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Top 10 Centers of All Time PDF Print E-mail
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Top 10 Centers of All Time
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Bill Russell & Wilt Chamberlain

Photo: Herb Scharfman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

 

It’s long been known that Basketball is a big man's game.  While a handful of guards such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and more recently Kobe Bryant have been able to lead their teams to titles, history has shown that the quickest way to a title is find the best big man in the game and build from there.  While the title of best big man in the game has been passed down from generation to generation like a quilt sewn by grandma, the title of greatest center ever is still very much up for debate.  Never one to duck a good sports debate, I figured it was time to put together a top 10 list of the greatest centers of all time.

While putting together this list I ended up doing a lot more research than I ever imagined.  There have been a lot of great centers and a lot of epic big man battles (most of which I never saw) so a lot of reading and listening was required.  I wanted to put together a list that showed who truly was the greatest center of all time, not just who had the best stats or the most hardware.  In my list, I took many different things into account and weighed them all differently.  I took note of what each one of these giant’s teams needed them to do in order to win, as well as what they had the ability to do.  While clearly winning and titles are huge, when judging who is the greatest ever, I also took into account who was on the team.  Some of these big men anchored championship teams, while others weren’t just the anchor, they were the whole damn boat.  In the quest to find out who was really dominate, I took a close look at how many times each player was named first team all NBA, Defensive Player of the Year, as well as did they ever lead the NBA in any categories.  Not only was each players prime taken in to consideration but also how long their prime lasted and what other greats they faced who were in their prime.

One player whose name is not on this list that I’m sure belongs, is the late George Makin.  Now let me start by saying I am fully aware of what he has meant to the game of basketball and how dominant he was in his time, it’s just his time that I question.  It’s always hard to rank a player who you didn’t see play with your own eyes but it’s even harder to do when almost no one saw him play.  While I never got to see Wilt or Russell play live, there are countless stories to read with play by play detail as well as box scores.  As far as I’m concerned, when Thomas Jefferson and the countries founding fathers were drawing up the Declaration of Independence, big George Mikin was shooting hoops out back.  Throw in the fact that there weren’t any black players in the NBA until 1950 and I just have no clue where to place him.  Dwight Howard also didn’t make the list and that’s simply because his career isn’t over yet and I think his best basketball is still in front of him.  I have no doubt in my mind that when his playing days are done he will not only be on this list but pretty high up.  With no further adu, here are the PlayersVoice top 10 centers of all time.

 

10. Willis Reed

 

Willis Reed was in the right place at the right time, he just was there very long.  After starting his career as a power forward, Reed became the Knicks starting center after they traded away Walt Bellamy in 1968.  With Wilt at the end of his career and injured and Russell already retired, the title of best big man in the game was up for grabs and Reed stepped up and took it.  While Reed is most known for limping out of the tunnel prior to the start of game 7 in 1971, his career resume consists of a lot more.  Reed, who was known as a fierce defender on the inside, was named league MVP in 1970 as well as finals MVP in both 70 and 73.  While still in his prime, Reed would go to battle with a young Lou Al Cinder and often come out the winner.  What had the makings of a rivalry to pick up where Wilt and Russell left off however was cut way too short by Reed’s injuries.  Reed, who was known as “the captain” because of his leadership, would only play 10 years before retiring.  Reed had a run as the best center in basketball, but it was a very short run.  He was a 7 time all star but his MVP year of 1970 was his only year being named first team all NBA.


9. Bill Walton

Easily the hardest player on this list to find the right spot for.  While Willis Reed saw his prime cut short due to injuries, next to Bill Walton he looks like Cal Ripken.  The man many call the best college basketball player they ever saw, Walton only played in 468 games in a career that spanned 13 seasons. Walton holds the NBA record for most games missed in a career, and is said to have had more than 20 surgeries.  In his only two healthy season in his prime (still only played 65 & 58 games) Walton won both a league MVP (he also finished second in the MVP voting the other year) and a finals MVP.  In that two year period he also managed to lead the NBA in rebounds and blocks (1976) and lead his team to sweep of Kareem’s Lakers in the conference finals before beating Dr. J’s Sixers in 6 games to bring Portland its only title.  Throw in the fact that he established himself as the best passing center in the game, by averaging 5 assists a game (1977) and shoot over 52 percent from the floor for his career, and there really isn’t anymore you could ask out of your center.  After his MVP season in 77, Walton would never be the same.  He would only play in 102 more games over the next three years due to injury.  Finally healthy at the age of 33, Walton reinvented himself as the sixth man of the year in Boston in 1985.  Walton played in a career high 80 games helping the Celtics to win another title.  How good Walton would have been will never be known.  I’m sure if he was able to stay healthy he would have been much higher on this list, but with only two all NBA honors  (one first team one second) to his credit and less than 500 career games it’s hard to place him above players who dominated for over a decade.


