Who is truly the best all-time center? Two of the greatest centers ever are Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, championship big men that dominated the league during their respective eras. When discussing the best big men to ever play the game, both names come up as they are easily among the top-5 at their positions.
But which star was better? We saw how Shaquille O’Neal completely dominated the NBA for 3 straight years with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning 3 championships and 3 Finals MVPs as a result. A powerhouse figure with abnormal strength, there was simply no answer for Shaq in the paint. He was simply stronger and more determined than any other big man in the game. Of course, Kareem was also a prolific figure during his legendary career.
Abdul-Jabbar might have had the best career ever considering he played for 20 seasons and is currently the highest scorer in NBA history. He also captured 6 MVPs, 6 titles, and 2 Finals MVPs as the man who possessed the most unstoppable shot in NBA history. When comparing both centers, it is obvious either center could become a franchise cornerstone for any team. In order to put the debate to rest, and settle who is the best center in the NBA, it is time to compare the two best big men in the NBA today to come out with one winner.
Scoring - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Shaq was a force on offense and had a few go-to moves including the baby hook in the post. But the big man relied on his strength to generate his points because there was nobody on the floor who could handle his size, determination, and raw force. Even if O’Neal has 2 scoring titles, he does not have the number of points that Kareem scored through pure skill.
There is no doubt that Kareem is one of the greatest offensive players ever, which is why he holds the record for most points in a single career. The big man had the Skyhook shot, a move that he could pull off into his 40s. Because of that move, Kareem was able to dominate the league for a very long time as a 19-time All-Star with 2 scoring titles. Kareem also averaged over 30 PPG 4 times in his career compared to zero times for Shaquille O’Neal.
Athleticism - Shaquille O’Neal
The Diesel is one of the most imposing players to ever play the game, and many think that he was not athletic. That is actually untrue because Shaq moved very well for a man of his size. He was great at running on the break, getting in position, and throwing defenders through the basket with force.
Kareem was athletic in his own way and brought a lot of length and height to the game. But he was not as strong and explosive as Shaq, often relying on fundamentals to impact the game. It is hard to measure up to Shaq in terms of athleticism, and possibly only Wilt Chamberlain has the edge in overall physical dominance.
Defense - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Shaq was capable of being a defensive stopper, mainly because it was impossible not to run into him when attacking the rim. The immovable force he was, Shaq made 3 All-Defensive Teams and holds a career average of 2.3 BPG. Over his career, he averaged at least 3.0 BPG twice and had his career-high 3.5 BPG in his rookie season.
Meanwhile, Kareem made an incredible 11 All-Defensive Teams, led the league in blocks 4 times, and has 7 seasons of averaging at least 3.0 BPG. His career-high includes 4.1 BPG during the 1976 season with the Los Angeles Lakers. In terms of defensive ability, few are better than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Clutch - Even
O’Neal was an underrated clutch player because critics only look at his inability to consistently make free throws. But when it absolutely counted, Shaq would come through for his teams. The Lakers legend was always known for making big plays in crunch time, whether that came on offense or defense. An all-time great winner, Shaq was certainly a clutch performer.
Winning 6 NBA titles has to mean that Kareem was clutch, and he was. With his ability to release his skyhook anytime he wanted, Abdul-Jabbar was also a go-to offensive force on the offense. Defensively, Kareem had countless clutch moments where a key block or key play in rim protection led to his team winning. Both stars came through in the biggest moments, and there is little to separate between them.
Leadership - Shaquille O’Neal
Both superstars were elite leaders, and they did in their own ways. Shaq was a great leader because he knew he was the man on the team and demanded everyone to follow his lead. A dominant force who always wanted the ball, O’Neal forced his teammates to be better. Of course, O’Neal was the man who won 3 straight Finals MVPs with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a well-mannered center with tremendous skill, but he was lucky enough to not have to be the leader of his team when he played with the Lakers for the majority of his career. Kareem had the great Magic Johnson on his side, and the point guard was the undisputed leader of the franchise. The fact that Shaq won 3 Finals MVPs as the leader gives him the edge.
Basketball I.Q. - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Shaquille O’Neal knew how to dominate the game of basketball, and understood his dominance was key for his team winning. The Diesel was also tremendous at running into position in the post, forcing defenders to foul him or give up easy dunks. Due to his offensive firepower, O’Neal had an incredible basketball IQ. But he simply cannot match up to Kareem in that regard.
The 6-time NBA champion who dominated the league for two decades, Kareem might be one of the smartest players ever. He knew his skyhook shot was unstoppable and used that to his advantage to draw double teams and feed open shooters. Defensively, Abdul-Jabbar was efficient at blocking shots and defending the rim. Because he had no weakness for over two decades, Kareem takes the edge.
Impact - Even
It will be too hard to distinguish between both players in terms of impact because Shaq and Kareem did it in their own ways. O’Neal does not have as many championships as Kareem, but 3 straight Finals MVPs is a testament to his incredible impact. There was no answer for Shaq in his prime, and his impact for the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, and Miami Heat will stand the test of time.
Meanwhile, Kareem’s impact is obvious when looking at his accolades. For one, he is the greatest scorer of all time and has a whopping 6 NBA titles. Whether he was the leader of the team or the secondary figure behind Magic Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar always prospered as a go-to center who dominated the defensive end of the game. In the end, this category is even.
1 on 1 Game - Shaquille O’Neal
Both superstar centers are elite one-on-one players and needed to be double-teamed by defenders. Without double teams, both centers could take over games with ease. Shaq was tremendously dominant in one-on-one situations, using incredible force and strength to power past any defenders. There is simply no player in NBA history, other than Wilt Chamberlain, who was as unstoppable as Diesel was.
Kareem had the most unstoppable shot ever, but he was mainly a team player who helped his team win games. A genius basketball player who perfected everything on the court, Abdul-Jabbar could not force the ball through the rim as Shaq could. In one-on-one situations, because of Shaq’s size, the former Orlando Magic star barely takes the edge.
Career - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Shaq had one of the greatest careers of all time for a center. The Diesel made 15 All-Star Teams and 14 All-NBA Teams, while also making 3 All-Defensive Teams. O’Neal also won 4 NBA titles with 3 Finals MVPs in an iconic 3-peat, while also winning a league MVP and the Rookie of the Year award. A 2-time scoring champion, O’Neal is also one of the most prolific offensive players ever.
As incredible as Shaq’s accolades are, they are less than Kareem’s. Abdul-Jabbar made 19 All-Star Teams, 15 All-NBA Teams, 11 All-Defensive Teams, and also won Rookie of the Year. Incredibly, Kareem won 6 MVPs, 2 Finals MVPs, 6 NBA titles, 2 scoring titles, and led the league in blocks 4 times. Other than Bill Russell who won 11 championships, no big man will ever compare to what Kareem did on the basketball court.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Shaquille O’Neal 4-3
Both Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are two of the most dominant centers of all time because they dominated the game for years as superstar players. The edge ultimately goes to Kareem, because Shaq’s achievements, stats, and all-around skill are slightly under par compared to the 6-time champion. Abdul-Jabbar had the most unstoppable post-move ever, and his accolades came as a result of his elite two-way play. Playing for over 17 years is no easy feat, but Kareem did it better than everyone except LeBron James.