Top 10 NBA Players of All-Time
Updated: Feb 8
Credit: Sporting News
10. Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry has changed the game of basketball at all levels because of what he has done with the 3-point shot. After the 2022 NBA Finals, Stephen Curry cemented himself as a Top 10 NBA player of all time. Curry is now a 4x Champ, 2x (back-to-back) MVP, 1x Finals MVP, 8x All-Star, 8x All-NBA, and he is still going. The greatest shooter to ever play the game and 2nd best point guard of all time has a great chance to win back-to-back titles for the second time in his career. Currently, the Warriors are the early favorites to win next year’s title as Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins will only get better, James Wiseman is expected to return at 100%, and the core trio of Curry, Thompson, and Green are far from retirement. In fact, in an interview just days after the Warriors’ Game 6 victory over the Boston Celtics, Stephen Curry alluded to a future Warriors’ team where Jordan Poole is an All-Star, Jonathan Kuminga is an All-Defensive player, and James Wiseman is a regular-season MVP. Such high praise from a veteran like Curry would suggest that this Warriors team has dynasty-like potential, indicating that the Larry O’Brien Trophy may reside in the Bay for years to come. Curry’s accolades, longevity, and all-time domination from beyond the arc are second to none and are why he belongs in the top 10, but to say he can no longer ascend the ranks would be foolish. Curry just vaulted into the top 10, but another title or even two could skyrocket the NBA’s greatest frontrunner into the top-8 and potentially the top-5 conversation.
9. Kobe Bryant
While Bryant is often mentioned in the “GOAT” debate with LeBron James and Michael Jordan, he sits at #9 on my list. Bryant was a 5x NBA Champion, 2x Finals MVP, 18x All-Star, 15x All-NBA, 12x All-Defense, and the 2008 regular season MVP. In all sports, the top 10 players of all time typically have at least two regular season MVPs, but Bryant only has one. In fact, Kobe is just one of two players on my list with less than two MVPs. Kobe did win three NBA titles in a row, an accomplishment that only a handful of teams have ever accomplished, but it was his running mate, Shaq, who proved to be the most valuable. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were the greatest duo of all time but for whatever reason, O’Neal’s presence was overlooked and undervalued for the longest time. O’Neal won all three Finals MVP’s during the Lakers’ three-peat and undoubtedly outplayed Bryant. In the 1999-2000 Finals, O’Neal averaged 38 PPG, 16.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, and shot 61.1% from the field, while Bryant averaged 15.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 4.2 APG, and shot 36.7% from the field. Bryant returned to his scoring averages in the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 Finals where he put-up 24.6 PPG and 26.8 PPG, but never outscored Shaq who dominated the Finals with 33.0 PPG in 2000-2001 and 36.3 PPG in 2001-2002 (Stat Credit: statmuse). Ultimately, Kobe Bryant does not belong in the top 5 but will be remembered for his longevity, playoff dominance, and undeniable impact on the game for generations to come. RIP Mamba.
8. Larry Bird
To this date, Larry Bird is the only person to win Coach of the Year, MVP, and Executive of the Year throughout a career and that is just where his accomplishments begin. Bird is a 3x Champion, 2x Finals MVP, 2x MVP, 12x All-Star, and 10x All-NBA. Bird’s level of competition in the Finals was arguably the strongest out of anyone on this list, as he beat the ’84 Lakers with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy as well as the ’86 Rockets led by Hakeem Olajuwon. One of the greatest shooters of all time, Larry Bird shot 37.6% from 3-point range and 88% from the free throw line at 6’9” in an era where the 3-point shot was very undervalued. For perspective, Bird attempted 1.9 three-point shots per game while LeBron James, a career 34.6% three-point shooter, attempts 4.5 per game. Stephen Curry, a career 42.8% three-point shooter, attempts 8.8 threes per game. Finally, Larry Bird was all-time clutch. When we think about cold-blooded killers, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant typically come to mind, but Larry Bird was just as great. Nobody in NBA history has more 45+ point games with a buzzer-beater to seal the deal. In fact, Bird holds four clutch buzzer-beaters, and all four shots took place while the Celtics trailed. Larry Joe Bird stands at #8 on my list, with a top 5 clutch gene.
7. Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan, known as “the Big Fundamental” for his boring play-style, is a 5x NBA Champion, 3x Finals MVP, 2x MVP, 15x All-Star, 15x All-NBA, 15x All-Defense, and 1998 Rookie of the Year. Duncan played for the Spurs his entire career alongside many all-time greats like Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and David Robinson but was it was Duncan who consistently proved to be the best player on the floor every night. Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time and led one of the greatest dynasties of all time to 5 championships. Duncan is often overlooked and underrated as a result of his methodical play-style, but it would be utterly egregious to leave him off the top 10.
6. Bill Russell
The Secretary of Defense, Bill Russell, is simply the greatest Celtic of all time. In just 13 NBA seasons, Mr. Russell was an 11x Champion, 5x MVP (3 consecutively from 1961-63), 12x All-Star, and 11x All-NBA. Russell won 0 Finals MVP’s because the award did not exist until 1969, Russell’s final year in the league. To recognize Russell’s legacy and incomprehensible success in the Finals, NBA commissioner Adam Silver re-named the Finals MVP to the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award. Unfortunately for Russell, the one knock on his greatness will always his level of competition. In the 1960’s, the average NBA player was about 6’5”, 200lbs, while in the past decade the average NBA player is about 6’6”, 215lbs. While this does not seem like a significant difference, it directly correlates with a drastic rise in talent and ability over the years and for those reasons, I have Mr. Russell at #6.
5. Shaquille O’Neal
Credit: NBC Sports
Simply put, Shaq was the most dominant force this league has ever seen, and his accomplishments speak for themselves: 4x NBA Champion, 3x Finals MVP, 15x All-Star, 1999-2000 MVP, 14x All-NBA, 3x All-Defense, and 1992-1993 Rookie of the Year. Although Shaq only has one MVP, he was one vote away from becoming the first unanimous MVP in NBA history and was snubbed an additional MVP in 2000-2001 when he averaged 28.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, and led the Lakers to a championship. There will never be another 7’1”, 365lb man with the ability to overwhelm and overpower another man the way Shaq could. In this day and age, Shaq’s playstyle would be viewed as “football-basketball,” as even in the early 90’s every play involving Shaq was either a charge or a blocking foul. As formidable and daunting as Shaq was, with all his accolades considered, O’Neal could have attained so much more. At his apex, O’Neal was a top 3 player of all-time, but when it came down to staying in shape and putting time in during the offseason, Shaq was unwilling to make such sacrifices. It would have been incredible to see where Shaq finished on the all-time list had he valued his nutrition and health like LeBron, Kobe, and Jordan but for now he sits at #5.
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The best collegiate basketball player of all time and one of the best NBA players of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, had the most unstoppable shot in the history of basketball – the hook shot. Kareem is a 6x NBA Champion, 2x Finals MVP, 6x MVP, 19x All-Star, 15x All-NBA, 11x All-Defense, and the 1970 Rookie of the Year. Currently, Kareem is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, just 1,325 ahead of LeBron James. Kareem is top 3 on many all-time lists ahead of his teammate Magic Johnson, but I have him one slot behind Magic strictly because of Finals MVP’s. In the five championships the two Hall of Famers played together, Magic won three Finals MVPs to Kareem’s one. It is difficult to critique Kareem as he is one of the greatest to ever play the game, but the one knock on his legacy to put him on slot below Magic are his 2 Finals MVPs, especially considering his 6 championships.
