Idiots Guide: Greatest NBA Centers of All-Time

If there is a mystical quality to the game of basketball, then the ‘Big Man’ would have to be it. In a game full of giants, the tallest of them is usually the man patrolling the high percentage paint area of the court. His defense protects the rim from weak sauce. His offense is of the high percentage ‘go to’ variety. For many years NBA teams lucky enough to have a talented big man, would build their teams around him and usually be rewarded with consistent success and eventually championships. There was a time when a team with an all-star big man was sitting pretty. That was then. The modern game has evolved (or De-volved) into a less physical perimeter game where the average big man finds himself slightly marginalized. That damn three-point shot, it’s the devil I tell you. While we stand in an era where the big man isn’t necessarily the star, we at Idiots Guide decided that now was as good a time as any to reflect on the greatest big men from years gone by. The kind of big men who changed the game. The kind of big men who carried their teams on their collective shoulders during crunch time. It’s not everyday that you find a 7-footer who can move like a 6-footer and dominate the game. The following list highlights some of these legendary athletes who have dominated NBA hardwoods in the recent past.

big man cover



#10.   Moses Malone  /  22 Seasons  /  PPG:  20.3    RPG:  12.3  / Rings: 1

Moses Malone

For over 20 years Moses Malone (6′ 10″) dominated the low post hardwood in both the American Basketball Association (ABA) and the National Basketball Association (NBA).  Malone’s mantle has 3 NBA MVP Awards resting on it. An illustrious career that included 12 NBA All-Star appearances and an NBA Championship with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1983. In 2001, his first year of eligibility, Moses Malone was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. An honor befitting a big man who dominated the game for two decades.

#9.   George Mikan  /  7 Seasons  /  PPG:  23.1  RPG:  13.4 / Rings: 7 (NBA, NBL)

George Mikan

George Mikan was nicknamed ‘Mr. Basketball’ and for very good reason. The phrase ‘re-writing the record books’ takes on special meaning when talking about Mikan. The thick spectacled big man ( 6 ft 10 in 245 pounds) was responsible for more than a few rule changes that still exist today. The ‘goaltending rule’, the widening of the ‘foul lane’, otherwise known as the ‘Mikan Rule’ as well as the NBA introduction of the ‘shot clock’.  Mikan is widely considered to be one of the original pioneers of pro basketball. His prolific rebounding and shot blocking were legendary. In his 7 years of professional basketball Mikan won 7 NBL, BAA, and NBA Championships in total. You can add 3 scoring titles and being a member of the first 4 NBA All-Star games to that mix.

#8.   David Robinson  /  14 Seasons  /  PPG:  21.1    RPG:  10.6 / Rings: 2

David Robinson

David Robinson was known throughout his career as ‘The Admiral’, which acknowledged his Naval military service. Robinson was a 10-time NBA All-Star, an NBA MVP (1995), a 2-Time NBA Champion with the San Antonio Spurs (1999 and 2003), a 2-Time Olympic Gold Medal winner (1992, 1996) and a 2-Time Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee (2009 and 2010) One for pro playing, the second for Olympic playing.  David Robinson is the only NBA player to have also served in the U.S. Navy. Robinson was the kind of big man who protected the rim with zeal. He was a 4-Time NBA All-Defensive Team member (1991, 1992, 1995, 1996) and is considered to be among the best centers in NBA league history.

#7.   Patrick Ewing  /  17 Seasons  /  PPG: 21.0   RPG:  9.8 /  Rings: None

Patrick Ewing

During his collegiate days, Patrick Ewing was the star attraction of the Georgetown Hoyas. He played all 4 years making the NCAA Tournament Finals twice, winning it all in the 1983–84 season with a 84–75 victory over the University of Houston. Ewing was named the 16th greatest college player of all time by ESPN. He also has several Olympic gold medals on his mantle, being a member of the 1984 and 1992 United States Men’s Olympic teams. Ewing was named the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1986. He was also an 11-Time NBA All-Star (1986, 1988–1997). In 1996 Ewing was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and is the New York Knicks all-time leading scorer.

#6.   Tim Duncan  /  19 (+) Seasons  /  PPG:  19.0   RPG:   10.8 /  Rings: 5 

Tim Duncan 2

It is still unclear exactly when Tim Duncan found the proverbial ‘Fountain of Youth’, but what is clear is that he found it. Duncan is widely considered to be among, if not the greatest power forward(s) in NBA history. Why? Well, let’s start with the fact that he is a 5-Time NBA World Champion, a 2-Time NBA MVP, a 3-Time NBA Finals MVP and was voted NBA Rookie of the Year in 1998. Not enough?  He was also a 15-Time NBA All-Star and was an All-NBA, All-Defensive Team member in each of his initial 13 campaigns. That’s saying something. Hell, that’s screaming something, loud. As of 2016 Duncan is still a member of the Spurs and chasing his 6th World Championship. He’s that good.

