Championship-winning NBA teams usually have one of the greatest centers of all-time on their roster.
After all, these players have stood out in peak performance and career value throughout their NBA run.
In this article, I will be listing down the 10 best centers of all time in NBA history – and why they deserve to be recognized as such.
Top 10 NBA Centers Of All-Time
Being an NBA fan for over 20 years, I’ve witnessed many big men come and go in the league. However, the following ten NBA centers have excellent careers that their names are etched in the minds of every NBA fan as the best of the best big men.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks (1969-1975), Los Angeles Lakers (1975-1989)
NBA rank: 1st in scoring, 3rd in rebounds and blocks, 45th in assists, 107th in steals
Honors: Six-time MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 19-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA selection, 10-time All-D selection, Rookie of the Year, Hall of Fame
Career stats: 2.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 3.6 APG, 55.9 FG%
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has combined peak value and longevity, and dominated throughout an NBA run that lasted over a decade.
After all, he has become one of the most decorated players, finishing his career with an astounding 38,387 points. He also holds the record for most win shares and minutes played. He’s also the only player to win six MVP awards.
When Abdul-Jabbar played in the NCAA, dunking had to be outlawed between 1967 and 1976 because of how dominant he was. Due to that, he refined his signature skyhook – which continued to be an unstoppable shot.
2. Bill Russell
Teams: Boston Celtics (1956-1969)
NBA rank: 2nd in rebounds, 114th in assists, 157th in scoring
Honors: Five-time MVP, 12-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA selection, All-D selection, Hall of Fame
Career stats: 15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 44.0 FG%
Bill Russell is more than just one of the best centers of all time in NBA history – he’s also the greatest winner. After all, he won 11 titles in his 13-year career.
He wasn’t a scorer like his rivals, and blocks and steals weren’t an official statistic yet in his time. Accolades like the Defensive Player of the Year didn’t exist then, either.
However, he’s certainly the greatest defensive center in basketball history. If his time saw the same official statistics, he would definitely have one of the best records as well.
Bill Russell holds the record for most defensive win shares, and he became the anchor for his team’s dynasty. He even has the NBA finals MVP trophy named after him.
3. Wilt Chamberlain
Teams: Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors (1959-1965), Philadelphia 76ers (1965-1968), Los Angeles Lakers (1968-1974)
NBA rank: 1st in rebounds, 7th in scoring, 81st in assists
Honors: Four-time MVP, Finals MVP, 13-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA selection, two-time All-D selection, Rookie of the Year, Hall of Fame
Career stats: 30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG, 54.0 FG%
Wilt Chamberlain would have to be the most dominant physical specimen in NBA history. He’s the first player in the league to lead in overall scoring, rebounds, and assists in the same season.
In fact, he grabbed at least 20 boards per game for 12 seasons.
Admittedly, he tended to play better in the regular season than in playoffs, making him come a bit short in the team success department.
However, no one can deny how impressive his single-season rebounding and scoring records are. He even won the All-Star game MVP once. In fact, he once scored 100 points in an NBA game.
That gives him the second-best scoring average behind only Jordan. He then retired as the all-time leader in scoring and rebounding in his time.
Another thing that cements Wilt Chamberlain as one of the best NBA centers is how he forced the NBA to change certain rules to try to offset him.
For instance, offensive and defensive goaltending is no longer allowed. On top of that, the NBA widened the lane area from 12 feet to 16.
4. Shaquille O’Neal
Teams: Orlando Magic (1992-1996), Los Angeles Lakers (1996-2004), Miami Heat (2004-2008), Phoenix Suns (2008-2009), Cleveland Cavaliers (2009-2010), Boston Celtics (2010-2011)
NBA rank: 8th in scoring and blocks, 15th in rebounds, 216th in assists
Honors: MVP, three-time Finals MVP, 15-time All-Star, 14-time All-NBA selection, three-time All-D selection, Rookie of the Year
Career stats: 23.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 2.5 APG, 58.2 FG%
Shaquille O’Neal was a beast ever since he entered the NBA until the end of his career. In fact, Orlando Magic beat the Chicago Bulls even with Michael Jordan playing back in 1995.
Jordan and Shaq are the only players to win finals MVP awards three times in a row. Shaq is likely the most dominant player in the center position since Chamberlain.
Of his NBA titles, he played three of them on the Lakers with Kobe Bryant.
Surprisingly, Shaq only earned one league MVP award despite being an overwhelming presence on the court for multiple seasons. He was also a star off-court, which might have taken away some of his impact on the court.
However, there’s still no denying that he was a force to be reckoned with when he played. After all, he has at least 800 games played and an impressive field goal percentage.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon
Teams: Houston Rockets (1984-2001), Toronto Raptors (2001-2002)
NBA rank: 1st in blocks, 9th in steals, 12th in points, 14th in rebounds, 214th in assists
Honors: MVP, two-time Finals MVP, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, 12-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA selection, nine-time All-D selection, Hall of Fame
Career stats: 21.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3.1 BPG, 2.5 APG, 51.2 FG%
Hakeem Olajuwon is the best international player, being the only player to rank top 14 in four different major statistical categories – namely points, rebounds, blocks, and steals.
He’s also the only one to win an MVP and multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards in his career.
