The 75th season in NBA history came to an exciting end with yet another NBA Championship for Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors – their fourth in the last eight years. Curry also finally won the elusive Finals MVP award to better fill out his resume.
Where does that resume stack up, exactly, though? Let’s dive into the next portion of our NBA 75th Anniversary Team. For more on our selection process and to see the rest of the 76 players selected, click one of the links below.
10. Julius Erving
Julius “Dr. J” Erving is one of the most decorated players to ever cross over from the ABA to the NBA. In his 16 combined seasons, Erving was named an All-Star every single year, including his final season when he was 36 years of age. He won two ABA Championships and one NBA Championship to go along with 12 combined All-ABA/NBA team selections and an All-Defensive team selection in 1976.
Dr. J was named league MVP four times in 16 years, essentially naming him the best player in the league for at least a quarter of his career. He never averaged less than 16.8 points per game in his career and led the ABA in scoring three separate times. He finished with career averages of 24.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game on over 50% shooting from the field.
9. Larry Bird
“Larry Legend” remains one of the most vocally confident players of all time, but he doesn’t just talk the talk – he walks the walk. In 13 NBA seasons, Bird won three NBA Championships and two Finals MVPs to go along with 12 All-Star appearances, 10 All-NBA selections, and 3 All-Defensive teams. He is also one of only nine players who won at least three regular-season MVPs.
After winning Rookie of the Year over rival Magic Johnson in 1980, Bird went on to average 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists in his career. He led the league in free throw percentage four times and finished with a career 89% free-throw average and is widely considered one of the first great 3-point shooters, hitting over 40% of his attempts as a rookie and nearly 38% of his career attempts.
8. Kobe Bryant
The late, great Kobe Bean Bryant will forever be known for his impact on basketball both on and off the court. Entire stories could be written on his legacy, but we’ll focus on the numbers he left on the court for the sake of this ranking. Bryant made 18 All-Star appearances – including a run of 17 straight to end his career – and was named to 15 All-NBA teams and 12 All-Defensive teams. He won five NBA Championships over the course of 20 seasons, adding two Finals MVPs to his resume along the way.
In terms of accolades alone, Bryant ranks 6th out of 164 players considered for this list. He also led the league in scoring twice, finishing with a career scoring average of 25 PPG – from 2001 through 2013, he averaged over 28 PPG on 45% shooting from the field and 34% from behind the 3-point line. In the postseason, Bryant bumped his scoring averages up to 25.6 overall and 28.5 between 2001-2012, tangibly defining his ability to flip a switch when it matters most.
7. Tim Duncan
After starting off his career by winning Rookie of the Year in 1998, Duncan went on to have one of the most illustrious careers in NBA history. In perhaps the calmest manner ever seen, Duncan won five NBA Championships, claiming Finals MVP in three of them. He’s the first and only player in league history to win three NBA Championships in three separate decades. In his 19-year career, Duncan was also named to 15 All-Star teams, 15 All-NBA teams, and 15 All-Defensive teams – the most all-time.
Duncan also boasts two regular season MVPs on his resume, along with an All-Star Game MVP in 2000. During the first 12 years of his career, Duncan averaged 21.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2.4 blocks per game on over 50% shooting. He ranks 1st all-time in both postseason blocks and defensive rebounds as well as 6th in total points scored in the postseason across 251 playoff games.
Widely considered the greatest point guard to ever touch the court so far (looking at you, Steph Curry), Magic finished his career with an 11.2 APG average, including a nine-year stretch from 1983-1991 in which he averaged over 12 APG. Keep in mind that Johnson’s career was cut short due to our lack of knowledge of the HIV virus at the time – had he added another four years to his career, he could easily be higher on this list.
Instead, Johnson played for only 13 NBA seasons – 12 before his illness was announced and 32 games during the 1996 season after a four-year absence. In his first 12 years, he managed to accumulate 12 All-Star appearances and 10 All-NBA selections. He won five NBA Championships during his first 12 seasons, claiming three Finals MVPs along the way. Magic led the league in assists per game four separate times and steals per game twice – including an absurd career high of 3.4 steals per game in 1981.
Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain ranks 1st in our Career Statistics category with career averages of 30.1 points and 22.5 rebounds per game in his 14-year career. He still holds the record for the highest points per game average in a single season with 50.4 in 1962, including an NBA-record 100 points in March of 1962. During this season he also averaged 48.5 minutes per game – a regulation NBA game lasts 48 minutes. In 14 seasons, he led the league in rebounding 11 times, scoring seven times, and assists once. Keep in mind that steals and blocks were not tracked when Chamberlain played, or else his numbers would have been even more mind-boggling.
Along with his other-worldly statistics, Wilt was also named to 13 All-Star teams, 10 All-NBA teams, and 2 All-Defensive teams. He won Rookie of the Year in 1960 and two NBA Championships in his career, claiming Finals MVP in 1972 – he likely would have claimed the award during his first Championship in 1967 had it existed at the time.
T-3. Bill Russell
The only human intervention on this list comes in Bill Russell’s ranking, only due to the fact that he won 11 NBA Championships and didn’t win a single Finals MVP – because the award was created to honor Russell after he retired in 1969. Giving him credit for winning Finals MVP in all 11 of his Championships would place him firmly in the No. 3 spot on our list. Without the Finals MVP awards – which he technically does not have – he would slot in slightly behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the No. 4 spot. Therefore, the legendary big men are deadlocked on our list of legendary careers.
Russell is another player who would benefit greatly from having defensive stats tracked during his playing days, especially considering his scientific approach to turning blocked shots into outlet passes using one singular same motion. Regardless, along with his record-setting 11 NBA Titles, Russell also adds 12 All-Star appearances and 11 All-NBA selections during his 13-year career. He led the NBA in rebounds five times and finished with career averages of 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds per game.
T-3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – formerly known as Lew Alcindor – is a prime example of longevity in the league. In 20 seasons, Abdul-Jabbar accumulated the most points of all time (38,387), the most All-Star appearances of all time (19), and the most league MVPs of all time (6). He also adds 15 All-NBA selections, 11 All-Defensive teams, and two scoring titles to his impressive resume.
After winning Rookie of the Year in 1970, Kareem went on to win six NBA Championships – one alongside Oscar Robertson in Milwaukee and five more beside Ervin “Magic” Johnson in Los Angeles. Of his six rings, Abdul-Jabbar claimed Finals MVP in two of them, one with each team he played on. He’s one of only three players (Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard) to win Finals MVP with two different teams. His patented sky hook shot is still widely viewed as one of the most unguardable moves in NBA history.
2. LeBron James
“The King” himself is narrowly edged out for the top spot in our list – fortunately, he’s not done adding to his resume just yet. So far in his 19-year career, James has been named to 18 consecutive All-Star teams, 18 All-NBA teams, and 6 All-Defensive teams. He’s also won four league MVPs, three All-Star game MVPs, led the league in scoring in 2008, and led the league in assists in 2020 at age 35.
He started his career with a convincing rookie campaign that netted him the Rookie of the Year award in 2004 before going on to win four NBA Championships with three different teams so far, taking home the Finals MVP award in all four.
This second-place ranking is not a knock on James’ career or his ability; in fact, it’s not even a statement on who the more talented player is. A reminder: this list is designed to use raw stats and accolades to determine the greatest careers rather than comparing subjective talent among players – a virtually impossible task.
6 NBA Championships, 6 Finals MVPs, 14 All-Star appearances, 11 All-NBA selections, 10 Scoring Titles, 9 All-Defensive team honours, 5 league MVPs, 3 All-Star Game MVPs, 1988 Defensive Player of the Year, and 1985 Rookie of the Year.
His Airness. Flight 23. The GOAT. MJ. All of these iconic nicknames describe arguably the greatest competitor in the history of sports. Michael Jordan ranks 2nd in career accolades out of our 164 players considered behind only Bill Russell’s absurd championship tally. Jordan and LeBron are the only players to win more than two NBA Championships and claim Finals MVP with each win – Olajuwon, Durant, Reed, and Leonard have all swept Finals MVP in their two Championships each.
In 15 seasons, Jordan led the league in scoring an NBA record 10 times, including a seven-year stretch in which he averaged over 33 points per game. He never averaged less than 30.1 in a single season in that time frame. He also led the league in steals three times, minutes played twice, and played all 82 games nine times in 15 seasons – a feat we may never see again with the current climate of the league.
The gap between Jordan and LeBron in these career rankings is not so vast that James doesn’t stand a chance of surpassing Jordan. In fact, he might just do so with his additional stats and accolades in year 20. For now, however, Jordan reigns supreme.
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