Ever since the dawn of basketball, some of the most gifted athletes have inked their signature in history books after paving their way to the Hall of Fame following an impressive career in the greatest league in basketball.
These players have brought the best out of their teammates and rivals, have changed the way the game is played and have taken their teams to the ultimate stage of success, influencing millions of young ballers.
Anyone of the players we’re about to mention have a lot of good reasons to be inducted in basketball heaven and their respective fan bases may argue that they’re the greatest player of all time. Let’s go one by one to talk about the best 15 picks in the history of the game.
15. Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor completely dominated basketball scene back in the 60’s, and he pretty much saved the Minneapolis Lakers (now Los Angeles Lakers) from bankruptcy, something that would've changed basketball history forever. Even though Baylor was never able to lead the Lakers to the Chip, he was considered to be the best scorer in the league at the time.
Baylor was Drafted with the 1st overall pick of the 1958 NBA Draft and immediately took the league for assault, winning the Rookie of the Year. Then, he would go on to make it to 11 All-Stars and averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 dimes a game. He also holds the record for most scored in a Finals game with 61 and recorded a 71 point performance in his 3rd season in the league.
14. Moses Malone
Moses Malone is arguably the best undersized center in the history of the game, a player nobody ever talks about anymore but that was actually able to play throughout 21 full seasons, and that had the ability to match up against and “contain” a prime Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, sort of speak.
Malone won 3 league MVPs and was one of the most dominant players in both ends of the glass despite being slightly shorter than most of his opposition. He was the missing piece the Sixers so desperately craved to get back to the Lakers and led them to the Championship by also winning the Finals MVP. Over his career, he averaged 20.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. He was taken in the 3rd round of the 1974 ABA Draft by the Utah Stars, straight out of high school.
13. Julius Erving
Erving was taken with the 12th overall pick of the 1972 Draft. Before Michael Jordan, all young hoopers wanted to be just like ‘Dr. J’, an athletic freak that made all the highlight reels on a nightly basis thanks to his explosiveness and crafty plays, and one of the most prolific and steady scorers basketball has ever seen, sitting at the 5th spot in the all-time scoring table with over 30.000 career points.
Erving played for 16 years between the ABA and the NBA, and was able to win 3 Championships and 4 MVPs (1 NBA MVP and 3 ABA MVPs) also, he made it to 16 All-Star Games, meaning he was an All-Star throughout every single year of his pro career. Over that span, the small forward averaged 24.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.
12. Hakeem Olajuwon
If someone was able to make the most of the opportunity of a Michael Jordan-less NBA, that’s Hakeem Olajuwon for sure. ‘The Dream’ is one of the most underrated players in the history of the game, and truth to be told, he may be the most talented two-way big man to ever set foot on a basketball hardwood. Just to give you a bit of context, no Rockets wan will ever regret taking him 1st overall in 1984, the same class that saw Michael Jordan make it to the league.
Olajuwon won 2 Defensive Player of the Year awards, 1 MVP, 2 Finals MVPs to go along with 2 Championships, made it to 12 All-Stars and is the leading scorer in Houston Rockets history. Also, he’s the only player to ever win the DPOY, MVP, Finals MVP and Championship on the very same season. He’s one of the 4 players to ever record a quadruple-double, led the league in blocks and boards the same season, and is the league’s all-time leader in blocks, posting career averages of 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 3 blocks per game.
11. Oscar Robertson
Long before Russell Westbrook, there was another ‘Mr. Triple Double’, an athletic point guard that dominated both sides of the glass and was a dime machine. 'The Big O’ was Drafted 1st overall in 1960 by the Cincinnati Royals, and led the league in assists per game throughout his rookie season and was elected Rookie of the Year for his never seen averages, almost recording a triple-double throughout the entire campaign.
The very next year, he would go on to achieve that milestone, being the first player to ever average a triple-double over a full season. Later on, he’d team up with Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to the Chip. Over his career, he averaged 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 9.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game, winning 1 MVP award.
10. Shaquille O’Neal
There hasn’t been, nor there will ever be, a guy that’s able of dominating down low as much as Shaquille O’Neal ever did. There won’t be a stronger, more physical, and more offensively skilled guy of his size, that also have that winning mindset to bring the most out of his team and completely demolish all opposition. He affected the game so much on both sides of the hardwood, on ways we had never since in a very long time.
Drafted with the 1st overall pick of the 1992, NBA Draft, the ‘Big Diesel’ was a beauty to watch during his prime, a guy that was a major factor in 4 NBA Championships, that won 3 Finals MVPs and 1 MVP, made it to 14 All-Stars with 3 ASG MVPs and won 3 scoring titles. Also, he’s just 1 of 3 players to win the MVP, ASG MVP and Finals MVP the very same season, led the league in FG% in 10 seasons (NBA record), and holds career averages of 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.
9. Tim Duncan
We don’t talk about Tim Duncan’s greatness enough. We just don’t. Moreover, he’s one of the best to ever do it, even though his game didn’t wow you with athleticism or flashy plays, but he always found ways to be a huge factor in both sides of the game and is the main reason why the Spurs were able to become a dynasty. He was drafted 1st overall in 1997 out of Wake Forest following a terrible season by the Spurs, with David Robinson in the shelf due to injury.
‘The Big Fundamental’ had a bit of an unorthodox feel for the offense, but was still money from the low post, not to mention his top-tier defensive awareness and ability to protect the basket. Over his career, he averaged 19 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.2 blocks per game, winning 5 Championships, 2 MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs, the ROY and is the Spurs all-time leading scorer.
