Here we are, with the final position rankings for the last three decades after hitting the point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards. Whew! I hope you have been enjoying reading the rankings as much as I have enjoyed writing them.
With this final position, a note: It has always been my intention to only include players that played most of their careers during the 1980′s, 90′s and/or 2000′s. So, a couple of shout-outs are in order.
Honorable mentions go to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (11 seasons pre-1980; nine seasons in the 80s) and Bill Walton (five seasons pre-1980s; five seasons in the 80s; most of his renown in the 1970s, so judgement call to keep him off the list). If included in this list, Kareem would have been first overall for being first overall in points, winning championships and mastering the most unstoppable shot ever seen, the SkyHook. Walton would make it somewhere at the end with his mystique being more than his production.
Here are the factors, in varying degrees, taken into account in making this ranking – statistics, impact on the game, awards and honors, longevity, playoff performance and my own gut instincts. Feel free to disagree and make cases for others in the comments.
10. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets (2002-10; missed entire 2009-10 season)
486 G; 19.0 PPG; 9.2 RPG; 1.6 APG; 52.4 FG%; 83.3 FT%; 0.4 SPG; 1.9 BPG
It stinks to have messed-up feet and Yao would agree. The recently-retired big man from Asia (chest thump and fist salute) was as allergic to staying healthy as Shaquille O’Neal was to making free throws. Yao was fundamentally sound in every way, even hitting from the charity stripe at an excellent clip, other than in health. A big sigh and shaking of the head was almost an annual event with the Rockets and Yao when he would be off the floor due to injury. See.
Yao only hit the benchmark double-double twice in his career, but both were 20/10 campaigns. He was selected to eight All-Star games, including this past season’s despite only playing five games. You don’t think China stands behind their dude with the online voting? China don’t play that, son! However, the midseason honor was deserved most of the time, as Yao’s five All-NBA team selections prove. Yao also made the All-Rookie first team (2002-03). He finished with the 21st-ranked career PER of 23.0 and an ORtg of 112.
Yao was an excellent ambassador for the NBA, helping the league’s popularity climb to ridiculous heights in Asia. It’s a shame that he was never fully healthy, but regardless, he’ll always be a hero in China. And who could ever forget this moment during the 2008 Beijing Olympics? Keep your head — and feet — up, Yao!
9. Dikembe Mutombo, Denver Nuggets (1991-1996), Atlanta Hawks (1996-2001), Philadelphia 76ers (2001-02), New Jersey Nets (2002-03), New York Knicks (2003-04), Houston Rockets (2004-09)
1,196 G; 9.8 PPG; 10.3 RPG; 1.0 APG; 51.8 FG%; 68.4 FT%; 0.4 SPG; 2.8 BPG
Mount Mutombo is known for his finger wag, a light-hearted taunt with a very balls out, head nod feel to it. “Yeah, not in my house, biatch!” A quick look on YouTube helped me find this highlight video, as well as finger wag tributes, both positive (homage) and negative (back in your face, Mutombo). And if you think about it, even the latter is sort of an homage to one of the great shot-blockers of all-time.
Mutombo is the owner of 11 double-double seasons, leading the league in rebounds twice (1999-00, 2000-01) and in blocks three times (1993-94, 1994-95, 1995-96). He was chosen for eight All-Star games, the All-Rookie first team (1991-92), three All-NBA teams and six All-Defensive teams, including three first team selections. He’s a four-time Defensive Player of the Year (1994-95, 1996-97, 1997-98, 2000-01) and ranks second all-time in total blocks (3,289) and seventh in career block average. Mutombo is 10th all-time in both total offensive rebounds (3,808) and defensive rebounds (8,551) and 18th all-time in total rebounds (12,359). He finished with a 17.2 PER and 111 ORtg.
Mutombo was a likeable player because he played hard from beginning to end, had swagger on the defensive end when everyone had it on offense and was a funny sounding and goofy guy. He took as well as he gave and that dumb smile will forever be remembered, just like his finger wag.
8. Robert Parish, Golden State Warriors (1976-1980), Boston Celtics (1980-1994), Charlotte Hornets (1994-96), Chicago Bulls (1996-97)
1,611 G; 14.5 PPG; 9.1 RPG; 1.4 APG; 53.7 FG%; 72.1 FT%; 0.8 SPG; 1.5 BPG
Whenever Parish’s name comes up, I instantly think of the medicinal benefits of marijuana. Sure it’s illegal in most of the United States, but the guy played for 22 NBA seasons and always seemed spry, even in the twilight of his career. (Before I go further, I feel like I have to say that I do not promote the use of any illegal drug or hanging out with Snoop Dogg or Dave Chappelle during the night time. OK, maybe the day too.)
