The NBA 50 at 50 in 1997 was an attempt to determine the fifty greatest players in NBA history. The list was developed by a committee made up of former player, general managers, and media members. As with any list that attempts to separate the good from the great, the list was quite controversial.
It's been 22 years since the 50 at 50 list was created and it is time for an update. These rankings try to take into account the significance these players had on the direction and development of the NBA, as well as their abilities on the court. Championships and winning were considered in the rankings, but this is a list built around individual achievement. The goal was to determine flatly who were the 50 greatest superstars of all time and that has been achieved.
50. Bob McAdoo
Career Averages: 22.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists
The tragedy of Bob McAdoo's career is that most people tend to remember him as a backup later in his career as opposed to the dominant offensive performer that he was coming out of North Carolina. McAdoo was the 1973 Rookie of the year for the Boston Braves and was the Most Valuable Player in the NBA in 1975. He was a man ahead of his time in terms of a big man who could shoot the basketball and regularly pulled opposing centers out from below the basket because his perimeter shooting which in turn opened up room for him to drive to the rim and finish. His time as a bench player of the Lakers in the early 80's netted him two titles as Kareem's backup off the bench, but his success early in his career makes him an all-time great.
49. Paul Arizin
Career Averages: 22.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists
Fans of today's NBA take the jump shot for granted, but there was a time when set shots were the order of the day. Paul Arizin came into the league and used his new jump shot to create offense for the Philadelphia Warriors. Arizin rode this weapon to a title in 1956 and he is the first step in the evolution of the shooting renaissance we now see in the NBA.
48. Dolph Schayes
Career Averages: 18.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists
Dolph Schayes was one of the first stars of the fledgling NBA. A 6'7 power forward who towered over others in the black and white era, Schayes was a player who could use his superior strength and size to overpower opponents at the rim. He led the Syracuse Nationals to a NBA title in 1955.
47: Paul Pierce
Career Averages: 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists
For much of Paul Pierce's career, it appeared that he would be simply a Ferrari spinning his wheels in the mud; a fine machine stuck in the wrong place to show its greatness. Then 2008 happened and Pierce got the reward that he had worked so hard for. He was a magnificent wing player that excelled at both ends of the floor and created for others on his team. Pierce made the Celtics relevant for the first time since the Bird era and reignited a cities passion for basketball.
46. George Gervin
Career Averages: 26.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists
Owner of the greatest nickname and sweetest signature shot of the 1970s, the Iceman was an offensive force for the San Antonio Spurs. His languid frame allowed him to slide through defense and unleash his patented finger roll which could come from any angle. While his defense was always suspect, we appreciated Gervin for his ability to play as cool as he acted.
45. Dave Cowens
Career Averages: 17.6 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists
Fans loved Dave Cowens for one reason: Nobody played harder than Dave Cowens. Nobody. His impact went far beyond the stat line. He dove for every loose ball, made every rotation on defense, and hustled on every possession. He is the player that everyone hopes they would be if they had an NBA skill set. Boston fans embraced his maniacal style of play and lived for his fiery outbursts. Historically, Cowens can get lost because he was the transition from Russell to Bird in Boston, but people should remember that he led the Celts to two titles while battling opposing centers who were routinely 4 inches taller than him. How did he do it? He just played harder than them.
44. Gary Payton
Career Averages: 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists
When the word "Stopper" was created to describe a great defensive basketball player, the speaker was thinking of Gary Payton. He spent the 1990's repeatedly locking down backcourt players across the NBA. He was a relentless trash talker, but he had the ability to back it up. It should not be forgotten that for two games in the NBA finals in 1996 GP shut down Michael Jordan. While the Sonics went on to lose the series, Payton's contributions as a Mad Dog defender should be celebrated.
43. Dominique Wilkins
Career Averages: 24.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Dominique Wilkins was one of the most ferocious dunkers in NBA history. He regularly rocked rims in transition for the Hawks in the late 80's and early 90's. He was a gifted all around scorer and his athleticism made him a must-see for any NBA fan. His competition with MJ in the Dunk Contest still enthralls YouTube audiences to this day.
