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The NBA’s Greatest Players

Legends

As the premier basketball league in the world, the National Basketball Association has employed the most talented players the sport has ever seen. Since 1946, the association has operated in North America but attracted the top talents for around the globe to compete at the highest levels of the sport. During that time, we’ve seen the game evolve, and numerous Hall of Fame players have come and raised the bar of what we thought was possible on the court.

In the early days, the league was dominated by the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics, who created the greatest dynasty the NBA has ever seen. Years later, two college rivals were drafted on opposite coasts, and a decade of Bird versus Magic was born. Next came Michael Jordan, who grabbed the title of “Greatest of All Time” and has held the honors to this day. In his shadow, we’ve seen players like Kobe Bryant and now LeBron James challenge the throne, but whether anyone will be able to surpass MJ’s legacy is yet to be witnessed.

No matter how you rank the upper echelon of players, it is undeniable that these twenty men are some of the very best players ever to put on an NBA jersey. They are not organized in any particular order; they are all simply Hall of Fame players that had a significant impact on the sport of basketball in their specific time and place.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

  • Years Active: 1984 – 2003
  • Championships Won: (6) – 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998
  • All-Star Appearances: (14) – 1985–1993, 1996–1998, 2002, 2003
  • Career Points Per Game: 30.1
  • Career Assists Per Game: 5.3
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 6.2

While this list is not a ranking of the top twenty players from best to worst, we start with the greatest basketball player of all time nonetheless. After three years of playing at the University of North Carolina under Dean Smith, Michael Jordan was drafted to the Chicago Bulls with the third pick of the 1984 NBA draft. In his early years, Jordan was known as a volume scorer and prodigious athlete, although it was yet unknown if his style of play was conducive to winning championships.

Eventually, he was matched up with head coach Phil Jackson, who installed the triangle offense and surrounded MJ with the talent he needed to succeed, including Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen. With the right system in place, the Bulls would go on to win three titles in a row between 1991 and 1993. At the conclusion of his third title, Jordan retired from the NBA in order to try his hand at professional baseball.

After a year with the Chicago White Sox’s minor league team, Air Jordan announced his return to the league. In 1996, he would once again lead the Chicago Bulls to an NBA Championship, and once again they would three-peat, winning their last trophy in 1998. To date, no player has made a more significant impact on basketball culture as a whole, and he’s still idolized as the best to ever do it.

Magic Johnson

  • Years Active: 1979 – 1996
  • Championships Won: (5) – 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988
  • All-Star Appearances: (12) – 1980, 1982–1992
  • Career Points Per Game: 19.5
  • Career Assists Per Game: 7.2
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 11.2

Earvin “Magic” Johnson entered the NBA as the first overall pick in the 1979 draft, following his NCAA championship victory at Michigan State University. The 6’9” point guard revolutionized the position and was the engine that made the storied Showtime Lakers teams run. His combination of size, court vision, and sublime passing all made him must-see TV, something the NBA was desperately needing when Magic entered the league.

Johnson’s rivalry with Larry Bird carried over from college, and the two would face off several times throughout their NBA careers. The attention their basketball feud created is credited with bringing the league to prominence during a time when the games weren’t even televised live. Magic Johnson would go on to win five titles in his thirteen-year career, as well as one gold medal in the 1992 Summer Olympics.

In 1991, Johnson announced his retirement from the league after testing positive for HIV. He returned for the ’92 All-Star game and won the All-Star MVP honors, but he would soon leave again in response to concerns from other players. He played one more short stint in 1996 before hanging it up for good and focusing on his businesses. Magic is now the President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers, part owner of the LA Dodgers, and owner of numerous movie theaters, Starbucks locations, and a wide range of other investments.