Parish never averaged 20 points per game during his career, but did average a double-double 10 times. He made nine All-Star games, including seven consecutive selections (1981-1987). He was selected to two All-NBA teams and was a part of four NBA title teams; three with the Boston Celtics (1981, 1984, 1986) and one with the Chicago Bulls (1997). Parish is the all-time leader in games played (1,611), seventh in total rebounds (14,715), 10th in total blocks (2,361) and 19th in total points (23,334). The Chief finished with a 19.2 PER and 111 ORtg.
The Chief was a bad man, even though you probably didn’t notice how much work he was doing, as he didn’t seem like he noticed either. Unless you’re Bill Laimbeer, because then you both notice. Parish was a stoic figure that never seemed to smile and might secretly be a cyborg of some kind. However, it’s hard to argue the production and you have to appreciate the longevity of Parish’s career.
7. Alonzo Mourning, Charlotte Hornets (1992-95; 2005-08), Miami Heat (1995-2002), New Jersey Nets (2003-05)
838 G; 17.1 PPG; 8.5 RPG; 1.1 APG; 52.7 FG%; 69.2 FT%; 0.5 SPG; 2.8 BPG
I was a huge Patrick Ewing fan growing up, so it was only natural to hear about Mourning once he committed to Georgetown. It always seemed like Mourning had a chip on his shoulder and the man was just nasty. Don’t even try it, player, unless you want to look dumb. Like I said, nasty.
Mourning had four 20/10 seasons and came within a point or rebound four other times during his career. Zo was selected to seven All-Star games, named to the All-Rookie first team (1992-93), as well as being selected to two All-NBA teams, including the 1998-99 first team. Zo was also selected to two All-Defensive first teams and won the Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons (1998-99 and 1999-2000). He was on the 2006 Miami Heat championship team. Despite a shortened career, he’s 11th all-time in total blocks (2,356) and owns the sixth-best blocks average at 2.8 rejections per contest. Mourning finished with a 21.2 PER and 108 ORtg.
Zo might have been higher on the list if a kidney disease didn’t rob him of significant playing time in his 30s, but c’est la vie. It happened and he moved on, doing the best he could. Forget Ron Artest, Zo was a true warrior (spelled correctly even). I’ll always remember the grimace on Mourning’s face that never seemed to leave. Well, that, and this.
6. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (2004-Present)
567 G; 18.2 PPG; 12.9 RPG; 1.5 APG; 57.8 FG%; 59.8 FT%; 1.0 SPG; 2.2 BPG
Howard is the only active player on the list, and while he’s only played seven seasons and is still relatively young to be mentioned in this group, perhaps this high, it’s a simple fact that he’s dominating. Not just this year, but the past few years. He has at least several productive seasons ahead of him and should move up the rankings as time goes on, especially if Howard can help lead his team, whichever it may be (sorry Orlando), to an NBA title.
In his seven seasons, Howard has averaged a double-double in every single one of them, which include three 20/10 campaigns. In 2009-10, he led the league in field goal percentage (61.2 percent), rebounds (13.2 RPG) and blocks (2.8 BPG). D12 has also led the league in rebounds two other times (2007-08, 2008-09) and another time in blocks (2008-09). Howard is currently a five-time All-Star (2007-2011). He was a first team All-Rookie selection (2004-05) and has been named to five All-NBA squads, including four consecutive first team honors. D12 has been named to four All-Defensive teams and has won the last three Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Howard is a threat to always make a highlight when he steps on the floor, and while he does dunk a lot, he’s making strides in his offensive game, especially if he keeps going to this guy. As you’ll see below, it’s worth the effort. Already a defensive stalwart, if Howard adds more polish offensively, it’s a guarantee that he’ll move up to at least two spots on talent and skill set alone.
5. Patrick Ewing, New York Knicks (1985-2000), Seattle SuperSonics (2000-01), Orlando Magic (2001-02)
1,183 G; 21.0 PPG; 9.8 RPG; 1.9 APG; 50.4 FG%; 74.0 FT%; 1.0 SPG; 2.4 BPG
Simply put, I love Patrick Ewing. As a freshman in high school, I actually had a dedicated notebook where I wrote down all of his basic stats from the Daily News or New York Post after every one of his games. I had no idea why, but that’s when we can probably assume I became obsessed with hoops. And, I actually do have an adidas Ewing jersey from back in the 1980s. It’s basically dissolved and I never wear it, but I keep it for posterity’s sake. He’s definitely the greatest Knick in my mind.
