The HyperTexts

Who is the NBA's GOAT: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving?

THE GREAT GOAT DEBATE

Who is the NBA's GOAT, the player who is the Greatest of all Time? Let's let the best-informed people vote: the players themselves. This is an informal, admittedly unscientific attempt at a consensus poll, based on what some of the greatest players in NBA history have said on the subject ...

There are some surprises: votes for Meadowlark Lemon, Nate Archibald, Lenny Wilkins and Adrian Dantley. Great players, no doubt, but surprises nonetheless. In the votes section, you can see who voted for whom. After I was accused of "lying" by various trolls, I started hyper-linking to interviews, so there is now plenty of evidence in the votes section, including Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen both naming Wilt Chamberlain first when the GOAT issue was raised.

Perhaps just as surprising are the all-time great players who didn't get a single GOAT vote: Vince Carter, Kevin Durant, Patrick Ewing, Kevin Garnett, George Gervin, James Harden, Elvin Hayes, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd, Bernard King, Moses Malone, Kevin McHale, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, David Robinson, David Thompson, Wes Unseld, Dwyane Wade, Bill Walton, Russell Westbrook and Dominique Wilkins.

I think "rings" have been vastly overrated in the great GOAT debate. Here are three quick observations about Michael Jordan and his six rings: (1) If rings are so important, Bill Russell and several other Boston Celtics have a lot more rings than MJ and one of them must be the GOAT. (2) MJ didn't win a ring until he was surrounded by championship-level players like Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, John Paxon and B.J. Armstrong. And even then it took considerable time for that team to jell. Before he had such support, MJ played on four losing teams and lost two playoff series to the Celtics and two more to the Pistons. MJ didn't win a ring until his seventh season, and he definitely didn't do it on his own. Therefore, MJ himself proves that the "ring thing" is mostly bling. (3) MJ was 0-6 in playoff games against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. He didn't win a single game. Does that make MJ less great, or does it simply mean the Celtics had the better team? The answer seems obvious.

The All-Time NBA GOATs, by Consensus

(#1) Wilt Chamberlain (54 votes) including MJ, Scottie, Kobe, Shaq, Kareem, Oscar, Bill Russell, et al
(#2) Michael Jordan (35) is a strong second
(#3) Larry Bird (26) they called him Larry Legend for a reason
(#4) Magic Johnson (25) they called him Magic for a reason
(#5) Bill Russell (25) the all-time king if rings are the thing
(#6) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (18) the all-time point king
(#7) Oscar Robertson (15) the original triple-double machine
(#8) Elgin Baylor (15) was the prototype for Dr. J, MJ and Kobe
(#9) Jerry West (14) and the LOGO with the three-pointer? OMG!
(#10) LeBron James (13)
(#11) Shaquille O'Neal (10)
(#12) Tim Duncan (8)
(#13) Hakeem Olajuwon (7)
(#14) Kobe Bryant (6)
(#15) Julius Erving (6)
(#16) Pistol Pete Maravich (4) and what would the Pistol have done with the three-pointer?
(#17) Bob Pettit (4)
(#18) John Stockton (3) but one vote was by his partner Karl Malone
(#19) Scottie Pippen (3) but one vote was by his partner Michael Jordan
(#20) Charles Barkley (2)
(#21) Karl Malone (2)
(#22) George Mikan (2)
(#23) Steve Nash (2)
(#24) Players with one GOAT vote each: Nate Archibald, Rick Barry, Bob Cousy, Stephen Curry, Adrian Dantley, Walt Frazier, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek, Connie Hawkins, Meadowlark Lemon, Dolph Schayes, Isiah Thomas, Lenny Wilkins, James Worthy

DARK HORSES

With the three pointer and their ball-handling and passing abilities, two players who would soar on this list would be Jerry West and Pete Maravich.

NBAmath.com has an excellent discussion of why Jerry West has been vastly underrated and rightly belongs in the GREAT GOAT DEBATE.

