NBA GOAT Debate: How Do the Greats Stack Up by Height?

0 of 15GEORGE FREY/Getty ImagesThe NBA GOAT debate—currently raging between factions supporting Michael Jordan and LeBron James—may never be settled.There are plenty of reasons this disagreement feels destined to remain unresolved: the difficulty of cross-era comparisons, the inability of each side to understand the other's age-based emotional attachment to its GOAT and, not to be…


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    GEORGE FREY/Getty Images

    The NBA GOAT debate—currently raging between factions supporting Michael Jordan and LeBron James—may never be settled.



    There are plenty of reasons this disagreement feels destined to remain unresolved: the difficulty of cross-era comparisons, the inability of each side to understand the other’s age-based emotional attachment to its GOAT and, not to be forgotten, the fact that even players as relatively similar as Jordan and LeBron are still vastly different.

    Maybe the best way to address thorny questions of all-time greatness is to remove variables. This won’t solve the MJ-LeBron quandary, but splitting potential GOATs into divisions based on height can at least get us to a place where we’re comparing apples to apples.

    We’ll use heights as they appear on Basketball Reference’s player homepages, some of which may differ from those posted on other sites, just to keep things as uniform as possible. GOAT status will depend on career achievements, statistics and impact on winning. Longevity and peak performance will inform each decision, with the latter mattering more in close cases.

    Nobody’s ever going to settle the overall GOAT argument, but maybe honoring the greatest players at each height will give us a smidgen of elusive consensus. Alternatively, this might spark even more disagreement. Either way, it’ll be fun.

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    We may be living through a pace-and-space era in which skill and versatility matter more than size, but as long as the rim is 10 feet above the floor, height will always be an asset. And it’s always been an asset, a fact illustrated by the dearth of sub-6-foot players in the league’s history.

    Since 1946-47, just 82 players 5’11” or shorter have logged 50 career games.

    Isaiah Thomas is the best of them.

    The 5’9″ Thomas was picked 60th in the 2011 draft, a great indicator of the league’s tendency to look past skill and see only size. Though he doesn’t lead the under 6’0″ crew in total win shares (that’s Calvin Murphy), Thomas easily had the highest peak of any player in this category. He and Terrell Brandon are the only sub-6-footers to make at least two All-Star teams, and the 28.9 points per game Thomas posted in 2016-17 are the highest single-season scoring average in this class.

    A short prime hurts Thomas’ case. He came into the league at 22 and has spent the last three years trying to rediscover his form after a serious hip injury in 2017. He’s only 15th in minutes and fifth in total points in this category. But he’s tops in Player Efficiency Rating and second in box plus-minus. Combined with his All-NBA nod and fifth-place finish in MVP voting for the 2016-17 season, Thomas’ resume stands taller than the rest.

    Also Considered: Calvin Murphy, Muggsy Bogues

    Murphy’s 17,949 points are over 6,000 more than his closest competitor’s, but he was never the full-on offensive engine for a fringe contender like Thomas was with the Boston Celtics. Bogues is the leader in assists and steals, and may be the player who first comes to mind when thinking of undersized greats. But he lacked scoring punch and, at 5’3″, was an even more consistent target of opposing offenses than his taller (but still short) peers.

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    Andy Hayt/Getty Images

    The mythic quality of Allen Iverson‘s career is tied directly to his lack of size. His reckless, uncompromising style wouldn’t have struck the same cultural chord if he’d been a strapping 6’5″. That he pushed his body to the limit, flinging it time and again into a tightly grouped, ill-intentioned grove of human oak trees and showing a committed disregard for his own safety, adds a note of overachieving heroism to his legend.

    He crossed up Michael Jordan, soared over larger opponents and darted all over the floor as if his personal settings had been upped to 1.5x speed while everyone else’s remained the same.

    Also, he was really, really productive.

    Iverson racked up 24,368 career points. Tim Hardaway sits in second place among 6’0″ players with just 15,373. That’s quite a gap—one wide enough to offset the predictable knocks on A.I.’s inefficiency.

    Though he never won a title, Iverson authored one of the most memorable playoff moments of the last 20 years when he stepped over Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals. His Philadelphia 76ers went on to lose four straight to the dominant Los Angeles Lakers, but the series’ most enduring moment belongs to Iverson, who also won MVP that season. 

    With 11 All-Star Games, seven All-NBA nods, four scoring titles and a cultural imprint few players of any height can claim, Iverson’s talent and influence made him seem 100 feet tall.

