Photo Credit: Fadeawayworld.net
We are concluding our 5 part series of top players of all time by focusing on the centers. This will likely be some points for debate but the list is top heavy with a lot of opinion. Enjoy this list and we always love a good debate in the Kitchen!
Only injuries would keep Bill Walton out of the top 5 centers of all time. He was one of the greatest passing big men the NBA ever saw. Walton’s resume is impressive, a NBA MVP, Finals MVP, 6th Man of the Year, 2-time All-NBA selection and 2-time All-Defense selection. His Portland team defeated a very good 76ers team led by Julius Erving in the Finals and could have built a dynasty if not for injuries.
One of the greatest defensive centers of all time, Mt Mutombo made a career of protecting the rim as a shot blocking machine. Dikembe was an 8 time All-Star, 3 time All-NBA Selection, 4 time All-Defensive Team Selection, 4 time Defensive Player of the Year and 3 time blocks leader. While he wasn’t an offensive player at all, his defense pushes him high up on the list.
One of, if not, the greatest player in New York Knicks history. Patrick Ewing was a force on both sides of the floor and led the Knicks in almost every category. Ewing was a career 21 pts / 10 rebs / 2 blks per game player for the Knicks, Sonics and Magic. Ewing finished his career as a 11-time All-Star, 7-time All-NBA selection, 3-time All-Defense selection, Rookie of the Year. Only Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon could keep him from that elusive title.
George Mikan was the league’s first great center, the NBA’s first superstar and dominant force. Mikan brought glory to the Minnesota verison of the Lakers franchise long before Wilt, Kareem and Magic. Hall of Famer Mikan averaged 23 pts and 13 rebs for his career, was a 4-time All-Star and a 6-time All-NBA selection.
The Admiral was a Navy grad that gets overshadowed by Tim Duncan but his impact on both sides of the court is undeniable. Robinson was a former MVP, 10-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA selection, 8-time All-Defense selection, Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Robinison was a leader on the court for the San Antonio Spurs and that elusive title came to him with Duncan. He was a talented scorer (scored 70 in a game once) and one of the best defenders in the league.
It was hard to find anyone that could out work Moses Malone on the floor, he was the lunch-pail buy with a world of talent. Malone was the best player in the league for 2-3 years and the hardware backed it up. Malone was a 3-time MVP, Finals MVP, 12-time All-Star, 8-time All-NBA selection, two-time All-Defense selection. He one of only 8 players to win the MVP award 3 times or more. It’s hard to keep “4-4-4” out of the top five, it’s only because I have 5 picks that he just misses the cut.
#5 - Hakeem Olajuwon
The Dream was one of the most talented big men we have ever seen. He was a great scorer and defender at the center position, but he completely changed how a big man could dominate a game. Hakeem was a revolutionary big man that combined footwork and agility to dominate in the post. He brought the footwork from soccer to basketball and made the low post a beautiful ballet of finesse moves. The Dream created moves that have never been seen by a big man before. He was one of the greatest defensive centers next to Bill Russell as he averaged 21 pts / 11 rebs / 3 blks per game for the Rockets and Raptors. Hakeem was a 2-time champion, former MVP, 2-time Finals MVP, 2-time Defensive Player of the Year, 12-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA selection, nine-time All-Defense selection. He came from college as a defensive beast with limited offense, but finished his career as one of the game’s best scorers that invented a move called “The Dream Shake” that was unstoppable.
#4 - Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O’Neal was one of the most dominant forces the NBA has ever seen, and will likely ever see again. He was the blend of power, quickness, and footwork that was nearly impossible to stop. At his peak in the early 2000s, Shaq was the best player in the league. Shaq might be the league’s last great center in the true sense of the word, as a low post / back to the basket center. He averaged 23 pts / 11 rebs / 2 blks for his career. Shaq was a 4-time champion, a former MVP, 3-time Finals MVP, 15-time All-Star, 14-time All-NBA selection, 3-time All-Defense selection and Rookie of the Year. His size, strength and footwork was enough to overwhelm his opponents. The only reason he doesn’t move up higher than the big 3 for me is that the end of his career was less than impressive. His defense was great but I think there are better defensive centers in history.
#3 - Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt the Stilt wasn’t the first dominant player in the league, but no one dominated at the level of Chamberlain. He is the only man to have scored 100 points in a game, a feat never heard of before. Wilt’s career was first of its kind, he was 4-time MVP, Finals MVP, 13-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA selection, 2-time All-D selection and Rookie of the Year. His career numbers of 30 pts / 22 rebs/ 4 asts looks like video game numbers. Statistically, the most dominant player in American sports, not just in the NBA. Chamberlain set records in the NBA that no one can ever even dream of breaking. Wilt averaged 47.6 points for 2 straight seasons and averaged 20 or more boards per game for 12 straight seasons. He dominated in a way that was never seen, but only 2 championships in his career is a negative for me. Russell was the winner and Willis Reed (another honorable mention) took him out of the series. Wilt never had that killer instinct for me, it cost him more rings to be a ‘gentle giant’.
#2 - Bill Russell
Bill Russell was the greatest defensive player in the history of the NBA, the history of the NBA. He was a defensive genius who had a stat created for him because of how dominant he was (the blocked shot). The mere fact he is a top 5 player of all time and not just center is because he was an elite defender and winner. Russel was never an elite scorer, but no one ever impacted the game as much or was attached to more winning plays. Russell average 15 pts / 22 rebs / 4 asts for his career and would have led the league in blocked shots if the stat was being recorded. Russell was an 11-time champion (11-time!!), 5-time MVP, 12-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA selection, All-Defense selection for his brilliant career. Russell was a leader, team-first player on some great Celtics teams, but no one was as valuable to their team’s success than Russell. He was a star in a town that wasn’;t accepting to black players and was the league's first black head coach. The trails he blazed are still being walked upon to this day. Why I have Russell at #2 all time because he is the greatest winner in American team sports history.
#1 - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the league’s greatest scorer (and maybe player) until Michael Jordan came along, no one dominated the league with a single shot. The “Sky Hook” was the most unstoppable weapon we had ever seen in the NBA, and he rode it to the all time leading scorer list. Not only was Kareem arguably one the the greatest players in NCAA history, he was the greatest at his retirement in the NBA. His 6 MVPs are more than anyone in NBA history. Kareem scored more career points than anyone in NBA history. Kareem also finished his brilliant NBA career with more career win shares than anyone in history. Kareem was a career 24 pts / 11 rebs / 2 blks player for the Buck and Lakers. His hardware is as impressive as anyone in history: 6-time MVP, 6-time Finals MVP, 19-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA selection, 10-time All-D selection and Rookie of the Year. You can put his numbers up against anyone’s in history and they will hold up. The “G.O.A.T.” argument always includes Michael Jordan and Lebron James. In the 80s, the discussion always included Kareem, the resume he has puts him right in that discussion for me. Kareem’s peak numbers in his prime are as impressive as Jordan’s and his longevity is as impressive as Lebron’s. He is the greatest center to ever play the game.