In the current NBA your traditional center has changed drastically, as we all know. I’m from a generation of when the 5 was on the court he was destroying you down low, he was blocking shots, he was being a menace in the paint. The 5 in this day and age, is a much more stretch player on the court kind of player with a more limited ability down in the box.
Different times, folks… different times.
There have been so many great big men in the NBA over the years. And this generation will have their own reflections of great big men, years down the road. But these are the guys who made the biggest impact in the paint playing center. Without these guys, there would not be big men looked at the way they are today.
As difficult as it’s going to be, we’re going to break down our Mount Rushmore of centers in NBA history…
So let’s do it.
Boston Celtics / 13 seasons
Finals MVP: 0
All NBA 1st team: 3
Career averages: 15.1 ppg / 22.5 rpg / 4.3 apg
– Oddly enough, Bill is a controversial figure when it comes to all time great centers. Typically, the biggest reason for this is because his scoring was not phenomenal, it was actually very average. Fans of Bill, will immediately discuss his leadership and, of course, his 11 championships. His defense was tenacious, his speed on the court was pretty incredible, if you watch highlights, or were able to see him when he played. And not to mention his ability to clean the glass. The biggest seller to me, is the fact that what he put on the court was something that no one saw before it. That to me is what puts him on the “Mt. Rushmore of centers” – he was a game changer, and an extremely influential player in the history of the center position.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Milwaukee, LA Lakers / 20 seasons
Finals MVP: 2
All NBA 1st team: 10
Career averages: 24.6 ppg / 11.2 rpg / 3.6 apg / 2.6 bpg
– The man with the devastating Skyhook. The shot the fans either loved seeing him put up, or when he was playing against your team, you hated seeing him put up that shot, because you knew most likely, it was dropping into that bucket for two. He scored with ease, and he was also an incredible shot blocker at 2.6 per game. This guy was a consistent winner when he was at UCLA, winning with the Milwaukee Bucks, and then winning with the LA Lakers. His personal play on the court brought him 6 Most Valuable Player Awards. He was hands down for many, many seasons, the best center in the game, and truthfully, it wasn’t even close.
Orlando, LA Lakers, Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland, Boston / 19 seasons
Finals MVP: 3
All NBA 1st team: 8
Career averages: 23.7 ppg / 10.9 rpg / 2.5 apg / 2.3 bpg
– If I had one word for Shaq. Dominance.
An incredible combination of power and explosiveness that was very rare. I remember watching him in the McDonald’s All-Star Game in high school, and watching him take a rebound and going end to end. I remember thinking I have never seen a big man move like that, or handle the ball like that… ever. At that time, you have to keep in mind, centers rarely handled the ball for more than a couple dribbles off the box. His ability to pass the ball was exceptional for a man of his size with pinpoint passing; he also averaged 2+ blocks /game 12 times in his career. He was so quick off his feet for being a huge human being. He was a giant man and could certainly bully his way around the paint, but he also had a really nice soft bank shot and he had a lot of nice moves under the hoop. In his career he played some of the best centers we’ve seen in history, and he’s steadily topped them.
Philadelphia, San Francisco, LA Lakers / 14 seasons
Finals MVP: 1
All NBA 1st team: 7
Career averages: 30.1 ppg / 22.9 rpg / 4.4 apg
– For some reason, the other very controversial center here is Wilt and odds on favorites in some minds. Without question, one of the most dominating players in the paint of all time, yet his leadership was questioned and some still try to say he was playing against much lesser players. That theory to me is ignorant and deceptive. He was playing against other players like Russell and Kareem throughout his career, none of those guys are “lesser players.” His numbers he put up in the NBA are still legendary. The fact is, if what he was doing was not a big deal, then why weren’t the other bigs putting up those same numbers. Wilt, hands down, is one of the best centers who has ever played the game, and anyone who disagrees, clearly is either jaded or hateful against the guy or just stupid.
As the game continues to develop and evolve, all we can hope for, is that the respect and admiration for some of the old bigs who truly changed the game and dominated in a different era are never forgotten. I hope they always remain looked at as icons and legends.