My Top 15 NBA Players of All-Time

Magic Johnson vs. Michael Jordan - NBA Mount Rushmore
One of the most popular topics on social media lately has been LeBron’s pick of his NBA Mount Rushmore. I decided to chime in and give you my top 15 players of all-time:

NBA Mount Rushmore

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Michael Jordan
6 NBA championships, 5 MVPs, 13-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA 1st team, 1-time All-NBA 2nd team, 9-time All-NBA Defensive 1st team, 1-time Defensive player of the year, 6-time Finals MVP. The accomplishments just go on and on and on.  He is simply the greatest player of all-time. I’ve never seen anyone perfect their craft the way Jordan did.  He literally could do everything on the basketball court.  He was ruthless, he was competitive, he was athletic, and he had no rival because he destroyed them all.  He is the greatest player to ever play in the NBA and to me, there’s not a single doubt about that.

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
I get annoyed when Kareem gets left out of the discussion of greatest players ever.  He’s the all-time leader in points, he played 20 seasons when it wasn’t common to really get much past 10, he won 6 championships, 6 MVPs, an 18-time All-Star. He competed against the best centers of his era including Wilt, Willis Reed, Bill Walton, Robert Parrish in the 80s, Moses Malone, and many more and dominated.  For goodness sakes, they outlawed the dunk while he was in college to level the playing field!  His sky hook was literally unstoppable.  It’s a crime that he gets forgotten.

Lebron James
4-time MVP in 14 seasons, 14-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA 1st team, 5-time All-Defensive 1st team, 3-time NBA champion, and he just came back from a 3-1 deficit against a 73 win team.  His resume is filling up nicely.   His work isn’t finished.  He could easily surpass Kareem as number two.  I wrote about it here, but I think the greatest of all-time (surpassing Michael Jordan) is out of play for him now.  He will definitely get there, barring any major injury.  He’s one of the most physically dominant stars I’ve ever seen.  He’s one of the biggest and fastest players to ever play the game.  In my opinion, his skills are not as sharp as Jordan, Magic, or Bird, but he uses his strengths as well as anyone.  He doesn’t just settle for jumpshots anymore, he punishes people at the rim. He’s taken the title of best in the world and defended it successfully for several seasons. LeBron James is a one man dynasty.  Whether he was with Miami or Cleveland, the benchmark for any competitor was “getting past LeBron.”  That’s incredible.  He is the best in the game today and has room to seal up his legacy with another championship or two.

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Magic Johnson
Magic was a true wizard on the basketball court.  Maybe pound for pound the most versatile and dominant player in the history of the game.  He made Los Angeles Lakers basketball “Show Time” with his breathtaking fast breaks and surreal passes. I used to practice his no-look passes as a kid to figure out how he got the ball from point A to point B the way he did.   A 5-time champion, 3-time MVP, 11-time All-Star, 9-time All-NBA 1st team. I never thought I’d see someone surpass Magic as 3rd, but LeBron has.  Everything that Magic was, LeBron is and is more dominant and is a far superior defender.  Magic was and is unbelievable. Just simply great.

Numbers 5-15

5. Bill Russell
I have Russell fifth.  I understand that he has 11 NBA championships to his credit, but he played in an era where A) The league had less parity (8 teams total!) B) He was a 6’8″ center and other teams had guys shorter than him matching up with him.  Is any of this fair?  He was an athlete in the era of non-athletic white guys and dominated.  Should I hold that against him? I have no idea. I have enormous respect for what Bill Russell has done for the game, but he was simply a freak in his era.  To his credit, he did dominant Wilt, which is part of the reason he made my top 5…that and his 11 championships. Ridiculous.

6. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt simply dominated.  He was huge. A stat hoarder.  Unfortunately, I penalize him for a lack of team success.  When you’re that physically dominant, you should have more than 2 championships.  For some reason, Russell always got the best of him.  Not sure why, but he did.  Still, Wilt was unbelievable.  The 100 point game, averaging 50 points and 26 rebounds for an entire season is surreal no matter the level of competition.  Much like Russell, I deduct from his legacy because of who he played against.  Not sure it’s fair, but I do.7. Tim Duncan
The best player of his generation and the greatest power forward of all-time.  I want you all to remember this: Kobe Bryant is NOT the best player of his generation.  Kobe is great.  Kobe is awesome, but he is not the best player of his generation and he’s not above Tim Duncan on any list.  Stop letting the media write the narrative.  Duncan might be the most boring player ever – Mr. Fundamentals – but his dominance is unmatched in the modern era.  The Spurs have won 70% of their games since he was drafted.  He’s a 5-time NBA champion, a 2-time MVP (1 more than Kobe, by the way), 10-time All-NBA 1st team, 3-time All-NBA 2nd team, 1-time All-NBA 3rd team, 14-time All-Star, 8-time All-Defensive 1st team, 6-time All-Defensive 2nd team.  Tim Duncan has been a dominating force for his entire career and the focal point of the San Antonio Spurs since he was drafted.8. Larry Bird
How can you not have Larry Bird here?  His talent was transcendent.  One of the most clutch players I’ve ever seen.  He had swagger like no one else in the game at the time.  3-time NBA champion, 3-time MVP, 10-time All-Star, 9-time All-NBA 1st team.  This is still my favorite Larry Bird highlight.  Any time you can make the other team’s players high-five on the bench while you are wiping the floor with them, you know you’re a legend.9. Julius Erving
I’ve never been a huge fan of Dr. J’s game, but it’s undeniable that he is one of the greatest players of all-time.  His basketball accomplishments for both the ABA and NBA speak volumes as to how great he was: 2-time ABA champion, 1-time NBA champion, 4-time MVP (both ABA and NBA combined), 16-time All-Star.  Aside from his contributions on the court, his contributions to the style of basketball and the legacy he left are just as important.  He was the guy who made dunking mainstream and made it an art form.  Today’s style of basketball might not exist if not for Dr. J.

