Sports have always been defined by great teams, but great teams have always had linchpins of sensational players. The NBA is full of incredible sportsmen that make up great teams and some of the most-skilled athletes ever to play any sport have found themselves on those teams. Some of the best NBA players of all time hold legendary records and are loved internationally today.
For close to every player on our list, their first days on the court alluded to their long-term skill, according to a new study. The results led to at least one surprising conclusion: that early career success was predictive of late-career success. They were able to build on that initial momentum and move on to have incredible reputations in the sport.
These legends inspire kids across the country. Children base their development on their favorite players and that’s no different in basketball. They look up to the stars and emulate them in school and community matches. Which is good! Kids playing basketball has been linked to many benefits. According to a recent study, youth athletes who play multidirectional sports like basketball, instead of unidirectional sports like track, are able to build stronger bones that decrease their risk of bone injury in adulthood.
When it comes to the best NBA players, it’s always a debate, and StudyFinds set out to do the research for you, visiting 10 expert websites. We put together this list of the NBA’s greatest athletes of all time based on the most frequently named legends across the 10 sites. Of course, the debate of who really is the best of the best is one that NBA fans can find themselves mired in time and time again. If you’ve got your own list, please leave them in the comments below!
The List: Best NBA Players of All Time, Per Experts
1. Michael Jordan
Come on. You knew. Complex says it all: “This man won three in a row, left to play baseball, then came back to win three in a row again, and then he came back one more time and was one of the oldest players to average 20 PPG and to score 40-plus in a game. The GOAT, no question.”
The Athletic compared him to other obvious things, “This ranking is not in dispute. It’s a formality, a wave of the hand, a tip of the cap, an admittance of the obvious. The sky is blue. The earth is round.”
“The rings. The MVPs. The scoring titles. The shoes. The GOAT. Jordan is widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time — he changed so many different facets of the league — but maybe most of all, he showed players they could grow themselves into a global brand on and off the floor with stellar play and the right marketing machine behind it all,” says ESPN.
Happy Birthday to Michael Jordan 🔥🐐 pic.twitter.com/fRIjPxCw9w
— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) February 17, 2023
2. LeBron James
When the dust settles on LeBron’s career, he may overtake Michael Jordan as the best of all time, but for now, he’ll have to “settle” for number two.
He’s truly great, “When you think of LeBron James, you think of greatness. From the first dribble, he took in an NBA game up until now, he’s done nothing but live up to the massive hype that was placed on his shoulders coming out of high school in Akron, Ohio,” says Complex.
Everything about him is impressive, as SportsKeeda puts it, “In pure raw skill sets and overall completeness, there isn’t any player greater than him.”
LeBron has consistently proved others wrong, “LeBron James entered the league burdened with unimaginable expectations. Expectations he surely couldn’t live up to, right? Wrong,” adds Bleacher Report.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
A looming tower of power at 7-foot-2-inches, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played 20 seasons in the NBA and has plenty to show for it.
“He won a record of 6 regular-season MVPs and made 19 NBA All-Star appearances as well as 10 All-NBA 1st team and 5 All-Defensive 1st team selections. Abdul-Jabbar was also a winner, winning 6 NBA championships in his career with the 1st and last interestingly coming 17 years apart,” says The Sporting Blog.
ESPN mentions his trademark move, “His skyhook was an unstoppable weapon, becoming one of the most iconic shots the game has ever seen.”
“For 38 years, Abdul-Jabbar has remained the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. His staggering total of 38,387 points has looked unbreakable for decades,” mentions The Athletic.
4. Magic Johnson
Magic was, as his name implies, mystical on the court. This Lakers’ legend easily belongs on the list. “Magic Johnson wasn’t just an epic player; he was also an entertainer on the court. His Lakers side could do it all and he was the conductor to that beautiful orchestra,” says Lines.
Hoopshype agrees with the above statement, “The leader of one of the finest teams in basketball history, Magic Johnson had flash, pizzazz, and any adjective you can think of as a playmaker”
“Johnson won five championships, three MVP awards, and three NBA Finals MVP awards. He remains one of the most notable players from the 1980s with his battles against (Larry) Bird,” raves Sportsnaut.
5. Bill Russell
The Boston Celtic Center who played from 1956 to 1969 rounds out our top five list. “With 11 NBA titles from 13 playing seasons, there is no one who can question the greatness of this man and thus he is part of our top 5 NBA players list. He invented defensive sequences and made sure that defense was considered an equal force in an attack-centered league,” writes SportsKeeda.
Bleacher Report comments on his defensive ability, “Russell could flat-out dominate the game defensively. Still, his career averages are nothing to sniff at, and if blocks and Finals MVPs were counted/awarded throughout his career, he would’ve won plenty of those.”
He was a winner. “Russell was the ultimate winner in the history of the NBA. He won a league title in all but two of his 13 seasons as a member of the Boston Celtics,” says Britannica.
You might also be interested in:
- Best Men’s College Basketball Teams of All Time
- Best Basketball Shoes
- Best NFL Quarterbacks of All Time
- Best NHL Players of All Time
- Bleacher Report
- The Sporting Blog
- The Athletic
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This post may contain affiliate links.
There’s just one problem with your analysis. A player doesn’t win a championship. A team does. Never mind the coach. If people don’t want to credit him for the title win, that’s fine, as long as they can blame him for losing the championship.
So take out regular and championship wins. Stick to hard player stats. Sure, you can hire a rocket scientist to come up with stats showing Jordan ahead of all the other players. But there’s one trouble with Michael. Her just doesn’t have the lifetime stats to prove he’s #1, except PPG in play-offs. Using that as a basis for saying he’s the best is the fattest cherry pick in all literature.
Any list that excludes Wilt Chamberlain ain’t worth the time or effort you put into your “research!”