By Chris Le
(Original post on 3/7/07)
In celebration of Shaquille O’Neal’s 35th birthday, ESPN.com compiled a list of the greatest NBA centers to ever play. Check it out here. Their top five looks like this:
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- Wilt Chamberlain
- Bill Russell
- Shaquille O’Neal
- Hakeem Olajuwon
Here’s my take:
- Bill Russell – 11 championships in 13 seasons. That’s really all I need to say.Russell, the greatest winner in all of sports, revolutionized the game of basketball, forging the maxim that defense wins championships. He was the first player to effectively shut down the paint and made the blocked shot an art form, breaking it down to a science. The manner with which he deflected shots was so adept he could direct a block to a teammate, essentially starting a fast break by himself. He was the cornerstone to the NBA’s most dominant team, and he created the blueprint to winning a title.
- Wilt Chamberlain – Statistically, the most dominant player the league will ever see. His list of records is so ridiculous, it borders on comical: 100-point game, 50.0 point average for a season, the all-time lead in rebounds with 23,924 (next best is Russell with 21,620), and career averages of 30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, and 4.4 APG (how’s that for a fantasy line?). The knock on “The Stilt,” though, was that he wasn’t a winner. Can a man with two rings be truly labeled as a loser? I believe so. A player of Chamberlain’s size and athletic capabilities should have enough rings to accessorize two hands. What kept Wilt from winning more championships and what keeps him below Russell, in my eyes, is his lack of killer instinct and an over-valuing of statistics.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – The man just never lost…at any level. Not in high school at Power Memorial. Not at UCLA. And more importantly, not in the NBA, with a career that includes six titles, the same number of MVPs, and 38,387 career points (a record). With nine years separating MVPs and 16 separating his first and last NBA title, few players have matched his sustained level of excellence for such a long period of time. But with so many different skills, his greatest attribute may very well be his ability to adapt and still succeed. He won when he was a young stud with the Milwaukee Bucks and an aging Oscar Robertson, and he won when he was an old veteran who took a back seat to Magic Johnson with the Lakers. Put him in any circumstance, and he found a way to win.
- Shaquille O’Neal – Probably the most unstoppable physical force in NBA history. But he was so much more than a bully. Never has a player of Shaq’s height and girth possessed such agility, quickness, and balance (his baseline spins for one-handed alley-oop dunks are simply sick). But what makes O’Neal so impactful, like Chamberlain, is his presence on the offensive end of the court. Shaq demands the attention of every player on the floor and must often be double- if not triple-teamed. Pretty much the only way to stop him is to foul him. And don’t be mistaken, Shaq was the most important player in all of his championship seasons—not Kobe Bryant or Dwayne Wade. O’Neal’s mere presence opens up the game for his teammates, making life much easier. That’s a mark of a truly great player. It’s a shame he only has one MVP. (Uh-hum, Steve Nash)
- Hakeem Olajuwon – In an era of great centers such as David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and a young Shaq, “The Dream” was the best of them all.Olajuwon was possibly the best all-around center of all-time, even more well-rounded than the four players that rank ahead of him in this list (but being versatile doesn’t necessarily equal greatness).He simply didn’t have a weakness.With a career average of 1.75 steals and an NBA record 3,830 blocks, which comes out to 3.09 blocks a game, he was a defensive menace.And we all know about his post-moves (i.e. Dream Shake).I just shake my head every time I see Hakeem school my boy, David Robinson in the 1995 Western Conference Finals.
Stay tuned for my rankings of the greatest players in each position.