When we released our review on the top NBA teams of all time towards the end of 2020, we sparked a conversation that has been dominating our feed ever since – which players have pushed their teams to great victories, and who has earned the title as the best NBA player of all time?
The same criteria applies as with our top NBA teams list: we’re talking about players current and past, right from the very beginning of the NBA in 1946. Of course, we are not the only people to be doing this. In fact, there’s a Wikipedia page which lists the NBA Top 50 as decided by a voting panel of players, coaches, and media personnel back in 1996, to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the NBA and all that it stands for.
As they’ve already done some of our work for us, we’ll start with a quick run down of the top heroes on the 1996 list.
It is worth noting that all of the players in the list had retired by the 2010-11 season, so if you’re a relative newcomer to the world of NBA, most of these names will not mean much beyond talk of old legends.
The top ranked player on the 1996 list, and one who played for the Los Angeles Leakers between 1975 and 1989, boasting 6 MVP awards and 6 Championship wins during his career, is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Playing in Center for the duration of his career, Abdul-Jabbar has since been called the greatest basketball player of all time by a multitude of admirers, including NBA Coach Pat Riley and fellow players Julius Erving and Isiah Thomas. Not only is his time on the court filled with career-high achievements, but Abdul-Jabbar measures in at a mighty 7ft 2 inches – taking up much of the court by himself.
Another big name of note from the past is Michael Jordan, who has been named the greatest NBA player in history by ESPN, with 5 MVP awards and 6 Championship Titles. Though he never played for the Los Angeles Lakers, his career in the Chicago Bulls team still holds him up there as the greatest player on the court according to a great many publications and organisations, and in 2014 he became the first billionaire player in NBA history.
Other names in the 1996 NBA top 50 list include:
Bill Russell, Sam Jones, and John Havlicek who all played together for the Boston Celtics between 1962 and 1969 and saw 6 Championship wins during those 7 years. Playing as Center, Russell received 5 MVP awards during his career and won 11 Championships in total – making him the highest ranking Championship winning NBA player of all time.
A name that NBA fanatics new and old will know, is Shaquille O’Neal, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers between 1996 and 2004, and 5 other teams during his NBA career. Ranked up there as another of the greatest Center NBA players of all time, O’Neal is now a sports analyst for the TV show Inside the NBA and has become a notable media personality in and around the world of sport.
Who didn’t make the 1996 cut?
Interestingly, while some big players in the NBA were rightly recognised on the stage of the NBA Top 50, some controversy hit over who wasn’t included on the list. Of course, while we can now argue that some great players have come along since the publication of the list, a multitude of alternative lists were created by active NBA fans – so we decided to take a look into all of those lists and pull out a couple of the names that didn’t make it in the official list but have since graced the lists of NBA fanatics.
· Bob McAdoo
McAdoo was a valuable player in the Los Angeles Lakers Championship team in 1982 and 1985 and won an MVP award in 1975.
· Dominique Wilkins
Another player missed off the 1996 list, Wilkins recorded a massive 26,668 points across his career, making him the 13th highest scoring player of all time. Wilkins had an interesting nickname on the court – The Human Highlight Reel – and was renowned for his skill when it came to dunking the ball in the net.
Current and Future Top NBA Players
To wrap up this exploration of some of the best NBA players of all time, we have to look at current players and the names that will continue to grace the courts in seasons to come.
· Kevin Durant
Durant has been active since 2007 and now plays Small Forward for the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA. During his career to date, he has won 2 NBA Championships and been presented with an MVP award in the NBA. He also holds 2 NBA All-Star Game MVP awards, the NBA Rookie of the Year award, and 2 Olympic Gold medals.
· LeBron James
An icon in the Los Angeles Lakers and a name that everyone has heard of. James is often compared with Michael Jordan in discussions around the greatest NBA players of all time and is the only player in the NBA history to have won NBA championships with three teams – winning MVP for all three. During his 17-year career to date, James has won 4 NBA championships, 4 NBA MVP awards, 4 Finals MVP awards, and 2 Olympic Gold medals. He joined the Lakers in 2018 where he won his fourth NBA championship in 2020 and has been ranked the best player in the NBA by ESPN and Sports Illustrated every year since 2011.
We couldn’t make a list of the best NBA players of all time and not include Laker Kobe Bryant, who was tragically killed in an accident in 2020. A loyal Laker for his entire 20 year career, Bryant holds the title as the second highest scorer in a single game as part of the 2006 NBA. He won the NBA championship with the Lakers in both 2009 and 2010 and was named MVP both times. He also holds 2 Olympic Gold medals and is the all-time leading scorer in Lakers’ history.
Do you agree with our list of the best NBA players of all time? Have your say in the comments!