A historic 2021-22 NBA season has come to an end with the Golden State Warriors reclaiming their throne for the fourth time in the last eight seasons. Stephen Curry finally won the elusive Finals MVP award to go along with his fourth Championship Ring. This puts him in an even smaller group of NBA legends that have won at least one regular-season MVP and Finals MVP – joining the likes of Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – and he’s only been in the league for 13 seasons.
In this piece, we look to expand that list of legends a bit to match what the NBA did during All-Star Weekend 2022 when they honored the NBA 75th Anniversary team composed of their rendition of the greatest 76 NBA players of all time. In fact, we take it one step further and put them in order of the greatest NBA careers of all time.
Disclaimer: This list does not display the 76 best players of all time based on talent alone because that is nearly impossible to judge. Instead, it looks at tangible data (accolades, playoff success, per-game averages, longevity, etc.) to compose the 76 best careers of all time.
This ranking system also considers how long it took each player to earn their accolades. For example, having four championships in 13 seasons earns a slightly higher score than having four championships in 19 seasons, but the difference between the two is almost certainly compensated for in the “longevity” portion of the rankings due to the second player having six more seasons worth of statistics.
Note: Statistics were judged using a z-score system, meaning they can have both positive and negative impacts on a player’s overall score. Players who played before certain stats were tracked (3P%, Steals, Blocks, etc) will not be punished (or rewarded) in their overall score for not having those stats available.
Notable Honorable Mentions:
76. Kyrie Irving
Despite finding himself in consistent controversy over the last few seasons, Irving is still an NBA Champion and 7-time All-Star, along with three All-NBA honors and a Rookie of the Year award. With only 11 seasons under his belt so far, the 30-year-old guard holds the potential to climb much higher on all-time lists.
75. Connie Hawkins
Hawkins is perhaps best known for being a pioneer of playing above the rim, but “The Hawk” wasn’t just a highlight reel. He won an ABA championship in 1968, was named to five NBA All-Star teams, combined for three All-NBA and All-ABA honors, and was named league MVP in 1968 – all of this coming in the span of only nine professional seasons.
74. Bill Sharman
Sharman played 11 seasons in the NBA and was a member of four NBA Championship teams with the Celtics between 1957-1960. He had a career-scoring average of 17.8 PPG – including three seasons over 20 PPG – while playing alongside Bill Russell and company during the first notable NBA Dynasty.
73. Carmelo Anthony
In his 19-year NBA career (so far), Anthony has earned 10 All-Star appearances, 6 All-NBA honors, and 1 Scoring Title in 2012-13. During his 14 combined seasons with the Nuggets and Knicks, he boasted a career-scoring average of 24.8 points per game on over 45% from the field and nearly 35% from 3-point range, earning himself the title of one of the best pure scorers of all time. The only thing missing from his illustrious resume is reaching the mountaintop of an NBA Championship.
72. Jerry Lucas
Lucas’ lone NBA title came with the New York Knicks in 1973, a couple of years after his last of seven All-Star appearances. He was also named to five All-NBA teams and took home the Rookie of the Year award in 1964 – he made his first All-Star appearance during his rookie season as well. Lucas’ most impressive stat is his career average of 15.6 rebounds per game. Even more impressive: during six full seasons with the Cincinnati Royals, he averaged over 19 rebounds to go along with 19.7 points per game.
71. Joel Embiid
The 28-year-old center is far from done adding to his resume, but his trophy case is already loaded considering he’s only played 328 games over the course of six years. So far, Embiid has been named to 5 All-Star teams, 4 All-NBA teams, 3 All-Defensive teams, and the All-Rookie team in his first campaign. He also won the scoring title in 2022 with a career-high 30.6 PPG across a career-high 68 games played.
Dominique Wilkins was nicknamed “The Human Highlight Film” for good reason with all of his high-flying, ferocious dunks. The former Hawk, however, put together quite the career on the stat sheet, including 9 All-Star appearances, 7 All-NBA teams, and a scoring title in 1986. He’s also widely considered one of the better players to have never won an NBA Championship.
69. Paul George
Despite being labelled as a player who chokes under the pressure of the postseason, Paul George ranks 53rd amongst the 164 players considered for this list in playoff statistics – per-game averages and total accumulated stats both included – with 21.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game in his postseason career. He’s also been named to 7 All-Star teams, 6 All-NBA teams, 4 All-Defense teams, and won the Most Improved Player award in 2013.
68. Wes Unseld
The late, great, Wes Unseld was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988 and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. During his playing career, he won an NBA Championship, Finals MVP, regular-season MVP, and was named Rookie of the Year in 1968. He was also a 5-time All-Star and was selected to the 1969 All-NBA team.
67. Damian Lillard
Lillard has been a part of only one Championship-threatening playoff run in his 10-year career so far, but his stats don’t lie. Averaging over 25 PPG in his career, Lillard has been awarded 6 All-Star appearances and 6 All-NBA team selections as well as winning Rookie of the Year in 2013. He’s also only 32 years old and looks to have several meaningful years left in the tank.
66. James Worthy
Worthy was a vital member of the Showtime Lakers led by Magic and Kareem throughout the 80s, but he wasn’t content to play third fiddle. He contributed to three NBA Championships and managed to snag himself a Finals MVP award in 1988, along with being named to 7 All-Star teams and 2 All-NBA teams in his 12-year career.
