Published on April 28th 2010 by Leon Shepherd

The center position in the NBA is crucial in determining the success of a team. The center position is important because it requires the ability to rebound, block shots, and score.  The center must also have the physical presence to make players think twice about coming down the middle. In determining my top ten list, my criteria included the factors mentioned above, plus statistics, championships, and the players influence on the game. So, without further ado, here’s my list of the Top 10 Black NBA Centers of All Time.

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10. Willis Reed

 

Team: New York Knicks (1964-1974)

Titles:  2 (1970, 1973)

Honors:  7-time NBA All-Star, MVP (1970), 2-time Finals MVP (1970, 1973) Rookie of the Year (1965)

Career Stats: 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds per game 

The Player:  In his first seasons with the Knicks, he played power forward and later gained fame as the starting center. Despite his average stature (he stood at a mere 6-foot-10 when, for instance, contemporaries such as Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stood 7-1 and 7–2, respectively), he made up for his lack of height by playing a physical game, often ending seasons with respectable averages in blocking and rebounding. For all his achievements, Reed was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. He is widely considered as one of the greatest Knicks ever, with the likes of Walt Frazier and Patrick Ewing. In a 1997 poll entitled the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, Reed was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.

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9. Robert Parish

 

 

 

Teams: Golden State Warriors (1976-1980), Boston Celtics (1980-1984), Charlotte Hornets (1994-1996), Chicago Bulls (1996-1997)

Titles: 4 (1981, 1984, 1986, 1996)

Honors: 9-time NBA All-Star

Career Stats:  14.5 points per game, and 9.1 rebounds per game.

The Player: Parish was known as a versatile center, using his impressive 7′ 1/2″ size and speed to contain opposing players, launch precise shots from outside the paint, and finish fast breaks – the latter uncanny for a man of his stature. Fellow Hall of Famer and teammate from 1985-87 Bill Walton once called Parish the “greatest shooting big man of all time”, perhaps because of Parish’s field goal and free throw shooting ability, an unusual talent among most centers. His trademark was his high release jump shot, which traversed a very high arc before falling. Playing 14 years with the Celtics from 1980 to 1994, Parish won three NBA titles. In honor of his achievements, the Celtics retired Parish’s famous #00 jersey number in 1998. He was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. Today, he remains active as the Celtics’ team consultant and mentor for current Celtics big men.

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8. Patrick Ewing

 

Teams: New York Knicks (1985-2000), Seattle Supersonics (2000-2001), Orlando Magic (2001-2002)

Titles: None

Honors: 11-time NBA All-Star, 1-time All NBA First Team, Rookie of the Year (1985), 2-time Olympic gold medalist (1984, 1992)

Career Stats: 21 points a game, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. 

The Player: Although injuries marred his first year in the league, he was named NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. Within a couple of years, Ewing was considered one of the premier centers in the league. He was a member of the original Dream Team at the 1992 Olympic Games. He was also given the honor of being named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. In 1999, Ewing became the 10th player in NBA history to record 22,000 points and 10,000 rebounds. In 1993 he led the NBA with 789 defensive rebounds. He was top ten in field goal percentage 8 times, top ten in rebounds per game as well as total rebounds 8 times, top ten in points, as well as points per game 8 times, and top ten in blocks per game for 13 years.

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7. David Robinson

 

Team: San Antonio Spurs (1989-2003)

Titles: 2 (1999, 2003)

Honors: 10-time NBA All-Star, MVP (1995), Rookie of the Year (1990), Defensive Player of the Year (1992)

Career Stats: 21 points per game, 10.6 rebounds per game, and 3 blocks per game.

The player: Robinson played center for the San Antonio Spurs for his entire NBA career. Based on his prior service as an officer in the United States Navy, Robinson earned the nickname “The Admiral”. Robinson and teammate power forward Tim Duncan, were nicknamed “The Twin Towers”. he is one of only a very small group of players to have scored over 20,000 career points in the NBA, as well as being one of only four players to have recorded a quadruple-double (with 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 blocks against the Detroit Pistons on February 17, 1994), and one of the only five players to record more than 70 points in a single game (with 71 points against the Los Angeles Clippers on April 24, 1994), only Elgin Baylor (71 points), Wilt Chamberlain (70, 72, 73×2, 78, 100 points), David Thompson (73 points), and Kobe Bryant (81 points) have scored more than 70 points.  Robinson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame along on September 11, 2009.

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6. Shaquille O’Neal

 

Teams: Orlando Magic (1992-1996), Los Angeles Lakers (1996-2004), Miami Heat (2004-present)

Titles: 4 (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006)

Honors: 14-time All-Star, MVP (2000), 3-time Finals MVP (2000, 2001, 2002), Rookie of the Year (1993)

Career Stats: 24.1 points per game, 11 rebounds per game, and 2.3 blocks per game.