Larry Bird

  • Years Active: 1979 – 1992
  • Championships Won: (3) – 1981, 1984, 1986
  • All-Star Appearances: (12) – 1980–1988, 1990–1992
  • Career Points Per Game: 24.3
  • Career Assists Per Game: 6.3
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 10.0

Larry Bird is one of the most celebrated players in the Boston Celtics’ franchise history, the team with which he spent his entire playing career. Drafted in 1978 out of Indiana State University, Bird played one last NCAA season after being selected and entered the league fresh off being named the national college player of the year in 1979. He was worth the wait.

Bird played the small forward and power forward positions, from which he was a prolific scorer who could shoot from anywhere on the court. A fierce competitor, number 33 is famed for his trash talk on the court and was known for telling his defender the move he was about to make just before successfully doing it. He went on to win three consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player awards from 1984 through 1986.

Larry Bird’s Celtics won three NBA championships during his tenure, including a 1984 triumph over their heated rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, including his personal antagonist, Magic Johnson. In 1986, the Celtics would once again reach the finals, where they beat the Houston Rockets in six games. The 1986 Celtics team is widely considered the most phenomenal NBA team ever assembled.

Bill Russell

  • Years Active: 1956 – 1969
  • Championships Won: (11) – 1957, 1959–1966, 1968, 1969
  • All-Star Appearances: (12) – 1958–1969
  • Career Points Per Game: 15.1
  • Career Assists Per Game: 4.3
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 22.5

Bill Russell is a legendary Boston Celtics center renowned for his incredibly decorated career. Before entering the league, he won two consecutive NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956, as well as Olympic Gold at the 1956 Summer Olympics. Russell continued his winning ways in the NBA, winning eleven championships in only thirteen seasons. He’s co-owner of the record for most titles in a North American professional sports league.

The Celtics’ centerpiece is most celebrated for his selflessness and willingness to do anything to help his team win. This stands in stark contrast to his biggest career rival, Wilt Chamberlin, who was known to obsess over individual statistics and achievements. Russell’s defense, rebounding, and shot blocking fueled a Boston Celtics dynasty that would go down as the most dominant in the sport’s history.

He also spent three years in the role of player-coach, during which he became the first African-American head coach to win an NBA title. Russell was also an outspoken figure in the civil rights movement, having been the victim of racism at the hands of the very community he represented on the court. In 2011, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2009, the NBA Finals MVP trophy was renamed the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.

LeBron James

Lebron James

  • Years Active: 2003 – Present
  • Championships Won: (3) – 2012, 2013, 2016
  • All-Star Appearances: (14) – 2005–2018
  • Career Points Per Game: 27.2
  • Career Assists Per Game: 7.2
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 7.4

LeBron James began making waves in the basketball community when he was still in high school, with ESPN even going as far as to air the games of the league’s heir apparent. He bypassed college, entering the NBA in 2003 as the number-one pick in a talent-rich draft class. Of all the players on this list, James is the only currently active player. He’s also the most significant challenge to Michael Jordan’s claim as the best player ever.

King James spent his first eight seasons playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team closest to his birthplace of Akron, Ohio. In 2010, he became a free agent and held a special on ESPN to announce his next organization called “The Decision.” There, he informed the world that he’d be “taking his talents to South Beach” and joining the Miami Heat. The move was universally criticized, but he went on to win two championships in Miami.

In 2014, LeBron returned to Cleveland and immediately made them contenders again. Finally, in 2016, he won an NBA championship with his hometown franchise, cementing himself in the record books. To this day, his teams are favorites to represent the East in the finals every year. While he’s already one of the best players of all time, he continues to add to his legacy year after year.

Hakeem Olajuwon

  • Years Active: 1984 – 2002
  • Championships Won: (2) – 1994, 1995
  • All-Star Appearances: (12) – 1985–1990, 1992–1997
  • Career Points Per Game: 21.8
  • Career Assists Per Game: 2.5
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 11.1

Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon is a Nigerian-American basketball player known for being one of the most skilled centers ever to play the game. Hakeem, who grew up playing soccer instead of basketball, possessed a rare combination of footwork and agility that was incredibly unusual for an athlete his size. Before being drafted to the Houston Rockets as the first overall pick in 1984, he played his college ball at the University of Houston as part of the Phi Slama Jama squads.

