Today, we wrap things up with the 20 greatest centers of all time in the NBA, in our opinion, led off by a GOAT candidate in his own right, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Top accolades: Six NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, six MVPs, 10 All-NBA 1st Team selections, 19 All-Stars, five All-Defensive 1st Team selections
NBA rank: 1st in scoring, 3rd in rebounds and blocks, 45th in assists, 107th in steals
The GOAT debate is considered a two-horse race at this point in the NBA, but if there is a strong third candidate, it’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who dominated for almost two decades thanks to his skyhook shot and overall greatness as a scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker. If anything, the longevity argument is still with Abdul-Jabbar, as the all-time big man won his two Finals MVP awards 14 years apart, first in 1971 and then again in 1985. Most players’ careers don’t last anywhere near that long, yet Abdul-Jabbar was dominating at the highest level for that long.
Top accolades: 11 NBA titles, five MVPs, 11, All-NBA selections, 12 All-Stars
NBA rank: 2nd in rebounds, 114th in assists, 157th in scoring
Bill Russell’s record for most NBA titles will never be beaten, as no one has come, or will come close to his 11 career championships. Russell’s resume is actually hurt because many accolades, like Finals MVP or Defensive Player of the Years didn’t even exist in his heyday. What’s more, since blocks weren’t recorded as a stat in his career, there’s no way to know how many Russell had for his career. There’s a chance he would be at the top of blocks standings along with the player coming up next on our ranking. Russell may not have had the longest career, but boy, was that run successful. Just as a curious note: Russell had more MVPs than All-NBA 1st Team selections in his career (three).
Top accolades: Two NBA titles, one Finals MVP, four MVPs, seven All-NBA 1st Team selections, 13 All-Stars, two All-Defensive 1st Team selections
NBA rank: 1st in rebounds, 7th in scoring, 81st in assists
The most dominant big man offensively in NBA history, though that partially had to do with the level of competition Wilt Chamberlain faced in his era. Still, when you dominate at the level Chamberlain did, who cares who he did it against? Chamberlain did come a little short in the team success department as he was usually better in the regular season than in the playoffs, something that many believe had to do with an unwillingness to get fouled late in close games due to his unreliable free throw.
Chamberlain’s single-season rebounding and scoring records are unassailable. Plus he has the second-best scoring average behind only Jordan. And had MJ played one more year with the Wizards, Chamberlain might actually be No. 1 in that stat. Chamberlain is also the only guy to lead the league in total scoring, rebounds and assists for a season, and retired as the all-time leader in scoring and rebounding at the time.
Top accolades: Four NBA titles, three Finals MVPs, one MVP, eight All-NBA 1st Team selections, 15 All-Stars, three All-Defensive 2nd Team selections
NBA rank: 8th in scoring and blocks, 15th in rebounds, 216th in assists
The most dominant physical specimen in the NBA since the days of Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal was an absolute freak with his blend of size, strength and unreal explosiveness. During O’Neal’s peak years, teams were making moves with the sole intention of containing the big man. Many ho-hum centers made a killing thanks to that just because they were another huge body to throw at O’Neal.
The fact the Big Artistotle won only one MVP was kind of ridiculous in hindsight, as there were various seasons he was the most dominant player in the league. O’Neal wanting to be a star off the court probably took away a bit of impact on the court, but he was devastating throughout his career regardless, even despite being a porous free-throw shooter.
Hakeem Olajuwon 🇳🇬
Top accolades: Two NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, one MVP, six All-NBA 1st Team selections, 12 All-stars, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, five All-Defensive 1st Team selections
NBA rank: 1st in blocks, 9th in steals, 12th in points, 14th in rebounds, 214th in assists
The best international player ever, Hakeem Olajuwon competed and produced at an elite level on both ends of the floor with outstanding low-post moves and defensive skills to match. Olajuwon ranks first in blocks on record, though there’s a bit of an asterisk on that because they didn’t keep track of those before 1973-74. Also, he is the only player to rank Top 14 in four different major statistical categories: points, rebounds, blocks and steals.
Top accolades: One NBA title, one Finals MVP, three MVPs, eight All-NBA selections, 12 All-Stars, two All-Defensive Team selections
NBA rank: 5th in rebounds, 10th in scoring, 27th in blocks, 135th in steals
Perhaps the most underappreciated superstar ever, Moses Malone was as dominant as it gets at the center spot with physical toughness as a rebounder, leading the league in nightly boards an astounding six times, including once at 17.6 rebounds per game. Malone was also a monster scorer in the paint, using his brute strength to batter smaller foes down low. Many consider Malone the greatest offensive rebounder the league has ever seen, as his timing and instincts to chase boards on offense were second to none.
Top accolades: Two NBA titles, one MVP, 10 All-NBA selections, 10 All-Stars, one Defensive Player of the Year award, eight All-Defensive selections
NBA rank: 6th in blocks, 32nd in rebounds, 42nd in scoring, 61st in steals
One of the best bodies in NBA history, David Robinson’s physique looked like it was molded out of clay in his prime. He used his frame and strength to torture opponents on both ends for years, doubling as a high-level scorer and freakishly impactful defender, especially protecting the rim. Still, Robinson didn’t get over the hump until Duncan came around, which hurt his spot on this list.
Top accolades: Seven All-NBA selections, 11 All-Stars, three All-Defensive 2nd Team selections
NBA rank: 7th in blocks, 24th in scoring, 25th in rebounds, 118th in steals
One of the legendary big men of the ’90s, Patrick Ewing was a beastly shot-blocker who had great size and strength down low, but who also had soft touch as a scorer in the post and out of the mid-range. Was never able to win a title, however, due mostly to the Rockets and Bulls.
