The center position is possibly the most important position in basketball. An anchor in the middle, centers are the definition of dominant. Many of the greatest players in NBA history played the center position. The all-time leader in scoring was a center. From offensive threats to defensive masters, centers have a vast range of skills to display. Dozens of championships, all-star appearances, and MVPs define the greatest centers in NBA history. All of these players have revolutionized the sport in one way or another. Here are the top five centers in NBA history.
Top Five Centers in NBA History
5. Bill Russell (1956-1969)
The first center is the original big man Bill Russell. Russell averaged 22 rebounds per game through his career and is the definition of a winner. Russell won 11 NBA championships with the Boston Celtics and had five NBA MVPs too. Those 11 championships are an NBA record that will never be broken. Russell showed that you can impact a game in more ways than just offense. Russell’s defense and leadership contributed more to those 11 championships than any of his offensive output. Russell played during a time where players his size was a rarity, but Russell is an all-time great because of many other aspects than his size. Russell is a hall of fame inductee for many things but mostly because he is a dominant winner.
4. Shaquille O’Neal (1992-2011)
Shaq is considered one of the most dominant players in NBA history and it is for a good reason. He played 19 seasons and made 14 all-star games in the time. Shaq won the MVP award one time but had three finals MVPs during his four NBA championships. Shaq entered the league as an Orlando Magic and after four seasons there, he left to become a Los Angeles Laker. O’Neal had played for six NBA teams in total, but his time with L.A. is his most memorable.
Shaq was as consistent as they come. He led the NBA in field goal percentage 10 times in his career. Shaq helped lead the Lakers to their three straight NBA championships and must be considered when thinking about the best players of the modern NBA. Shaq is a more recent inductee into the hall of fame and it is well deserved. There might never again be a center as physically dominant as Shaq.
3. Hakeem Olajuwon (1984-2002)
Olajuwon transcended post offense in a way that had not been seen since the number one entry. The dream shake inventor dominated the paint with his outstanding footwork and athleticism at the center position. Hakeem played 18 seasons in the NBA and made 12 all-star appearances. Hakeem averaged a career 21.8 points per game and roughly 11 rebounds too. Olajuwon is remembered as sole superstar player on the back-to-back championship Houston Rockets in the mid-’90s. Hakeem won an MVP and two finals MVPs during that time and established himself as one of the best centers to ever play. His defensive performances were as good as his offensive too. Hakeem led the league in blocks per game three times and had over three blocks per game in nine of his 18 seasons. Hakeem is a clear hall of fame inductee and a revolutionary player in the sport of basketball.
2. Wilt Chamberlain (1959-1973)
Wilt Chamberlin was one of the first truly dominant players in basketball. He averaged roughly 30 points and 23 rebounds for his career and had a season of 50.4 points per game in 1961-62. He also averaged over 30 points per game for nine straight seasons and at least 18 rebounds per game in all of his 14 NBA seasons. Chamberlain came away with 2 NBA championships and a Finals MVP during his career. He is also known for his 100-point performance against the New York Knicks in 1962. Chamberlain had 13 all-star appearances and seven regular-season scoring titles during his career. Wilt is obviously a hall of fame inductee. Wilt revolutionized basketball with his size and athleticism combination and we have him to thank for the many centers who have come after him.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1969-1989)
Kareem is undoubtedly the best center to ever play. He is the all-time scoring leader in NBA history and popularized the sky-hook post move that scored many of those points for him. His career took him to the Milwaukee Bucks and, eventually, the Los Angeles Lakers. Kareem had the most MVP awards in NBA history as well with six MVPs. This goes nicely with his six NBA championships. Kareem has been a large part of all six championship squads. Kareem won his first MVP in only his second season and ended that season with an NBA championship.
Abdul-Jabbar played 20 seasons in the NBA and had 19 all-star appearances in that span. He also has two finals MVPs to cap off his hall of fame career. The conversation for the greatest basketball player ever is often directed to Michael Jordan and LeBron James, but Kareem is someone who deserves to be considered in every conversation about the best to ever play.
David Robinson (1989-2003)
2 NBA Championships, 1 NBA MVP, 10 All-Star Appearances, 21.1 PPG, Hall of Fame Inductee.
George Mikan (1946-1956)
7 NBL/BAA/NBA Championships, 4 All-Star Appearances, 23.1 PPG, Hall of Fame Inductee.
Moses Malone (1974-1995)
1 NBA Championship, 3 NBA MVPs, 1 Finals MVP, 12 All-Star Appearances, 20.3 PPG, Hall of Fame Inductee.
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