Pete Maravich, the original runner and gunner 40 years ahead of his time, has been called the Pistol, the Master of Improvisation, the Pioneer of Playmaking, "sweet" (Isiah Thomas), a "true entertainer" (Dave Bing), an "artist" (Rich Kelley), and "scary good." Dale Brown charted all the Pistol's shots from his college days and concluded that he would have made 13 threes per game, averaging 57 points per game. In an NBA game the Pistol once scored 68 points without a three. With his height, athleticism, flexibility, dexterity, ball-handling skills and outside shooting, what Pistol Pete could have done with the three-pointer boggles the mind.

Elgin Baylor averaged 27 points and 13.5 rebounds playing forward at 6'5" as the prototype for future high-wire acts like Dr. J and Michael Jordan. In an interview available on YouTube, Jerry West called Baylor "magnificent" and said he "gets little or no credit for being as great as he was." I agree. And I agree with Michael Lee, who wrote: "The numbers Baylor produced are still strong enough to elucidate his greatness: the first player to score more than 70 points in a game, the only player to surpass 60 points in a Finals game, the third-highest scoring average in NBA history, the only player shorter than 6-foot-6 to rank in the top 10 all-time for rebounds per game. Hangtime? That started with Baylor. The dribble move known as the Euro step, where you take a step in one direction, then take another across your body to hold off a defender? Baylor was doing that six decades ago." Lee also pointed out that the term "superstar" was coined to describe Baylor's brilliance. Or, as Jim Alexander wrote: "Baylor was the first GOAT, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound bundle of athleticism who, as Lakers TV analyst Stu Lantz put it, 'was hang-timin' before hang-timin' was hang time.' All of those things that Julius Erving, Michael Jordan and scores of their imitators have done through the years in basketball? Elgin did most of them first. Maybe not the takeoff from the free-throw line to dunk, but he was the pioneer when it came to the rest. In fact, Baylor might have been the inspiration for the late Chick Hearn’s line about two guys going up, one to take a shot and the other to contest it, and the defender 'getting off on the fourth floor.'" Baylor has also been called "the Charlie Parker of basketball" and "poetry in motion."

Other players who seem undervalued according the NBAmath.com include Bob Pettit, Wes Unseld, Walt Frazier, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen and Jason Kidd.

Other dark horses include: Kevin Durant (especially after his 49-17-10 triple-double with Kyrie Irving out and James Harden hobbled in the 2021 playoffs), George Mikan (the first superstar center who led his team to five championships in effectively six years with three of the highest win share seasons in NBA history), Kevin McHale (Charles Barkley repeatedly said that McHale was the best player he ever played against because he was impossible to stop on offense and was very difficult to score against), Bernard King (when healthy), Bill Walton (when healthy)

The All-Time NBA Team, by Consensus

According to the consensus votes which follow, the all-time NBA team, with starters listed first, would be ...

Center: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon
Shooting Guard: Michael Jordan, Jerry West
Point Guard: Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Pistol Pete Maravich
Power Forward: Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone
Small Forward: LeBron James, Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant, Julius Erving

Let's give the NBA players their due, because it is very hard to argue against this Dream Team. Also, please note how tight the race is, after the top two.

When the fans vote, according to Ranker, the player who jumps the highest in the rankings is the crowd-pleasing Dr. J, who is second only to MJ. Fans do like to be entertained!

According to these player rankings, the greatest NBA team of all time may have been the 1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers team that featured Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Gail Goodrich. That team won 33 games in a row, finished 69-13, and won the NBA championship. Goodrich led the team in scoring at 25.9 points per game. West was just a tick behind at 25.8 ppg and averaged 9.7 assists per game. Jim McMillian averaged 18.8 ppg and 6.5 rebounds. Chamberlain averaged 14.8 points, 19.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists, with a sterling .649 field goal percentage. Happy Hairston averaged a perfectly symmetrical 13.1 points and 13.1 rebounds. Baylor, at the tail end of his amazing career, averaged 11.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in limited service before retiring. The Lakers averaged 121.0 points per game, with a 12.3 point differential. They led the NBA in points, field goals, rebounds, assists and fewest personal fouls, while finishing second in field goal percentage (.490), free throws attempted and free throws made. On the defensive side, they gave up the fewest free throws attempted and made, while holding opponents to a dismal .432 field goal percentage. They were number one in offensive rating, and number two in defensive rating. That team finished 81-16 including the playoffs.

