Over the course of professional basketball, there have been many great big men. Some were so dominant, the NBA had to change its rules to balance the playing field. A great center is more than just offense, defense is also a sign of a high-caliber player. Leadership also is a key factor. Even at the NBA level, greatness stands out. See if your favorite players made the list.
10) George Mikan – Regarded as the game’s first dominant big man, George Mikan played in the NBA for the Minneapolis Lakers from 1947-1956. The 6’10” center led Lakers to championships in 1950, 1952, 1953, and 1954. He was a four time All Star and six-time All-NBA selection. Mikan was so dominant that the league widened the lane and install the 24 second clock because of him. He also played in the NBL and the BAA.
9) Arvydas Sabonis– Considered one of the greatest European players of all time, Arvydas Sabonis earned a gold medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics playing for Russia and bronze medals in 1992 and 1996 playing for Lithuania. The 7’3” monster was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers in 1986 but did not play in the NBA until 1996. While he was an excellent center in the NBA including a trip to the Western Conference Finals, the question will always be what kind of career he could have had if he had come to the U.S. earlier. He was known for having great hands, making him a good passer and a deadly outside shooter.
8) Bill Walton – Prior to joining the NBA, 6’11” center Bill Walton won three consecutive national college player of the year awards while leading the UCLA Bruins to NCAA championships in both 1972 and 1973. Selected by the Portland Trailblazers with the first pick of the 1974 draft, Walton led the team to its first and only NBA championship in 1977. He earned the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award. Walton struggled with injuries for most of the rest of his career, but won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award in the 1985-86 season when he helped the Boston Celtics win the championship. After his playing days were over, he reinvented himself as on of the best color commentators in the history of televised basketball.
7) Moses Malone – Turning pro straight out of high school, Moses Malone played in both the ABA and NBA from 1974 to 1995. The 6’10” big man was named NBA Most Valuable Player three times over the course of his career. He was also named an NBA All Star 12 times, and was an eight-time All NBA Team selection. He started his playing career in the ABA with the Utah Stars and then the Spirits of St. Louis. After the ABA-NBA merger he played for the Buffalo Braves, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Bullets, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, an San Antonio Spurs. He won a championship in 1983 with the 76ers playing alongside Julius Erving (Dr. J) and Maurice Cheeks.
6) Patrick Ewing – In college, Patrick Ewing played center for Georgetown, during which time his team made it to the NCAA championship game three times out of four years. The majority of his 17-year NBA career was with the New York Knicks who selected him first overall in the 1985 draft. The 7’ big man was named to the All Star team 11 times. He was also named to seven All-NBA teams. While with the Knicks, Ewing made the NBA Finals twice – first in 1994 and then again in 1999. He won Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1992. Later in his career he also played for the Seattle Supersonics and the Orlando Magic.
5) Hakeem Olajuwon – Nicknamed ‘The Dream’, 7’ Hakeem Olajuwon was drafted by the Huston Rockets in 1984. In college, Olajuwon led the University of Houston Cougars to three trips to the Final Four. Paired Ralph Sampson, Olajuwon and the Rockets made it to the NBA finals in 1986, but fell to the Boston Celtics. For the 1993-94 season, he became the only player in NBA history to win the NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP awards. He won back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995 while delighting fans with his patented “dream shake” shot. He ended his playing career with the Toronto Raptors. He retired as the all–time league leader in total blocked shots with 3,830. He is the only center to rank among the top ten all time in steals. He won a gold medal with the 1996 U.S. Olympic basketball team.
4) Shaquille O’Neal – Standing 7’1” and weighing in excess of 300 pounds, Shaquille O’Neal was a physical specimen unlike anything the NBA had ever seen when he became the first overall pick in the 1992 draft. As a member of the Orlando Magic, Shaq won Rookie of the Year honors for the 1992-93 season. He led the team to the 1995 NBA Finals. Signing as a free agent with the legendary Los Angeles Lakers, O’Neal went on to win three championships with the West Coast franchise (2000, 2001, 2002). He was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004 and guided that team to a championship in 2006. At the end of his career he also spent time with the Phoenix Suns, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics. He earned 15 All Star Team selections, three All Star Game MVP awards, three Finals MVP awards, two scoring titles, 14 All-NBA team selections, and three NBA All-Defensive Team selections. A fan favorite O’Neal has also starred in a number of films and has been active in rap music.
3) Wilt Chamberlain – The only player in NBA history to score 100 points in a single game, Wilt Chamberlain is widely regarded as one of the greatest NBA players of all time, no matter position. The 7’1” Chamberlain is the only player in NBA history to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game in a season. He accomplished this seven times! In fact, he is the only player to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game over the entire course of his NBA career. Prior to playing in the NBA, Chamberlain entertained fans as a member of the legendary Harlem Globetrotters. As a dominant big man in the NBA, Chamberlain won two NBA championships, one with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1967 and one with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1972. The 1972 championship campaign also earned him an NBA Finals MVP award. He was the NBA MVP four times, a 13-time NBA All Star, a seven-time All-NBA First Team selection, seven time NBA scoring champion, and 11-time NBA rebounding champion.
2) Bill Russell – Standing 6’10”, Bill Russell won eleven championships in his 13-year career. Prior to joining the NBA, Russell led the San Francisco Dons to two consecutive NCAA championships in 1995 and 1996. He also captained the 1956 gold medal Olympic team. Although Russell never averaged more than 19 points a game, he was considered one of the greatest defenders and rebounders to ever play the game. With a 7’4” wingspan, he is one of only two players to grab more than 50 rebounds in a single game (Wilt Chamberlain is the other). He led the NBA in rebounds four times. He became player-coach of the Celtics from 1966-1969, becoming the first black coach in North American professional sports, and the first to win a championship. He was named NBA MVP five times and was a 12-time NBA All Star.
1) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Playing in 20 seasons in the NBA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a standout for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. During his career he made the All Star team 19 times. He was a six-time NBA MVP, was a 15-time All-NBA selection, and 11-time NBA All Defense Team selection. He won a total of six NBA championships as a player and two more as an assistant coach. Prior to entering the NBA, the 7’2” center won three NCAA championships. In addition, he was NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player three times and National College Player of the Year three times while playing for UCLA. He was NBA Rookie of the Year in 1970. Over the course of his career Abdul-Jabbar was a two time NBA Scoring Champion, one time NBA Rebounding Champion, and four time NBA Blocks Leader. He was widely known for his skyhook, which was almost unblockable. Following his playing career, in 2012 Abdul-Jabbar was selected to be a U.S. Global Cultural Ambassador. In 2016 President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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