42. Rick Barry
Career Averages: 24.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists
Without a doubt, Rick Barry was the greatest passing forward of his generation. His prickly personality may not have been a hit with teammates or fans, but his ability is unquestioned. He had pinpoint accuracy with his passes and saw angles on the floor that no one else did. He was also a terrific scorer who led the Golden State Warriors to a title in 1975.
41. Russell Westbrook
Career Averages: 23.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 8.2 assists
Few people in NBA history have galvanized crowds quite like Russell Westbrook. At 6'3, he has averaged a triple-double in two consecutive seasons. Since the departure of Kevin Durant from OKC, Westbrook has been able to keep the Thunder relevant in the extremely tough Western Conference through his highlight plays and his ability to get to the rim whenever he wants to. He is the NBA equivalent of dynamite and he can go off on anyone anytime.
40. Allen Iverson
Career Averages: 26.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists
Iverson was the man who brought hip hop to the NBA. He was a small man who dominated a game for giants. He was fearless in his drives to the hoop and routinely finished on top of larger opponents. Iverson was a polarizing figure because of his tough attitude and streetball exterior. His attitudes towards practice are well known but fans could never question his heart or his will to excel. He inspired generations of players to bring a swagger into NBA arenas.
39. Clyde Drexler
Career Averages: 20.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about Clyde Drexler's career is that it happened to coincide with the ascendance of Michael Jordan's. Clyde was doomed to be forever compared to MJ and would therefore never receive his due. Clyde was a great player in his own right. He was an excellent defender who had the offensive skills to match. He played above the rim for the first half of his career and when his hops left him, he relied on his smooth shooting stroke to still score at a high level. He will be remembered as a genuinely good guy who was a great player. Just too bad the comparisons will never stop.
38. Chris Paul
Career Averages: 18.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 9.7 assists
Point guards are supposed to be creators and facilitators. No one ever fit that description better than Chris Paul. He consistently sets the table for his teammates as evidenced by the fact that he has led the league in assists four times. He is a capable scorer also so teams cannot simply lay off of him and concentrate on stopping his passes. This deadly combo is enhanced by his defensive prowess that has allowed him to lead the league in steals in six seasons. Put this all together and you have what many believe to be the best point guard of the modern era.
37. George Mikan
Career Averages: 23.1 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists
Size matters. Nowhere is that more true than the NBA and Big George Mikan was the first of the NBA giants. He was Center version 1.0 for the NBA. He overpowered the smaller players of the 1950's so much that they widened the lane to slow him down. He led Minneapolis to five championships and set the roadmap for the likes of Russell, Wilt, Kareem, and Shaq to follow.
36. Willis Reed
Career Averages: 18.7 points, 12.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists
"And here comes Willis!" Any NBA fan recognizes this iconic call before game 7 of the 1970 Finals. Reed had suffered a horrific leg muscle injury and by force of will started the game for the Knicks. He galvanized both the crowd and his teammates with that moment and New York won the title. Willis Reed was more than just that one moment though; from all accounts, he was an intimidating enforcer who crashed boards and molded New York's frontcourt a formidable defensive unit.
35. Steve Nash
Career Averages: 14.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 8.5 assists
Any child of the early 2000's remembers the run-and-gun teams of the Phoenix Suns. They threw full court outlet passes, filled transition lanes, and played at a frenzied pace usually reserved for college students trying to finish a term paper. At the center of it all was Steve Nash. He made everyone around him better on his way to two MVPs. His ability to shoot the ball added another dimension that opened up the offense even more for his precision passing. His three straight assists titles remain one of the more impressive accomplishments of the modern era.
34. Walt Frazier
Career Averages: 18.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists
New York has a long tradition of loving point guards. The streetball element of ball handling appeals to the cities roots of playground ball. Insert Walt Frazier into the equation and the city's love makes all the more sense. He ran the 1970's Knicks at a virtuoso level. He turned basketball into a jazz solo with the other players on the court becoming notes on his score. Fans appreciated his ability to make movement into music.