Ewing reached the double-double mark nine times, all of which were 20/10 seasons. He was chosen for 11 All-Star games, including 10 consecutive starting in 1988. He was the 1985-86 Rookie of the Year, a three-time All-Defensive selection (all second team) and a member of seven All-NBA teams that includes one first team nod. He’s 15th all-time in field goal attemps (19,241), 12th in field goals made (9,702), eighth in total defensive rebounds (8,855), 24th in total rebounds (11,607), sixth in blocks 2,894) and 16th in points (24,815). Ewing finished with a 21.0 PER and 106 ORtg.
Ewing is in the middle of NBA Draft Lottery controversy as he was the top prize when the lottery was first instituted. Many accused the NBA of wanting the Hoya Destroya in the big market of New York and fixing the lottery so that Ewing played with the Knicks. Personally, I’m glad, because it would have sucked if my NBA obsession was fueled by watching Benoit Benjamin or Jon Koncak play for my team. In any case, one of the reasons why I hate Michael Jordan — well, probably the only reason — is that he contributed to Ewing not getting more chances to win a ring. Despite the naked fingers, I love Patrick Ewing. I’m not really sure if that’s clear.
4. David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs (1989-2003)
987 G; 21.1 PPG; 10.6 RPG; 2.5 APG; 51.8 FG%; 73.6 FT%; 1.4 SPG; 3.0 BPG
When Robinson decided to fulfill his commitment to the Navy and forgo beginning his NBA career earlier than he did, I thought he was an idiot. Of course that doesn’t make me particularly patriotic or anything, but the man was so great to watch. This single game, when defenses were allowed to do more things like hip and hand check, will show how great Robinson was. Of course in today’s game, which is dominated by guards that handle the rock and shoot the pill more often than not, a big man might never get a chance to score 71 points ever again.
Robinson averaged a double-double nine times, eight of which were 20/10 years. He led the league in scoring once (29.8 PPG in 1993-94), rebounding once (13.0 RPG in 1990-91) and blocks once (4.5 BPG in 1991-92). Robinson is a 10-time All-Star. The Admiral made an immediate splash (no pun intended) his rookie season, winning the Rookie of the Year award. He made eight All-Defensive teams, including four first team selections and won the Defensive Player of the Year for the 1991-92 season. Robinson is a 10-time All-NBA selection, including four first teams, and he won the NBA MVP award once (1994-95). Robinson is a two-time NBA champion (1999, 2003) with the Spurs. He’s 12th overall in free throw attempts (8,201), 15th in free throws made (6,035), 29th in total rebounds (10,497), fifth in total blocks (2,954) and 23rd in points (20,790). Robinson owns the fourth-best PER ever (26.2) and a 116 ORtg.
In spite of some funny Nike commercials, Robinson was never the boisterous, look-at-me type of player. There was a definite humility about the way he did things and it had to have had an effect on the greatest power forward ever, Tim Duncan. The Admiral had some really outstanding numbers, but you never noticed until the game was over and that probably suited him best anyway. Classy player. Classy person.
3. Moses Malone, Buffalo Braves (1976), Houston Rockets (1976-1982), Philadelphia 76ers (1982-86; 1993-94), Washington Bullets (1986-88), Atlanta Hawks (1988-1991), Milwaukee Bucks (1991-93), San Antonio Spurs (1994)
1,329 G; 20.6 PPG; 12.2 RPG; 1.4 APG; 49.1 FG%; 76.9 FT%; 0.8 SPG; 1.3 BPG
The thing I remember hearing as a kid about Malone was that he missed his shots on purpose in order to get more rebounds. Considering his place all-time in offensive rebounds, I believe it. I even remember seeing it happen before my eyes as I watched games back in the day. Hey, whatever. It doesn’t diminish what he’s contributed to the game and how well he did his thing.
Malone averaged a double-double 13 times in his NBA career, including 11 times hitting the 20/10 mark. He led the league in rebounding average in six of seven years between the 1978-79 and 1984-85 seasons. Malone played 126 games in the ABA and posted 17.2 PPG and 12.9 RPG while at the red, white and blue ball league. He was selected to a dozen All-Star games, all consecutive from 1978 to 1989. Malone was selected to two All-Defensive teams, eight All-NBA teams where it’s evenly split at four apiece in the first and second teams. Malone is a three-time NBA MVP (1978-79, 1981-82, 1982-83) and won the NBA Finals MVP when the Sixers won the NBA title in 1983. He ranks fifth in games (1,329), 16th in field goal attempts (19,225), 15th in field goals made (9,435), fourth in free throw attempts (11,090), second in free throws made (8,531), first in offensive rebounds (6,731), fifth in defensive rebounds (9,481), fifth in total rebounds (16,212) and seventh in points (27,409). Malone finished with a 22.3 PER and 114 ORtg.
