The 30 Greatest Centers in Basketball History

A look at the big men who have made a difference in the post over the years

The NBA is officially back in season. Teams are finally beginning new campaigns with playoff aspirations. As things get underway in arenas around the country, here’s a list of centers that have made their mark on the game throughout the years. Click Next to view our list of the 30 All-time best Centers.

30. Bill Laimbeer

As part of the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons Teams of the 1980s, Laimbeer was known for his rough style of play. He was also known as a workhorse, playing in at least 80 games for 12 of his 15 seasons in the NBA. Laimbeer fell just short of averaging a double-double for his career with 12.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.

29. Clyde Lovellette

A relatively unknown star from the 50s and early 60s, Lovellette played for four teams over his 11 years in the league. He was a four-time All-Star and pulled off a rare trio of accomplishments by winning an NCAA championship, an NBA championship, and an Olympic gold medal.

28. Neil Johnston

Johnston spent all of his eight years in the league with the Philadelphia Warriors from 1951-59. He was an All-Star selection six times in that span. Johnston held impressive career averages of 19.4 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.

27. Dan Issel

The six-time ABA All-Star was a standout player for the Kentucky Colonels and Denver Nuggets. He rarely missed games, earning the nickname “The Horse” for his durability. Issel played 15 seasons between the ABA and NBA. The big man averaged at least 20 points in 11 of those seasons.

26. Walt Bellamy

Bellamy displayed impressive longevity in the league, playing for 17 seasons while going between five different reams. He was a four-time All-Star. Bellamy tallied 16,213 points in his career with an average of 20.1 per game.

25. Yao Ming

Standing at a menacing 7 feet 5 inches tall, Ming was a phenomenal overseas pickup for the Houston Rockets. However, he wasn’t always healthy enough to 23show his talent. Lingering foot injuries ultimately halted Ming’s career. When he was playing at 100 percent, the big man was a force to be reckoned with.

24. Jack Sikma

Sikma averaged double figures in scoring for all 14 of his seasons in the NBA. He was also very durable, playing in all 82 games for eight of those seasons. Sikma also posted an 85 percent clip from the free throw line, making him a reliable option in a variety of scenarios.

23. Arvydas Sabonis

Although Sabonis came to the NBA after spending a significant portion of his career overseas, his impact on the league was unique. He was a Portland Trail Blazer for seven years, averaging 12 points and seven rebounds in that span. A talented force in the paint, Sabonis was also known for his willingness to create plays with a variety of fancy passes not typically attempted by players his size.

22. Ben Wallace

By the numbers, Wallace doesn’t stand out too much. He averaged just 5.7 points over his career, but the fact that he pulled in almost 10 rebounds per game shows how much of an enforcer Wallace was in the paint. He also stuck around for a long time, tallying 17 seasons in the NBA.

21. Alonzo Mourning

Although his production faded in the last years of his 16-year career, Mourning spent much of his time in the NBA dominating the post. He averaged at least 19 points over the first eight years of his career. Mourning also put in work on the glass, as evidenced by his career 8.5 rebounds per game average.

20. Dikembe Mutumbo

Mutumbo is another big man who led a long career in the NBA, playing for six teams over 19 seasons in the league. He became known for his blocking abilities early in his carer, averaging as much as 4.5 per game in 1995 with the Denver Nuggets. He continued to post monstrous numbers in 1999, grabbing 14.1 rebounds and scoring 11.5 points per game that season.

19. Bob Lanier

Lanier played for 15 years in the NBA and was statistically consistent in all of those campaigns. After debuting in 1970 with Detroit, Lanier took on an illustrious career in which he averaged 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. He never averaged less than 13 points until the second-to-last season of his career, when Lanier posted 10.7 points per contest.

18. Dwight Howard

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Howard has used his muscular build to his advantage throughout his career, posting career averages of 12.7 rebounds and 17.4 points per game. Those numbers will continue to fluctuate as he continues his 14th season in the league with the Charlotte Hornets, but Howard has certainly cemented his place among the league’s elite big men.

17. George Mikan

Mikan was a cornerstone of the Minneapolis Lakers throughout the 1950s. He was especially dominant early in his career, averaging at least 27 points in his first three seasons. He was a fundamentally sound player who got to the free throw line almost nine times per game over his career.

16. Bob McAdoo

Appearing in 852 games over 17 seasons in the league, McAdoo averaged 22.1 points and 9.4 rebounds. He also shot a solid 50 percent from the floor in that time. His consistency and reliability made McAdoo one of the greatest centers of all time.