    Also Considered: Tim Hardaway, Kyle Lowry

    Hardaway made a remarkable five All-NBA teams and leads this class with 7,095 career assists, the 18th-highest total in league history. Lowry may feel like a hasty inclusion, considering he’s still active and not so far removed from his prime. But he’s got a ring, six All-Star nods and the second-most career win shares at this height.

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    Dale Tait/Getty Images

    We’ve got a pair of genuine all-timers vying for the distinction of 6’1″ GOAT as John Stockton and Chris Paul, two of the truest point guards to ever suit up, are the only serious contenders.

    Paul owns the higher career PER and box plus-minus, but Stockton’s 207.7 win shares are well clear of CP3’s 179.5. That’s the first indicator of where Stockton’s real advantage lies: longevity.

    Stockton finished his final season in 2002-03 at age 41 with averages of 10.8 points and 7.7 assists. He played all 82 games that year, closing his career with five straight seasons without a missed game. The absurdity of Stockton playing all 82 games in a season 16 times cannot be overstated. A.C. Green gets mentioned as the NBA’s all-time iron man, but Stockton holds the record for most seasons with perfect attendance.

    No one in history has more total assists or steals than Stockton, and it’s unlikely his No. 1 spots in either category will fall in the near future. Paul is the closest active player in both areas, and he’s over 6,000 assists and 1,000 steals behind.

    Though he’s best known for pinpoint pocket passes in the pick-and-roll, Stockton was also an uncommonly efficient scorer. Despite ending his career over a decade before the three-point revolution took hold, he still tops Paul in true shooting percentage and is one of just 11 players in league history to attempt at least 10,000 shots and post a true shooting percentage above that magical 60.0 percent mark. 

    A blue-collar approach and below-the-rim work might create the impression that Stockton was boring. False. He racked up highlights that included one of the greatest full-court passes in history and hit his share of game-winners in exceptionally high-stakes moments. 

    Also Considered: Chris Paul, Isiah Thomas

    Paul can close the statistical gap on Stockton if he puts together another few years as good as 2019-20, and he’s got edges in some persuasive catch-all metrics. Thomas has a pair of rings, which neither Stockton nor Paul can claim, but there’s really no statistical case for him finishing ahead of either 6’1″ competitor.

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    Jerry West finished among the top five in MVP voting eight times and reached nine NBA Finals, finally breaking through to win his only ring in 1972. He remains the only player to win Finals MVP for the losing team, which he achieved by averaging 38.0 points and logging a triple-double in Game 7 of a losing effort against the Boston Celtics in 1969.

    An All-Star in each of his 14 seasons and an All-Defensive team member five times, West also holds the rare distinction of leading the league in scoring (1969-70) and assists (1971-72) in separate seasons. That’s about as complete as resumes get.

    That West’s incredible playing career renders his status as one of the great executives of all time and inspiration for the NBA’s logo mere afterthoughts says everything about his impact on the game. And while it may be unfair to active 6’2″ players with a shot at the Hall of Fame, West is currently one of just four guys his height to earn that ultimate honor. He has more career win shares than the other three 6’2″ inductees combined (Hal Greer, Andy Phillip and Alfred McGuire).

    Also Considered: Tony Parker, Damian Lillard

    Parker has four rings and the second-most win shares among 6’2″ players, but he was never the best player on his team and his six All-Star Games are less than half of West’s total. Lillard is likely to finish his career as the clear No. 2 here, but he’s only seven years in and trails West by over 14,000 minutes and 10,000 points.

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Chances are, Stephen Curry has another handful of superstar seasons ahead of him. But he could quit now and still be the easy pick here.

    Steve Nash matches his pair of MVPs, and Russell Westbrook‘s stockpile of counting stats deserves some attention. But Curry’s fundamental alteration of a sport gives him an obvious advantage. He started the three-point revolution on his own, firing from distances and with frequency never seen before.

    Curry is the league’s only unanimous MVP (2015-16), a six-time All-NBA team member (three first-teams), a six-time All-Star and a three-time champ who owns the highest true shooting percentage ever recorded in a 30.0-points-per-game season. That 2015-16 campaign is on the very short list of the greatest individual offensive years in NBA history, representing the pinnacle of volume-efficiency combination.

