The top 5 center debate is the most interesting positional debate in my opinion. There are 5 centers worthy of the GOAT crown for that position. Those players are Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But who is the best center of all time?
5. Bill Russell
Bill Russell was known for his defensive prowess and his championship rings (11). Blocks were not recorded when Russell played from 1957-1969. Blocks started being recorded in 1973-1974 but most people know that Russell was an amazing shot blocker from film and reports. Boston ranked 10th, 8th, 8th, 9th, 8th, and 6th in the 6 years prior to drafting Uncle Bill. After drafting Russell the Celtics ranked 1st in defensive rank 12 out of the 13 seasons that Russell played. Then Bill retires and they drop to 8th in the league. Point being that Russell was a defensive FORCE. The knock on Russell was his offense. He shot an abysmal 44% from the field for his career as a center. Not very good.
Peak Numbers (pts/reb/ast/fg%) : 16.5/23.4/3.9/44.3%
Career Numbers: 15.1/22.5/4.3/44%
4. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq is in the consideration for the most dominant force to ever step into the league. He was basically unstoppable by 99% of the players that guarded him. As a ROOKIE the big diesel averaged 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 56% shooting. INSANE numbers for a 20-year-old rookie. In 94-95 Shaq led the Orlando Magic to the NBA finals and put up monster playoff numbers (25.7/11.9/57%) even in a loss to the Houston Rockets. As a playoff performer, Shaq might be the greatest ever. Easily top 5. Prime diesel averaged (rounded up) 27/12/3/56%. His 2000 finals performance is the best in NBA history in my honest opinion. 38 ppg, 16.7 rpg, 2,7 bpg on 61% shooting while winning the series.
Peak Numbers(pts/reb/ast/stl/blk/fg%) : 27.1/12.1/2.9/0.7/2.6/57%
Career Numbers: 23.7/10.9/2.5/0.6/2.3/58%
3. Hakeem Olajuwon
Just like the aforementioned Bill Russell, Hakeem is also in the conversation for the GOAT defender. Hakeem has 2 DPOY (defensive player of the year) awards, he’s 9th all time in steals, 1st all time in blocks, 15th all time in defensive rating, has 9 first team all defense awards and is 4th all time in defensive win shares! In my opinion Olajuwon is the most skilled post player ever. He had tremendous footwork and an array of post moves to go to at all times. Not to mention he had a little jumper as well. Hakeem faced off against Shaq in the 94-95 finals and balled out. Averaging (pts/reb/ast/stl/blk/fg%) 32.8/11.5/5.5/2/2/48% while anchoring that Houston defense.
Peak Numbers: 24.3/12.2/2.7/1.9/3.5/51%
Career Numbers: 21.8/11.1/2.5/1.7/3.1/51%
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
If you look up the word “longevity” in the dictionary, Kareem’s picture will be right present. Kareem is the all time leading scorer in NBA history for a reason! Mr. Jabbar racked up 38,387 in his career. He averaged 20+ points for 17 out of the 20 seasons he was in the league. He used the most unstoppable move in NBA history quite often, the Sky Hook. Kareem wasn’t a slacker on defense either. He’s 3rd all-time in blocks even though blocks weren’t recorded until his 4th season in the league and he is 3rd all-time in defensive win shares. Kareem also holds the record for most MVPs (6).
Peak Numbers (pts/reb/ast/stl/blk/fg%): 28.1/14.1/4.4/1.2/3.4/55%
Career Numbers: 24.6/11.2/3.6/0.9/2.6/55%
1. Wilt Chamberlain
Okay, so let’s debunk this “Wilt played against short white guys myth” before I get into anything else. People see pictures of Wilt being defended by a shorter guy and automatically claim that everybody that guarded Wilt was the same size. Ever heard of a mismatch? Here’s a list of players Wilt faced that were 7’0 or taller: Walter Dukes, Swede Halbrook, Tom Boerwinkle, Mel Counts, Hank Finkel, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elmore Smith. That’s SEVEN players. Not enough? Here is a list of HOFers Wilt faced: Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Lanier, Walt Bellamy, Nate Thurmond, Bob Petit, Elvin Hayes.
Now, let’s get into Wilt Chamberlain the basketball player. He was absolutely dominate folks. His rookie season Wilt was giving the competition 37.6 ppg and 27 rpg. Chamberlain in 61-62 averaged FIFTY points per game. 50 folks. His lowest scoring game that season was 26 points. He scored 50+ points 45 times. Wilt has the 3rd most made field goals of all time, 5th most points of all time (31,419), 2nd all time in points per game and 2nd all time in offensive win shares. He wasn’t just dominate scoring wise, he absolutely cleaned the glass. He NEVER had a season under 18 rebounds per game. The big man is 1st all time in rebounds per game and total rebounds. Wilt wasn’t a bad passer either. He had seasons of 5.0, 5.2, 7.8, and 8.6 assists per game. That is amazing. Blocks weren’t recorded while Wilt was in the NBA. In the 112 games where his blocks were counted and recorded it averaged out to about 9 (8.8) per game. “Wilt wasn’t good in the playoffs” wrong, he was good in the playoffs. His 1967 playoff and eventual finals winning run was outstanding. He averaged 21.7 ppg, 29.1 rpg, and 9.0 apg. He only didn’t win finals MVP because that award did not exist yet. For his playoff career he averaged 22.5 ppg, 24.5 rpg, and 4.2 apg on 52% shooting. Best center EVER.
Peak Numbers: 36/24.6/4.5/52%
Career Numbers: 30.1/22.9/4.4/54%