15. Dave Cowens

Known as Big Red, Cowens is one of the most noteworthy players to ever don a Boston Celtics Jersey. He spent 10 of his 11 seasons in the NBA with the Celtics before a final run with Milwaukee. Cowens averaged double figures in points for 10 seasons and rebounds for eight seasons.

14. Artis Gilmore

After spending five seasons with the Kentucky Colonels in the ABA, Gilmore played for three different teams over 11 seasons in the NBA. He was a phenom on the glass for many years, averaging as much as 18.3 rebounds in 1973 with the Colonels. In both leagues combined, he tallied almost 19 points per game.

13. Willis Reed

Reed was known as The Captain and posted numbers that justified that nickname. with a career average of 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds, his impact on the floor was undeniable. Reed played all of his 10 seasons with the New York Knicks, appearing in as many as 80 games his rookie year.

12. Robert Parish

Photo: Tim DeFrisco/ALLSPORT

One of the most experienced players on this list, Parish played in the NBA for 21 years. 14 of those seasons came alongside athletes like Larry Bird and Kevin McHale with the Boston Celtics. Parish consistently averaged a double-double throughout his career, helping him compliment his Hall of Fame-caliber teammates.

11. Patrick Ewing

Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images

Fans of the New York Knicks got very familiar with Ewing over the course of the 15 seasons he spent with the team. He was an enforcer in the post for the Knicks throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Ewing was a consistent scoring threat, constantly averaging around 25 points per game. He was also a rebounding machine, collecting an average of almost 10 rebounds per game in his lengthy career.

10. Nate Thurmond

Thurmond was known as Chairman of the Boards for a reason. He posted an average of 15 rebounds over the 15 seasons he played in the NBA. He averaged the same amount of points as well, making Thurmond a significant threat in the post.

9. Wes Unseld

A five-time All-Star selection, Unseld is one of the main players that come to mind when fans think of the NBA’s Bullets franchise. He averaged double digits in scoring for the first five years of his 13-year tenure in the league. His career average of 14 rebounds per game puts Unseld in elite company.

8. David Robinson

‘The Admiral’ was a 10-time All-Star selection. He is a legend in the San Antonio Spurs organization, where he spent all 14 of his seasons in the NBA. His tremendous talent was best showcased in the 1993-94 season, when Robinson averaged an astonishing 29.8 points per game to go along with 10.7 rebounds.

7. Bill Walton

A product of UCLA, Walton routinely struggled with injuries throughout his career but still managed to post impressive numbers. He was a member of the 1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers squad that took home the only championship in franchise history. Walton had a big role on that team, averaging roughly 19 points and 14 rebounds. Ultimately, he tallied 10 seasons in the league despite being hampered with foot issues.

6. Moses Malone

Malone made a huge impact on the game in his 22 seasons of professional basketball. He was selected to the All-Star game 13 times in that span. Even more impressively, he was able to average double digits in points for 19 seasons. Malone averaged as much as 17.6 rebounds in 1978-79, establishing himself as one of the greatest centers to ever play the game.

5. Shaquille O’Neal

For several years it seemed that no one could stop O’Neal. He averaged at least 26 points for 10 of his 20 seasons in the NBA. He also had a career average of roughly 11 rebounds. With stints alongside the likes of Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade, O’Neal was an integral part of many talented teams.

4. Hakeem Olajuwon

The NBA’s all-time leader in blocks (3,830) was a force to be reckoned with. In 17 seasons with the Houston Rockets, Olajuwon proved that he was one of the best players to ever step foot on a court. ‘The Dream’ held career averages of 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds.

3. Wilt Chamberlain

‘Wilt the Stilt’ is perhaps best know for posting the only 100-point game in league history, but he is also the NBA’s all-time leader in rebounds (23,924). Chamberlain posted unbelievable numbers throughout his 15 seasons in the league, averaging roughly 50 points and 26 rebounds through 80 games in the 1961-62 season.

2. Bill Russell

Russell was an All-Star for 12 of his 13 seasons in the NBA, all of which were spent with the Celtics. He was exceptionally remarkable on the glass, averaging no less than 18 rebounds in every season. Russell stayed healthy enough to play around 78 games per season, making him invaluable for Boston.

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

It could be argued that Abdul-Jabbar was the best player in NBA history. The league’s all-time leader in points scored (38,387) turned in 20 dominant seasons in the league. He posted scoring averages as high as 34.8 (1971-72) and was a 19-time All-Star. His trademark sky hook and all-around fundamental soundness made Jabbar a one-of-a-kind athlete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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