Top 10 Centers of All Time – Who Is the Best NBA Center in History?
Last Updated: January 20, 2023
Thanks to the evolution of basketball (and Steph Curry), in today’s NBA, the center position, is on the brink of extinction. Basketball has become a game of running and shooting three-pointers, and even the large players had to learn how to shoot to survive.
However, up till not so long ago, while the NBA was still all about the half-court offense, good centers were considered franchise cornerstones. Today we go back in history to explore the best NBA centers of all time.
10. George Mikan
- Career averages: 22.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists
- NBA Titles: 5 (1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954)
Image courtesy of NBA.com
We start our list of the greatest centers of all time with George Mikan. Mr. Basketball was the first dominant big man that created advantages for himself by using his size in the right way.
At 6’10” with long arms, as well as being 270 pounds, he pawed the way for all the great centers that would come after him.
Mikan led the NBA in scoring in each of his first three seasons and won five NBA championships in his career.
His best years in the league came in a span of six years, from 1949 to 1954, when he led the Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers) to five NBA rings. There is no doubt that George Mikan was the first superstar of the NBA’s first dynasty.
During his time in the NBA, he had six All-NBA First Team selections and four All-Star selections.
9. Bill Walton
- Career averages: 13.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists
- NBA Titles: 2 (1977, 1986)
Image courtesy of NBA.com
Unfortunately for the game of basketball and NBA fans, because of injuries, Bill Walton’s career was cut short and he only played in 468 regular season NBA games.
However, thanks to his incredible skill and impact on the court, this was enough for the “Grateful Red” to seal his spot as one the best centers in NBA history.
During his playing career, Walton was known for his court awareness, high basketball IQ, and great defense.
He is also considered one of the best passing big men the league has ever seen and a lot of NBA fans believe that, if there wasn’t for the injuries, he would be much higher on this list, maybe even in the top spot.
Walton’s best season in the NBA came in 1977 when he helped the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Philadelphia 76ers in six games in the NBA finals and capture their first- NBA title.
He averaged 19.0 rebounds, 18.5 points, and 5.2 assists in the series and was named the MVP of the Finals.
During his 14 years in the NBA, he was named the league MVP once, played in two All-Star games, was named into one All-NBA First Team, one All-NBA Second Team, and two NBA-All Defensive teams, and won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award.
8. Patrick Ewing
- Career averages: 21.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks
- NBA Titles: none
Image courtesy of Ventured.com
During his 15 seasons in the NBA, Patrick Ewing never achieved the ultimate team goal, winning an NBA championship for the New York Knicks. However on an individual level he was spectacular.
His greatest achievement was leading the New York Knicks to the playoffs for 13 straight seasons.
Along the way, he was voted to 11 All-Star Teams and made three NBA All-Defensive Teams while averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in nine straight seasons.
In 1994 he led the Knicks to the NBA Finals, and even though he averaged 18.9 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 4.3 blocks during the series, they fell short against the Houston Rockets in seven games.
Some of his other individual achievements include six selections to the All-NBA Second Team, NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA All-Rookie Team, and one selection to the All-NBA First Team.
7. David Robinson
- Career averages: 21.1 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2.5 assists
- NBA Titles: 2 (1999, 2003)
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David Robinson spent his whole NBA career with the San Antonio Spurs and was the cornerstone for what would later become one of the league’s most successful franchises.
One look at the numbers and you can see how impactful David Robinson was on the court. He is fourth all-time when it comes to career box plus/minus, and first when it comes to the center position.
Even though Robinson averaged 20 and 10 in his career, he will probably be remembered as one of the greatest interior defenders in basketball history.
The Admiral was named to eight NBA All-Defensive teams and won the Defensive Player of the year award during his time in the league.
In 1999 he and Tim Duncan led San Antonio to their first NBA ring. In the Finals, the Spurs beat the New York Knicks in five games. Robinson averaged 16.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks during the series, and Duncan was named the MVP of the Finals.
Some of his career highlights include NBA Most Valuable Player, 10x NBA All-Star, 4x All-NBA First Team, 2x All-NBA Second Team, 4x All-NBA First Team, 4x NBA All-Defensive Second Team, and NBA Scoring Champion.
6. Moses Malone
- Career averages: 20.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists
- NBA Titles: 1 (1983)
Image courtesy of basketballnetwork.net
Moses Malone joined the pros from high school and averaged 18.8 points and 14.6 rebounds in his first professional season.
The Chairman of the Boards is considered one of the greatest rebounders in history and arguably the best offensive rebounder basketball has ever seen.
From 1979 to 1987 he averaged 25.5 points, and 14.1 rebounds earning their NBA MVP awards as well as his spot on the all-time great centers list.
He holds the record for most offensive rebounds with 6,731, a record that will most likely never be broken.
In 1983 Malone led the Philadelphia 76ers as they swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. He averaged 25.8 points, 18.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists and was named the Finals MVP.
