The Best NBA Players of All Time
Over the course of its 73-year existence, the league has seen some of the greatest athletes ever to grace the hardwood. Here are 30 of them.
| Read: 12 min
The NBA is one of the longest-standing and most successful professional sports leagues in history. So it goes without saying that they've had some talent over the years. Many athletes deserve to be on this list. It was hard to cut it down to just 30. We did our best. And so we present here our list of the 30 best NBA players of all time.
Can we say that these players are ranked in order? Yes and no? A Semi-Ranking if you will.
Perhaps the greatest player of all time. Michael Jordan is the standard by which all other players are measured. Jordan went by several nicknames, including "MJ," "His Airness," and "The Goat."
MJ was an incredible competitor and a fantastic scorer. He was also a great defender and an excellent leader. He utilized any motivational technique possible to get his teammates to give their hearts and soul to the team.
He played for the Chicago Bulls from 1984 to 1998 and then for the Washington Wizards from 2001 to 2003. His position was shooting guard.
In terms of NBA titles, he was an NBA champion and NBA Finals MVP six times, a five-time regular season MVP, a 14-time All-Star, and was selected 10 times for the All-NBA first-team. He has also been selected to the NBA All-Star game three times. He is 5th on the NBA's all-time leading scorer list, with 32,292 points.
In addition to his accomplishments on the court, Jordan is also the principal owner and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inducted Michael Jordan in 2009.
Lebron James is considered one of the best players in the NBA today. He played for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2003-2010, the Miami Heat from 2010-2014, the Cleveland Cavaliers again from 2014 to 2018, and he started playing for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018. His position is small forward.
To date, he has won four NBA MVP awards, four NBA championships, and four NBA Finals MVP awards. The people selected him for eighteen All-Star teams and eighteen All-NBA teams. He is 2nd on the NBA's all-time scoring list, with 37,062 points.
In addition to his on-court accomplishments, James has also been active off the court. He founded the LeBron James Family Foundation and has produced various films and television shows.
Kobe Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers his entire 20-year career, from 1996 to 2016. His position was shooting guard. Kobe Bryant took over the league after MJ retired, and a generation of NBA fans idolized him.
He was a five-time NBA champion, a two-time Finals MVP, a one-time regular season MVP, an eighteen-time All-Star, and an eleven-time All-NBA first-team selection. He is 4th on the NBA's all-time leading scorer list, with 33,643 points.
Kobe was also a twelve-time NBA All-Defense selection and a two-time scoring champion. Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inducted Kobe Bryant in 2009.
Off the court, Bryant won an Oscar in 2018 for his animated short film Dear Basketball.
After he died in 2020, the Lakers retired both of his jersey numbers (8 and 24). His death shocked the basketball world, and many mourned him publicly. He died in a helicopter crash that also claimed his daughter's life.
Tim Duncan played for the San Antonio Spurs during his 19-year career, from 1997 to 2016. His position was power forward. Known by his nickname, "The Big Fundamental," Time Duncan was the leader of a Spurs dynasty that won multiple NBA championships.
He was unflappable on the court, nothing the other team did seem to bother him, and he always came up with plays in the clutch.
He is a five-time NBA champion, a three-time Finals MVP, a two-time regular season MVP, a fifteen-time All-Star, and a fifteen-time All-NBA selection. He is also a fifteen-time All-NBA Defense selection and won Rookie of the Year in 1998.
In addition to his on-court accomplishments, Duncan is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Spurs' all-time leading scorer. The Spurs retired his jersey (No. 21) after he retired. Many consider him the greatest basketball player from the Virgin Islands.
Bill Russell played center for the Boston Celtics from 1956 to 1969.
Many consider Bill Russel the godfather of the NBA. He won more championships than any other player and left a lasting legacy as a player and an advocate.
Bill Russel accomplished many firsts, including being the first black coach in the NBA and the first black coach to win a championship.
He was an eleven-time NBA champion, a twelve-time All-Star, and an eleven-time All-NBA first-team selection. He was also the NBA MVP five times, the Finals MVP twice, and won two NCAA championships.
He is currently 2nd on the NBA's all-time rebounding list, with 21,620 rebounds. The Celtics retired his jersey (No. 6) in 1972, and the Basketball Hall of Fame inducted Russel in 1974.
