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7 Best Centers In NBA History

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I'm a big time sports fan. I am a fan of the Packers since 1967, Cubs and Celtics since 1969 and Indiana Pacers since 1970.

Wilt Chamberlain and Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)



The NBA has many great players at every position. This article is going to look at the great Centers in the league.

The top 3 Centers in NBA history are undeniable. You may argue about what order they are in, but there is no question they are the 3 best.

After the top 3 it is pretty much chaos. There are around 15 players that could easily be place in any order.

Here are the top 7 Centers, in my opinion.

Number 7

Dave Cowens. Dave Cowens is one of only 5 players in NBA history to lead his team in all 5 major statistics in one season. Cowens played 10 years in the NBA, 9 of which were with the Boston Celtics.

After Bill Russell retired at the end of the 1968-69 season, the Celtics needed to find a staring Center. In the NBA draft of 1970 they Dave Cowens out of Florida State. While there is no one that could completely replace Bill Russell, Cowens did an admirable job. He made 8 all-star teams, won the 1972-73 NBA MVP and helped the Celtics win 2 titles in his 9 seasons.

Cowens averaged 18.2 points per game, 14.0 rebounds per game and 3.9 assists per game with the Celtics.

George Mikan


Number 6

George Mikan. George Mikan was the first true big man in the NBA. At 6'10" tall, he was the tallest player on the court. Some may say that gave him a distinct advantage but that is not necessarily so. Remember Manute Bol at 7'7" tall? Although he was the tallest man on the court, he did not become a starter let alone an all-star.

Mikan proved he not only had size but had talent. He only played 7 seasons (all with the Minneapolis Lakers) in the NBA but won 5 titles. He averaged 23.1 points per game and 13.4 rebounds per game as he made 4 all-star games. Mikan would have made all-star games his first two seasons but the NBA did not have their first all-star game until 1951, Mikan's third season.

Number 5

Shaquille O'Neal. Standing 7'0" tall and weighing in at 325 pounds, Shaq was an intimidating figure. He played 19 seasons in the NBA which is a remarkable experience for someone of his size. Carrying 325 pounds (or more) up and down the court for that long of a time is impressive.

Shaq averaged 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game in his NBA career. Those numbers are kind of skewed because Shaq played so long. Late in his career his numbers diminished. To get a better feel for how good Shaq was, we need to look at his numbers in his younger days. His first 4 seasons he played for Orlando where he averaged 27.2 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. The next 8 seasons he was with the Los Angeles Lakers where he averaged 27.0 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.

Shaq won 3 straight titles with the Lakers from 2000-2002. He added a fourth title with the Miami Heat in 2006.

Shaq also played in 15 all-star games in his 19 year career and was the 1999-2000 NBA MVP.

Hakeem Olajuwon


Number 4

Hakeem Olajuwon. Hakeem played 18 seasons in the NBA, 17 of which were with the Houston Rockets.

Hakeem is the all-time leader in the NBA in blocked shots...since they began keeping that statistic. Olajuwon is also the only player in NBA history with 2 quadruple-doubles. That means that two times he had double figures in points, rebounds, assists and blocks in one game.

Hakeem averaged 21.8 points; 11.8 rebounds; 2.5 assists and 3.1 blocks per game. He made 12 all-star games and one MVP award. He also won 2 NBA titles with Houston.

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Number 3

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. We are to the point now where you could just draw straws to put these in order and you would have a legitimate argument that they are the best.

Kareem played 20 years in the NBA. He has scored more points in his career than any player in NBA history. He holds the NBA record with 6 MVP awards, he played in 19 all-star games in his NBA career and won 6 NBA titles. He also led the league in scoring 5 different times including his rookie season when he averaged 35.2 points per game. He led the league in rebounding in the 1976-77 season when he averaged 17.7 rebounds per game. He also led the league in blocked shot 6 times including a carer best of 4.1 blocks pr game in 1978-79.

Kareem began his NBA career in Milwaukee where he won a title in 1970-71. He was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for the 1975-76 season and spent the rest of his time there where he won 5 titles.

