Top Ten Greatest NBA Players Of All-Time!

LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant
LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

By RahimAli Merchant

In the 72-year history of the National Basketball Association, we as fans have seen a number of great players take the hardwood. But where do we rank each player in terms of the Greatest of All-time?

Let’s finally put an end to the debate between specific players.

Legendary Boston Celtic, Bill Russell, was part of a historic Championship run that we may never see again. He and the Celtics went on to win 11 NBA championships in 13 years (most as a player), but does he make it into your top ten?

How about Wilt Chamberlain and his historic 100-point game that no body could ever reach, not even the Mamba himself, Kobe Bryant. What about other Lakers legends like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal? All of which have won at least three titles with the Lakers.

Or is it the newest Laker, LeBron James? Most people in today’s generation would say it’s James, but how about Michael Jordan? Or could it be Jordan’s competition, like the Utah Jazz Karl Malone and Celtics Larry Bird? Although Bird was more of a competition to Magic Johnson. But was Magic the best all-around point guard? Or was it really the Big O, Oscar Robertson?

I mean the debate for who the Greatest of All Time is can go on forever, but what are we basing it off of? Does the amount of championships a player wins determine where they end up on the top ten? Or do we actually look at the amount of success each individual player had? That’s what I will be looking at. Even though some of the players on this list may make you question why you read this, the debate will always be there as to who’s the G.O.A.T.

So here’s the order:

10. Karl “The Mailman” Malone: (1985-2004)

Career Stats: 25.0 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 3.6 apg

Career Milestones:

  • 2 x NBA Most Valuable Player (1997, 1999)
  • 14 xNBA All-Star
  • 2nd Most Points All-Time (36,928)
  • 7th Most Rebounds All-Time (14,968)
  • 10th Most Steals All-Time (2,085)

NBA Championships: None

9. Larry Bird: (1979-1992)

Career Stats: 24.3 ppg, 10. rpg, 6.3 apg

Career Milestones:

  • 3 x NBA Most Valuable Player
  • 12 x NBA All-Star
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1980)
  • 3 x Three-point Champion

NBA Championships: 3 (1981, 1984, 1986)

8. Oscar “The Big O” Robertson: (1960-1974)

Career Stats: 25.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 9.5 apg

Career Milestones:

  • NBA Most Valuable Player (1964)
  • 12 x NBA All-Star
  • NBA Rookie of the Year
  • 6 x NBA Assists Leader
  • 6th Most Assists All-Time: 9,887
  • 12th Most Points All-Time: 26,710
  • First Ever to Average Triple-Double in A Season
  • 2nd Most Triple-Doubles in A Season (41, Westbrook- 42)

NBA Championships: 1 (1971)

7. Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain: (1959-1973)

Career Stats: 30.1 ppg, 22.9 rpg, 4.4 apg

Career Milestones:

  • 4 x NBA Most Valuable Player (1960, 1966–1968)
  • 13 x NBA All-Star
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1960)
  • 7 x NBA Scoring Champion
  • 11 x NBA Rebounding Champion
  • NBA Assists Leader (1968)
  • 5th Most Points All-Time: (31,419)
  • 1st Most Rebounds All-Time: (23,924)
  • Most in Points in A Single Season (4,029)
  • Most in Points in A Single Game (100)

NBA Championships: 2 (1967, 1972)

6. Shaquille O’Neal: (1992-2011)

Career Stats: 23.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 2.3 bpg

Career Milestones:

  • 1 x NBA Most Valuable Player (2000)
  • 15 x NBA All-Star
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1993)
  • 8th Most Points All-Time: (28,596)

NBA Championships: 4 (2000-2002, 2006)

5. Earvin “Magic” Johnson: (1979-1991, 1996)

Career Stats: 19.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 11.2 apg

Career Milestones:

  • 3 x NBA Most Valuable Player (1987, 1989, 1990)
  • 12 x NBA All-Star
  • 4 x NBA Assist Leader
  • 2 x NBA Steal Leader
  • 5th Most Assists All-Time (10,141)

NBA Championships: 5 (1980,1982,1985,1987,1988)

4. LeBron “King” James: (2003-present)

Career Stats: 27.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg. 7.2 apg

Career Milestones:

  • 4 x NBA Most Valuable Player (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013)
  • 14 x NBA All-Star
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (2003)
  • NBA Scoring Champion (2008)
  • 5 x NBA All-Defensive First Team
  • 6th Most Points All-Time: (31,038)
  • 11th Most Assists All-Time (8,208)

NBA Championships: 3 (2012-2013, 2016)

3. Kobe “Black Mamba” Bryant: (1996-2016)

Career Stats: 25.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.7 apg

Career Milestones:

  • 1 x NBA Most Valuable Player (2008)
  • 18 x NBA All-Star
  • 2 x NBA Scoring Champion
  • 9 x NBA All-Defensive First Team
  • NBA Slam Dunk Champion (1997)
  • 3rd Most Points All-time: (33,643)
  • 2nd Most in Points in A Single Game (81)

NBA Championships: 5 (2000-2002, 2009-2010)

2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: (1969-1989)

Career Stats: 24.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 2.5 bpg

Career Milestones:

