The 20 Best Basketball Center of all time

Best Basketball Center of all time: In basketball, the center is a crucial position, playing a key role in both defense and offense. Many of the best NBA teams in history have had a powerful center as the core of their success. Here, we’ll look at the top 20 NBA centers of all time, recognizing them as some of the greatest basketball players ever.

Best Basketball Center of all time

Let’s focus on the 20 best NBA centers and explore what makes them exceptional.

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Without a doubt, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered the best basketball center of all time. His career in the NBA places him among the greatest players in the league’s history. Playing at the highest level for an impressive 20 seasons, he stands out for his remarkable consistency. Abdul-Jabbar’s signature move, the “Skyhook,” was nearly impossible to defend against. His extensive list of championships, records, and personal achievements speaks volumes about his exceptional talent.

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In his initial six seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, Abdul-Jabbar secured his first NBA championship in 1971. Later, he spent 14 seasons with the Lakers, adding five more championship titles to his name. His overall achievements include holding the record for the most career points scored, boasting an impressive 38,387 points. Additionally, he remains the player with the highest number of MVP (Most Valuable Player) awards, earning this title six times.

Top Awards:

  • Six NBA titles
  • two Finals MVPs
  • six MVPs
  • 10 All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • 19 All-Stars
  • five All-Defensive 1st Team selections

2. Shaquille O’Neal

Ranked second among the best basketball centers of all time is Shaquille O’Neal. Widely considered the most dominant player of his generation, and perhaps even of all time, O’Neal stood out with his impressive physical presence—measuring 2.16 meters and weighing 147 kilograms. His combination of power and mobility, especially given his substantial weight, made him nearly unstoppable for opposing defenses. One area he worked on over the years was his free throws, which was considered a weakness.

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Known as “Shaq,” he played a pivotal role in leading the Los Angeles Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles in the early 2000s. In each of these victories, O’Neal was named the Finals MVP. Adding to his achievements, he secured a fourth NBA title with the Miami Heat a few years later before concluding his career with stints in Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston.

Top Awards:

  • Four NBA titles
  • three Finals MVPs
  • one MVP
  • eight All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • 15 All-Stars
  • three All-Defensive 2nd Team selections

3. Moses Malone

Taking the third spot among the best basketball centers of all time is Moses Malone. His career spanned from 1974 to 1995, during which he played for nine different teams in both the ABA and NBA. However, he is most renowned for his time with the Philadelphia 76ers.

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Standing at a height of 2.08 meters, Malone primarily played the center position. His impact on the game was significant enough to earn him a well-deserved induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.

Top Awards:

  • One NBA title
  • one Finals MVP
  • three MVPs
  • eight All-NBA selections
  • 12 All-Stars
  • two All-Defensive Team selections

4. Bill Russell

Securing the fourth position among the best basketball centers of all time is Bill Russell, widely regarded as the ultimate winner in NBA history. His remarkable achievement includes winning an unprecedented 11 NBA championship titles during his 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics. This record remains unmatched to this day. Russell is often hailed as the best defender in basketball history, and his defensive prowess and counterattacks played a pivotal role in the Celtics’ repeated successes.

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One of the most famous rivalries in basketball history was between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. This legendary duel unfolded between the best scoring pivot (Chamberlain) and the best defending pivot (Russell) of the 1960s. While Chamberlain may have had a slight edge in individual statistics, it was often Russell’s Celtics who emerged victorious in their matchups.

Top Awards:

  • 11 NBA titles
  • five MVPs
  • 11 All-NBA selections
  • 12 All-Stars

5. Wilt Chamberlain

Claiming the fifth spot among the best basketball centers of all time is Wilt Chamberlain, who, alongside Bill Russell, was considered one of the premier basketball players of his era. Despite his towering height of 2.16 meters, Chamberlain showcased exceptional flexibility and agility on the court. Remarkably, he still holds over 70 NBA records today, including the extraordinary feat of scoring 100 points in a single game, boasting the best points average over a season (50.4 points per game), and achieving a double-triple-double.

