There is always a ton of conversation going around about the greatest players in NBA history, a list where it is always certain that some Hall of Famers and all-time greats will ultimately be left out. Specifically, pundits and fans often rank the 15 greatest players of all time, where the players included are completely above the rest of the talents that's ever played.
It is extremely difficult to choose only 15 players across 75 years of arguably the most competitive sports league in the world. But the players that are included are widely regarded as the best to have ever done it in terms of skill, impact, and accolades. Of course, with Stephen Curry capturing his 4th NBA title following the 2022 NBA Finals, he will likely be included on that list. But who else will join him?
We have compiled our list of the top-15 players ever, ranking them based on individual accolades, team achievements, statistics, and impact on the court. Beyond simply looking at numbers, the top-15 players of all time will be ranked by what they did on the floor during their era based on every season’s narrative over their career. Without further ado, here are the 15 greatest NBA players of all time ranked in 5 separate tiers.
Oscar Robertson, Jerry West
The original triple-double King, Oscar Robertson, was an elite athlete during his career and could be considered one of the most physically dominant guards of his era. Capturing the 1964 MVP award and 3 All-Star Game MVPs, Oscar was incredibly successful as a 6’5” point guard who won 6 assist titles.
Robertson became the first player ever to average a triple-double in a season, and before Russell Westbrook made it normal, that was something we thought we would never see again. With 12 All-Star appearances to his name, Oscar is easily a top-15 player of all time.
The second player in Tier 5 is Jerry West, the NBA’s logo. The superstar guard averaged 27.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 6.7 APG over his career while making 14 All-Star Team appearances. The guard also won a scoring title and assist title over his career, winning the NBA title in 1972 after years of falling short.
West is known for having a 1-8 Finals record, but he got the job done before he hung it up. Not to mention, West became the only player in NBA history to win the Finals MVP in a losing effort, and it happened in 1969 when he posted 37.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 7.4 APG. No question, West is a top-5 guard of all time and a top-15 player ever.
Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Durant
Wilt Chamberlain once scored 100 points in a single game, and he had seasons where he averaged 50.4 PPG and even 27.2 RPG. No player owns the stat sheets like The Big Dipper because he was the most unstoppable physical force in NBA history. Wilt also got the job done as a winner as well, capturing 2 NBA titles and a Finals MVP award. The
A 7-time scoring champion and 11-time rebounds leader, Wilt did it all as the most dominant physical specimen ever. Sure, he played in an era where he was easily the biggest player on the court, but he still put up ridiculous numbers that fans can’t even manage in video games.
Superstar Hakeem Olajuwon won 2 NBA titles with the Houston Rockets in back-to-back fashion, taking over the league when Michael Jordan retired. Thanks to his elite post moves and defense, Hakeem is easily considered a top-5 center of all time.
Over his 18-year career, Olajuwon made 12 All-Star Teams and 9 All-Defensive Teams while winning the coveted Defensive Player of the Year awards twice as a member of the Rockets. We have yet to see a big man with the elite footwork that Hakeem had, and he belongs in Tier 4 because of his championship exploits.
A 4-time scoring champion and one of the most elite scorers ever, Kevin Durant has to be one of the most talented stars that ever played the game. The forward has the magical ability to pull up from thirty feet and also shoot over helpless defenders, as he stood close to 7-feet tall. He started his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder and found the most success in his career with the Golden State Warriors.
A 12-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA performer, Durant has won everything from an MVP to a Finals MVP award to go along with a Rookie of the Year. Durant might need to prove he can win without the Golden State Warriors because that is still a criticism taking his stock down.
Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Stephen Curry
Shaquille O’Neal headlines Tier 3 with 4 NBA titles, 3 Finals MVPs, and a host of broken backboards to his name. Other than Wilt Chamberlain, Shaq dominated the paint for years, mainly as a member of the Magic, Lakers, and Heat. The center was elite at scoring inside and never made it look easier when he was in position down low.
It is very easy to say any NBA player is a big guy, but Shaq was truly a massive figure on the court. But that shouldn’t be held against him because he took his physical gifts and used them to completely dominate the court and win championships. No wonder there is a statue of the big man outside Crypto.com Arena.
Tim Duncan is another big man that appears in Tier 3, although he was mainly a power forward. The Big Fundamental won 5 championships with the San Antonio Spurs and spearheaded one of the greatest dynasties we have ever seen. Timmy is also regarded as the greatest power forward ever.
The power forward was elite on both ends of the floor, making 15 All-Star appearances, 15 All-Defensive Teams, won two MVPs in 2002 and 2003, and 3 Finals MVPs. Duncan played until he was 39 years old because he knew how to impact the game each time he stepped on the floor because of his extremely high basketball IQ.
A 3-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics, Larry Bird, helped change the league for the better alongside Magic Johnson. Armed with one of the best jump shots in NBA history and some of the best leadership skills at his position, Larry Legend won it all and took over the league during the 1980s.
The Celtics superstar won 3 NBA titles, 3 MVPs, and 2 Finals MVPs while also capturing the 1980 Rookie of the Year. The superstar forward was also a 12-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA performer who had his career cut short by back issues. Even if Bird didn’t play as long as others in the top-15 list, he is easily a member of Tier 3 because of the impact he had on the game.