Wilt Chamberlain is the "missing link" to the previous best NBA team, the 1966-1967 Philadelphia Warriors, who finished 68-13 in the regular season, swept through the playoffs 11-4, and averaged 125.2 points per game with a 9.4 point differential. They were number one in offensive rating, and number three in defensive rating. Chamberlain was phenomenal, averaging 24.1 ppg, 24.2 rpg, shooting a spectacular .683 from the field, and finishing third in assists with 7.8 apg. That star-studded team included Billy Cunningham, Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Wali Jones, Luke Jackson and Larry Costello. That team finished 79-17 including the playoffs.

And thus another argument for Wilt Chamberlain as the NBA GOAT is that when he had a great supporting cast, he did sacrifice scoring for his teams and twice set records for the most wins in a season, and also set a consecutive game winning streak that still stands. Also, let it be noted that the Big Dipper led both teams in win shares, despite his greatly reduced shooting. Furthermore, Chamberlain is second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in career win shares, but Kareem and Michael Jordan remained their teams' primary scorers until nearly the end of their careers, while Chamberlain voluntarily sacrificed his scoring after his age 29 season. If he had kept shooting, no one would be remotely close in win shares. Also, while we're talking about win shares, let it be noted that the best win share seasons are dominated by Chamberlain (five of the top eleven seasons), Jabbar (three of the top seven seasons), and George Mikan (three of the top twelve seasons). Michael Jordan has only only one of the top ten win share seasons.

Here are the GOAT votes, followed by each vote and what many of the voters said. Who did the greatest players vote for? Michael Jordan voted for Wilt Chamberlain in a roundabout way, by naming him first in a GOAT discussion, and so did his most famous teammate, Scottie Pippen, more directly. Chamberlain's nemesis at center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar voted for Wilt, and so did Kareem's hall-of-fame teammate Oscar Robertson, the original triple-double machine and perhaps the best guard ever. Kobe voted for Wilt and so did his teammate Shaquille O'Neal. Karl Malone named Wilt number one and so did his hall-of-fame partner John Stockton, the all-time assist leader. Other all-time greats who named Wilt number one or first on their "short lists" include Dr. J, Rick Barry, Walt Frazier (who called Wilt "the only superman to play the game"), Clyde Drexler, Gary Payton and James Harden.

Methodology: This is not a perfect science. Some players have voted for more than one player and some have cast different votes for different players at different times. But just to mention a player in a GOAT decision is a mark of great honor, so I include ALL names mentioned and ignore slight imperfections here and there. The goal is to discover and uncover the larger trend. If MJ mentions Wilt first in a GOAT discussion, that seems like a strong point in Wilt's favor to me. If MJ mentions Jerry West second, that is good enough for me. If he mentions someone else first later, I will also give that player a vote.

THE COMPLETE GOAT VOTES

Here are the individual GOAT picks, with the cumulative totals for each nominee in parentheses. The term AC means "already counted" if someone names the same player in more than one interview.

Wilt Chamberlain: Meadowlark Lemon (1) but later Wilt will vote for seven NBA stars, as I have noted further down, and later he would vote for Bill Russell, also noted
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at 4:00 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain was "unbelievable" (1), Bill Russell (1), Oscar Robertson (1)
Oscar Robertson: Wilt Chamberlain (2), Elgin Baylor (1), Jerry West (1), LeBron James (1), Kobe Bryant (1)
Scottie Pippen at :40 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (3)
Michael Jordan at 1:30 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (4), Jerry West (2)

When an interviewer asked Jordan if he cared about being called the greatest basketball player ever, he replied, “I don’t want it in a sense because I think it disrespects Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West.” I take those two names to be deeply significant to Jordan, who's a student of the game, and those names do count as votes in my methodology, which is not an exact science but a different way to look at trends in the larger picture. I just count ALL the votes for the top contenders and look for the larger trend: who is named the most when the GOAT question comes up?

