Ranking the Best Basketball Players of All Time

By - Paul Grossinger

Sports are often about superlatives.  "The best ever!"  "The worst ever!"  "The GOAT!"

The Best of All Time.  Caps Included.  These are the guys you bet on every night.  If you needed a win, you put down $1000 that these guys were going to dominate – and they delivered.   They also delivered some of the ncaa college basketball all-time top rivalries.

Basketball is a sport of superstars and superlatives.  Every great basketball team has been led by an all-time player.  But who are the very best of those all-time players?

Number 1: Michael Jordan

It's not even a debate.  One day, a stats freak from MIT will claim that Kobe Bryant was better than Michael Jordan.  And Michael Jordan will turn into a dragon and incinerate him. 

Number 2: Bill Russell

This depends on what you value.  Russell was only a top-20 player if you are counting statistics.  He played in a smaller, earlier era with less competition and far fewer elite athletes.   But there has never been a better winner in the history of the game.

Number 3: Shaquille O'Neal

This pick will be controversial.  O'Neal does not have the "longevity numbers" of some of his great counterparts.  But, if you had to pick any player, in his prime, to win championships with, you would probably pick Shaq.

Number 4: Magic Johnson

Magic changed the game.  He turned basketball from a second-tier sport into an electrifying, exciting display.  And his rivalry with Larry Bird re-defined East vs. West.

Number 5: LeBron James

James has already made it.  He is not only a transcendent talent, he has evolved his game to become even better as he has matured.  Only a few greats have done it, perhaps none – save Michael Jordan – as well as James. 

BONUS: Number 6: Tim Duncan

Definitely the most non-descript player on the list, Duncan spurns flash.  But he does embrace winning; leading perhaps the least talented title teams ever to four NBA Championships.  In fact, you can argue no one has ever won more with less talent – and he is still doing it right now!

So, who do you rank as the best players of all time?

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