Olajuwon is one of the greatest two-way players in NBA history, with impressive low-post moves and defensive skills.
He was the foundation for Houston’s back-to-back championships. The first one was particularly memorable since Olajuwon was the team’s lone star.
The Dream Shake, his signature move, was unstoppable – with defenders usually jumping at the wrong time.
6. David Robinson
Teams: San Antonio Spurs (1989-2003)
NBA rank: 6th in blocks, 32nd in rebounds, 42nd in scoring, 61st in steals
Honors: MVP, 10-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA selection, 8-time All-D selection, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Hall of Fame
Career stats: 21.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 3.0 BPG, 2.5 APG, 51.8 FG%
David Robinson set the foundation of a Spurs dynasty.
He missed his first two seasons because he served in the military – but he quickly proved his worth the moment he stepped onto the court. In fact, he averaged 23 points per game in his first seven seasons.
He admittedly wasn’t the most productive in the playoffs, but he has overtaken Olajuwon in the regular season because of the efficiency of his play.
Robinson had an excellent physique that he used to become a high-level scorer and effective defender, especially when it came to defending the rim.
Together with Tim Duncan, they became known as the Twin Towers, one of the NBA’s best big-man duos.
7. Moses Malone
Teams: Utah Stars (1974-1975), Spirits of St. Louis (1975-1976), Buffalo Braves (1976), Houston Rockets (1976-1982), Philadelphia 76ers (1982-86, 1993-1994), Washington Bullets (1986-1988), Atlanta Hawks (1988-1991), Milwaukee Bucks (1991-1993), San Antonio Spurs (1994-1995)
NBA rank: 5th in rebounds, 10th in scoring, 27th in blocks, 135th in steals
Honors: Three-time MVP, Finals MVP, 12-time All-Star, eight-time All-NBA selection, two-time All-D selection, Hall of Fame
Career stats: 20.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 1.4 APG, 49.5 FG%
Of four centers who won at least three MVPs, Moses Malone is probably the most underappreciated.
Malone would have to be the greatest offensive rebounder in league history, with timing and instincts to chase rebounds on offense. He utilized his brute strength to score against his smaller foes.
He even averaged 17.6 rebounds per game for a while.
He played for nine different franchises throughout his ABA and NBA career, making him the most traveled Hall of Famer.
8. Patrick Ewing
Teams: New York Knicks (1985-2000), Seattle SuperSonics (2000-2001), Orlando Magic (2001-2002)
NBA rank: 7th in blocks, 24th in scoring, 25th in rebounds, 118th in steals
Honors: 11-time All-Star, 7-time All-NBA selection, 3-time All-D selection, Rookie of the Year, Hall of Fame
Career stats: 21.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 1.9 APG, 50.4 FG%
Patrick Ewing is the only player listed here that never won any NBA championship because of the Rockets and Bulls.
The New York Knicks made many deep playoff runs with Ewing, who was a beast at blocking shots but also had a soft touch for scoring. This made him the foundation of everything his NBA team accomplished in the 1990s.
Despite not winning any NBA titles, Ewing led memorable playoffs against Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller.
He’s also the Knicks’ franchise leader in games, points, rebounds, and blocks, still making him one of the best centers of all time in NBA history.
9. George Mikan
Teams: Minneapolis Lakers (1947-1956), also played in the NBL and the BAA
NBA rank: N/A
Honors: 4-time All-Star, 6-time All-NBA selection, Hall of Fame
Career stats: 23.1 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 40.4 FG%
George Mikan is pretty difficult to rank. He was dominant in his time, but this was before the league became more athletic.
However, he’s the first truly dominant man and one of the first best NBA centers in the league’s history. He was the best at scoring in the whole league for three consecutive seasons.
Furthermore, he won five NBA titles in his seven-season career, making the Lakers a powerhouse even in the early years of the NBA.
George Mikan had the most impact in the early NBA years in terms of forcing rule changes as well. For instance, the free-throw lane was widened from 6 ft to 12 ft in an attempt to level the field.
The 24-second shot clock was also put in place – not to slow Mikan down, but to speed up the NBA teams that played against him.
10. Bill Walton
Teams: Portland Trail Blazers (1974-1979), San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers (1979-1984), Boston Celtics (1985-1987)
NBA rank: 99th in blocks
Honors: MVP, Finals MVP, Sixth Man of the Year, two-time All-Star, 2-time All-NBA selection, 2-time All-D selection, Hall of Fame
Career stats: 13.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 3.4 APG, 2.2 BPG
Bill Walton’s stats don’t look like they should belong to one of the best NBA centers. However, he was still impressive despite chronic foot injuries.
In fact, if he had been healthy, he might have built a dynasty in Portland. He also challenged Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the best center in the 70s.
He won two championships at UCLA, then led the Portland Trailblazer to its only NBA title.
Walton had good energy and could run the floor easily to either score or defend. He earned quite a lot of honors, despite not being in his physical prime due to his injuries.
Centers serve as foundations for their teams, whether for offense or defense.
There are many new contenders for the best centers in NBA history – including Dwight Howard and the five-time all-star MVP Nikola Jovic, who just finished his eighth NBA season.
However, those on our list above remain our top 10 because of their impact on the court and enduring legacy after retiring.