We always debate the Top 10 NBA Players of All Time, especially when you cross generations. However, many of these players, analysts, and fans won’t argue they don’t or do belong. Rather, the debate comes where they’re ranked. Let’s get to it my friends.
Jordan is arguably the best 2-way player we’ve seen in the sport. He won six championships with the Chicago Bulls and probably could have won 2 more if he didn’t play baseball with the Chicago White Sox. Jordan’s also a 5-time league MVP, a 14-time NBA All-Star, a 9-time all-NBA defensive team member, a 3-time NBA steals leader, and won the NBA scoring title 10 times in his 15-year, illustrious NBA career. Michael Jordan is the gold standard for a two-way NBA player, meaning he was great at both the offensive and defensive ends.
Jordan also paved the way for today’s athletes, having shoe deals with Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour. He was the first NBA athlete to have a shoe deal with Nike and paved the way for many athletes after that to have endorsement deals that supplemented their income outside of basketball.
LeBron James is in the conversation, but Lebron’s still playing (21 years and counting). He would be the all-time leading scorer if Jordan had played that many years. Many argue that James is the best of all time. I would say that Lebron’s game may be slightly better on the offensive end, but it’s not even close on the defensive end. Opponents feared Michael Jordan because Jordan could embarrass a player on the offensive and defensive ends.
I think Kareem is the most underrated of this top 10 because of how dominant people forget he was. He has the most iconic, practically automatic basketball shot in basketball history in the Sky Hook. Some tried replicating it, but no one did it better than Kareem. Kareem’s NBA achievements include 6 NBA championships (same as Jordan), 6-time league MVP (one more than Jordan), two-time Finals MVP, 19-time All-Star, and 2-time scoring champ. The former Lakers center is overlooked because his scoring is heavily reliant on others helping to create his scoring opportunities. All I can tell is that whenever this guy got the ball passed to him, he was an automatic bucket.
People forget he was also a great rebounder (17,440) and an excellent passer (5,660 assists). To have someone like Lebron pass him up as the all-time leading scorer is quite an accomplishment because I thought I wouldn’t see it in my lifetime.
LeBron James ranks among the greatest of all time, and the more he plays, the more basketball fans appreciate his greatness. He came out of high school right into the NBA as the next can’t-miss NBA prospect. What is impressive about LeBron is that he was an 18-year-old man with all of this media frenzy and pressure around him that many young NBA athletes have difficulty managing. But LeBron handled it like a seasoned veteran and performed right from the start. What makes him passing Kareem as the all-time NBA leading scorer in 2022 impressive is that LeBron was more compared to Magic Johnson because of his passing skills rather than his scoring skills.
LeBron’s 21-year and counting NBA accomplishments include 4-time NBA champ, 4-time NBA Finals MVP, 4-time NBA MVP, 19-time NBA All-Star, 13-time All-NBA first team, and 5-time all-NBA defensive team. Many argue that he is the best NBA player ever, and it is hard to dispute that claim. He probably would have won more championships without going up against Steph Curry’s Warriors.
But the reason I put Michael Jordan ahead of LeBron primarily concerns Michael’s greatness at the defensive end. Defense is half the game, and Michael was dominant on the defensive end. LeBron is good defensively and could be great if he wanted to exert the energy needed on that end, but this is why Michael Jordan is the best player of all time because he was genuinely elite at both ends of the floor. If Giannis Antetokounmpo can win 4-5 more championships, to me, Giannis would be the closest to being as dominant as Michael was on both ends of the floor.
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Earvin “Magic” Johnson came into the league in 1979 when the popularity of the NBA was closest to being at an all-time low. Magic had just won the NCAA title against Larry Bird’s Indiana State, and that college championship game foreshadowed what would come between these two for years to come in the NBA. Magic was a 6′ 10′ point guard with unbelievable flashy passing skills. He could make a half-court bounce pass perfectly in stride for a teammate to score an uncontested layup.
He revolutionized the point guard position and, in my opinion, paved the way for LeBron James to thrive as a point guard himself throughout his career. Magic is considered the best point guard we have ever seen, and that claim is tough to dispute.
Magic had so much personality, and Lakers and NBA fans worldwide loved him. His NBA career was limited to 13 years because he had contracted HIV in 1991 and retired. Magic’s NBA achievements over that 13-year career include 5 NBA championships, 3-time Finals MVP, 3-time NBA MVP, 12-time All-Star, and 9-time member of the NBA first team.
