As we continue our countdown of the 20 best NBA players of all time, we start to get into the depth of the long-debated conversation. What is most interesting about this argument is that the first few names at the top are typically the most agreed upon, but as the conversation gets deeper, that is where conflict arises.
To see part one of the 20 best NBA players of all time (20-16), click here.
Alright, time to make some people upset on the internet.
20 Best NBA Players Of All Time – #15-11
15. Kobe Bryant
Career Accomplishments: 5x NBA Champion (2000-2002, 2009, 2010), 2x NBA Finals MVP (2009, 2010), NBA MVP (2008), 18x All-Star, 4x NBA All-Star Game MVP, 11x All-NBA First Team, 9x All-Defensive First Team, 4th in All-Time Scoring Leaders (33,643), 2nd most points scored in an NBA game (81)
Coming out of the gates hot with this one. Put your pitchforks down for a second and listen to my explanation. Kobe Bryant is one of the best NBA players of all time. There is no debating that. His achievements speak for themselves. However, there have also been players in the NBA who have been more influential, more dominant, and achieved more than he has, on their own too.
In Kobe’s first stint of his career, he had a prime Shaquille O’Neal to help achieve that historic three-peat at the turn of the century. What followed was a stretch of tremendous individual success, but not a whole lot of winning, both on and off the floor. Nonetheless, being the 15th best player in the NBA is no slight. What Bryant has done for the NBA as a product and helping mold the future of the league has been huge for both players and fans alike.
When the Black Mamba tragically passed back in January, it briefly united the entire association in a way like never before. We saw just how much Kobe’s game impacted the player’s lives as they looked up to him and tried to mirror their games after him. His mentality helped drive the current generation of NBA talent. Kobe’s achievements in the history books of the NBA, in addition to the style of play he helped create for the game, easily make him one of the best NBA players of all time.
14. David Robinson
Career Accomplishments: 2x NBA Champion (1999, 2003), NBA MVP (1995), 10x All-Star , 4x All-NBA First Team, 2x All-NBA Second Team, 4x All-NBA Third Team, NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1992), 4x All-Defensive First Team, 4x All-Defensive Second Team, 6th All-Time in Total Career Blocks
One of the best NBA players of all time that often goes unappreciated is David Robinson. While he may not be the flashiest pick or the most obvious, Robinson was a monster in his era and helped mold the San Antonio Spurs into the dynasty that saw them dominate the 2000s. Robinson established what being a defensive-minded big was all about, as he protected the rim better than nearly any player throughout NBA history. His fundamentally sound style of play as a big is long outdated and could be a force in any era of basketball on wishes to plug him in to.
A mentor to Tim Duncan, he helped shape one of the greatest NBA players of all time and build up the Spurs brand of physical, fundamental team basketball. As the NBA transitioned to its next era of traditional team basketball in the early 2000s, Robinson was a welcome reminder of the physicality that came with the 90s brand and the way he was able to transition that style of play to the turn of the 21st Century paved way for other bigs like Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Speaking of whom…
13. Kevin Garnett
Career Accomplishments: NBA Champion (2008), NBA MVP (2004), 15x All-Star, All-Star Game MVP (2003), 4x All-NBA First Team, 3x All-NBA Second Team, 2x All-NBA Third Team, Defensive Player of the Year recipient (2008), 9x All-Defensive First Team, 3x All-Defensive Second Team, 4x Rebounding Champion (2004-2007), 9th All-Time in Total Career Blocks (14,662)
Kevin Garnett is one of the most interesting and unique NBA players of all time. There has never been another player like and will never be another like him. Garnett played with a mentality and work ethic that does not exist in today’s NBA. A glorified psychopath on and off the floor, Garnett excelled in the mental game of basketball and exploited his opponents from a psychological standpoint, and it worked. Garnett helped put a small-market team like the Minnesota Timberwolves on the map, winning the MVP award as a member of the organization. Although he was never able to bring a championship to the city, he did manage to do so in the next chapter of his career.
The second Garnett arrived in Boston, the Boston Celtics brand of basketball was instantly revived. It was given a shot of adrenaline that is still being felt to this day. Since Garnett came to town in 2008 and has since gone and retired, the Celtics have remained competitive year after year. The argument of whether Garnett should be among the illustrious class of Celtics to get his jersey retired or not should obviously be a yes. Despite only being a member for six seasons, he brought an unprecedented 17th championship to Boston, which they do not do without his contributions and leadership.
The NBA misses players like Garnett in today’s era. Not to put down the body of work that today’s era of talent shows night in and night out, but Garnett was just built differently than most.
12. Julius Erving
Career Accomplishments: NBA Champion (1983), NBA MVP (1981), 2x ABA Champion (1974, 1976), 3x ABA MVP (1974-1976), 2x All-Star Game MVP, 5x All-NBA First Team, 3x All-NBA Second Team, 4x All-ABA First Team, 3x ABA Scoring Champion
Julius “Dr. J” Erving is the best player in ABA history, prior to the NBA/ABA merger. Erving was not just a human highlight reel in an era where flashiness hardly existed, he solely influenced an entire generation of talent with his signature layups and dunks at the rim. Players mirrored their game after Erving. He was both a tremendous talent and an influential figure for the game of basketball as a whole.
One of the most dominant players in the 70s, Erving was light years ahead of the NBA in terms of talent, athleticism, mindset, and overall IQ. He helped shape the game of basketball after the likes of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain moved on from the game and was a formidable foe early on in the careers of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and the great players of the 80s generation of NBA basketball.
11. Wilt Chamberlain
Career Accomplishments: NBA Finals MVP (1972), 2x NBA Champion (1967, 1972), 4x MVP (1960, 1966-1968), All-Star Game MVP (1960), 7x All-NBA First Team, 3x All-NBA Second Team, 2x All-Defensive First Team, 7x Scoring Champion, 11x Rebounding Champion, Retired no. 13 jersey by four different franchises (Warriors, Lakers, Bucks, Globetrotters), most points scored in NBA game (100), 7th All-Time in Total Career Points (31,419), 1st All-Time in Total Career Rebounds (23,924)
The resume speaks for itself. Haters often take the easy route and knock the kind of era Wilt Chamberlain played in, rather than appreciate it as the baseline of NBA basketball. Chamberlain was at the forefront of NBA history in the 60s. Sure, the ridiculous stat lines he put up would be impossible to match today, but it should be appreciated just how much of a talent Wilt was in his hay day. If one could plug and play players in different eras, there is no reason to believe Wilt could not hold his own in today’s NBA.
The 100-point performance by Chamberlain will never be touched by another player in the NBA. I am willing to say that with the utmost confidence. Not to discredit the talent and abilities of today’s generation, as surely if one puts their mind to it, perhaps they could at least come close to it. However, Wilt was just so special and way ahead of his era. He set the foundation of the game of basketball for generations to come and follow after him. What is a real shame is that despite being one of the best NBA players of all time and pulling down a plethora of individual awards, he only walked away with two championships. But we will get to that later…