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LeBron James

Breaking Down ESPN’s Top-10 NBA Players Of All Time List – Did They Get It Right?

A couple of weeks ago, in the absence of basketball games, ESPN ranked the top-74 players in the NBA’s history (74 because this season was the NBA’s 74th anniversary). On May13, ESPN released their top-10 players of all-time. You probably can guess who the top-10 were but here it is:

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. LeBron James
  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  4. Bill Russell
  5. Magic Johnson
  6. Wilt Chamberlain
  7. Larry Bird
  8. Tim Duncan
  9. Kobe Bryant
  10. Shaquille O’Neal

Personally, I have some issues with the list. I think some guys should be higher while others are lower, but I will give my personal list later. Looking at the list however, here is why each guy has a case to be considered one of the ten best players in NBA history:

  • Jordan:
    • Career Stats: 30.1 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, 5.3 assists per game, 2.3 steals per game. 
    • Notable Accolades: 6-time NBA Champion, 6-time Finals MVP, 5-time Regular Season MVP, 1988 Defensive Player of the Year, 10-time scoring champion, 14-time All-Star, Member of NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team.
    • Jordan is one of the best to ever step on an NBA court, if you are watching The Last Dance, you would know how much Jordan was idolized around the world and how much respect his competitors had for him. In the 90s, everyone wanted to take on the Bulls and beat Jordan, but none of them could.
  • James:
    • Career Stats (at least as of right now): 27.1 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game, 7.4 assists per game, 1.6 steals per game.
    • Notable Accolades: 3-time NBA Champion, 3-time Finals MVP, 4-time League MVP, 16-time All Star, 3-time All Star Game MVP 12-time First team All NBA. 
    • The guy is the best player of this generation, he is a physical freak of nature, has had numerous moments during his career that can be considered iconic. The longevity of his success can arguably be the most impressive pair of his entire career.
  • Abdul-Jabbar:
    • Career Stats: 24.6 points per game, 11.2 rebounds per game, 3.6 assists per game, 2.6 blocks per game.
    • Notable Accolades: 6-time NBA Champion, 2-time Finals MVP, 6-time League MVP, 19-time All Star, 10-time All NBA First Team, Member of NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team.
    • Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all time leader in points scored with 38,387 career points. He had one of the most unstoppable moves in league history with the skyhook. I mentioned his list of his achievements but the guy truly did it all, more MVPs than any other player, more All Star game appearances than any other player. The fact that he was so good and so dominant for so long is what is really impressive.
  • Russell:
    • Career Stats: 15.1 points per game, 22.5 rebounds per game, 4.3 assists per game. 
    • Notable Accolades: 11-time NBA Champion, 5-time League MVP, 12-time All Star, Member of NBA’s. 25th, 35th, and 50th Anniversary Teams.
    • Despite not having the same accolades as the three guys ahead of him, that is partially because those things did not exist. There was not such a thing as a Finals MVP until his final championship in 1969, which went to Jerry West. They named the Finals MVP after Russell who is considered the ultimate winner in basketball history with 11 championships in 13 seasons. Blocks was not a stat during Russell’s career, but he was a prolific shot blocker if you watch the footage.
  • Johnson:
    • Career Stats: 19.5 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game, 11.2 assists per game, 1.9 steals per game.
    • Notable Accolades: 5-time NBA Champion, 3-time Finals MVP, 3-time League MVP, 12-time All Star, 2-time All Star Game MVP, 9-time All NBA First Team, Member of NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team.
    • I mean when your nickname is ‘Magic,’ that means you are something special and that’s what Johnson was. The orchestrator of the Showtime Lakers, he was a wizard with the basketball in his hands, revolutionized the game with his size being a 6′ 9” point guard but had skills no one had ever seen before. He was the face of the NBA in the 80s, some say it was Bird, others Jordan, but I personally think it is without question Johnson.
  • Chamberlain: 
    • Career Stats: 30.1 points per game, 22.9 rebounds per game, 4.9 assists per game.
    • Notable Accolades: 2-time NBA Champion, 1-time Finals MVP,  4-time League MVP, 13-time All Star, 7-time First Team All NBA, 7-time scoring champion, 11-time rebounding champion. Member of NBA’s 35th and 50th Anniversary Team.
    • Chamberlain is the only player to score 100 points in a game, he averaged 50 points in a season, a truly dominant player. My one issue with ‘The Big Dipper,’ is that was this dominance more so of a byproduct with the era he played in. Sure there was Russell, but that is really it for centers in that era who posed any real challenge to Chamberlain. Who knows, maybe that’s just how dominant he really was that only one guy in the whole NBA stood a chance against him.
  • Bird:
    • Career Stats: 24.3 points per game, 10.0 rebounds per game, 6.3 assists per game, 1.7 steals per game.
    • Notable Accolades: 3-time NBA Champion, 2-time Finals MVP, 3-time League MVP, 12-time All Star, 9-time All NBA First Team, Member of NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team.
    • Bird’s career was going to be compared to that of Magic Johnson’s the moment the two were drafted into the NBA, and neither balked at the challenge. Bird is one of the best shooters in league history, as an extremely smooth jumper, and I think he is one of those guys who can thrive in almost any era, which you can’t say about some guys on this list. 
  • Duncan:
    • Career Stats: 19 points per game, 10.8 rebounds per game, 3 assists per game, 2.2 blocks per game.
    • Notable Accolades: 5-time NBA Champion, 3-time Finals MVP, 2-time League MVP, 15-time All Star, 10-time First Team All NBA, 8-time First Team All Defense.
    • The guy lived up to his nickname as ‘The Big Fundamental’ as he was not a guy who would wow you with his flashiness or was a big personality. He just went out onto the court, knew what his job was and more often than not, did it. When the game was on the line, he would show up and execute. One of the best winners in league history as he has the most wins in the regular season for a player who played for one team with 1,001.
  • Bryant:
    • Career Stats: 25.0 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, 4.7 assists per game, 1.4 steals per game.
    • Notable Accolades: 5-time NBA Champion, 2-time Finals MVP, 1-time League MVP, 18-time All Star, 4-time All Star Game MVP, 11-time First Team All NBA, 9-time First Team All Defense. 
    • It is unfortunate that Bryant’s life got cut tragically short and he will be unable to attend his Hall Of Fame induction. The guy was the ultimate competitor, the ‘Mamba Mentality’ became something that players feared. Second most points in a single game in NBA history with 81. In his final game, he scored 60 points. He was the closest thing to Jordan we have ever seen. A legend that died too young.
  • O’Neal:
    • Career Stats: 23.7 points per game, 10.9 rebounds per game, 2.3 blocks per game.
    • Notable Accolades: 4-time NBA Champion, 3-time Finals MVP, 1-time League MVP, 15-time All Star, 3-time All Star Game MVP, 8-time First Team All NBA, Member of NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team.
    • The most dominant player in NBA history, without question. Compared to Russell, Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal would probably beat all of them. He changed how the NBA was played because of how good he was, had multiple rules changed because of some of the things he would do on the basketball court. The guy had an electric personality and that showed in his many nicknames and that translated to his play on the court.

As promised, I said I would give my top 10 list for the ten greatest players in NBA history. This is strictly my opinion, but here is how I thought ESPN should have done their rankings.

  1. Jordan
  2. James
  3. Johnson
  4. Abdul-Jabbar
  5. O’Neal
  6. Duncan
  7. Bryant
  8. Bird
  9. Chamberlain
  10. Russell

Let me know your list of the top-10 NBA players of all time on social media, @usports on Twitter and Instagram

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Written by Tyler Melito

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