  • 6 x NBA Most Valuable Player (1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980)
  • 19 x NBA All-Star
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1970)
  • 2 x NBA Scoring Champion
  • NBA Rebounding Champion (1976)
  • 4 x NBA Blocks Leader
  • 5 x All-Defensive First-Team
  • Most Points All-Time: (38,387)
  • 3rd Most Rebounds All-Time: (17,440)
  • 3rd Most Blocks All-Time: (3,189)

NBA Championships: 6 (1971,1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988)

1. Michael “MJ” Jordan: (1984-1993, 1995-1998, 2001-2003)

Career Stats: 30.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.3 apg

Career Milestones:

  • 5 x NBA Most Valuable Player (1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1998)
  • 14 x NBA All-Star
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1985)
  • 10 x NBA Scoring Champion
  • 2 x NBA Slam Dunk Champion
  • 3 x NBA Steals Leader
  • 9 x All-Defensive First-Team
  • NBA Defensive Player Of The Year (1986)
  • 4th Most Points All-Time: (32,292)
  • 3rd Most Steals All-Time: (2,514)

NBA Championships: 6 (1991-1993, 1995-1998)

The only active player on this list is LeBron James, and the reason for giving you my top ten is to show you where he currently places as the G.O.A.T.

With his current move to the Los Angeles Lakers, some members of the media and fans are saying he’s the greatest Laker without playing a single game. Others talk about how he’s above Kobe and Jordan as the greatest, but I don’t think he’s greater than Kareem yet either.

The key word there is “yet.” James is entering his 15th season and is already fourth on the list. All we know is where he’ll be playing for the next few seasons, and if you know me, I’ve been a Lakers fan through the good and bad. I have also been saying that James isn’t really after winning rings so much as he is trying to be the greatest. Expect to see James in the top five to ten in every statistical category that is available in the NBA. That is seemingly the only way I could see him being the greatest of all-time.

But what do you think? Comment below to continue this debate with me!

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  1. Nice list except for one glaring omission:

    Tim Duncan.

    Not having him on it, along with no Bill Russell of course, means this is a list about stat stuffers and not championships or great players/winners. For example, how many people would choose Karl Malone over Tim Duncan if they needed to fill a power forward spot on their roster? And even though, LeBron James is the player of our generation, I’d have a difficult time picking him over Bill Russell if I was building my franchise and needed a centerpiece.

    It’s almost impossible to come up with a Top Ten list like this that everyone can agree on, so I definitely applaud the effort.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I have a keen interest in this debate as well. I even wrote about it on my blog, however, I only dealt with the status of MJ vs. LeBron.

    I agree that MJ should be considered as the greatest at present. Yet, it is difficult to make a good judgment because the NBA today is played under far different rules than in the 60s and early 70s. For one thing, there was no 3 point shot. So Oscar Robertson compiled his stats without the benefit of a 3 point shot! Wilt also had that limitation for most of his career. This might be considered and some others, such as Jerry West and Bob Cousy could be included in the top 10 as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great piece well written 🙂 for me the best player will be always be michael Jordan and there are so many great players throughout time in the NBA for me its hard to come up with a definitive 10 for sure 🙂

    Slam Dunk News.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you all for the kind comments! It was difficult to make a top 10 that seemed sensible especially when we haven’t seen the different styles of play that each player and era has. That’s why certain players like Duncan, Russell, Julius Irving and Jerry West.

    Though Shaq and Kobe won three rings together, statistical Kobe averaged has many points has Shaq and let’s face it, if it wasn’t for Kobe then Shaq would’ve been ringless too. That’s what the NBA is all about man. No one man can do it by himself. Jordan had Pippen, Kerr and Harper. Kareem and Magic and Oscar. Even LeBron had Wade and Bosh and then Kyrie and Love. So I don’t think it’s Shaq carried Kobe because that’s just the norm of the NBA and it’s been that way for decades.


    1. I thought Shaq could’ve been higher too, but it’s hard putting him over Magic and LeBron, especially seeing what they have done in their careers.

      LeBron is still playing and yeah he may have the better stats then Kobe, but look at the situations they were each in. LeBron has 4 to 5 good years left and him being on the Lakers will allow him to gain more and he could be the G.O.A.T. as I said in my closing statements.


      1. Yeah I am too. I’m a huge Lakers fan as well. But this top 10 as one of the toughest ones for me. I will have a couple other Top 10 pieces coming soon. Like Coaches and Teams in a decade.


  5. Great post! At the end of the day, everyone’s top ten is going to be different because it’s based around opinion. I enjoyed reading through your reasonings nonetheless, and love seeing everyone’s insights as to why they put certain players in their top ten.


    1. Thank you! The Top Ten will always be debatable and no two people will ever agree with the positioning in terms of numbers.

      Would you like to share your Top ten?


  6. Rahim,

    MJ is my pick as best ever right now, today. And he’s going to be my pick as best ever once LeBron and Durant are done playing. Because Michael played in a time when defenses wreaked havoc. He had so many memorable games against the Knicks back in the early 90’s- when they were better at tackling than either of the NY football teams.

    Magic will always be ‘underrated’ no matter his ranking, but man . . the dude could do it all. And Shaq was the most dominant big man I’ve ever seen. When he got in the low post, it was game over.

    Great list, enjoyed reading it!


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