Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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(Original Caption) Fingertips New York: Wilt Chamberlain (#13) of the Los Angeles Lakers and Willis Reed (#19) of the New York Knickerbockers go after a rebound during game at Madison Square Garden here Feb. 18th. Chamberlain scored 31 points to lead the Lakers to a 113-109 victory over the Knicks and crack the Knicks’ 11-game winning streak. /

8. Wilt Chamberlain

  • Resume: 14 seasons, 2 NBA championships, 1 NBA Finals MVP Award, 4 regular season MVP Awards, 10-time All-NBA selection, 13-time NBA All-Star, NBA All-Star Game MVP, 2-time NBA All-Defensive Team, Rookie of the Year Award, 7-time NBA leader in scoring, 11-time NBA leader in rebounding, 1-time NBA leader in assists, Golden State Warriors’ all-time leading scorer, NBA’s all-time leading rebounder, Hall-of-Famer
  • Stats: 30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG, .540/—/.511 shooting splits, 26.1 career PER, 247.3 win shares

I know what you’re thinking. How in God’s green earth is the guy who scored 100 points in a game No. 8 on the list? He averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds a game for an entire season! I would counter with a question of my own: If Wilt the Stilt really was that transcendent of a player…how did he only win two titles in 14 seasons during a time when there were so few NBA teams?

The answer: Bill Russell. Chamberlain was the most talented player of his era by far, but Russell outclassed him with solid team play nearly every time they met in the playoffs. It’s not even that the Celtics had a better lineup than the star-studded teams Wilt played with; it’s that he (fittingly) wilted under pressure most of the time.

The Big Dipper was consumed with stats. A center leading the league in assists for a season sounds impressive as all hell on paper — nearly as impressive as his claim that he slept with 20,000 women — but Wilt spent that entire season passing up open shots just so he could boost his assist totals and pull off the accomplishment to bolster his resume.

The year Wilt averaged 50 points per game, Russell was voted MVP by their peers. In eight playoff matchups, Russell’s Celtics prevailed seven times. Wilt outscored and out-rebounded his frenemy in those head-to-head matchups, but this was a case of great player vs. player who made his team great.

Even so, Wilt’s statistical dominance is legendary. The guy scored 60 or more points 15 times in his career. He averaged 30 and 20 nine times in 14 seasons, which is something no one else has ever done. And even if Russell routinely got the best of him, Wilt still won two NBA championships en route to becoming a larger than life NBA legend.

Wilt could’ve been the greatest player of all time, but he just wasn’t consumed by winning like Russell was. He was there to put up numbers and have a good time, which explains why the guy who averaged 50 points per game in a season somehow didn’t wind up with the highest career scoring average in league history.

Was the Big Dipper’s approach to the game, and life in general, the wrong way? Absolutely not. But on the list of greatest players, it does him no favors, and it’s the reason we can’t move him any higher.