Who is The Best Basketball Player in History?

Although the best basketball player in history isn't the same person for everyone, a healthy debate allows us to recognize the work of many high-level athletes. 
Who is The Best Basketball Player in History?

Last update: 15 November, 2019

Since the creation of basketball, (also known as the sport with hoops), many athletes have participated in the big leagues. Among them, we can evaluate and choose the best basketball player in history. However, this may not be an easy task!

In order to help shorten the list, the first thing to do is to discard all the players that have never played in the NBA. Due to the difference between American basketball and the rest of the continents, this will be the first selection filter.

Once we have a list with several NBA participants, going back to its creation in 1946, we can start working on the following filter: choosing the best player from each era.

The best of each era

After all, in every era, there are players who stand out from the rest and manage to make their name in the history of basketball. In some cases, the names are indisputable, while in others, the debate is still open. Nonetheless, the important thing is to identify and recognize the merit of each person, based on their personal journey.

In the 50s and 60s, Bill Russell was the best basketball player in history. Then in the 60s and 70s, it was Wilt Chamberlain. Later, in the 80s it was Magic Johnson, and in the 90s, Michael Jordan. During the first decade of the 21st century, Kobe Bryant was the best; at present, people say that we are under the reign of “King James”.

Michael Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls.

With this in mind, the best player in history should be out of these six names. There are many others that could take their place: Larry Bird, Isaiah Thomas, Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq, and more. Nevertheless, we have to start the elimination process somewhere.

Among the six finalists, how do we choose the winner? The easy thing would be to do it by statistics, but quoting Rajon Rondo: “statistics are like bikinis. They allow you to see a lot, but they hide the most important thing from you!”

It’s quite a valid opinion in regards to this topic, which concerns us. Statistics are important, but the best player in history should be more than that.

Top four

Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain will be the first players that we’ll discard. Despite being great players, the former was chosen for having won 11 rings. The latter performed amazing feats, such as scoring 100 points in an NBA match, which is an NBA record. he was quoted as saying, “I will be able to play, even at age 50!”

The podium

By doing this, we’ll have four candidates left: Magic Johnson, KB Bryant, Jordan, and LeBron. Since Magic and Kobe are surely the two best Lakers in history, one of the two should be the next to leave the fight.

Magic Johnson is one of the greatest players in history.
Photo courtesy of Diario AS.

Even though Kobe was a player capable of making the fans fall in love with him, Magic’s rivalry with Larry Bird and his fight against HIV seem to make him worthy of the top three.

Now that we have our top three, it’s possible for us to all agree that Magic should take the bronze medal. So here comes the most difficult decision: who do we pick? Michael or LeBron?

The final

For many connoisseurs in the world of sports in general and basketball in particular, Michael Jordan was the first modern athlete. He also won three rings in a row before returning from retirement to win another three and to recover the glory lost by the USA by winning the Olympic gold at Barcelona 1992.

For his part, LeBron has managed to play seven finals – six of them in a row – of which he lost four. He wasn’t able to beat Bryant at his best, the Big Three Celtics, or the Popovich Spurs. Getting together with Dwyane Wade and Cris Bosh, among others, was fundamental for winning their first two rings.

Putting it like that, it seems clear which one should receive the award for the best basketball player in history. However, we must not forget that LeBron has always had to live in Jordan’s shadow, being compared to him since his arrival in the league; something that’s not easy to deal with, nor did he ever boast about it.

In spite of everything, the best player in history is no one other than the great Michael Jordan.

The greatest basketball player ever is Michael Jordan.

It’s not only his six rings – and as many MVP finals – his return to a record season, three MVP titles, his gold medal in Barcelona… Jordan revolutionized basketball and took it to another level. 

Without him, it’s possible that neither Bryant or LeBron would’ve existed, not to mention that so many people fell in love with basketball because of him.

The ranking

  • Bill Russell
  • Wilt Chamberlain
  • Magic Johnson
  • Kobe Bryant
  • LeBron James
  • Michael Jordan

Of course, it’s possible for this ranking to be different for each person, both in order and in the names of the players. Who do you think is the best basketball player in history?

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.