The NBA has seen some of the greatest and most dominant players play the center position. From all-time greats including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bill Russell - big men have often been the reasons teams win NBA titles. While the big man position has undergone tremendous changes throughout the years, it is still prevalent today.
In order to revisit history, it is time to rank the Top-25 greatest centers in terms of impact, accolades, and dominance throughout their careers.
25. Walt Bellamy
Players Stats: 20.1 PPG, 13.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Honors: 4x All-Star, 1961 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Walt Bellamy is a first-ballot Hall of Fame player who was a beast in the paint. He is mostly known for an iconic rookie season, winning the Rookie of the Year award by putting up a ridiculous 31.6 PPG and 19.0 RPG.
24. Marc Gasol
Players Stats: 14.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.4 BPG
Honors: 3x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Selection, 2012 All-Defensive Team Selection, 2012 Defensive Player of the Year
Pau Gasol might be the most recognized Gasol, but Marc Gasol is the bruising younger brother who was a dominant center. His defensive prowess earned him All-Star status for years, and he even won an NBA title with the Raptors in 2018. Make no mistake, Gasol's defensive leadership and passing ability is a key reason the Raptors have an NBA title.
23. Nate Thurmond
Players Stats: 15.0 PPG, 15.0 RPG, 2.7 APG, 0.5 SPG, 2.1 BPG
Honors: 7x All-Star, 5x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Nathe Thurmond was a defensive monster who made his name from protecting the rim. His rebound numbers are insane, and he is one of the most legendary defensive players ever. Thurmond’s teammates rave about his impact, as he was one of the greatest paint protectors ever.
22. Neil Johnston
Players Stats: 19.4 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 2.5 APG
Honors: 6x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Selection, 3x Scoring Champion, Hall Of Fame
Neil Johnston possessed a graceful sweeping hook shot that made him one of the game's most feared scorers during the ’50s. He led the NBA in scoring for 3 straight years and will go down in history as one of the most dominant paint scorers ever.
21. Yao Ming
Players Stats: 19.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.4 SPG, 1.9 BPG
Honors: 8x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Selection, Hall Of Fame
The greatest Chinese athlete ever, Yao Ming broke new grounds in the NBA. Especially for the Houston Rockets, Yao brought an unbelievable amount of fans to professional basketball in North America. But Yao wasn't just a cultural icon, he was a dominant player when healthy and possibly a top-10 center if he never got injured. He had a soft stroke and tremendous size at 7'6", so only one can imagine if he kept healthy.
20. Alonzo Mourning
Players Stats: 17.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.5 SPG, 2.8 BPG
Honors: 7x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Selection, 2x All-Defensive Team Selection, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, 2x Blocks Champion, Hall Of Fame
Mourning encompassed everything about a center that did everything to win. He loved playing defense, even into his late 30's, and is one of the most feared shot blockers ever. But in his prime, Alonzo was a monster. He was a 20-10 guy in his prime, and later became an important role player and defensive enforcer for the ‘06 Heat that won an NBA title.
19. Bob Lanier
Players Stats: 20.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.5 BPG
Honors: 8x All-Star, Hall of Fame
Bob Lanier was a 20-10 guy throughout his career, thanks to his well-rounded offensive game. Lanier could score inside with the hook shot and also hit the outside shot which made him a handful to defend. Lanier made the Hall of Fame and makes the list inside the top-20.
18. Robert Parish
Players Stats: 14.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.5 BPG
Honors: 9x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Selection, Hall Of Fame
Robert Parish was an excellent two-way big man who was critical to the Boston Celtics winning 4 NBA titles with him manning the middle. Parish is a valued member of the Hall of Fame and a great rebounder and shot blocker. As good as the Celtics were, they probably would not have 4 titles if not for the services of Parish.
17. Artis Gilmore
Players Stats: 18.8 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.6 SPG, 2.4 BPG
Honors: 6x All-Star, 1977 All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Artis Gilmore accomplished everything in professional basketball, from winning an MVP to making multiple All-Star appearances. Gilmore managed the MVP and Rookie of the Year Award during the ABA years, which is why his NBA accolades might not seem that impressive. As a talent, Gilmore is top-20 and there is no dispute about that.