33. Elvin Hayes
Career Averages: 21.0 points, 12.5 rebounds. 1.8 assists
Hayes was one of the most heralded players ever coming out of the University of Houston. He was the first pick of two different drafts. He was a rebounding machine at 6'9 and 235 pounds. He manhandled people underneath the basket. He won a title when he was partnered with Wes Unseld with the 1978 Bullets. His offensive success overshadowed his defensive skills but he made the All-Defense second team twice.
32. Stephen Curry
Career Averages: 23.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists
Steph Curry made shooting cool again. Prior to Curry's ascent as an NBA Superstar, fans tended to gravitate towards players who drove to the basket and those who finished with dunks at the rim. Steph showed that scoring could happen from virtually anywhere on the court. He routinely pulls up from 4 feet outside of the three-point line and buries shots. He plays with so much confidence that he often starts celebrating before the ball even goes in. Steph has led the Warriors to 3 titles and does not appear to be remotely close to done collecting championship trophies.
31. Scottie Pippen
Career Averages: 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists
Always known as the Robin to Jordan's Batman, Scottie Pippen rarely gets his due as a player. Pippen was a player who filled every statistical category. He allowed Chicago to play almost any lineup because he could defend any guard or forward in the league. Offensively, his passing was always underrated and his ball handling and finishing ability was second only to Jordan. Defensively, he always drew the toughest assignment and put clamps on every significant opponent in the NBA. History may remember him as a lesser player because he played with Michael Jordan, but make no mistake, Scottie Pippen was a superstar.
30. Patrick Ewing
Career Averages: 21.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists
Patrick Ewing will be forever haunted by the criticism that his hands are absent championship jewelry. People conveniently forget that he carried the Knicks to multiple Eastern Conference Finals and an NBA final with almost zero backcourt help. Ewing was an 11-time All Star who anchored New York for over a decade and protected the rim and dominated the boards. He was not a gifted offensive player coming out of Georgetown but managed to average 21 points over his career. It just so happened that he couldn't overcome the beast that was Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
29. Kevin Durant
Career Averages: 27.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists
People often take shots at players who leave for better playing situations. They scream that the player is disloyal and doesn't want to be The Man. Kevin Durant is the latest victim of this irrational thinking. He made a decision to go to the Warriors because they were the team that best fit him. He wanted to win a title and the Warriors gave him the best chance to do that. People also tend to forget that he is a key reason they have won the last two championships. Durant is a mutant who has the height of a center with the shooting range of a two guard. He was the beginning of the extremely long perimeter player that we are seeing more and more in the NBA. Durant is arguably the second best player in the game and does not appear to be slowing down.
28. Jason Kidd
Career Averages: 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists
Kidd's career is marked by repeated turnarounds of franchises that had previously been abysmal. He improved Dallas, Phoenix, and his biggest success, the Nets. He led the Nets to back-to-back Finals appearances with a supporting cast bereft of All-Stars. He functioned both as a scorer and facilitator and ran perhaps the best fast break of the era not named Nash.
Career Averages: 26.4 points, 16.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists
Bob Petit was one of the premier forwards of the middle 1950's. He led the St. Louis Hawks to a championship in 1958. He was a superior offensive performer and rebounder that was only hindered by Bill Russell's Celtics dominance.
26. Bob Cousy
Career Averages: 18.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists
Every time you see a young player dribble between his legs, we should thank Bob Cousy. He brought entertainment and excitement to the NBA in the late 50's and early 60's. His ball handling is legendary, but he was a tremendous finisher of drives and a competent shooter for the time (it was a notoriously bad era of shooting). He was a part of six championship teams and was the offensive Yin to Russell's defensive Yang.
25. Isiah Thomas
Career Averages: 19.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 9.3 assists
The "Bad Boy" Pistons are a team that often gets overlooked because they came right after the Showtime Lakers and Jordan's Bulls. Isiah Thomas was the preeminent playmaker on those two championship teams. He never shied away from his leadership role and possessed a toughness rarely seen outside of biker bars. He played big in the biggest moments and always wanted the ball when the game was on the line.