Kobe Bryant came into the NBA straight out of high school in 1996. In his 20-year NBA career, Bryant won 5 NBA championships, was a 2-time Finals MVP, an 18-time All-Star, a 15-time member of the All-NBA team, a 12-time member of the All-defensive team, a 2-time scoring champ and won 1 NBA MVP, which I think is a crime for a player who is widely considered one of the greatest players of all time. Kobe was the closest thing to Michael Jordan. Many disputed that he emulated his game after Michael Jordan. He walked like Mike, talked like Mike, and played like Mike.
The main difference between the two was personality and leadership. As described by Phil Jackson, Michael was charismatic and social and loved being around his teammates. Kobe was more reclusive and didn’t socialize as much as Michael in his early career. Kobe was more of a lead-by-example type of leader, while Michael was a vocal leader who wasn’t afraid to get in the face of his teammates to get them going.
As a player, Kobe was a lethal scorer who could take over games and put his team on his back. Michael was the same way, but he would relent to his teammates if he had an off night or if other teammates had a better matchup to expose. No matter which way we look at it, Kobe was the closest to Michael Jordan the NBA has seen, and I think much of this came from Kobe playing against Michael and learning from Michael during Kobe’s early years.
Tragically, the NBA lost Kobe and his daughter, Gigi, to an aviation accident in 2020 at the young age of 41. We remember him as one of the best players, with a laser-focused approach to the game. A focus he would call Mamba Mentality.
Larry Bird entered the NBA the same season as Magic Johnson did in 1979. Bird had just played Magic in the 1979 NCAA title game before being drafted by the Boston Celtics as the sixth overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft. Bird had already been drafted by the Celtics the year before the 1979 NCAA title game as he wanted to finish his time at Indiana State. Bird’s matchup in college against Magic was an appetizer for what would come in the NBA after that. Bird’s Celtics and Magic’s Lakers ended up competing against each other three more times in the NBA finals, with Magic’s Lakers winning 2 out of the 3.
Bird and Magic are linked because of their basketball careers coinciding with each other and because they salvaged a league on the brink of collapsing. They’re widely considered the driving forces in rescuing the NBA, which was on the brink of collapse in 1978. Bird, as a player, was a special all-around player. He was good at every facet of the game. He could shoot like a shooting guard, rebound like a power forward, and pass like a point guard.
Many people couldn’t believe that the “Hick from French Lick” could hang with the predominantly black NBA. Some black NBA players even suggested that his game was average when compared to black players, and because he was white, the same black NBA players would say his skills were amplified because of that. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bird was an outstanding basketball player, and it didn’t matter what the color of his skin was.
He was just a gifted basketball player. Bird’s NBA career spanned 13 years, and like Magic’s career, had to be cut short due to health. Bird experienced back problems towards the end of his career. Bird won three NBA championships, 2-Finals MVP awards, three consecutive MVP awards, a 12-time NBA All-Star, 9-time NBA first team, three-time All NBA defensive team (2nd team), and 1979 Rookie of the Year.
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Oscar “The Big O” Robertson is widely considered one of the most dominant point guards the game has ever seen. He was a 6 foot 5 and 210 lb point guard, and you can understand why they called him “The Big O.” He was like a linebacker at the point guard position. Robertson was Magic before Magic. He was Russell Westbrook before Russell Westbrook.
Robertson was a walking triple-double and was the first player to average a triple-double for an entire season. He played during an era where the centers got most of the attention as he played with and against Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Robertson was the only player other than Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain to win the MVP award between 1960-1968.
Admittedly, I was considering not putting Robertson in my top 10, primarily because I was too young to appreciate his game firsthand when he was at his prime. But in everything I’ve read and seen about his career, he deserves to be on this list because he helped pave the way for bigger point guards, such as Magic Johnson, to flourish when the point guard position was primarily a small one. Robertson’s accomplishments over his 14-year NBA career are Rookie of the Year in 1960, an NBA championship with the Milwaukee Bucks, an NBA MVP, a 12-time All-Star in consecutive years, and a 9-time All-NBA team member.
Wardell Stephen Curry came into the league in 2009 as the 7th overall pick by the Golden State Warriors from a smaller mid-major basketball program in Davidson. Curry’s career didn’t necessarily start on the best foot (no pun intended). He was coming off the bench in his first two years, mainly because of his small frame, and had multiple ankle injuries, one of which required surgery to repair. He was also playing alongside a more undersized guard in Monta Ellis, a beloved player for the Warrior fan base.
