The Best Basketball Players of All Time – The True NBA GOATs

The NBA League has certainly seen many talents throughout the years. In its more than 70 years of existence, there have been countless star players, and many of them have left their mark in the NBA history books. Even though basketball is a team sport, there are some individuals who could take over the game and single-handedly earn the victory for their teams.
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In the following article, we will speak about the greatest basketball players of all time, and we will review their careers and greatest achievements. We will examine their style of play and point out their biggest advantages and strongest qualities, that made them the dominant forces in their eras. We have taken into consideration a number of factors, such as traditional and advanced stats, in order to make our list of the ten best basketball players of all time.

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Top 10 Best Basketball Players of All Time

Stephen Curry

Career Achievements: 3x NBA Champion, 2x NBA MVP, 6x NBA All Star, 3x NBA First Team, NBA Scoring Champion, NBA Sportsmanship Award, AP Athlete of the World, and more.

You might be surprised that we have decided to include Steph Curry in our selection of the greatest basketball players of all time. You shouldn’t be. Even though Steph is still relatively young (32 years old) and still has at least a few good years ahead of him, he has managed to leave his mark in the NBA history books. Arguably, he’s the best shooter the game has ever seen. He can retire tomorrow and waltz into the Hall of Fame. Despite his ‘small’ height at 1.91 m, his shooting is ridiculously good. No part of the court is a safe zone for defenders, as he can score from literally every area of the court.

But at first, a few believed that Curry would achieve such success, as some people were even sceptical if he can make it in the NBA at all. He was labelled too weak and too small by a number of coaches and NBA representatives during his college career. But he proved them all wrong. During his sophomore year, Steph averaged 25.9 points, 3 assists and 2.1 steals per game. In 2008, he set the record for most three points in a single season and was nominated for the ESPY Breakthrough Player of the Year despite his team not making the Final Four.

NBA MVP 2
MVP Finals
NBA Titles 3
Total Points 16419+
Total Rebounds 3158+
Total Assists 4621+

In 2009, Stephen Curry was selected with the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors. His rookie year was superb, and he finished the season with 166 three-pointers, the most ever by a rookie. In the following years, Steph continued to astound the world with his unbelievable shooting and sight.

His point guard figuratively changed the geometry of the floor and the defensive strategies. He was the key ingredient in the Golden State Warriors’ success, becoming three times NBA champion and winning the NBA MVP twice. His estimated net worth in 2019 was nearly $80 million.

During the 19-20 season, Curry’s left hand was broken during a game against the Phoenix Suns, and he missed the biggest part of the season along with his star teammate Klay Thompson. His team literally collapsed and didn’t even make it to the top 8 teams in the conference. As we all know, the LA Lakers were the biggest winners of the never-seen-before 19-20 season, but now, with Curry back to his best, we cannot wait for the 20-21 season to begin, as it’s expected to be extremely competitive.

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Shaquille O’Neil

Career Achievements: 4x NBA Champion, 3x NBA Finals MVP, 15 NBA All Star, 8x All NBA First Team, NBA Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, FIBA Worlds Championship, 2x NBA Scoring Champion and more.

Shaquille O’Neil is certainly one of the most recognizable names and faces in basketball. And how can he not be? The 2.16 m giant with a weight of more than 147 kg is hard to ignore. His outgoing personality along with his incredible skills and domination on the court have earned him the nicknames “The Diezel”, “Superman”, “Shaq Fu”, “The Big Daddy”, “The Big Cactus”, “The Big Leprechaun”, “The Real Deal”, and more. He played for 19 years, wearing the jerseys of four different teams.

Shaq was born on March 6, 1972, in Newark, New Jersey. After a tough childhood, he managed to graduate from high school and later studied business at Louisiana State University. While playing for the college team, O’Neil quickly gathered the attention of the ‘big guys’, managing to win multiple awards as a teenager. Shaq was selected as the number 1 pick in the 1992 NBA draft by the Orlando Magic.

NBA MVP 1
MVP Finals 3
NBA Titles 4
Total Points 28,596
Total Rebounds 13,099
Total Assists 3,026

Before moving to Orlando, he spent the summer in LA under the tutelage of Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. This certainly brought benefits to O’Neil, and he upgraded his game. He spent four years at Orlando Magic, and in 1996, after becoming a free agent, The Diesel joined the Los Angeles Lakers.