Shaq: Hakeem Olajuwon (1) but he later named Wilt Chamberlain at least twice as the greatest and most dominant player ever
"Dr. J" Julius Erving: Wilt Chamberlain (5), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1), Bill Russell (2), Elgin Baylor (2), Jerry West (3), Oscar Robertson (2)

Dr. J also spoke very highly of Connie Hawkins (1) and pointed out that by the time he played in the NBA he was 30 years old and had bad knees. Dr. J furthermore pointed out that there was legacy for his style of play that started with Elgin Baylor, then was passed down to Hawkins, then to himself, then to Michael Jordan, then to Kobe Bryant and currently to LeBron James.

Bill Russell: Michael Jordan (1), Oscar Robertson (3) but on numerous occasions he named Wilt (documented here and tallied later because I am tallying the votes in chronological order in order to keep the running scores correct, and I found the quotes in question years after I started this scorecard)

Bill Russell's quotes about Wilt Chamberlain and their rivalry and close friendship:

Bill Russell: He [Wilt] thought, and rightfully so, that he was the greatest basketball player who ever lived. [At the beginning of this interview compilation.]

"Nobody seems to appreciate what an incredible player Wilt was," Russell said at 1997 All-Star Game when the league named and honored its 50 greatest players. "He was the best player of all time because he dominated the floor like nobody else ever could. To be that big and that athletic was special."

"I'm probably the only person on the planet who knows how good you really are." – Bill Russell to Wilt Chamberlain in his autobiography Go Up for Glory, pg. 100

"Wilt is playing better than I used to: passing off, coming out to set up screens, picking up guys outside, and sacrificing himself for team play." – Bill Russell, quoted in Great Moments in Pro Basketball by Sam Goldaper, pg. 24

"If the referee is calling the game loose, then everyone gets away with more, so you have to handle your own man accordingly, unless it’s Wilt Chamberlain. Him, you just don’t handle. He’s too strong. The best you can do is make him work hard."

"Because I knew Wilt as I did, I was always seeking to take advantage of his good nature. I did whatever I could to make sure I would never get him angry or fired up, as I knew he would destroy me if I did."

"After I played him for the first time, I said, 'Let's see. He's four or five inches taller. He's 40 or 50 pounds heavier. His vertical leap is at least as good as mine. He can get up and down the floor as well as I can. And he's smart. The real problem with all this is that I have to show up!'"

"The first time I ever played Wilt he destroyed me so bad that he put enough fear into my heart that I was going to do anything to beat Wilt."

''The saving thing about playing against Wilt, who was so physically imposing, is that I can't recall hearing about anything where Wilt tried to hurt anybody. I also knew that I could knock him over and hard foul him, but that he would not get up after I fouled him and fight me.'' – Bill Russell, in Giants of The Game: Russell and Chamberlain [and at :45 of this interview clip]

''I don't sleep a couple of days because I remember some of the games against Wilt when he scored 62 points against me and got 55 rebounds on my head.'' – Bill Russell, in Giants of The Game: Russell and Chamberlain

"People say it was the greatest individual rivalry they've ever seen. I agree with that. Let me assure you that if either Wilt's or Russ's coach had ever told one of them he couldn't guard the other guy, he would have lost that player forever."

"Wilt was the smartest player I played against. I could never play Wilt the same two games in a row because it would not work, and so through the whole time we played against each other every game was different." – Bill Russell, in an interview conducted at his house [at 1:30 of this interview clip]

''I would go over to Wilt's house on Thanksgiving and sleep in his bed, eat his food, and then leave to go the arena to play against him, and then I would beat Wilt. One time Wilt's mother said to Wilt, 'Maybe we should not feed Bill so well the next time he is here!'''

''When Wilt shot that hook-shot of his, I would say are you kidding me?'' – Bill Russell, in a 1997 interview

"When the media compared Wilt and me, I decided that I will never change the way I play for the Celtics to try to match him."

''Wilt called me up one day [when] Sports Illustrated had a cover about Rodman being the best rebounder ever. And Wilt was so annoyed, so he calls me up and asks do I believe this shit, and I said no. Wilt then says to me. 'I grabbed more rebounds in a quarter then he had in a whole game!'"

''Wilt and I chat on the phone now like two old ladies."

At Wilt's funeral, his lifelong on-court rival and personal friend Bill Russell said, "The fierceness of our competition bonded us together for eternity."