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Chamberlain initially set some of these records while playing for the Philadelphia Warriors and later the San Francisco Warriors. However, it wasn’t until his move to the Philadelphia 76ers that he secured his first NBA title in 1967. Subsequently, “The Big Dipper” won a second NBA title five years later with the Lakers. Recognized as the best rebounder in NBA history, a seven-time leading scorer, and a five-time MVP recipient, Wilt Chamberlain rightfully earns his place as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

Top Awards:

  • Two NBA titles
  • one Finals MVP
  • four MVPs
  • seven All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • 13 All-Stars
  • two All-Defensive 1st Team selections

6. Hakeem Olajuwon

Securing the sixth position among the best basketball centers of all time is Hakeem Olajuwon. He played in the NBA from 1984 to 2002. Standing at 2.13 meters tall, Olajuwon achieved significant success in the 1990s, winning two NBA championships with the Houston Rockets and earning a Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. His remarkable agility despite his size led to the fitting nickname “The Dream.”

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In recognition of his outstanding career, Olajuwon was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. Additionally, he is honored on the list of the 50 best NBA players of all time and, subsequently, on the squad of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.

Top Awards:

  • Two NBA titles
  • two Finals MVPs,
  • one MVP
  • six All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • 12 All-stars
  • two Defensive Player of the Year awards
  • five All-Defensive 1st Team selections

7. Willis Reed

  • NBA Rank: 65 in rebounds

Earning the seventh spot among the best basketball centers of all time is Willis Reed. He had a decade-long professional career from 1964 to 1974, exclusively playing for the New York Knicks in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Reed boasts an impressive list of achievements, including being a one-time NBA MVP, a seven-time All-Star, and a two-time NBA champion.

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In recognition of his contributions to the sport, Reed was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. Moreover, since the 2021/22 season, the trophy awarded to the winner of the Southwest Division has been named after him.

Top Awards:

  • Two NBA titles
  • two Finals MVPs
  • one MVP
  • five All-NBA selections
  • seven All-Stars
  • one All-Defensive 1st Team selections

8. David Robinson

  • NBA Rank: 6 in blocks, 33 in rebounds, 44 in scoring, 64 in steals

Securing the eighth position among the best basketball centers of all time is David Robinson. He dedicated his entire professional career, spanning from 1989 to 2003, to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA.

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Robinson’s impressive career includes being a 10-time NBA All-Star, a one-time NBA Most Valuable Player, a two-time NBA champion, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA. His outstanding contributions to the sport led to his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame twice – first in 2009 for his NBA career and then in 2010 as a member of the iconic Dream Team. Robinson is widely acknowledged as one of the best centers in the history of basketball.

Top Awards:

  • Two NBA titles
  • one MVP
  • 10 All-NBA selections
  • 10 All-Stars
  • one Defensive Player of the Year award
  • eight All-Defensive selections

9. Patrick Ewing

  • NBA Rank: 7 in blocks, 24 in scoring, 25 in rebounds, 119 in steals

Patrick Ewing, ranked ninth among the best basketball centers of all time, played most of his career with the New York Knicks in the NBA. A dominant force, Ewing was crucial to the Knicks’ success in the 1990s. His college career at Georgetown and seventeen-year NBA journey included eleven All-Star selections and seven All-NBA team honors.

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Ewing also achieved Olympic gold in 1984 and 1992, and his contributions earned him spots in the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players (1996) and 75 Greatest Players (2021). He’s a two-time Hall of Famer, and the Knicks retired his jersey number 33 in 2003.

Top Awards:

  • Seven All-NBA selections
  • 11 All-Stars
  • three All-Defensive 2nd Team selections

10. Nikola Jokic

  • NBA Rank: 125 in assists, 165 in rebounds

Securing the tenth position among the best basketball centers of all time is Nikola Jokic. Playing for the Denver Nuggets in the NBA since 2015, Jokic has established himself as a top-tier player. A five-time NBA All-Star, he has been selected to the All-NBA Team five times.

