There may be a new version of the “best NBA players of all time” list every other week in the basketball world. Well – this is no exception.
I’ll be going through those who I believe are the Top 15 NBA players of all time. Five players on this list are still active. Keep reading to find out who.
#1 Michael Jordan
When you think about winners in basketball, you think of MJ. The Last Dance documentary, released on Netflix in 2020, helped put forward a strong case for GOAT.
It’s not common for a player to have a year off to play a different sport and come back to win 3 NBA championships. MJ has 14 MVP titles to his name (five regular season MVPs, three all-star MVPs, and six Finals MVPs).
Not only did he accrue all of these accolades throughout his career, but he also averaged 33 points per game in the playoffs alone, playing 179 games on his way to six NBA championships. That’s why he is the greatest NBA player of all time.
He even averaged 21 points per game at the age of 38 after returning from temporary retirement in 2001.
#2 LeBron James
The debate between LeBron James and Michael Jordan will never end in the Basketball fan community. LeBron lacks something fundamental that Michael has – relentless winning.
LBJ has consistently been amongst the highest MVP votes every year but hasn’t been able to lead his team(s) to as many championships as Michael Jordan did.
LeBron will almost certainly surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabaar in the most points scored in the NBA. At the time of writing, he only needs 484 points to achieve this.
With the progression of sports medicine and the understanding that it isn’t sustainable for players to play 82+ games per season, we will either see a lot more players climbing up the top scorers’ list, or no one will ever reach the heights of LeBron.
#3 Wilt Chamberlain
When James Naismith invented basketball in 1891, I don’t think he could have imagined that a player like Wilt Chamberlain would be playing it 70 years later.
In 1,045 games from 1960 to 1973, Wilt averaged 30 points, 23 rebounds, and four assists per game. Yes, you read that correctly – 23 rebounds per game for 13 years!
Wilt’s 100-point game will never be beaten (if it ever happened). There is a limited amount of footage of Wilt Chamberlain to prove this. However, from the footage available and hearing stories about him, we know what he could do, so he deserves to be on the list of the greatest of all time.
If Wilt were playing today, he would claim the top spot on this list.
#4 Kareem Abdul-Jabaar
Kareem Abdul-Jabaar only scored one 3-pointer in his entire career, yet he is still the fourth-best NBA player of all time.
He spent 19 years in the league and averaged a double-double between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. A 6-time MVP, 6-time NBA champion, and the highest point-scorer in league history with 38,387 points. Kareem only missed out on being an all-star for one year of his career in the 1977-78 season.
Kareem stood at 7 foot 2 inches and dominated across different eras of basketball. As the game grew, so did he. The proof is in his 15 All-NBA team selections.
#5 Kobe Bryant
To remain a star player for the same team for 20 years is one thing, but leading the organisation in different eras to five NBA Championships is what makes Kobe the Black Mamba.
Claiming one regular season MVP award in 2008, 15 All-NBA team selections, and 12 All-Defensive team selections, Kobe will forever be one of the basketball greats. He was able to bring the best out of his teammates with his relentless attitude towards work.
Many people hated him, but he got the job done when it mattered.
Not only was Kobe an outstanding basketball player, but he also won an Oscar in 2018 for his short film “Dear, Basketball”. The only basketball player in history to boast an NBA ring and an Oscar!
#6 Magic Johnson
Just like in the “Showtime Basketball” era in the 1980s, it’s difficult to talk about Larry Bird (see below) without mentioning Magic Johnson. They are so close – they could be considered a joint 6th place.
You don’t get finals MVP by leading your team from the center position when you’re a point guard and not a 10-player. Averaging 19 points and 11 assists and standing at 6 foot 9 inches as a point guard, Magic was one of those unicorn players that suited Lakers Basketball perfectly.
Three Finals MVPs (one of which was in his rookie year), five NBA championships, and three regular season MVP awards are reasons why I’ve pitted Magic slightly ahead of his East-Coast rival.
Larry Bird only played 897 games in his 13-year career, but he lit it up when he did play. He is one of those players you need to watch to fully understand how good he was.
Larry shot 3-pointers before it was cool and made it look easy. He liked the number 3 so much that he won three NBA championships, three All-Defensive team selections, and three regular season MVP awards!
Now a staple member of the NBA hall of fame and 75th Anniversary Team, Larry Bird terrified defenders in his era by playing in a way that changed the trajectory of basketball.
