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Top 10 Centers in NBA History

Updated on July 3, 2016

These are the tallest guys on the court and are tasked with get close baskets and defending the rim. Today I rank the top 10 centers of all time.

10. Bill Walton

Had he not dealt with numerous foot injuries, he could been the best ever.

After a stellar college career at UCLA, Bill Walton was drafted first overall by Portland in 1974. After dealing with numerous injuries in his first two seasons, Walton came into his own by leading the league in rebounds and blocks in the 1976-1977 season. He led Portland to a sweep of the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals while holding Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in check and went on to help the Trail Blazers to the NBA title over the favored 76ers. After dealing with a foot injury that didn't properly heal, Walton saw limited playing time over his time with the Clippers. He was then acquired by Boston in 1985 where he played in a career high 80 games while helping the Celtics to the 1986 title. Ultimately injuries prevented him from playing at an elite level and he officially retired in 1990.

In his 12 seasons, Walton was a two time All-Star, two time All-NBA team, two time All-NBA defensive team, the 1977 blocks and rebounds leader, the 1986 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, the 1978 NBA MVP, two time NBA champion, and the 1977 NBA Finals MVP. He was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

9. Robert Parrish

"The Chief" has played in more games than any player in history.

The eighth overall pick in 1976 by the Warriors, Robert Parrish spent four years with the declining Golden State team. In 1980, he was traded to Boston for a first round pick. Joining Larry Bird and the newly drafted Kevin McHale, the three formed one of the greatest frontcourts in NBA history. A versatile center, Parrish used his 7' size and speed to contain opposing players, launch precise jump shots, and finish fast breaks. He spent his final seasons in Charlotte and Chicago before retiring in 1997 after playing in an NBA record 1,611 games.

In his 21 seasons, Parrish was a nine time All-Star, two time All-NBA team, and four time NBA champion. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.

8. Patrick Ewing

For a decade and a half, he WAS the Knicks.

The first overall pick by the Knicks in 1985, Patrick Ewing was labeled as New York's savior. He didn't disappointment as he averaged 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game and being named Rookie of the Year despite only playing 50 games due to injury. In his prime, he was a force who could destroy the opposition down low for layups and dunks but also step outside to knock down midrange jump shots. In the end, he could never get past the Bulls in the East, and even when Michael Jordan retired in 1993, the Knicks lost to Houston in seven games in 1994. Ewing spent his final seasons in Seattle and Orlando before retiring in 2002.

In his 17 seasons, Ewing was an 11 time All-Star, seven time All-NBA team, three time All-NBA defensive team, the 1986 NBA Rookie of the Year, and the New York Knicks all time leading scorer. He was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

7. David Robinson

"The Admiral" was a mainstay in San Antonio for 14 years.

The first overall pick by San Antonio in 1987, David Robinson wasn't able to play until the 1989-1990 season due to his commitment to the Navy. When he final did join the Spurs, he helped the team to the then greatest turnaround in league history. Robinson was a triple threat who could post up, knock down jumpers, and put the ball the court. In 1994, he clinched the scoring title over Shaquille O'Neal by scoring a franchise record 71 points in the regular season finale over the Clippers. With the arrival of power forward Tim Duncan, Robinson had a reliable superstar to trust and the two were able to help San Antonio win two NBA titles before he retired in 2003.

In his 14 seasons, Robinson was a 10 time All-Star, 10 time All-NBA team, eight time All-NBA defensive team, the 1990 NBA Rookie of the Year, the 1991 NBA rebounding leader, the 1992 NBA blocks leader, the 1992 NBA defensive player of the year, the 1994 NBA scoring champion, the 1995 NBA MVP, and two time NBA champion. He was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.

6. Moses Malone

"The Chairman of the Boards" was a workhorse for 21 professional seasons.

After spending two years in the ABA, Moses Malone joined the NBA in 1976. Slightly undersized for a center of his era, he finished his career with the most combined ABA and NBA offensive rebounds. He would wear down his opponents with his relentless effort and physical play and would often rebound his own misses. While in Houston, he was a two time MVP who set career, season, and game records for offensive rebounds and became an efficient inside scorer. In 1982, he joined Philadelphia as a free agent and along with Julius Erving, helped the 76ers win the NBA title in 1983. He spent his 19 NBA seasons with seven teams before retiring in 1995.

In his 21 professional seasons, Malone was a 12 time All-Star, ABA All-Star, eight time All-NBA team, two time All-NBA defensive team, six time NBA rebounding leader, three time NBA MVP, 1983 NBA champion, and the 1983 NBA Finals MVP. He was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.

5. Hakeem Olajuwon

"The Dream" has more blocks than any player in history.

The first overall pick by Houston in 1984, Hakeem Olajuwon joined Ralph Sampson as the original "Twin Towers" frontcourt tandem and helped the Rockets to an appearance in the NBA finals in 1986. After Sampson was traded to Golden State in 1988, Olajuwon became the undisputed leader of the Rockets. He was highly skilled as both an offensive and defensive player. On defense, his rare combination of quickness and strength allowed him to guard a wide range of players effectively. On offense, he was famous for his "Dream Shake" shooting touch around the basket and his nimble footwork in the post. In 1994, he became the only player in NBA history to win the NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP awards in the same season. He spent his final season in Toronto before retiring in 2002.