65. Paul Arizin
Arizin played in the NBA for only 10 seasons and managed to make the All-Star team in every single season. He was selected to four All-NBA teams, won two scoring titles, and was named Rookie of the Year in 1951. Arizin was also a member of the Philadelphia Warriors squad who won the NBA Championship in 1956. He scored at least 20 PPG nine times in ten seasons, including three seasons scoring over 25 PPG in an era when teams were averaging less than 100 points per game.
64. Robert Parish
Parish is the walking definition of longevity. Though he is tied for second in most NBA seasons played at 21, he far surpasses any contenders for total NBA games played with 1,611. In fact, no on else has ever played more than 1,541. During his seemingly everlasting career, Parish was also an integral piece to three NBA Championships with the Celtics and contributed to a Bulls’ Championship in 1997. He was named to nine All-Star teams and two All-NBA teams.
63. Draymond Green
Green has been vital to the Warriors dynasty, helping them to win four Championships in the last eight seasons while posting playoff averages of roughly 12 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game. He’s one of the most well-rounded defensive forwards of all time, as is evident by his seven All-Defense selections and Defensive Player of the Year award in 2017. He’s also been named an All-Star four times and been a member of two All-NBA teams.
62. Hal Greer
In 15 NBA seasons, Greer earned 10 All-Star appearances, 7 All-NBA honors, and was a member of the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers who won the NBA Championship. He also averaged nearly 20 points per game throughout his career on over 45% shooting from the field as a 6’2 shooting guard, an impressive feat considering there was no 3-point line during his playing days.
61. Pau Gasol
One of the greatest international players of all time, Gasol won two NBA Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers during his 18-year career. He is a 6-time All-Star and was named to 4 All-NBA teams after winning Rookie of the Year in 2002. Gasol finished his NBA career with career averages of 17 points and 9.2 rebounds per game while shooting over 50% from the field.
60. Tony Parker
Speaking of international talent, few have been better than Tony Parker. The 6’2 point guard will be remembered as the floor general for one of the greatest NBA dynasties of all time. He helped to lead the Spurs to four Championships and won the Finals MVP award in 2007. He was also named to 6 All-Star teams and 4 All-NBA teams during his 18-year career.
59. Dan Issel
Issel ranks 12th all-time in total points scored in NBA history. He was named to seven All-Star teams and five All-NBA teams during his 15-year NBA career. Issel was also a vital member of the 1975 ABA Championship team when he averaged 20.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game during the title run after winning Rookie of the Year in 1971.
58. Dennis Johnson
Johnson was the second-leading scorer for the Seattle Supersonics when they won the NBA Championship in 1979 and he was named Finals MVP. He was also an important member of two Celtics Championships alongside Larry Bird in the 80s. Johnson finished his career with 9 All-Defensive team honors, 5 All-Star appearances, and 2 All-NBA team selections under his belt.
57. Dave Cowens
In 11 NBA seasons, the Celtics’ big man racked up 8 All-Star appearances, 3 All-NBA selections, and 3 All-Defensive teams to go along with the Rookie of the Year award in 1971. Cowens also won a league MVP in 1973 to go along with his two NBA Championships before being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991.
56. Paul Pierce
Pierce was selected to 10 All-Star teams in an 11-year span in the prime of his career. He also won his lone NBA Championship and Finals MVP award during that stretch in 2008. The Celtics great was also selected to four All-NBA teams in his 19-year career while scoring over 26,000 points along the way – putting him in an elite group of all-time great scorers.
55. Dolph Schayes
Schayes had one of the more impressive careers in NBA history when considering how often he was selected to All-Star teams – 12 times in the course of 15 seasons. He finished his career averaging 18.5 points and 12.1 rebounds over 15 years as well. Schayes was also a member of the 1955 Syracuse Nationals who won the NBA Championship. Keep in mind, Schayes would have likely won the Finals MVP this year had the award existed at the time.
54. Kevin McHale
The 2-time 6th Man of the Year redefined post moves during his 13-year career. McHale aided Larry Bird and company in winning three NBA Championships in Boston to go along with seven All-Star appearances and one All-NBA selection. The 6’10 big man was also selected to six All-Defensive teams throughout his career before being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
53. Willis Reed
Reed only played in the NBA for 10 seasons, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at his resume. During his 10-year tenure with the Knicks, Reed won 2 NBA Championships, 2 Finals MVPs, and 1 regular season MVP. He was also named to 7 All-Star teams, 5 All-NBA teams, 1 All-Defensive team, and won the Rookie of the Year award in 1965 – the same year he made his All-Star debut. Keep in mind, Reed played before steals and blocks were tracked, so his defensive numbers could have pushed him further up this list, but the absence of these stats doesn’t negatively impact his ranking.
52. Sam Jones
Bill Russell’s perfect sidekick, Jones finished his 12-year NBA career with 10 NBA Championships, a feat we’ll likely never see again. He was also named to 5 All-Star teams and 3 All-NBA teams and likely would have made multiple All-Defensive teams had the honor existed when Jones played in the 60s.
51. Elvin Hayes
Hayes had a long-lasting, 16-year career in which he made 12 All-Star teams, 6 All-NBA teams, and 2 All-Defensive teams. He also won one scoring title in 1969 to go along with an NBA Championship in 1978. Again, remember that Hayes’ blocks and steals were not tracked for the first four years of his career. If we had those numbers available, Hayes would likely push into the Top 50 careers in NBA History.
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