Known as "the Big O," Oscar Robertson played for the Cincinnati Royals from 1960 to 1970 and the Milwaukee Bucks from 1970 to 1974. His position was point guard. He is considered one of the greatest players of all time and one of the pioneers of the modern game.
Robertson is one of two players to ever average a triple-double for an entire NBA season. He was one of the first players to bring style and flair to the game that was not standard.
He was a twelve-time All-Star, an eleven-time All-NBA selection, and a one-time MVP. He is also a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. He also won an NBA championship.
Robertson has the distinction of having his number by three different teams, the Bucks (No. 1), the Kings (No. 14), and his college team, the Cincinnati Bearcats (No. 12). The Basketball Hall of Fame inducted Robertson in 1974.
The Hick from French Lick, or Larry Legend, as we prefer, played for the Boston Celtics his entire career, from 1979 to 1992. His position was small forward. He is considered one of the greatest shooters of all time and one of the game's most clutch performers.
His intense rivalry with Magic Johnson and the Lakers define an entire decade of the NBA. His competitive spirit is unrivaled. Bird was known to tell defenders what move he would make before the play began.
Bird was a three-time MVP, a twelve-time All-Star, and an eight-time All-NBA selection. He also won three NBA championships and an Olympic gold medal.
The Celtics retired his number (33) in 1993. Bird entered rarified air when he joined the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.
Known as Pistol Pete, Maravich was one of his most creative offensive players. His distinctively flamboyant style included no-look passes, ridiculous bounce passes, and deep range on his jump shot.
He played for the Atlanta Hawks from 1970 to 1974, the New Orleans Jazz from 1974 to 1979, and the Utah Jazz in 1980. His position was point guard.
He was a five-time All-Star and a three-time All-NBA selection. He is also the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I basketball history with 3,667 points.
The Jazz retired his number (No. 7) in 1984. Maravich received the ultimate NBA compliment when he joined the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987. Many consider him the most outstanding player never to win an NBA championship.
Unfortunately, Maravich's life was cut short. He died at the age of 40 during a pickup basketball game due to an undiscovered heart condition. After his death, the NBA screens all its players for heart conditions to avoid this tragedy.
Irving "Magic" Johnson
Earvin "Magic" Johnson is among the most popular players in the history of the NBA. He was the yin to Larry Birds' yang. While Larry Bird was fundamentally sound and defeated you with his competitive spirit, Magic Johnson wowed you and left you in the dust with his incredible skill and style.
The point guard for the Showtime Lakers, Magic Johnson, was an incredible passer with great vision. He was also an excellent rebounder for his position. He played for the Lakers his entire career, from 1979 to 1991 and again in 1996.
He was a twelve-time All-Star, a ten-time All-NBA selection, and a three-time MVP. He also won five NBA championships and an Olympic gold medal and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points. However, he is better known for his iconic shot, the sky-hook. Due to his skill and size, many consider him one of the greatest basketball players.
He played for the Milwaukee Bucks from 1969 to 1975 and the Los Angeles Lakers from 1975 to 1989. His position was center. He also won the NBA championship six times, he was a two-time NBA Finals MVP, a six-time NBA MVP, and a nineteen-time NBA All-Star.
The Lakers and Bucks retired his number (33), and the people elected him into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.
Shaquille O'Neal is larger than life. Not only is he one of the most prominent people to ever play in the NBA, but he also has some of the best nicknames. He is known as "Shaq," "The Diesel," and "The Big Aristotle." He was an unstoppable force on the court and an incredible personality off of it.
O'Neal played for the Orlando Magic from 1992-1996, the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996-2004, the Miami Heat from 2004-2008, the Phoenix Suns from 2008-2009, the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2009-2010, and the Boston Celtics in 2010.
Wilt Chamberlain is considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time. He has too many NBA records to count, including the regular season scoring and rebounding records.
Chamberlain also is the only player to score more than 100 points in a game and average more than 50 points for a season. He also averaged 30 points and 20 rebounds for his entire career, a feat that no one has come close to since.
