One of the most popular sports in the United States, basketball is known for its fast and exciting pace, high scoring games, and nail-biting finishes. Basketball is the most widely played sports in the US with total participants across 51 states estimated to be more than 30 million. Over the years, the game of basketball has produced some highly capable players, who have captivated the audience with their deft skills and helped increase popularity of the game across the globe. To better understand their contributions, let’s take a look at the lives and times of the top 10 greatest basketball players of all time.
Hakeem Olajuwon – A Nigerian-American, Hakeem Olajuwon is counted among the greatest basketball players of all time. During his college days, his dunking action was so effortless that his coach used to say that it all looked like a dream. Subsequently, Hakeem was nicknamed as “The Dream”. During his professional career from 1984 to 2002, Hakeem played as center position for Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He contributed significantly to Houston Rockets’ consecutive NBA championship wins in 1994 and 1995. Hakeem Olajuwon was included in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Larry Bird – During his professional career from 1979–1992, Larry Bird played for the Boston Celtics as a small forward and power forward. Among his many achievements, Larry is rated to be the best Boston Celtics player of all time and best NBA small forward of all time. He was part of the teams that won the NBA championship in 1981, 1984, and 1986. He was also part of the United States basketball team that won the Olympic Gold in 1992. In 1996, Larry was included in NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Wilt Chamberlain – Towering at 7 ft. 1 in, Wilt Chamberlain played mostly as a center position. During his professional career from 1958 to 1973, Wilt played for various teams such as Harlem Globetrotters, Philadelphia / San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers. Wilt has many records to his credit, one of which is scoring 100 points in an NBA game. He is also the only player to average above 40 and 50 points in a single season. Wilt Chamberlain is part of the list of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
Bill Russell – Playing as center position, Bill Russell is known for his abilities in rebounding, shot-blocking and man-to-man defense. During his professional career from 1956 to 1969, Bill played for the Boston Celtics. He is considered as a major contributor to Celtics’ eleven NBA championship wins in 1957, 1959–1966, 1968, and 1969. Bill has also worked as a coach for Boston Celtics and other NBA teams such as Seattle SuperSonics and Sacramento Kings. For his contributions to the game of basketball and in the Civil Rights Movement, Bill was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 by Barack Obama.
Magic Johnson – Regarded as the greatest NBA point guard of all time, Magic Johnson played for Los Angeles Lakers from 1979 to 1991. His professional NBA career was briefly disputed when he was diagnosed with HIV in 1991. He made a comeback in 1996 and 1999 and eventually took final retirement in 2000. During his career, Johnson’s team won five NBA championships in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988. He was part of the United States team that won the Olympic Gold in 1992.
Tim Duncan – Considered by many to be the best power forward of all time, Tim Duncan played for San Antonio Spurs. He also played as the center position in some of the games. In his 19 year career from 1997 to 2016, Duncan had registered five NBA championship wins in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014. His primary strength was his consistency in various fields such as passing ability, goal scoring, shot blocking and rebounds.
Shaquille O’Neal – A ‘giant’ would be an ideal term to describe Shaquille O’Neal, as he stood 7 ft. 1 in (2.16 m) tall and weighed 325 pounds (147 kg). During his 19 year career, he played for various teams such as Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics. O’Neal has four NBA championships to his credit in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2006. Apart from his basketball career, O’Neal is also a rap artist, electronic music producer, touring DJ, and film & television actor.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Playing primarily as a center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spent 20 years with Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. By the time he retired, Abdul-Jabbar was the top NBA player in terms of games played, defensive rebounds, blocked shots, field goals, and points scored. Several of these records are yet to be broken. He has won six NBA championships in 1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988. Abdul-Jabbar received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2016.
LeBron James – A celebrated basketball player, LeBron James has played for various teams such as Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers. James has many records to his credit including the max number of playoffs points. He has won three NBA championships in 2012, 2013, and 2016. James usually played as small forward and power forward positions and was known for his superior athletic abilities.
Michael Jordan – Regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan played for Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards. Even though Jordan was relatively shorter (6 ft. 6 in) than other basketball players, he made up for that with his unparalleled leaping ability. This allowed him to emerge as the master of slam dunk. In his career, Jordan won six NBA championships in 1991–1993 and 1996–1998.