Professional basketball players are the most graceful athletes on the planet. Combining raw power and speed with a touch of deftness, NBA players seem to defy gravity at times. Thousands have been fortunate enough to make basketball their professional calling, but only a handful have stood head and shoulders above the rest. Read on for the 10 greatest NBA players of all time.
Go to YouTube and search for the “Dream Shake” and you’ll see why the Nigerian-American is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Olajuwon redefined post play, offering moves and counter-moves that are still copied to this day. On his way to his second straight NBA championship, the Dream demolished reigning MVP David Robinson and cemented his standing as the best center of his generation.
Dr. J took to the sky for both the ABA and the NBA, soaring for jaw-dropping dunks and showing the world that the game was now being playing above the rim. He was the epitome of cool and is the owner of two ABA and one NBA championship rings.
He’s the only active player on this list and could go higher after he wraps up his career. King James entered the league to unprecedented hype and has lived up to it and then some. From single-handedly dragging inferior Cleveland teams to the NBA Finals to winning back-to-back titles with the Miami Heat, James has done it all. His greatest achievement, though, was going back to his hometown Cavs and win a championship after falling behind 3-1 against the seemingly invincible 73-9 Golden State Warriors.
The Big Fundamental was underrated throughout his playing career due to his placid demeanor and he may be underrated on this list as well. Duncan won five titles with his consistent and non-flashy play. His desire was never questioned and he averaged double figures in points and rebounds throughout his career.
Bryant’s fierce competitiveness and desire are the stuff of legend; only Michael Jordan was as ruthless a competitor as the self-proclaimed Black Mamba. What should’ve been a five-title run with teammate Shaquille O’Neal ended after three rings as the two alpha dogs could no longer co-exist. Bryant wouldn’t let that stop him and soon paired with Pau Gasol for two more championships.
The Hick From French Lick combined his superior court vision and unstoppable scoring ability to lead the Celtics back to championship contenders after a dry spell in the ’70s. After three titles, Bird’s back finally gave out, ending the Celtics’ last dynasty.
Magic was the ultimate team player and redefined the point guard position. He never cared about statistics, even though he regularly posted triple-doubles. He could dominate games without scoring a single point and led the Showtime Lakers as the team of the ’80s, winning five titles.
To measure Russell’s basketball brilliance, one only needs to look at his hands: the lifelong Boston Celtic won a total of 11 championship rings. While only averaging 15 points throughout his career, Russell pulled down a whopping 22 rebounds per game and tallied five assists per game as the ultimate team player.
He had the single greatest and most unstoppable shot the NBA has ever seen: the Sky Hook. In 1985 he was considered old and washed-up when he produced a Finals MVP performance for the ages, leading the Lakers to a championship against their hated rivals, the Boston Celtics. To this day, he’s the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and its only six-time MVP winner.
The man known as “His Airness” was the NBA’s fiercest competitor and brought his unrelenting style of play every night he was on the hardwood. He won the MVP award five times and the NBA championship six times, and his career highlights are filled with clutch performances and game-winning shots. Jordan was a ferocious player on both sides of the ball, winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1988. To this day he still holds the NBA record for career scoring average during the regular season (30 points per game) and playoffs (33 points per game).