Hakeen "the Dream" Olajuwon played center from 1984 to 2002. Houston drafted him two spots ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft. He became known for his signature move, the dream shake. The dream shake left many players going the wrong way as Olajuwon dunked the ball home.
He played for the Houston Rockets from 1984-2001 and the Toronto Raptors from 2001-2002. He was a twelve-time All-Star, a two-time NBA MVP, a two-time NBA champion, and a nine-time All-NBA selection.
The panel inducted Olajuawon into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Also known as Mr. Clutch and the Logo, Jerry West was one of the best players of his era. He was an incredible scorer, averaging more than 27 points per game for his career. He also was a great passer and an excellent defender.
He will go down in history as the logo of the NBA and one of the most successful NBA executives of all time.
West played shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1960 to 1974. He was a fourteen-time All-Star, a twelve-time All-NBA selection, and an NBA champion in 1972.
Known by the epic nickname "Vinsanity," Vince Carter was among the best dunkers in the history of the NBA. He was an eight-time All-Star and a two-time Olympian. He also went by the nicknames "Air Canada" and "Half Man, Half Amazing."
He wowed NBA fans for over two decades with his leaping and playmaking ability. He won the NBA dunk contest using an iconic honey dip dunk and leaped over a 7'2" french dude for a poster dunk in the Olympics.
Also known as the "Round Mound of Rebound," Charles Barkley was one of the most entertaining players in NBA history. He also went by the nicknames "Sir Charles" and "Chuck."
He was an incredible rebounder and an outstanding scorer. Barkley was also known for his outspoken personality. Coming in at only 6'6", Barkley was shorter than many others who played power forward. That did not stop him from using his strength and aggression to become a dominant player.
He won an Olympic gold medal in 1992 and became basketball greatness when the committee inducted him into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Stephen Curry is one of the most popular players in the NBA today. He is also the most excellent shooter of all time.
Curry completely redefined the game. His incredible range and accuracy made the three-point shot more appealing than ever. The NBA game is now more fast-paced, and teams take more three-point shots than ever. Few players have impacted the NBA as much as Curry has.
Curry has won two NBA Finals MVPs and is the first player in NBA history to be unanimously voted MVP. He was an All-Star six times and is a three-time NBA champion. He currently plays for the Golden State Warriors.
Allen Iverson was the "Answer" and is probably the pound-for-pound greatest NBA player of all time. He was incredibly quick, with a lightning-fast first step that allowed him to get by any defender. Despite his small stature, he also had a fantastic ability to finish at the basket.
Iverson played for the Philadelphia 76ers from 1996 to 2006, the Denver Nuggets from 2006-2008, the Detroit Pistons from 2008-2009, and the Memphis Grizzlies and the 76ers from 2009-2010. His position was point guard.
He was an eleven-time All-Star, a seven-time All-NBA selection, and the 2001 NBA MVP. He is one of the best players never to win an NBA championship.
Kevin Durant is one of the best players of the modern era. He goes by his initials KD and the "Duratula" because of his long arms.
Despite his recent fame, KD has a skill set that no one had seen before. He can score from anywhere on the court and is one of the best shooters in NBA history.
He is a nine-time All-Star and a two-time NBA champion. He was the NBA Finals MVP in both of his championship seasons. Durant has also won three Olympic gold medals.
He played for the Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder from 2007-2016, the Golden State Warriors from 2016-2019, and the Brooklyn Nets from 2019 to the present.
Although small in stature, John Stockton is one of the greatest point guards of all time. He was the all-time leader in assists and steals when he retired.
He played for the Utah Jazz from 1984-2003. He was a ten-time All-Star and a two-time NBA assists leader.
He made it to the NBA finals on two separate occasions but lost to MJ's Bulls on both occasions.
Dirk Nowitzki was a trailblazer. Many consider him one of the most extraordinary power forwards of all time, and he paved the way for European players to become stars in the NBA. His step-back jump shot was not only iconic but also unguardable.
He was a fourteen-time All-Star and an NBA champion in 2011. He was also the NBA Finals MVP that year. Nowitzki was the first European player inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Elgin Baylor was one of the best players of his era. He was an incredible scorer and a gifted athlete. He was also one of the first players to utilize the jump shot. Before Baylor, players used set shots. When you took a set shot, you didn't jump and used both hands to shoot the ball.