To this day, Hakeem is considered the greatest player in Houston Rockets’ history. He reached his first NBA finals in 1986 alongside Ralph Samson as one half of the “Twin Towers,” but they were swept by the Boston Celtics. Finally, in 1994, Hakeem’s Rockets made their way to the finals once again, this time against Patrick Ewing’s New York Knicks. Houston won in seven games, earning The Dream a Finals MVP to go along with the regular-season MVP award he won that same year.

The very next year, Houston progressed to the finals once again. This time, they would face the Orlando Magic, led by a young Shaquille O’Neal. Like the year before, Hakeem dominated his marquee big-man matchup in the post, this time resulting in a four-game sweep. He is the only player ever to retire in the top ten for points, blocks, rebounds, and steals.

Kobe Bryant

  • Years Active: 1996 – 2016
  • Championships Won: (5) – 2000–2002, 2009, 2010
  • All-Star Appearances: (18) – 1998, 2000–2016
  • Career Points Per Game: 25.0
  • Career Assists Per Game: 4.7
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 5.2

Kobe Bryant entered the NBA straight out of high school as a member of the storied 1996 draft class. Bryant, who closely modeled his game after Michael Jordan, was a prolific scorer, savvy defender, and overall force to be reckoned with during his time at the top of the sport. In his twenty-year career, he was an eighteen-time All-Star, a twelve-time member of the All-Defensive team, and a five-time NBA Champion.

Bryant’s most successful years came between the years 2000 and 2002. The Lakers, coached by the legendary Phil Jackson and anchored by the unstoppable Shaquille O’Neal in the post, won three straight NBA titles. Following their run of immense success, O’Neal and Kobe began to clash, leading to Shaq being traded to the Miami Heat. For a few years, Bryant was surrounded by subpar teammates and was forced to spend a chunk of his prime chasing individual stats. This is when he also scored 81 points in a single game.

Eventually, he received some help in the form of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and several others, including Phil Jackson, who returned to coach once again. He won two more titles in 2009 and 2010 and was named Finals MVP for both campaigns. He retired in 2016, adding to his already extensive lore, by scoring 61 points in the last game of his career.

Wilt Chamberlin

  • Years Active: 1959 – 1973
  • Championships Won: (2) – 1967, 1972
  • All-Star Appearances: (13) – 1960–1969, 1971–1973
  • Career Points Per Game: 30.1
  • Career Assists Per Game: 4.4
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 22.9

Wilt Chamberlin was an unstoppable force during his time in the league. Standing at over 7 feet tall and blessed with otherworldly athleticism and strength, Wilt was able to rack up statistics like no player that came before him or that’s come along since. The records he set on offense will stand forever, though it can be said that his obsession with individual statistics was detrimental to his teams.

Perhaps the most noteworthy achievement of Chamberlin’s career is scoring 100 points in a single game. Additionally, he also averaged at least thirty points and twenty rebounds for the season seven times in his career. His career averages match these same criteria. Furthermore, he’s also the only player to average more than forty or fifty points in a season, both of which he did.

Wilt tasted his first NBA championship success in 1967 after vanquishing the dynastic Boston Celtics led by his rival, Bill Russell, one round prior. His second title came in 1972 as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. He then retired following the season as a 13-time all-star, 4-time regular-season MVP, 11-time rebounding champ, 7-time scoring champion, and one-time Rookie of the Year and NBA assists leader. He’s been in the NBA Hall of Fame since 1978.

