The 50 Greatest Players in NBA History: Part II

In my experience, finding fifty players in a league with seventy years of history isn’t the issue. The most daunting task I’ve faced is deciding who doesn’t belong on the list. Unlike the last installment though, at this stage, all of these players belong. So it’s only a matter of where they land.

Basketball aficionados are very opinionated people, and by opinionated I mean subjective. And, by subjective, I mean abhorrent when other fans disagree with them. So with only thirty-five players left, everyone’s favorite player is bound to appear sooner or later. Whether they’re cult-classics like Moses Malone and Rick Barry, or summer-blockbusters like Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. With that said, don’t fret if your favorite players aren’t exactly where you think they should be. On second thought; fret, raise hell, cry out to the Basketball Gods in agony — or leave a comment, whatever works for you.

If you missed the first entry, or would like to review players 50–35 and the list’s criteria, then you can find it here. But, without further ado, here is Part II

34. George Gervin

  • Teams: San Antonio Spurs(1976–1985), Chicago Bulls(1985–1986)
  • Positions: Shooting Guard
  • Prime: 9 seasons, 27.3 pts on 51.4 FG%, 4.8 trb, 2.9 ast, 34.5 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 30 pts on 53.5 FG%/5.1 trb/3 ast — Gervin’s incredible three year stretch 1977–80, winning three straight scoring titles
  • Strength of Competition: None

Dedicated wrestling fans know that one of the industries staples are “signature moves”, which become as synonymous with their respective wrestlers as their personalities or entrance themes do. In basketball however, such weapons are found very few and far between, but in the rare instances that they are, it’s a spectacle to behold. In George “The Iceman” Gervin’s case, the cat-quick, long 6’7 shooting guard devastated teams with the finger roll, a maneuver he mastered to near-perfection. Couple that with an unblockable face up jumper, and you have the epitome of effortlessness.

33. Walt Frazier

  • Teams: New York Knicks(1968–1977), Cleveland Cavaliers(1977–1980)
  • Position: Point Guard
  • Prime: 10 seasons, 20.1 pts on 49.2 FG%, 6.1 trb, 6.4 ast, 39.5 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 36 pts/19 ast/7 trb/4 stl — Walt Frazier’s G.7 performance in 1970 against Jerry West. Why is it called the Willis Reed game?
  • Strength of Competition: Jerry West(?), Oscar Robertson(?)

The precursor to the likes of Magic Johnson and Russell Westbrook, Walt “Clyde” Frazier was the first basketball player to double as a fashion icon. Sadly, many younger fans only recognize Clyde thanks to his second life as the Knicks play-by-play announcer. Colorful phraseology and fashion iconicism aside, Clyde was an oddity in his era, establishing himself as a force of nature on both ends of the floor. Throw in his impeccable competition like West, Oscar, Archibald, Maravich, Bing, Monroe, Jo Jo White, and Norm Van Lier — plus one incredible game 7 performance, and you have the ultimate Knickerbocker.

“It’s Clyde’s ball, he just lets us play with it every once in awhile.” -Willis Reed on his former teammate in an interview with Sport magazine

32. Allen Iverson

  • Team: Philadelphia 76ers(1996–2006, 2009), Denver Nuggets(2006–2008), Detroit Pistons(2008–2009), Memphis Grizzlies(2009)
  • Positions: Shooting Guard, Point Guard
  • Prime: 12 seasons, 27.7 pts on 42.6 FG%, 3.8 trb, 6.3 ast, 41.8 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 35.6 pts/5.6 trb/3.8 ast — Allen Iverson’s 2001 Finals line against legendary defender Kobe Bryant *wide eyes emoji* Lord have mercy
  • Strength of Competition: Kobe Bryant(?), Dwyane Wade(?), Reggie Miller(HM)

In a paradoxical era where the art of making difficult shots was actually preferred over finding easy ones, Allen Iverson was its champion. But, anyone with access to the internet can figure that out with a Google search. What ironically made the 5’11 guard larger than life were his baggy shirts, long shorts, cornrows, unapologetic love of rap, and infectious swagger. On a list of basketball’s greatest icons, Iverson would surely be near the top.

