The anchor. Suitably, of all the positional "top tens", last. Hoops Manifesto's Jeff Fox called us in to stake out where Shaq really does fit in... so here we go.
Heading into this list, I thought that this was going to be very, very difficult. But actually, it wasn't. The names were clear in my head... and the top 5 or 6 were clear as well - as was #10. 7-9, could be moved around a bit - but I am content with where they ended up too (worth noting that if Tim Duncan was to be considered a center - as he should be, I'd probably have him 6 or 7).
10. Bill Walton - Walton was an absolute technician of the game, to an extent that was surprising in such a big man. And but for the injuries, he'd be top 5 on this list. The guts and determination and the very heart and soul of Rip City.
9. Patrick Ewing - Ewing was a beast of a center. The Knicks just never had enough talent around him to get a title. Sans Jordan, Ewing declared it the year of the Knicks... but in "sans-Jordan-years", Ewing's Knickerbockers couldn't get it done. Came close against the Rockets... but 'close' and $5 will get you a cup of coffee.
8. David Robinson - Fast, determined, and one helluva competitor. The Admiral eventually got his two titles, but it took the presence of Tim Duncan for that to happen.
7. George Mikan - The original. The very first true center as we've come to know them. How good was he? The back-bone, the anchorl of 7 championships. That good. Mikan casts a long shadow on every other name on this list.
6. Moses Malone - Almost the forgotten man on this list. Held court for a decade, and by "held court" I mean dominated it. Not quite as big as some of his peers, he more than made up for it by playing with a combined intelligence and feroicity that's rarely been seen.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon - At both ends of the floor, The Dream had few peers. Big man size, small man skills. Hakeem possessed one of the most recognizable moves of all time in basketball. I'm talking about "the dream shake", grace in a man that size is simply never seen. And with The Dream, we saw it night in, night out.
4. Shaquille O'Neal - No one, and I mean no-one was more physically gifted for basketball than Shaq.
He was bigger than you.
He was quicker than you.
Unfortunately, he never had the drive of Kobe or Jordan... because if he had, I think it quite possible that we'd be talking about a center as the Greatest Of All Time.
3. Bill Russell - The best defensive center to ever play the game, period. The way he played defense changed the game of basketball. Had a pretty good game the other end of the floor too. And as Kobe Bryant often points out - the all-time leader in the only statistic that matters: titles.
2. Wilt Chamberlain - Statistically, does The Big Dipper have any peers at all? His single-minded pursuit of greatness was awe-inspiring... but he only got the two titles he won late in his career, his nemesis Bill Russell's Celtics being just that little bit better - Wilt never had the supporting cast that Russell did.
As a player? Completely dominating.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - Of grace, of man, and the indefensible sky hook.
Amazingly enough, I think Abdul-Jabbar is perhaps one of the most underrated players of all time. "Ranked #1 center, yet underrated? How so?" I hear you ask...
Well, when we talk about the GOAT, and who could challenge Jordan's status for that epithet, Kareem's name is almost never mentioned. And it should be.
Perhaps it was his dour demeanor - Kareem could be one testy S.O.B. Even now with age, whereas Bill Russell has mellowed, there is still at times an ill humor present that is quite saddening from such a great man.
Still, his resume stands up to anyone's who has played the game:
- 6 NBA Titles
- 6 MVPs
- 2 Finals MVPs
- 15 All NBA teams (10 1st teams, 5 2nd)
- 10 All D teams (5 1st, 5 2nd)
- 19 All Star appearances
And if you talk about the GOAT not being simply just NBA, but HS/College too, then Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has no peer. None at all.
Not even Jordan.
His place in history is misunderstood, at times, even by Kareem himself.