24. John Stockton
Career Averages: 13.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 10.5 assists
Experts often bemoan the demise of fundamental basketball. One wonders, "Have they ever watched John Stockton play?" Stockton put on a clinic of how to play point guard for 19 years. No one ran the high pick and roll better and made the right basketball play more times. He played scrappy defense and orchestrated Utah's highly efficient offense throughout the 1990's. The biggest knock on Stockton was that he never won a Finals, but that is a small gripe for a man who is the all-time career leader in assists.
23. Dwyane Wade
Career Averages: 22.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists
The swan song season of Dwyane Wade has certainly been emotional, but it should not overshadow the spectacular career of a man who was one of the most explosive players of the last 15 years. Wade was always a threat to drive to the basket and finish above the rim and was a fantastic defender. He could take any opponent off the dribble and used superior strength and body control to score. It should not be discounted that Wade was the one who brought LeBron and Bosh to Miami to form the first superteam. It needs to count for something that 2 of the best players in the league came to him in Miami.
22. Dirk Nowitzki
Career Averages: 21.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Owning the sweetest jumper of any big man, Dirk Nowitzki was a force in the NBA from the time he arrived. He possessed deceptively quick feet and his range forced defenders to guard him tight anywhere on the court. He took down the Big Three for his one title, which was no small feat with Wade, LeBron, and Bosh at their zenith.
21. Julius Erving
Career Averages: 22.0 points. 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists
While everyone remembers Jordan's aerial feats, it is important to remember that Dr. J was the first player to explore the stratosphere. Erving's early career was spent in the more wide open and creative ABA, so we do not have much video evidence of him throwing down on fast breaks, but once he arrived in the NBA, he was a player that everyone took notice of. He was the prototype for what small forwards would look like in the modern NBA. He was a super athletic playmaker who thrilled crowds with his acrobatic moves. He took a horizontal game and made it vertical and showed fans what the game would look like in the future.
20. Kevin Garnett
Career Averages: 17.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists
Kevin Garnett's career was always going to be memorable. He was the first high school player to jump straight to the NBA since Moses Malone. He toiled as the best player on a team that couldn't quite get over the hump in Minnesota. Garnett was a player who always showed up and played with an intensity that is rarely seen outside of war zones. He just seemed to care more than everybody else. Garnett put up more consecutive 20 point/ 10 rebound seasons than anyone in NBA history. He finally got his ring in Boston, anchoring a superstar triangle with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
19. John Havlicek
Career Averages: 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists
"Hondo" may be the most underrated 8 time NBA champion in history. He was the best player for Boston after Russell retired. He was a superior athlete who was drafted in both football and baseball before choosing the Celtics. He played big in clutch moments, most memorably in his interception of Wilt's pass in the 1965 finals to clinch the series. Havlicek is Boston's all-time leader in points.
18. Elgin Baylor
Career Averages: 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists
Elgin Baylor was a player who was ahead of his time. He teamed with Jerry West to give the Lakers their 1-2 punch of the 1960's. Baylor used his superior body control and instincts to snatch rebounds and then explode to the rim for put backs. Sadly, Elgin retired 9 games into the 1971-72 season due to a knee injury and missed out on the Lakers championship that season.
17. David Robinson
Career Averages: 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists
With the body of a Greek God and the length of an aircraft carrier, "The Admiral" was one of the most impressive specimens ever to walk onto a basketball court. He was a menace defensively, able to jump multiple times in succession and strong enough to hold rebounding position against almost every other player on the court. He was one of the most cerebral players to ever play in the NBA which helped the Spurs run one of the most complex offenses in the league. Robinson won two titles when teamed with Tim Duncan.
16. Charles Barkley
Career Averages:22.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists
We will never see another player like Charles Barkley again. Listed at 6'6 but really closer to 6'3, Barkley used his immense strength and explosiveness to out rebound much larger players. He ran in transition like a freight train, frequently going coast to coast and tomahawking the ball on top of anyone who got in his way. Barkley never got a championship but he was definitely a superstar of the 1990's.