8. Larry Bird
Larry Bird drew a lot of heat from his detractors because of how unorthodox his shooting mechanics were, and the fact that he was supposed to be slow, unathletic and a poor defender, but all of that was just a bunch of lies. Even despite his so-called lack of athleticism, Bird was considered to be the best small forward in the history of the game before LeBron James’ arrival to the league.
Being Drafted with the 6th overall pick of the 1978 Draft, the “Great White Hope” won the Rookie of the Year (over his long-time rival Magic Johnson), made it to 12 All-Stars, and won 3 Championships with 2 Finals MVPs, posting career averages of 24.3 points, 10 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks on shooting splits of 49/36/88, filling the stat sheet on a nightly basis.
7. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt ‘The Stilt’ looked more like a circus freak than a basketball player, being a huge human being that made the game of hoops like a child’s game. He looked like a man among babies, and the league even had to change some rules to make the game more fair for those who played against him, something that never actually happened.
Chamberlain won the MVP and the ROY on the very same season, recorded a 100 point performance (NBA record), won a couple of NBA titles, 1 Finals MVP, 4 MVPs, led the league in boards 11 times, once in assists, 7 in points and made it to 13 All-Stars. Also, he averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game, and I’m no expert, but those numbers look pretty good. He was a territorial pick by the Philadelphia Warriors in 1959, but couldn’t play right away due to league regulations.
6. Bill Russell
Bill Russell was the 2nd overall pick of the 1956 Draft. On a personal note, I believe Bill Russell shouldn’t be ranked as high as he is. Not because he wasn’t great, but because he played against much lesser opposition on a league that only featured a handful of teams, unlike most of the other players we’ve mentioned before in this great list.
Even so, a guy that won 11 Championships in 13 seasons definitely deserves a privileged spot on basketball history. Russell was a great teammate, a dominant rebounder and a very smart defender, won 5 MVPs and made it to 12 All-Stars, posting career averages of 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds and 4.3 dimes a game, and is the main responsible why the Celtics are the winningest franchise in NBA history.
5. Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson is simply the best point guard this game has ever seen, and there’s no surprise he went 1st overall in 1979, being a human highlight reel that got dishes out of nowhere, the main responsible of bringing Showtime to Los Angeles and finally putting an end to the Boston Celtics dominance, a walking triple-double threat that never ceased to amaze his peers and rivals.
Johnson was able to play and guard 1 through 5, being a 6’9’’ point guard. Throughout his career, the former 1st overall pick posted averages of 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 11.2 assists (NBA record) per game to go along with 1.9 steals. He won 5 Championships, 3 MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs (including one during his rookie season) and led the league in dimes 4 times and twice in steals. Now, he’s still trying to give the Lakers another Chip, this time from the front office.
4. LeBron James
Even despite being arguably the biggest loser in NBA Finals history, LeBron James has to be considered as the 4th greatest pick ever, that’s just how incredibly good he is. He’s lived up to everything people said he’d become, and has grown to be a huge role model on and off-the-court, and perhaps the smartest player in the history of the game. Being an Ohio native and the best prospect in the league by far, he was a total no-brainer pick for the Cavs, who took him 1st overall in 2003.
James has completely owned the Eastern Conference ever since entering the league 15 seasons ago, and he just keeps getting better and better. Winning 4 MVPs, 3 Championships, 3 Finals MVPs, the ROY and 1 Scoring Title, he’s set to tie Kareem’s record for most All-Star appearances (15) and has a huge shot at becoming the league’s all-time leading scorer, posting career averages of 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. Not bad for the kid from Akron, Ohio.
3. Kobe Bryant
Controversial as this may seem, Kobe Bryant has to be the 3rd best pick ever, mostly because he’s the closest we'll ever be to Michael Jordan, but also because of the fact that his Mamba Mentality helped him build a legacy and a light that will never go off, and will keep on inspiring young ballers to leave it all on the hardwood and compete at the highest of levels.
Bryant is the greatest player to ever be dressed in purple and gold, leading the team to 5 NBA Championships on 7 tries. He’s a 2-time Finals MVP, 1 time MVP, 2-time Scoring Champion, and he made it to 12 All-Defensive squads. Also, he’s the Lakers all-time leading scorer and holds over 30 different records for the franchise. Kobe’s one of the Draft’s biggest steals ever, considering he was drafted 13th in 1996.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated basketball scene ever since his high-school days, and he was truly able to live up to such expectations when he was Drafted with the 1st overall pick in 1969, growing up to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38.387 points), the league’s all-time leading in minutes (57.446), more field goals made (15.837), more field goals attempted (28.307) and ranks 2nd all-time in playoff games played with 237.
Jabbar made the skyhook so popular players still use it up to this day, he was a dominating offensive force nobody could lock down that could also be an outstanding rim protector. When he retired at age 42, he held the record for most games played, most defensive rebounds and also most blocks. Throughout his career, he averaged 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.6 blocks per game, winning 6 Championships, 6 MVPs and 2 Finals MVPs while also being the Bucks’ all-time leading scorer.
1. Michael Jordan
And the debate ends here. You can argue about the 14 prior spots, but the greatest pick in the history of the game unanimously has to go to Michael Jordan, who was taken 3rd overall in 1984. No one has done so much for this sport, no one has dominated the league so much for so long, no one has knocked everybody off their feet on a nightly basis which such charisma and explosiveness as Michael Jordan has ever done.
Jordan torched all opposition from day one and grew to become the fiercest competitor this game has ever seen. He won the ROY, the DPOY, led the league in scoring 10 times, won 6 Championships, 6 Finals MVPs, 5 MVPs, led the league in steals 3 times, won 2 Slam Dunk contests and was even named ESPN’s athlete of the century. Throughout his career, he averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists 2.3 steals and 0.8 blocks per game on 49% shooting, and no one will ever come close to his greatness.