As the 2019-20 season inches closer, it’s only right to look back on the legends that paved the way. Through this article, I will dissect which ten players have left the most remarkable legacies in NBA history.
1. Michael Jordan
Jordan is almost the undisputed GOAT, as he lead the Chicago Bulls to 6 NBA titles, won 5 MVP awards, and is the all-time leader in both PPG and PER. He is iconic, and his shoe sales still top the charts nearly two decades after the last time he laced them up on an NBA court.
He helped to change the game, raising the popularity of the NBA to the level you see today. In the minds of many, Jordan will never be topped.
2. Bill Russell
For some, this will be my first controversial pick. However, Russell lead the Celtics to 11 titles in his 13 years of play, winning 5 MVP awards in the process. He was never a pure scorer, averaging just over 18 PPG throughout his career, but he was the ultimate team player.
Russell averaged 22.5 rebounds per game for his career, and is still the career leader in defensive win shares. Russell and teammate Red Auerbach built the dynasty that is the Celtics.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
His career was not only marked by his dominance, but also his longevity. Abdul-Jabbar made a record 19 All-Star teams, was a 15-time All-NBA selection, and still sits atop the career points list with 38,387 points scored.
He is a six-time NBA Champion, 6-time MVP, and 2-time Finals MVP. He was the Rookie of the Year after a dominant college career during which he lead UCLA to three national titles, and was named the Player of the Year all three years. Abdul-Jabbar was the scoring champion twice, lead the league in blocks four times, and rebounds once. His “skyhook” was nearly indefensible, and together he and Magic Johnson formed the basis of the powerhouse Lakers teams of the 1980’s.
4. Earvin “Magic” Johnson
Earvin “Magic” Johnson was a special point guard who excelled in every aspect of the game. He could play all five positions, and even started a game during the 1980 Finals at center for the Los Angeles Lakers during his rookie season.
His career numbers speak to how well rounded his game was, with 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 11.2 assists per game. Johnson won three MVP’s during the era of Michael Jordan, and had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on his team. He helped lead his team to nine NBA Finals and made 12 All-Star appearances.
5. Larry Bird
The “Hick from French Lick” is perhaps the most controversial pick on my list. However, what many young fans don’t appreciate how important Bird Earvin “Magic” Johnson were far too important to the league to fall out of the top five.
Bird himself won three consecutive MVP’s while leading what most regard as one of the best teams of all-time to three titles. He was Rookie of the Year, a 12-time All-Star, and a 10-time All-NBA selection over the course of his 12-year career. While a time may come that Bird and Johnson fall out of the top five, I don’t believe that time has come yet.
6. Hakeem Olajuwon
“The Dream” is widely regarded as one of the most well-rounded centers of all-time. His career averages speak for themselves, with 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game. He was a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, two-time NBA MVP, and lead the Rockets to two consecutive titles.
Olajuwon was the most dominant center at a time when the big man was the centerpiece of most franchises. Despite finishing his career in a down year with the Toronto Raptors, he is the greatest player to represent the Houston Rockets.
7. Tim Duncan
Widely regarded as one of the most fundamentally sound players of all-time, Duncan lead the Spurs franchise over period of dominance that lasted from the late 90’s through the middle of the 2010’s. By the end, he won titles in three decades.
Duncan quietly averaged at least 20/10 over nine seasons, and finished his career with 19 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game. He lead the Spurs to five titles, winning the NBA Finals MVP during three of those runs. He was a 15-time NBA All-Star and 15 time All-NBA selection.
While other players of his era (Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant) generated more excitement, that isn’t the same aspect as success. Duncan is one of the most successful players in NBA history, and could be considered the best power forward to ever step foot on an NBA court.
8. Kobe Bryant
Bryant is one of those names that moves around NBA top ten lists. He will appear top three in some, and towards the end of the top ten in others. Regardless of your placement of him, Bryant is undoubtedly one of the greatest shooting guards of all-time.
Together, he and Shaquille O’Neal lead the Lakers to three straight NBA Championships. Later in his career, he lead the Lakers to back-to-back titles and won Finals MVP in both runs. He currently sits third in all-time scoring list behind only Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
His career includes one MVP award, two scoring titles, 18 All-Star selections, and 15 All-NBA selections. He will undoubtedly be inducted to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in a class that includes Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
9. LeBron James
Regardless of where you have him in your top ten, James is going to be controversial. Some have him as the best, while others have him on the outskirts of the top ten. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding his finals appearances, three titles in this era just isn’t enough to crack the top five.
James is one of the most physically gifted players to ever play in the league, but his accomplishments don’t exceed the players I’ve placed above him. James is a three-time Champion, and earned the Finals MVP in all three of those championship runs. He is currently a 15-time All-Star and 15-time All-NBA selection.
James sits fourth on the all-time scoring list, positioned to pass Kobe Bryant for third in the near future. He is the only active player in my top ten, and certainly has room to move up in the coming years.
10. Shaquille O’Neal
This backboard-breaking player has left an indelible mark on the NBA over the course of his near 20-year career. As a four-time Champion, three-time Finals MVP, one-time NBA MVP, 15-time All-Star, and 14-time All-NBA selection, O’Neal is one of the most decorated players in NBA history.
While the first half of his career was incredibly dominant, O’Neal spent his final years jumping teams in a failed effort to add titles to his resume. This ultimately tainted his legacy in the eyes of many. While his powerful play and early dominance is hard to forget, so is the image of him limping up and down the court for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics.
Photo Credit: USA Today