The 10 Greatest Centers In NBA History

By: 04.22.14  •  27 Comments
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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