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Jokic’s impressive achievements include being named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. Additionally, he earned the MVP title for the 2022/23 final series. Jokic’s impact on the court has solidified his place among the elite centers in basketball history.

Top Awards:

  • Two MVPs
  • three All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • four All-Stars
  • one Olympic silver medal

11. George Mikan

George Mikan, securing the eleventh position among the best basketball centers of all time, was a trailblazer at 2.08 meters—the first successful “big man” in basketball. Recognized as the greatest basketball player of the first half of the 20th century, Mikan’s impact was enduring.

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His legacy was further acknowledged when he was included among the 50 greatest NBA players of all time in 1996. Mikan’s contributions to the sport earned him induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959.

Top Awards:

  • Five NBA titles
  • six All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • four All-Stars

12. Bob McAdoo

  • NBA Rank: 68 in blocks, 69 in scoring, 73 in rebounds

Bob McAdoo, ranked twelfth among the best basketball centers of all time, had a standout 14-season NBA career. A five-time NBA All-Star and 1975 MVP, McAdoo won two championships with the Lakers in the 1980s. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, he’s also part of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.

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McAdoo, who played mostly as a center, achieved both NBA and EuroLeague titles. In a coaching role, he added three more NBA titles with the Miami Heat in 2006, 2012, and 2013.

Top Awards:

  • Two NBA titles
  • one MVP
  • two All-NBA selections
  • five All-Stars

13. Wes Unseld

Wes Unseld, ranking thirteenth among the best basketball centers of all time, spent his entire NBA career with the Washington Bullets. In an exceptional rookie season, he became both NBA MVP and Rookie of the Year, a feat shared only with Wilt Chamberlain.

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Unseld clinched an NBA championship with the Bullets in 1978 and later served the organization as a vice president, head coach, and general manager. Recognized for his contributions, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988. His son, Wes Unseld Jr., is currently the head coach of the Washington Wizards.

Top Awards:

  • One NBA title
  • one Finals MVP
  • one MVP
  • one All-NBA 1st Team selection
  • five All-Stars

14. Robert Parish

Ranked fourteenth among the best basketball centers of all time is Robert Parish. He had an illustrious NBA career spanning from 1977 to 1997, gaining recognition mainly for his time with the Boston Celtics. Standing at 2.16 meters tall, Parish played the center position and, alongside Kevin McHale and Larry Bird, formed one of the best frontcourts in NBA history.

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Parish’s contributions to the Celtics resulted in three NBA championships. Concluding his NBA journey in 1997, he added another championship with the Chicago Bulls alongside superstar Michael Jordan. Throughout his 21-year career, Parish earned nine All-Star selections. Notably, he holds the NBA record for the most games played in the regular season, with 1,611. In 2003, his remarkable career was honored with induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Top Awards:

Top accolades: Four NBA titles, two All-NBA selections, nine All-Stars

15. Dave Cowens

  • NBA Rank: 36 in rebounds, 203 in scoring, 243 in assists

Dave Cowens, ranked fifteenth among the best basketball centers of all time, played mainly for the Boston Celtics. Standing at 6 ft 9 in, he was the 1971 NBA Rookie of the Year and the 1973 NBA Most Valuable Player.

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Cowens contributed to two Celtics championships in 1974 and 1976. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991, he later pursued coaching roles in the NBA, CBA, and WNBA. Recognized for his lasting impact, Cowens is part of both the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team and the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.

Top Awards:

  • Two NBA titles
  • one MVP
  • three All-NBA 2nd Team selections
  • eight All-Stars
  • one All-Defensive 1st Team selection

16. Bill Walton

  • NBA Rank: 99 in blocks

Bill Walton, ranked sixteenth among the best basketball centers, had a stellar college career at UCLA, winning three national player of the year awards and two NCAA championships. In the NBA, he led the Portland Trail Blazers to a title in 1977 and later won another with the Boston Celtics in 1986.

