Best NBA Centers Of All Time: Top 5 Legendary Athletes, According Sports Experts

It’s been said that the National Basketball Association (NBA) is a big man’s league. For decades, NBA teams needed a great center to be able to compete for an NBA Championship. It wasn’t until the early ’90s that Michael Jordan emerged as a dominant guard who could take over a game. Before then, it was nearly unheard of for an NBA team to compete without a dominant center. To pay homage to a somewhat underrated position, we’re breaking down the best NBA centers of all time. 

But, before we dive into the list, it’s important to understand the way the game of basketball and the NBA has evolved. Undoubtedly, social media plays a big role in the daily lives of players. And according to a recent study, NBA players need to stay away from social media, especially late at night. Researchers at Stony Brook University examined 112 NBA players’ Twitter accounts from 2009 through 2016 and then analyzed their game-by-game statistics using Yahoo Sports. 

After examining the 30,000 tweets among the players, the researchers determined that when players tweeted late at night, their shooting accuracy dropped by about 1.7 percent in games the next day and they averaged about one point less. These players also took fewer shots and recorded fewer rebounds, steals, and blocks in those games. Keeping your favorite NBA players off of social media is easier said than done. 

However, the journey from youth basketball to the NBA is a long and tumultuous one full of ups and downs, no pun intended. Whether your kids will go from dominating the youth basketball scene to an NBA championship remains to be seen, but a recent study finds that kids who play basketball might just be building stronger bones. The team found that kids who play a multidirectional sport such as basketball have 10 to 20 percent stronger bones than kids who only focus on running. That certainly makes the case for keeping your kids in a range of sports, especially basketball. Who knows, you might have the next great NBA center on your hands. 

So, which players are considered to be among the greats in basketball history? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and basketball websites to bring you a consensus on the best NBA centers in history. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed centers from across these sites. Think we missed one? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below! 

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The List: Best NBA Centers of All Time, Per Basketball Fans

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabar 

Easily topping the list of the best NBA centers of all time is the one and only Kareem Abdul-Jabar. Once known as Lew Alcindor, Kareem played college basketball for the legendary John Wooden at UCLA. From there Kareem was drafted to the Milwaukee Bucks where he’d later go on to win his first NBA championship and his first Finals MVP award. 

“The GOAT debate is considered a two-horse race at this point in the NBA, but if there is a strong third candidate, it’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who dominated for almost two decades thanks to his skyhook shot and overall greatness as a scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker. If anything, the longevity argument is still with Abdul-Jabbar, as the all-time big man won his two Finals MVP awards 14 years apart, first in 1971 and then again in 1985. Most players’ careers don’t last anywhere near that long, yet Abdul-Jabbar was dominating at the highest level for that long,” explains Hoops Hype

Of course, many NBA fans remember Kareem with the Los Angeles Lakers where he teamed with Magic Johnson as part of the ‘Showtime’ Lakers, winning five NBA titles in the process. In all, Kareem brought home six NBA titles and there’s no doubt that he’s the greatest NBA center of all time. But, that’s not all. Kareem is also widely regarded as the best NCAA college basketball player of all time, and he still has a case for being the best basketball player ever

“Kareem was also one of the game’s biggest winners, as he led his teams to six championships, five of the them with the Showtime Lakers in the 1980s. He also led his team to the Finals a total of ten times, winning the Finals MVP twice, in the 1971 and 1985 Finals. Kareem also won the 1970 Rookie of the Year Award, and a record six MVP Awards in his career. On a side note, Kareem was also the greatest college basketball player of all time, as he led the Bruins to three consecutive NCAA championships, a total record of 88-2 and was the winner of two NCAA College Player of the Year Awards,” writes Bleacher Report

When you begin tallying up Kareem’s career statistics and accolades, it’s clear that he’s one of the most decorated NBA players in history. To be fair, LeBron James did overtake Kareem as the NBA’s all-time points leader in early 2023. Still, Kareem sits in second place among the league’s all-time leading scorers, and he won’t be overtaken for some time. 

“Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor jr. has the best resume in NBA history. If not for the media lying about him in college and therefore damaging the relationship with the eventual Kareem Abdul-Jabbar he probably has 8-10 MVPs…. The all-time leader in points used his incredible soft touch to master the Hook shot to deadly effect. His amazing ability to score should have made him the most beloved athlete of all time,” furthers Hoop Social

2. Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain is undoubtedly one of the best NBA players of all time, and as some experts say, he makes a strong case for the best NBA big man in history. “Wilt Chamberlain is the best Center in NBA history, hands down. We are talking about the all-time leader in rebounds (23,924) and second in points per game (30.1). He was a seven-time consecutive scoring champion, something that surely no player will ever surpass. ‘Wilt the Stilt’ averaged 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game and, like Russell, is believed to have five blocks per game. There are no words to describe the greatness of Wilt Chamberlain,” raves The Sportster

Wilt Chamberlain is one of the most mythical NBA players in history, and his accomplishments on the basketball court nearly sound like an urban legend, but it’s not. Wilt Chamberlain’s accomplishments happened, and they’ll never be forgotten or duplicated. 

“The statistics behind Wilt Chamberlain’s game are just ridiculous. They sound like numbers that can only be produced on NBA 2K…. The seven-footer is the only player in history to record a 100-point game and has the highest scoring average for a season in NBA history (50.4 points during the 1961-62 season). Chamberlain led the NBA in scoring in seven different seasons and was at the top of the rebounding charts 11 different times. A four-time MVP, Chamberlain’s dominance of the game in all facets (except free-throw shooting) led him to two championships in 1967 and 1972,” writes One37PM

Wilt Chamberlain has taken on a near-superhero status in NBA circles. Wilt Chamberlain dominated the game of basketball, and he set records in the NBA that will never be broken. 

“A real-life Superman who’s previously unheard of combination of size, skill and athleticism took the world by storm. Statistically, the most dominant individual in the history of American sports. He set records that no one will ever come close to breaking,” adds ESPN

3. Bill Russell 

Bill Russell is the winningest basketball player in NBA history with a staggering 11 NBA titles to his name, and he helped fuel the Celtics dynasty of the ‘50s and ’60s. “Bill Russell’s record for most NBA titles will never be beaten, as no one has come, or will come close to his 11 career championships. Russell’s resume is actually hurt because many accolades, like Finals MVP or Defensive Player of the Years didn’t even exist in his heyday. What’s more, since blocks weren’t recorded as a stat in his career, there’s no way to know how many Russell had for his career. There’s a chance he would be at the top of blocks standings along with the player coming up next on our ranking. Russell may not have had the longest career, but boy, was that run successful,” writes Hoops Hype

Most of Bill Russell’s statistics aren’t recognized and it would be nearly impossible to go back and count his official blocks. Sort of how sacks weren’t a recorded stat in the NFL when the legendary Deacon Jones played. Regardless, Russell was a winner, and that’s all he cared about.  

“Russell was also selected to the All-Star team twelve times, winning the All-Star game MVP in 1963. Russell was also selected to the All-NBA team eleven times, with three of the selections as a member of the first team. Russell also ranks tied for second all time in MVP awards with five in his career. He is also considered by many to be the greatest winner in team sports. He won eleven championships in this thirteen-year career and led his team to the Finals in every season he played in except for one. He led the Celtics to a record eight consecutive championships in the 1960s, with most of those Finals wins coming against the great Lakers teams of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor,” furthers Bleacher Report

Bill Russell dominated some of the best players of his generation like Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. “The best defensive center of all-time, Russell’s ability to dominate the boards and also impact the game outside of scoring, made him invaluable. Russell was the first player in NBA history to average 20 rebounds in a season. His run as a player-coach with the Celtics netted the Celtics three of those rings. A winner of the MVP on five different occasions and a 12-time All-Star, Russell’s impact on civil rights as an athlete is equally important,” furthers One37PM

4. Shaquille O’Neal

Jamming into the fourth spot on the list of the best NBA centers of all time is Shaquille O’Neal – or Shaq. Shaquille O’Neal is easily one of the most dominant players in the history of professional basketball. In his prime, Shaq was one of the most powerful and explosive players to ever step foot on an NBA court. 

