The ten greatest-ever basketball players

Who are your (up to) ten greatest-ever basketball players?

No qualifications, other than greatest-ever, and I know the game was different in the different eras. Just go with it, can you do that?

Simply put, who are your ten greatest-ever basketball players?

Go!

I’ll start by offering up Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq and Larry Bird. I assume we all will have Michael Jordan on our lists.

George Mikan. He changed the sport of basketball to the very physical sport for big men it is today.

Often overlooked are Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor.

I’ll go with these:

Michael
LeBron
Kareem
Magic
Larry
Kobe
Wilt
Steph
Shaq
Tim Duncan

George Mikan

Bill Russell

Elgin Baylor

Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain

Oscar Robertson

Jerry West

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Stephen Curry

Without looking at any others’ posts:

Jordan
Wilt
LBJ
Russell
Dr. J*
Kareem
Hayes
Pippen
Baylor
Kidd

(*I know, his stats aren’t the greatest, but flava counts for something, right?)

Okay, now I’ve looked at others’ lists. For the curious:

Michael Jordan
Lebron James
Kobe Bryant
Larry Bird
Magic Johnson
Kareem Abdul-Jabar
Wilt Chamberlain

I have no idea besides those names. I’m not very much up to date on NBA.

Anyone can fill most of their list with the “Showtime” Lakers.

I feel comfortable going to 8. In descending order of MVP shares:

LeBron
Michael
Kareem
Larry
Magic
Bill
Tim
Wilt

MJ
LBJ
Russell
Kareem
Magic
Bird
Steph Curry
Wilt
Tim Duncan
Kobe

I think it’s more correct to say that George Mikan dominated the sport when it was a very physical sport for big men, and then the rules were changed to make it a sport people might actually like to watch.

In Mikan’s day, basically every play was “lob it to your big guy near the basket, then he will be violently assaulted and get to shoot free throws”. (the concept of a “flagrant foul” being another idea that hadn’t come up yet). Leonard Koppett said of Mikan “He couldn’t jump very high, but he didn’t have to. He couldn’t run, but he didn’t have to”. Some other stats: during his nine year career, Mikan broke ten bones and required a total of 160 stitches.

Bill Simmons sums him up by mentioning that he played the 1951 Eastern Conference Finals on a broken leg; “Mikan excelled during an era when centers could score 20 a game in the playoffs while hopping around with a plate taped to their broken leg.”

It’s a weird case. On the one hand, he was clearly the best player in the NBA for several years, so how could he not be mentioned in a discussion like this? On the other hand, I feel confident in saying he couldn’t make an NBA roster today. It’s hard to compare players across different eras; I feel like when you go back before the shot clock era, it’s like you’re comparing players from two entirely different sports.

I think it is reasonable to exclude players that could not compete today or perhaps in the past 30 years or so. But I also see that it is tempting to include people from the past. Let’s talk tennis.

Rod Laver was considered the greatest of all time for a long time. But even if he was born at the time to play today, would he even be a top 100 player?

I’d have to list him, but would also understand if people excluded him since such superior players have emerged. Same with Mikan and so forth. People have surpassed them.

I don’t know much about tennis, but AFAIK the rules haven’t changed significantly in a very long time, so it would be much easier to make an apples-to-apples comparison across eras. If at some time in the past the net was six feet tall, it would be very difficult to compare players who played before and after that change was made.

He began playing before I was born so I lack much first hand knowledge but it seems that he was considered a pioneer in making it a big man’s sport instead of little guys running bounce pass drills. And that is what made the NBA the sport people wanted to watch.

You could make that kind of exclusion if you like, but would the reciprocal apply? Would all those modern players make the grade back then in a rougher sport without the rule changes Mikan inspired? And how many of your so called top 10 were named the best player of the 2nd half century? :wink:

George Mikan
Wilt Chamberlain
Bill Russell
Larry Bird
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Magic Johnson
Michael Jordan
Kobe Bryant
Tim Duncan
Steph Curry

Honorable mentions:

Karl Malone
Oscar Robertson

Re: George Mikan

Mikan seems very agile and athletic in these clips, to say nothing of strong. He might not be able to compete with taller centers today, but he would probably be playing power forward and I see no reason to believe he would not excel at that position. His ambidextrous hook shots would make him especially challenging to guard in the post.

His impact on the game not only included changes to the rules (e.g., goaltending, shot clock, widening of the lane), but also - as a co-founder of the ABA - the 3-point shot. I don’t think anyone contributed more to the modern game than he did.

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. Bill Russell
  3. Lebron James
  4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  5. Wilt Chamberlain
  6. Magic Johnson
  7. Shaquille O’Neal
  8. Oscar Robertson
  9. Tim Duncan
  10. Stephen Curry

I found this really, really hard to come up with.

I feel like point guards are underrepresented here but, weirdly, many of the players that statistics SAY are the greatest point guards of all time - Stockton, Chris Paul, Steve Nash - never won a title, and I count that as being important.

Objectively I realize Curry is likely on this list a little early, but here’s the thing:

  1. Curry is easily the greatest player on a great, great team,
  2. Curry isn’t yet done so I’ll assume here he has a few more great years left, and
  3. I am given him some credit for being such a transformative player.

I know we have a tendency to overlook players before the age of TV, but I can’t believe no one has mentioned Bob Cousy, the centerpiece of the Celtics dynasty in the 1950s, who virtually invented the position of point guard; and Bob Petit, the first NBA player to score more than 20,000 points.

Petit often gets overlooked because he played for the Hawks in Milwaukee and St. Louis, but Cousy was a Celtic, fercryinoutloud!

Fun fact: Along with Mikan and Russell, Cousy and Petit make up the only four players to be named to the NBA 25th, 35th, 50th, and 75th anniversary all-time all-star teams.