Top 50 NBA Legacies of All Time (2013)

Making a top 50 legacy list isn’t easy.  In fact, it’s an automatic way for people to get angry at you.  I’ve based this top 50 list off of what I know, what I’ve seen and what I’ve researched.  Feel free to leave a comment saying whether you agree / disagree and what your own top 20 list would be (or 50 if you want).

Some of the players on the list are still active in the NBA and therefore their position on this list will likely change in the near future.

The reason I’ve chosen to do an all time legacy list over an all time skills based list is because there are too many exceptions with an all time skill based list.  For example, Grant Hill had the potential to be a top 25 player of all time based on his level of skill before  injuries plagued his career.  If this was an all time skill based list then he would have to be included, despite his obvious lack of achievements in his career.  My all time legacy list is built on a combination of a players achievements; how they dominated their respective era; how I feel they would perform in other eras; statistics and the eye test.

Please note that I am strictly talking about what a player has done on the basketball court. Not impact on the game of basketball, not how many sneakers they’ve sold or how many kids shout their name every time their commercial comes on the TV.

A number within a bracket indicates how many places a player has advanced due to their play last season.

2013 All time NBA Legacy

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
  3. Wilt Chamberlain
  4. Magic (Earvin) Johnson
  5. Larry Bird
  6. LeBron James (+6)
  7. Hakeem Olajuwon
  8. Tim Duncan (+1)
  9. Shaquille O’Neal
  10. Bill Russell
  11. Oscar Robertson
  12. Moses Malone
  13. Jerry West
  14. Kobe Bryant
  15. Karl Malone
  16. Charles Barkley
  17. Kevin Garnett
  18. David Robinson
  19. Julius Erving (Dr J)
  20. Dirk Nowitzki
  21. George Mikan
  22. Bob Petit
  23. Dwyane Wade
  24. Isiah Thomas
  25. Clyde Drexler
  26. Elgin Baylor
  27. John Stockton
  28. Gary Payton
  29. John Havlicek
  30. Bob Cousy
  31. Rick Barry
  32. Patrick Ewing
  33. Bob McAdoo
  34. Neil Johnston
  35. George Gervin
  36. Elvin Hayes
  37. Scottie Pippen
  38. Dominique Wilkins
  39. Jerry Lucas
  40. Jason Kidd
  41. Allen Iverson
  42. Steve Nash
  43. Walt Frazier
  44. Willis Reed
  45. Nate “Tiny” Archibald
  46. Dolph Schayes
  47. Walt Bellamy
  48. Pete Marvich (Pistol Pete)
  49. Paul Arizin
  50. Dave Cowens

Take the list for what it is, it’s just merely my opinion.  As I stated in the introduction, please feel free to comment with your own personal list.

You can follow me on twitter: @SwishNBA


24 thoughts on “Top 50 NBA Legacies of All Time (2013)

  1. You are the prime example of an idiot. You have bill russel at # 10 lol. I’m not even a celtics fan and I know he should be up in the top 5. And you have guys like wade and Payton in the top 20, wade is a joke if it wasn’t for shaq and Lebron and what did Payton do.


    1. Russell is vastly over-rated, and what did Payton do? Well for starters he has an NBA record 9 all first team defensive selections, the only PG in NBA history to win defensive player of the year, finished 6th in MVP voting in 1996 and famously put the clamps on Michael Jordan (of all people) in the 1996 NBA Finals….for starters…


    2. You’re the idiot bro, wade is the best shot blocking guard in nba history. If it wasn’t for wade in 2006 winning MVP of the finals playing the way he did, Shaq would never of had that ring. As far as Lebron, do u know the character of an individual it takes to move aside when your the face of a franchise and still score 23 a game and lead your team to 2 more championships? This guy is awesome and very underrated


      1. Actually MJ is the best shot blocking guard in history, has 2 seasons over 100 blocks and is the all time shot blocking leader amongst shooting guards. I agree, Wade is being criminally underrated now that LeBron is the face of the Heat, people forget that Wade almost won MVP in 2009.