Baylor was an eleven-time All-Star and a one-time NBA champion. He was also the NBA Finals MVP in 1971.
Without Julius Erving, no list of the best NBA players of all time would be complete. Erving went by his nickname, "Dr. J." He was one of the first players to utilize his athleticism truly. He was an excellent dunker and played above the rim.
He was the face of the NBA for a large part of the 1970s and wowed many fans with his incredible dunking abilities and iconic dunks. He is perhaps best known for dunking from the free-throw line in the NBA dunk contest.
Erving was an eleven-time All-Star and a three-time ABA champion. He was also the ABA MVP in 1974 and 1976.
Patrick Ewing was one of the most dominant big men in NBA history. He was an eleven-time All-Star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. He played center and is considered one of the best players in New York Knicks history.
He was drafted first overall in the 1985 NBA draft and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. He joined rarified air when the committee inducted him into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
He was the core of some of the best New York Knicks teams of all time. His teams repeatedly challenged MJ during the 90s but never could quite get past his Airness.
Also known as KG and the "Big Ticket," Kevin Garnett was one of the best big men of the early 2000s. He was known for his passion and his intensity. He was an excellent scorer and rebounder.
Garnett was a fifteen-time All-Star and an NBA champion in 2008. He was also the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. He played for the Minnesota Timberwolves from 1995-2007, the Boston Celtics from 2007-2013, and the Brooklyn Nets from 2013-2015.
Bob Cousy played point guard for the Celtics from 1950 until 1963. He was part of an early Celtics dynasty that won six NBA championships. Cousy went by the nickname "The Houdini of the Hardwood" because of his passing and defensive ability.
His dribbling and passing ability lit the NBA on fire. Many credit Cousy for popularizing the cross-over dribble and the no-look pass. His ball-handling abilities were something that many people had never seen before, and Cousy used them to become of the dominant players of his era.
He was a thirteen-time All-Star and an NBA champion in 1957. He was also the NBA MVP in 1957. Cousy's peers elected him to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1971.
Many regard Chris Paul as the best point guard in the modern NBA. He goes by the nickname of "CP3" and "The Point God." He is known for his incredible playmaking ability. He is an excellent scorer and passer.
He has played on the iconic "Lob City" Los Angeles Clippers teams in the late 2010s. Pauls's ability to throw incredible passes and not turn the ball over helped make him a dominant player in the league for over a decade.
Paul was a twelve-time All-Star, nine-time All-NBA Defensive Team, and two Olympic gold medals.
Rick Barry is one of the best small forwards of all time. He was known for his incredibly accurate jump shot and free throw shooting. He was an excellent scorer.
Barry was an eight-time All-Star and an NBA champion in 1975. He was also the NBA Finals MVP in 1975. He played for the San Francisco Warriors from 1965-1967, the Houston Rockets from 1967-1972, and the Golden State Warriors from 1972-1978.
He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987.
Isiah Thomas is one of the most prolific point guards of all time. He was the point guard of the "Bad Boys" teams that won back-to-back NBA championships from 1988-1990. He was known for his incredible competitiveness. He was an excellent scorer and passer.
One of his most iconic moments was scoring 16 points in 94 seconds in the 1984 NBA Playoffs.
Thomas was a twelve-time All-Star and an NBA champion in 1990. He was also the NBA Finals MVP in 1990. He played for the Detroit Pistons from 1981-1994. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial.
Dominique Wilkins is one of the best small forwards of all time. He was known for his incredible athleticism and dunks. He was an excellent dunker and scorer. He went by the nickname "The Human Highlight Film" due to his outstanding athleticism and ability to jump higher than everyone else.
Wilkins helped turn the Atlanta Hawks franchise around. Before his arrival, the team was among the worst in the league. After he arrived, the team won 50 games four years in a row.
Wilkins was a nine-time All-Star and won the Slam Dunk Contest in 1985 and 1990. He played for the Atlanta Hawks from 1982-1994.
In conclusion, these are the best NBA players of all time. These men achieved greatness on the court while cementing their legacies as the best to play the game.
If you like to watch the next generation of great NBA players, you can do it on ESPN every week.