10. Hakeem Olajuwon
I have never seen a center as naturally talented as Hakeem Olajuwon.  The Dream Shake was unbelievable for a guy his size. Robinson couldn’t handle him, Ewing couldn’t handle him, Shaq got embarrassed by him.  Hakeem was pound for pound the most talented center in the NBA during the 90s.  1-time MVP, 2-time NBA champion, 12-time All-Star, 6-time All-NBA 1st team, 5-time All-Defensive 1st team, and 2-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.  Hakeem often gets lost when talking about the greats, but he truly is one of the all-time greats.
11. Shaquille O’Neal
There have been few players in NBA history that were as dominant as Shaq.  Good Lord. He was 350 lbs and just a brute.  His jump hook over the left shoulder was unstoppable even if you could keep him from dunking on you.  He was also a remarkable passer out of the post and the reason those Lakers teams found success was that passing.  You could double team him, but Kobe, Fisher, Fox, Horry, or others would be wide open along the perimeter.  He’s a 4-time NBA champion and only a 1-time MVP, which seems like an injustice.   Nobody could stop Shaq in his prime.  There literally was no matchup for him and no way to defend him.  It was unreal watching him.
12. Oscar Robertson
I never had the privilege of watching the Big O play basketball, so I can only rely on stats and stories I’ve heard of him.  He was a walking triple-double, averaging one for an entire season!  Also, we want to talk about Thibs and his minutes management, Oscar Robertson averaged 42 minutes per game for his career and actually eclipsed 45 minutes 3 times in his career.  That’s unbelievable. He would probably be higher on this list, but only secured 1 championship (probably more due to Kareem than himself) and 1 MVP over his 14 year career, but was also a 12-time All-Star.  Just an all-around great player.
13. Kobe Bryant
As I said, Kobe Bryant wasn’t the best player of his generation.  Kobe is a great player and I have him as 13th all-time, but his accomplishments just don’t push him into the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats.  Yes, he has 5 championships, but Shaq was unstoppable for 3 of those seasons.  The 2 championships with Pau were impressive, but not impressive was how he was embarrassed by the Celtics, particularly in the closing game, and in 2010 against Boston, going 6 for 24 in Game 7. Ouch!  Then to be wiped off the court the next year by Dallas with relative ease?  Not great.  Kobe only won 1 MVP award.  Let that sink in.  If he was top 4 all-time in NBA history, shouldn’t there be more than 1 season where everyone said, “Kobe was just better than everyone. He’s the MVP.”  There hasn’t been.  As Kobe hit his peak, so did LeBron and LeBron is just better than Kobe all-around.  Listen, Kobe is great: 14-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA 1st team, 4 All-Star Game MVPs, 2 Finals MVPs.  He has a great resume, but other guys in NBA history simply have better resumes.  Not a slight on Kobe or his accomplishments, but reality.14. Isiah Thomas
Maybe it’s because of the blunders with the Continental Basketball Association, his horrific coaching stint for the Indiana Pacers, or the debacles with the New York Knicks in the front office, on the sidelines, and sexually harassing employees, but people forget that Isiah Thomas was unbelievable.  Here’s a clip of him scoring 25 points against the Lakers….in the 3rd quarter! A Finals record. Here’s another about his playoff duel with Bernard King.  He’s a 2-time NBA champion, 11-time All-Star, only 3 All-NBA 1st team selections and 2 All-NBA 2nd team, which is surreal.  He’s one of the greatest scorers I’ve ever seen and was one of the first truly dominant scoring point guards I can remember being successful.

15. Scottie Pippen
This is a complete homer pick.  Scottie Pippen is my favorite player of all-time.  In my opinion, the greatest perimeter defender the game has ever seen and that includes you, Lebron. ESPN likes to compare Lebron’s perimeter D to Pippen’s, but it’s not really close.  Lebron just doesn’t tighten the screws like Pippen did.  Pippen was just phenomenal at defense, but he was also great all-around and maybe the most rounded NBA player other than Michael Jordan. He’s a 6-time NBA champion, 7-time All-Star, 3-time All-NBA 1st team, 8-time All-NBA Defensive 1st team.  Can you believe he never won Defensive Player of the Year?  Me either.  He was a near MVP candidate in 1993-94 when he led the Bulls to the playoffs without Michael Jordan who was playing baseball and was the All-Star Game MVP that season.  Truly a team guy and accomplishments never mattered to him.  He was willing to play any role as long as the team won and that’s a rarity in the modern era to see someone so dominant be so humble on the court.

Note: I left Jerry West off of this list for two reasons: 1) I’ve never seen any full Jerry West games and 2) His resume is not impressive. Frankly, I don’t know what to make of him.)

Brandon Pence is the founder/editor emeritus of “The Bulls Charge,” a Chicago Bulls blog.  Follow us on Twitter @b2hoops