Gary Payton: Wilt Chamberlain (6), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2), Bill Russell (3), Magic Johnson (1), Julius Erving (1)
John Stockton: Wilt Chamberlain (7), Michael Jordan (2), Elgin Baylor (3), Larry Bird (1), Magic Johnson (2)
LeBron James: Larry Bird (2), Julius Erving (2), Michael Jordan (3) but also called Wilt a "flat out Monster" with a capital M in a tweet
Walt Frazier at 1:30 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain is the only superman to play the game (8), Bill Russell (4), Michael Jordan (4)
Rick Barry at 5:00 of this interview compilation: "There is no one close to what Wilt Chamberlain did in his career" (9)
Kevin McHale: Wilt Chamberlain (10)
Bill Walton: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3)
George Gervin: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (4)
Isiah Thomas: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5), LeBron James (2)
Tracy McGrady: Shaquille O'Neal (1), LeBron James (3), Michael Jordan (5), Magic Johnson (3), Hakeem Olajuwon (2)
Jason Kidd: Shaquille O'Neal (2), Michael Jordan (6), Scottie Pippen (1), John Stockton (1), Tim Duncan (1)
Reggie Miller: Michael Jordan (7), Magic Johnson (4), Larry Bird (3), Hakeem Olajuwon (3)
Jerry West: Michael Jordan (8) but said it would be "embarrassing" for centers today to play against Wilt Chamberlain
Elgin Baylor: Michael Jordan (9) but he also said Bill Russell quite emphatically (tallied later in this list)
Magic Johnson at 5:30 of this interview compilation: Michael Jordan (10) but he said "There will never, ever be another Wilt Chamberlain"
Larry Bird: Michael Jordan (11)
Hakeem Olajuwon: Michael Jordan (12) but he also named Wilt Chamberlain, noted below
Bob Cousy: Michael Jordan (13)
Kevin Garnett: Michael Jordan (14), Jerry West (4), Oscar Robertson (4), Nate Archibald (1), Adrian Dantley (1)
ESPN: Michael Jordan (15), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), LeBron James (4), Magic Johnson (5), Wilt Chamberlain (11), Larry Bird (4), Bill Russell (5), Tim Duncan (2), Shaquille O'Neal (3), Hakeem Olajuwon (4)
FOX Sports: Michael Jordan (16), LeBron James (5), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (7), Shaquille O'Neal (4), Tim Duncan (3), Magic Johnson (6), Bill Russell (6), Wilt Chamberlain (12), Larry Bird (5), Hakeem Olajuwon (5)
Ranker (the fans vote): Michael Jordan (17), Julius Erving (3), Bill Russell (7), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (8), Magic Johnson (7), LeBron James (6), Wilt Chamberlain (13), Larry Bird (6), Kobe Bryant (2), Shaquille O'Neal (5)
CBS Sports: Michael Jordan (18), LeBron James (7), Wilt Chamberlain (14), Magic Johnson (8), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (8), Tim Duncan (4), Bill Russell (8), Larry Bird (7), Shaquille O'Neal (6), Kobe Bryant (3)
NBA Logo: Jerry West (5)
Clyde Drexler at :40 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (15) 
Joel Embiid: Wilt Chamberlain "has all the records" and "he's the GOAT" (16)
Wayne Embry: Oscar Robertson (5)
Jim Chones: Wilt Chamberlain (17), Bill Russell (9), Elgin Baylor (4), Oscar Robertson (6)
Jarrett Jack: Oscar Robertson (7)
Kyrie Irving: Oscar Robertson (8)
The Top Tens: Michael Jordan (19), Magic Johnson (9), LeBron James (8), Larry Bird (8), Kobe Bryant (4), Wilt Chamberlain (18), Bill Russell (10), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (9), Shaquille O'Neal (7), Oscar Robertson (9)
The Grueling Truth: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (10), Bill Russell (11), Wilt Chamberlain (19)
Legends 100: Michael Jordan (20), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (10), Bill Russell (12), Wilt Chamberlain (20), Tim Duncan (5), Magic Johnson (10), LeBron James (9), Larry Bird (9), Jerry West (6), Shaquille O'Neal (8)
Bobby Knight: Jerry West (7)

In an interview viewable on YouTube, Jerry West said that he was friends with Bobby Knight, called him a "basketball genius" and said that Knight had confided to him that he thought the greatest basketball player of all time was Jerry West.

