The 10 Best Players in NBA History

Zach MentzContributor IIIMay 21, 2011

The 10 Best Players in NBA History

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    Who are the ten greatest players in NBA history?
    Who are the ten greatest players in NBA history?Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Who are the 10 greatest players in NBA history?

    It's a debate that will live on forever. It's also one of the most interesting and entertaining sports topics to debate.

    Everyone has their own list, their own opinions and their own reasons as to who they believe are among the 10 greatest basketball players of all time.

    In the following slides, I will count down from 10 to one and list who I believe the 10 best players in NBA history are, including both past and active players.

Honorable Mention: Tim Duncan

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    OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 24:  Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs stands for the National Anthem before their game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on January 24, 2011 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges an
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Coming out of Wake Forest in 1997, few expected Duncan to turn into the great player that he has been over the last 14 years.

    Over the course of his career, Duncan has been known for his fundamentals, rebounding efficiency and his defensive presence in the low post. It also doesn't hurt that Duncan could contribute 20-plus points on any given night.

    Duncan's career statistics are impressive to say the least. He's averaged 20.6 points per game, 11.4 rebounds per game and 2.6 blocks per game, as well while having a career field goal percentage over 50 percent.

    Did I mention Duncan is a 13-time All-Star, has won two regular season MVP awards and he was credited with three finals MVP awards out of the four NBA Finals championships he won?

    Lastly, don't forget that Duncan isn't retired yet. He might only have another year or two left in him, but even at this late stage in his career, he is still a consistent contributor and leader.

Honorable Mention: Jerry West

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 03:  Former Lakers player and Genral Manager Jerry west looks on as the Boston Celtics play the Los Angeles Lakers in Game One of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 3, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User
    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    The man who is the silhouette of the NBA logo himself, Jerry West was known as Mr. Clutch throughout his career.

    Highly regarded as one of the greatest Lakers ever, West also worked in the Los Angeles Lakers front office from 1982-2000 before recently taking up an advisory position with the Golden State Warriors.

    West was drafted second overall in the 1960 NBA draft by Los Angeles, and he proved to be more than worth the pick.

    Over the duration of his 14-year career, West was about as efficient as they make them.

    He averaged 27 points per game, just under six rebounds and just under seven assists per game, while shooting over 47 percent for his career. West also shot over 81 percent from the free-throw line.

    The greatest accomplishment of West's career though came when he led the Lakers to the 1972 NBA Finals, where he was also awarded the Finals MVP.

10. Oscar Robertson

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    FORT MITCHELL, KY - JUNE 17:  Carson Palmer,  quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, and basketball legend Oscar Robertson look on prior to the NASCAR Busch Series Meijer 300 on June 17, 2006 at the Kentucky Speedway in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky.  (Photo by
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Big O could do it all.

    Robertson could pass, he could rebound, he could score, he could make his free throws, etc.

    He was also selected to the All-Star team 12 times, winning the All-Star game MVP award three of those times.

    Oscar also won one regular season MVP award and even won an NBA title in 1971 with the Milwaukee Bucks, the year before West won his own NBA title.

    The Big O also nearly averaged a triple-double over the course of his career, something that very few players can even imagine coming close to. He averaged a line of 25.7 points per game, 7.5  rebounds per game and 9.5 assists per game.

9. Wilt Chamberlain

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    INGLEWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 16:  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain sit on the court during Earvin 'Magic' Johnson's retirement ceremony from the Los Angeles Lakers on February 16, 1992 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood,
    Ken Levine/Getty Images

    When you think of Wilt Chamberlain, you more than likely think of his most impressive feat: scoring a record 100 points in a single game. That same season, Wilt finished the year averaging over 50 points per game. 50. Points. Per. Game. Think about that for a second and let it just blow your mind.

    Without question, Wilt was something that the NBA had never previously seen. He played in an era where literally no player could match him, and he flourished because of it.

