Top 15 Best NBA Players of All Time

LeBron James

Some basketball fans have no trouble selecting the 15 best NBA players of all time. However, there are far more names to consider than you might think. Basketball has seen some incredible talent since the first American professional league began after WWII. That means there are over eight decades of talent to sift through. 

When looking for the best NBA players, we considered many aspects. For example, there are many roles and positions on a court, each of which is important to the team’s success. We also reviewed each player’s awards and contribution to the NBA, plus whether the player left a measurable impact on the sport. Here at Bet Station, we have no issue going back through the ages to find talented players. Long before LeBron James commanded the court, you had players like Bill Russell changing what people believed was possible. 

While we would enjoy it if everyone agreed with our list, that is probably not going to happen. Therefore, we have a selection of fantastic players at the bottom that missed out on being included. If you are more interested in the teams these skilled players were a part of, then check out the best NBA teams of all time. Plus, we recently examined the greatest coaches in NBA history.

15. Karl Malone

Karl Malone was one of the best power forwards in NBA history. Arguably, he is one best to never win an NBA Championship in his extensive 19-year career. He began professionally with Utah Jazz in 1985, where he stayed until 2003. There, he had one last chance to win the big one with the LA Lakers. Unfortunately, injuries hampered the final years of his career, and he could not achieve his biggest dream in basketball.

That does not mean his career was uneventful or even unsuccessful. Instead, he won a variety of awards and some incredible personal achievements. Malone is third in the NBA all-time point leaders behind LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Plus, he has the record for the most free throws attempted and completed. Malone is a 14-time All-Star player with 11 NBA First-Team selections. He is a two-time NBA MVP winner, plus he won two All-Star MVP awards. On top of all that, they selected him to the NBA Anniversary team on two occasions, the 50th and 75th.

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Malone had an incredible career in the NBA. He played just under 1,500 games and had a win share of 234.6 according to Basketball Reference. It’s hard to say exactly why he never won the biggest prize in basketball, but perhaps it was loyalty. Maybe if he moved to the Lakers before the ripe old age of 40, he might have walked away with an NBA title or two.

  • Height: 6 ft 9 (206cm)
  • Weight: 250lb
  • Points: 36,982
  • Points Per Game: 25.0
  • Regular Season Games Played: 1,476
  • NBA Championships (W): 0

14. Kevin Durant

There are three basketball players on our list still active in the NBA. Kevin Durant started his career with the Seattle SuperSonics in their last season before the move to Oklahoma. Durant stayed with the Oklahoma City Thunder until 2016 when he had a brief stint with the Golden State Warriors. In 2019, he moved to the Brooklyn Nets until a trade saw him join the Phoenix Suns in February 2023.

Ever since his debut season in the NBA, Durant has been a prolific point scorer. His first season was his lowest average point tally, averaging 20.3 points per game (PPG). Since then, Durant has enjoyed two seasons with a 30+ average and never scored less than 25PPG across 17 seasons. His most successful seasons were with the Warriors, where he won the NBA Championship in 2017 and 2018. In those finals, they awarded him the NBA Finals MVP accolade, making him one of five players to consecutively win the award.

Durant would miss the entire 2019-20 season with an Achilles injury. Although his point-scoring prowess remained, he only managed 90 games across the next two seasons. None of that subtracts from his 13 NBA All-Star appearances, his six All-NBA First Team selections, or his four NBA Scoring Champion awards. Durant might not have earned the respect that other players on this list have, but you can’t deny his achievements. Plus, consider that at 32 he made a recovery from a serious injury to average 26.9PPG in 20-21 and then 29.9 in 21-21. It just shows his name deserves a little more respect.

  • Height: 6 ft 10 (208cm)
  • Weight: 240lb
  • Points: 26,892
  • Points Per Game: 27.3
  • Regular Season Games Played: 986
  • NBA Championships (W): 2

13. Scottie Pippen

Scottie Pippen could be the greatest small forward in NBA history, making him one of the best NBA players of all time. Pippen is a serial winner thanks to his incredible on-court partnership with Michael Jordan. They both played integral parts in some of the best NBA teams of all time, including two three-peats with the Chicago Bulls.