Bill Russell Blocking A Shot


Number 2

Bill Russell. In my opinion, Bill Russell was the best defensive Center in NBA history. Unfortunately the NBA did not keep track of blocked shots during his career which spanned from 1956-1969. Russell was well known for not only blocking shots but keeping them in play so his teammates could get the ball.

Now for his impressive statistics and awards. He won 5 MVP awards, won the rebounding title 4 times and made 12 all-star games. Russell averaged 15.1 points per game, 4.3 assists per game and 22.5 rebounds per game during his 13 year NBA career. Unlike many players, Russell did not play until his skills had completely diminished. In Russell's final season, he averaged 19.3 rebounds per game.

Now for perhaps the most amazing statistic in the history of basketball. Bill Russell played 13 seasons in the NBA and won 11 NBA titles. That's not all, Russell played college basketball at the University of San Francisco. Russell played at a time when Freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity. Russell played 3 seasons at USF and won 2 NCAA National titles...his Junior and Senior years. For those keeping track, that means the last 15 years that he played organized basketball (NCAA and NBA), he won 13 titles!

If I am starting an NBA team, while I don't think Russell is the best Center ever, he is the best winner ever. He would be the first guy I would choose.

The Best Center In NBA History

Wilt Chamberlain. Many may argue that Bill Russell or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the best Center and they would have a valid argument, however, I am going with Wilt. In fact, not only do I think Wilt was the best Center in NBA history, I think he is the G.O.A.T.

Here are the amazing statistics the Wilt put up in his 14 year NBA career. Wilt is the only player in NBA history to score 100 points in a single game. He has the career single season scoring average of 50.4 points per game. He won 7 scoring titles, 11 rebound titles and 1 assist title. He won Rookie of The Year in 1960, was 13 time all-star and 4 time MVP. He also won 2 NBA titles.

Wilt averaged 50.4 points per game in 1961-62 and 44.8 points per game in 1962-63. Wilt's top rebounding seasons included 27.2 rebounds per game; 27.0 rebounds per game and 25.7 rebounds per game.

In today's NBA, players are complaining about needing rest. Wilt averaged playing 45.8 minutes per game in his NBA career. He never averaged under 42 minutes per game.

After Wilt was criticized for shooting too much (although he averaged over 3 assists per game for his career up to that point), he led the league in assists in 1967-68. Wilt dished out 702 assists during the season. He did not lead as far as assist per game, although he had a very respectable 8.6 assist per game average. For the 1967-68 season

Wilt averaged 30.1 points per game; 22.9 rebounds per game and 4.4 assists per game in his 14 year NBA career. Like Bill Russell, the NBA did not keep track of blocked shots during his NBA career or he would be right there with Bill Russell as the all-time leader.

Many may argue that the reason Wilt was so successful was because at 7'1" tall he was so much bigger than anyone else. I go back to my argument when I presented George Mikan. Even though you have size, you still must have some skill. Look at Manute Bol, Shawn Bradley and Mark Eaton. Bol and Bradley could not start, Mark Eaton was only an average player and that's just 3 players that I picked randomly.

Wilt faced some Hall of Fame Centers in his NBA career. Here is a list of Centers he went up against. Bill Russell (6'9"); Nate Thurmond (6'11"); Willis Reed (6'10"); Walt Bellamy (6'10"); Jerry Lucas (6'8"); Dalph Schayes (6'8") and Clyde Lovellette (6'9"). Later in his career he faced Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (7'2"); Bob Lanier (6'11") and Wes Unseld (6'7"). Wilt also faced some Centers that had some size but were not great players such as Mel Counts (7'0") and Tom Boerwinkle (7'0").

Wilt's Best Seasons

YearPoints Per GameRebounds Per GameAssists Per GameNotes





Rookie Season





NBA record for rebounds per game





Scored 100 point in one game





Led league in assists





Wilt's final season

Wilt Chamberlain Highlights

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Art West

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