#8 Shaquille O’Neill
If Shaq had had Kobe’s mindset, he’d be much higher on the list than 8th. He was probably the most physically dominant player in his era, even though he couldn’t score a free throw.
Shaq played for eight teams throughout his 19-year career. He won four NBA Championships and one regular season MVP award in the process.
His ability to dominate regardless of who he was playing with, who he was playing against, or where he was playing – is why Shaq is one of the most dominant players in basketball history.
“The big fundamental” often gets overlooked. But that comes from his nickname. The fundamentals don’t get people off their seats, especially in the modern game.
Fans won’t pay much attention to you if you’re not shooting threes or slamming poster dunks every other play. However, Tim is easily a top-10 player, and his stats back that up.
In 1,392 games for the Spurs, Tim Duncan averaged 19 points and ten rebounds, winning five NBA Championships in the process. The Spurs franchise gets forgotten about in conversations of NBA dynasties, but Tim (and Greg Popovich) led the Texas team to unbelievable success considering the market size of San Antonio.
Tim Duncan won two MVPs, three Finals MVPs, 15 All-Defensive teams, and was conducted into the NBA hall of fame.
Steph Curry is one of those players that completely changed the trajectory of how basketball is played around the world. His ability to score 3-pointers from anywhere on the court consistently inspired a generation and evolved the game.
Steph has made 3,253 3-pointers at the time of writing – more than any other player in history.
Just when the world thought that the Warriors dynasty was over after a terrible season in 2021, Steph came back from injury to lead his team to an unlikely Championship in 2022 – bringing his total NBA rings number up to four in the space of 8 years.
#11 Bill Russell
Bill Russell terrorised the NBA in the late 50s and 60s. He seemingly came to the NBA, won everything, and left with 11 NBA Championships in 13 seasons.
The only thing stopping Russell from being number one on this list is the period in which he played.
The NBA was only getting started in the 1950s – so the standard of players was much lower than in the modern day. However, you don’t get the Finals MVP award named after you if you’re not a top-15 player.
He’s only ten years into his NBA career, but Giannis Antetokuonmpo is one of the most dominant basketball players we have ever seen in the NBA.
Although he went fairly under the radar in the 2013 draft, Giannis has averaged at least 25 points and ten rebounds per game since his first MVP season in 2018. After his 2nd MVP award, I boldly predicted Giannis would be the greatest player never to win an NBA Championship.
He proved me wrong in 2021 by leading the Bucks to a ring in 2021.
Giannis can play anywhere on the court, which means he suits the positionless nature of how the game is played today. Not only that, standing at 7 feet, he’s a mismatch for anyone he comes up against.
Oscar Robertson’s stats don’t lie. He averaged 25 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists throughout his 13-year career between the Kings and the Bucks.
Nicknamed “Mr Triple-Double”, Oscar led the league in assists for six years and won an NBA championship and MVP.
His rookie year was out of this world, too. He averaged 30 points, ten assists, and ten rebounds at the age of 22, claiming the all-star MVP and rookie of the year awards along the way.
#14 Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant certainly has his critics, but no one can deny that he’s the “real MVP”. He has two NBA championships and two Finals MVPs in a team with Klay Thompson and Steph Curry.
Those numbers would probably be three each if he didn’t get injured during the 2019 playoffs.
KD is a scoring machine. He is averaging over 27 points per game throughout his career and has accrued four scoring championships throughout his 15-year career.
Wherever Durant goes, he’s the focal point and leader – he just needs to stay off Twitter!
This one might be controversial, being the only player on this list not to win anything other than rookie of the year, but Luka Doncic is the 15th-best NBA player of all time.
He’s only been in the league since 2018, but Luka instantly took the league by storm when the Dallas Mavericks drafted him.
On the 27th of December 2022, Luka went off for a historic triple-double of 60 points, 21 rebounds, and ten assists against the Knicks. His lack of accolades could change this season, though. Luka is averaging 34 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists per game.
Those are legendary statistics at just 23 years of age.
Best NBA Players Roundup
This top-15 list contains 59 NBA Championships and 40 regular season MVP awards.
Considering that the NBA is still a relatively young sport (celebrating 75 years in 2021), there are plenty of opportunities for the sport to progress and for these numbers to grow.
Do you agree with this top-15 list?