16. Dikembe Mutombo
Players Stats: 9.8 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.4 SPG, 2.8 BPG
Honors: 8x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Selection, 6x All-Defensive Team Selection, 4x Defensive Player of the Year, 3x Blocks Champion, Hall Of Fame
Dikembe Mutombo, one of the most dominant defensive players ever. His height helped him, but Mutombo was a master of the blocked shot. His finger-wagging when a shot came near him was legendary, and Dikembe is one of the most loved players of all time. Mutombo was a beast in his prime with the Hawks, and easily a Hall of Fame legend.
15. Bill Walton
Players Stats: 13.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 2.2 BPG
Honors: 1977 MVP, 1976 Finals MVP, 2x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Selection, 2x All-Defensive Team Selection, 1976 Blocks Champion, 1985 Sixth Man of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Bill Walton should have had a much longer career, but injuries cut that unfortunately short. Walton was still a dominant player in history and a leader of the highest order. He won an MVP and is regarded as a top-10 center if he never had injuries at the least. Walton had size, skill, and an imposing presence that even lasts today. Walton is a true gem for the league, and a top-15 center ever.
14. George Mikan
Players Stats: 23.1 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 2.8 APG
Honors: 4x All-Star, 6x All-NBA Selection, 3x Scoring Champion, Hall Of Fame
George Mikan, often dubbed the NBAs first true superstar, was the original dominant center. Mikan was the first man to put the Lakers on the map and deserves to be mentioned in the top-15. Old school legends rave about Mikan's impact. His numbers and achievements are clearly Hall of Fame worthy, and he will forever be known as the original Lakers giant.
13. Dave Cowens
Players Stats: 17.6 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG
Honors: 1972 MVP, 8x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Selection, 3x All-Defensive Team Selection, 1970 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Cowens was a Boston Celtics legend who won 2 NBA titles, made 8 All-Star teams, and was the league MVP in 1972-1973. As a valued member of the Hall of Fame, Cowens accomplished everything in the game of basketball before hanging it up in 1983.
12. Dwight Howard
Players Stats: 16.7 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.9 BPG
Honors: 8x All-Star, 8x All-NBA Selection, 5x All-Defensive Team Selection, 3x Defensive Player of the Year, 2x Blocks Champion
This may seem surprising, but Dwight Howard is a top-12 center ever. You cannot deny how great Dwight was in his prime, and he carried a Magic squad to the Finals in 2009. Dwight was a 3-time Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best defensive players ever due to his shot-blocking and paint presence. Dwight was a problem in the paint and has been one of the best centers in the world for over a decade.
11. Bob McAdoo
Players Stats: 22.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.5 BPG
Honors: 1974 MVP, 5x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Selection, 3x Scoring Champion, 1972 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Bob McAdoo was a pure scorer from the center position, averaging 22.1 PPG and 9.4 RPG over his career. McAdoo was a league MVP, 3-time scoring champion, and the Rookie of the Year in his first 4 seasons in the league. He burst onto the NBA scene, before being a vital role player to a Los Angeles Lakers team that won 2 NBA titles.
10. Willis Reed
Players Stats: 18.7 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.6 SPG, 1.1 BPG
Honors: 1969 MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 7x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Selection, 1x All-Defensive Team Selection, 1964 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Talk about a player who came up big in crucial moments, Reed won 2 Finals MVPs and 2 NBA titles with the New York Knicks. As one of the most respected and accomplished winners in the history of the league, Reed is a valued member of the Hall of Fame and a 7-time All-Star who is in the top ten list of the greatest centers ever.
9. Wes Unseld
Players Stats: 10.8 PPG, 14.0 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Honors: 1968 MVP, 1977 Finals MVP, 5x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Selection, 1968 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Wes Unseld was an absolute bruiser when he played in the league. Unseld was a fantastic rebounder, a great passer, and a dominant defensive player. Unseld captured an NBA title and NBA Finals MVP in 1977, along with the league MVP and Rookie of the Year in 1968-1969. Clearly, Unseld is a top-10 center ever and one of the icons of “old-school center basketball.
