Throughout NBA history, we have often seen one or two players seemingly dominate the league for a decade. These guys were the face of the league, the most impactful players, and simply the best talent in the world at their respective times. When it comes to ranking the greatest players ever, analyzing a player’s impact during their era is arguably the most important thing.
Since the ’50s, there have generally been one or two players that pretty much dominated the league while the rest did their best to catch up. As we approach 2020, it is time to look back at which player or players were the best during their era and who will receive the torch as the greatest player in the world in the 2020’s.
First, we start with the 1950s before ultimately ending up where we are now with an official prediction on who will be the Mt. Rushmore player for the coming decade.
1950’s: George Mikan
Mikan was the first man to set the standard for all incoming NBA centers. He was the first truly dominant big man and player that dominated the league all decade long. Mikan was the first center who fans loved to watch since he ran riot in a league predominantly filled with speedier players with skill. But Mikan was a force to behold, thanks to his size and strength, and was an example for most of the NBA bigs that were to follow him.
Mikan led the Minneapolis Lakers to five titles in six seasons during this era and set the tone for the players that were soon to be regarded as the greatest in their generations.
1960’s: Bill Russell And Wilt Chamberlain
The big man dominance continued in the ’60s, with Russell winning a ridiculous 11 championships while Wilt shattered almost every NBA record that still stands today, including a 100-point performance and a 50-rebound performance in single games.
Wilt was an outstanding physical specimen and basically had his way with most of the league every night. He was taller, stronger, and more athletic than pretty much the entire league and therefore could effortlessly score whenever he wanted and rebound 25+ times a game. Even if there are doubts about his competition at the time, Wilt is a historical figure alongside Bill Russell.
Russell won 11 titles and was the leader of a very stacked Boston Celtics team. While they had big names on the roster, it was Russell who led the charge on the defensive end and made sure his team came out on top 11 out of 12 times in the Finals. There will never be another winner of that magnitude.
1970’s: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
In the ’70s, it was all about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He became the best player in the world and made a statement that he was planning on retiring as the greatest big man who ever lived. In fact, it was clear he wasn’t going to stop there. Kareem wanted to be recognized as the best player ever, his resume really speaks for itself.
Kareem was unstoppable offensively, with an unblockable skyhook that terrorized defenses all decade long. He was also a force defensively, and pretty much had every intangible you could have as a superstar center. Kareem managed to win 1 MVP Award and 5 NBA titles during this decade.
Little did we know, Kareem wasn’t close to being finished as he had a lot left in the tank for the next decade where he won 1 MVP Award and 1 NBA title.
1980’s: Magic Johnson And Larry Bird
Magic came into the league and took it by storm, immediately becoming the best point guard and leader in the game. His Showtime passing, on the court leadership, and pure winning intangibles made him the face of the league for so long.
Magic was regarded as the best player on Earth, alongside Larry Bird, whenever he was on the court. Magic was a phenom in his rookie season, capturing the NBA title and Finals MVP in the same year.
Bird was the man and the legend who the entire league respected and even feared. Larry Bird was renowned for telling you what he was going to do on the floor and then doing it while you watched. His shooting, rebounding, playmaking, and killer instinct made him the greatest SF ever for a very long time.
Magic Johnson won 5 NBA Championships, 3 NBA Finals MVPs and 3 MVP Awards, while Larry Bird won 3 NBA Championships, 2 NBA Finals MVPs and 3 NBA MVP Awards.
1990’s: Michael Jordan
The ’90s was the decade of Michael Jordan, and there is absolutely no question about that. Jordan is often regarded as the greatest player who ever lived, and it is simply because he had a dedication to excellence on the floor. Everything he did was spectacular, and fans all across the world would flock to the TV to see what MJ would pull off next. He was truly the most exciting player we had ever seen.
But what was even more impressive was his ability to win games, and consistently be the best player on the court despite sharing the court with the likes of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Jordan’s ability to come up in the clutch time and time again, along with his dominance on both ends of the floor, made him the best player in the 90’s and the best player we have ever seen.
Jordan won a whopping six NBA titles with six Finals MVPs, along with a Defensive Player of the Year Award and five regular-season MVPs.
He is the greatest of all time and it is nearly impossible to argue with that.
2000’s: Kobe Bryant And Shaquille O’Neal
The 2000s was an interesting decade, as three players have a right to claim the throne. San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan has a strong case, with 5 NBA titles, 3 NBA Finals MVPs and 2 MVP Awards to his name.
But no question it was the time of dynamic duo Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq was a force by himself, pretty much putting up the most dominating string of production we had ever seen from a player from the span of 2000-2004. Shaq was a force of nature, and teams simply had no answer for him on either end of the floor. He was too big, too strong, too skilled, and simply too dominant. Shaq won three NBA titles in a row with three Finals MVPs to his name. He won 1 more title with the Miami Heat and Dwyane Wade in 2006.
While Shaq got the Finals MVPs, Kobe Bryant was arguably just as good as Shaq during their last two titles together. Bryant had the makings of becoming Jordan 2.0 since he played the same way and had some extra offensive firepower to his name. While he never quite got there, Bryant came closest to anybody in NBA history in meeting Jordan’s level of play.
Bryant was 1A to Shaq’s 1 during their NBA Finals runs together, but what puts Kobe a notch higher was the fact that he captured two NBA titles as the leader of his own team with the Lakers. Bryant captured 5 NBA titles during this decade, along with 2 Finals MVP Awards and 1 MVP Award.
2010’s: LeBron James
LeBron James was a force as soon as he entered the league, like a 260+ freak of nature who moved like an unstoppable force. James immediately became one of the best players in the league in his rookie season, but he truly shined in the 2010s. James won all three of his NBA titles during this era, including 4 NBA MVPs and 3 Finals MVPs.
LeBron broke the stigma of remaining loyal to your team and being forced to accept your situation and left during free agency to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the Miami Heat. With this move, James is often credited for changing the NBA and giving players the power to decide their own careers, as we later saw with Kevin Durant.
James’ move to Miami was a good choice, clearly, as he won two NBA titles before going back home to Cleveland. He also managed to knock off a 73-9 win Golden State Warriors team and win a title for the city of Cleveland. No doubt about it, James was the man of the 2010s.
2020’s: Giannis Antentokounmpo?
Giannis Antentokounmpo will likely be the man to become the face of the league during this decade. While we have seen many physical specimens over NBA history, we still have not seen anyone like Giannis before. He is simply incomparable, thanks to his unbelievable length and movement which mimics a speedy point guard. His wire length and ability around the basket will become the nightmare for defenders all decade long.
If Giannis gets a consistent jump shot to his name, and he has plenty of time as he is not even in his prime, he truly has the potential to be one of the most dominant players we have ever seen. Especially if Giannis manages to lead the Bucks to an NBA title, he will overtake the likes of Luka Doncic as the greatest player in the 2020’s.