Playing all 82 games during the regular season is not an easy feat, which is why the vast majority of players throughout NBA history struggle to achieve that. Keeping healthy for an entire season hardly happens and even having the energy to perform for 82 straight games is an achievement on its own.
When looking at the greatest players who have ever played the game, it is clear that playing all 82 games is a rare feat even for them. But yet again, Michael Jordan proves himself to be in a different class by completing 9 seasons with 82 games played. Here is the amount of times the 11 greatest players of all time played 82 games over their careers.
Full Seasons: 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2003
Michael Jordan is once again atop of a list of all-time rankings. The Bulls legend has played 82 games 9 separate times over his career, an unbelievable feat that no other top-10 player of all time comes close to. Jordan was famously a machine and possibly the most dedicated athlete in team sports.
Despite being an explosive athlete who loved attacking the rim, Jordan only played under 78 games three seasons out of the 15 in his career. One of them included a season-ending injury in his sophomore year, the second was his late-season return from retirement, and the last was the 2002 season when he was 38 years old. Of course, Jordan would play all 82 games of his final season in the NBA. Quite simply, there will never be another Michael Jordan.
Full Seasons: 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973
The most dominant stat sheet stuffer in the history of the NBA, Wilt Chamberlain played nine full seasons during his NBA career, including four 82-game campaigns. When Wilt was healthy, he was a machine because he played full seasons nine separate times. In his last three seasons, between ages 34-36, Wilt accomplished 82 games.
Chamberlain loved playing the game and it just came easy to him to rebound and score the ball, which is why he is tied for 1st on this list. He was one of the best big men in NBA history and arguably the top-10 player of all time.
Full Seasons: 1970, 1971, 1976, 1977, 1980
Arguably the greatest and most successful center in both college and the NBA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of a kind. The Bucks and Lakers legend played 20 seasons in the NBA, and his patented skyhook shot was the reason he leads all players in total points scored.
Kareem played 82 games 5 separate times in his illustrious career. The big man played into his 40's and was able to remain relatively healthy as he played over 32 MPG for 17 straight years. We will likely never see a center dominate the game for that long like Kareem and he is third behind Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain on this list.
Full Seasons: 2003, 2008, 2009, 2011
Kobe Bryant is known for his work ethic and dedication to his body and the game of basketball. That is why he often played through multiple injuries and never made it known what he was dealing with. Even with Kobe's willingness to play every game, he only managed to complete 82-game seasons four separate times.
It took Kobe 6 years to play at least 80 games and had another 9 years playing under that same amount. Bryant simply took too much damage when he attacked the rim, and at a slender 6'6", he had a ton of mileage by the time he turned 35. A torn Achilles was the last straw for Bryant, a legend who would have played every game if he could.
Full Seasons: 1985, 1989, 1990, 1993
Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon is easily one of the top-5 big men to have ever played the game and had the best footwork ever. But like most big men, it was hard for Hakeem to stay healthy every season. The Nigerian superstar played all 82 games in his rookie season, finishing second behind Michael Jordan for Rookie of the Year.
The other seasons he played 82 games had All-Star Team appearances with the 1993 season being the year before he won an NBA title. Olajuwon also had 7 seasons where he played under 70 games, including 5 in a row from ages 35 to 39 which is expected due to age and attrition.
Full Seasons: 1980, 1981, 1986
Larry Bird, as great as he was, could have been greater. Only one could imagine if Bird was playing in today's era because modern medicine and education of a player's health would have given the Celtics legend an even better resume. Nonetheless, Bird played 3 full seasons despite dealing with injuries for the majority of his career.
Bird completed 82 games in his first two seasons, with his third coming in the 1986 season in his 7th season where he won his 3rd straight MVP Award. Larry Bird actually played over 74 games for his first 9 seasons, but injuries began to hold him back and he missed more games including a disastrous 1989 season where he only appeared in 6 games.
Full Seasons: 1998, 2001, 2002
The greatest power forward to have ever done it, Tim Duncan played 82 games three separate times in his career, equalling the tally of Larry Bird. Duncan was a force on both ends of the floor and the way the Spurs ran their offense through him, competing 3 full seasons is quite impressive.
Tim Duncan played 82 games in his Rookie of the Year campaign, and also in his 4th and 5th seasons. He had a strong support system in San Antonio as well, so he could afford to miss a bit of time for his team. Some lows of 50 games, 58 games, and 61 games are in Tim Duncan's resume but he did play a total of 19 seasons to be fair.
Full Seasons: 2018
LeBron James has surpassed Larry Bird as the greatest small forward ever in many people's eyes, but he only managed to play 82 games in a season once compared to Bird's three times. The King played all 82 games during the 2018 season, the year he lost in the NBA Finals to the Kevin Durant led Golden State Warriors.
Other than the 2018 season, LeBron played 81 games in the 2009 season where he won MVP and 80 games in his sophomore season. James is known to not have suffered any major injuries, but he has played less than 70 games 5 times in his career. Extended rest has always been a strategy for LeBron to keep playing at a high level every year after all.
Full Seasons: None
The greatest point guard of all time was never on the floor for every game during any regular season. Magic played 80 games during the 1987 season, the greatest season in Johnson's career. In 1987, Magic Johnson beat out Larry Bird and Michael Jordan for MVP and later won Finals MVP for the Lakers.
But Magic never saw the need to play a full season, whether he dealt with nagging injuries or needed rest. Johnson played 79 games three separate times in his career, and never played under 70 games except for two times. The first was 67 games in 1984 and the other was a frustrating sophomore season where he only played 37 games.
Full Seasons: None
The greatest champion in NBA history may have 11 rings, but he didn't have to play a full season once to achieve that. Russell played 81 games once in his career, the 1967 season when he was 32 years old. Russell was his usual dominant self that year, averaging 13.3 PPG and 21.0 RPG.
Russell never came closer to 82 games otherwise, playing 78 games 6 separate times. The Celtics superstar also had a tough start to his career, only playing 48 games in his rookie season and missing the All-Star Team that year (his only out of 13 seasons).
Full Seasons: None
It is no surprise that Shaquille O'Neal didn't manage to play 82 games once in his career. After all, the player is abnormally large, and keeping his body without injuries is almost impossible when he gets pummeled in the paint every time. Not to mention, O'Neal was famous for not keeping in the best shape.
Shaq played 81 games in each of his first two seasons, which included a Rookie of the Year Award and 2 All-Star Teams. O'Neal also played 79 games two more times in his career, once with the Magic and once with the Lakers. The Diesel won't be too bothered because he still has 4 championships and 3 Finals MVPs on his Hall of Fame resume.
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