The Seattle SuperSonics, who drafted him, traded him to the Bulls almost immediately. From here, he formed an incredible bond with Jordan, regularly playing one-on-one outside of practice. He stayed with the Bulls from 1987 until 1998 when he moved to the Houston Rockets. He didn’t stay in Houston long before joining the Portland Trail Blazers. Pippen got the chance in 2003 to rejoin the Bulls, an opportunity he took before retiring from the NBA. That was not the last time he stepped onto the court. Pippen played for a Finnish and Swedish basketball team in 2008.

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What is there to say about Pippen? Well, he is a six-time NBA Champion, winning the biggest prize in basketball three consecutive times twice in his career. He was an NBA All-Star on seven occasions, one of which he won the game MVP. They selected Pippen for eight consecutive NBA All-Defensive First Teams, plus he was the 1995 NBA steals leader. Some purists would say he never stepped out of Jordan’s shadow. We believe he made the right decision in helping Jordan dominate the court for most of the 90s. Whatever your opinion is, Scottie Pippen played a humongous role in basketball history.

  • Height: 6 ft 8 (203cm)
  • Weight: 210lb
  • Points: 18,940
  • Points Per Game: 16.1
  • Regular Season Games Played: 1178
  • NBA Championships (W): 6

12. Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon was a Nigerian professional basketball player who was the first overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft. It was quite a famous draft, as Michael Jordan was the third pick, Charles Barkley was the fifth, and John Stockton was the 16th. The seven-foot-tall center made history several times throughout his career. He was the first non-American NBA All-Star and the first non-American NBA MVP. Plus, he was the first in NBA history to win NBA Defensive Player of the Year and finals MVP in the same season.

Olajuwon began his NBA career with the Houston Rockets. He stayed with the Rockets for 17 seasons, making a late move to the Toronto Raptors before retiring. His reputation came from outperforming other legendary players of the day. He shone brighter than Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Dennis Rodman, and Karl Malone. His best seasons came between 1993 and 1995 when he won consecutive NBA Final MVP awards. From his NBA debut season in 1984 until 1996, Olajuwon never scored less than 20PPG. He also averaged 11.1 total rebounds across his career plus a field goal percentage of 51.2.

What made Olajuwon special is he played his best basketball while many other greats were dominating the court. He ended his career with two NBA Final MVP awards, 12 NBA All-Star appearances, and six All-NBA First Team selections. That does not include two Defensive Player of the Year awards, five NBA All-Defensive First Team selections, and a three-time NBA Blocks Leader. Anybody that watched this man play during his prime knows what a talent he is and he deserves a spot on the list of the best NBA players of all time.

  • Height: 7 ft (213cm)
  • Weight: 255lb
  • Points: 26,946
  • Points Per Game: 21.8
  • Regular Season Games Played: 1238
  • NBA Championships (W): 2

11. Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry is a point guard for the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors drafted him in 2009, a draft that contained Blake Griffin and James Harden. The second pick in the draft was Hasheem Thabeet, one of the worst NBA players of all time. Curry is well-known for his shooting ability and is arguably the best shooter in NBA history.

After starting in 2009, it took Curry a few seasons to show his true potential. It wasn’t until the 2012-13 season that he finished with 20+ points per game for the first time. After this, he never looked back, raising his current career average to 24.6PPG. Curry is a four-time NBA champion, having won the 2022 NBA Finals. That was the first time he won the NBA Finals MVP, an award he thoroughly deserved for his impressive point-scoring. One of Curry’s best seasons came in 2015-16 when he helped lead the team to a win-to-loss record of 73-9. The performance of that season earned them a spot as one of the best NBA teams in history.