    Not that the list of Curry’s achievements needs to be longer to justify his position here, but it’s also worth noting he’s led the league in steals twice, ranks as the most accurate free-throw shooter of all time and will almost certainly finish his career with more made triples than anyone in history.

    Shooting is the core skill in a game where causing a ball to pass through a rim is the only way to score points. Curry is better at it than anyone who’s ever played—at any height.

    Also Considered: Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook

    Nash shares several of the qualities that make Curry great, not the least of which being zero-maintenance leadership and elite shooting accuracy. It also can’t be ignored that Nash was the constant on offenses that ranked first in scoring efficiency every year from 2001-02 to 2009-10. He simply lacks the scoring volume and postseason success. Westbrook’s numbers are monstrous, but there’s long been a credible argument that he does as much harm as good on the court because of his ball-dominance and poor defense.

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Dwyane Wade‘s days as a legitimate superstar were done earlier than you think. His final All-NBA first-team season was 2009-10, and the last of his seven top-10 finishes in MVP voting was 2012-13. Even prior to the end of his relatively short prime, Wade was a constant on the injury report. He missed an average of 15 games per season.

    Despite all that, he still leads all 6’4″ players in total points, blocks and free throws made. That speaks to the heights he reached at his peak.

    From roughly 2004-05 to 2011-12, Wade was the league’s best shooting guard. That’ll arouse the ire of Kobe Bryant defenders, but Wade topped Bryant in VORP, box plus-minus and PER during that stretch. He was also the Finals MVP in 2006, which sets him apart from the other top considerations at this height, Gary Payton and Jason Kidd.

    At his best, Wade was an impossible cover. A slasher who could finish through contact like few others to ever play his position, his aggressive style was probably responsible for the injuries that eventually forced him into a supporting role behind LeBron James with the Miami Heat. There aren’t many players whose early branding centered on the ability to take physical punishment, but that angle fit Wade perfectly.

    Wade averaged over 25.0 points per game five times, is probably the greatest shot-blocking guard ever, and though he’s best known for getting buckets as a top option, his willingness to take on a secondary role puts him in the same team-first category you’d more readily associate with the point guards competing with him for this spot.

    Also Considered: Jason Kidd, Gary Payton

    Kidd leads all 6’4″ players in total assists, rebounds and steals. Like Payton, he was also among the best backcourt defenders to ever play. Often overlooked, though, was Kidd’s relative lack of offensive impact. Though he led the New Jersey Nets to consecutive Finals appearances, his offenses during six full seasons with that franchise ranked 17th, 20th, 25th, 27th, 24th and 18th in scoring efficiency. 

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Cross-era comparisons are always tricky, but we have to make a big one to settle the issue of the 6’5″ GOAT.

    Oscar Robertson was the first player to average a triple-double (1961-62) and scored at least 30.0 points per game in six of his first seven seasons. He also led the league in assists per game seven times. Stack his per-game figures up against James Harden‘s, and Robertson looks like the clear winner: 25.7 points, 9.5 assists and 7.5 rebounds versus Harden’s 25.1, 6.3 and 5.3.

    Factor in pace and the wildly different playing environments of eras 50-plus years apart, and Robertson’s edge evaporates.

    Harden smokes him when viewing stats on a per-possession basis, and the per-minute figures paint Harden as the vastly superior scorer. Don’t assume Harden’s advantages in efficiency are all based on the three-point line either. His two-point field-goal percentage is 50.9 percent; Robertson is at 48.5 percent.

    Harden is on pace to win his third straight scoring title in 2019-20, owns six All-NBA nods (with a seventh coming) and, in addition to winning the 2017-18 MVP, has finished ninth or better (top-two four times) in seven straight votes.

    Robertson had nine top-five MVP finishes, but Harden could collect his fifth this year and has plenty more prime seasons in which to increase that total.

    Also Considered: Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, John Havlicek

    Robertson came into an NBA with just eight teams in 1960-61 and left in 1973-74 when there were 17. Consider that when evaluating his 11 All-NBA seasons and MVP finishes. He was a great player, but it’s just easier to earn honors like those when there are half (and often less than that) as many players vying for them. Robertson has the ring Harden lacks, but he won it in 1971 as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sidekick in Milwaukee.

    Baylor is the outlier here, a rugged forward who finished his career with averages of 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds. The same era-based caveats apply to his career, which spanned from 1958-1972, as Robertson’s.

    Havlicek has eight championships but never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting.

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    It should be a given that if you’re the qualifier-free GOAT, you’re also the GOAT at your specific height.

