RANKED! The Top 15 Greatest NBA Players of All Time
With NBA opening day nearly upon us, everyone (and their grandma) seems to be releasing an NBA GOAT list. But while most people choose to base their rankings off crowd popularity, legacy points, or pure number-crunching, we thought we’d do things a little differently. And to help us in our quest for the perfect list, we enlisted five grams of weed, a packet of papers, and 20 hours of highlight reels. (Because all of life’s important decisions are best made while really, really high.) To that end, we bring you the definitive ranking of the NBA’s all-time greatest players.
Photo: Christian Petersen (Getty Images)
15. Sir Charles Barkley - Drafted 1984
There’s nothing more captivating than a runaway train. Especially when you give him a basketball and let him run off the rails. Barkley was strong, fearless, and fast as all get out. He could run down an opponent on a fast break and smash their dreams to pieces. And beyond his relentless rebounding prowess and all-around dominance on the court, Barkley brought more drama to the world of basketball than a daytime soap.
14. Kevin Durant - Drafted 2007
Kevin Durant is hands down the best shooter for his size (and maybe even the best shooter period). He can score from anywhere on the court at any given moment of the game and the numbers prove it. He averages 27 points per game with an otherworldly shot percentage of 61.3. His uncanny ability for sinking shots helped Durant take back-to-back rings in 2017 and 2018. With time still on his side, there's no question that his legacy will continue to grow.
13. Tim Duncan - Drafted 1997
If you want to compare basketball players to skyscrapers, Tim Duncan is your guy. Not for his height, which at 6’11” is mild for a center. It’s to do with his solid foundation. Duncan's consistency on the court made his San Antonio Spurs the winningest team of its day. It also led to five championships, 15 All-Star appearances, and three MVP titles. He may not have been the most explosive guy to watch, but you knew exactly what to expect. They didn’t call him Groundhog Day for nothing.
12. Hakeem Olajuwon - Drafted 1984
Hakeem Olajuwon's highlight reel looks like an instructional dance video. His signature "Dream Shake" made winning championships looks easy. At 7 feet tall, the graceful center moved around the key like a gazelle, scoring buckets, blocking shots, and grabbing boards, with no lion big enough or fast enough to stop him.
11. Kobe Bryant - Drafted 1996
The first player ever drafted straight out of high school, Kobe Bryant also holds the record for most shots missed (at approximately 14,460). As divisive as the champion was, Bryant was an exceptional force on the court, helming games like a conductor and forging a reputation as the man you’d want to give the ball to when you’re down by one with three seconds left to play. And though some complain he was a Jordan impersonator and ball hog (he once scored 81 points in a single game), hats must come off to one of the top performers to ever grace the lacquered court.
10. Oscar Robertson - Drafted 1960
The triple-double man is not a household name, but the 6’5” point guard was one of the best to ever play the game. If not for the insane misfortune of having to reckon with Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, Robertson would have been a champion and league MVP many times over. The man averaged a triple-double his first five seasons, and was such a valuable asset, that after his retirement in 1974, his Bucks fell from second to last place, despite Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remaining as center.
9. Shaquille O'Neal - Drafted 1992
Shaq was a brute. A brute with twinkle toes who could pivot on a dime or steamroll you into oblivion. He dominated the league the same way that whales dominate the ocean. Gone were the days of “Showtime” Lakers finesse, but as a sheer force of nature (with highly attuned bucket skills), Shaq led the boys in yellow to new dynastic heights.
8. LeBron James - Drafted 2003
James has lived up to the hype. Though his playing style leaves a little to be desired, James is an all-around player who can shoot from the outside, penetrate the D, post-up, defend, and lead a squad to victory. He’s earned three championships (and counting) on two different franchises, edged his way into the coveted five-top-scorers-of-all-time club, and proven he has the talent and mental fortitude to win big games. But to all the people who think he’s the GOAT, just ask yourself: why does he wear #23?
7. Stephen Curry - Drafted 2009
It’s hard to put someone on the list who’s only midway through their career, but the accomplishments of Steph Curry deserve some serious props. Though the Warriors technically won the first ever NBA Championship way back in 1947, the team had basically been plagued by bad luck for the past 60 years. All that changed when Curry’s hot hand rearranged the landscape of basketball, introducing a 3-point shot not just from downtown, but from the next town over. This spread-the-defense superpower helped Curry snag three championship rings, and made the impossible shot a must-have weapon in every team’s arsenal.
6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - Drafted 1969
Kareem famously befriended and trained under the tutelage of Bruce Lee, which he attributes to his 20-year career kicking ass in the NBA. Consistency in greatness is what makes Abdul-Jabbar an essential member of the NBA elite, holding records for most points scored and most games won. Plus, he boasts a third place spot in all-time rebounds and blocks. At 7’2” he is probably the only player who coud dunk with his foot using a Jeet Kune do high-kick.
5. Larry Bird - Drafted 1978
The sharpshooter from Indiana had a composed, mature style that made him impossible to beat psychologically. This discipline and even-keeled drive translated to some of the most flawless gameplay ever seen. Not quick on his feet, Bird developed an on-court vision that enabled him to average 10 rebounds per game, with 6.3 assists. Bird was also the first player to break the 50 percent field goal mark, leading his Boston Celtics to three NBA championships.
4. Magic Johnson - Drafted 1979
Magic was a revelation on the court and his rivalry with Larry Bird saved the NBA from financial ruin. Johnson’s fun and flashy street style, dubbed “Showtime,” ushered in a new era of play with no-look passes, half court alley oops, and behind the back razzle dazzle, all at breakneck speed. Johnson's ability to run the court like a wizard, creating game-winning scenarios through pacing and passing (of which he is the all-time great at 11.2 assists per game), drew a whole new generation of fans to the sport.
3. Wilt Chamberlain - Drafted 1959
When Wilt Chamberlain was on the court, the ball belonged to him. At a staggering 7’1”, Wilt the Stilt wasted no time dominating the league, earning MVP his rookie year. The very next season he averaged a ridiculous 50.4 points and 26.7 rebounds that saw his Philadelphia Warrior’s topple the mighty Boston Celtics in a buzzer-winning Game 7 Final. The only player ever to reach 100 points in a game, Chamberlain was a devastating scorer and hands down the best center to ever play the game.
2. Bill Russell - Drafted 1956
In the early days of the NBA, there was one player who towered above the rest. At a time when scoring was the only thing people cared about, Bill Russell’s peerless defensive talents completely changed the way the game was played. The big man once held "100-point" Wilt Chamberlain to just two shots during the entire second half of a Finals game. Despite the fact that his offensive stats don’t hold a candle to the other players on this list, Russell holds, what for all intents and purposes, is a record that will never be broken: 11 NBA Championship Titles. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
1. Michael Jordan - Drafted 1984
1984 was a good year for basketball. More legends have come out of that first round draft than any other, and no legend looms larger than Michael Jordan. Even though he retired at the peak of his career to play baseball (cringe), he still managed to place fifth in all-time regular season points scored with 32,292 (with just 15 seasons). And if you don’t count the aforementioned MLB hiccup, Jordan won six championships in a row, proving the man was simply unstoppable. His cultural contribution to the world of sports and the elevation of the NBA itself cannot be measured. But forget the numbers and the cultural significance. Jordan was hands down the most exciting player to watch, with an exhilarating style and presence that gripped the entire planet. As Magic Johnson once said, “There’s Michael Jordan and then there is the rest of us.”