    I'm not usually one to take away from a player's accomplishments, due to the competition he played against, but it's only fair. Wilt played in a weaker era, which is why I have him lower on this list than most might.

    Regardless of that, Wilt still averaged over 30 points per game over the course of his career, and that stat is partially lowered due to him averaging under 15 points per game in his final two seasons. Wilt also averaged over 22 rebounds per game over the course of his career, which is another mind-blowing stat.

    To top it all off, Wilt also won two NBA titles during his career, one with the 76ers in 1967 and another with the Lakers and Jerry West in 1972.

8. Shaquille O'Neal

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    The Big Diesel is the most dominant force the game of basketball has ever seen, plain and simple.

    During his three-peat years with the Lakers, Shaq was an absolute beast and won three straight Finals MVP awards during that run.

    Even today at the age of 39, Shaq can still provide value minutes off of the bench, which only speaks to his longevity despite constant injuries and age catching up with him.

    People often compare Shaq to Wilt Chamberlain, and I'll tell you this: Shaq is the better and more dominant player.

    Shaq was a presence in the paint that we rarely see as fans; this is the reason he was dubbed as Superman.

    Despite having not averaged anything over 17 points per game for the last seven seasons, Shaq still has a career average of 23.7 points per game to go along with his 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.

    Shaq will finish his career with only one regular season MVP award, but considering he won four NBA titles, he's more than an accomplished player.

7. Kobe Bryant

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    The list of accolades for Kobe Bryant is just about as long as anyone else in NBA history. When you think about it, after all, what hasn't Kobe done?

    He's scored 81 points in a game, the second most of all time. He's won two scoring titles, been to 13 All-Star games (where he's won 4 MVP awards, tied for the most ever) and he's currently sixth on the all-time scoring list.

    Kobe hasn't just been an offensive player, though, as he's also been named to the NBA's First Team All-Defense team nine times.

    Despite wining only one regular season MVP award, Bryant has won five NBA titles and has been the Finals MVP for two of those title runs. Bryant is also one of the most clutch players in NBA history, and we may never see a player who reminds us of Michael Jordan as much as KB24 does.

    I have Bryant higher on this list than most because at the end of the day, why do you play the game? To win. Winning is something that Bryant has done time and time again throughout his career while being the best player of his generation.

    However, if Kobe wins another NBA title (or two), then he will definitely move up higher on this list and could even finish as the second best (or the best, depending on opinion) basketball player of all time.

6. Bill Russell

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 19:  NBA legend Bill Russell looks on as he attends NBA All-Star Saturday night presented by State Farm at Staples Center on February 19, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tha
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Bill Russell: One of the greatest defensive presences and players in the history of basketball.

    Russell is most famously known for winning the most NBA titles of any player with an astonishing 11 NBA titles—the same as Jordan and Kobe combined.

    If you're only a semi-basketball fan, you might look at Russell's 11 championship rings and think, "Why isn't he higher on this list?"

    Well, while Bill was a great winner and had great teams around him, he never averaged 20 or more points in a single season, only shot 44 percent from the floor throughout his career and shot an ugly 56 percent from the free-throw line.

    He played in an era where they had not yet begun to keep track of statistics like blocks or steals, but regardless of those missing stats, Russell was a monster defensively.

    He averaged 15.1 points per game over the duration of his career to go along with 22.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.

    Russell was also a 12-time All-Star and won five regular season MVP awards, so when you take into consideration his 11 NBA titles, it's a no-brainer that he's high on this list.

5. Hakeem Olajuwon

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    17 Mar 1999:  Hakeem Olajuwon #34 of the Houston Rockets looking on during the game against the Denver Nuggets at the McNichols Arena in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-103.   Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr  /Allsport
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon was, without a doubt, one of the greatest players in NBA history.

    He only finished his career with two NBA titles, but had he not played in the same era as Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, it's likely he would have added a few more.