15. Karl Malone
Career Averages: 25.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists
One of the most physically imposing figures of the 1990's was Karl Malone. "The Mailman" was a mountain of man with a body cut like the Utah mountains where he played for most of his career. He and John Stockton ran the most devastating pick and roll of the era and appeared in back to back finals. Malone is second in points all time to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
14. Moses Malone
Career Averages: 20.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Dennis Rodman got a lot of press as the greatest rebounder ever, but only because people don't have much tape on Moses Malone. Malone jumped straight from high school to the pros and simply dominated the boards for a decade. He was relentless in his quest for the ball after a miss. Moses teamed with Dr. J in Philadelphia for one title.
13. Jerry West
Career Averages: 27.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.7 assists
When a league decides to make you their logo, you are probably a superstar. Jerry West was the first modern shooting guard. He was a deadeye shot from the perimeter and was an excellent ball handler. Russell's Celtics held him back from winning more titles but West was such a force that he won a Finals MVP in a losing effort because he threw up a triple-double in Game 7.
12. Hakeem Olajuwon
Career Averages: 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Hakeem Olajuwon was one of the most agile players ever to play in the NBA. He stalked the paint like a tiger on defense, waiting to pounce as soon as the ball entered the zone. Offensively, he was deadly both face up and with his back to the basket. The "Dream Shake" was considered almost unstoppable. He won two titles while Jordan played baseball in the 1990's.
11. Oscar Robertson
Career Averages: 25.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 9.5 assists
A triple-double is incredibly difficult to achieve in one game. Imagine doing it for an entire season. Oscar Robertson did just that in 1962. He was unusually big for a point guard at the time and used his size to punish smaller guards on his way to the rim. He was an excellent passer who consistently found open teammates in the half court. Robertson won a title with the Bucks in 1971 teamed with Kareem.
10. Kobe Bryant
Career Averages: 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists
Kobe Bryant was one of the most polarizing superstars in NBA history. He broke up a Lakers dynasty because he was tired of playing second fiddle to Shaq and then appeared to only care about scoring as much as possible until finally getting back to winning titles with Pau Gasol.
Feel how you want about Kobe but his greatness on the court cannot be overstated. He excelled at both ends of the floor and consistently hit huge shots in the playoffs. Kobe was never scared of the moment and embraced that pressure. He won five titles and was undoubtedly the best player on his team for two of them.
9. Tim Duncan
Career Averages: 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists
People often assume that a lack of exterior emotion means there is a lack of internal intensity. People are often wrong. There is no better case for this phenomenon than Tim Duncan. Duncan came into the league expected to be a superstar and all he did was continually deliver in the closest thing to a dynasty in recent memory.
Duncan was the consummate professional for a franchise that won five championships when he was there. He solved all of San Antonio's problems. If they needed rebounds, he slammed the boards. If they needed low post scoring, he provided it. He organized their entire defense and made sure they never missed a defensive assignment. He was simply the most consistent superstar of his generation, this generation's answer to Bill Russell. Tim Duncan was the best power forward to ever play the game.
8. Shaquille O'Neal
Career Averages: 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists
The most telling thing of Shaquille O'Neal's career is that any GM would have traded their best player to acquire him. He was an unstoppable force who was too big and too strong for anyone to handle on the block. His feet were quick enough to handle smaller centers and his athleticism was so good that he could close on any mid-range jumper. In the early 2000's, he was simply the best basketball player on the planet.
7. Larry Bird
Career Averages:24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists
Never judge a book by its cover. It is sound advice. Nobody personified it more than Larry Bird. Larry Legend did not look like one of the greatest basketball players in history; his wispy mustache and blond perm combined with a body devoid of all definition made him look much more like the guy who sells you a John Deere at Lowe's. Once the ball was tipped though his brilliance became apparent. He saw passes that couldn't be completed in a video game; he drained shots falling out of bounds and over 7 footers. He hustled after every loose ball like he was a scrub trying to make the JV squad. He simply played at a level that the world was not used to seeing.
Bird's career was derailed by a brutal back injury. With his shooting ability, he could have easily played into his mid-30's. Instead we got to see him win three championships and, along with Magic, help solidify basketball's popularity.