The player: Shaquille O’Neal, nicknamed “Shaq” is widely perceived as one of the most dominant players in the history of the NBA. Standing at 7 ft 1 in and weighing 325 pounds, he is one of the largest players ever to play in the NBA. Throughout his 17 year career, O’Neal has used his size and strength to overpower opponents for points and rebounds. O’Neal’s “drop step”, in which he posts up a defender, turns around and, using his elbows for leverage, powers past him for a very high-percentage slam dunk, has proven an extremely effective offensive weapon, though it has been limited in recent years. In addition, O’Neal frequently uses a right-handed jump hook shot to score near the basket. The ability to dunk frequently contributes to his career field goal accuracy of .581; making him the second most accurate shooter of all time. At 38 years of age, O’Neal is currently the oldest active player in the NBA.

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5. Moses Malone

 

Teams: Utah Stars (1974-75), Spirits of St. Louis (1975-76), Buffalo Braves (1976), Houston Rockets (1976-1982), Philadelphia 76ers (1983-1986, 1993-1994), Washington Bullets (1986-1988), Atlanta Hawks (1988-1991), Milwaukee Bucks (1991-93), San Antonio Spurs (1994-95)

Titles: 1 (1983)

Honors: 11-time NBA All-Star, ABA All-Star, 3-time MVP (1979, 1982, 1983), Finals MVP (1983). Hall of Fame

Career Stats: 20.6 points per game, 12.2 rebounds per game, and 1.7 blocks per game.

The Player: In 1979, Malone won the first of his 3 MVP awards, averaging 24.8 points and a career-high 17.6 rebounds per game.  In addition to leading the league in rebounding, he established the NBA’s all-time record for offensive rebounds in a season, with 587. The most underrated center in the top ten, Moses Malone is considered the best offensive rebounder ever.

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4. Bill Russell

 

 

Teams: Boston Celtics (1956-1969)

Titles: 11 (1957, 1959-66, 1968-69)

Honors: 12-time All-Star, 5-time MVP (1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965), Hall of Fame

Career Stats: 15.1 points per game, and 22.5 rebounds per game.

The player: Russell is one of the most successful and decorated athletes in North American sports history. His awards and achievements include eleven NBA championships as a player with the Boston Celtics in 13 seasons (including two NBA championships as player/head coach), and he is credited with having raised defensive play in the NBA to a new level. In his first NBA full season (1957–58), Russell became the first player in NBA history to average more than 20 rebounds per game for an entire season, a feat he accomplished 10 times in his 13 seasons. On the hardwood, he was considered the consummate defensive center, noted for his unmatched defensive intensity, his stellar basketball and his sheer will to win. Russell excelled at playing man-to-man defense, blocking shots, and grabbing defensive and offensive rebounds. Russell is universally seen as one of the best NBA players ever, and was declared “Greatest Player in the History of the NBA” by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America in 1980.

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3. Hakeem Olajuwon

 

 

 

Teams: Houston Rockets (1984-2001), Toronto Raptors (2001-02)

Titles: 2 (1994, 1995)

Honors: 12-time All-Star, MVP (1994), two-time Finals MVP (1994, 1995)

Career Stats: 21.8 points per game, 11.1 rebounds per game, and 3.1 blocked shots per game.

The player: Hakeem Olajuwon is generally considered one of the greatest centers ever to play the game. Olajuwon was highly skilled as both an offensive and defensive player. On defense, his rare combination of quickness and strength allowed him to guard a wide range of players effectively. He was noted for both his outstanding shot-blocking ability and his unique talent for stealing the ball. Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to record more than 200 blocks and 200 steals in the same season. On offense, Olajuwon was famous for his deft shooting touch around the basket and his nimble footwork in the low post. With the ball, Hakeem displayed a vast array of fakes and spin moves, highlighted in his signature “Dream Shake”. He is one of only four players to have recorded a quadruple-double in the NBA.

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2. Wilt Chamberlain

 

Teams: Philadelphia Warriors (1959-1962), San Francisco Warriors (1962-1965), Philadelphia 76ers (1965-1968), Los Angeles Lakers (1968-1973)

Titles: 2 (1967, 1972)

Honors: 13-time All-Star, 4-time MVP (1960, 1966, 1967, 1968); Finals MVP (1972), Rookie of the Year (1960), Hall of Fame

Career Stats: 30.1 points per game, and 22.9 rebounds per game.

The player: Wilt Chamberlain is considered by his contemporaries as one of the greatest and most dominant players in the history of the NBA. Chamberlain holds numerous official NBA all-time records, setting records in many scoring, rebounding and durability categories. Among other notable accomplishments, he is the only player in NBA history to average more than 40 and 50 points in a season or score 100 points in a single NBA game. He also won seven scoring, nine field goal percentage, and eleven rebounding titles, and once even led the league in assists.

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1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

 

Teams: Milwaukee Bucks (1969-1975), Los Angeles Lakers (1975-1989)

Titles: 6 (1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988)

Honors: 19-time All-Star, 6-time MVP (1971-72, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980), 2-time Finals MVP (1971, 1985), Rookie of the Year (1970), Hall of Fame

Career Stats: 24.6 points per game, 11.2 rebounds per game, and 2.6 blocked shots per game.

