We’ve done Points, assists and minutes. Now it’s time for kings of the rebound, the best rebounders in the history of the NBA. No active players are in the top ten, but I think it’s the game has changed drastically from the days of Wilt and Russell, when the centers just stood in the middle and snatched every ball in sight. There are a few players playing today getting close – Shaquille isn’t far, but still, present day numbers aren’t close to the good ol’ days of the 60’s and 70’s, when the centers ruled the earth.
Number 10 – Wes Unseld, 1968-1981 , 13,769 Rebounds
Unseld spent his entire career with the Washington/Capital/Baltimore Bullets, all 13 seasons of it. He played 984 games, averaging 14 rebounds per game. He led the league in rebounds per game in 1974-1975, grabbing 14.8 rebounds per game. He averaged over 10 rebounds per game in 12 of his 13 seasons. He actually averaged much more than 14.8 in his first five seasons in the league, including 18.2 in his rookie season, but it wasn’t enough with Chamberlain and Russell around.
Unseld was voted into the hall of fame in 1988, won an NBA title with the Bullets in 1978 including the finals MVP, and in 1969 won both rookie of the year and league MVP, the second player in history (Chamberlain the first) to achieve that.
Number 9 – Walt Bellamy, 1961-1975, 14,241 Rebound
Walt Bellamy played in the real early days of the NBA for teams like the Chicago Packers and Zephyrs and also the New Orleans Jazz. He played for seven teams during his NBA career, playing 1043 games, averaging 13.7 rebounds per game, 7th best all time. He never led the league in rebounding but averaged more than 10 per game in 11 of his 14 seasons. His best came in his rookie season, averaging 19 per game.
Bellamy was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1993 and was a four time NBA All Star.
Number 8 – Nate Thurmond, 1963-1977, 14,464 Rebounds
Another Center who started his career in the early 60’s and never won the rebounding title because of two other giants in the league at that time (Russell, Chamberlain). Thurmond played 964 games, averaging 15 rebounds per game, 5th best all time. He averaged more than 20 rebounds per game in a season twice (1966-1967, 1967-1968) but it wasn’t enough for leading the league at the time. He averaged more than 10 in his first 12 seasons.
Thurmond was voted into the hall of fame in 1985 and is a member of the 50 greatest players in the NBA team, and is also the first player to record a quadruple-double, back in 1974 as a Chicago Bull (22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocks). Only three other players have repeated the Q-double since.
Number 7 – Robert Parish, 1976-1997, 14,715 Rebounds
Robert Parish is the only player on the list with a career average lower than 10 rebounds per game, with 9.1 rebounds per game during his 21 seasons and 1611 games. Parish never averaged more than 12.1 rebounds per game but was solid throughout his career under the baskets, averaging more than 10 rebounds per game in 10 seasons.
The original agent zero, or double zero to be exact was inducted in the hall of fame in 2003, a member of the 50 greatest players team, a four time NBA champion and a nine time All Star.
Number 6 – Karl Malone, 1985-2004, 14,968 Rebounds
The mailman Karl Malone is the only player in this top ten that isn’t a center, let’s begin with that. Malone, like many others, never led the league in rebounds per game, but did lead the NBA in total rebounds twice – 1991 and 1995. He averaged over 10 per game 10 times, and went below 8 per game only in one seasons. Over the course of 1476 games Malone averaged just above 10 boards per game.
No league title (thanx Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls), two league MVP awards, NBA’s 50th year all time team and a hall of fame induction coming very soon highlight his resume.
Number 5 – Moses Malone, 1976 – 1995, 16,212 Rebounds
The second Malone in a row, Moses Malone wasn’t a towering giant like other great rebounders, but his 6’10 height, short for a center didn’t stop him from becoming one of the greatest rebounders of all time, fifth to be exact. He played in 1329 games and averaged 12.2 rebounds per game, 16th on the all time list. He led the league in rebounding six times (1979, 1981-1985), with his best coming in the 1978-1979 season, averaging 17.6 rebounds per game as a Houston Rocket. He averaged over 10 in his first 14 seasons in the league.
Moses won the NBA title once, in 1983 with the Philadelphia 76ers, three league MVP awards, one finals MVP, got into the hall of fame in 2001 and is also a member of the 50 greatest players team.
Number 4 – Elvin Hayes, 1968 – 1984, 16,279 Rebounds
Elvin Hayes was even shorter than Moses at 6’9, but didn’t stop him from playing Center or Power Forward. Hayes is fourth all time in total rebounds and 14th in rebounds per game, averaging 12.5 rebounds in 1303 games. He led the league in rebounding twice – 1969-1970, averaging 16.9 rebounds per game and in 1973-1974, averaging his career best 18.1 per game. He never went below 11 per game during his first 12 seasons in the league.
Hayes is an hall of famer and one of the 50 greats of course and also has one NBA title with the Washington Bullets and Wes Unseld in 1978.
Number 3 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1969 – 1989, 17,440 Rebounds
Number one in a lot of lists, but not here. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is second, well actually third on the all time rebounding list, only to the two giants who ruled the game during the 60’s. Kareem averaged 11.2 rebounds per game in his career, with his numbers dropping drastically in his second decade of play. His average is 24th best all time. He led the league in rebounding only once, in 1976, his debut year with the Lakers, averaging 16.9 rebounds per game. He averaged more than 10 in his first 12 seasons.
Kareem is a six time NBA champion and a six time NBA MVP, a 19 time All Star, and of course one of the greatest 50 players of all time.
Number 2 (Bill Russell) and Number 1 (Wilt Chamberlain)
For statistical purposes only, Chamberlain is number one all time with 23,924 rebounds in 1045 games and Bill Russell is second with 21,620 rebounds in 963 games. Wilt averaged 22.9 in his career, Russell averaged 22.5. They both deserve the top spot. Both men are the only players in history with more than 20,000 rebounds in their career and a career average of more than 20 rebounds per game. The closest is Bob Petit with 16.9. Both represent an age in basketball when a center stood beneath the basket and no one got near him, no one could compete with him, with them. Close friends throughout their career until the 1969 NBA Finals, when Russell accused Chamberlain of copping out of a game in the face of a defeat, and Chamberlain later called Russell a backstabber. The two didn’t speak for more than 20 years after that. Chamberlain has the record for most rebounds in a game, 55, while Russell is second with 53, the only two men to grab more than 50 rebounds in one game. The list goes on and on… but the bottom line is, these two had one of the best individual rivalries in the history of the NBA and maybe team sports. Chamberlain maybe had a better stat line, but Russell had the titles. Chamberlain had two NBA titles, Russell had eleven. Russell was a five time MVP, Chamberlain was a four time MVP. Chamberlain did win more rebounding titles – he led the league in rebounding 11 times, while Russell led the league five times. Russell’s best was 24.7 in 1964, Chamberlain’s best was in 1961 – 27.2 rebounds per game.
What about active players? The only three players in the top 30 all time are Shaquille O’neal, who’s 12,566 rebounds put him at 15th. His average of 11.2 is 24th best all time. Kevin Garnett is 22nd all time in total rebounds with 11,682 and an average of 11.1. Tim Duncan is 28th all time, with 10,547 rebounds and an average of 11.7 per game, 20th best all time.
And two more – Dennis Rodman – the rebound king of the 1990’s – 20th best all time with 11,954 rebounds and an average of 13.1, 11th best all time. Dwight Howard’s 12.5 rebounds per game in his short career put him 14th best all time.