnson

Magic's greatness can be quantified by citing a lot of statistics. But, I think the single most compelling evidence of his greatness is that there hasn't been a player since who has been able to do the things he did. He was a 6'8 point guard who could run the break, drive to the hole, rebound and post-up. His excellence produced five NBA Championships and three MVPs. He accomplished all of that despite the fact that his career ended at 31 years of age. One can only imagine what he could have done with five-to-ten more years added to his career. Magic holds a slight edge over Shaq in a number of categories. He holds a 5-4 Championship advantage, a 9-8 All-NBA First Team advantage, a 9-8 advantage in top-5 MVP finishes, and a 3-1 MVP advantage (although both won three Finals MVPs). Magic is 6th on the all-time Wins Shares Above Average-list. Shaq is 7th. Plus, as a 6’8 point guard, Magic is one of the few players in NBA history who can claim a size advantage relative to his position on par with Shaq’s.
4) Shaquille O'Neal

I realize that this won't be a popular placement. I've actually thought about moving Shaq down the list simply to make this list “look” more accurate. But, if I did that, it wouldn't be my list. Shaq is the most unstoppable force in NBA history. His size and athleticism transcend all eras. There are a number of reasons why he won't be rated this highly by most but few, if any, have anything to do with the fact that he dominated the most talented and physically demanding era in NBA history. To be honest, I can't say that I'm thrilled to have Shaq at #4. The majority of his skills are below average. He can't shoot free throws. He can't shoot outside of eight feet. He can't drive to the rim. The things he can't do significantly outweigh the things he can. His game isn't well-rounded by any means. However, the one thing that he has going for him makes him the most unstoppable force in NBA history. No player has ever been able to successfully guard Shaq straight up. In fact, defensive ploys such as the "hack-a-Shaq" were used to avoid having to play defense against him. Shaq benefits from being the biggest man to ever play the game. He has received the benefit of doubt on thousands of uncalled offensive fouls due to his “size". Right or wrong, Shaq's size has allowed him to get away with liberties. Those liberties, combined with his size and athleticism make him un-guardable. Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell had similar success but the difference is that Shaq would have bullied Chamberlain and Russell, too. Shaq is bigger and stronger than Wilt. And, considering Shaq and Wilt shared virtually the same skill-set, Shaq gets the advantage. He is bigger and stronger and dominated in a more difficult era. The average frontcourt player in Wilt's day was 6'7--or Rip Hamilton. Shaq has three NBA Finals MVPs. Only Michael Jordan has more. He has been selected to 14 NBA All-Star games. Only Kareem has more. Shaq has eight First Team All-NBA selections. Only Kareem has more among centers. He has a career shooting percentage of 58%. Only Artis Gilmore was better. By the time he retires, Shaq will have played in more playoff games than anyone in NBA history other than Kareem and Robert Horry. He has the second best PER (Player Efficiency Rating) in NBA history behind Michael Jordan. PER measures everything that a player contributes both positive and negative. Shaq took his teams to the playoffs in 15 of his 16 seasons including nine Conference Finals appearances, six Finals appearances, and four NBA Championships. For all his greatness, Wilt won two Championships in a mediocre era. If you were building a team right now and you could choose any player in NBA history—in their prime—Jordan would probably be your first choice and Shaq would probably be the second choice even ahead of Kareem and Magic. Wilt and Russell could not handle Shaq in the post and they would have a difficult time scoring on him in the post as well. Differences aside, no reasonable list should have Shaq rated any lower than #7.
5) Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain and Phog Allen
More than a few people probably think that Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest NBA player of all-time. I can respect that viewpoint. I just don't agree with it. He dominated the competition like nobody before or after him. There are a number of reasons why I can't rate Chamberlain higher than fifth. First, Jordan, Kareem, and Magic just have better resumes. Second, his competition wasn't anywhere near what Shaq had to play against. There is no way to quantify the differences in competition-levels but Chamberlain most likely wouldn't have fared as well as Shaq had he played in his era. Keep in mind that Chamberlain was essentially Dwight Howard (big, strong, lean, athletic player without much of a game outside of 8’) playing in the 60s and 70s. Howard gives us a glimpse of what Wilt might be like if he played today. He's good but he certainly isn't scoring 100 points or grabbing 55 rebounds in a game. Lastly, Shaq was the prototype for his position. Shaq was bigger, stronger, and more explosive than Chamberlain. Shaq also won twice as many titles in a vastly more difficult era. As for a Chamberlain/Russell comparison, I give the edge to Wilt. Bill Simmons ("The Sports Guy") recently said that revisionist history has caused Chamberlain to be rated higher than Bill Russell. He also said that back when both men were playing, it was common knowledge that Russell was the better player. If that is the case, then why was Wilt selected to the First Team All-NBA ahead of Russell in seven of the nine seasons that they played together? Also, Chamberlain was 7'1 while Russell was only 6'9. That is a significant difference in height. A match-up like that in the NBA today would be called a "mismatch." The extra four inches are likely the reason Russell wasn't able to match Chamberlain's dominance offensively in an era plagued by 6’7 post-players. The edge goes to Chamberlain.
6) Bill Russell