The player: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is regarded as one of the best players of all time. Abdul-Jabbar scored more points than any player in league history and won a record six MVP Awards. On offense, Abdul-Jabbar was an unstoppable low-post threat. Abdul-Jabbar was famous for his skyhook shot, which defenders found impossible to block. It was a reliable and feared offensive weapon and contributed to his high lifetime field goal percentage of .559. As a twist, he was adept at shooting the skyhook with either hand, which made him even more difficult to defend against. In contrast to other big men, Abdul-Jabbar also could reasonably hit his free throws, finishing with a career 72% average. On defense, Abdul-Jabbar maintained a dominant presence. He was selected to the NBA All-Defensive Team eleven times.

Sports | Comments (20)


20 Responses to “Top 10 NBA Centers of All Time”

  1. Shack II Says:

    Excellent – You can’t go wrong with Jabbar, Wilt and Hakeem as 1, 2, & 3 Shacks in TOTAL AGREEMENT!

  2. Leon Says:

    Shack…glad that you concur.

  3. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    Super!

  4. grapevine Says:

    Not in total agreement, Bill Russell should be either 1 or 2. Even though he didn’t score as much as people ahead of him, but he averaged over 22-rebounds for a career, and was part of 11-world championships. Enough said.

  5. Leon Says:

    Grapevine…Bill Russell, as you know, didn’t dominate individually as the other centers ranked ahead of him.
    And yes, he has incredible 11 championship rings, but that doesn’t make him the best center.
    For example, former Laker Kurt Rambis has 4 championship rings, but does that make him a better forward than Charles Barkley, or Karl Malone who never won a champoinship?

    And one final note, Russell won five rebounding titles, but only two when Wilt was in the league.

  6. Shack Says:

    GG – Jabbar & Wilt, Bill & Wilt, Wilt and whomever, does it really matter? Good points but this will be debated until KC (thats’ Kingdom Come). I’m backing Leon on this one since this what I like to call “Common Sense Consensus” and constitutes a balanced list!

    Its kinda like comparing Bob Cousy to Jerry West- Cousy had more titles but who was the better player. I have Jabbar, Wilt and Hakeem rated slightly ahead of BR but can see why you (or anyone else)would have him higher!

    Leon where would Bob Lanier have rated? To me he would be at the top of the 2nd tier of players with Nate Thurmond, Artis Gilmore, Wes Unseld and your favorite, Walt “Bells” Bellamy.

  7. Leon Says:

    Shack…Without a doubt B. Lanier would be at the top of the 2nd tier, along with Walt”Bells” Bellamy lol, and the others.

  8. Shack Says:

    Shaqs travels to Phoenix and Cleveland should be placed in his factoids/bio.

  9. Trisha Says:

    Leon,
    I love the list and I agree with your #1 Kareem Abdul Jabbar. I am not a stats person but I have to wonder where Alonzo Mourning and Dekembe Mutombo compare to Shaq on individual stats. I know Shaq has more championship. Otherwise again great list.

    Trisha

  10. Leon Says:

    Trisha…
    Shaq – 24.1 pts per game, 11 rbds per game, 2.3 blks per game
    A. Mourning, 17.1, 8.5, and 2.8
    Mutumbo, 10, 10.3, and 2.8

    Mourning would be in the top 15.
    Mutumbo possibly in the top 20.

  11. physical therapist Says:

    Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

  12. Straaw Says:

    u could shuffle the order around, it’s still very subjective. I got Kareem then the Dream, then Wilt. After that it’s a toss up with the order. If Darryl Dawkins had came out in the 90′s he mitta made this list. People thought Ralph Sampson was gonna make this list when he came out, but notta. What about Artis Gilmore. He deserves some mention. And alotta stiffs went to the Dale Schlueter school of backup centers.

  13. Shack Says:

    Straaw – Your top three are ok by me. See my comment (#6)that references Gilmore…

  14. physician assistant Says:

    Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

  15. Leon Says:

    Physician Assistant…Thanks for the positive comments. I appreciate it!

  16. Marcus Says:

    Hi Leon,

    This is an excellent list. Here is my personal top ten: 1) Bill Russell, 2) Hakeem Olajuwon 3) Wilt Chamberlian, 4) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 5) Moses Malone, 6) Shaquille O’Neal, 7)David Robinson, 8) Patrick Ewing, 9) Willis Reed,
    10) Wes Unseld — reason: he was 6’7″ 245 pounds, undersized and he became an NBA champion with the Washington Bullets.

  17. Leon Says:

    Marcus, good point regarding Wes Unseld. Thanks for sharing your list.

  18. glen Says:

    As far as centers go Wilt is #1. In the amount of time that he played and the amount of feats he achieved comes 2nd to no one. He could do anything he wanted to do – score, pass(assist), block and rebounds and ironically he leads every centers in avg. in every one of those categories (with exception of blocks because they decided to impliment it the year after he retired). #2 Kareem, #3 Bill Russell, #4 Shaq, #5 Olajuwon

  19. Me!!! Says:

    Where’s Bill Walton, Dave Cowens, and George Mikan???!!!

  20. Leon Says:

    Me, keep in mind that this is BLACK Top Tens.