Shaquille O’Neal

Shaq O'Neil

  • Years Active: 1992 – 2011
  • Championships Won: (4) – 2000–2002, 2006
  • All-Star Appearances: (15) – 1993–1998, 2000–2007, 2009
  • Career Points Per Game: 23.7
  • Career Assists Per Game: 2.5
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 10.9

Shaquille O’Neal is a mountain of a man who also possessed soft hands, expert passing out of the post, and too much size and strength down low for any single defender to contain. He first gained attention in college playing for LSU, before becoming the number-one pick of the draft in 1992. Drafted by the Orlando Magic, Shaq played his first four seasons in Florida, leading his team to one NBA final, which they lost to the Rockets.

In 1996, he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, becoming the centerpiece of their next dynasty. With Phil Jackson coaching and Kobe Bryant as his second option, O’Neal battering-rammed his way through the NBA, winning three championships in a row between 2000 and 2002. He was named Finals MVP in each of those title-winning campaigns.

Shortly after the three-peat, the massive center and Kobe Bryant began to butt heads, leading to Shaquille’s departure. Next, he joined the Miami Heat, where he’d play next to another transcendent shooting guard, Dwyane Wade. In 2006, Shaq won his fourth title as a member of the Heat, winning another championship without Kobe before Bryant was about to do the opposite. The big man then had several short stints around the league, though he was not the unstoppable force of nature he was in his prime.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

  • Years Active: 1969 – 1989
  • Championships Won: (6) – 1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988
  • All-Star Appearances: (19) – 1970–1977, 1979–1989
  • Career Points Per Game: 24.6
  • Career Assists Per Game: 3.6
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 11.2

Before changing his name in accordance with his Muslim faith in 1971, Kareem’s name was Lew Alcindor. At every level of the sport, Alcindor excelled. His high school team won 71 consecutive games, and at UCLA, he won three straight NCAA Championships as part of John Wooden’s college basketball dynasty. He was then drafted first overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969 and won his first NBA championship in his second season.

After the title, at the age of twenty-four, he changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Utilizing his unblockable skyhook, Kareem quickly became one of the NBA’s top scorers and a defensive stalwart on the other end. In 1975, he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he would play an additional fourteen seasons. As a Laker, he won five more NBA titles, the last of which came in 1988, seventeen years after his first.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is widely known for his astounding career longevity, a rarity for seven-footers. Over his twenty-year career, he reached the finals ten times and only missed the playoffs twice. Despite Michael Jordan typically being the consensus pick for best basketball player ever, experts such as Pat Riley, Isiah Thomas, and Julius Erving have all given that distinction to Kareem.

Charles Barkley

  • Years Active: 1984 – 2000
  • Championships Won: 0
  • All-Star Appearances: (11) – 1987 – 1997
  • Career Points Per Game: 22.1
  • Career Assists Per Game: 3.9
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 11.7

Charles Barkley entered the NBA in 1984, following three seasons starring for Auburn University. Despite being only 6 feet 6 inches tall, he was one of the most impactful power forwards in the entire game, best known for his ability to secure rebounds. While his boisterous, outspoken personality was controversial during his playing days, he eventually became one of the most beloved figures in the sport, primarily due to his role as an NBA analyst on TNT.

Barkley started his career with the Philadelphia 76ers, where he played through 1992. He was a member of the original Dream Team that swept through Barcelona, earning a gold medal. It would, unfortunately, be his only championship win. After being traded to the Phoenix Suns for the 1992-93 season, Barkley recorded the best season of his career, averaging 25.6 points, 12 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, and winning regular-season MVP.

He led the Suns to the NBA Finals that same year, where he was met with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The Bulls went on to win the title, costing Barkley his best chance at post-season success. He’s considered one of the greatest players ever to not win a title, a distinction mostly due to his prime running concurrent with Michael Jordan’s and Hakeem Olajuwon’s. Regardless, it shouldn’t detract from his tremendous abilities on the court.

