The Top 25 NBA Players in Basketball History

nba basketball

This list, put together by Fox Sports, aims to answer the question of who the best basketball player in history is. While some may consider that a futile quest (it’s got to be Jordan, right?), others realize Michael Jordan can’t be numbers one through twenty. So, who are the others?

To decide this list, two major characteristics were considered: dominance in the sport (not just being a consistently good player, but absolutely killing it over everyone else) and longevity (no one-season stars on this list). So who made the list of 25 best players in NBA history? Read on for the results.

25 – Charles Barkley

Power forward Charles Barkley, also known as “Sir Charles” and “The Round Mound of Rebound”, got his start with the Philadelphia 76ers but went on to also play for the Phoenix Suns and the Houston Rockets.

During his career he earned eleven NBA All-Star Game appearances, was named NBA MVP in 1993, played on the United States’ “Dream Team” in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics and won two gold medals as a result. Because of his individual career and his membership on the Dream Team, Barkley is a two-time inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

elgin baylor nba basketball

24 – Elgin Baylor

Before spending 22 years as the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers, Elgin Baylor played 14 seasons as a small forward for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers. Baylor was the Number 1 pick in the 1958 NBA draft and went on to appear in eight NBA finals.

Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1977, Elgin Baylor was famous for his acrobatic moves on the court, his impressive shooting and rebounding, and for his trademark jump shot. He was an 11-time All-Star and once scored 62 points in an NBA Finals game.

reggie miller nba basketball

23 – Reggie Miller

With a 3-point shooting percentage of more than 40 percent, it’s no wonder Reginald Wayne Miller made the list of best basketball players in history. At the time of his retirement in 2005, Miller held the record for most 3-point field goals in the NBA.

Reggie Miller played his entire 18-year career in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, was selected an All-Star five times, and won a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics. His number, 31, was retired by the Pacers in 2006.

kevin durant basketball nba

22 – Kevin Durant

The first player on this list who is still currently playing is Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors. Durant was the second overall draft pick by the Seattle Supersonics in 2007 and went on to play for the Oklahoma Thunder from 2007 to 2016. The next year he went on to play for the Warriors where he won back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018.

In addition to his two championships, he also has an NBA Most Valuable Player Award, four NBA scoring titles, an NBA Rookie of the Year Award, and two Olympic gold medals for the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics.

dirk nowitzki nba basketball

21 – Dirk Nowitzki

In 1998 Dirk Nowitzki was drafted as the ninth pick by the Milwaukee Bucks though was immediately traded to the Dallas Mavericks where he continues to play to this day. Seven-foot-tall Nowitzki has led the Mavericks to 15 playoff appearances including their only NBA championship in 2011.

Nowitzki is still the only player to play for a single franchise for 21 seasons, is a 14-time All-Star, and the first European basketball player to earn the NBA MVP award. He currently sits at number 7 on the list of National Basketball Association career scoring leaders.

john stockton nba basketball
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20 – John Stockton

Like Dirk Nowitzki, point guard John Stockton played his entire professional career with one team, the Utah Jazz (1984-2003). Stockton currently holds the NBA record for most careers steals and assists (3,700 assists ahead of the next guy) and is considered to be one of the best point guards in the history of the sport.

Stockton is also a two-time Basketball Hall of Fame inductee for the same reasons as Charles Barkley—his individual career and his participation on the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team”.

karl malone nba basketball

19 – Karl Malone

Nicknamed “The Mailman”, Karl Malone also spent the majority of his career with the Utah Jazz and teammate John Stockton (from 1985-2003). However, unlike Stockton, he played one season with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Malone was a 14-time NBA All-Star, holds the record for most free throws made, and scored 36,928 career points putting him second in NBA history behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He is recognized as being one of the best power forwards in the NBA.

kevin garnett nba basketball

18 – Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett played 21 seasons in the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves (1995-2007), the Boston Celtics (2007-2013), the Brooklyn Nets (2013-2015), and again with the Timberwolves (2015-2016) as both a center and a power forward.