  2. Dwade still has 3-4 years left at least and he has about 2/3 the amount of blocks as MJ and His career averages are .2 more than MJ.


    1. Wade also broke the record a few years ago with 106 in the regular season . The person from whom he broke it from was from over 21 years prior (David Thompson)


      1. Wade is only 10 years into his career, 10 years into MJ’s career he also averaged 1.0 blocks per game. This number is slightly lower than the true value when you account for him being injured in his second season and retiring. Additionally MJ had 2 seasons over 100 blocks, one at 131 and one at 125. Much higher than Wade’s 106.


  3. I think Wilt should be lower and Shaq should be Shaq is Top 3 most Dominant forces The game has ever seen..(MJ,Shaq,Lebron)..and they do/did it against guys that are Athletically Gifted..Wilt’s only Competition was Bill..and he ws 6’9 and 200 pounds soak and wet with Boots on..and I know he had his almighty Celts but If Wilt was A Great player that changed the impact of games he should’ve had A stretch where he won 3-5 Titles just like all other greats excuses


    1. Wilt played against a very large number of great and dominant centers in his 14 year career, here is the list:
      Bill Russel
      Kareem Abdul Jabbar
      Willis Reed
      Wes Unseld
      Elvin Hayes
      Dolph Schayes
      Nate Thurmond
      Bob Lanier
      Any one of the above centers in their prime would at WORST be the second best center in today’s NBA. All of them except Bob Lanier (20ppg, 9rpg career) appeared on the 50 greatest players list put out by the NBA in 1996. Wilt was huge, incredibly athletic, and incomparably dominant. His individual accomplishments have never been so much as approached The simple fact is Wilt Chamberlain was great because he was great. He was an incredible specimen of height, strength, agility, and leaping ability. He could leap higher than many can imagine today, and was stronger than most would ever believe. Wilt came 3 game final 7 away from doing so…

      Russel is top 5 tho.He could dribble like a guard. Hit mid range jumpers like a Chris Bosh does today. One of the best passing centers of all time. The best defender of all time only can be debated by Hakeem and maybe Duncan.. Bill Russell won 11 championship rings. With that being said I am counting the 2 he won as a player-coach. These 11 NBA championships were won in 13 NBA seasons. Which means that around 85% of the time that Bill Russell was in the NBA, he won an NBA championship. People may argue that the reason that Bill Russell won this many championships is because of Coach Auerbach, or Bob Cousy or any other one of the future Hall Of Famers that played with Bill Russell. I beg to differ. The Boston Celtics never made a trip to the NBA Finals before Bill Russell arrived in Boston. Even though they had Coach Auerbach, Bill Sharman, Bob Cousy and other future Hall of Famers, they did not make the Finals. Not even once. In the 1962 season, Bill Russell sat out 4 straight games and the Celtics effectively lost 4 straight games, again with players like Cousy, Sharman, and Coach Auerbach. In 1969, Bill sat out 5 straight games thanks to an injury and the Celtics went 0-5! This all happening with Sam Jones, John Havlicek and other Hall of Famers playing in the rotation. These 2 losing streaks I mentioned are the 2 worst losing streaks of the “Russell-Celtics”. What does this show? This shows that Bill Russell was the main reason as to why the Celtics won 11 championship rings and were so successful. It would be wrong for me to say that Bill Russell was the only reason that the Celtics were successful, but what I am going to say is that he was the biggest reason for that such success. When Bill Russell retired after the 1969 NBA Season, the Celtics went from a 48 win team to a 34 win team! That 48 win team is also the lowest win total while Russell was with the Celtics and only occurred because Russell spent most of that year in rehab. Don’t think that when Russell retired, most of the Celtics stars retired with him..they still had HoF’s such as Havlicek, Sanders, Jo Jo White and Howell. Yet they still went through a massive 14 game drop when Russell retired. With the Chicago Bulls, when Jordan “retired” in 1994 the Bulls went down from a 57 win team to a 55 win one. Oooh big drop! Bill Russell won 11 NBA championships while on the Boston Celtics, and he was the biggest reason for them.