The new ownership group of Joe Lacob and Peter Guber saw that the Warriors were too small and the team needed to get bigger. So, they traded away Monta Ellis for injured center Andrew Bogut so that Stephen Curry could take the reigns and be the point guard the Golden State Warriors drafted him to be.
This move was not very popular when it transpired, and the Warrior fan base booed Joe Lacob during Chris Mullin’s jersey retirement ceremony because they had just traded away a beloved player in Monta Ellis for what was perceived to be damaged goods in Andrew Bogut. This move proved to unleash the potential that the Warriors brass saw in Stephen Curry, as from that point forward, Curry became one of the greatest players the NBA has ever seen.
Curry is a highly skilled shooter who can shoot from almost anywhere on the floor and efficiently. He is highly regarded as a transcendent player because his shooting prowess has changed the NBA game from making the 3-point shot a must in every team’s offensive arsenal. His shot is unique because he can shoot the 3-point from a catch-and-shoot position and a dribble-stop position.
He is also an underrated finisher around the rim, so he is not only a 3-point shooter. Curry is also the all-time NBA 3-point shooting champion and is regarded as the best shooter the NBA has ever seen. Curry’s NBA accomplishments over his 14 years and counting: he’s a four-time NBA champion, a 1-time Finals MVP, a 2-time NBA MVP (and was the first to win the MVP unanimously), a 9-time NBA All-Star and a 9-time NBA first team member (4-time first team).
When Kevin Durant came out of the University of Texas into the NBA, he was considered a can’t-miss prospect because of his guard-like skills in a 7-foot frame. Many critics wondered if his slender frame would hold up in the NBA, especially after he famously couldn’t lift 185 lbs not even one time at the 2007 NBA combine. It shows you how useless these combine metrics can be in determining athleticism and talent in the NBA.
Durant is the most efficient scorer we have ever seen. Because of his length and guard-like dribbling skills, he can get to any spot in the half-court and pull up his silky smooth jump shot over practically anyone on the court. Durant can dribble by any defensive center or power forward to drive to the basket or dish to another wide-open shooter. If a guard is defending him, he can pull up his shot easily over the smaller defender and make his shot.
Before Durant, the NBA hadn’t seen anyone with the combination of length and guard-like skillset in one player. It is a combination that is so lethal that it can’t be guarded effectively by any player. It takes a defensive scheme to contain this ability. Kevin cemented his legacy after he left Oklahoma City Thunder, the team that drafted him when they were the Seattle Supersonics, to join the Golden State Warriors in 2016.
Even though critics saw this move as controversial given that Kevin Durant essentially joined an already loaded Golden State team that had just defeated the Thunder in the playoffs the previous season, I believe this scenery change is where Durant added to his already lethal offensive skills by learning how to be an outstanding defensive player with the defensive-minded Golden State Warriors.
Durant went on to win 2-NBA championships and 2-Finals MVPs during his short, 3-year tenure with the Warriors. Durant’s NBA accomplishments on top of the two NBA championships and 2 Finals MVPs over this 16-year NBA career and counting are NBA Rookie of the Year in 2008, NBA Most Valuable Player in 2014, 13-time NBA All-Star, and 6-time All-NBA First Team.
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Akeem”The Dream” Olajuwon, who later changed his first name to Hakeem to connect his birth name to the Muslim religion, started playing basketball at 15 when he was primarily known as a soccer goalkeeper and handball player. These two childhood sports translated well to basketball because the agility and footwork he displayed as a center in the NBA are second to none.
The post moves he showed were so effective that he many times left defenders “in the dust.” His post moves were so iconic that they were later termed “the Dream Shake.” Many have tried to emulate and learn his moves over the years. Many NBA teams have hired Hakeem over the years to teach young big men his iconic post moves.
Hakeem was not only a lethal post scorer, but he was probably just as lethal on the defensive end as a feared shot blocker, and his quick hands also wreaked havoc on opposing centers/forwards as he was very good at creating steals. There have only been four recorded quadruple-doubles in the history of the NBA, and Hakeem was only one assist away from recording two of these in his career. The four: Nate Thurmond, Alvin Roberston, David Robinson, Olajuwon. He is also the first player to finish among the league’s top 10 in scoring, rebounding, steals, and blocks for two consecutive steals.
He also became the first NBA player in history to win the NBA MVP, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and the Finals MVP, all in the same season (1993-94). Hakeem’s NBA accomplishments over his 18-year NBA career include 2-time NBA champion, 2-time Finals MVP, 1-time NBA MVP, 2-time NBA defensive player of the year, 12-time All-Star, and 6-time All NBA first team.