Ratings of the greatest, most successful, and talented are always subjective. Basketball is no exception. In the more than 125-year history of basketball, hundreds of legendary players have taken the court. They’ve all contributed to sports, culture, and entertainment (themed video games and slot machines on platforms like tonybet.com/is/casino and others). Here’s our list of the greatest basketball players to end their careers, including not only record-breaking performances on the court, but also achievements in public life, the film industry, and even human rights.
10. Oscar Schmidt
Oscar Daniel Bezerra Schmidt is a Brazilian basketball player who is the world record holder for points scored. Schmidt tallied 49,703 points during his career at the club level and on the Brazilian national team. By comparison, NBA record holder Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has 387.
Oscar Schmidt is also the only player in history to score more than 1,000 points in the Olympics. The Brazilian took part in 5 consecutive games but failed to lead his team to medals. His best result was fifth place.
Schmidt was nicknamed the Holy Hand for his sharpshooting abilities. New Jersey (now Brooklyn) drafted him in 1984, but the Brazilian never made it to the NBA. Oscar did not want to lose his amateur status to be able to play for the Brazilian national team on the international stage.
9. Sergey Belov
Olympic champion, two-time world champion, four-time European champion, Universiade champion, two-time winner of the European Champions Cup (now the Euroleague). This is only the list of the main achievements of the legend of Soviet and European basketball Sergey Belov.
In 1991 the International Basketball Federation named Sergey Alexandrovich the best player among all basketball players who played for their national teams (without taking the NBA into account). Eventually, even the National Basketball Association honored Belov by inducting him into its Hall of Fame. Sergey Alexandrovich was the first non-American to be so honored.
8. Jerry West
Jerry West won only 1 title in his 14-year NBA career. He does not have a season MVP title or Rookie of the Year honors. Still, West is an iconic figure for the NBA. The Association’s modern emblem, the player leading the ball, was unveiled in late 1969. Forty years later, the creator of the image, Alan Siegel, admitted that he created the emblem based on a photograph of West taken during one of the Lakers games.
Jerry West is the first recipient of the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award. At the same time, West is the only one in the history of the award to receive it as a member of the losing team. He is also a member of the 27+ club. Among basketball players who finished their careers, only West, Jordan, Baylor and Chamberlain averaged 27 or more points per game.
7. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant has won 5 championship rings, the NBA MVP title, 2 Olympic gold medals and has appeared 18 times in the All-Star Game. Bryant is undeniably one of the best offensive guards in NBA history, coming as close to the icon Michael Jordan as anyone.
In addition to numerous accolades, Kobe has approached unblemished records throughout his career. Currently, Bryant is the fourth-highest scoring player in NBA history (33,643 points). He also has the second-highest single-game scoring output with 81 points against Toronto in 2006.
Even after his career ended, Bryant continued to collect basketball-related awards. In 2018, his film “Dear Basketball” took home an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film. During the film’s production, Coby served as producer and screenwriter.
Tragically, on January 26, 2020, Bryant was tragically killed in a plane crash. Kobe’s personal helicopter crashed near Los Angeles. Eight other people died in the crash, including his daughter Jeanne Maria, who was 13 years old at the time of the crash.
6. Oscar Robertson
Oscar Robertson is Mr. Triple-Double. It is his record (181) that Russell Westbrook is seeking to break. Westbrook was traded from Oklahoma to Houston in the new season, where he will have to share the ball with James Harden. So there’s a good chance Robertson’s record holds up. Westbrook currently has 138 triple-doubles under his belt.
In addition to terrific stats (25.7 points – 7.5 rebounds – 9.5 assists per career average), Robertson has a ton of different awards and even inventions to his credit. He’s credited with the “fake swing” and “deflection backward shot” techniques, which are still widely used by all basketball players in the world.
5. John Stockton and Karl Malone
John Stockton is arguably the best point guard in the history of world basketball. Who would have thought a short (185cm), white male would become the NBA’s all-time leader in assists (15,806) and steals (3,265). Most of Stockton’s assists went to longtime teammate Karl Malone, with whom he played alongside for 1,412 games, setting an NBA record.
Karl Malone is widely regarded as one of the NBA’s best hard forwards. In 19 seasons Malone scored 36,928 points (second all-time) and was twice named regular-season MVP. He was nicknamed the Postman for his efficiency, speed, and accuracy.
