If you follow the podcast (Subscribe here if not) then you have already heard the list but now you can read it and see pictures and video of each of the legends mentioned.
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Because I missed that the MVP wasn’t awarded until 1956, I have expanded the list to 52 to accommodate the two new names who jumped into the top 50.
Before you dive into the list, be sure to check out the Methodology, The Adjustments, and the Added Awards pieces that have already been released. There you’ll get all of the context you need for my definition of greatness, “GOAT points” and the “Bib’s Accolades” that went into the calculations. I don’t want to make you scroll through another explanation.
So without further ado, I bring to you. The 52 GREATEST players in NBA history.
52. Joe Fulks
GOAT points: 189
Nicknames: Jumpin’ Joe, The Kuttawa Clippper
Height/Position: 6’5” PF
Hometown: Birmingham Kentucky, High School in Kuttawa
College: Murray State
Playing years: 1946-1954
Currently?: Died 1976 at the age of 54 (murdered, more below)
Teams: Philadelphia Warriors
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 2 time All-Star, 1947 Scoring Champ, 4 time All BAA/NBA (1st team 3 times)
Bib’s accolades: 1948, 49, and 1951 All-Defense 1st team. 2 Finals MVP’s in 1947 and 1948
Rings: 1947 BAA Champion (technically the first NBA title)
Claim to fame?: Pioneer of the modern jump shot. Had a signature turnaround J, ambidextrous.
- Served in WWII after 2 years of college from 42-46
- The First Basketball superstar. A manufactured one, his coach had him take all of the shots to juice the stats and draw fans. (He would later do the same with Wilt)
- Came into the league at 25
- Scored 63 points Feb 10, 1949. Held the record until Elgin Baylor scored 64 points in 1959
- Low efficiency: record for most missed shots in a game regular season and playoffs
- Was shot by his girlfriend’s son during a fight over a handgun
NOTE: Rebounds were not kept as a stat until the 1951-1952 seasons. If he led the league in rebounding one of the first 4 years he’d be tied for 49th on this list, any more he’d be 49th alone.
51. Jason Kidd
GOAT points: 189.67
Nicknames: J-Kidd, Ason Kidd
Height/Position: 6’4” PG
Hometown: San Fransicso
Playing years: 1994-2013
Currently: Lakers assistant coach
Teams: Mavericks, Suns, Nets, Knicks
Accolades: Hall of Famer. 1995 ROY, 5-time Assist Champ, 10 time All-Star, 5 time All-NBA 1st, 1 All-NBA 2nd. 4 All-Defense 1st, 5 All-Defense 2nd.
Bibs accolades: 2 time Finals Runner up MVP 2002 and 2003
Rings: 2011 with Dallas
Claim to fame: A true floor general who fixed one of his flaws over the course of his career.
- 8th in career assists per game.
- They called him “Ason Kidd” because he had no jumper when he entered the league. He shot over 38% 3 times near the end of his career.
50. Billy Cunningham
GOAT points: 190
Nicknames: The Kangaroo Kid
Height/Position: 6’6” PF or SF
Playing years: 1966-1976
Living?: Yes. Not currently involved in the game
Teams: Philadelphia Warriors and the Carolina Cougars (2 years, ABA)
Accolades: Hall of fame, 5 time All-Star (one was ABA). 3 time All NBA 1st, 1 All-NBA 2nd, 1973 ABA MVP and 1st team All-ABA.
Bibs accolades: None
Rings: 1967 NBA title team
Claim to fame?: White guy with bounce who defied the stereotype. After he retired he was a great coach and commentator.
- Went to the ABA for the 72-73 and 73-74 seasons before coming back to the NBA.
- No. 32 retired by Philly. (allowed Charles Barkley to wear it when he wanted to switch to honor Magic Johnson when he came out as HIV positive)
- Won a title as a coach for the 76ers in 1983
- 4th best winning percentage as a coach in NBA history behind Nurse, Kerr, and Phil Jackson
49. Bill Walton
GOAT points: 190.5
Nicknames: Big Red
Height/Position: 6’11” C
Hometown: La Mesa, CA
Playing years: 1974-1987 missing 3 full seasons due to injuries and other issues
Living?: Currently does color commentary for college games
Teams: Blazers, San Diego Clippers, Los Angeles Clippers, Celtics
Accolades: 1977 Finals MVP, 1978 MVP, 1977 Block Champ, 1977 Rebound Champ, 2 time All-Star, 1986 6th man of the year, All-NBA 1st in 78, Second in 77. All-Defensive 1st in 77 and 78 also.
