There have been some incredible big men in the history of the NBA, so any top-10 list is likely to be a bit controversial. I mean, how do you compare Bill Walton vs. Dikembe Mutombo and leave one of them off the list? Well, we did our best.
Here’s our list of the best NBA centers of all-time:
#10. Dikembe Mutombo
Throughout Dikembe Mutombo’s 18 seasons in the league he built a legend as the most prolific shot blocker in NBA history. In fact, he’s 7th all-time in blocks per game and second all-time in total blocks. More stats
Drafted by the Denver Nuggets his defensive presence helped propel the team from being one of the worst offensive teams in the league to one of the best. He won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award four times, and has a top-30 all-time defensive rating. In Atlanta Mutombo further solidified his status as an all-time great by averaging nearly 13 rebounds and 3 blocks.
His longest playoff run came in the 2001 season where he matched up against Shaquille O’Neal in the NBA Finals. He held his ground averaging 12 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. Mutumbo ranks as one of the best rebounders of all time, ranking 19th in total rebounds and eighth in rebound percentage. His signature finger wag says it; there were no easy baskets against Dikembe Mutombo.
#9. Wes Unseld
From one dominant rebounder to another, Wes Unseld was a beast on the boards. He averaged 14 rebounds per game for his career including an amazing rookie season where he averaged over 18 rebounds per game and won NBA Rookie of the Year and MVP.
Unseld is sixth all-time in rebounds per game, 12th in total rebounds, and top-20 in rebound percentage. Wes wasn’t much of a scorer but he didn’t need to be as his defense more than made up for anything he lacked on offense. He has the seventh highest offensive rating ever for the regular season and the playoffs, and Unseld rarely had much of a size advantage over his opponent.
At six feet seven inches Unseld didn’t have the towering height of players like Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem abdul-jabbar, and Bill Russell. Unseld was just strong and determined. He was also a great passer averaging nearly four assists per game for his career. He won an NBA Championship with the Washington Bullets in 1978 and was awarded NBA Finals MVP honors cementing his place as one of the ten best NBA centers in history.
*Related: Top 10 Best Ball-Handlers in NBA History
#8. Patrick Ewing
21.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.4 BPG, .504 FG%
As is the case with so many New York stars, Patrick Ewing’s legacy is clouded by disillusionment. Always a bridesmaid and never the bride, Ewing’s legendary career is not always recognized as such. However he most definitely left his mark on the game. He’s 12th all-time in blocks per game, seventh all-time in total blocks, and is top-20 in defensive rating.
Ewing may have come into the league with reputation for defense, but his growing offensive game is what helped him develop into an all-around dominant player, averaging nearly 23 points and 10 rebounds in 15 seasons with the Knicks. He won Rookie of the Year after averaging a near double-double with 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. As mentioned, at the start Ewing had some solid playoff runs, but with Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan between him and a ring, the Knicks just couldn’t get it done.
New York fans will probably always have mixed feelings about Patrick Ewing, but there’s no question that he was one of the most dominant centers the NBA has ever seen.
#7. Moses Malone
20.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG, .495 FG%
Moses Malone was given the nickname Chairman of the Boards, and rightfully so. He was a dominant rebounder, averaging 13 or more rebounds nine times during his career. That puts him at fifth in total rebounds 15th and rebounds per game and fifth and rebound percentage. He was named NBA league MVP three times, and one NBA Finals MVP in 1983 after averaging 26 points and 18 rebounds en route to a four-game sweep of the LA Lakers with the Sixers.
Malone sets several rebounding records during his career, and put up some monster stat lines. He wasn’t always the tallest guy on the court, but he was strong and crafty. He was also a dominant scorer, averaging over 20 points a game for his career, and 8th all-time in total points.
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#6. David Robinson
21.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 3.0 BPG, .518 FG%
2 (1999, 2003)
When the Spurs landed David Robinson they had one of the worst records in the league at 21 and 61. In Robinson’s first year he led the Spurs to the greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history at the time, was a 35 game improvement and a record of 56 and 26; mostly due to his 24 points 12 rebounds and nearly four blocks per game.
A couple of years later he won NBA Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 12 rebounds and four blocks per game. After that ’94-95 season, he was awarded league MVP after averaging nearly 28 points 11 rebounds and three blocks per game and leading the team to a 62 and 20 record along with an NBA Conference Finals appearance.
Robinson is fourth all-time in blocks per game, sixth in total blocks, fourth in defensive rating, and tenth in defensive win-shares. After suffering a few injuries and a terrible season, The Admiral was partnered with Tim Duncan and went on to win two NBA Championships.
He’s one of only four players to have a quadruple-double, one of five players to score 70 or more points in a game, one of two players to win NBA Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and MVP, and is the only player in NBA history to rank in the top five in rebounding, blocks, and steals in the same season. Can anyone argue that David Robinson is one of the ten best NBA centers ever?
Plus, he was 7-feet tall and just plain ripped! Those arms used to inspire me to do a lot of curls in high school.