For the most part of the 90s, O’Neil was the most imposing player in the NBA. He was so physically dominant, plus he possessed a hefty toolbox of skills, making most defenses helpless. Being one of the tallest and heaviest players ever, Shaq averaged 28.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.5 blocks with a 57.8 percent from the field during his peak years. In 2017 he was elected to the FIBA Hall of Fame.

Larry Bird

Career Achievements: 3x NBA Champion, 2x NBA Finals MVP, 3x NBA Most Valuable Player, 12x NBA All Star, 9x NBA First Team, 3x NBA Three-Point Champion, NBA Rookies of the Year, AP Athlete of the Year and more.

Larry Joe Bird was born in 1956 in West Baden Springs, Indiana, and is widely regarded as one of the best basketball players of all time. Over his 13-year career, he piled up a number of personal and team awards, including three NBA championships, three league MVPs and two Finals MVPs. He was one of the fiercest competitors and greatest smack-talkers in NBA history. Bird had the quickest release of anyone to ever play basketball, and he often let the defenders know that his shot was going in soon after the ball left his hands.

Basketball ball on a hardwood basketball court

NBA MVP 3
MVP Finals 2
NBA Titles 3
Total Points 21,791
Total Rebounds 8,974
Total Assists 5,695

Bird was selected by the Boston Celtics with the sixth overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft. Even though the Celtics had more than their fair share of Hall of Famers, nobody was as lethal at the end of games as Larry Bird. Nicknamed “Lary Legend” and “The Hick from French Lick”, Bird stayed at Boston for thirteen years.

He averaged 24.4 points, 10 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game in his career, figures which helped him put together 59 career triple-doubles (the seventh most of all time). His rivalry with Magic Johnson during the 1980s launched basketball into an unprecedented level of national popularity that the sport has never fallen from.

Wilt Chamberlain

Career Achievements: 2x NBA Champion, NBA Finals MVP, 4x NBA Most Valuable Player, 13x NBa All Star, 7x All NBA First Team, 7x NBA Scoring Champoion, NBA Rookie of the Year and more.

Wilton Norman Chamberlain was born in 1936 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was truly ahead of his time. His numbers, including scoring an NBA-record 100 points in a single game and averaging 50 points per game for an entire season, are mythical. Many consider him one of the best basketball players of all time despite the fact that he’s won only two NBA championships. His dominance during the 1960s was so undisputed that the NBA decided to widen the lane to limit his supremacy over smaller players.

NBA MVP 4
MVP Finals 1
NBA Titles 2
Total Points 31,419
Total Rebounds 23,924
Total Assists 4,643

Besides being one of the games’ best rebounders ever (22.9 per game), his scoring average of 30 points per game is second only to Michael Jordan’s, showing he was truly a one-man powerhouse. He has played for four different teams, including the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers.

In the 1961-62 regular season, he averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds. Simply unreal. The most notable of his scoring feats came in March 1962 when he set the record for most points in a single game. He also holds the record for most games with more than 50 points per game – 118. Sadly, Chamberlain passed away at the age of 63 in California. He will always be remembered as one of the NBA GOATs.

Magic Johnson

Career Achievements: 5x NBA Champion, 3x NBA Finals MVP, 3x NBA Most Valuable Player, 12x NBA All Star, 9x NBA First Team, 4x NBA Assists Leader, 2x NBA Steals Leader, NCAA Champion, and more.

When you talk about the greatest NBA players of all time, it’s impossible not to mention the legendary Earvin Magic Johnson. Born in 1959 in Lancing, Michigan, Johnson’s competitiveness, leadership and charm were all major factors in the massive increase in the NBA’s popularity during the 1980s. He simply revolutionized the game. Entering the NBA in 1979 as the number one pick, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. Standing at 2.05m, Johnson was the tallest point guard in the league history. He quickly turned into a Lakers icon and took the “Showtime” to nine NBA Finals, winning five of them. Magic Johnson lifted the Lakers and transition basketball to ethereal levels. He was simply transcendent. And as the birthplace of this NBA Hall of Famer is Michigan, now it is a good time to mention that the best Michigan online casinos are definately worth a check.

