The NBA’s Top Ten Centers of All Time

Posted on 13 Dec, 2010, by in NBA

Our final chapter in the best by position in NBA history posts, finishing with the big guys, from Mikan to Shaquille, the top ten centers in NBA history.

Previously – Top 10 PG Top 10 SG Top 10 SF Top 10 PF

Number 10 – George Mikan


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Probably the NBA’s first superstar, Mikan was so dominant back in the day he caused rules to change, and not something like a “Mikan” rule for some violent foul. They had to widen the lane from six to twelve feet (THE “Mikan rule”), invent the shot clock and in college they added the defensive goaltending. He won 5 NBA championships with the Minneapolis Lakers and two more in the pre-NBA versions (NBL and BAA). Mikan, a hall of famer and part of the 50 greatest ever team, averaged 22.3 points and 13.7 rebounds during his NBA career. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 81.

Number 9 – Bill Walton

If it wasn’t for the injuries… well, you know the drill. Walton played in only 10 NBA seasons, a total of 468 games, finishing with a career average of 13.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. It wasn’t just the stats. Walton’s passing and his ability to dictate the game as a pivot was unmatched and it’s still hard to find any big man who did it better. Walton led the Blazers to their only championship in 1977, winning the Finals MVP. He won the 1978 regular season MVP. In 1986 he came off the bench for the Celtics, helping them win their 16th NBA title (who knew they’d have to wait so long for 17) in what might be the best basketball team ever, winning sixth man of the year that season.

Number 8 – Patrick Ewing


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21 Points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks per game. 11 All-Star games, six All-NBA second teams and three All-Defensive second teams. Two Olympic Gold medals. One of the tougher competitors in the NBA for 16 years. Too bad that Ewing will always be remember as the guy who couldn’t get a championship to New York. So what if he never had enough talent and the Knicks post-Ewing are a sad joke at best? Not winning when you have a shot (1994 NBA Finals) is worse than losing quite often.

Number 7 – David Robinson


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And if it wasn’t for Tim Duncan, Robinson might have been in the same category as Ewing. Still, he retired with two NBA titles under his belt. A San Antonio Spurs player for life, Robinson began his NBA career at 24, serving in the Navy for six years. He was an immediate star in the NBA, but never got the Spurs further than the Conference Finals. His injury in 1996-1997, causing him to miss almost the entire season led to the no.1 draft pick that made the Spurs the most successful franchise besides the Lakers in the last 12 years. Tim Duncan came, and although “The Admiral” wasn’t the same player, he didn’t need to carry all the load, winning two NBA titles, going out as a champions. He finished his career averaging 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3 blocks per game. He won the 1994 MVP award and the scoring title that year (29.8 points), made 10 All-Star games, 4 All-NBA first teams and 4 All-Defensive first teams. He is a hall of famer and part of the 50 greatest ever team.

Number 6 – Moses Malone

Besides Kobe Bryant, Moses Malone is the most successful prep-to-pro player in NBA history. LeBron has a bit more to do and earn before he passes him. Maybe the toughest player in NBA history, this 6’10 center ruled the paint in the NBA for nearly a decade, leading the league in rebounds six times, during his years with the Rockets and the Sixers. He won three MVP awards and one NBA title, in 1983, with one of the most dominant playoff performances in NBA history, losing only once during the post-season. Moses averaged 26 points and 15.8 rebounds during that run. A hall of fame player since 2001, one of the 50 greatest ever, Malone also made 12 All-Star games, 4 All-NBA first teams and one All-Defensive first team.

Number 5 – Hakeem Olajuwon


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Ah, the dream. I loved watching him and Robinson play during the 1990’s. Small Forwards trapped in Big-men’s bodies. Olajuwon was a combination of finesse, raw athleticism and a toughness that might be missed on the first look. He was the greatest center of the 1990’s, an era packed at that position while Shaq was still picking up moved before his un-matched dominance after arriving with the Lakers. Olajuwon won two NBA titles and two Finals MVP’s with the Houston Rockets, enjoying the Jordan retirement and struggles with his comeback. He won the MVP in 1994 and two Defensive player of the year awards (1993-1994). He was a 12 time All-Star, Six All-NBA first team selection and Five All-Defensive first teams. Obviously, he’s a hall of famer and part of the 50 greatest ever team.

Number 4 – Shaquille O’Neal

Most Dominant Ever? I dunno… But boy was he dominant during the Lakers three-peat. Shaq was a physical phenom for the first moment he stepped on a basketball court. They had to change the baskets after he broke a couple during his rookie year. He led the Orlando Magic to their first NBA finals and actually made them a team anyone cared about for the first time during his four seasons there. Arriving in LA to join the Lakers seemed a perfect fit. Shaq loved the spotlight, and there was plenty of it there. But not until Phil Jackson arrived and Kobe Bryant shook off his growing pains did O’Neal win NBA titles. Then came Wade in Miami after the big feud, Shaq got his fourth title, and since then has been moving around, latching on to other superstars or concepts, trying to get his fifth ring. Now he’s at Geriatric Park in Boston. And on to the Numbers  – Three time Finals MVP, one time regular season MVP, 15 All-Star games, two time scoring champions and eight time All-NBA first team. Career stats – 24 points per game, 11 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.

Number 3 – Bill Russell


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Like Walton but to a much greater extent, Russell wasn’t an offensive machine like many others on this list. He was first of all a defensive juggernaut, and it’s too bad they didn’t count blocks when he was playing. He was an impenetrable wall, and made everyone around him better. Russell was a fantastic athlete and a gifted passer, playing the pivot role brilliantly, finishing his career with 4.3 assists per game. The number that says it all about Russell was the number of rings – Eleven NBA championships, more than any other NBA player, all with the Celtics. He won five MVP awards and led the league in rebounding five times. A 12 time All-Star, hall of famer and part of the 50 greatest ever team, Russell’s greatness was also defined by his rivalry with Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain probably has the better stats, especially offensively, but Russell has the rings that Wilt usually missed out on, thanks to Russell.

Number 2 – Wilt Chamberlain

When talking about Wilt, the numbers do all the work. When talking about the most dominant ever, he was probably it Yeah, the game was different, and for a 7’1 guy like him it was much easier to dominate than today, but still, Chamberlain’s records still stand, most famously his 100 point game (against the Knicks of course) in 1962. He won two league titles, one with Sixers (1967) and one with the Lakers (1972), 4 MVP’s and one Finals MVP (1972), seven scoring titles (six consecutive), led the league in rebounding 11 times and once in assists(!!!), averaging 8.6 per game in 1967-1968. There was no player and there probably never will be as dominant offensively as Wilt was during his NBA career. Wilt also averaged an incredible 45.8 minutes per game during his career, including 48.5(!!) in 1961-1962.

Number 1 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


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More points than any other NBA player in history (38,387 in 21 seasons) is enough? Six MVP’s, enough? Six NBA titles (one with the Bucks and five with the Lakers)? Kareem played his best basketball during the 1970’s, when the league was far from it’s popularity a decade later, but most people remember him from his time with the Lakers, winning five titles alongside Magic and an All-Star crew. Kareem won two scoring titles and led the league in rebounding twice, but was consistent all the way, still averaging double-digits points into his forties. He player less than 74 games only twice during his career and played 1560 games during his 21 years career. He played in 19 All-Star games and made 10 All-NBA first teams. Obviously, like with the rest of the guys, he is in the hall of fame and part of the 50 greatest ever team. Oh, and there was that skyhook, maybe the greatest shot in the history of the league.