3. Magic Johnson
Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the greatest point guard of all time, sits one spot ahead of his teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Magic revolutionized the “point-forward” as a 6’9” point-guard on both ends of the ball. On offense, Magic could see directly over his defender and scan the floor with ease, something many point guards were not able to do. The distinct height difference between Magic and his defender proved to be a key advantage when considering Magic’s gifted ability to pass the basketball, as he is the NBA’s all-time leader in APG with 11.2 and currently sits at #6 all-time in assists. Magic is a 5x NBA Champion, 3x Finals MVP, 3x MVP, 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA, and led the league in assists four times. Finally, Magic faced (and beat) high-caliber competition including Julius Erving’s 76ers, Larry Bird’s Celtics, and Isiah Thomas' and Dennis Rodman’s “Bad Boy” Pistons. Although, undoubtedly, he did have help, Magic beat some of the greatest teams in NBA history and will likely remain the greatest point guard of all time, for a very long time.
2. LeBron James
The second greatest player of all time, LeBron James, is also the most all-around player in the history of the NBA. LeBron will likely pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list next season, he ranks #7 all-time with 9,923 assists, and he ranks #5 all-time with 105 triple-doubles. The common slight to LeBron’s legacy is his lack of a clutch gene in the most crucial moments, but the stats say otherwise. In the sports world, analysts will often go to their grave defending certain takes, but it is very important to note that the repetition of a lie does not make something a truth. The idea that LeBron James lacks a killer will and clutch gene is a blatant fabrication birthed by the media and is not supported by analytics. In the NBA Finals, LeBron averages 28.4 PPG, 7.8 APG, and 10.2 RPG. In comparison, LeBron averages 27.1 PPG, 7.4 APG, and 7.5 RPG in the regular season and when it comes playoff time, LeBron James is second to none with 174 wins, the most by any player in NBA history. LeBron is a 4x NBA Champion, 4x Finals MVP, 18x All-Star, 18x All-NBA, and the 2003-2004 Rookie of the Year. Ultimately, with today’s technology and overly harsh media, LeBron has received much more attention, and thus more criticism, than many other players on this list could have ever imagined. For me, although his level of competition in the NBA Finals may have been the most challenging, considering Durant and Curry’s warriors, Duncan’s Spurs, and Durant and Westbrook’s Thunder, it is LeBron’s 4-6 record in the Finals that prevents him from the #1 spot.
1. Michael Jordan
“I think he’s God disguised as Michael Jordan”- Larry Bird. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, is 6-0 in the NBA Finals with 6 Finals MVP’s, 14x All-Star, 11x All-NBA, 9x All-Defense, the 1987-1988 Defensive Player of the Year, and the 1984-1985 Rookie of the Year. While all 10 players on this list were all-time clutch, none were as transcendent as Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals. For a career, Jordan averaged 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 5.3 APG in the regular season and 33.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 6.0 APG in the NBA Finals. In terms of level of competition, Jordan had to dethrone serious opponents in the Eastern Conference, such as the “Bad Boy” Pistons, Reggie Miller’s Pacers, Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley's Knicks, and Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway’s Magic, just to reach the Finals. Furthermore, once he made the Finals, Jordan faced, Magic Johnson’s Lakers, Clyde Drexler’s Trail Blazers, Charles Barkley’s Suns, Gary Payton’s Supersonics, and Karl Malone and John Stockton’s Jazz. In the end, Jordan’s 6-0 Finals record and complete dominance in the 1990’s over other top 5 players such as Shaq and Magic secure him the #1 spot on the all-time top 10 list.
*Honorable Mention: Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt’s stats are so incomprehensible and off the charts, they cannot be compared to the stats of the players in today’s game. Wilt deserves to be on the list and is a top 10 player of all-time, but it is simply too difficult to rank him amongst other players. It is so difficult to quantify Wilt’s greatness that when looking at other top 10 lists, some analysts have him at #1 while others have him ranked #10. For perspective, in 94 games against Bill Russell, who I have ranked at #6, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 30.0 PPG, 28.2 RPG and 3.8 APG. That is absurd. The man also scored 100 points in one game, as seen in the image above. Wilt “the stilt” Chamberlain gets an honorable mention because he is unmeasurable and outright unrankable, not because he was not good enough, but rather he was almost too good.