Best NBA Players of All-Time
The NBA has been littered with star players who have etched their names into sporting folklore for their exploits on a basketball court.
The best players possess the ability to carry a team on their own backs, inspiring them to achieve things that would not have otherwise been possible.
Judging who are the greatest players of all-time is certainly not an easy task, with numerous basketball stars worthy of consideration.
However, we have burned the midnight oil to produce what we believe is the definitive list of the best NBA players of all-time.
1. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan or LeBron James? The debate about who is the greatest NBA star of all-time continues to rumble on, but Jordan still holds the edge over James.
Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships during his career – a record that blows James’ 3-6 title record out of the water.
The Bulls never required a Game 7 to win any of those championships and Jordan was the key component in every one of their successes.
His influence on the sport is still felt today, with many current players admitting that Jordan was the main reason they took up basketball.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career total of 38,387 points is yet to be beaten, but there was far more to his game than just scoring.
He averaged 24.6 points and 11.2 rebounds during a 20-year career that saw him win six championships with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers.
The first and last of those came 17 years apart, highlighting just how impactful he remained as a player throughout his career.
Abdul-Jabbar also appeared in the iconic comedy movie Airplane! – a factor that earns him a few extra brownie points with the TalkingSports team.
3. LeBron James
James’ ability to carry teams was perfectly highlighted by the fact that he led Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat to eight consecutive NBA Finals.
Although he only won three championships during that period, it certainly was not for the want of trying on his behalf.
He highlighted his adaptability with the Lakers during the 2019/20 season, switching to point guard on a full-time basis to great effect.
James passed Kobe Bryant for third place on the all-time regular season scoring list during the campaign, but he remains behind Jordan and Abdul-Jabbar in the GOAT stakes.
4. Magic Johnson
Johnson’s rivalry with Larry Bird during the 1980s helped to fire the NBA into a completely different stratosphere in terms of worldwide recognition.
The Los Angeles Lakers legend averaged 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game during his glittering career.
He was the standout player for the Lakers, helping them win five of the nine NBA Finals they contested during his time with the club.
Johnson’s charisma on and off the court transcended basketball, creating a platform for the sport to finally fulfil its global potential.
5. Bill Russell
As with many other sports, attacking players often steal all the headlines in basketball, but Bill Russell managed to buck that trend with the Boston Celtics.
Russell was the driving force behind the Celtics’ run of 11 titles between 1957 and 1969 – a period of dominance that no other NBA team has ever matched.
His career average of 22.5 rebounds per game is the second-best tally in history, while five MVP awards demonstrate how highly he was rated.
The Celtics may still have won a few titles without Russell in their ranks, but it is highly unlikely that the tally would have been anywhere near the 11 they achieved with him.
6. Wilt Chamberlain
Chamberlain was also a rebound machine throughout this NBA career, setting a record 22.9 per game for a tally that is unlikely to ever be surpassed.
His scoring average of 30.1 points per game is second in the all-time list behind Jordan’s 33.4, although his output didn’t translate into repeated championship success.
Chamberlain won just two NBA titles with the Philadelphia 76ers and the Lakers, despite scoring at least 50 points in a record 118 different games.
His 100-point game for the Philadelphia Warriors in a 169–147 win over the New York Knicks in 1962 is widely considered to be the greatest solo achievement in basketball.
7. Larry Bird
The Bird and Johnson rivalry was unquestionably the star attraction in the NBA during the 1980s, helping to fire the Celtics and the Lakers to a whole new level.
In addition to leading Boston to three championships from five appearances in the NBA Finals, Bird also won the league MVP in three consecutive seasons (1984-86).
He averaged 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, figures which helped him bag 59 triple-doubles during his career.
Bird was also a member of United States men’s basketball team known as ‘The Dream Team’ that powered to the gold medal at the 1992 Olympic Games.
8. Shaquille O’Neal
The four-time NBA champion and three-time Finals MVP transformed the NBA, with his explosive style causing mayhem across the league.
He is one of only three players to win the NBA MVP, All-Star game MVP and Finals MVP awards in the same year (2000) – Willis Reed (1970) and Jordan (1996 & 1998) are the others.
He ranks eighth all-time in points scored, sixth in field goals, 15th in rebounds and eighth in blocks, demonstrating how well-rounded his game was.
O’Neal’s average of 23.7 points per game is actually slightly higher than Steph Curry’s current average, further highlighting his status as one of the NBA’s all-time greats.