Isiah Thomas

  • Years Active: 1981 – 1994
  • Championships Won: (2) – 1989, 1990
  • All-Star Appearances: (12) – 1982–1993)
  • Career Points Per Game: 19.2
  • Career Assists Per Game: 9.3
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 3.6

Isiah Thomas is a Hall of Fame NBA point guard most known for his championship years with the Bad Boy Pistons team. He entered the NBA in 1981 as the second pick in the draft after playing two seasons for Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers in college. Thomas spent his entire professional career with Detroit, where he struggled in the Eastern Conference against the legendary Boston Celtics teams of the ‘80s before finally breaking through to the Finals.

Isiah’s first trip to the NBA Finals came in 1988 against the Los Angeles Lakers. One of the highlight performances of his career came in game six of that series, when Thomas, barely able to walk on a severely sprained ankle, remained in the game, putting up 25 points in one quarter. The Pistons would go on to lose the contest, but it’s a shining example of willpower and perseverance nonetheless.

The Bad Boy Pistons would get it right the following campaign, winning their first title in 1989 in a rematch against the Lakers. But they weren’t done there; Thomas’ team would repeat as champs in 1990 by knocking off Clyde Drexler’s Trailblazers. Isiah Thomas goes down in history as one of the best pure point guards to ever play, renowned for his dribbling ability, passing, ability to score, and most of all, leadership.

Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan

  • Years Active: 1997 – 2016
  • Championships Won: (5) – 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014
  • All-Star Appearances: (15) – 1998, 2000–2011, 2013, 2015
  • Career Points Per Game: 19.0
  • Career Assists Per Game: 3.0
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 10.8

David Robinson’s injury-plagued season in 1996 turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it allowed the San Antonio Spurs to get the first pick of the 1997 draft. With the pick, they selected Tim Duncan, a power forward from Wake Forrest that had played his high school ball on the US Virgin Islands. Duncan is known for his quiet, almost shy demeanor, and his fundamentally-sound playing style.

With Robinson returning the next year, the two frontcourt players were nicknamed “The Twin Towers.” Duncan immediately adapted to the NBA game, impressing with his stout defense and averaging 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks in his inaugural season. He was awarded the NBA Rookie of the Year award for his efforts. The Spurs and Duncan won their first NBA title in 1999, beating the New York Knicks in five games.

Duncan would go on to become the cornerstone of the Spurs franchise, working hand in hand with coach Greg Popovich and becoming another coach on the court. He continuously kept the team sturdy and in the hunt, and he took home four more NBA championships during his career. He retired in 2016 as the best power forward in NBA history and the most significant player in Spurs franchise history.

John Stockton

  • Years Active: 1984 – 2003
  • Championships Won: 0
  • All-Star Appearances: (10) – 1989–1997, 2000
  • Career Points Per Game: 13.1
  • Career Assists Per Game: 10.5
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 2.7

John Stockton was a career-long member of the Utah Jazz, where he recorded a Hall of Fame career. He’s generally regarded as one of the best NBA point guards of all time. After playing his college basketball at Gonzaga, Stockton was the sixteenth pick of the deep 1984 draft, where he was selected by Utah.

Like so many players from this era, John Stockton was eventually forced to retire without a ring due to his prime years running parallel with the Chicago Bulls dynasty. His playing style was built on the pick-and-roll with Karl Malone, a system which resulted in Stockton owning the record for most career assists, a record that still stands to this day. He also holds the record for career steals.

Utah’s best run with John Stockton leading the team came in 1997 when they advanced to the NBA Finals. There, they put up a good fight but were defeated by the Jordan-led Bulls in six games, thanks to some late-game heroics from MJ. However, John Stockton did win gold medals as part of the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Dream Teams.

John Havlicek

  • Years Active: 1962 – 1978
  • Championships Won: (8) – 1963–1966, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1976
  • All-Star Appearances: (13) – 1966–1978
  • Career Points Per Game: 20.8
  • Career Assists Per Game: 4.8
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 6.3

John Havlicek left Ohio State for the NBA in 1962 and was selected by the Boston Celtics with the seventh pick of the draft. The 6’5” wing player would join a dynasty coached by Red Auerbach and led by Bill Russell, where he’d revolutionize the sixth-man role with his high-energy, gutsy style of play. He was known for his insane stamina, which competitors found difficult to keep up with.