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Despite career hampering injuries, Walton made a successful comeback, earning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award and a second championship in 1985–86. After retiring, he became a renowned sportscaster, earning an Emmy Award in 1991. Walton, a Grateful Dead enthusiast, has hosted podcasts and satellite radio programs featuring the band’s music.

Top Awards:

  • Two NBA titles
  • one Finals MVP
  • one MVP
  • two All-NBA Team selections
  • two All-Stars
  • two All-Defensive 1st Team selections
  • one Sixth Man of the Year award

17. Artis Gilmore

  • NBA Rank: 26 in blocks, 52 in rebounds, 134 in scoring

Ranked seventeenth among the best basketball centers of all time is Artis Gilmore. Most of his professional career was spent in the ABA and NBA, earning him the nickname “The A-Train” due to his no-frills yet dominant style of play. Renowned for his workhorse mentality, Gilmore played in an impressive 670 consecutive games without missing a single one.

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In recognition of his significant contributions to the sport, Artis Gilmore was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. His impact on the court and his durability showcase his enduring legacy in basketball history.

Top Awards:

  • Six All-Stars
  • one All-Defensive 2nd Team selection

18. Nate Thurmond

Ranked eighteenth among the best basketball centers of all time is Nate Thurmond. His NBA career spanned from 1963 to 1977, playing for the San Francisco Warriors/Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, and Cleveland Cavaliers. He achieved a historic milestone by becoming the first player to record a quadruple-double in a game, notching 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 12 blocks on October 8, 1974, against the Atlanta Hawks.

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In recognition of his remarkable career, Nate Thurmond was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985. He is also honored in the list of the 50 best basketball players of all time and has been a member of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team since 2021. Thurmond’s impact on the court solidifies his place among the basketball greats.

Top Awards:

  • Seven All-Stars
  • five All-Defensive Team selections

19. Dikembe Mutombo

Ranked nineteenth among the best basketball centers of all time is Dikembe Mutombo. He had an active career in the NBA from 1991 to 2009, primarily playing in the center position. Standing at an imposing 2.18 meters, he earned the nickname “Mount Mutombo” for his towering presence and shot-blocking prowess. Widely regarded as one of the best defensive players in NBA history, Mutombo secured the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award four times, a record shared with Ben Wallace.

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He participated in the NBA All-Star Game eight times and holds the second position on the all-time list of blocked shots in his 18-year NBA career, trailing only Hakeem Olajuwon. He became iconic for his signature move of waving his index finger at opponents after successful blocks, coupled with the famous saying, “Not in my house.” His defensive prowess and distinctive celebrations have left an enduring mark on the sport.

Top Awards:

  • Eight All-Stars
  • two All-NBA Team selections
  • four Defensive Player of the Year awards
  • six All-Defensive team selections

20. Dwight Howard

Ranked twentieth among the best basketball centers of all time is Dwight Howard. Since entering the US professional league NBA in 2004, Howard has made a significant impact on the sport. Currently playing for Taoyuan Leopards in the T1 League, Taiwan, he originally entered the NBA directly from high school, being selected as the first overall pick by the Orlando Magic in the 2004 NBA Draft.

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Standing at 2.08 meters, Howard plays in the center position. His physicality and playing style have drawn comparisons to basketball greats Darryl Dawkins and Shaquille O’Neal. Throughout his career, Howard has earned NBA All-Star honors eight times and has been recognized as the Defensive Player of the Year three times. His contributions to the game have solidified his place among the best centers in basketball history.

Top Awards:

  • One NBA title
  • five All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • eight All-Stars
  • three Defensive Player of the Year awards
  • four All-Defensive 1st Team selections

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