      Lebron is a little high give it one more year before putting him at Six. Top Ten no doubt.

      I got Kobe at 11 3000 points, 5 rings yes rings are a team achievement but he still was a huge part of them. Overrated yes but should be ahead of Malone at least…….

      Can really complain much but Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Dennis Rodman should be on here over a Neil Johnson, Jerry Lucas, etc.


      1. you sir know’s basketball, i just want to Enlighten you that in 1994 the bulls added some very good players in the roster in order to soften MJ’s retirement (kukoc was best european player for years, dont forget that USA lost to argentina in the world cup so you can’t Degrade players out of US, they also add steve kerr), so its not like 57 to 55 you should consider it in perspective and may be take a look at it form the other side, this same team with jordan recorded 72-10 which is 17 wins more (even higher then russel impact), you should also consider, that even though they strengthen the team they never reached ECF while with jordan they won 3 consecutive championship. any way i like your post very much, this is the first time in my life that someone changed my mind in perspective of basketball history, well done. but you didn’t give your POV of russel place among NBA greats.


  4. Good list, can only assume you forgot about mchale? Also think Walton should be there as in his one full healthy season he was responsible for his team winning a title. Agree though with most of it even if chokers like Malone and Robinson shouldn’t be so high.


    1. luke i gotta disagree with you there specially with robinson was he ever supposed to win a title with the squad they had around him before duncan? was he supposed to beat olajuwon with del negro and johnson as his backcourt vs cassell and drexler? was he supposed to win when his best sidekick didnt want to be in san ant and couldnt score? nah man. yet he lead the spurs to 50 wins almost every year and pass the first round a bunch of times. how good was him well just look that they went from 50 plus wins with him to 20 without him. the bulls for example still made the second round and to a game 7 without jordan that tells how big the gap was when comparing supporting casts. he didnt have a pippen a stockton or a kj. from 89to96 he won every single award the nba had. he was first team all nba more times during that span than hakeem or shaq. 8 times top 7 in mvp voting, 4th alltime in per, 4th in defensive rating. no one wins rings alone. look the list has garnett one spot ahead he like robinson was stuck on a bad team but he couldnt get them past the first round and sometimes missed the playoffs. minnys best defensive year they finished 8th in the nba with kg leading them the spurs worst finish and only not top 5 finish was 8 with the admiral leading them. choker and overrated we should look at players like ewing that never won anything and missed layups to win playoffs games.this is just my opinion on why the man is a top 20 and 15 player.


  5. Heres my list based on a lot of the same criteria, just 20 tho;

    1. Micheal Jordan
    2. Wilt Chamberlain
    3. Kareem Abdul-Jabber
    4. Magic Johnson
    5. Larry Bird
    6. Tim Duncan
    7. Shaquille O’Neal
    8. Hakeem Olajuwon
    9. Kobe Bryant
    10. Bill Russell
    11. Oscar Robertson
    12. John Stockton
    13. Lebron James
    14. Jerry West
    15. Charles Barkley
    16. Karl Malone
    17. Moses Malone
    18. Elgin Baylor
    19. Julius Erving
    20. Bob Petit


    1. Thanks for the list, you’re the only one to leave one so far. Interesting that you have LBJ ranked what many would consider “so low”, why is that?


  6. good list but lost me with kg that high

    7.big o
    8. russell
    9. west
    10. shaq
    11. hakeem
    12. moses
    13. lebron (will end up 1 or 2 out of respect for the others i rank him this low)
    14. the admiral
    15. k malone
    16. barkley
    17. baylor
    18. dr j
    19. kobe
    20. petite


  7. Very, very interesting post, and I enjoyed reading it. (I write on NBA history occasionally over at my blog, although I mostly write about political history.) I do not think that you deserve to be called an idiot, as many here are saying. With the exceptions of maybe Bellamy and Johnston, your choices for the top 50 are very good. Others have raised this complaint, but Russell should be higher. If Magic and Bird, who guys who were lackluster defenders, can rank that high with fewer championships, why punish Russell for being lackluster on offense? As far as a legacy goes, he transformed Boston from basketball hell into a dynasty.