NBA MVP 3
MVP Finals 3
NBA Titles 5
Total Points 17,707
Total Rebounds 6,559
Total Assists 10,141

He averaged nearly a triple-double for his entire career, putting up 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game in his 16-year span. Not only was he using his large frame to shred defences with precision, but Magic also was able to play successfully at all five positions in the game.

His fast breaks and no-look passes catapulted the NBA to the global competition that is today. Have a look at some of the most impressive plays of the Magic Show.

Johnson retired from the game prematurely in 1991 at 32 years old after contracting HIV. He successfully fought off the disease and later launched a second career as an entrepreneur who opens businesses mainly in poverty-stricken areas.

He’s also been working as an advocate for HIV prevention and safe sex, as well as a broadcaster, a philanthropist and a motivational speaker. He was named one of America’s most influential black people businessmen in 2009 by Ebony magazine. A real neat guy who is respected and idolised by millions of people to this day.

Bill Russell

Career Achievements: 11x NBA Champion, 5x NBA Most Valuable Player, 12x NBA All Star, 3x All NBA First Team, 4x NBA Rebounding Champion, 2x NCAA Champion, WCC Players of the Year, Olympic Games Champion, and more.

William Felton Russell was, without a doubt, the centerpiece of the Boston Celtics dynasty that won eleven NBA championships during his 13-year career. That’s right, eleven! The greatest winner in basketball history and one of the fiercest defenders of all time, Russell redefined the value of shot block. Born in 1934 in Monroe, Louisiana, the 2.08m center was a force to be reckoned with and averaged the incredible 22.5 rebounds per game over his entire career.

His signature play of tapping the ball to a teammate helped him invent the fast break.  If there was a Defensive Player of the Year Award back in the 1960s, Russell would have won it every year that it was handed out. His view of the game was inspirational, always taking care of the paint and making sure everyone was involved in the offence. Regardless of the opposition, Russel was the engine in the Boston team that always found a way to grab the win.

NBA MVP 5
MVP Finals
NBA Titles 11
Total Points 14,552
Total Rebounds 21,620
Total Assists 4,100

Many refer to Bill Russell as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, if not even the greatest due to his unprecedented 11 titles. Others say that his accomplishments are not the best due to the era he played in. After all, the NBA consisted of just 8 to 14 teams back then, so claiming titles was statistically easier. But players don’t choose the era they play in. No one knows what would have happened if Russell played in the NBA, let’s say 20-30 years later.

Maybe he wouldn’t be left undefeated in Game 7 (his record is 10-0), or he wouldn’t have claimed 6 MVP Awards. We will never know. Nevertheless, Russell’s accomplishments and total domination will always stay in the NBA history books.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Career Achievements: 6x NBA Champion, 2x NBA Finals MVP, 6x NBA Most Valuable Player, 19x NBA All Star, Rookie of the Year, 2x NBA Scoring Champion, 4x NBA Blocks Leader, 3x NCAA Champion, and more.

NBA MVP 6
MVP Finals 2
NBA Titles 6
Total Points 38,387
Total Rebounds 17,440
Total Assists 5,660

Our list of the best basketball players of all time continues with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The player holding the record for most career points – 38,387. A true legend, hero and an icon of the game, the 2.18m center set the bar in multiple categories for future generations.

His lengthy list of achievements is hard to match as he earned just about every single individual honor. His six MVPs and the fact that he is still the only player who won the MVP award despite his team not making the playoffs are just a few of the many, many accomplishments in his career. His unstoppable skyhook and outstanding defensive abilities helped him rule the NBA for multiple eras.

He played 20 years in the NBA, splitting his time between the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar won three MVPs with each franchise and five of his six rings in Los Angeles. An awesome force who dominated the sport, Jabbar became a synonym for greatness. Bill Russell might have more titles, Wilt Chamberlain might have all those untouchable records, but Abdul-Jabbar was offensively skilled in ways Russell never was and retired as the league leader in nine statistical categories.

Kobe Bryant

Career Achievements: 5x NBA Champion, 2x NBA Finals MVP, NBA Most Valuable Player, 18x NBA All Star, 4x NBA All Star Game MVP, 2x NBA Scoring Champion, NBA Slam Dunk Contest, 2x Olympic Games Winner, and more.

