Top Ten Centers in NBA History
The Best NBA Centers All-Time.
Throughout the history of the NBA, centers have mostly dominated the game (Michael Jordan’s tenure notwithstanding). A center has been chosen league MVP 25 times in the 54 year history of the award, and players I would call a “center/forward” have been chosen another four times, giving players in the middle more than half the total awards. Fifteen centers and three center/forwards were selected among the Fifty Greatest Players in NBA History, and when the best player of all-time is debated, a center is usually mentioned. These are my choices for the best centers in the history of the NBA.
The Greatest in Action
The Greatest Centers: My list
1. Wilt Chamberlain: 1045 career games played, 2 NBA titles; NBA 4th all-time scoring leader with 31,419 career points; NBA all-time rebound leader with 23,924; 57th NBA all-time assist leader with 4,643; NBA 17th all-time field goal percentage leader 54%; blocked shots statistics were not kept by the NBA during Chamberlain’s career; Chamberlain holds numerous records in scoring, rebounding and durability categories. He is the only player in NBA history to average more than 40 points in a season (Wilt averaged over 50 one year) or score 100 in a game. He also won seven scoring, nine field goal percentage and eleven rebounding titles, and once led the league in assists. He never fouled out of a game and average 48.5 minutes per game one season.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 1,560 career games played, 6 NBA titles; NBA all-time scoring leader with 38,387 career points; NBA 3rd all-time rebound leader with 17,440; NBA 34th all-time assist leader with 5,560; NBA 8th all-time field goal percentage leader 55.9%; Abdul-Jabbar’s claim to durability rivaled Chamberlain’s as he led the NBA in games and minutes played all-time while scoring in double figures in 787 straight games. He was also selected to the NBA All-Star Team 19 times. Abdul-Jabbar ranks 3rd all-time in blocked shots, a remarkable accomplishment considering blocked shots weren’t counted the first four years of his career.
3. Bill Russell: 963 career games played, 11 NBA titles; NBA 121st all-time scoring leader with 14,522 career points; NBA 2nd all-time rebound leader with 21,620; NBA 83rd all-time assist leader with 4,100; blocked shots statistics were not kept by the NBA during Russell’s career; Russell’s 11 titles in 13 seasons ties him with the NHL’s Henri Richard for most championships won by an athlete in a North American sports league. Would likely trail only Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar in blocked shots if complete statistics were available for these three players. Russell is the only player other than Chamberlain to grab more than 50 rebounds in a game.
4. Shaquille O’Neal: 1125 career games played, 4 NBA titles; NBA 5th all-time scoring leader with 27,707 career points; NBA 15th all-time rebound leader with 12,622; NBA 176th all-time assist leader with 2,932; NBA 3rd all-time field goal percentage leader 57.7%; 7th all-time blocked shots leader with 2642 blocks; At 7’1” tall and 325 pounds, O’Neal is one of the largest players ever to wear an NBA uniform. Although he dominated opponents with size and strength, O’Neal is a gifted athlete. He once brought down an NBA goal (not the rim or backboard, the entire goal) with a dunk. Note: All stats current at time of writing.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon: 1,238 career games played, 2 NBA titles; NBA 8th all-time scoring leader with 26,946 career points; NBA 11th all-time rebound leader with 13,748; NBA all-time blocked shots leader with 3,830 blocks; NBA 7th all-time steals leader with 2,162; NBA 150th all-time assist leader with 3,058; Began his career with Ralph Sampson as half of their “Twin Towers”. Olajuwon won back-to-back titles with Houston in 1994-1995, defeating Patrick Ewing’s Knicks and Shaquille O’Neal’s Magic, respectively. In the 1993-94 season he became the only player in NBA history to win the NBA's MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP awards in the same season.
6. Moses Malone: 1455 career games played (1329 NBA games played), 1 NBA title; NBA 6th all-time scoring leader with 27,409 career points and 6th all-time in combined NBA/ABA career points with 29,580 points; NBA 5th all-time rebound leader with 16,212 and 3rd all-time in combined NBA/ABA rebounds with 17,834; Malone was the first player to go pro out of high school, signing with the ABA’s Utah Stars. He played for 10 teams in his 20 year career, but his best years were with the Houston Rockets (where he single-handedly carried them to the NBA finals in 1981) and Philadelphia 76ers, where he teamed with Julius Erving to win the title.
7. Artis Gilmore: 1,329 career games played (909 NBA games played), no NBA titles, 1 ABA title. NBA 97th all-time scoring leader with 15,579 career points and 19th all-time in combined career points with 24,941 points; NBA 42nd all-time rebound leader with 9,161 and 5th all-time in combined NBA/ABA rebounds with 16,330; NBA all-time field goal percentage leader 59.9%; Perhaps the best pure center never to win an NBA title, Gilmore spent five years in the ABA and won the championship in 1975. Gilmore’s best years were in Chicago and San Antonio, where he hit over 60% from the field for six consecutive years.
8. Patrick Ewing: 1,183 career games played, no NBA titles; NBA 15th all-time scoring leader with 24,815 career points; NBA 23rd all-time rebound leader with 11,607; NBA 6th all-time in blocked shots with 2,894; Ewing is arguably the best center never to win a pro basketball championship—his Knicks team reached the finals twice, falling to Houston and San Antonio. Ewing was selected by New York in the first-ever NBA draft lottery in 1985. He was an eleven-time NBA All-Star and a member of the original Olympic “Dream” team. Known originally as a defensive player, he displayed a strong offensive game as well.
9. David Robinson: 987 career games played, 2 NBA titles; NBA 29th all-time scoring leader with 20,790 career points; NBA 29th all-time rebound leader with 9,497; NBA 5th all-time in blocked shots with 2,954; Robinson joined the Spurs for the 1989-1990 season and led them to the greatest single season turnaround in NBA history at the time. Robinson teamed with Tim Duncan to form the second-generation “TwinTowers” and was a member of the original Olympic “Dream” team. A ten-time NBA All-Star, his career statistics would be even more impressive if he hadn’t fulfilled a two-year commitment with the United States Navy.
10. Bill Walton: 468 career games played, 2 NBA titles; scored 6,215 career points, not enough to place on all-time lists; NBA 210th in all-time rebounds with 4,923. Foot and ankle injuries limited Walton’s career, so his accomplishments are more difficult to quantify statistically. Walton led an unremarkable Portland team to the NBA championship in 1977, defeating a far more talented Philadelphia team in the finals. Walton also played for the 1986 Celtics team that won an NBA title. An outstanding passer, shot blocker and defensive player, Walton was considered to have a remarkable understanding of the geometry of the game.
My next ten centers all-time are: Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond, Robert Parrish, Dave Cowens, Wes Unseld, Walt Bellamy, Bob Lanier, George Mikan, Dikembe Mutombo, and Sam Lacey.
My top center/forwards all-time are: Tim Duncan, Elvin Hayes, Kevin McHale, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Bob McAdoo, Jack Sikma, Alonzo Mourning, Ralph Sampson and Dan Issel.
My ten biggest disappointments at center (not the worst) are: Joe Barry Carroll, Benoit Benjamin, Tito Horford, Kwame Brown, Sam Bowie, Marvin Webster, Shawn Bradley, Darryl Dawkins, LaRue Martin, and Kent Benson.
A statistic nothing short of amazing is the fact that five centers from my “disappointment” list played for the New Jersey Nets. Can you name them?
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