“Now personally to me, Shaq is the most dominant modern-day player in NBA history. At 7’1 300 plus pounds and quick like the wind, he is unstoppable. Shaq is one of the only people who can’t be defended one on one by almost anybody. He forced teams to add multiple big men to their teams because not one person could handle Shaq’s physical play all game. He had incredible post moves and footwork, he could swivel and power through defenders consistently,” raves Roto Baller

One of Shaq’s most infamous highlights is him dunking so hard that it shattered the backboard and forced a stoppage while crews cleaned up the wreckage. Shaq was a phenomenon, to say the least. 

“As far as the most dominant player of my basketball lifetime it was prime Shaq. No one was more, to borrow the phrase from Thanos ‘Inevitable.’ Shaq was going to beat you, and you were going to be in a lot of pain afterward… Shaq could do things that defy the laws of physics. Shaq was the most insane physical display I saw watching the NBA,” adds Hoop Social

Shaq was popular in Orlando, but he became a megastar with the Lakers. Shaquille O’Neal became one of the biggest stars in the world after he joined the Los Angeles Lakers and teamed up with Kobe Bryant. Together, the two won three NBA championships and competed for the title on a yearly basis.  

“Arguably the most physically dominant player in NBA history, O’Neal’s brute physical style mixed with a rare athleticism at his frame, made him impossible to defend, leading him to one MVP in 2000 and 15 All-Star appearances. A four-time NBA champion, O’Neal was named Finals MVP in all three years of the Lakers’ three-peat in the early aughts. His run as an inside, outside superstar tandem with Kobe Bryant, took the NBA by storm. O’Neal’s post-NBA career run is also just as impressive,” notes One37PM

5. Hakeem Olajuwon 

Rounding out the list of the best NBA centers of all time is none other than Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon. There wasn’t much that Olajuwon couldn’t do on the basketball court. The Dream could shoot, defend, rebound, and elegantly make his way down to the post where he had no problem stuffing the rock. 

“Hakeem the dream Olajuwon had the best post-game in NBA history in my opinion. His footwork was second to none, he used it to kill players with the dream shake. His soccer background helped him glide elegantly around the court. Hakeem also had a very good jump shot that he could get off at any time and anywhere on the court. His defense was also some of the best the league has ever seen, he was a notorious rim protector and big guy who consistently got steals which was rare,” writes Roto Baller.

While he was at the University of Houston playing college basketball, Hakeem Olajuwon was part of some of the best NCAA teams in history as he headed up the Cougars’ storied Phi Slamma Jamma teams. It was only appropriate that Olajuwon be drafted by the Houston Rockets, a team he led to two consecutive NBA titles in the mid-90s

“Hakeem was one of the most-skilled big men of all time at both ends of the floor. Offensively, he averaged 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists, shooting 51.2 percent from the field and a solid 71.2 percent from the free-throw line. Defensively, he was amazing, with career averages of 3.1 blocks and 1.7 steals. He won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in both 1993 and in 1994 and he was selected to the All-NBA defensive team nine times, with five of the selections as a member of the first team,” explains Bleacher Report

Olajuwon played hard on both ends of the court, and that earned him a place as one of the best NBA centers in history. However, Olajuwon was a great all-time defender. His post-defense was extraordinary and he’s considered one of the best defenders in NBA history.  

“Hakeem Olajuwon was the leader of the only team to stand in the way of the Chicago Bulls dynasty, the Houston Rockets. He was the Finals MVP in both 1994 and 1995 and was also the MVP of the 1993-94 season. To top it off, Olajuwon was a three-time blocking champion, two-time rebounding champion, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and 12-time All-NBA. The Dream averaged 21.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 3.1 blocks per game. Olajuwon is the player with the most blocks in the history of the sport (3,830),” furthers The Sportster

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