Kobe Bryant. A symbol for dedication, talent, mentality, hard work and greatness. The shooting guard spent his entire career with the LA Lakers and is also in the conversation of the best NBA players of all time. And rightfully so. Bryant managed to win 5 NBA Championships with the Lakers and was named the NBA Final MVP on two occasions. He is the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history. But despite the outstanding talent that Kobe had and many achievements, he will be remembered mostly for his love for the game and his mentality. The Mamba Mentality.

NBA MVP 1
MVP Finals 2
NBA Titles 5
Total Points 33,643
Total Rebounds 7,047
Total Assists 6,306

His burning desire to master the sport and his never-quit attitude were inspirational. He was one of the most feared competitors in basketball history. He was lauded for his incredible work ethic. Kobe established a reputation for taking shots in the closing minutes of tight games even if he was doubled or tripled-teamed. It didn’t bother him. He was one of the premier closers in the NBA, and he wasn’t afraid to take responsibility.

His career-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors is the second-most points scored in a single game, only behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. During his final game, he became the oldest player to score 60 or more points at 37 years and 234 days old.

After his retirement, two of the legends of the LA Lakers – Magic Johnson and Shaq crowned him the greatest Laker ever. The fact that both of them made our list of the greatest basketball players of all time and gave him that title speaks for itself.

Everyone heard of the tragic accident that occurred on January 26, 2020, when Kobe died in a helicopter crash. The whole world was shocked. It was a terrifying accident that took the life not only of the legendary Black Mamba but also of his 13-year old daughter Gianna, six family friends and the pilot. The entire basketball community was in mourning. The world lost not only one of the best NBA players of all time but an exceptional human being, who never stopped to inspire and help people. Rest in Peace, Legend.

Michael Jordan

Career Achievements: 6x NBA Champion, 6x NBA Finals MVP, 5x NBA Most Valuable Player, 14x NBA All Star, NBA Defensive Player of the Year, NBA Rookie of the Year, 3x AP Athlete of the Year, 2x Olympic Games Champion, 10 NBA Scoring Champion, and more.

There’s probably not a single person in the world who hasn’t heard of Michael Jordan. Widely known as the game’s greatest player, “MJ” accomplished everything possible in the game, piling up on the stats and awards. He played 15 seasons in the NBA, and on the game’s biggest stage, the NBA Finals, Jordan went a perfect 6-for-6, sweeping Finals MVP in his appearances. The Chicago Bulls legend dominated at every single aspect of the game, amassing 11 All NBA selections, nine All Defensive First team selections and ten scoring titles.

NBA MVP 5
MVP Finals 6
NBA Titles 6
Total Points 32,292
Total Rebounds 6,672
Total Assists 5,633

Jordan’s brilliance on the court defined a generation of basketball and set a new standard for players following in his footsteps. He became a global icon on and off the floor. As far as career leaderboards go, His Airness is first in points per game (30.1), win shares per 48 minutes (.251) and usage percentage (33.3).

He had six seasons in which he averaged at least 30 points and five assists. And despite these impressive numbers, Jordan somehow managed to play on an even higher level in the playoffs. He averaged 33.4 points in the postseason games, going 6-0 in the Finals Series.

Michael Jordan wasn’t only the most important and feared player in his era, but he was also obsessively competitive. Widely regarded as the number 1 of the greatest basketball players of all time, Jordan inspired sports documentary miniseries co-produced by Netflix and ESPN. The Last Dance is a 10-part documentary event that focuses on the career of Jordan. Whether you consider Jordan the true NBA GOAT or not, the series is a must-watch. If you want to learn further details about the show, check out our dedicated article The Last Dance – The Dynasty of MJ and Chicago Bulls.

Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny in Space Jam

One of the most effectively marketed players of his generation, MJ is known for his product endorsements. He fueled the success of Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers, which are widely popular to this day despite their first introduction was in 1984. Jordan is also known for his part in the 1996 film Space Jam where he played himself. He’s currently the owner of the NBA team Charlotte Hornets, and according to Forbes, his net worth is around $2.1 billion.