31. John Stockton

  • Team: Utah Jazz(1984–2003)
  • Positions: Point Guard
  • Prime: 15 seasons, 14.5 pts on 52.0 FG%, 2.9 trb, 11.5 ast, 34.2 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 17.2 pts on 52 FG%/14.1 ast/2.9 stl — John Stockton’s three year stretch from 1988–91, just to remind everyone that Stockton could have averaged this if he wanted too
  • Strength of Competition: Gary Payton(48), Magic Johnson(?), Isiah Thomas(?), Jason Kidd(?)

John Stockton wasn’t exactly the cult of personality. Instead, he preferred sinking beneath the surface, avoiding the stardom that came with being a professional athlete. And, his style perfectly resonated with his character. By the same token, not many players have ever been thrusted into a situation as ideal as Stockton was, spending the entirety of his career with the ultimate running mate, Karl Malone. Still, it’s hard to undermine five All-Defensive Second Team selections, nine Assist Titles, and 15 seasons of quality basketball.

30. Clyde Drexler

  • Teams: Portland Trail Blazers(1983–1995), Houston Rockets(1995–1998)
  • Position: Shooting Guard
  • Prime: 13 seasons, 22 pts on 47.1 FG%, 6.5 trb, 6 ast, 36.3 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 32.1 pts on 46.7 FG%/7.1 trb/6.3 ast vs. 26.4 pts on 54.3 FG%/7.8 trb/6.2 ast — One of these lines is Michael Jordan/Clyde Drexler against the 1990 Pistons in the playoffs. I’m not telling you which one, but it’s eerily similar
  • Strength of Competition: Michael Jordan(?), Reggie Miller(HM)

Clyde “The Glyde” Drexler was known for his raw athleticism and prowess above the rim. Although, unlike his adversary Dominique Wilkins, Drexler proved to be more than just a dunker, evolving into a bit of a basketball virtuoso as his career progressed. Even leading Portland to two finals appearances, before reviving “Phi Slama Jama” in 1995 to help the Rockets defend their title against Shaq’s young Orlando Magic team. It’s a shame Drexler had the misfortune of playing off-guard in the same era as Michael Jordan, because in any other time he would have dominated, and deservingly so.

29. Jason Kidd

  • Teams: Dallas Mavericks(1994–1997, 2008–2012), Phoenix Suns(1997–2001), New Jersey Nets(2001–2008), New York Knicks(2012–2013)
  • Positions: Point Guard
  • Prime: 15 seasons, 13.7 pts on 40.4 FG%, 6.7 trb, 9.3 ast, 37.3 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 19.8 pts/8 trb/8.6 ast — Kidd’s two year playoff stretch from 2002–03 where he took the hapless Nets to two Finals, you can bet he was playing great defense too
  • Strength of Competition: John Stockton(31), Steve Nash(37), Gary Payton(48)

Russell Westbrook and James Harden have been manufacturing triple doubles at an outlandish rate — partly because of the wide open pick-n-roll offenses, and partly because of the longer rebounds. Not that it makes it any less incredulous, but it reminds me that Jason Kidd hit his stride fifteen years too soon. Because, he is the most well-rounded point guard of all time, and that’s not a claim that should be thrown around lightly.

28. Kevin Durant

  • Teams: Oklahoma City Thunder(2007–2016), Golden State Warriors(2016-)
  • Positions: Small Forward
  • Prime: 9 seasons, 28.3 pts on 49.4 FG%, 7.5 trb, 4 ast, 37.8 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 32 pts on 50.3 FG%/7.4 trb/5.5 ast — This is Durant’s MVP line, and every time I see it I’m reminded why a more impressionable version of myself thought KD was better than LeBron
  • Strength of Competition: Paul Pierce(50), LeBron James(?), Carmelo Anthony(HM)

There are three things that 99.7% of sports fans are anxiously waiting for: Tom Brady’s retirement, Floyd Mayweather’s first loss, and John Cena’s heel turn. Instead we got the basketball equivalent of Hulk Hogan dying his beard black and joining nWo. Durant’s no Hollywood Hogan or Dr. Thuganomics either. He’s not even a Money Mayweather or Tom Terrific. So what is Kevin Durant? His name is on the short list of greats who can literally score on a whim. He is one of the best rebounding small forwards in NBA history. He is a highly underrated passer and defender. And, he is a 28 year old who’s already strung together 9 incredible seasons in an era rich with wing-talent. Twenty-Eight. So don’t be surprised if Durant’s stock only improves in this list’s future installments.

