The most difficult discussions may not be the most evident.
When the Shortpedia Voices team began compiling this list, we debated whether LeBron deserved to be rated higher than Michael Jordan. We also didn’t spend much time debating why Tim Duncan, for example, deserved to be ranked higher than Kevin Garnett and Kevin Durant (for now).
Instead, when we tried to correctly rank Shaq, Kobe, and a slew of point guards around the bottom of our 8 Best Basketball Players of All Time list, the politicking and petty assaults on each other’s basketball IQ got extremely hot, over numerous Zoom conversations and text threads.
It’s certain to pique the interest of die-hard basketball fans and, in our humble view, performs far better than some of the other rankings floating around the interwebs that must stay nameless.
We argued whether Shaquille O’Neal, unquestionably one of the finest and the best basketball players in NBA history and a genuine disruptor on the floor, deserved to be placed higher than the late, great Kobe Bryant almost until the deadline. O’Neal was unlike any other center in the NBA, both physically and statistically. But how much credit should Bryant be given for winning more rings and generating legitimate parallels to Michael Jordan?
So read on to our unranked list of Best Basketball players…
The Diesel, The Powerhouse
The Most Powerful Ever! Shaq’s career appears to be characterized only by the term “dominant.” Shaq is one of the most skilled big men to ever play the game, and we’ve all seen the footage of him frying Michael Jordan in a one-on-one before the All-Star Game.
The beauty of Shaq’s domination is that you could tell after two dribbles that he was about to hit you with a drop-step in the post, but you couldn’t stop it even if you knew it was coming. Either a bucket or a foul was called. Shaq was a 7’1″, 365-pound big man who was explosive, agile, and fast. He was genuinely one-of-a-kind and arguably one of the most entertaining and one of the best basketball players in NBA history, both on and off the court.
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The Shaquille O’Neal of point guards. While the Diesel collapsed defenses, Steph extends them, taking Mike D’Antoni’s 3-point strategy and cranking it up a notch. Defenses must keep up on him full-court, which is impossible due to his handling and elusiveness. He’ll then pull up from halfcourt, which he’ll make 43.5 percent of the time. He is, without a doubt, the finest shooter in gaming history. He might retire today and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. On the other hand, Curry was a late bloomer compared to the majority of the men on this list.
He suffered ankle problems early in his career, so we had to wait to witness the brilliance that we saw glimpses of during his time at Davidson. On Chris Mullin Night, Warriors fans booed then-new owner Joe Lacob because he gave the team to Steph after selling fan favorite Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut. Three years later, Golden State won its first title in four decades. He is now the first unanimous MVP in league history (which is ridiculous, but nonetheless). He has three rings to go along with another MVP.
We can already see Steph’s influence on basketball as kids begin to launch from deep sooner than ever in their early lives, and on the league, as NBA clubs abandon the mid-range jumper in favor of the 3-pointer. Curry is, without a doubt, one of the most impactful athletes to ever put on a pair of sneakers.
Magic would have been the second-best basketball players of all time if he hadn’t retired so young.
When it comes to the best point guards in NBA history, Magic Johnson must be at the top of the list. He is ranked fourth overall on this list and with good cause. Magic Johnson simply revolutionized basketball when he arrived in the NBA in 1979 after graduating from Michigan State. Consider how remarkable it is that Magic started Game 6 of the NBA Finals at the center and scored 42 points in his first season. He played all five positions and led the Lakers to their first championship in a decade. This was just the beginning for Magic, who, despite his small stature, dramatically altered the way the basketball world saw guards.
In 2020, his stats and honors appeared to be out of this world. Magic had one of the finest careers in NBA history, winning five championships, three MVPs, and being named to the All-NBA First Team nine times. And the greatest and best basketball player there is… Magic’s ability to make the game enjoyable was what distinguished him as a player. He and Larry Bird actually saved the NBA in the 1980s, and while their styles couldn’t have been more unlike, there’s no disputing who had a larger impact on the game of basketball. The captain of the “Showtime” Lakers should be at the top of any best basketball player’s top 5 list.
Kevin Durant, in my opinion, is the talented offensive and one of the best basketball players to ever play the game. He’s a 7-foot guard. There’s almost no way to stop him. He possesses a complete offensive package with no flaws. He can shoot from wherever on the floor, he can get to the hoop whenever he wants, and if you wind up fighting his shot, it won’t matter since he can shoot over you with ease. KD has only averaged less than 25 points per game ONCE in his 12 seasons, and it was during his rookie season.
He joined a 73-9 Warriors club led by a two-time MVP and the unquestioned greatest shooter of all time, Steph Curry, and made him his Robin.
You may call him a snake, a cupcake, or anything you want, but the figures he constantly produces are unmistakable. If he wins another championship in Brooklyn, he may be in the top ten after his career.
