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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Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images /

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

  • Resume: 20 seasons, 6 NBA championships, 2 NBA Finals MVP Awards, 6 regular season MVP Awards, 15-time All-NBA selection, 19-time NBA All-Star, 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team, Rookie of the Year Award, 2-time NBA leader in scoring, 4-time NBA leader in blocks, 1-time NBA leader in rebounding, Milwaukee Bucks’ all-time leading scorer, NBA’s all-time leading scorer, NBA’s all-time leader in win shares, NBA’s third all-time blocks leader, NBA’s fourth all-time leading rebounder, Hall-of-Famer
  • Stats: 24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 2.6 BPG, .559/—/.721 shooting splits, 24.6 career PER, 273.4 win shares

Since the days of Bill Russell, no one other than Michael Jordan and LeBron James has been more successful from a team and individual standpoint than good ol’ Lew Alcindor. It’s fitting, then, that they’re the only two players ahead of Kareem on this list (spoiler alert). In terms of sustaining greatness over the longest period of time, however, nobody holds a candle the Abdul-Jabbar.

For one thing, let’s just appreciate that this guy played at an All-Star level in the NBA for nearly two decades. He made the All-Star Game in 19 of his 20 seasons and averaged nearly 25 points and 11 rebounds per game. That’s absurd, but it also goes to show why he’s the NBA’s all-time leading scorer by a wide margin.

He may have been weak in the paint, and people often criticized how he would get abused by stronger, tougher centers who weren’t afraid of contact. But those critics seemed to take a backseat to the loudest argument of all: It didn’t really matter when nobody could block that skyhook. Abdul-Jabbar was an excellent shot-blocker too, but his defining trait — the aforementioned skyhook — is the one of the most unstoppable shots ever conceived.

Going back to the point about sustained greatness, it’s worth noting that Kareem won six titles in his career, with his two NBA Finals MVP Awards coming 14 seasons apart. To put that in perspective, MJ only played 13 seasons in Chicago. Kareem won six MVP awards and was more durable than anybody in the history of the sport. I’m half-convinced Duracell batteries are really just empty containers filled with whatever Fountain of Youth juice runs through Kareem’s veins.

Everyone remembers how Magic stepped in for an injured Kareem in the 1980 NBA Finals, but nobody remembers how Kareem put up 40 points in Game 5 on that same injured ankle to put his team in a position to win the championship. His personality didn’t endear him to fans, even if those goggles inspired a whole new generation of un-athletic white kids rocking Rec Specs without fear. (Ok fine, I had Rec Specs too. It wasn’t just white kids.)

We’ll remember Kareem for winning the most MVP Awards in league history. We’ll respect him for his priceless cameo in Airplane and his status as an all-time winner on a number of historically impressive championship teams. Milwaukee Bucks fans will remember him as the greatest player in franchise history who brought them (and Oscar Robertson) their only championship. But most of all, we’ll venerate Kareem for his durability, his never-wavering production over two decades and, of course, that unstoppable skyhook.