What more is there to say about Curry? He is a nine-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA MVP, plus he won the NBA Three-Point Contest twice. He was the scoring champion in the league on two occasions and was the steals leader in 2016. Curry is one of nine players in the 50-40-90 club. It is an exclusive award for players with 50% field goal, 40% three-point field goal, and 90% free throw success in one season.

  • Height: 6 ft 2 (188cm)
  • Weight: 185lb
  • Points: 21,712
  • Points Per Game: 24.6
  • Regular Season Games Played: 882
  • NBA Championships (W): 4

10. Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal was a center who started his NBA career with Orlando Magic in 1992. After this, he played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics. O’Neal is a four-time NBA winner, three of which he won consecutively while playing for the Lakers and one for the Heat.

“Shaq” had a 19-year career in which he achieved a wide range of impressive awards. He was the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 2000 and he made 15 NBA All-Star appearances between 1993 and 2009. He was an MVP in three All-Star Games and made the NBA All-Defensive Second Team on three occasions. They selected O’Neal for the NBA 50th and 75th Anniversary Team, plus he won the prestigious NBA scoring champion award twice.

O’Neal is well-known for his personality, something he used to great effect on and off the court. While nobody can argue with the success he achieved, he certainly attracted controversy along the way. However, that did not stop him from pursuing a career as a rapper, an actor, and a pro wrestler. He also holds several law enforcement roles across multiple states.

  • Height: 7 ft 1 (2.16m)
  • Weight: 325lb
  • Points: 28,596
  • Points Per Game: 23.7
  • Regular Season Games Played: 1,207
  • NBA Championships (W): 4

9. Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain was a center who began his career with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1958. He played for the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors (now known as the Golden State Warriors), the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Los Angeles Lakers. Chamberlain is a two-time NBA Champion, winning one for the 76ers and one for the Lakers.

Besides two NBA titles and one NBA Final MVP award, Chamberlain has an incredible variety of awards and career highlights. He was a four-time NBA MVP and played in 13 NBA All-Star games. Chamberlain was a seven-time NBA scoring champion and 11-time rebound champion. He is the only NBA player to score 100 points in a single game.

Chamberlain might not have been the nicest guy in basketball, but he adapted his game magnificently in the 71-72 season with the Lakers. Bill Sharman, the new head coach, transformed Chamberlain into a defensive-minded, low-scoring post defender. The result was a 33-game win streak. Sharman, in an interview from his California home, said:

First, he was a scorer. Then he was a rebounder and assist man. Then with our great Laker team in 1972, he concentrated on the defensive end.

- Bill Sharman
  • Height: 7 ft 1 (2.16m)
  • Weight: 275lb
  • Points: 34,419
  • Points Per Game: 30.1
  • Regular Season Games Played: 1,045
  • NBA Championships (W): 2

8. Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant had an iconic 20-year career, all of which was spent with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant was a five-time NBA champion and a two-time Final MVP. He had a truly iconic career with the Lakers, who retired both numbers 8 and 24 in honor of Bryant. In January 2020, Kobe tragically passed away alongside his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash.

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Bryant was a shooting guard for the Lakers, achieving a variety of records during his career. They selected him for 18 NBA All-Star games, four of which he was the MVP. Bryant made nine NBA All-Defensive First Teams and three Second Teams. He scored a career-high 81 points in one game, the second-most points scored in a single NBA game, behind Wilt Chamberlain.

  • Height: 6 ft 6 (1.98m)
  • Weight: 212lb
  • Points: 33,643
  • Points Per Game: 25.0
  • Regular Season Games Played: 1,346
  • NBA Championships (W): 5

7. Larry Bird

Larry Bird is a former NBA forward who played his entire career with the Boston Celtics. Bird had a phenomenal career that began professionally in 1979 and lasted until his retirement in 1992. During his time with the Celtics, he won the NBA Championship three times and was MVP in two of those victories.

