Top 20 Best Centers in NBA History

By Ryan Finklestein - December 07, 2018

One of the hardest things to defend in the NBA is a dominant center. Centers are the biggest players on the court, which often anchor defenses and control the glass for their teams. We have seen plenty of quality centers pass through the NBA over the years but here are the 20 most dominant centers in the history of the sport.

20. Alonzo Mourning

Alonzo Mourning likely finishes even higher on this list of a kidney condition did not take multiple years away from Mourning’s prime. Known primarily for his time spent in Miami, Mourning was the first player in the history of the Heat franchise to have his number retired. Mourning was a key contributor to the Heat winning their first championship in 2006 and his career blocks per 48 minutes of 5.46 is the highest average of any player in the history of the NBA.

19. Bill Walton

Bill Walton was a decorated player before he even set foot on an NBA court, as he won two NCAA championships and two NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards at UCLA. Walton’s NBA career was cut short due to injuries but he still had a run in which he was the best player in the NBA. Walton led the Portland Trailblazers to a championship in 1977, in which he was the NBA Finals MVP. Then the next year, Walton would win the leagues MVP award for the regular season.  

18. Nate Thurmond

“Nate the Great” Thurmond was the first player in the history of the NBA to record a quadruple-double in a game. Thurmond also had a game where he grabbed 42 rebounds, which is the most by any player not named Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell.  

17. Bob McAdoo

Bob McAdoo had a long NBA career, in which he played for seven different franchises. McAdoo had the most personal success at the start of his career with the Buffalo Braves, winning the Rookie of the Year, an MVP award and three scoring titles in his first four seasons in the NBA. Still, McAdoo is probably most remembered for his contributions to the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, winning two championships in 1982 and 1985.  

16. Neil Johnston

Neil Johnston spent eight years in the NBA and was an all-star in six of them. Johnston won three scoring title while in the league and averaged 19.4 points and 11.3 rebounds per game in his career. He also led the Philadelphia Warriors to a NBA title in 1956.  

15. Robert Parrish

No one has ever played more games in the NBA then Robert Parish as his 1,611 regular season games are the most in the history of the league. Parish was known for his clutch rebounding late in games and was a huge factor in bringing Boston four championships during his career.  

14. Dave Cowens

Dave Cowens spent ten seasons with the Boston Celtics and was named an all-star eight times. Cowen checked all the boxes of an NBA career, winning the Rookie of the Year in 1971, the MVP award in 1973 and two championships in 1974 and 1976.  

13. Wes Unseld

Wes Unseld spent his entire career with Bullets franchise and is one of the greatest rebounders in the history of the NBA. Unseld made an immediate impact for the Bullets, averaging 18.2 rebounds per game in his 1969 Rookie of the Year campaign. Unseld would eventually led the Bullets to a championship in 1978, in which he was the 1978 NBA Finals MVP.  

12. Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard has become a journeyman center as of late, but lets not forget that he is one of the best players to ever play the center position. Howard was an all-star for eight consecutive years between 2007 to 2014 and he led the league in rebounding five times during that span. Howard was a physical presence on both ends of the floor as he also led the league in blocks twice.  

11. Patrick Ewing

Patrick Ewing is one of the best players in the history of the New York Knicks franchise, which is why his No. 33 jersey is hanging from the rafters of Madison Square Garden. Ewing averaged 21 points and 9.8 rebounds throughout his career and was an 11-time all-star.

10. Willis Reed

Another great New York Knicks center, Willis Reed finishes a slot ahead of Ewing on this list because he brought the Knicks two championships in 1970 and 1973. Reed’s most memorable moment was when he returned to the Knicks for Game 7 in the NBA Finals, after missing Game 6 due to a torn thigh muscle, and made the first two field goals of the game leading his team to the victory.  

9.Moses Malone

Moses Malone is a 12-time all-star that was named the league’s Most Valuable Player three times in his career. Malone led the Philadelphia 76ers to a championship in 1973, when he was the NBA Finals MVP, and led the league in rebounding six times. Malone finished his career with averages of 20.6 points and 12.2 rebounds per game.  

8. Elvin Hayes

Elvin Hayes had his number 44 retired by the Washington franchise as he was one of the greatest players to ever play for the Bullets. Hayes was a 12-time all-star and averaged 21 points, 12.5 rebound and 2 blocks per game in his career.  

7. David Robinson

Known as “The Admiral”, David Robinson was really the first great player that led to the long-lasting dynasty of the San Antonio Spurs. Robinson was the 1995 NBA MVP and had seasons in which he led the league in scoring (1994), rebounding (1991) and in blocks (1992). Robinson was also the 1992 Defensive Player of the Year and won two championships with the Spurs.  

6. Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon is the best player to ever play for the Houston Rockets, leading them to their only two championships when they went back-to-back in 1994 and 1995. Olajuwon was a 12-time all-star and was the MVP of the league in 1994. Olajuwon has impressive career numbers of 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game.  

5. George Mikan

4. Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal is still one of the most popular players to ever play in the NBA, with his larger then life personality and rim-shattering dunks. Shaq was a four-time NBA champion and won three NBA Finals MVPs during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. O’Neal averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in his career and was a 15-time all-star.  

3. Bill Russell

Many people will object to Bill Russell not being the top center of all-time and rightfully so. Russell won 11 championships in a 13-year career, which is one of the most remarkable runs in the history of sports. Still, giving Russell all of the credit is overshadowing the fact there was usually four other Hall of Famers on the court with him at the same time. While he is one of the best centers ever, he was not quite as talented as the top two centers on this list.  

2. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar

To this day, nothing has been more unstoppable in sports then Kareem Abdul-Jabaar’s patented skyhook. Abdul-Jabaar was an MVP six times, which is more then any other player in NBA history. Abdul-Jabaar also scored more career points then any player in NBA history with 38,387 points. Kareem was a 19-time all-star, six-time NBA champion is on the Mount Rushmore as one of the best players to ever suit up in the NBA.  

1. Wilt Chamberlain

The best center in NBA history was Wilt Chamberlain as he dominated the game in a way that we will never see again. Chamberlain is the only player to ever record 100 points in a single game and even averaged 50.8 points per game one season. Chamberlain is also the only player to ever average 30 points and 20 rebounds for a season and he accomplished that feat SEVEN times. In fact, his career averages are 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game. Just because he did not win as much as Russell, that does not mean that Chamberlain was not a better player.