#5.   Hakeem Olajuwon  /  18 Seasons  /  PPG:  21.8    REB:  11.1 / Rings: 2

hakeem olajuwon

The screaming fans that inhabit arenas throughout the NBA must seem like a lifetime away from Hakeem Olajuwon‘s native  Lagos, Nigeria. Olajuwon migrated from Africa to the University of Houston to play for Head Coach Guy Lewis, where he made no less than three trips to the NCAA Final Four. In the NBA Olajuwon played a starring role in back-to-back NBA Championships for the Houston Rockets (1994 and 1995).  The 7 footer was nicknamed ‘The Dream’ during his career for his seemingly effortless dunks that looked like a ‘dream’. Early in his career he was teamed up with the 7 ft 4 inch Ralph Sampson as one of the vaunted ‘Twin Towers’, they made a Finals appearance in 1986 but lost in 6 games to a legendary Boston Celtics team. Olajuwon led the NBA in ‘Rebounding’ 2 times (1989, 1990) and in ‘Blocks’ 3 times (1990, 1991, 1993). Did I forget to mention that ‘The Dream’ is the only player to win the NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP awards in a singular season? (1993-1994) Yes, he did that.

#4.   Shaquille O’Neal  / 20 Seasons  /  PPG: 23.7    REB:  10.9 / Rings: 4

Shaquille O’Neal

The NBA had seen 7 footers before the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal (7 ft 1 in), what it hadn’t seen was a 7 footer who weighed in excess of 3oo pounds who could run the floor like a shooting guard. Shaq was and still remains a freak of human nature. He won NBA Rookie of the Year in 1992–93. In 1995 he led his team (Orlando Magic) to his first of many NBA Finals appearances. O’Neal signed on with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1997 and went on to win 3 NBA Championships consecutively (2000, 2001, and 2002). In 2004 he was traded to the Miami Heat where he won, you guessed it another NBA Championship in 2006. In total, Shaq was a 4-Time NBA Champion (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006), a 3-Time NBA Finals MVP (2000–2002), a 15-Time NBA All-Star (1993–1998, 2000–2007, 2009) and you can throw in an NBA Most Valuable Player (2000). Any questions? I didn’t think so.

#3.   Wilt Chamberlin  /  15 Seasons  /   PPG:  30.1    RPG:  22.9 / Rings: 2

Wilt Chamberlin

What can you say about an NBA center who once scored 100 points in a single game? A great deal as it turns out. Wilt Chamberlain holds all kinds of NBA records mostly in scoring and rebounding categories. He is the only NBA player in history to average more than 40 points in a season and more than 50 points in a season. Wilt won the NBA scoring title no less than 7-Times. Led in field goal percentage 9-Times, and led the NBA in rebounding 11-Times. Chamberlain is also the only player to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game in a full NBA season. He did that 7-Times!  As a result he is also the only player to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game…For an entire NBA career!  There’s not too much else to say after that, is there? Well, maybe the fact that he is also a 2-Time NBA Champion (1967 & 1972). There was only one Wilt Chamberlain.

#2.   Bill Russell  /  13 Seasons  /   PPG:   15.1      RPG:   22.5 / Rings: 11   

Bill Russell

In the game of basketball the name Bill Russell and the word ‘Championship’, go together like peanut butter and jelly. Before his illustrious NBA career, Russell won 2 NCAA Championships with the University of San Francisco (1955, 1956). In the NBA he won the NBA Most Valuable Player award 5-Times. He was also a 12-Time NBA All-Star. That was besides the prolific winning. Russell was a main player in the Boston Celtics dynasty in which they won no less than 11 NBA Championships (1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969) in 13 years. Russell also owns an Olympic Gold Medal from the 1956 Summer Olympics. You got all of that? Yes, Bill Russell was the real deal.

#1.   Kareem Abdul-Jabbar  / 20  Seasons  /   PPG:   24.6     RPG:   11.2  / Rings: 6 

Kareem Abdul Jabbar

When you have a specialty shot that you created and coined, then you are somebody special. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s patented ‘Sky Hook’ was virtually indefensible. Abdul-Jabbar won the NBA Most Valuable Player award a record 6-Times! His 19 NBA All-Star appearances are also a record. There’s more, he’s also a 15-Time All-NBA selection and an 11-Time NBA All-Defensive Team member. All of that is in addition to his 6 NBA Championships. Abdul-Jabbar is also a 2-Time NBA Finals MVP.  He was honored as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996. In the minds of many, this author included,  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the greatest NBA center to ever lace them up.