4. Bill Russell
Bill Russell was one of the first African-Americans to make his way to the NBA. He earned the right to not only play in the Association but to be called a star in the league. In a 13-year career, Russell was a champion an astronomical 11 times. He wasn’t Boston’s leader in scoring, but he was known for his good play on defense as well as his industrial-scale rebounding. Bill Russell averaged 22.5 rebounds per game. After finishing his career, he permanently cemented his place in the NBA’s top 2 rebounders in history (21,620). Since 2009, the NBA Finals MVP award has been named in his honor.
In 2011, Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (one of the two highest honors in the United States) for his civil rights accomplishments both on and off the court.
3. Wilt Chamberlain
To understand the greatness of Wilt Chamberlain, suffice it to say that he is the only player in NBA history whose number has been eliminated from circulation on three teams at once, the Lakers, Philadelphia, and Golden State.
Chamberlain played for each of those clubs, posting incredible numbers throughout his career: 30.1 points – 22.9 rebounds – 4.4 assists per game average. He has two Association championships with the Philadelphia Phillies and Lakers and has been named NBA MVP four times. He also owns two all-time records: 100 points per game and 23,924 career rebounds.
Many attribute Chamberlain’s outstanding statistical performance to the fact that in his era there were weak opponents who simply could not contain a giant like him — 5’9″, 125 pounds. But over the course of Wilt’s NBA career, at various times he has faced Bill Russell, Alvin Hayes, Nate Thurmond, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and other great centers and forwards. And Chamberlain was successful against even such strong players.
2. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan is certainly worthy of first place in this ranking. As a member of Chicago, he has won 6 NBA championships, and he has been named Finals MVP every time. Jordan is a five-time Most Valuable Player in the NBA regular season and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. He also won the overhead shot contest twice, NBA Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. It’s hard to name a title that wouldn’t be in his collection.
No doubt Jordan would have been the highest-scoring player in NBA history, but he ended his career several times and returned, thus spending only 15 partial seasons in the Association.
And yet Jordan is second. There can be no doubt about his legendary air, but there are doubts about his human qualities. Nearly perfect in terms of anthropometry (height 198 cm, broad shoulders, thin waist, minimum body fat) and playmaking ability (Michael was only bad at three-point shooting – 32.7%), Jordan gave 100% to the basketball. At the same time, he made no concessions to anyone, often calling opponents names and taunting his teammates, bringing them to tears and losing faith in themselves. Michael’s words, in particular, have been known to hurt the smallest player in NBA history, Mugsy Boggs, and the #1 pick of the 2001 draft, Kwame Brown.
Jordan spent the last years of his career in Washington. Here Michael’s new victim was rookie Kwame Brown. If the Boggs incident was a fleeting game situation, Brown was getting hit by Jordan on a regular basis. Initially, after the draft, Michael treated the rookie well, trying to help him adjust to the NBA. However, it soon became clear that Kwame was not living up to the expectations usually placed on a player selected under the 1st pick. In Brown’s second year in Washington, Jordan was already humiliating the center in every way. He called him dirty names, brought him to tears, and embarrassed him in front of his teammates. Everyone who was with the Wizards at the time will attest to this attitude.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
In 1971, the Milwaukee Bucks won the Association for the first and only time in their history. The Bucks center Lewis Alcindor was the most valuable player in the regular season and finals series that season. Not many basketball fans know about Alcindor, but probably everyone has heard of the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Meanwhile, it’s the same man. The fact is that the day after the 1971 championship, Alcindor changed his name to Abdul-Jabbar. While still at university the basketball player converted to Islam, a move apparently planned long before the successful season.
Lewis Alcindor’s name faded into history, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became one of the league’s top stars for years to come. In 20 seasons in the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar is the all-time leading scorer in NBA history (38,387 points), has been MVP six times (a record), won six Association titles with the Bucks and Lakers, and has been called to the All-Star Game more times than anyone else (19 times). He also ranks among the top 3 players in the NBA in rebounding (17,440) and blocked shots (3,189).
Kareem didn’t hang up his sneakers until he was 42. Since his career ended, Abdul-Jabbar has starred in movies and TV series, contributed to books and comic books, battled cancer, was elected U.S. cultural ambassador, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
It is surprising that the story of his life has not yet been adapted into a movie.