27. Dwyane Wade

  • Teams: Miami Heat(2003–2016), Chicago Bulls(2016-)
  • Positions: Shooting Guard
  • Prime: 13 seasons, 24 pts on 48.6 FG%, 4.9 trb, 5.8 ast, 35.5 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 39.3 pts on 50.5 FG%/8.3 trb/3.5 ast/2.5 stl/1 blk — D-Wade’s line from the final four games of the 2006 Finals against Dallas, climbing back to finish the series in 6 games
  • Strength of Competition: Allen Iverson(32), Kobe Bryant(?)

A sensible twenty-something watched Kobe Bryant and acknowledged that he was unequivocally the closest thing our generation experienced to Michael Jordan. I would humbly disagree. Watching Dwyane Wade in his 2006 title run was the closest thing I have ever seen to Michael Jordan. His energy, ferocity, hunger, unbridled aggression, charisma… All manifested itself in the body of a 24 year old demigod, relentless in his pursuit of victory. That’s what made the fall of Dwyane Wade so heartbreaking, watching as injury slowly ate away at his athletic prowess. Oddly, that’s also the beauty of Dwyane Wade’s career. Like a “battle hardened” wrestler, The Flash has now reinvented himself as Father Prime, a fundamentally sound maestro, whose skill is predicated on technique rather than athletic gifts.

26. George Mikan

  • Teams: Minneapolis Lakers(1948–1956)
  • Positions: Center
  • Prime: 6 seasons, 24.3 pts on 40.4 FG%, 14.1 trb, 3 ast, 36.8 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 28 pts on 41.7 FG%/14.1 trb/3.2 ast — Mikan’s three year stretch from 1948–51, which is a pretty damn incredible line, regardless of the competition
  • Strength of Competition: None

Comparing George Mikan’s career to that of anyone else on this list literally feels like comparing Shaquille O’Neal to Joe DiMaggio. Still, Mr. Basketball’s sheer dominance was the hammer that forged basketball into the sport we know it as today. Not only forcing the rules themselves to change, but by standardizing the practice of playing the pivot, and paving the way for generations of dominant big men to come.

25. Isiah Thomas

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons(1981–1994)
  • Positions: Point Guard
  • Prime: 10 seasons, 20 pts on 46.0 FG%, 3.7 trb, 9.6 ast, 36.9 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 24 pts on 46.6 FG%/10 ast/4 trb/2.4 stl — Zeke’s first four playoff appearances (‘83–87), reminding everyone what he could do before the Pistons put people in body bags
  • Strength of Competition: John Stockton(31), Magic Johnson(?)

Isiah Lord Thomas III was Bobby Knight’s magnus opus, and left Indiana with the tact and maturity it would take to quarterback a team in the Magic-Bird centric NBA. And, to their chagrin, Zeke did just that. Beyond his mean stroke and wizardry with the ball though, has the NBA ever seen a better villain? Because, you can bet that beneath that cherubic smile lie the baddest of the “Bad Boys”.

24. Rick Barry

  • Teams: Golden State Warriors(1965–1967, 1972–1978), Houston Rockets(1978–1980)
  • Positions: Small Forward
  • Prime: 8 seasons, 25.6 pts on 44.9 FG%, 7.2 trb, 5 ast, 38 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 36.3 pts on 41.3 FG%/6.9 trb/4 ast/3.5 stl — Rick Barry’s mind blowing numbers through both of his Finals appearances, losing to the Sixers in ’67 and beating the Bullets in ‘75
  • Strength of Competition: Elgin Baylor(?), John Havlicek(?), Julius Erving(?)

Rick Barry was more than just an exquisite marksman and practitioner of the granny toss. In many ways he was the spiritual precursor to Larry Bird, supplementing his less than stellar physique with his unbelievable work ethic and intellect alone. Unlike Larry though, Barry’s obsession with perfection eventually led him down the path of misanthropy, a flaw that unfortunately defined his career in the same vein as his scoring acumen or near perfect free throw percentages did.

