The five (5) position as it is known nowadays used to be known simply as “the center”. The center is often thought of as the pillar of any great basketball team, and for good reason. Dominant big men have controlled NBA games for decades with scoring, defense, and rebounding in the paint.
Today’s game is all about shooting, speed, and ball movement. Yet even in today’s climate, a few of you might have heard about pretty decent NBA centers such as Anthony Davis, Joel Embid, and Nikola Jokic.
To celebrate the premier position in basketball, we will be exploring our picks for the greatest centers in NBA history!
Bill Russell - The Greatest Winner in NBA History
Conversations about the greatest basketball player of all-time sometimes go a little something like this:
“Sure, MJ was the most talented player of all-time, but Russell won 11 rings!” That’s right, legendary Celtics center, Bill Russell won eleven (11) NBA championships in thirteen (13) seasons. This begs the question: what was he doing in those other two seasons?
Bill Russell is the ultimate champion, and he was a great player too. He played 42.3 minutes per game, averaged 22.5 rebounds per game, and is arguably the greatest defender to ever lace them up. Russell was a 12-time all-star and remains one of basketball’s most respected ambassadors.
Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain had Athleticism, Heart, and Skill
Wilt Chamberlain may be the most dominant force to ever take the hard court. The Stilt was a freakish blend of athletic ability, size, touch, and basketball IQ. He was virtually unstoppable as a scorer, and cleaned up the boards as well.
In fact, Chamberlain was so dominant that his play forced the NBA to change the rules to change the size of the paint and prevent him from effectively “ruining” games with unstoppable offense.
In the 1961-62 season, Chamberlain finished averaging 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game. We will give you a moment to collect your chin from the floor. No player will likely come close to that kind of dominance in the NBA or any other major sport ever again.
As an editorial note, Oscar Robertson ended the 61-62 NBA season averaging 30.8 points per game, 12.5 rebounds per game and 11.4 assists per game. What exactly were they putting in the water back then?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the All-Time NBA Scoring Champion
Born Ferdinand Lewis (Lew) Alcindor Jr, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tops many “greatest centers” lists for his sustained greatness on championship Lakers teams. Abdul-Jabbar won six (6) championships: five with The Lakers and one with the Milwaukee Bucks. Less than ten NBA players can claim more than six titles.
On the court, Abdul-Jabbar played 20 seasons and is the NBA all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points. He also earned the NBA MVP a record six times alongside 19 all-star selections, a rookie of the year, and two Finals MVPs.
Kareem revolutionized the position with his sky hook, shooting ability, and all around play. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar should certainly be considered when fans and pundits discuss the greatest basketball players in history.
Shaq, Hakeem, Robinson: NBA Centers from the 90’s
We would be remiss to leave out the second golden era of big men: the 1990’s. The 90’s were a golden age led by none other than Michael Jordan himself. Yet the rest of the league was defined by stellar big men. Here are just a few centers who dominated in the 90’s and made many of us fans for life:
Shaquille O’Neal: one of the biggest men to ever take the court, field, or anything else, Shaq did a lot of his damage in the late 90’s. Not a traditional skill player, Shaq used his large frame and his strength to bully opponents on route to four (4) more NBA titles than Charles Barkley.
Karl Malone: most casual fans wouldn’t guess that number two on the all-time scoring list is “The Mailman”, Karl Malone. A center on legendary Utah Jazz teams, Malone likely would have nabbed at least one ring without those pesky Chicago Bulls.
Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon: Olajuwon was a two-time Finals MVP with the Houston Rockets. Arguably the greatest pure post player of all time, Olajuwon dominated on both ends of the court with athleticism and skill.
David Robinson: “The Admiral” was a no-nonsense center that helped kick off the Spurs dynasty in the late 90’s and into the 2000’s. Robinson often gets overlooked because of Tim Duncan, but he was a pure center to be feared.
Patrick Ewing: The fact that we almost forgot to include Patrick Ewing is a testament to the strength of this era. Ewing was a physical specimen out of Georgetown who was yet another victim of playing in the same era of Jordan’s Bulls.
More: This impressive list could also include Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, and some legendary power forwards such as Sir Charles Barkley.
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