In his 18 seasons, Olajuwon was a 12 time All-Star, 12 time All-NBA team, nine time All-NBA defensive team, two time NBA rebounding leader, three time NBA blocks leader, the NBA's all time blocks leader, the Houston Rockets all time leading scorer, two time NBA defensive player of the year, the 1994 NBA MVP, two time NBA champion, and two time NBA Finals MVP. He was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

4. Shaquille O'Neal

"Shaq" was one of biggest, big men ever to play.

The first overall pick by Orlando in 1992, Shaquille O'Neal quickly became one of the top centers in the league. At 7'1", 325 pounds, he was one of the largest men ever to play basketball and he became famous for his physical stature. His giant frame gave him a power advantage over most opponents. You can criticize his free throw shooting all day, but no one can deny his dunking ability as he lead the league in field goal percentage ten times. After spending four years with the Magic, O'Neal signed with the Lakers and help Los Angeles to three consecutive NBA championships. In 2004, he signed with the Heat and helped Dwayne Wade and Miami win their first title in 2006. He played his final seasons in Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston before retiring in 2011.

In his 19 seasons, O'Neal was a 15 time All-Star, 14 time All-NBA team, three time All-NBA defensive team, the 1993 NBA Rookie of the Year, two time NBA scoring champion, three time All-Star Game MVP, four time NBA champion, and three time NBA Finals MVP. He will be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

3. Bill Russell

He is the greatest champion in North American sports.

The second overall pick by the Hawks in 1956, Bill Russell was immediately traded to Boston in exchange for Ed Macauley. In his first NBA full season, he became the first player in NBA history to average more than 20 rebounds per game for an entire season, a feat he accomplished 10 times in his 13 seasons. He is also credited with having raised defensive play in the NBA to a new level due to his relentless intensity. He became the first player in basketball history to win an NCAA championship and an NBA Championship back-to-back years. Along with his record 11 NBA titles, he was a two time high school state champion and a 1956 Olympic gold medalist. Towards the latter end of his playing career, he became the teams head coach and won two more titles before retiring from playing in 1969.

In his 13 seasons, Russell was a 12 time All-Star, 11 time All-NBA team, a 1969 All-NBA defensive team, four time NBA rebounding leader, the 1963 All-Star Game MVP, five time NBA MVP, and 11 time NBA champion. He was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.

2. Wilt Chamberlain

"The Big Dipper" is the most dominant player in league history.

After playing a season with the Harlem Globetrotters, Wilt Chamberlain joined the Warriors in 1959. Playing at 7'1" when the average height of NBA players was 6'5", "Wilt the Stilt" could score and rebound with ease. He is the only player to score 100 points in a single game and average more than 40 and 50 points in a season. Although he had a long strung of losses early in his career, he was able to win two NBA championships with the 76ers and Lakers. Upon joining the Lakers, he refined his defensive game and became a more complete player. He retired after the 1973 seasons.

In his 14 seasons, Chamberlain was a 13 time All-Star, 10 time All-NBA team, two time All-NBA defensive team, the 1960 NBA Rookie of the Year, seven time NBA scoring champion, 11 time NBA rebounding leader, nine time NBA field goal percentage leader, the 1968 NBA assists leader, the NBA all time rebounds leader, the Warriors all time leading scorer, two time NBA champion, and the 1972 NBA Finals MVP. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

He has scored more points than any player ever.

The first overall pick by Milwaukee in 1969, Kareem Abdul- Jabbar(born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor) was an instant star finishing second in the league in scoring and third in rebounding. In his second season, the Bucks acquired point guard Oscar Robertson and together they helped Milwaukee to the leagues best record and the NBA championship. After spending seven seasons in Milwaukee, Abdul-Jabbar requested a trade to the Lakers to better fit his cultural needs. He miraculously combined dominance during his career peak with the longevity and sustained excellence of his latter years. After he won his sixth league MVP in 1980, he still averaged nearly 20 points a game for his final nine seasons. An unstoppable low-post threat, his trademark "sky hook" jump shot was unblockable and extremely accurate. After 13 seasons and five more championships in Los Angeles, he retired after 1989.

In his 20 year career, Abdul-Jabbar was a 19 time All-Star, 15 time All-NBA team, 11 time All-NBA defensive team, the 1970 NBA Rookie of the Year, two time NBA scoring champion, four time NBA rebounding champion, the Milwaukee Bucks all time leading scorer, the NBA's all time leading scorer, six time NBA MVP, six time NBA champion, and two time NBA Finals MVP. He was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.

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    • Ty Tayzlor profile image
      Author

      TT 17 months ago from Anywhere

      I always seem to flip flop on Wilt and Kareem over whose better. I think Kareem is the top center because he was a more well rounded player. Wilt took a lot of plays off defensively early in his career. It wasn't until he arrived in Los Angeles that he was really forced to pit more emphasis on his defensive game.

      As far as the number of good centers in this league today, I can't think of one that's even close to the level of skill as anyone on this list. The position is almost being fazed out as many teams go to a small ball lineup to try to contend with the three point shooting skills of the Warriors and Cavaliers

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 17 months ago from Oklahoma

      Great list. I love the center position and there are far too few good ones these days.

      Personally Kareem is my favorite center of all time, but I could never leave Wilt out of the #1 spot.