The greatest winner in NBA history, Bill Russell won a whopping 11 NBA titles in 12 years with the Boston Celtics. The superstar center was elite at dominating the defensive end and also holding his teammates accountable, because he was a natural leader in every facet of the word, on and off the court.
While Wilt Chamberlain was known for putting up the greatest statistics at the center position, Russell was exceptional at winning championships which is why he doesn’t have enough fingers to count all his rings. With career averages of 15.1 PPG and 22.5 RPG, Russell is an easy inclusion in Tier 3.
The most recent inclusion in Tier 3, it is hard to argue against Stephen Curry’s accolades and accomplishments. The point guard changed the game in ways that the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, and Magic Johnson did, except that he used a different method. Through his elite three-point shooting, the landscape of basketball has changed forever.
Kids around the world want to be like Stephen Curry because his natural skill and elite marksmanship is unlike anyone we have ever seen. With 4 championships, 2 MVPs, and a Finals MVP to his name, Curry has to be included in Tier 3 because he has won it all as the most impactful point guard since Magic Johnson.
LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant
LeBron James headlines Tier 2 as the most accomplished player in the NBA right now and has the most impressive career in terms of longevity and consistency. The King has completed 19 seasons in the league and has a resume that includes 4 NBA titles, 4 Finals MVPs, and 4 MVP awards. Not to mention, James has a whopping 18 All-Star Team selections and made the All-NBA Team in his 19th season.
James has changed the game by convincing players to take their careers into their own hands, and nobody has done it better than The King. Winning championships with three different franchises, James is a valued member of Tier 2 and the only player on this list that has a shot at ever coming close to what Michael Jordan did in the league.
The great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also headlines Tier 3. Without question, Kareem is the most accomplished center of all time with 6 championships, 2 Finals MVPs, and 6 MVPs to his name. Armed with the most unstoppable shot in NBA history in the sky hook, Kareem terrorized defenses for years. The center was just as dominant on the defensive end.
By looking at his accolades alone, it can be argued that Kareem had the most impressive career from college to the NBA. The superstar center made 19 All-Star appearances, 15 All-NBA appearances, and 11 All-Defensive Teams. No big man came close to Kareem in terms of individual awards, and that alone places him in Tier 2.
The greatest point guard of all time, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, was the sole reason (with Larry Bird) the NBA became one of the most beloved sports leagues in the world. We have not seen a playmaker and all-around floor general as dominant as Magic because he had it all as a 6’9” point guard. Johnson was the first true “big” point guard.
The legendary Lakers star captured 5 NBA titles, 3 Finals MVPs, and 3 MVP awards with the Los Angeles-based franchise. With his ability to hold off defenders and create scoring opportunities for his teammates, Magic was truly one-of-a-kind. When discussing the best point guards ever, there is no doubt who is at the top.
If it weren’t for Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant would be regarded as the most dominant shooting guard that ever lived. Even with Jordan coming before Bryant, the Lakers star was a photocopy of his idol on the court. Bryant averaged 25.0 PPG over his career, winning 5 NBA titles and 2 Finals MVPs with one franchise.
Kobe also came close to Jordan in terms of impact on both ends of the floor and had the ultimate killer instinct. Of course, Bryant is known for having the most game winners in NBA history. With the Lakers, The Black Mamba captivated fans with his effort and skill level, and we haven’t seen a player like him since he retired.
The undisputed GOAT, Michael Jordan, is simply the best to have ever done it in terms of the eye test, accolades, and all-around impact. The shooting guard captured everything from 6 NBA titles, 6 Finals MVPs, and 5 MVP awards. Of course, he added 10 scoring titles as a member of a Chicago Bulls dynasty. We haven’t seen a more dominant player since MJ was last in the league.
Very few players came close to what MJ accomplished on both ends of the floor, maybe the four players selected in Tier 2. But none of them managed to equal Jordan in accomplishments, and quite frankly, they weren’t as good. With a career scoring average of 30.1 PPG, which ranks 1st all-time, Jordan will likely forever be the greatest player ever.
A Host Of Elite Players, None Close To Michael Jordan
Clearly, all the players mentioned in this article are the absolute elite in NBA history. The most recent inclusion has to be Stephen Curry, who finds himself in the esteemed Tier 3 after winning the 2022 championship with the Golden State Warriors. The superstar point guard is the greatest shooter ever, and he has a way to go to be mentioned in Tier 2 among the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
It is also interesting to notice how dominant centers were in NBA history, as there are 5 pure centers in the top-15 and 6 if you include Tim Duncan. That is almost half of the elite, while there are only three-point guards in Stephen Curry, Magic Johnson, and Oscar Robertson. The rest are made up of shooting guards and forwards, who brought excellent two-way play to the game.
As great as these players are, none were as great as Michael Jordan, the undisputed greatest player of all time. The Chicago Bulls superstar won 6 NBA titles, 6 Finals MVPs, and 5 MVPs while also adding in 10 scoring titles and a Defensive Player of the Year. It is extremely likely that we will never see a player as dominant as MJ because even the superstars in Tier 2 are miles behind.