NBA, Video / Apr 22, 2014 / 3:30 pm

The 10 Greatest Centers In NBA History

Shaquille O'Neal

Shaquille O’Neal (photo. Chenoa Maxwell)

Often considered the most valuable spot on the court, the center position has been graced with a stable of elite big men. Ranking them is not easy; choosing just eleven is not easy. The top five could go in almost any order, it depends a lot on what defines greatness and legacy for you personally. I know that a certain Celtic defined winning in sports and a lot of people might have him number one. Many value individual performances, like 100-point games.

There is no right answer, only the debate. As it was meant to be, legacy is subjective and is forged off of the arguments of those who remember.

[RELATED: The 10 greatest shooting guards in NBA history]

Honorable Mention:

Alonzo Mourning
Career Accolades: 2X Defensive Player of the Year, Champion, 7X All-Star, 2X All-NBA, and 2X All-Defense
‘Zo would absolutely lick the centers of today’s game. Do not be fooled by the low number of All-Star or All-NBA appearances. Remember he was drafted the same year as the Diesel. ‘Zo was one of the last true back-to-the-basket, beat-you-up-inside centers. The game is less physical and more about finesse nowadays but make no mistake, who would you rather watch: Roy Hibbert or Alonzo Mourning?

In his prime, he was averaging around 20 points, 10 rebounds, and just shy of four blocks a night. He was also maintaining those numbers while shooting above 50 percent from the field. Mourning didn’t win a ring as “the man” but he also got stuck in the East during the back half of the Jordan era. Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning very well might have hoisted the Larry O’Brien in ’97 had it not been for the Bulls. Oh, and for those who complained about him making the Hall of Fame, take a look below.

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10: Willis Reed
Career Accolades: 2X Finals MVP, 2X Champion, MVP, 7X All-Star, 5X All-NBA, and All-Defense
I considered quite a few old school guys for the 10 spot on the list but Reed is the name I kept coming back to. He’s one of only 15 players ever to win an MVP, Finals MVP and championship in the same season. He brought not one but two championships to the mecca of basketball. He helped the Knicks beat the Lakers not once but twice in the Finals, sending home Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain the first time, and West, Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich the second time. He was the Finals MVP both times for a reason.

He also led the league in win shares during the ’68-69 season whilst Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and company were all still going at it.

9. Bill Walton
Career Accolades: MVP, Finals MVP, 2X Champion, 2X All-Star, 2X All-NBA, 2X All-Defense, and Sixth Man of the Year
Walton is the Tracy McGrady or Grant Hill of his generation. A sensational talent, coming out of college he was pre-ordained to be the next great big man and he hit the floor running. If it wasn’t for injuries he might be in the same conversation as our top five.

Walton won a championship in his third year in the league and an MVP in his fourth year. If you’re not tired of sports references, he’s basketball’s Terrell Davis. An absolute phenom but it was a short ride. Walton was a monster on the glass, could score with a bevy of post moves, and had no problems getting up to block shots. If you want to hear someone really broadcast their love for him go look up what Bill Simmons had to say about him.

His peak numbers, while impressive, just don’t hold up with the very best of the class. When we consider he started his decline near the end of his fourth year it’s impressive that he’s made this list at all.

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  • http://twitter.com/gagamanboo john smith

    So how does one see who is #1, since only 10 and 9 are shown?

  • http://twitter.com/gagamanboo john smith

    So I scrolled immediately to #1 and didn’t see Bill Russell’s name so , epic fail!

  • cardman

    Go down to select other pages that are numbered.

  • Kathryn Van Gompel

    Bill Russel was #4 on the list.

  • phillipsulak

    Walton?! Umm, Bob Lanier. George Mikan. Timmy Duncan. Dave Cowens. That’s off the top of my head. Bob McAdoo. Artis Gilmore. In other words, a boat load of guys.

  • phillipsulak

    Wes Unseld. Elvin Hayes.

  • Mike Stanaland

    Elvin Hayes did it before anyone else did.

  • josheberley

    Duncan is going on the power forward list. And clearly you are underrating Walton lol

  • josheberley

    Give me one reason Bill should be #1 other than wins in a diluted league

  • spencer

    First off, diluted means watered down, or to make weaker by adding. With only eight teams in the league Russell’s rookie year, I think you’re confused about the definition. Eight teams is about as lean as the NBA ever got.

    And I can give a billion reasons why Bill Russell is the greatest center that ever played, but that’s not my problem here.

    Wilt played in the same NBA as Russell, and Bill beat him every year except ’67 — which was Russell’s first as player/coach after Red retired from coaching. After that loss, Russell won two more rings as player/coach including upsetting Wilt/Jerry West in a Game 7 in Los Angeles to end his career, with Wilt laboring on the bench (Russell didn’t forgive him for almost a decade believing Wilt had ducked him at his last chance to compete against the best).

