Top 5 Ranked Mens Basketball Players Of All Time
Who are the best men’s basketball players of all time?
1. LeBron James
- Only NBA player with 30,000 points; 8,000 assists; and 8,000 rebounds
- 9 straight NBA Finals appearances
- Perennial All-Star and All-NBA selection (since year 2).
- Best Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) in NBA history.
- Led his team back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals in 2016.
The “Greatest Basketball Player of all time” debate has been going on since the dawn of the sport, but the clear-cut consensus is between two players: LeBron James and Michael Jordan.
While Jordan scored more points per game than James, James is more of an all-around player, besting Jordan in rebounds per game and assists per game averages. LeBron is also a more efficient scorer, with an effective field goal percentage of .541 compared to Jordan’s .509.
James has been an All-NBA selection every season since his rookie year, when he won the Rookie of the Year award coming straight out of high school. In 12 of these 15 seasons, he was on the first team.
LeBron has also faced tougher competition than Jordan since joining the league in 2003, players are bigger, faster, and stronger overall than they were in the 1980s and 90s.
James has already played in 60 more playoff games than Jordan, and his career is still going strong.
Maybe the strongest case for LeBron being the “GOAT” is his own argument. In the 2016 NBA Finals, LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers were down three games to one against the Golden State Warriors team (led by back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry) that held an unprecedented 73-9 record at the end of the regular season. James willed the Cavs to three straight wins, capturing the franchise’s first ever title. It marked the first time in NBA Finals history that a team had come back from down 3-1 to win a title.
2. Michael Jordan
- 6 NBA titles
- 5 MVPs
- 10 scoring titles
- 6 finals MVPs
- Retired, returned, and three-peated again.
When Michael Jordan retired from basketball to pursue baseball in 1993, he had already put together an impressive career: two MVP awards, seven straight scoring titles, three straight NBA titles, three straight NBA Finals MVP awards, a Defensive Player of the Year award, seven straight All-NBA first team selections, and six straight NBA All-Defensive First Team selections in nine seasons. That included a rookie season in which Jordan won the ROTY and was selected to the All-NBA Second Team, and missed 64 games from a broken foot in his second season.
After missing the 1993-94 season playing Minor League Baseball, Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls to continue his basketball dominance. He played three straight full seasons from 1995-1998, winning three NBA scoring titles, three NBA Championships, three NBA Finals MVP awards, two MVP awards, three All-NBA First Team selections, and three All-NBA Defensive First Team selections.
Jordan’s legendary NBA Finals performances solidified him as the greatest of his time. Whether it be his 69-point game in 1990, inspiring dunks from the free throw line, heroic 38-point “Flu Game” in the 1997 NBA Finals, or iconic performance to win the 1998 Finals and secure his second “three-peat;” “Air Jordan” is undeniably one of the best basketball players of all time.
Still, many point to Jordan’s teammates as being more skilled than LeBron’s. Although he was certainly the leader of these teams, Jordan was consistently helped by legends such as Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, and Dennis Rodman en route to his six titles.
3. Kobe Bryant
- 5 NBA titles
- Leading scorer in Lakers history
- First guard to enter the NBA straight from high school
- Only player with two jersey numbers retired by the Lakers
- Ended career with a memorable 60-point performance at age 34
Although LeBron James and Michael Jordan are the consensus first and second best players of all time, there is a special place for Kobe Bryant among the greats. While notorious for his lack of efficiency and high volume shooting, Kobe’s unmatched relentlessness willed his teams to five NBA Championships.
Unlike James or Jordan, Bryant did not have a huge instant impact for his team. It took him until his third season to crack the starting lineup. In his fourth season, Kobe teamed up with legendary big man Shaquille O’Neal to win three straight NBA Championships from 2000-2002. Kobe became the youngest player ever to win three titles, earning widespread respect for his clutch shot-making abilities in the process.
Still, much of the credit went to Shaq instead of Kobe. The two had a public rivalry after Shaq left the Lakers to win a fourth ring.
Bryant’s on- and off-court feuds with players and coaches were well-documented, but on the court he remained dominant. Kobe famously scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006, the second-most points ever in a single game.
Bryant returned the Lakers to NBA Championship glory in 2009 and 2010, winning Finals MVP awards in both series.
4. Wilt Chamberlain
- 7 scoring titles
- 2nd in career win shares
- Most points in a single game
- 11 rebounding titles
- Most rebounds
At seven feet tall, Wilt Chamberlain physically dominated his opponents at every level of the game, constantly being fouled to prevent otherwise easy buckets.
In his 1959 rookie season, Chamberlain posted records of 37.6 PPG and 27.0 RPG. He was the first player ever to win ROTY and league MVP in the same season.
Chamberlain also won the scoring title for the next five years, posting averages of 50.4 PPG and 25.7 RPG in 1961-62.
Wilt’s height and weight put him in a physically unmatched category at the time, and he scored in bunches when fed the ball by his teammates, who sometimes resented his lack of work ethic.
Although he only won two NBA Championships, Chamberlain was undeniably one of the greatest players of all time. In his prime, the only player who had a chance of stopping him was the legendary Bill Russell.
Chamberlain’s single-season performances of 50.4 PPG, 48.5 minutes per game, 27.2 RPG, and .727 field goal percentage are all part NBA records; as are his 45.8 MPG and 22.9 RPG career averages.
Chamberlain’s most impressive feat, though, may be his 100-point game in 1962. While he may not have as much hardware as others, it’s hard to argue that Wilt isn’t the greatest statistical player of all time.
5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- Holds the NBA record for total points scored.
- Won the MVP award six times.
- Named to an All-NBA team 15 times.
- Most win shares in NBA history.
- Won six NBA Championships.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, formerly known as Lew Alcindor, makes this list because of his incredibly successful and lengthy career. In his 20 NBA seasons, Abdul-Jabbar amassed 19 All-Star Game appearances, 15 All-NBA selections, six MVP awards, and six NBA Championships (one with the Bucks; five with the Lakers).
Abdul-Jabbar sits atop the NBA career record books for points scored, minutes played, field goals, field goal attempts, 2-point field goals, 2-point field goal attempts, offensive win shares, and total win shares. He is also third in total blocks, although the stat was not recorded until his fifth season in the league.
Kareem’s offensive success was a result of his 7-foot, 2-inch, 225-pound frame. This imposing physical presence, combined with his accurate and innovative “sky hook” shot, was absolutely unstoppable.
Abdul-Jabbar teamed up with Earvin “Magic” Johnson to win five NBA titles from 1980-88 in what became known as the “Showtime Lakers” era.