    1. Thanks for the comment, Russell probably should be ranked higher, as stated though this is strictly to do with on the court legacy, a player’s affect on a team wasn’t taken into account.


  8. I revisited my comment and your thoughtful response, and ended up figuring out my own top 50 and writing about it on my blog. You had suggested that if we made our own list, we should include it here, so I’m happy to take up the idea. In the end, I picked:

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Paul Arizin, Charles Barkley, Rick Barry, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy, Clyde Drexler, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, Julius Erving, Patrick Ewing, Walt Frazier, Kevin Garnett, George Gervin, John Havlicek, Elvin Hayes, Dwight Howard, Allen Iverson, Lebron James, Dennis Johnson, Magic Johnson, Neil Johnston, Michael Jordan, Jason Kidd, Karl Malone, Moses Malone, Kevin McHale, George Mikan, Earl Monroe, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Sam Jones, Chris Paul, Gary Payton, Bob Pettit, Scottie Pippen, Willis Reed, Oscar Robertson, David Robinson, Bill Russell, Dolph Schayes, John Stockton, Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jerry West.

    Largely the same people, except you put in Jerry Lucas, David Cowens, Pistol Pete, Walt Bellamy, Tiny Archibald, and Dominique, while I included Dennis Johnson, Chris Paul, Kevin McHale, Earl Monroe, Dwight Howard, and Sam Jones.


  9. Here’s my top 20
    1. Michael Jordan
    2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    3. Wilt Chamberlain
    4. Magic Johnson
    5. Oscar Robertson
    6. Larry Bird
    7. Tim Duncan
    8. Kobe Bryant
    9. Hakeem Olajuwon
    10. Shaquille O’Neal
    11. Jerry West
    12. Bill Russell
    13. Elgin Baylor
    14. Moses Malone
    15. Charles Barkley
    16. Kevin Garnett
    17. Isiah Thomas
    18. Karl Malone
    19. Rick Barry
    20. Dirk Nowitzki


  10. Nice Top 50 List! I like that you have Neil Johnston & Bob McAdoo in there, its rare to see. N.Johnston was almost forgotten by 1971 when the NBA released their Silver Anniversary team, listing Bob Davies & Joe Fulks instead!
    I have a compilation of players I’ve been putting together the past couple of years. I like to organize it into a team based list. Enjoy.
    Team 1
    Michael Jordan,
    Lebron James,
    Wilt Chamberlain,
    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
    Earvin Johnson.
    Shaquille O’Neal,
    Larry Bird,
    Hakeem Olajuwon,
    Oscar Robertson,
    Jerry West.
    Bill Russell,
    Tim Duncan,
    Kobe Bryant,
    Julius Erving,
    John Stockton.
    David Robinson,
    Karl Malone,
    Dwayne Wade,
    Chris Paul,
    Elgin Baylor,
    George Mikan,
    Charles Barkley,
    Isiah Thomas,
    Clyde Drexler,
    Kevin durant,
    Kevin Garnett,
    Rick Barry,
    George Gervin,
    Gary Payton,
    Moses Malone.
    John Havlicek,
    Walt Frazier,
    Scottie Pippen,
    Dirk Nowitzki,
    Patrick Ewing.
    Bob Pettit,
    Steve Nash,
    Alex English,
    Dwight Howard,
    Allen Iverson.
    Jason Kidd,
    Kevin McHale,
    Bob McAdoo,
    Dominique Wilkins,
    Ray Allen.
    Neil Johnston,
    Sam Jones,
    Dolph Schayes,
    Adrian Dantley,
    Bob Cousy.
    Dave Cowens,
    Elvin Hayes,
    Paul Pierce,
    Reggie Miller,
    Kevin Johnson.

    I have teams to 20! making a Top 100..which the NBA prob. will have to announce next, rather then a Top 75. What do you think?


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