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Nobody was as deadly a scorer or as a clutch at the end of games as Larry Legend at the old Boston Garden. Bird, a three-time champion who won three straight MVPs in the mid-1980s, knocked down daggers like they were nothing and enjoyed ripping out his opponents’ hearts while spewing some of the most underappreciated trash. Bird’s back, which he notoriously hurt while paving his mother’s driveway during the summer of 1985, is one of the longest What Ifs in NBA history.
It’s mind-boggling to imagine what else Bird could’ve done if he hadn’t been Mr. DIY, given that he was never quite the same after that and was terribly hampered in his final few years in the league. But that didn’t stop him from averaging 24.3 PPG and 10.0 RPG throughout his 13 seasons. Bird stuffed the stat sheet, but he was never simply a statistics guy—he was a winner who made unbelievable passes, had a knack for seeing things unfold seconds before anybody else on the floor, and always made the critical play that either clinched the deal or set up a game-defining run.
That’s why, although he couldn’t even get free enough to play after his last season, Bird was one of the best basketball players of the fabled Dream Team. There was no way the best basketball team ever built could leave out the game’s finest small forward at the time. Bird has been replaced on that legendary list by someone else, but the Hick from French Lick will forever.
As someone who ranks LeBron James first on their list of best basketball players, this is easy to write. When one thinks of LeBron James, one thinks of excellence. From the first dribble he took in an NBA game until the present, he has done nothing but live up to the tremendous hype heaped on his shoulders after graduating from high school in Akron, Ohio. LeBron not only lived up to the expectations but beyond them. And, let’s be honest, if you don’t believe he has a shot at grabbing the top place on this list after his career is finished, you’re being foolish.
The Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James argument will never end. Still, the fact that LeBron has already reached this level is incredible. We could go into all of James’ numbers and achievements to show why he deserves to be on this list, but there’s really no need. We are all aware of what he has done and will continue to accomplish for at least a few years. For me, James’ performance in 2016, when he led the Cleveland Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-win Golden State Warriors, cemented his place in the debate alongside Michael Jordan.
In my opinion, that is the single greatest feat in NBA history, and it will be difficult to top. LeBron improved in 2016, from dropping 41 points in back-to-back games to blocking a shot in Game 7. He ascended to a level of basketball glory that only he and Jordan occupy. They breathe different air than the rest of us, which is OK. LeBron’s book isn’t done yet, and he may add a few more titles along the road, but let’s not forget about all he’s done off the court.
From creating a school in his hometown to establishing his own media empire, LeBron has continually exceeded our expectations.
Nothing I say here will change your view about Kobe’s status as an all-time great.
Let’s get one thing straight: this isn’t a reactive choice in response to Kobe Bryant’s death. Personally, I believe it is rude to leave Kobe Bean Bryant out of any all-time list’s top five. After he retired, Magic and Shaq recognized Kobe as the greatest Laker of all time. Shouldn’t that say something? We can talk about how Kobe changed the game and basketball culture, but that shouldn’t be used as a metric. We witness a slew of accomplishments such as NBA MVP, 5-time champion, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time All-Star, nine All-Defensive First Team choices, and so on.
Even with all of his achievements, some try to bring him down by using complex data such as utilization rate and efficiency. That seems absurd for a player who has won as many or more championships as Bird, LeBron, Wilt, Magic, and Shaq. Did you really spend 20 years watching Kobe Bryant and thinking to yourself, “Well, he’s not that efficient? Therefore I don’t think he’s as amazing as he’s portrayed”? Social media can be both a benefit and a disaster, so don’t believe the crap that Bryant wasn’t as good as he once was.
But we all lost a gem, one of the best basketball players there ever was and a rising star. On January 26, 2020, we all lost him. RIP Mamba.
How much more clarification do you require here? Of course, Michael Jordan is the top dog. This man won three games in a row, went to play baseball, came back to win three games in a row again, and then came back one more time to become one of the oldest players to average 20 points per game and score 40 points more in a game. Without a doubt, the GOAT. But I’ll remind you that in six Finals appearances, he never participated in a Game 7 and earned a Defensive Player of the Year title (‘88) in addition to his five MVPs and six Finals MVPs.
The Last Dance on ESPN attempted to capture Michael Jordan’s dominance in the basketball world, but it fell short. He excelled on both sides of the court and, like Bill Russell before him, knew precisely what he needed to do to help his team win the day in and day out. Jordan never missed a game; for better or worse, he was a fanatic. When he saw how passionate he was towards his buddies, my buddy burst into tears.
No guard has ever dominated the league as much as he has, which helps his case when he is at the top of everyone’s list. Michael Jordan will never be replaced.
Winning, endorsements, shoes, and a legacy. He did everything and made sure you were aware of it along the way. All while smiling and preparing to light a cigar.