At the time Garnett was the first NBA player drafted directly out of high school in 20 years when he was selected as the fifth overall pick. In addition to his 15 All-Star appearances, his NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, and his many Timberwolves franchise records, he also won an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008.

dwyane wade nba basketball

17 – Dwyane Wade

Like Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade is still an active player. After time with the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, he’s currently back with the Miami Heat. During his first stint with them, Wade led the Heat to their first ever NBA championship and earned the NBA Finals MVP award. Like many others on this list, Wade has also earned an Olympic gold medal (2008). 

Also during his time with the Miami Heat, he helped lead them to four consecutive NBA Finals and two back-to-back championships. This 13-time NBA All-Star also holds a number of Heat franchise records.

scottie pippen nba basketball

16 – Scottie Pippen

Scottie Pippen (whose name is technically spelled ‘Scotty’) played 17 seasons in the NBA, the majority of those being with the Chicago Bulls where he won six NBA championships. Along with Michael Jordan, Jerry Sloan, and Bob Love, Pippen is one of four Chicago Bulls players to have their numbers retired.

Pippen was also a member of the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team” and is the only NBA player to have won an Olympic gold medal and an NBA championship title in the same year… twice.

julius irving nba basketball

15 – Julius Erving

Commonly referred to as “Dr. J”, Julius Winfield Erving II won four Most Valuable Player Awards and three NBA championships during his time in the American Basketball Association and the NBA. He’s famous for being able to slam dunk from the free throw line and is known for being one of the league’s best dunkers. (And also for bringing the term “slam” dunk into mainstream vernacular.)

Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993, Erving was an 11-time NBA All-Star, won an NBA championship in 1983, and has his number (32) retired by the Brooklyn Nets.

jerry west nba basketball

14 – Jerry West

Jerry West played his entire basketball career (from 1960-1974) with the Los Angeles Lakers and won an NBA championship, an NBA Finals MVP award, and was a 14-time NBA All-Star. He has many nicknames such as “Mr. Clutch”, “Mr. Outside”, and “The Logo”—referencing the fact that his silhouette is the one represented in the NBA logo.

West holds the NBA record for highest average points scored per game in a playoff series (46.3) and is the only player in history to be named Finals MVP despite being on the losing team. 

david robinson nba basketball

13 – David Robinson

Nicknamed “The Admiral” due to his prior service in the United States Navy, David Robinson was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs as the first overall pick. He went on to play his entire professional career for the Spurs (1989-2003) and is still the only player from the Naval Academy to play in the NBA.

Robinson is a 10-time NBA All-Star, a two-time Olympic medalist (1992’s “Dream Team” and 1996), a two-time Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, with two NBA championships under his belt. 

kobe bryant nba basketball

12 – Kobe Bryant

Recently retired Kobe Bryant played his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers where he won five NBA championships. Bryant was drafted directly out of high school in the first round and is the first guard in NBA history to play 20 or more seasons.

Bryant is an 18-time NBA All-Star, a league MVP, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner, and even an Oscar winner. At 34 he surpassed Jerry West to become the all-time leading scorer in Lakers history. In 2006 Bryant set a career record with 81 points scored in a single game, putting him second in most point scored in a single game behind Wilt Chamberlain who scored 100 in 1962.

oscar robinson nba basketball

11 – Oscar Robertson

Point guard Oscar Robertson, nicknamed “The Big O”, played for the Cincinnati Royals and the Milwaukee Bucks from 1960-1974. During his time with the Bucks, they won their first and only NBA championship title.

Robertson was a 12-time NBA All-Star, NBA MVP, and in 1962 became the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double. Like many others on this list, Robertson is a two-time Basketball Hall of Fame inductee for both his individual career and for his participation on the 1960 United States Olympic basketball team.

hakeem olajuwon nba basketball

10 – Hakeem Olajuwon

From 1984 to 2002 Hakeem Olajuwon, nicknamed “The Dream”, played center for the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors. During that time, he led the Raptors to back-to-back NBA championships.

Olajuwon, born in Lagos, Nigeria, is not only a two-time NBA champion but also a two-time Finals MVP, a league MVP, a 12-time All-Star, and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. He was drafted as the first overall selection by the Houston Rockets in 1984—the same draft that included Michael Jordan, John Stockton, and Charles Barkley.

larry bird nba basketball

9 – Larry Bird

Drafted into the NBA by the Boston Celtics in 1978, Larry Bird was a 12-time All-Star, 3-time NBA MVP (consecutively), a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and three-time NBA Championship. He played his entire career with the Boston Celtics.