Bird excelled at the three-point line. He won three consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player awards, making him the only forward in history to do so. He made 12 NBA All-Star appearances, one of which he was the MVP. Bird is the only person in NBA history to win Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, NBA Finals MVP, All-Star MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year.

Larry was a basketball player respected by his peers. Legends, like Magic Johnson, had plenty of good things to say about the iconic Celtics forward during Birds' retirement ceremony:

Larry, you only told me one lie. You said there will be another Larry Bird. Larry, there will never, ever be another Larry Bird.

- Magic Johnson
  • Height: 6 ft 9 (2.06m)
  • Weight: 220lb
  • Points: 21,791
  • Points Per Game: 24.3
  • Regular Season Games Played: 897
  • NBA Championships (W): 3

6. Bill Russell

Bill Russell was a center for the Boston Celtics. His career began in 1956 as a professional NBA player, where he remained until his retirement in 1969. He became the first black coach in NBA history in 1966, becoming the player-coach for the Celtics. His first season as a player-coach was unsuccessful, ending the Boston championship win streak at eight. However, he learned from his mistakes and won the next two, cementing his place as an NBA legend.

Russell won the NBA Championship 11 times, making him the player with the most championships in NBA history. His NBA Finals win percentage is an impressive 85%, winning 11 of his 13 appearances. He was a five-time NBA Most Valuable Player and made it to 12 All-Star games. He was a four-time NBA rebounding champion, with a regular season career average of 22.5 rebounds per game. Russell made the NBA 25th, 35th, 50th, and 75th Anniversary Teams, sealing his place in our list of the best NBA players ever.

  • Height: 6 ft 10 (2.08m)
  • Weight: 220lb
  • Points: 14,522
  • Points Per Game: 15.1
  • Regular Season Games Played: 963
  • NBA Championships (W): 11

5. Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan was a power forward who spent the entirety of his 19-year career with the San Antonio Spurs. Many consider Duncan to be the greatest power forward of all time. After retiring in 2016, Duncan came back to the Spurs as an assistant coach in 2019. His debut as head coach was against the Charlotte Hornets, a 104-103 comeback win for the Spurs.

Duncan won five NBA championships, three of which he was the MVP. He also won the NBA Most Valuable Player in 2002 and 2003. His legendary career included 14 NBA All-Star games and eight appearances in the NBA All-Defensive First Team. He won NBA Rookie of the Year in 1998 and capped off his career with NBA Teammate of the Year in 2015. You can find a detailed account of his stats on his profile page.

  • Height: 6 ft 11 (2.11m)
  • Weight: 250lb
  • Points: 26,496
  • Points Per Game: 19.0
  • Regular Season Games Played: 1,392
  • NBA Championships (W): 5

4. Magic Johnson

Earvin “Magic” Johnson was a point guard who spent his NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson retired from the NBA in 1991 for health reasons but made a shock return at the 1992 All-Star game, winning the MVP award. After complaints from other players, Johnson retired again and returned in 1996 playing 32 games for the Lakers before calling it quits. After this, “Magic” came out of retirement again in 1999 to play for the Swedish basketball team Magic M7 Borås, now known as the Borås Basket, and then the Magic Great Danes.

Johnson is a five-time NBA champion and three-time Finals MVP. He has won the NBA Most Valuable Player award three times and made appearances at 12 NBA All-Star games. He is a four-time NBA assists leader and two-time NBA Steals leader. Success has followed Johnson even after his retirement. He won multiple championships as a part-owner of several clubs. He won five NBA titles as part-owner of the Lakers, the WNBA Championship with the Los Angeles Sparks, and the 2020 World Series of Baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers. If you want to know more about Johnson’s playing career, check out his NBA page.

  • Height: 6 ft 9 (2.06m)
  • Weight: 220lb
  • Points: 17,707
  • Points Per Game: 19.5
  • Regular Season Games Played: 906
  • NBA Championships (W): 5

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a former NBA player who played for 20 seasons. He started his career in 1969 with the Milwaukee Bucks before moving to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1975. He won six NBA championships throughout his career, one with the Bucks and five with the Lakers.