The Chairman’s other career accomplishments include 12 NBA All-Star appearances, one ABA All-Star appearance, four All-NBA First Team selections, four All-NBA Second Team selections, one NBA All-Defensive First Team, and one NBA All-Defensive Second Team selection.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon
- Career averages: 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, 2.5 assists
- NBA Titles: 2 (1994, 1995)
Image courtesy of NBA.com
Hakeem Olajuwon was probably the most skilled player on this list. The Dream was famous for his superior footwork, phenomenal athleticism, and, of course, his Dream Shake.
He perfectly combined these three skills on his way to becoming one of the greatest centers in the NBA.
In addition to his offensive repertoire, he also leads the NBA in all-time blocks with 3,830 and was named the Defensive Player of the Year twice.
He is also one of three players to post a quadruple-double with points, assists, rebounds, and blocks.
Olajuwon’s best two years in the NBA came in 1994 and 1995 when he led his Houston Rockets to back-to-back NBA championships.
In 1994 they defeated the New York Knicks in seven games. In 1995, they swept the Orlando Magic. In both finals, he was named the Most Valuable Player.
During his 18 years in the league, he had 12 All-Star appearances, six All-NBA First Team selections, three All-NBA Second Team selections, five NBA All-Defensive First Team selections, and four NBA All-Defensive Second Team selections.
4. Wilt Chamberlain
- Career averages: 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists
- NBA Titles: 2 (1967, 1972)
Image courtesy of Los Angeles Times
At number four on our list of the top 10 centers of all time is Wilt Chamberlain, one of the most dominant players to ever set foot on the hardwood. He is also the only player ever to score 100 points in a single NBA game.
In the 1961-62 season, Chamberlain averaged an astonishing 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game.
If you think that was amazing, in the 1967-68 season, he led the league in assists with 8.6 per game. Up to this day, he remains the only center to do so.
Big Dipper’s best season came in 1972 when he led the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA ring. In the finals, the Lakers defeated the New York Knicks in five games and Chamberlain won the Finals MVP award after averaging 19.4 points and 23.2 rebounds.
Chamberlain won four NBA Most Valuable Player awards, appeared in 13 All-Star games, had seven All-NBA First Team Selections and three All-NBA Second Teams Selections. He also got two NBA All-Defensive First Team selections and was the NBA Rookie of the Year.
3. Bill Russell
- Career averages: 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists
- NBA Titles: 11 (1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969)
Image courtesy of CNN
In addition to being the third-best center ever, Bill Russell is also the winningest player in NBA history with 11 NBA rings. This Celtic’s great is considered one of the fiercest competitors that professional sports have ever seen.
What is even more amazing is that he managed to content a powerhouse like Wilt Chamberlain and win 9 of his 11 rings during Wilt’s era.
From 1959 to 1966 he led the Boston Celtics to eight consecutive NBA championships, a record that will most likely never be broken. During this period Russell was voted the NBA Most Valuable Player four times.
In addition to this, Russel appeared in 12 All-Star games and was named into 11 All-NBA teams and one NBA All-Defensive First Team.
2. Shaquille O’Neal
- Career averages: 7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 2.5 assists
- NBA Titles: 4 (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006)
Image courtesy of Bleacher Report
Prime Shaquille O’Neal was the most dominant force the NBA has ever seen. The only reason why he isn’t number one on our list is free throws.
To say that he struggled from the free throw line would be an understatement as The Diesel missed 5,317 free throws in his career.
At 7-foot and 325-pounds O’Neal scored with ease against one, two, or even three defenders.
Fortunately for the rest of the league, The Big Aristotle was not big on conditioning and his weight was the only thing that stopped him from having a couple more prime years.
Shaq’s best years came from 1998 to 2002 when he led the league in efficiency and won three NBA championships with the Lakers.
In 2000 the Lakers bested the Indiana Pacers in six games, a year later they obliterated the Philadelphia 76ers 5 to 1, and in 2002 they swept the New Jersey Nets. O’Neal was named the Finals MVP on all three occasions.
On top of all this, Shaq was the NBA Most Valuable Player in 2000, he appeared on 15 NBA All-Star games and was the NBA All-Star Game MVP three times. He has eight All-NBA First Team selections and two All-NBA Second Team selections.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- Career averages: 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 3.6 assists
- NBA Titles: 6 (1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988)
Image courtesy of NBA.com
What does the resume of the greatest NBA center of all time look like? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played for 20 seasons and managed to win six NBA championships as well as become the NBA all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points.
He also scored the most field goals (15,837) and has the most career wins (1,074) in history.
But the thing that is amazing and often underestimated about Kareem is that his first and his last NBA Finals MVP trophies came 14 years apart.
This is largely thanks to one of the most unguardable moves in basketball history, The Sky Hook. The move allowed Jabbar to score even when his opponents became players who were far younger and more athletic than him.
Some of his other individual achievements include 19 NBA All-Star appearances, 10 All-NBA First Team selections, five All-NBA Second Team selections, five NBA All-Defensive First Team selections, and six NBA All-Defensive Second Team selections.