Like many others here, Bird was a member of the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team” and therefore a two-time Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. Bird played as small forward and power forward and it considered one of the greatest shooters of all time.

wilt chamberlain nba basketball

8 – Wilt Chamberlain

Considered one of the best centers in basketball history, Wilton Norman Chamberlain played for the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Los Angeles Lakers. To this day he remains the only player in NBA history to single-handedly score 100 points in a single game.

Chamberlain was a 13-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, four-time NBA MVP, a Finals MVP, and a two-time NBA champion. He was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978.

Bill Russell nba basketball

7 – Bill Russell

in 1956, Bill Russell was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks but was traded to the Boston Celtics shortly after where he played all of his 13 seasons in the NBA. During that time he became a 12-time All-Star, a five-time NBA Most Valuable Player, an Olympic gold medalist, and an unbelievable 11-time NBA champion.

Russell is famous for his shot-blocking and rebounding, no doubt attributed to his 7’4” wingspan. He ranks second in both rebounds per game and total rebounds, and had 12 consecutive seasons with over 1000 rebounds. 

magic johnson nba basketball

6 – Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson, born Earving Johnson Jr., played point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers for 13 seasons after being drafted first overall in 1979. In his first year, he won the NBA Most Valuable Player award and won the NBA championship—plus four more over the course of his career.

Johnson is a 12-time NBA All-Star, was a member of the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team”, a two-time Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, and is considered the greatest point guard in NBA history.

tim duncan nba basketball

5 – Tim Duncan

Considered to be the greatest power forward in basketball history, Tim Duncan spent his entire 19 professional seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. He was a 15-time NBA All-Star, two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, and three-time NBA Finals MVP with five NBA championships to his name.

Duncan was drafted by the Spurs in 1997 as the first overall pick and immediately earned the NBA Rookie of the Year award. He earned the nickname “The Big Fundamental” because of his playing style that was simple, some called it “boring”, yet effective.

4 – Shaquille O’Neal

Currently a sports analyst on Inside the NBA on TNT, Shaquille O’Neal was one of the tallest and heaviest players in NBA history coming in at 7’1” and 325 pounds. However, he was anything but cumbersome during his 19-year professional career.

O’Neal won the Rookie of the Year award in 1993, a Most Valuable Player award, was a three-time Finals MVP, a 15-time NBA All-Star, and four NBA championships (three of the consecutive). He currently ranks in 8th place for all-time points scored and third all-time in field goal percentage.

Kareem abdul Jabbar nba basketball

3 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

When it comes to NBA records, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds many. For instance, he holds the record for most NBA MVP awards with six and the most NBA All-Star appearances with 19. He also played on six championship teams during his 20-season career with both the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Abdul-Jabber was drafted as the first overall pick by the almost-brand-new Milwaukee Bucks in 1969 and spent six seasons with them. He’s known for his trademark “skyhook” shot—aptly named by Bucks’ radio announcer Eddie Doucette who said “that hook was so high that it was coming out of the sky.”

2 – LeBron James

Coming in at #2 on the list of greatest basketball players of all time is LeBron James. James, so far in his career, is a 15-time NBA All-Star, a three-time NBA All-Star MVP, and is the all-time playoffs scoring leader in the NBA. James was drafted out of high school as the first overall draft pick by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.

Since then, James has also played for the Miami Heat, the Cavaliers again, and is currently with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s the winner of three consecutive NBA championship titles (two consecutive with Miami and one with Cleveland) and two Olympic gold medals.

Michael Jordan

1 – Michael Jordan

Number one on the list of greatest basketball players of all time is Michael Jordan, which should come as a surprise to no one. Jordan played 15 seasons in the NBA mostly for the Chicago Cubs and then the Washington Wizards.

Michael Jordan has won six NBA championship titles (three consecutively, then three more consecutively), five NBA Most Valuable Player awards, 14 All-Star appearances, NBA Defensive Player of the Year, an Olympic gold medal as a member of the 1992 “Dream Team”, and the list goes on. He holds the NBA records for highest playoff scoring average (33.45) and highest regular season scoring average (30.12).

Written by Worthly

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