Bib’s accolades: 0.2 DPOY shares (refer to Added Awards)
Rings: 1977 in Portland and 1986 in Boston
Claim to fame?: Still a legend but imagine if he didn’t have the injuries.
- No. 32 retired by the Blazers and UCLA
- Only played 58 games the year he won MVP
- Sat out the 78-79 season because Portland wouldn’t trade him, (Kawhi situation)
- Apologized to Portland fans in 2009 for how things ended.
- Chose the Celtics over the Lakers because Jerry West was waiting on a doctor’s report before deciding if he wanted him and Larry Bird said if Walton felt healthy then he wanted him.
- Overcame a stuttering problem to become a legendary commentator.
48. Anthony Davis
GOAT points: 197
Nicknames: AD, The Unibrow
Height/Position: 6’10 PF/C
Playing years: 2012- Present
Currently: A free agent, plans to re-sign with the Lakers
Teams: New Orleans Hornets, Pelicans, Lakers
Accolades: 7 time All-Star, 3 time block champ, 4 time All-NBA 1st, 2 time All-Defense 1st, 2 time All-Defensive 2nd.
Bibs accolades: None
Rings: 2020 with the Lakers
Claim to fame?: The Brow, elite two-way big in an era where bigs are quickly fading.
- Currently 6th in Playoff PPG
- Currently 22nd in career PPG
- Just entering his prime years
47. Kawhi Leonard
GOAT points: 203.5
Nicknames: The Claw, Fun Guy
Height/Position: 6’7” SF
Hometown: Los Angeles
College: San Diego State
Playing years: 2011- Present
Currently: Playing for the Clippers
Teams: Spurs, Raptors, Clippers
Accolades: 4 time All-Star, 2015 Steal champ, 2 time Defensive Player of the Year, 2 time Finals MVP, 2 All-NBA 1st, 2 All-NBA 2nd, 3 All-Defense 1st, 3 All-Defense 2nd
Bibs accolades: None
Rings: 2014 Spurs, 2019 Raptors
Claim to fame?: Getting the Raptors their first championship. Huge personality.
- Another guy whose story is still being told.
- SDSU retired his jersey in February of 2020, he’s the first player to have his jersey retired there.
45b. Spencer Haywood
GOAT points: 204.5
Nicknames: Wood or Woody
Height/Position: 6’8” C/PF
Hometown: Silver City, Mississippi
College: Detroit Mercy
Playing years: 1969-1983 (1980-1981 played in Italy)
Currently: Living in Las Vegas
Teams: Denver Rockets (ABA), Sonics, Knicks, New Orleans Jazz, Lakers, Washington Bullets
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 5 time All-Star, 1970 MVP, DPOY and Rookie of the Year in the ABA. All ABA 1st team, All-ABA 1st team defense, 2 All-NBA 1st team, 2 All-NBA 2nd. Scoring and rebound champ in 1970 (30 points, 19.5 rebounds)
Bibs accolades: None
Rings: 1980 with the Lakers
Claim to fame?: Was signed illegally by the Sonics, (Was not 3 years removed from high school) Haywood v. NBA anti-trust rule, case went to the Supreme Court before the NBA settled.
- Number 24 retired by the Sonics
- Number 45 retired by Detroit Mercy
- Youngest MVP ever at 21
- 19.5 boards All time ABA record
- Battled cocaine addiction in the 70s. Got him waived by the Lakers in 1980 which is why he ended up in Italy.
- Wasn’t inducted into the Hall of Fame until 2015
45a. Dwyane Wade
GOAT points: 204.5
Nicknames: Flash, D Wade
Height/Position: 6’4” SG
Playing years: 2003-2019
Currently: Doing commentary for TNT
Teams: Miami Heat, Bulls, Cavs
Accolades: 13 time All-Star, 2009 scoring champ, 2006 Finals MVP, 2 time All-NBA 1st, 3 time All-NBA 2nd, 3 time All-NBA 3rd, 3 All-NBA defensive 2nd
Bibs accolades: Finals Runner-Up MVP in 2011, by far.
Rings: 2006, 2012 and 2013 with the Heat
Claim to fame?: Miami Wade County. All time leader in points, games, assists, steals, shots made and taken for the Miami Heat.