Malone didn’t dominate the way that Shaq did, or even the way Hakeem Olajuwon did (oooh… foreshadowing). His game wasn’t pretty at all. However, as the saying goes, a dunk and a lay-up are both two points no matter what. Moses just got it done.
2. Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets (1984-2001), Toronto Raptors (2001-02)
1,238 G; 21.8 PPG; 11.1 RPG; 2.5 APG; 51.2 FG%; 71.2 FT%; 1.7 SPG; 3.1 BPG
If I was starting an NBA team and I had to select a center from this list, The Dream would be my choice. Nothing against the power and raw dominance of Shaq, but Olajuwon’s agility, smarts, quickness and defensive acumen would be too hard for me to pass up. It’s sort of a modern day question of do you take Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell. Only in this case, “Wilt” has more rings. However, I’d challenge you to say that Hakeem wasn’t more important to his Rockets’ title teams than Shaq was to his Lakers and Heat teams.
Olajuwon began his career with a dozen years of dominance averaging a 20/10, as well as coming within 0.8 rebounds in each of the next three seasons to average a double-double. He’s led the league in rebounds twice (1988-89, 1989-90) and blocks three times (1989-90, 1990-91, 1992-93). Olajuwon is a 12-time All-Star and made the All-Rookie first team in 1984-85 when that Michael Jordan guy won the Rookie of the Year award. He was selected to nine All-Defensive teams, including five first teams, plus he won the Defensive Player of the Year twice (1992-93, 1993-94). Hakeem made a dozen All-NBA squads that include six first teams. Olajuwon won the NBA MVP award in 1993-94 and won the NBA Finals MVP (1994, 1995) when his Rockets won the NBA championship in back-to-back seasons. He’s 10th overall in field goal attempts (20,991), seventh in field goals made (10,749), 18th in free throw attempts (7,621), 21st in free throws made (5,423), eighth in offensive rebounds (4,034), fourth in defensive rebounds (9,714), 11th in total rebounds (13,748), eighth in steals (2,162), first in blocks (3,830) and ninth in total points (26,946). Olajuwon ended his career with a 23.6 PER and 108 ORtg.
At first I didn’t like Hakeem because he was the Lex Luthor to Patrick Ewing’s Superman, both in college and the pros. However, watching Olajuwon play was a beautiful thing because he was very much like a ballerina dancing around defenses down in the post. The Dream Shake was unstoppable.
1. Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando Magic (1992-96), Los Angeles Lakers (1996-2004), Miami Heat (2004-08), Phoenix Suns (2008-09), Cleveland Cavaliers (2009-10), Boston Celtics (2010-11)
1,207 G; 23.7 PPG; 10.9 RPG; 2.5 APG; 58.2 FG%; 52.7 FT%; 0.6 SPG; 2.3 BPG
O’Neal is the modern day Wilt Chamberlain, as mentioned above. However, if I had to choose between the two, I’d take Wilt. Just a preference. However, when it comes to an all-around impact on the game, Shaq and his smile, Shaq-Fu hip hop persona and perhaps the greatest genie movie ever, O’Neal definitely stands out even more. The basket breaking dunks help too. And, most importantly, the four rings on his giant fingers.
O’Neal began his career with 13 consecutive 20/10 seasons. He led the league in scoring average twice (1994,95, 1999-2000) and in field goal percentage 10 times. Shaq is a 15-time All-Star, winning the game’s MVP award three times (2000, 2004, 2009). He hit the ground running, destroying backboards and winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award (1992-93). He was selected to three All-Defensive teams and 14 All-NBA teams that include eight with the first squad. Shaq has only won one MVP award (1999-2000), but three NBA Finals MVPs (2000, 2001, 2002), helping the Lakers and Kobe Bryant to a three-peat to begin the 2000s. He won another title with the Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat in 2006. O’Neal is 14th overall in field goal attempts (19,457), fifth in field goals made (11,330), second in field goal percentage (58.2%), third in free throw attempts (11,252), 17th in free throws made (5,935), sixth in offensive rebounds (4,209), seventh in defensive rebounds (8,890), 12th in total rebounds (13,099), seventh in blocks (2,732) and fifth in points (28,596). Shaq finished his career with the third-best PER ever (26.4) and a 113 ORtg.
It’s hard for me to say that Shaq is the greatest center during this three decade period because of Olajuwon’s presence, but looking at the numbers (stats, titles, and box office receipts … kidding on the latter), O’Neal eeks out the top spot. Of course, some may say that it’s a no-brainer, but other than Michael Jordan being the best ever, nothing is a no-brainer.
That said, feel free to leave your comments below or hit me up on Twitter, where I’ll be live-tweeting “Kazaam” this weekend at 9PM ET. No, not really.