#5. Shaquille O’Neal
23.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 2.3 BPG, .582 FG%
4 (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006)
With a deadly combination of height and weight, Shaq could dominate the game pretty much anytime he wanted. With four NBA Championship rings, three NBA Finals MVP’s and one regular season MVP, his place in history is pretty much indisputable. Shaq is 6th on the all-time scoring list, 14th in total rebounds, 8th in total blocks, and 10th in total win-shares all-time.
At 7′ 1″ and 325 pounds, there wasn’t really anyone in the league who could match Shaq physically. He overpowered opponents in the low-post night in and night out, averaging 27 points per game on nearly 58% shooting during his best years in LA.
He is the only player in NBA history to record at least 40 points and 20 rebounds in a game at least four times, the only player to be a history to win the NBA scoring title without making a single three-point field goal, and the only player in NBA history to record at least 60 points and 20 rebounds in a game, and holds many franchise records for the Lakers, Magic, and Heat.
No one can arge Shaq ranks highly among the ten best NBA centers in history.
#4. Wilt Chamberlain
30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG, .540 FG%
2 (1967, 1972)
Wilt Chamberlain was basically the original Shaq, just better, and also looked like men among boys on the court. With career averages of 30 points and 23 rebounds per game, he’s second all-time in points per game, first in rebounds per game and total rebounds, and second in total win-shares.
Wilt ranks 5th on the all-time scoring list. It’s hard to say how much of Wilt’s total-dominance was due to skill and ability, and how much was due to the fact that he was just taller and stronger than everyone else on the court. Either way, he was dominant.
Aside from the famous 100 point game, he won seven scoring, nine field goal percentage, and 11 rebounding titles. He even lead the NBA in assists for a season! He’s the only player to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game for a season, which he did seven times. He probably would have also won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award a few times had the award existed when he played. In any event, he was one of the most dominant NBA centers of all-time.
*Related: Best Point Guards in NBA History
#3. Bill Russell
15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, .440 FG%
11 (1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969)
It’s kind of hard to argue with a guy that won 11 rings and five MVPs, right? Bill Russell was so crucial to his team success that the NBA decided to name the Finals MVP trophy after him, since it didn’t exist when he won all those championships.
Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell are numbers one and two in rebounds per game and total rebounds for the regular season and the playoffs, with Wilt winning the regular season, and Bill winning the playoffs. However, the difference is less than half a rebound on both sides. Russell is also number one in defensive win-shares for the regular season, and ninth in total win-shares for the NBA Playoffs.
He was the true leader of his team, going 11-0 in playoff elimination games, averaging 18 points and 30 rebounds in those games. Wilt put up incredible numbers, but Russell was always right behind him, leading the Celtics to 11 NBA Championships in 13 years. In an era marked by high-octane offenses, Russell infused the game with defense and forever change the perception of how to win, making him one of the best NBA centers ever.
#2. Hakeem Olajuwon
21.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3.1 BPG, .512 FG%
2 (1994, 1995)
When you play in the same league as Michael Jordan it’s hard to stand out, and Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon is a perfect example of that, and had amazing footwork and agility for a big man. While in Houston he averaged 22.5 points, 11 rebounds, and over three blocks per game. He’s third in blocks per game 1st in total blocks 13th and total rebounds and tenth on the all-time scoring list. He’s also in the top 15 in defensive rating. Those are some impressive numbers!
Hakeem is the only player in NBA history to win the NBA MVP Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP awards in the same season. Hakeem was a complete player, as he was a top defender, rebounder, and scorer.
Hakeem’s signature move, The Dream Shake, is one of the most deadly moves ever. He used that move to dominate his counterpart, dropping 33 points on Robert Parish, 40 on Kareem, 35 on Shaq, 41 on David Robinson, 45 on Karl Malone, and 30 on Patrick Ewing; all in the playoffs.
He’s 12th in total rebounds for the playoffs, third in blocks per game for the playoffs, 1st in total blocks for the playoffs, and ninth in points per game for the playoffs. He won two NBA Championship rings, two NBA Finals MVP awards, two NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, and a regular season MVP award.
#1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 2.6 BPG, .559 FG%
6 (1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988)
There is so much you could say about Kareem. He’s number one in total points, number three in total rebounds, and number three in total blocks. Kareem has six NBA Championship rings, two NBA Finals MVP awards, and six regular season MVP awards; a record unlike other. Big men like Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal could simply bully their way to the rim, but Kareem killed you with finesse and skill, using his signature sky-hook to score over defenders.
But, it wasn’t just about offense for Kareem. He was also a legendary defender, averaging 2.6 blocks per game for his career putting him at ninth all-time in blocks per game. The list of Kareem’s personal records, achievements, and awards is almost endless. What Kareem was able to do as a player year-after-year (even into his late 30’s and early 40’s) is nearly unmatched.
That’s why we think Kareem Abdul Jabbar is the undisputed best NBA center of all-time!
Other Legendary NBA Centers:
Honorable Mentions: Centers like George Mikan and Bill Walton certainly deserve to be on this list, but we had to limit our list to 10!
Well, that’s Nasty Dunk‘s list of the greatest centers in NBA history. I know that a couple of the rankings are controversial, but I hope you enjoyed!