- 43rd all time playoff ppg
- 12th all time total playoff points
- No 3 retired by the Heat and Marquette
44. Dwight Howard
GOAT points: 214.67
Nicknames: Superman, D12
Height/Position: 6’10” Center
College: Straight out of High School
Playing years: 2004-Present
Currently: Free Agent
Teams: Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hawks, Hornets, Wizards, Lakers again in 2019-2020
Accolades: 8 time All-Star, 5 time rebound champ, 2 time block champ, 3 time DPOY, 5 time All-NBA 1st, 1 All-NBA 2nd, 2 All-NBA 3rd, 4 All-Defensive 1st, 1 All-Defensive 2nd.
Bibs accolades: Finals runner-up MVP 2010
Rings: 2020 Lakers
Claim to fame?: Epic slam dunk contest in 2008. One of the best runs for a defender and rebounder in league history.
- Magic all-time scoring leader
- 15th in career rebounds per game
43. George McGinnis
GOAT points: 235
Nicknames: Big Mac, Baby Bull
Height/Position: 6’8” PF
Hometown: Harpersville Alabama
Playing years: 1971-1982, 4 were in the ABA
Currently: Living but not mentioned where he is
Teams: ABA Pacers, 76ers, Nuggets, Finally the Pacers again
Accolades: Hall of Famer, 6 time All-Star (3 ABA, 3 NBA.) 2 time All-ABA first, 1 All-ABA second, ABA Playoff (Finals) MVP, ABA MVP and scoring champ in 1975. All-NBA 1st in 1976, 2nd team in 1977.
Rings: 2 ABA titles Indiana Pacers
Claim to fame?: Signature 1 Handed jumper. People compare his playing style to Lebron. Part of the worst trade in Pacers history (details on the podcast)
- Number 30 retired by the Pacers (technically the number is retired for 4 players including Reggie Miller)
- The year he won MVP he lost in the Finals despite averaging 32, 16, and 8 assists
- More to his story, including a legal issue with the league, but you’ll have to check the podcast for that
- Was inducted into the HOF in 2017
42. Bob Feerick
GOAT points: 254.5
Height/Position: 6’3” G/F
Hometown: San Francisco
College: Santa Clara
Playing years: 1946-1950
Currently: Passed away in 1976
Teams: Washington Capitols
Accolades: 2 time All-BAA (The NBA’s predecessor before they merged with the NBL) 1st, 1 All-BAA 2nd
Bibs accolades: 2 time MVP 47 and 48
Claim to fame?: First MVP by my calculations
- No 5 retired by Santa Clara
- Was a player-coach his last year in the league, first year of the NBA
- Coached Santa Clara from 50-62
- Was Wilt’s coach in the 1962-63 season when the Warriors moved to San Francisco.
- He was the Warriors GM and Director of player personnel for a while after that.
- Not in the hall of fame.
Footage was hard to come by, the best I found was this game. I found myself hypnotized. I would say watch the first 5 minutes or so (2:00 to 7:00) to get the idea.
41. David Robinson
GOAT points: 266.18
Nicknames: The Admiral
Height/Position: 7’1” Lefty Center
Hometown: Key West, FL
College: US Naval Academy
Playing years: 1987-2003 (didn’t play first two years)
Currently: Started a school in 2001 that is currently part of the IDEA public school system in Texas. Active in their day-to-day activities.
Accolades: Hall of Famer, 10 time All-Star, 1990 ROY, 1994 scoring champ, 1991 rebound champ, 1992 block champ, 1992 DPOY, 1995 MVP. 4 All-NBA 1st, 2 All-NBA 2nd, 4 All-NBA 3rd, 4 All-Defense 1st, 4 All-Defense 2nd.
Bibs accolades: None
Rings: 2 rings 1999 and 2003 with the Spurs
Claim to fame?: Naval service is what he’s known for. Exceptions were made by the Secretary of the Navy to allow him to work as an officer in the civil engineering corps since he couldn’t serve on ships due to his height.
- Number 50 is retired by the Spurs
- Robinson was 5’9” in his junior year of high school, Grew to 6’6” his Senior year and the coach put him on the team though he had never played organized basketball or gone to any camps.
- When he signed with the Naval Academy, they had a height restriction of 6’6” for all cadets, and by the time he got there he had grown another inch to 6’7” The superintendent granted him a waiver expecting that he wouldn’t grow much more. By the start of his second year he had grown to almost 7’0”. Oops.
- Though he was nicknamed The Admiral, he was actually a lieutenant.
- The year before he joined the Spurs they were 21-61, the next year they were 56-26. At the time that was the greatest single-season improvement for a team. That record was broken by a future teammate.