Top accolades: Five NBA titles, six All-NBA 1st Team selections, four All-Stars
The first truly dominant NBA big man, George Mikan used his massive size to his advantage along with the unusually soft touch he had for a player of his era. Mikan could finish ably with either hand in the paint. There’s a reason the Mikan Drill is still used to this day.
Top accolades: Two NBA titles, one MVP, two All-NBA selections, five All-Stars
NBA rank: 67th in blocks, 68th in scoring, 71st in rebounds
A monster-scoring big man who led the league in scoring three consecutive seasons, including once at 34.5 points per game, Bob McAdoo had a pristine mid-range jumper and a plethora of post moves to torment opponents with.
Top accolades: One NBA title, one Finals MVP, one MVP, one All-NBA 1st Team selection, five All-Stars
NBA rank: 13th in rebounds, 137th in assists
Despite standing just 6-foot-7, Wes Unseld was one of the most physically imposing centers ever thanks to his incredible strength and stout frame. Unseld was one of the best rebounders in NBA history, averaging 14.0 for his career and leading the league in boards in 1974-75, and was extremely efficient at finishing down low.
Nikola Jokic 🇷🇸
Top accolades: Two MVPs, three All-NBA 1st Team selections, four All-Stars, one Olympic silver medal
NBA rank: 186th in assists, 227th in rebounds
He can legitimately do it all from the center spot, creating for teammates like a point guard, posting up with incredibly high efficiency as a finisher, spacing the floor from three and almost never missing on his signature floater. Even his defense has improved, as he rebounds like a monster and has quick, intelligent hands to rack up steals. How high up on this list Jokic can soar will partly depend on how many – if any – championships he wins, but there’s no doubt the Serbian big man will get higher over the coming years.
Top accolades: Four NBA titles, two All-NBA selections, nine All-Stars
Share of the vote: 25.41 percent of the maximum amount possible
The starting center on those legendary Celtics teams of the 1980s, Robert Parish was a great complement to the likes of Bird and McHale, willing to do all of the dirty work down low while still providing a solid scoring punch in the paint. Parish ranks in the Top 10 in both career rebounds and blocks.
Top accolades: Two NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, one MVP, five All-NBA selections, seven All-Stars, one All-Defensive 1st Team selections
NBA rank: 64th in rebounds
Best-known for limping out onto the court for Game 7 of the 1970 Finals for New York and hitting his first two shots on a bad thigh, Willis Reed is now widely considered one of the greatest Knicks of all time, a big man slightly short on stature but not on talent and sheer will. Reed was a monster rebounder and shot-blocker despite standing just 6-foot-9.
Top accolades: One NBA title, five All-NBA 1st Team selections, eight All-Stars, three Defensive Player of the Year awards, four All-Defensive 1st Team selections
NBA rank: 10th in rebounds, 13th in blocks, 55th in scoring, 141st in steals
At one time, Dwight Howard was the best big man in the NBA, an era that lasted for multiple seasons during his time with the Magic. Howard was an awe-inspiring athlete for his size, who would often sky for rebounds, to block shots or to finish alley-oops.
Like Gasol, Howard was another glaring omission from the NBA75 list despite being a Top 10 rebounder ever, ranking 13th all-time in blocks and having three Defensive Player of the Year awards. But that might have to do with him not being that well-liked by coaches and teammates during his time in the league.
Top accolades: Two NBA titles, one MVP, three All-NBA 2nd Team selections, eight All-Stars, one All-Defensive 1st Team selection
NBA rank: 35th in rebounds, 198th in scoring, 238th in assists
Florida State legend Dave Cowens is one of just two players ever to win league MVP in a season they weren’t voted 1st Team All-NBA along with another Celtics legend, Bill Russell. He was a bundle of energy in his prime, one who was a monster rebounder, averaging 15.2 rebounds over his eight-year prime.
Top accolades: Two NBA titles, one Finals MVP, one MVP, two All-NBA Team selections, two All-Stars, two All-Defensive 1st Team selections, one Sixth Man of the Year award
NBA rank: 99th in blocks
Had injuries not cut down his prime, Bill Walton would surely have ranked higher on this list and made our HoopsHype76 list. Unfortunately, that was not the case, but Walton still goes down as one of the best centers in league history thanks to his energy, ability to run the floor, score in the post, create for others and defend. He did well to turn himself into a useful role player later on in his career, too.
Top accolades: Six All-Stars, one All-Defensive 2nd Team selection
NBA rank: 26th in blocks, 52nd in rebounds, 129th in scoring
Although the majority of his impact was felt in the ABA, where he even won an MVP award, Artis Gilmore’s greatness was still felt in the NBA, where he spent 12 seasons and established himself as one of the deadliest low-post scorers around. Gilmore led the league in field-goal percentage four years in a row and was one of the toughest covers for opposing bigs on a nightly basis.
Top accolades: Seven All-Stars, five All-Defensive Team selections
NBA rank: 11th in rebounds, 161st in scoring, 238th in blocks
One of the best rebounders basketball has ever seen, Nate Thurmond averaged 14-plus rebounds nine times in his 14 years in the NBA, including two campaigns where he averaged over 20 boards per contest. Thurmond was no slouch as a scorer, either, as the Hall-of-Famer averaged at least 20 points nightly five times in his career.
Dikembe Mutombo 🇨🇩
Top accolades: Eight All-Stars, two All-NBA Team selections, four Defensive Player of the Year awards, six All-Defensive team selections
NBA rank: 2nd in blocks, 20th in rebounds
One of the best shot-blockers in NBA history, Dikembe Mutombo boasted impressive longevity despite being very limited as a scorer thanks to his ability to defend the paint, as well as thanks to his rebounding down low.