6. Magic Johnson
Career Averages: 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 11.2 assists
Earvin "Magic" Johnson was a man who lived up to his nickname every night. He made more wow plays than any superstar of the 1980's. His performance in the 1980 Finals as a rookie is legendary. Magic played all five positions on the floor and won the MVP.
He would go on to win five championships as the centerpiece to "Showtime". He was the first of his kind. A 6' 9" point guard with elite athleticism and basketball IQ. The loss of his career to HIV remains one of the more tragic episodes in American history.
5. Bill Russell
Career Averages: 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists
Simply the best defensive basketball player ever, Bill Russell changed the game. Before him, players were told never to leave their feet on defense. The thought was a player could be faked out of position if he jumped. Russell proved that blocking shots could lead directly to points. He would purposely keep blocks in bounds to start the break and create a four-point swing. His offense is never spoken of but he was an exceptional passer and rebounder on both ends.
Russell ended up winning 11 championships which is a feat that will probably never be matched. His contributions off the court are also worth mentioning in that he helped bring many civil rights issues to the forefront of America's consciousness. Bill Russell was simply the best winner in basketball and has the jewelry to prove it.
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Career Averages: 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists
Longevity can often be a detriment to appreciating greatness. People start to just expect that a player will be awesome because they have been awesome forever. Such is the case of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who put the ball into the hoop more than anybody in the history of the game. He even has the record to prove it. His patented skyhook was an unstoppable shot that he could launch with either hand and he was a deadly free throw shooter so you couldn't just foul him and not pay a price. His defense is rarely talked about but he was an excellent rim protector. He played for 20 years and was a 19-time All-Star.
3. Wilt Chamberlain
Career Averages: 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists
You know you are good when they change the rules for you. The league decided that Wilt Chamberlain was far too dominant so they decided to widen the lane. It did very little but force Wilt to take an extra dribble on his way to the basket. Wilt was a dominant offensive performer who led the league in scoring seven times. His 100-point game is still an NBA record as well as his 55 rebounds against the Celtics. He was a physical behemoth, much heavier and stronger than Russell. He was able to capture two titles during his career even though he was competing with Russell's Celtics who had far more All-Star players than his teams did. Wilt was simply the greatest center of all time.
2. LeBron James
Career Averages: 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists
What would happen if the greatest basketball player in the world had the body of an NFL tight end? The answer: See LeBron James. James is an absolute monster that cannot be stopped on either side of the floor. He has won 3 championships by driving to the basket and imposing his will on everyone in the league. He is a lockdown defender who prowls passing lanes and has blocked more shots on breakaways than any player in recent memory. LeBron is the next evolution of what Magic Johnson started. He has been the best player on the planet for almost a decade.
LeBron is also important because he has taken over Jordan's place as an icon. He transcends basketball. He even one ups Jordan in that we have been following him since high school as opposed to MJ who we didn't meet until North Carolina. LeBron has even improved upon MJ's commercial success. He has his own production company as opposed to just apparel and (discount cologne).
1. Michael Jordan
Career Averages: 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists
Let's end the debate right here: Michael Jordan is the best basketball player to ever lace up tennis shoes. He was a hypercompetitive maniac who pushed teammates to the brink and brought out the best in everyone around him. He was a phenom on both sides of the floor, making the All Defense team 9 times. He won 6 championships and was the best player in every single one of those seasons. He took pleasure in vanquishing all opposition. His absolute execution of the Trailblazers and Jazz were especially brutal. He simply ended them because he willed it to happen.
Jordan's influence off the court is equally as impressive. His Nike apparel deal and marketing has led to every sneaker contract that has followed. His Michael Jordan 23 cologne was the first fragrance deal ever made with a professional athlete. Suddenly people cared what an athlete wanted to smell like. He was the first basketball player to have global reach and that has inspired the players that have followed.
There may eventually be a player who will do an accurate impersonation of Jordan on the court. That is the nature of evolution. Athletes get better as time progresses. This won't change the fact that Jordan was the first athlete that anyone cared that his silhouette was on their shoe or made their mom go buy them a bottle of Michael Jordan cologne. He was bigger than basketball and is the greatest we have ever seen on and off the court.