Charles Barkley: Michael Jordan (21), Oscar Robertson (10), Bill Russell (13), Wilt Chamberlain (21), Kobe Bryant (4), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (11)
Statista: Michael Jordan (22), Wilt Chamberlain (22), LeBron James (10), Magic Johnson (11), Larry Bird (10), Stephen Curry (1), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (11), Bill Russell (14), Shaquille O'Neal (9), Tim Duncan (6)
John Salley: Magic Johnson (12)
Tom Aizenberg: Wilt Chamberlain (23)
Jim Flannery: Wilt Chamberlain (24)
David Asch: Wilt Chamberlain (25)

Bleacher Report: Wilt Chamberlain (27)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in an interview called Larry Bird his most difficult opponent ("He wore us out" and "could do anything" and was "just ridiculous"): Larry Bird (10)
Isiah Thomas said that if he, Magic, Jordan and Bird were put in the same room together, Bird would probably be the one to emerge "at the end of the day": Larry Bird (11)
Danny Ainge said that Larry Bird was at a "higher level" than other players; for instance he would make a bet to bank a three-pointer during an NBA game, then do it: Larry Bird (12)
Byron Scott in an interview said that Bird told the Lakers a game-ending play would go to him for a three-pointer; it did, and he make the shot anyway: Larry Bird (13)
Dominique Wilkens said "Larry Bird would hit more clutch shots in pressure situations than anyone; he would call the spot!": Larry Bird (14)
Larry Bird (15) and Steve Nash (1) are the only NBA players to make the 50-40-90 club more than once
Magic Johnson said "Larry Bird was so good, it was frightening!": Larry Bird (16)
Bill Walton said that with three-pointers Pete Maravich (1) would have averaged 50 points per game. Walton also called him a taller, more athletic Steve Nash.
Shaq at :35 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain was the greatest, the most dominant player ever (28)
David Stern at 2:10 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain "cast a shadow over our game, a shadow of accomplishment" (29)
Earl Monroe: Wilt Chamberlain (30)
Jalen Rose: Wilt Chamberlain was "the unstoppable force ... he's in a category of his own" (31)
James Harden in this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain was "on another level" (32)
Kobe Bryant at :50 of this interview compilation: "Wilt, me, Mike" with Wilt Chamberlain (33) first and Michael Jordan (23) third (self-votes don't count)
Dan Patrick at 2:15 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain is not acknowledged for how transcendently great he really was [paraphrase] (34)
Chris Broussard: Wilt Chamberlain was "utterly dominant" and "the greatest athlete to ever play in the NBA" (35)
Peter Maravich: Larry Bird wasn't the best rebounder, passer, dribbler, shooter or scorer ... he was just the very best (17)
Mark Eaton: Wilt Chamberlain was "arguably the greatest basketball player of all time." (36)
Elgin Baylor in an interview on YouTube: Bill Russell (15) first, followed by Jerry West (8) and Oscar Robertson (11)
Wilt Chamberlain in an interview on YouTube named Larry Bird (18) first, followed by Jerry West (9), Elgin Baylor(5), Oscar Robertson (12), Michael Jordan (24), Magic Johnson (13), Charles Barkley (1)

It is important to note that in the interview above, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell were not allowed to vote for each other, leading to ...