Abdul-Jabbars’ record speaks for itself, with six NBA Most Valuable Player awards, 19 NBA All-Star appearances, and 10 All-NBA First Team selections. They also selected him for five All-Defensive First Teams and six Second Teams. He was a two-time NBA scoring champion and a four-time blocks leader. Unfortunately, his all-time point-scoring record was recently taken by LeBron James. Kareem remains the NBA all-time leader for career wins and field goals made. His career profile on the official NBA site has even more records for anyone interested.

Fans and fellow players of the game admired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Fellow NBA legend, Isiah Thomas spoke highly of Kareem during an interview with the Chicago Tribune:

If they say the numbers don't lie, then Kareem is the greatest ever to play the game.

- Isiah Thomas
  • Height: 7 ft 2 (2.18m)
  • Weight: 225lb
  • Points: 38,387
  • Points Per Game: 24.6
  • Regular Season Games Played: 1,560
  • NBA Championships W): 6

2. LeBron James

LeBron James is a forward for the Los Angeles Lakers. His career began with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, where he left as a free agent to sign for Miami Heat. During his brief stay with the Heat, he won two NBA Championships, opting to re-sign for the Cavaliers after four seasons. This move proved to be another successful decision, leading the Cavaliers to victory in the NBA finals, overturning a 3-1 deficit.

James’ record is incredible. He is the first player in NBA history to earn $1bn as an active player. While money may not buy happiness, it certainly shows success! He is the only player to have won an NBA Championship with three franchises as the NBA Finals MVP. They selected James to appear in 19 NBA All-Star games consecutively. He is also a three-time winner of the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award and four-time Associated Press Athlete of the Year.

LeBron is one of the few players on our list who is still an active NBA player, which means he has time to improve his stats. He took the NBA record for most points scored in a career this season. If you would like to see how he is currently performing, check out his player profile.

  • Height: 6 ft 9 (2.06m)
  • Weight: 250lbs
  • Points: 38,652
  • Points Per Game: 27.2
  • Regular Season Games Played: 1,421
  • NBA Championships (W): 4

1. Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is the best NBA player of all time. He started his career with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, staying with the Bulls until an unlikely career change in 1993. He tried his hand at Minor League Baseball before returning to the Bulls in 1995, leading them to three more championships. Jordan retired again in 1998 before returning to the NBA with the Washington Wizards in 2001.

Jordan is a six-time NBA champion and six-time Finals MVP. He won the NBA Most Valuable Player award five times in his career and they selected him to play in 14 NBA All-Star games. He was a nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team player and a ten-time NBA scoring champion. Jordan holds the NBA record for a career scoring average of 30.12 points per game in the regular season and a playoff scoring average of 33.45 points per game. For more information about Jordan’s achievements and statistics, check out his NBA player profile.

Players like Jordan make it easy to choose a number one spot for the best NBA players, as they somehow stand above everyone else. With his incredible determination, point-scoring ability, and defensive master class, there is only one option for our top spot, and that is Michael Jordan.

You don’t have to take our word for it. Other legends of the game agree with Jordans’ unrivaled excellence. Take Magic Johnson for instance. When asked about the greatest NBA players of all time, he said:

There's Michael Jordan and then there is the rest of us.

- Magic Johnson
  • Height:  6 ft 6 (1.98m)
  • Weight:  216lb
  • Points:  32,292
  • Points Per Game: 30.1
  • Regular Season Games Played: 1,072
  • NBA Championships (W): 6

Best NBA Players: Honorable Mentions

Each of us will have a different selection for the 15 best NBA players of all time. Some fantastic players narrowly missed out on appearing on our list, but that does not mean we overlooked them.

  • Moses Malone
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Oscar Robertson
  • Sam Jones
  • John Havlicek
  • Bob Pettit
  • Charles Barkley

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