I have been a basketball fan for 31 years now, and I love the awesomeness of playing and watching the game.
Admittedly, I have watched little college and international basketball in all these years, but I have always been an NBA fan during the past three decades. What follows is my list of whom I consider to be the top five players, forever ranked in order from top to bottom.
I don’t care that many will debate it. This list happens to be one guy’s opinion.
1. Michael Jordan
In my estimation, no other player in the history of basketball possesses the combination of skills, achievements, full-court excellence, half-court excellence, statistical excellence, indomitable will, fear in opponents, and championship leadership that MJ had.
He was proficient in scoring in nearly every way: taking the ball to the basket and finishing in traffic, devastating in the low post, awesome pull-up jumper, phenomenal scoring with his right or left hand, scoring in transition, and the half-court, and outstanding as a free throw shooter.
The only scoring aspect that he wasn’t strong in was three-point shooting, and even that wasn’t always true. He was a reasonable threat on “situational” three-pointers. Defensively, he was extraordinary on the ball and as a help defender.
He became a master at playing the passing lanes and could play lockdown “D” when needed. As a rebounder, he was above average for a guard. His court vision was highly underrated and he was an exceptional passer, which was overlooked because of his enormous offensive production.
His shot selection was outstanding as evidenced by his consistently high field goal percentage. Jordan was virtually flawless with his footwork and overall fundamentals. Statistically, he amassed extraordinary numbers; per-game averages of 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.4 steals, and a blocked shot. He shot 49.7% from the field and 84% from the free-throw line.
He owns the highest career scoring average in the regular season and postseason history and won an NBA record ten scoring titles. Jordan’s achievements also include 6 NBA finals MVP awards, five league MVP awards, 10 All NBA 1st team selections, 9 All NBA defensive 1st team selections, 3 steals titles and, a Defensive Player of the Year award.
He was a maniacal asshole more often than not when it came to winning and competing. That is one of the things that gave him his indomitable will and killer instinct. As for MJ’s championship leadership, he led the Chicago Bulls, as its number one superstar to six NBA championships in six trips to the NBA finals.
He consistently proved that he was a crunch-time player of the highest order and had earned a reputation for making game-winning shots and plays. And his postseason career always exceeded his phenomenal regular seasons. That is not true of every superstar. These are all the key reasons that Michael Jordan is the greatest player in the history of basketball.
2. LeBron James
I cannot say enough about the consistent excellence that he continues to display. The man is currently in his 18th pro season and is still the greatest player in the world. It is beyond comprehension. In my opinion, James ranks this high on the list because of his well-rounded skills and achievements.
He is the only NBA player ever to possess this level of size, strength, speed, quickness, athleticism, and force. At 6 foot 9 inches and at least 265 pounds, LeBron is an outlier. Add to that the fact that he is a point guard by nature and can play all five positions at an elite level on offense.
He is the most indefensible player barreling to the basket since Shaq, though he is far more agile and athletic. I have never seen him miss anyone on the court with a pass because his court vision and instincts are that elite. I could argue that he is the third-best passer in history behind Magic and Stockton.
‘Bron has shown a propensity for hitting a barrage of deep dagger three-point bombs seemingly out of nowhere at times. He has rendered criticism of his killer instinct obsolete with numerous game-winning shots and plays. He is one of the most feared players in the world possibly the most, and, statistically, James has been superhuman.
He has delivered per game averages of 27 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.4 assists in a nearly two-decade career! James has won 4 league MVPs, 4 NBA finals MVPs and is the only player in history to have a minimum of 30,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, and 9,000 assists.
He averaged a triple-double in the 2017 NBA finals and has led three different franchises to NBA titles, for a total of four championships in a stunning ten trips to the finals.
That includes a stretch from 2011 to 2018 when each team that he played against made the finals eight consecutive years. He has been all NBA 1st team for an eye-popping 12 times, and all defensive 1st team six times. He is truly a man amongst children.
3. Larry Bird
Ranking Bird this high nowadays will have many people scratching their heads. Also, ranking him over Magic and Kareem will irritate some, but I have my reasons. But honestly, Larry Legend is very underrated. Yes, 30 years ago, almost anyone would have ranked him very high. But I still do.
