10 Best NBA Players of All Time!
We love to memorize their stats, admire their talent, and obsess over their personal lives. The brightest among them end up with staggering endorsement deals, enormous mansions, and absurdly pimped-out rides. Remember Shaq’s Rolls Royce Hummer. Sometimes their fame gets the best of them and we get to see embarrassing off-court behavior.
Barkley played in the NBA from 1984 – 2000, for the Philadelphia 76ers, the Phoenix Suns, and the Houston Rockets. He earned global recognition as part of the 1992 U.S. Olympic “Dream Team” famous for being the first American team featuring active NBA players. In 1996, for the NBA’s 50th anniversary, he was anointed one of the game’s 50 greatest of all time. He’s one of only four players in all of NBA history to score at least 20,000 points, collect 10,000 rebounds, and hand out 4,000 assists. Throughout his career, he amassed 23,757 game points.
Pippen, who played in the NBA from 1987 to 2004, mostly made the news for being the Robin to Michael Jordan’s epic Batman. He scored 18,940 points throughout his career, with total salaries from playing alone reaching $109,192,430. The NBA crowned him one of the 50 greatest of all time. He is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but he did have some unpleasant moments off the court, mistakenly trusting a financial adviser who was later convicted of fraud. Part of that fraudulent behavior included forging Pippen’s signature. Pippen, dubbed “No Tippin’ Pippen,” was also featured in a Sports Illustrated article on celebs who tip poorly; his spendthrift reputation later popped up in other media outlets.
Wade has been in the NBA since joining the Miami Heat in 2003. He now plays for the Chicago Bulls, with a career going strong. He has, as of the end of last season, scored 21,317 points throughout his career, and counting this season, will tally $203,321,666 in player salary alone. This season’s contract, his highest yet in a single season, is $23.8 million. He is a three-time NBA champion and was finals MVP in 2006. But Wade gets knee-deep in the news – we’ll skip the puns here apart from his playing talent. First, he gets name-checked in song lyrics: Nicki Minaj’s Want Some More, Fetty Wap’s Rewind, Kendrick Lamar’s Blood Sport (Freestyle), Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind, and Kanye West’s The Glory.
Nicknamed Shaq, he’s a one-name wonder that occupies pop culture. His size – 7 feet tall and 315 pounds while playing, probably more now – add to this presence and mystique. In a game-dominating partnership with Kobe Bryant that later ironically resulted in his transfer to another team after friction grew between the two, Shaq had a major role in the Los Angeles Lakers’ three-peat in 2000, 2001, and 2002. In his post-NBA life, Shaq has taken a not-unexpected TV commentating gig, and in his heyday shilled for major brands, but in retirement selected a hodgepodge range of endorsements: IcyHot, a line of men’s suits, and auto insurance. He has also tried his hand at acting. At the end of his NBA career, Shaq had scored 28,596 game points and earned a total of about $286 million ($286,344,668) in player salary alone. So even though he’s not the top man for top brands anymore, he’s probably still doing alright.
The Cleveland Cavaliers superstar is the only player to rank in the Top 10 in points, rebounds and assists in NBA playoff history. He is also a three-time NBA Finals MVP and champion from 2012, 2013, and 2016, and has scored 28,787 points in his NBA career. It translates into dollars, too: he has so far earned about $200 million ($200,607,292), with about $31 million ($30,963,450) this season alone. That puts James in the exclusive club of single-season salaries over $30 million first created by Michael Jordan and later joined by Kobe Bryant.
Kobe Bryant famously skipped college, going straight from high school to the NBA. He played his entire career with the Lakers, from 1996 to 2016. Heading into his last game on April 13, 2016, he had won five championships with the Lakers and was an 18-time All-Star and four-time scoring champion. Throughout his career, he scored 33,643 points and earned about $323 million ($323,312,307) in player salary alone. Bryant also made the news not just for his playing, but for being famously testy with journalists, a feud with Shaq, an aloofness toward his Lakers teammates, and sexual assault allegations which he vehemently denied at the same time he acknowledged infidelity to his wife in an encounter with his accuser.
A star player at UCLA, Abdul-Jabaar played professionally from 1969 to 1989. A six-time MVP, he is the inventor of the famous Sky Hook shot and totaled 38,387 game points. The NBA calls him one of the greatest centers of all time. But Abdul-Jabaar’s star rose off the court, in film appearances with Bruce Lee in 1972’s Game of Death and the 1980 comedy classic Airplane. More recently, Abdul-Jabaar involved himself in Los Angeles economic policy when he appeared in the city council to push for the approval of a new sports stadium in 2012.
Magic Johnson is synonymous with the Los Angeles Lakers, for his playing career from 1979 to 1996 with one year, 1994, as a coach. In his stellar career, in which he scored 17,707 game points, he was a five-time NBA champion, three-time Finals MVP, and three-time Most Valuable Player. His career playing salary totaled about $23 million ($23,642,860). In his post-NBA life, Johnson got involved in reviving urban areas through investment, opening a chain of movie theaters branded with his own name, then growing his investments to include holdings in Burger King, food service vendor Sodexo, more movie theaters, and Starbucks, which he later sold, all the under Magic Johnson Enterprises umbrella.
Groundbreaking player Wilt Chamberlain hasn’t racked up career earnings comparable to others on our list because his career spanned an earlier era. He was a big earner for the time, though. Immediately the highest-paid player in the NBA when he entered the league in 1959, Chamberlain made $100,000 that season. Called Wilt the Stilt for his tall stature, the 7’1” center is still the only player to score 100 points in a game. The closest second is Kobe Bryant, who scored 81 points in a single game in 2006. Chamberlain is also one of only two men to win MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same year. The NBA named him one of the 50 greatest players of all time and called him “basketball’s unstoppable force, the most awesome offensive force the game has ever seen. Asked to name the greatest players ever to play basketball, most fans and aficionados would put Wilt Chamberlain at or near the top of the list.”
Obviously, Michael Jordan. The GOAT. As in, the Greatest Of All Time. He was a five-time NBA MVP, six-time NBA champion, six-time NBA Finals MVP, fourteen-time NBA All-Star, three-time NBA All-Star MVP, and more. But Jordan’s legacy transcends the game and occupies pop culture, with the Air Jordan logo of him mid-air and pre-dunk a still-ubiquitous element of Nike products, and a major source of income for Jordan through his royalties deal with the behemoth brand. Jordan was a top earner in his player salaries, too, investing well and today, worth an estimated $1 billion, and a model for wise celebrity money management. He set the single-season salary record at $33.1 million in 1997 – 1998, still unsurpassed, though LeBron James is creeping up. The closest second is James’, at about $31 million ($30,963,450) this season. To put the value of Jordan’s endorsement contracts and branding royalties in context, in 2014 Nike earnings alone, Jordan earned more than the $94 million in player salaries that he collected throughout his entire career on the court.
So, who do you think is the best NBA player of all time?