    So rather than belabor the point, we can just list Michael Jordan’s 10 scoring titles, six rings, five MVPs, 14 All-Star trips and Defensive Player of the Year Award (1987-88). If he’s not atop your ranking of the greatest to ever do it, he’s no lower than second. And if, for some reason, he ranks beneath that, seek help because you’ve clearly forgotten how numbers work.

    Having dispensed with that formality, we can devote the rest of the section to a pair of players who, despite all-time-great status, never had a chance to bump Jordan out of the lead in the 6’6″ division.

    Also Considered: Kobe Bryant, Charles Barkley

    Bryant basically did a Jordan impression throughout his career, appropriating everything from mid-range footwork to post-shot sneers to interview vocal cadence. Though among the top guards to ever play, Bryant trails MJ in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game (and per-36 minutes). He’s also one title short of Jordan’s six and lags behind in wins shares, box plus-minus, VORP and true shooting percentage.

    Kobe was the best imitation of Jordan we’ve ever seen, but there’s no beating the original.

    Barkley, an MJ contemporary, tops all 6’6″ players with a 61.2 true shooting percentage and is second at this height in career win shares. He won MVP in 1992-93 and is one of just six players to amass at least 23,000 points, 12,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists for his career. He’s in elite company there, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett.

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    This will seem bold, hasty or both, considering his relatively short career compared to other 6’7″ greats. But Kawhi Leonard has gotten an awful lot done since debuting in 2011.

    We may as well start with defense, which is the largest differentiator between Leonard and anyone else on the long list of additional considerations. There’s a case to be made that Leonard is the best wing defender in history, one bolstered by a pair of Defensive Player of the Year Awards, five appearances on the All-Defensive team and the fact that, by about 2013, dribbling in his general vicinity became a benchable offense.

    After winning his first Finals MVP as a role-filler for the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard showcased his incredible evolution by leading the Toronto Raptors to the 2019 title, winning yet another Finals MVP in the process. This time, in addition to providing shutdown defense, Leonard flashed an unstoppable offensive game ideally suited for playoff success. The brutal shoulder checks, well-honed footwork and mid-range accuracy called to mind late-career Jordan.

    So, no, Leonard doesn’t have the volume of others in the running here. Not yet. What he has instead is a higher two-way peak than we’ve seen from all but the very best wings to ever play the game. A historically fearsome defender who also happens to have an offensive game dominant enough to carry a team to a title? That’s quintessential super-duperstar stuff.

    Framed another way, Leonard could shut down anyone else in the following section, and none of them would have much chance of stopping him on the other end. That hypothetical should settle the issue.

    Also Considered: Julius Erving, Rick Barry, Clyde Drexler, Reggie Miller, Paul Pierce

    Erving and Barry were scoring stars in their days, as were Drexler and Miller in theirs. None of them had the two-way punch of Leonard, though Erving has one more title (if you add his two ABA crowns to the 1983 championship he won with the Philadelphia 76ers) and the 1981 NBA MVP award in his trophy case.

    Pierce has more career points (26,397) than anyone else at this height, but Leonard will tie his four All-NBA nods once he makes a team for 2019-20. Pierce was also never the best player on a champion. Yes, he won Finals MVP in 2008, but Kevin Garnett made those Boston Celtics what they were.

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    You could cut and paste just about everything from the previous section about Kawhi Leonard’s defense, and it would work just fine as a description of Scottie Pippen’s work on that end. There’s a reason those seeking to communicate the potency of Leonard’s defense so often include a Pippen comparison; he’s the gold standard for versatile perimeter suffocators.

    Pull up clips of Pippen living inside Magic Johnson’s jersey during the 1991 Finals for a refresher.

    MJ’s sidekick also has the statistical profile to deserve this spot. He leads all 6’8″ players in career win shares and VORP, not to mention assists and steals.

    It’s not wrong to say the six rings Pippen won with Chicago are mainly the products of Jordan’s greatness. But it’s also probably true that MJ would have had a lot fewer titles if not for Pippen, a 10-time All-Defensive team member who made seven All-NBA teams, seven All-Star teams and proved he could handle alpha duties by finishing third in MVP voting (one of five seasons in the top 10) during the 1993-94 campaign.