I am a big fan of taking into consideration championships when analyzing a career. That's not to say that a player who never won a championship can't be better than a player who did win a championship. Nobody, in any sport, has won more championships than Bill Russell. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Unfortunately, I can't justify rating him above the players ahead of him on this list. Winning that many championships takes a good amount of skill and an absurd amount of good fortune. Russell played along side Bob Cousy and John Havlicek who are among the top 50 NBA players of all-time. He also had the "Chamberlain factor" of matching up against much weaker competition than Shaq and Kareem. Russell was awesome. I almost feel like I need to justify ranking him only 6th all-time. Eleven championships will do that to you. He was great, but he was vastly inferior offensively to the players above him on the list. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is also, by far, the lowest of any player that I have rated in the top 20.
7) Tim Duncan

Duncan seems to be slowing down. He is still relatively young. If he can pick things up a bit, he could easily reach the top five. His career accomplishments already stand up pretty good to Magic and Bird. Duncan has won four NBA Championships, two MVPs, and three NBA Finals MVPs. He has been equally good on both offense and defense. He has been selected first team All-Defense eight of his eleven seasons. His PER is the 7th best in NBA history.
8) Larry Bird

I went into the Magic/Bird comparison with an open mind. After looking over everything seemingly a million times and recalling what I saw from each personally, I can't rate Bird higher than Magic. They both won three MVPs but Magic won more NBA Championships (5-3) and more NBA Finals MVPs (3-2). Magic was also a more dynamic player with his ability to play point guard at 6'8. Regardless of his standing behind Magic, I do not feel bad about ranking Bird 8th all-time.
9) Oscar Robertson

I never had the luxury of seeing Robertson play as I'm sure most people haven't. But, his numbers speak volumes. He is the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double over an entire season. He barely missed in four other seasons with assist averages of 9.7 and 9.5 and rebound averages of 9.9 and 9.0. If you're a "rounder", then that's four seasons of averaging a triple-double. His team success doesn't match that of some of the other greats but he did manage to win an NBA Championship and an MVP.
10) Karl Malone

If this list was "championship or bust" then Karl Malone would be out. Malone had a remarkable career that famously produced zero championships. He came close twice but was upended by Michael Jordan's Bulls both times. Thanks to Jordan, there were a lot of great players who never won an NBA Championship including Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, and Patrick Ewing. Malone came close but it never happened. He ranks second on the all-time scoring list behind Kareem. He finished in the top five of the MVP Voting nine times. He was selected to 14 All-Star games which is the second most in NBA history behind Kareem. He won two MVPs and was selected to the All-NBA first team a league record 11 times. That last statistic is why Malone got the nod over the players just below him including Hakeem. A lot of people think Hakeem had the better career but the comparison isn't that close. Malone holds the edge in First Team All-NBA selections (11-6), Top Ten MVP finishes (14-10), Top Three MVP finishes (5-2), MVPs (2-1), and All-Star appearances (14-12). Malone played at least 80 games in 17 of his 19 seasons. Hakeem did it five times. The only edge Hakeem has is the two Championships that Michael Jordan gift-wrapped for him. I'm not going to hold that against Malone.

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