    Like others on this list, Hakeem is arguably the greatest defensive player in NBA history. People these days often compare Dwight Howard to Hakeem defensively, but with all due respect to Dwight, Hakeem was the far better player defensively and overall.

    Olajuwon averaged 11.1 rebounds per game and 3.1 blocks per game over the course of his career, as well as 1.7 steals per game, which is an astonishing stat for a seven-footer.

    Olajuwon also got the job done offensively, averaging 21.8 points per game over his career, while shooting over 51 percent from the floor and over 71 percent from the charity stripe.

    Olajuwon was the finals MVP in the Houston Rockets back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995 and was the regular season MVP in the 1993-94 season, too, proving Olajuwon was a complete package and one of the best players basketball has ever seen.

4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  Former NBA player Kareem Abdul Jabbar arrives to the T-Mobile Magenta Carpet at the 2011 NBA All-Star Game on February 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
    Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

    As the all-time leading scorer in NBA history, Kareem was also one of the most efficient scorers in NBA history.

    Kareem played in the NBA for 20 seasons and was selected to the All-Star team every year except for one, tallying for 19 total All-Star appearances.

    Kareem had a career average of just under 25 points per game on just under a 56 percent field goal percentage. He was also a solid free-throw shooter, shooting over 72 percent from the line, and he raked in 11.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game to boot.

    As is the case with most players, Kareem's greatest accomplishments were winning six total NBA titles (one with the Milwaukee Bucks and five with the Lakers). Kareem won the finals MVP in two of those title runs and won six regular season MVPs as well.

    As noted in the recent news, after looking at these accolades, isn't Kareem justified when he argues that he should have a statue outside of the Staples Center in Los Angeles?

3. Larry Bird

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    I don't know if there has ever been a better nickname for a player in NBA history than Bird's nickname: "The Hick from French Lick."

    Larry Bird had a hell of a lot of talent as a player and was also one of the hardest working, toughest, most determined players in NBA history.

    Throughout his career, Bird was a great overall shooter (49.6 percent from the floor), a great three-point shooter (37.6 percent), a great free-throw shooter (88.6 percent), a great rebounder (10 rebounds per game) and a great passer (6.3 assists per game).

    The three-time regular season MVP also knew how to win when it counted the most, winning three NBA titles and being named the finals MVP in two of those runs.

    Larry Bird and his Celtics going against Magic Johnson and the Lakers in the 1980s was one of the greatest individual rivalries of all time, and both players helped lift the game to a new level.

    Rather than just a picture, the video above exemplifies just how tough Larry Legend was.

2. Magic Johnson

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    Magic Johnson, also known as "The Other MJ," was perhaps the greatest passer in NBA history.

    As a point guard who was capable of playing all five positions on the court, Magic was also a capable scorer who averaged just under 20 points per game for his career.

    Magic's most impressive statistic is the fact that he AVERAGED 11.2 assists per game throughout his career to go along with 7.2 rebounds per game.

    Magic won five NBA titles as a Laker and won the finals MVP award three times.

    The NBA may never again see a 6'8" point-forward who could not only play all five positions on the court, but could also score, rebound and pass at a higher level than most ever will.

1. Michael Jordan

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    Do I even need to go into much detail here? It's Michael Jordan. Enough said.

    I'm just going to list some of the most impressive accomplishments from MJ's career:

    -Averaged 37.1 points per game in his third NBA season

    -Won 10 scoring titles

    -Won five regular season MVPs

    -Won six NBA titles and won the Finals MVP award in every title run

    -14-time All-Star

    -2-time All-Star Game MVP

    And that's not even the half of it.

    Jordan revolutionized the game of basketball and completely lifted it to a new level. To many, Michael Jordan is synonymous with the word basketball and his Jordan shoes and apparel line are among the most popular brands of all time.

    It may sound short-minded to those who don't truly understand MJ's greatness, but we may NEVER see a better player than Michael Jordan. He was the real deal, the complete package. He had both the physical tools and the right mentality to make him the greatest player in NBA history.