23. David Robinson

  • Teams: San Antonio Spurs(1989–2003)
  • Position: Center
  • Prime: 11 seasons, 23.7 pts on 52.2 FG%, 11.3 trb, 2.8 ast, 36.5 mpg
  • Fun Stat: I’m at a loss for words, so just imagine Robinson on today’s Spurs with me. It’s beautiful right?
  • Strength of Competition: Patrick Ewing(35), Hakeem Olajuwon(?), Shaquille O’Neal(?)

David Robinson is one of the eleven centers to be named Defensive Player of the Year, one of the five players to score 70+ points in a single game, and one of the four players to record a quadruple-double. But, beyond laudable achievements, numerical excellence or his astounding versatility — The Admiral should be remembered as the paragon of professionalism. Relinquishing his status as the face of the Spurs franchise upon Tim Duncan’s arrival with extraordinary decorum.

22. Charles Barkley

  • Teams: Philadelphia 76ers(1984–1992), Phoenix Suns(1993–1996), Houston Rockets(1996–2000)
  • Position: Power Forward
  • Prime: 11 seasons, 24.2 pts on 55.0 FG%, 11.9 trb, 4.1 ast, 37.9 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 30.8 pts on 63.3 FG%/16.1 trb/3.3 ast — A nine game stretch from Barkley’s MVP-worthy campaign in ‘90
  • Strength in Competition: Kevin McHale(45), Karl Malone(?), Chris Webber(HM)

Charles Barkley is the cult of personality: amiable, deferential, highly entertaining, hysterical, wise at times, clueless at others… So it comes as no surprise that he’s brilliantly transitioned into his broadcasting career, becoming one of the most polarizing pundits in sports media. Unfortunately, Barkley’s excellent career as an analyst has led younger fans to turn a blind eye to his playing career. Make no mistake though, Sir Charles was a force of nature; perfectly blending a linebacker’s physique with unprecedented skill at the power forward position.

“Barkley is like Magic and Larry in that they don’t really play a position. He plays everything; he plays basketball. There is nobody who does what Barkley does. He’s a dominant rebounder, a dominant defensive player, a three-point shooter, a dribbler, a playmaker.” -Bill Walton in an interview with SLAM magazine

21. Bob Pettit

  • Teams: St. Louis Hawks(1954–1965)
  • Positions: Power Forward
  • Prime: 11 seasons, 26.4 pts on 43.6 FG%, 16.2 trb, 3 ast, 38.8 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 29.3 pts/17 trb/2.2 ast — Pettit’s incredible line from the 1958 Finals, leading the only team to beat Russell’s Celtics in a Finals series, and dominating Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn
  • Strength of Competition: Jerry Lucas(HM)

For too many basketball fans, Bob Pettit’s career resides in the realm of the unknown. Which is in every sense of the phrase, “sports heresy”. For a crash course, Big Blue was the progenitor of the traditional power forward, crushing teams outside with his sweet stroke, and inside with his patented swinging hook — as well as absolutely dominating the boards. Bringing new meaning to the word “hustle” thanks to his knack for creating second chance points.

20. Dirk Nowitzki

  • Teams: Dallas Mavericks(1998-)
  • Positions: Power Forward, Center
  • Prime: 17 seasons, 22.8 pts on 47.6 FG%, 8.1 trb, 2.6 ast, 35.8 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 27.7 pts on 48.5 FG%/8.1 trb/2.5 ast — Dirk’s 2011 playoff line, outplaying the likes of Lamarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James
  • Strength of Competition: Karl Malone(?), Tim Duncan(?), Kevin Garnett(?), Chris Webber(HM)

Referring back to the wrestling moves analogy, Dirk’s one-legged fadeaway is as pristine and unblockable as signature moves can possibly be. Throw in 17 years of quality production and thousands of Dirk Diggler references, and you have the premier European import, who all European imports aspire to rival.