    Also Considered: Tracy McGrady, Dominique Wilkins

    Knee injuries robbed McGrady of what could have been a masterful late prime. Had he stayed healthy, his game—perhaps best described as a version of Pippen’s with far more scoring ability—would have made him one of the greatest to ever play. T-Mac has the highest career PER of any 6’8″ player and also tops the field in box plus-minus. His 2002-03 season, which included 16.1 win shares, is the best produced by any 6’8″ player since 1953-54.

    Wilkins is the 6’8″ points leader with 26,668, 354 points ahead of Carmelo Anthony. Those two could fill it up but never came close to matching Pippen’s (or McGrady’s) complete game. 

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    Chris Elise/Getty Images

    This is the most loaded height yet, riddled with Hall of Famers, five guys who totaled over 20,000 career points and, thankfully, still a clear top pick.

    LeBron James is no worse than the second-best player to ever lace up kicks, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he heads up the 6’9″ class in VORP, box plus-minus, PER and career win shares. Though he’s currently in his 17th season, he’s still a perennial presence in the MVP conversation. Though it’s unlikely he’ll add another of those awards this season, James should probably have at least one or two more to this point. Still, his four are more than anyone else’s in this class.

    And assuming we don’t see a case of brain-lock affect the entire voting body, James is in line to make an All-NBA team for a record 16th time at the close of the 2019-20 season. Third all-time in scoring yet best known for his ability to control games with his mind and passing, James’ list of career achievements is already second to none. That he’s apparently nowhere near finished, at age 35, only adds to the legend.

    It’s a good thing James is so far ahead of the pack; otherwise, we’d have to decide between three generational superstars.

    Also Considered: Karl Malone, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird

    Just look at those names!

    Malone is second on the all-time scoring list, made 14 All-Star teams, won two MVPs and is the only player other than James and Kobe Bryant to make 11 All-NBA first teams.

    Magic and Bird are integral figures in the league’s history, the two-man bridge from an era of past greats to Jordan, who changed everything. They were more than caretakers, collecting eight of the 10 titles won in the 1980s. Both also won three MVPs apiece, with Bird’s coming in succession from 1984-86 and Johnson’s coming in a four-year stretch (interrupted by Jordan in 1988).

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    Dick Raphael/Getty Images

    We’ve been skeptical about the eye-popping counting stats produced by players from the ’50s and ’60s throughout this exercise, but we don’t need to rely on pace-inflated figures to justify Bill Russell’s status as the best 6’10” player ever.

    The rings settle it.

    Russell led the Boston Celtics to 11 championships in 13 seasons, winning five MVPs in the process. The Defensive Player of the Year award didn’t exist until 1983, but it’s fair to assume Russell would have hogged at least a half-dozen of them during his incredible run from 1957 to 1969.

    We also don’t have block or steal stats for Russell, but his 21,620 total rebounds are 5,408 more than Moses Malone’s second-place total. Don’t overlook Russell’s offensive contributions, either. Though never much of a scorer (career 12.8 points per 36 minutes), he’s the 6’10” leader with 4,100 assists.

    Also Considered: Kevin Durant, Moses Malone

    Malone actually leads this height classification in career win shares, narrowly edging out Russell (thanks in large measure to a career that lasted six years longer). He, along with Durant, are also the only 6’10” players besides Russell with at least 10 All-Star trips in their careers.

    Durant is far from done, and he’s already second among 6’10” players with 22,940 points. Assuming decent health following recovery from his torn Achilles, it’ll only take him a couple of seasons to overtake Malone and his total of 27,409.

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    The San Antonio Spurs’ remarkable success over the last two decades is indivisible from Tim Duncan, whose interior defense, unstoppable post game (we’re talking early career on that particular aspect) and wholly selfless approach was the constant in a Spurs lineup that went through multiple evolutions during his career.

    Duncan made 15 All-NBA teams and 15 All-Defensive teams while winning two MVPs, three Finals MVPs and five championships. Oddly, he never won a Defensive Player of the Year award. You’d think he would have collected at least one of those trophies, considering he led the NBA in defensive win shares five times.

    Factoring in consistency of team success, defensive dominance and quiet leadership, Duncan might be best viewed as the modern iteration of Russell—if the Celtics great had hung around for another seven years.

    Also Considered: Kevin Garnett, Giannis Antetokounmpo

    Duncan has the advantage in points, rebounds and blocks, but Garnett is the 6’11” leader with 1,859 steals and 5,445 assists. Not to be overlooked, he also has the highest career VORP. KG won the 2004 MVP award and got his ring with the 2008 Celtics, collecting DPOY for his regular-season work that year. He’s just not quite in Duncan’s league in terms of team success, which might not be entirely fair to hold against a player who spent his best years with the woeful Minnesota Timberwolves.