8. Patrick Ewing
Players Stats: 21.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 2.4 BPG
Honors: 11x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Selection, 3x All-Defensive Team Selection, 1985 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Patrick Ewing is a legend of the game and a perfect example of an old-school big man who wanted to win at all costs. He never won a title, but made 11 All-Star teams and is a member of the Hall of Fame. Ewing is top-ten because of his consistent run with the New York Knicks, and there is no debate.
7. Moses Malone
Players Stats: 20.6 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.3 BPG
Honors: 3x MVP, 1982 Finals MVP, 12x All-Star, 8x All-NBA Selection, 2x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
People seem to ignore how great Moses Malone was. Whenever the top five big men are talked about, Moses must be mentioned as an honorable mention who just misses out. The late and great Moses Malone won everything in the league, including NBA titles and a Finals MVP. He was the epitome of an old-school dominant center, using force and skill to own the boards and paint.
6. David Robinson
Players Stats: 21.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 3.0 BPG
Honors: 1994 MVP, 10x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Selection, 8x All-Defensive Team Selection, 1991 Defensive Player of the Year, 1993 Scoring Champion, 1991 Blocks Champion, 1989 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
The Admiral may have been slightly under-appreciated because of Tim Duncan when the latter came into the league as the best player on the team, but Robinson was an unbelievable center. He won an MVP Award, had leadership qualities, defenses the rim well, and was a beast on defense. As one of the most iconic and respected Hall of Famers ever, Robinson barely misses the top five.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon
Players Stats: 21.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 3.1 BPG
Honors: 1993 MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 12x All-Star, 12x All-NBA Selection, 9x All-Defensive Team Selection, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, 3x Blocks Champion, Hall Of Fame
Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon took advantage of Michael Jordan's absence in 1994 and 1995, winning two straight titles and Finals MVPs. Hakeem was so dominant, that he might have even handled the Bulls because no one could match up with him. Hakeem had everything, winning DPOY and also an MVP Award. Hakeem is top-five and there is zero question about that.
4. Bill Russell
Players Stats: 15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
Honors: 5x MVP, 12x All-Star, 11x All-NBA Selection, 1968 All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
The greatest winner of all time, Russell won 11 rings as part of a Boston Celtics dynasty. When Russell was on the squad, the Celtics were completely untouchable. Nobody defended the rim like Russell, and he might have had the greatest defensive impact ever. As a pure leader and winner, Russell is clearly a top-five center ever.
3. Wilt Chamberlain
Players Stats: 30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG
Honors: 4x MVP, 1971 Finals MVP, 13x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Selection, 2x All-Defensive Team Selection, 7x Scoring Champion, 1959 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Wilt Chamberlain owns the history books. His records speak for themselves, including the record of his 100-point game and 50-rebound game. Wilt was larger and more athletic than everyone he played against during his time, which might have helped him achieve his greatness. But he got there anyways and is a legend of the game as the third-best center ever.
2. Shaquille O’Neal
Players Stats: 23.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.6 SPG, 2.3 BPG
Honors: 1999 MVP, 3x Finals MVP, 15x All-Star, 14x All-NBA Selection, 3x All-Defensive Team Selection, 2x Scoring Champion, 1992 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
3 Finals MVPs, 4 rings, and the most dominant physical force ever. Shaq was unstoppable in his prime because two or three defenders could not stop him from scoring. He owned the boards and intimidated teams more than any big man ever. Even as a huge human being, Shaq was very athletic and skilled and that is the reason he is number 2 on this list.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Players Stats: 24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 2.6 BPG
Honors: 6x MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 19x All-Star, 15x All-NBA Selection, 11x All-Defensive Team Selection, 2x Scoring Champion, 4x Blocks Champion, 1969 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
No doubt, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the best center of all time. He has the most records, won at every level, and had the most unstoppable move in sorors history in the skyhook. Kareem was a dominant player all the way into his 40's and was a force on both ends of the floor.
Kareem averaged 24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, and 2.6 BPG. Kareem also made 19 All-Star teams, 15 All-NBA teams, 11 All-Defensive teams, 6 MVPs, and 6 NBA titles. Not to mention, Kareem is first among all players in points scored with 38,387 total points ahead of Karl Malone who has 36,928 total points.