19. Kevin Garnett

  • Teams: Minnesota Timberwolves(1995–2007, 2015–2016), Boston Celtics(2008–2013), Brooklyn Nets(2013–2015)
  • Positions: Power Forward
  • Prime: 12 seasons, 21.3 pts on 49.4 FG%, 11.7 trb, 4.6 ast, 38.7 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 23 pts/13.4 trb/6 ast/1.4 stl/1.6 blk — Garnett’s 2003 line, casually leading the Timberwolves in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks
  • Strength of Competition: Dirk Nowitzki(20), Karl Malone(?), Tim Duncan(?), Chris Webber(HM)

Kevin Garnett epitomized every cliche basketball fans love. He had an undying love for basketball, was loyal to his employer, unapologetic in the midst of competition, and his intensity was unmatched. In many ways he was the ultimate competitor, which only served to maximize his unique skillset. Never before had the league seen a 6’13 forward who could punish teams with his jump shot, distribute with the sagacity of a guard, play elite interior defense, and still have the foot speed to defend guards on the perimeter.

18. Julius Erving

  • Teams: Philadelphia 76ers(1976–1987)
  • Positions: Small Forward
  • Prime: 11 seasons, 22 pts on 50.7 FG%, 6.7 trb, 4 ast, 34.3 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 25.5 pts on 52.5 FG%/7.5 trb/4.5 ast/2 stl/1.8 blk — The average line of Dr. J’s four Finals Apperances(’77, ’80, ’82, ‘83)
  • Strength of Competition: Rick Barry(24), John Havlicek(?), Larry Bird(?), Alex English(HM), Bernard King(HM)

Julius Erving’s indelible brand of basketball epitomized the ABA — exuding grace, fluidity, and individuality. Unfortunately, in the case of this list, those five brilliant ABA seasons Erving put forth are inconsequential. That still leaves Dr. J with 11 impeccable NBA seasons though, dominating the small forward position throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s, and instilling an unprecedented sense of style in a league in desperate need of an identity.

17. John Havlicek

  • Teams: Boston Celtics(1962–1978)
  • Positions: Small Forward, Shooting Guard
  • Prime: 15 seasons, 21.3 pts on 43.9 FG%, 6.3 trb, 5 ast, 37.2 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 26.1 pts on 45.5 FG%/8 trb/7.1 ast — Hondo’s four year stretch from 1969–73, also being named to two All-Defensive 1st Teams, and two All-Defensive 2nd Teams in that span
  • Strength of Competition: Rick Barry(24), Julius Erving(18), Elgin Baylor(?)

If Julius Erving epitomized the bombastic style of the ABA, John “Hondo” Havlicek embodied a bygone era of the NBA. An idealistic time when trite concepts like pride and competition were held in higher esteem than financial security. On the court, his ubiquitous skillet was predicated on three things: his NFL receiver-like athleticism, remarkable work ethic, and brilliant intellect. Leaving him with the wherewithal to star as the Celtics sixth man in the late 60’s, and later assume the role as the Celtics captain, leading them to two championships in the 70’s.

“On stamina alone he’d be among the top players who ever played the game. It would’ve been fair to those who had to play him or those who had to coach against him if he had been blessed only with his inhuman endurance. God had to compound it by making him a good scorer, smart ballhandler and intelligent defensive player with quickness of mind, hands and feet.” -Hall of Fame Coach Red Holzman on John Havlicek

16. Moses Malone

  • Teams: Buffalo Braves(1976), Houston Rockets(1976–1977), Philadelphia 76ers(1982–1986, 1993–1994), Washington Wizards(1986–1988), Atlanta Hawks(1988–1991), Milwaukee Bucks(1991–1993), San Antonio Spurs(1994–1995)
  • Positions: Center
  • Prime: 14 seasons, 23 pts on 49.4 FG%, 13.4 trb, 1.5 ast, 36.8 mpg
  • Fun Stat: 27.4 pts on 52 FG%/6.7 orb/8.6 drb — Moses’ final four years in Houston, which also happens to be his statistical prime. 27 points is incredible, but 6.7 offensive rebounds is ludicrous
  • Strength of Competition: Patrick Ewing(35), Bob McAdoo(42), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar(?), Hakeem Olajuwon(?)

Moses Malone established himself as the acme of persistence, and a peerless force on the glass like very few before him, or since for that matter. The Chairman of the Boards was more than just a glorified rebounder though — outworking his adversaries underneath the rim for putbacks and second chance points, raining down fifteen-footers, and masterfully executing the drop-step to near perfection.