During his sixteen-year career, Hondo – as he was nicknamed – won the championship in half of his seasons, giving him eight rings to his name. In his first four years as a professional NBA player, Havlicek’s Celtics won the title four consecutive times. His most iconic moment came in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals when he tipped Hal Greer’s inbound pass to Sam Jones, making the game-winning steal.

Hondo recorded his best season in 1970-71, a year in which he averaged 28.9 points per game. He’s the Boston Celtics’ all-time leader in both games played and points scored. In addition to his eight championships, Havlicek was a thirteen-time all-star, five-time All-Defensive First Team member, 1974 Finals MVP, and four-time All-NBA first team player. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1984.

Elgin Baylor

  • Years Active: 1958 – 1972
  • Championships Won: 0
  • All-Star Appearances: (11) – 1959–1965, 1967–1970
  • Career Points Per Game: 27.4
  • Career Assists Per Game: 4.3
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 13.5

Elgin Baylor was a 6’5” small forward that spent his fourteen-year NBA career with the Minneapolis Lakers. After playing his college career at the College of Idaho and Seattle University for two years apiece, Baylor declared for the draft in 1958 and was selected with the first overall pick. A gifted shooter known for his hanging jumpers and an acrobatic finisher, Elgin Baylor won Rookie of the Year honors in his first season.

As the Lakers’ star player, Baylor appeared in eight NBA Finals, though he was never able to win a title. When Baylor came to Minneapolis, the franchise was struggling and facing bankruptcy. The talented forward is credited with saving the club and bringing them to prominence once again. During his playing career, Elgin Baylor set numerous scoring records, including a 71-point, 25-rebound game against the Knicks.

To this day, Baylor owns the NBA Finals’ single-game scoring record, which he set in 1962 with a 61-point performance versus the Boston Celtics. Elgin’s career would be cut short in 1972 due to nagging knee problems. He would go on to become the LA Clippers’ general manager for twenty-two years, winning Executive of the Year in 2006.

Jerry West

Jerry West

  • Years Active: 1960 – 1974
  • Championships Won: (1) – 1972
  • All-Star Appearances: (14) – 1961 – 1974
  • Career Points Per Game: 27.0
  • Career Assists Per Game: 6.7
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 5.8

Jerry West was the second pick in the 1960 NBA Draft, where he was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers. Shortly after the pick, the franchise was moved to Los Angeles, where West spent the entirety of his playing and coaching careers. He was eventually known by the nickname “Mr. Clutch” and is said to be the person on which the NBA logo was based.

West joined a stacked Lakers squad led by Elgin Baylor and quickly emerged as the club’s second scoring option in his first season. Known for his ability to shine in the clutch, Jerry West’s most iconic highlight comes from the 60-foot shot he hit to tie the game against the Knicks in game three of the 1970 finals. To date, he still owns the records for highest points per game in a post-season series, averaging 46.3. He won his only title in 1972 and won Finals MVP in 1969 despite playing for the losing side.

Jerry West followed his Hall of Fame playing career with stints as both a coach and front office member. He’s been hugely successful making trades and rebuilding teams and has assisted with franchises like the 1980s Lakers, 2011 Warriors, early-2000s Memphis Grizzlies, and he is currently helping the Clippers. Everywhere he has gone, success followed, and that’s why he’s the logo.

Oscar Robertson

  • Years Active: 1960 – 1974
  • Championships Won: (1) – 1971
  • All-Star Appearances: (12) – 1961 – 1972
  • Career Points Per Game: 25.7
  • Career Assists Per Game: 9.5
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 7.5

Oscar Robertson was drafted to the NBA in 1960 as a territorial pick by the Cincinnati Royals. The highly-skilled point guard immediately found success on the court, winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1961. He would follow his inaugural campaign with a record-breaking 1962 by averaging a triple-double. He would become the only player to accomplish this until Russell Westbrook managed to as well in 2017.