8. Patrick Ewing

Ewing has become the forgotten big man of his generation.  It’s very rare you will ever hear Ewing’s name mentioned in the topic of great big men outside of New York.  Pat has become more famous for what he never did then he is for all things he did do.  Even the fans in the Big Apple never fully embraced him and loved him as their own.  No matter how great of a season Ewing and the Knicks had, the path to the title always seemed to lead them to Michael Jordan and the Bulls, and end there.  Jordan’s Bulls eliminated Ewing’s Knicks five times.  While Ewing never dominated the NBA as expected coming out of Georgetown, he more than held his own in an era flooded with talented centers.  The Knicks asked the talented kid from Jamaica to be the anchor on a defensive minded team and do all the heavy lifting on the offensive end, and he did just that for 14 seasons.  Ewing led the Knicks to the playoffs 13 straight years and twice to the NBA finals.  Although he never delivered that title the Knicks were hoping he would, he did almost single handily keep the Knicks relevant for over a decade.  Ewing came into the league as a high flying athletic 7 footer with limitless potential, and left as arguably the best jump shooting center of all time.  Despite playing teams not known for scoring, Ewing managed to average over 20 points a game for 13 straight seasons.  Ewing was the complete package: he could score (as high as 28.6 a night in 1989) with his back to the basket or spot up, he could rebound (9 straight years of 10 or more a game) and he was a great shot blocker (ranks 6 all time).  The only thing Ewing couldn’t seem to do was beat Jordan or Olajuwon.  In a rare era where All NBA honors weren’t set in stone at the center position rather they were earned, Ewing was named 7 times.  The biggest knock on Ewing is that he always seemed to have his worst basketball moments on the game’s biggest stages.  Although Ewing had a Hall of Fame career and proved to be great, all the fans in New York will ever remember is he wasn’t the greatest.


7. David Robinson

Robinson was a class act both on and off the court.  The biggest knock on Robinson his whole career was that he may have been too much of a nice guy on the court.  The Admiral’s career got off to a late start because he was busying serving his country, but once he arrived, he wasted no time making his presence felt.  In his rookie year, Robinson took the NBA by storm averaging 24 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks a game while leading the Spurs to 35 more wins than the year before.  By just his second year in the league, Robinson led the NBA in rebounding.  By his third he led in blocks (with an amazing 4.5 a game) and by his 5th year in the league, he led the entire NBA in scoring.  Robinson is one of only two players to have ever led the NBA in scoring, rebounding, and blocks at one point in their career (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the other).  In his prime, Robinson dominated at both ends of the floor like few others have ever done.  Along with Jordan, he is the only other player in history who has both a Defensive Player of the Year award and a scoring title on his resume.  Standing  7”1 and with the body that looks like it was made for the cover of men’s fitness, *pause* there wasn’t much Robinson couldn’t do and aside from finals MVP there wasn’t an award he didn’t win.  Many blame Robinson’s lack of a mean streak for the reason he was never able to lead the Spurs to a title, but with the arrival of a young Tim Duncan in the twilight of the admirals career, he was able to add two NBA titles to his already impressive resume.  Robinson proved to be the perfect mentor for Duncan as well as the defensive anchor the Spurs needed to jumpstart a dynasty.  Robinsons name doesn’t appear atop any of the all time leaders list because he didn’t play his first NBA game until he was 24, but his numbers in his prime take a back seat to no one of his era.  Robinson was named to the All NBA first team 4 times and finished in the top 6 of the league MVP voting 7 years in a row (top two three years in a row) and won the award in 1995.  Robinson was the definition of the perfect center and the ultimate professional.


6. Moses Malone

Two years before Kevin Garnett was even born, Malone became the first player to ever go straight from high school to the pros.  In high school the 6’10 Malone was a man amongst boys and by his third year in the NBA, it pretty much looked like same thing.  By the age of 23, Malone was averaging 25 points a game and pulling down 17 boards a night.  He would lead the league in rebounding that year and every other except one he played in until he was 30 (he finished second in 1979).  Malone was the greatest offensive rebounder the NBA has ever seen.  In just his first year in the NBA, he set the record for offensive rebounds in a season with 437, easily topping the previous mark of 365.  Malone would go on to break his own record two years later when he pulled down 587 offensive rebounds, which is still an NBA record.  Malone holds four of the top 5 highest offensive rebounding seasons in NBA history.  To put his offensive rebounding numbers into prospective, Kevin Love lead the league last year with 330; Malone had more than 330 fourteen years in a row.  Aside from being a terror on the glass, Malone could also score, finishing in the top 5 in the league in scoring five years in a row including a 31 a night season in 1982.  After spending six seasons in Houston, Malone, the reigning league MVP, was traded to the star studded Philadelphia 76ers.  It only took Malone one year to lead the Sixes to a title as they cruised through the playoffs with a 12-1 record and Moses added finals MVP to his growing collection of hardware (he was league MVP the same year).  Malone and the Sixers were expected to win more but the emergence of Larry Bird and the Celtics made sure that never happened.  Malone was known as a fierce competitor on the inside who worked harder than anyone.  He was never known as much of a shot blocker or a defensive stopper, but he did manage to make the NBA all defensive team twice.  In a career that spanned over 18 seasons, Malone was named league MVP three times and first team All NBA four times.



 

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