Offensively, he was pure beauty. A feathery smooth jumper made him dangerous from all conceivable (and inconceivable) angles. He was a near-perfect pure shooter, including dominant at the free-throw line and a crafty post scorer and passer.
Speaking of playmaking, Bird was an innovative passer and possessed a guard-like court vision. He was tough as nails, fearless on the court, and one of the greatest trash talkers ever. Miraculously, he was a big-time rebounder despite having almost no jumping ability and later, a lousy back.
His per-game career numbers, 24.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 6.3 assists, are mesmerizing in their completeness. He was a triple threat night after night and, between 1984 to 1988, Bird had as great a four-season run as almost anyone could ever have.
He won three consecutive league MVP awards, two finals MVPs, and led the Boston Celtics to three NBA championships. The key reason that I place him above Magic is that I feel that Bird had an outstanding team yet had less help around him than Magic. I picked Bird over Kareem because Bird could play all over the entire court and did more things. No matter what, the man was and is a true icon.
4. Magic Johnson
If the sixth game of the 1980 NBA finals did not convince the world that Earvin Johnson was something special, then the world was in for a rude awakening. Magic was a revolutionary basketball player when he joined the league at just 20 years of age, being a nearly 6 foot 9-inch point guard with fluid handles and an alien-like court vision.
Point guards had typically been six to eight inches shorter, but Magic was the anomaly that signaled a significant evolution for the league. He was masterful at getting his teammates involved, and his elite creativity and razzle-dazzle with his passing were not always for style, but many times was out of necessity.
His scoring was underrated because he was usually so busy setting everyone else up. Eventually, he became a good shooter, was exceptional at the free-throw line, and was incomparable in the open court. When he developed the “junior skyhook,” he upped his fearsome repertoire significantly.
Magic was likely the best player in the world from 1987 to 1990, a point in time that saw him lead the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA finals three out of four seasons. For his career, Magic produced per-game averages of 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 11.2 assists, demonstrating the versatility that enabled him to amass a staggering 138 career triple-doubles.
He was all NBA 1st team 9 times, led the league in assists 4 times, was league MVP 3 times, and NBA finals MVP 3 times. He led the Lakers to nine NBA finals appearances in 12 seasons, including four seasons in a row between 1982 and 1985.
Displaying peerless leadership, he also won 5 NBA titles as the team’s quarterback and was the engine that made the “Showtime” Lakers unstoppable. Magic was unreal.
5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Many people of a certain age will scoff at my placement of Kareem at #5 all-time, instead of higher. The way I see it, as amazing as he was, it is nearly impossible for me to place a big man higher than players who were able to play all over the floor and didn’t need to have someone deliver the ball to them.
This is not a slight against Abdul-Jabbar, because I believe that a case could be made for him to rank anywhere on this list. This is a man who was about as dominant as anyone during his career, specifically his early years playing with the Milwaukee Bucks.
That’s when he was known as Lew Alcindor and was an overwhelming force in the paint. In six seasons with the Bucks, Alcindor averaged 30.4 points, 15.3 rebounds, and 3.4 blocked shots per game! As dominant as he was there, he won just one NBA title during his time in Milwaukee. When he joined the Lakers in a 1975 trade, his basketball life was set on another path.
During the rest of his career, he solidified his position in the game’s history as he used his trademark skyhook to become the all-time leading scorer in NBA history. This is in addition to being a part of the Magic/James Worthy/Kareem triumvirate which dominated the 1980’s during their famous “Showtime” era.
Kareem won six NBA MVPs, six NBA championships, led the NBA in scoring twice, rebounding, and blocked shots, and was an all NBA 1st team selection 10 times.
In the discussion of the greatest center of all time, many choose either Wilt Chamberlain because of his surreal scoring performances, or Bill Russell because of his unbelievable 11 NBA championships with the Celtics. But Kareem Abdul-Jabbar might’ve been greater than them both.
No matter anyone’s preference, each of these players could hold the top spot based on their greatness and impact. As a fan of NBA basketball, I have been lucky to witness the immeasurable brilliance of these icons.
They will forever reign supreme!