In 1964, Robertson won his first and only NBA MVP Award. The Big O played for ten years in Cincinnati before joining the Milwaukee Bucks in 1970. There, he was the key piece in winning the franchise’s only NBA championship, which they won in 1971. He also made twelve all-star teams, nine All-NBA First Teams, and led the league in assists on six occasions.

As extraordinary as his exploits on the court were, Oscar Robertson’s most meaningful contribution to the game may have come in the form of a lawsuit. He was instrumental in bringing an anti-trust lawsuit against the league that paved the way for free agency, draft rules, and higher salaries throughout the league. He’s been inducted into the Hall of Fame twice, once as an individual player and again as a member of the gold-medal-winning 1960 Olympic basketball team.

Moses Malone

  • Years Active: 1974 – 1995
  • Championships Won: (1) – 1983
  • All-Star Appearances: NBA (12) – 1978 – 1989
  • ABA (1) – 1975
  • Career Points Per Game: 20.6
  • Career Assists Per Game: 1.4
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 12.2

Moses Malone was a Hall of Fame center who played in both the ABA and the NBA over the course of his twenty-one-year professional basketball career. His first two seasons were played in the ABA after being drafted in 1974 by the Utah Stars, but when the league merged with the NBA in 1976, he became a member of the Buffalo Braves. The Braves promptly traded Malone to the Houston Rockets, where he’d play the next six seasons.

Moses was a godsend for the Rockets, becoming an All-Star in five of his six seasons there and leading them to the finals in 1981. The following year, he won his second of three total regular-season MVP awards before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. In his first year in Philly, Malone won his only NBA Championship.

Moses Malone was known as a fierce rebounder, a fact supported by him leading the league in rebounds in six different seasons. He also won four All-NBA First Team honors, as well as another four All-NBA Second Team inclusions. He retired in 1995 as a member of the San Antonio Spurs and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001, the first year he was eligible.

Julius Erving

  • Years Active: 1971 – 1987
  • Championships Won: NBA (1) – 1983
  • ABA (2) – 1974, 1976
  • All-Star Appearances: NBA (11) – 1977 – 1987
  • ABA (5) – 1972 – 1976
  • Career Points Per Game: 22.0
  • Career Assists Per Game: 3.9
  • Career Rebounds Per Game: 6.7

Julius Erving is another one of those players that get mentioned in “best of all time” conversations. After playing his college ball at UMass, Dr. J joined the ABA’s Virginia Squires, where he popularized the modern above-the-rim style of basketball played today. Erving was known for his acrobatic dunks and prolific scoring ability that he brought to both leagues.

Dr. J won three ABA MVPs and two ABA Championships before the merger which eventually brought him into the NBA. In 1976, he joined the Philadelphia 76ers, where he continued to put up massive numbers. His 1981 NBA MVP award made Julius Erving the only player in history to become the Most Valuable Player in both the ABA and NBA.

In 1983, Erving won his only NBA Championship alongside Moses Malone as members of the 76ers. He will go down in history as one of the most influential athletes to ever have played the game and is responsible for popularizing the dunk for players other than big men. Dr. J’s number is retired at UMass, with the 76ers, and with the Brooklyn Nets.

The Wrap-Up

In only 71 years, the NBA has introduced a wealth of top-tier basketball talent to the world. The men on this list have led dynasties, recorded stats that were thought to be impossible, and changed the game of basketball permanently. Each of these players left their own mark on the game during their place and time and inspired the next generation following them to take the ball and evolve the game further.

To this day, the NBA is a superstar-driven league. It is currently enjoying one of the deepest talent pools in the history of the league. Within the next few decades, there will be new names to be included on this list and possibly a new “greatest of all time.” Regardless, the men covered here are immortalized in basketball lore forever, as they should be.