    It may seem too early to toss Antetokounmpo into the mix, but there are only 10 6’11” players with at least four All-Star appearances, and he’s one of them. Of those 10, only he, Duncan and Garnett have MVP awards. If he adds another of those (plus a DPOY) for his work this season, Antetokounmpo will be well on his way to giving Duncan a run for his money.

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Hakeem Olajuwon was the focal point of a championship offense (twice) and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. There have been better scorers at this height, and one or two defenders (prime Serge Ibaka and Tyson Chandler) come close to Olajuwon on D. But nobody combines dominance on both ends like The Dream.

    Lightning quick and perfectly balanced, Olajuwon’s array of post moves were athletic art. He turned the best defenders into suckers and was never similarly overmatched on D. With incredible touch, timing and instincts, Olajuwon was as complete a big man as there’s ever been—basically a 7-footer with a skill package most wings wish they had.

    His 3,830 blocks are nearly 1,000 more than the second-most prolific shot-swatter at this height, Patrick Ewing. Olajuwon’s lead in steals is also overwhelming; he finished his career with 2,162, crushing Dirk Nowitzki‘s second-place total of 1,210.

    A 12-time All-Star with 12 All-NBA nods and nine All-Defensive honors, Olajuwon earns the GOAT designation, despite some Hall of Fame competition.

    Also Considered: Dirk Nowitzki, Patrick Ewing

    Nowitzki has a ring, an MVP and a hefty lead with 206.3 win shares, most among 7-foot players and well ahead of Olajuwon’s 162.8. He’s also the comfortable leader with 31,560 points. But while Nowitzki may be among the very best offensive players we’ve ever seen at this height, he was never more than passable defensively. Most of the time, he was worse than that.

    Ewing never won a championship or an MVP award, but he was an 11-time All-Star and the best player on a handful of Knicks teams that might have collected titles if not for Jordan’s reign in the ’90s.

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    It’s appropriate that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, listed at 7’2″, stands just a little bit taller than a trio of giants in the runners-up section. Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson were all title-winning, game-changing stars in the middle, and all stood 7’1″…just a notch below Abdul-Jabbar, the GOAT among “big” bigs.

    Abdul-Jabbar is the only player in NBA history with six MVP awards, and he’s got a matching six championships to boot. A 19-time All-Star (that’s a record, too; get used to it with this guy), the 1969-70 Rookie of the Year, a four-time block champ, two-time scoring champ and 11-time All-Defensive team member, Abdul-Jabbar’s career is so laden with awards and honors that his status as the NBA’s all-time-leading scorer almost blends into the mix.

    It shouldn’t. Those 38,387 points have kept Abdul-Jabbar atop the list for over three decades. Though LeBron James is on pace to catch him sometime around 2022, setting a record that lasts that long is an incredible achievement.

    And seeing as we’ve lauded game-changers like Stephen Curry and Allen Iverson for their impact beyond the numbers, Abdul-Jabbar deserves extra recognition for the skyhook, a shot nobody has been able to replicate consistently since he retired in 1989.

    Also Considered: Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson

    Chamberlain’s numbers will forever seem impossible. The 100-point game, the scoring average of 50.4 points in 1961-62 and a career mark of 22.9 rebounds per game are just three of Wilt’s surreal statistical achievements. Weaker competition, the ridiculous pace of his era and a relatively paltry two championships hurt Chamberlain’s case. Please don’t misconstrue finishing behind Abdul-Jabbar in any race as a knock. Wilt was superhuman most of the time, but Russell (among others) made him appear mortal often enough.

    O’Neal was a four-time champ and the most physically dominant force the league had seen since Chamberlain. It’s jarring to see he only won a single MVP award.

    Robinson spent his career picking seasons to lead the league in different categories. He was the NBA’s top rebounder in 1990-91, its best shot-blocker in 1991-92 and a scoring champion in 1993-94 (thanks to a 71-point outing in the final game of the regular season, which allowed him to nose past O’Neal). The 10-time All-Star won two rings, an MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year award…and then willingly ceded control of the Spurs to Tim Duncan. There haven’t been many superstars selfless enough to step aside like the Admiral did.

    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference unless otherwise indicated.

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