    Do you think the five MVP’s Russell won (four of which happened when Wilt was in the league scoring 50 plus and failing to win a championship) were just a lark? Were all the people who voted for Russell over Wilt in those years just wrong, or blind?

    Russell won 11 rings in 13 years and revolutionized defense by basically inventing the blocked shot. With Red, Russell also started the mystique of Boston Garden and the Celtics, who are the most successful NBA team in history.

    I could go on and on, but the fact you have him behind Wilt & Shaq is the only reason I chimed in.

    Kareem as the best center ever, you can make an argument for that — even if Jabbar couldn’t do squat for the late 70s Lakers featuring another all-star (Norm Nixon). But to consider Bill Russell inferior to Shaq and Wilt — two scoring centers who, while dominant, don’t possess half the basketball intelligence of Russell — is the primary reason I had to interject.

    Wilt was probably the strongest NBA player ever (not just in his day) and Shaq would be a close second, but I’d take prime Russell against either of them if I wanted to win a basketball game.

    Don’t let this response dissuade you from defending your position, just know I strongly disagree and I’m not alone.

  • Bojan Bugarski

    Lebron James over Allen Iiverson??? srsly how… the 2000-2001 season… the year where a 6,0′ 160lb SG destroys everyone in his path… leagues MVP, top scorer, probably the best AI’s season in all career… the season where he stood pound for pound with Kobe and Shaq in the finals?? come on… stop forcing LJ… he doesn’t belong here… It’s the same as not including Tony Parker on all times best PGs… who are the dudes doing this TOP’s choices??

  • Greg Williams

    so ai should be on an all-time list based on one season???

  • kakapupu

    Bill russell is overrated

  • kakapupu

    U must be high as hell. Iverson is my favorite player of all time. But im sorry, he ain’t got shit on Lebon James. He is a better all around player and is way more efficient than Iverson was



  • Daniel Johnson

    Shaq was an enormous body on the court, but he wasn’t “great.” Being big is not the same as having actual basketball talent.

  • jaybar2

    In my book, if you can’t shoot free throws you don’t get to the top of the list.

  • Jake Samora

    Hakeem is severely underrated. I’m not saying he’s the greatest, but he should definitely be in the top 3 over fucking Shaq.

  • dmac713

    You left Elvin Hayes off of your lists. WTF!?!?!?!? He’s got to be top 3-5 on either the PF or C list. Just lost all possible credibility.

  • Paris

    Dear friend, Bill Russel won many titles because he was in a better team than the other great centers of the list. Assume that Wilt C. was in Boston and Russel was in 76ers or Warriors. Do u really think Rusel would have won 10 championsips with his defensive brilliance? Ofc not.. Also, it was Wilt’s skill and talent that made Russel look like a good defender (since managin to restrain him at scoring only 30pts was a success ;-) not the other way around. Wilt was a freak of nature, with a pure instict to score with any way he wanted in the paint, therefore he was better whether u like it or not

  • Paris

    Shaq was great dude, although his game was based on strength and fatness. I believe that Shaq made a huge career due to the referees tolerance on his aggressive style of play, which imo was at the borderline of constant fouling his opponents. Still, Shaq was talented and he had a relatively high basketball IQ, although his technique was sub par for a Legendary center

  • Paris

    Agreed, Hakeem was a much better player than Shaq. His offensive repertoire against Shaq’s was like comparing nuclear weapons to swords. When i think of Hakeem, i always remember the semifinals vs. poor David Robinson. Oh the horror the admiral experienced in those matches….

  • Gary Pitman

    You lost any ability to comment about basketball!

  • Gary Pitman

    He had to wait until Hakeem left to win a ring?!? LOL


    Shaquille doesn’t deserve to be anything higher than 7 or 8. How can you negate the team and support he had to win those championships. To place him above Hakeem is a slap in the face, when even Shaq himself has admitted to his own inferiority when faced with Hakeem. Shaquille’s stats do not support your placement. Kareem has the best stats, Wilt had the easiest road, and Hakeem had the least support. Tell the truth. Also you mention The Admirals quad-double, but Hakeem had two. There’s no other player ever to do this. Your list is subpar and lacks evidence.

  • Tony Gaujot

    Shaq is too high on the list. 1 MVP compared to guys with multiple MVP’s below him. Moses Malone is so underrated as a player in general. 3X MVP, and still top 10 in rebounding and scoring, and he was only 6-9 1/2. Hakeem was too. They may be listed taller, but they realy aren’t. Shaq is 6th on my list. He would be much higher if he would have shot FT’s at 75% or higher. He would have scored a few thousand more points if he did.

  • GastroBasketball

    I’m not up to enter the discussion of Wilt-Bill war, but Bill Russel is definitely above Shaq, no matter what. and to add, the top 3 of Bill-Wilt-Kareem is almost acceptable everywhere, and those 3s are comparably similar, depends on different perspective.