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The NBA's Greatest Ever Players You Should have Bet On

Jan 10, 2020

The National Basketball Association (NBA) was founded back in 1946 (as the Basketball Association of America), and during that long history it's had its fair share of great teams, great rivalries, and great moments. But in this article we're going to look at some of the greatest players ever to grace the court.

Early Days

Probably the best player in the earlier years of the NBA was Bill Russell, who played center for Boston Celtics from 1956 to 1969. Russell was named an NBA MVP on no fewer than five occasions, and was the beating heart of the Celtics team that took 11 titles in his 13 years playing for them. An all-time great of blocking and rebounds, he still holds second place in the record books for both total rebounds and rebounds per game. But it's that stunning run of 11 titles in 13 seasons that are his greatest achievement.

Wilt Chamberlain won two titles (1972 and 1967), one of which ended a run of eight straight wins for Russell's Celtics. A man of three teams, Chamberlain was named MVP by the NBA four times and was named the 1972 Finals MVP (NB this award didn't exist until 1969). Chamberlain's got a record book all to himself, with records in scoring, rebounds, and durability. He's also the only man in NBA history to score 100 points in a single game and have an average exceeding 50 points in a season. The Chamberlain-Russell rivalry was one of the most intense the NBA has ever seen, but the two men were friends off the court.

The '70s and '80s

The only basketball player ever to go toe-to-toe with Bruce Lee, Kareem Abdul-Jabber played for the Milwaukee Bucks from 1969 to 1975, and then for the Los Angeles Lakers until 1989. During his career, which started the year man first walked on the Moon and ended the year the Berlin Wall came down, he was named MVP six times and Finals MVP twice. In 20 years of playing his teams reached the NBA Finals on 10 occasions. He's the all-time leading scorer and is considered by many, including Julius Erving, to be the greatest player ever.

Moses Malone was a man of many teams, playing for no less than seven in a career that began in 1976 and ended in 1995. During that time flitting about he did only manage to win a single title, but the fact he was named MVP three times shows that he was nevertheless a great player renowned for relentless strength. He led the NBA in rebounding six times, and at the time of his retirement was the record holder for offensive rebounds.

The exact opposite of Malone when it comes to teams, Julius Erving played for the Philadelphia 76ers and no-one else in the NBA (he did play for other teams in the ABA prior to the merging). In combined ABA/NBA stats he's the eighth highest scorer in history, and, in the NBA, won the 1983 title and was named 1981's Most Valuable Player. Famed as a slam dunk master, he was also a great all round player and playmaker.

Magic Johnson is one of those names, like Tiger Woods or Michael Schumacher, that transcends his sport. Considered by many to be one of the greatest players ever, he played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1979 to 1991, returning for a solitary season in 1996. During his career he took five titles, three MVP awards and was also the Finals MVP three times (including in his rookie season). In 1987 he achieved the trinity of title, MVP and Finals MVP. To this day he's the all-time leader in average assists per game, and in 1992 won an Olympic gold medal.

Robert Parish holds the NBA record for most regular season games, at an impressive 1,611. A strong defensive center, his stoic and respected character earned him the nickname The Chief. Parish played for four teams during his lengthy career, and won titles with the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls.

Larry Bird was Boston Celtics through and through, playing for them for his entire career in the NBA (1979-1992). In 1984 he was named MVP and Finals MVP, and won the title (he totalled three titles, three MVPs, and two Finals MVPs throughout his career, as well as an Olympic gold medal). Even after retirement he stayed with the sport, managing Indiana Pacers and being named Coach of the Year for the 1997-8 season, and Executive of the Year in 2012. He's the only man in NBA history to be an MVP, Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, All-Star MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year.

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Recent Years

Perhaps one of the more controversial picks on this list, Shaquille O'Neal won four championships, including three on the bounce from 2000 to 2002. The year 2000 was golden for O'Neal, as he not only took a title but was named MVP for the only time, and Finals MVP (the first of three occasions). During his time he played for six teams, using his physical presence and power to such good effect he twice broke steel backboard supports with dunks, prompting the physical structure of the braces to be bolstered. Leading the NBA in field goal percentage on 10 occasions allowed him to surpass the great Wilt Chamberlain's previous record of nine.

Scottie Pippen played from 1987 to 2003, for the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, and Portland Trail Blazers. Between 1991 and 1998 he won six titles, utilizing his excellent defensive skills and always putting the team first. Pippen was a versatile and intelligent player, and the only man to win titles and Olympics gold medals in the same year on multiple occasions (1992 and 1996).

Kobe Bryant spent the entire two decades of his career playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. He topped the scoring in two NBA seasons, is third (at the time of writing) on the all-time regular season scoreboard and was the first guard to play 20 seasons. His time with the Lakers overlapped with O'Neal's and the two did not get along, but that didn't stop them together winning three championships in a row. In 2006 he scored 81 points in a single game, putting him second only to Wilt Chamberlain's epic 100 point game. In total he won five championships with the Lakers, as well as being named Finals MVP twice and the NBA MVP in 2008. He's widely considered to be near the very top of the greatest players list.

The Greatest

Two names have been conspicuous by their absence, and as we draw this article to a conclusion we've got to discuss LeBron James and Michael Jordan. You could argue all day about which one is the greatest of all time, but most commentators would agree that the pair are the best to have ever played in the NBA.

The more recent of the two titans is LeBron James, which has led to inevitable and frequent comparisons between the two men. On the stats front, LeBron James has three championships, four NBA MVPs, and has been Finals MVP three times. Plus he has two Olympic gold medals. He's intelligent, versatile, and selfless, combining the right stuff in head and heart into a complete player. Cleveland may especially love him, as he ended their infamous 52 year drought of sporting success in 2016.

But then there's Michael Jordan. He led the Chicago Bulls to half a dozen championships, and was Finals MVP every single year he took the title. Named the NBA MVP on five occasions, Jordan had a couple of brief periods away from the sport before returning (once to the Bulls and later to the Washington Wizards). He holds the record for highest regular season and playoff scoring averages, but away from the impressive numbers what really caught (and still catches) the public's imagination was his versatility and fiery competitiveness. Combining hard work with trash talk, he examined footage of adversaries but wasn't afraid to rely on instinct on the court. He even had a clause in his contract that allowed him to play basketball against anyone, anywhere, anytime. Most people consider him the greatest player of all time, but some say he just got more media attention than other names on this list.