LeBron James

Career Achievements: 4x NBA Champion, 4x Finals MVP, 4x NBA Most Valuable Player, 16x NBA All Star, 13x All NBA First Team, NBA Scoring Champion, NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA Assist Leader, 3x AP Athlete of the Year, 2x Mr. Basketball USA, 2x Olympic Games Winner, 2x Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year, FIBA Americas Champion, and more.

Just like we started our selection of the greatest basketball players of all time with a still-active player, we will finish it with another. Yes, you know the name. Lebron James. The KING. Probably the only person who is frequently compared with Michael Jordan in debates over the greatest NBA players of all time. Everyone has the right to choose his NBA GOAT, and in our eyes, LeBron is the one.

The King just does things that seem impossible. His unique physique, attitude, dedication and talent are unprecedented. Standing 2.06m and weighing around 110 kg, James has always been a force to be reckoned with. Selected as the number one pick of the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he entered the league burdened with unimaginable expectations. Expectations that he lived up to and even surpassed. His game, which is built on power, unique vision and unseen determination, continues to amuse basketball fans around the world to this day. His massive part in probably the greatest NBA comeback ever in 2016 against the Warriors in the Finals will forever encapsulate his unlimited will to win.

Golden crown on a basketball ball on a white background

When you think of LeBron James, you simply think of greatness. 18 years into his career and James is still not showing signs of slowing down. He not only holds multiple NBA records in various categories, such as for most playoff points, for example, but he is in the top 5 list for nearly every single record there is. The King is the only player in NBA history to record at least 34,000 points, 9,000 assists and 9,000 rebounds. Unbelievable.

NBA MVP 4
MVP Finals 4
NBA Titles 4
Total Points 34,241+
Total Rebounds 9,405+
Total Assists 9,346+

He also deserves credit for reaching the NBA Finals on ten occasions, despite winning just four of them. This is probably the biggest reason why many refuse to put him on the top of the best basketball players of all time list. He’s also one of the most famous athletes in the world with multiple charities.

And LeBron’s story isn’t finished yet. Despite the fact he’ll start his 18th season in the NBA at 36 years of age, he seems as determined to win and succeed as he did when he joined the league in 2003. Labelled The Chosen One by Sports Illustrated, he definitely matched the hype and dealt with the stress. And obviously, there’s more to come from him.

The King stated that his goal is to play at least until his oldest son Bronny joins the NBA in a couple of years. If you want to place some bets on whether or not he will be able to claim the NBA title with the Lakers for the second year in a row, then check out our recommended site below.

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FAQ

It is time for us to wrap up our article about the best basketball players of all time with an FAQ section. Spare a few more minutes and review some of the most popular questions about the NBA league, the best NBA players of all time and the top sites to place basketball bets online. After that, you can visit our article about Daily Fantasy Sports and start buiding your own NBA dream team (don’t forget to include LeBron James or Steph Curry). And in case you want to read another article about GOATs, then check out the greatest football players of all time.

🏆 Who are the best basketball players of all time?

The NBA league has truly seen many unbelievable talents, but there are some players who have left their mark in the history books. We have made a list of the ten greatest basketball players of all time based on their career achievements, style of play, influence on the whole game, skills, dedication and more.

🐐 What does GOAT mean?

GOAT is a term that became popular in the 21st century. It’s an acronym for “greatest of all time”. It’s used in various sports, and there are heated debates about who’s the true GOAT. If you want to have access to the best basketball odds online and bet on your NBA GOAT, check out the best new betting sites.

🙋 What is the meaning of MVP in basketball?

MVP stands for most valuable player. In the NBA, every season there’s an MVP award for the regular season and for the Finals. During the 19-20 NBA season, Giannis Antetokounmpo won the NBA MVP, while LeBron James won the NBA Finals MVP. The award is named after one of the best basketball players of all time – Bill Russell.

💸 Can I win real money from online betting on NBA games?

Of course, you can. Sports and sports betting go hand in hand, and basketball is no exception. Punters all over the world place real money bets on NBA games regularly. A very successful strategy is to play at online bookies where you can claim welcome bonuses and other promotions. Check out our list of the best betting offers.

🤑 Who is the richest NBA player?

The richest NBA player at the moment is also one of the greatest NBA players of all time – LeBron James. His current net worth is estimated to be around $490 million. He claimed the N.5 spot in the list of highest-paid athletes in 2020 by Forbes, earning $88.2 million.

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