Wilt Chamberlain at 3:45 of this interview compilation: Bill Russell (16)
Allen Iverson: Michael Jordan (25)
NBAmath.com: Jerry West (10) because "West’s year-by-year scores are comparable to those earned by the primary G.O.A.T. contenders"
Kevin Love at 1:00 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (37)
Hakeem Olajuwon at 1:10 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (38)
Kevin Durant at 1:20 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (39)
Karl Malone: Wilt Chamberlain (40)
Bleacher Report GOAT analysis: Michael Jordan (26), Kobe Bryant (5), Magic Johnson (14), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (12), Larry Bird (19), Jerry West (11)
Bob Pettit: Bill Russell (17)
Paul Pierce: Michael Jordan (27)
Kevin Durant: Michael Jordan (28), Kobe Bryant (6), Magic Johnson (15), Shaquille O'Neal (10), Tim Duncan (7)
LeBron James at 1:50 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain was a flat-out monster (41)
Dale Brown said that with three-pointers Pete Maravich (2) would have averaged 57 points per game.
Jerry West at 4:30 of this interview compilation: It would be "embarrassing" for modern centers to face Wilt Chamberlain (42)
Magic Johnson at 5:30 of this interview compilation: "There will never, ever be another Wilt Chamberlain" (43)
Giannis Antetokounmpo at 6:00 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain "has all the records ... That's it. He's the GOAT." (44)
Karl Malone: Wilt Chamberlain (AC), John Stockton (2), Oscar Robertson (13), LeBron James (11), Scottie Pippen (2)
Bill Russell: Wilt Chamberlain (45) on numerous occasions, documented early in this list
Bill Russell: Magic Johnson (16), Michael Jordan (AC), Larry Bird (20), Elgin Baylor (6), Oscar Robertson (AC), Hakeem Olajuwon (6), Bob Pettit (1)

The votes above came in an interview where Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain were not allowed to vote for each other.

Red Auerbach refused to name an all-time team unless he could pick 12 players, and then snuck in two more!: Bill Russell (18), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (13), Bob Pettit (2), Magic Johnson (17), Michael Jordan (29), Jerry West (12), Larry Bird (21), Elgin Baylor (7), Julius Erving (5), Oscar Robertson (14), Bob Cousy (1), John Havlicek (1), Charles Barkley (2), Karl Malone (1)

Shaq all-time team one: Hakeem (AC), Bill Russell (19), Julius Erving (6), Magic Johnson (18), Michael Jordan (30)
Shaq all-time team two: Hakeem (AC), Kobe Bryant (7), Larry Bird (22), Karl Malone (2), Michael Jordan (AC)

Michael Jordan: Magic Johnson (19), Michael Jordan (NC), Hakeem Olajuwon (7), Scottie Pippen (3), James Worthy (1) with the last two looking like "homer" votes

Sir Charles Barkley's updated list: Michael Jordan (AC), Oscar Robertson (AC), Bill Russell (AC), Wilt Chamberlain (AC), Kobe Bryant (AC), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (AC), Magic Johnson (20), Larry Bird (23), Jerry West (13), LeBron James (12), Elgin Baylor (8), Tim Duncan (8)

Magic Johnson: Michael Jordan (31), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (14), Larry Bird (24), Tim Duncan (9), Isiah Thomas (1)

Kobe Bryant: Wilt Chamberlain (46), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (15), Magic Johnson (21), Jerry West (14), Elgin Baylor (9), Michael Jordan (32), Larry Bird (25), Bill Russell (20), Oscar Robertson (15), Bob Pettit (3), Walt Frazier (1)

Kevin McHale:  Bill Russell (21), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (16), Magic Johnson (22), Michael Jordan (33), Larry Bird (26)

Jalen Rose's "Mount Rushmore": Bill Russell (22), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (17), Magic Johnson (23), Michael Jordan (34)

According to NBAmath.com and its Progressive GOAT calculations, George Mikan (1) was the NBA GOAT from 1951-1954
According to NBAmath.com and its Progressive GOAT calculations, Dolph Schayes (1) was the NBA GOAT from from 1955-1964 (10 years)
According to NBAmath.com and its Progressive GOAT calculations, Bob Pettit (4) was in the top ten of its NBA GOAT index from 1955-1988 (a remarkable 34 years!)
According to NBAmath.com and its Progressive GOAT calculations, Wes Unseld (1) was in the top ten of its NBA GOAT index from 1976-1990 (15 years)

Shawn Kemp: Magic Johnson (24) was "the general"
Pat Riley: Magic Johnson (25)
Bijan C. Bayne: the word "superstar" was coined because of Elgin Baylor (10)
The Shadow League: Elgin Baylor (11) was a top five player of all time
Jim Alexander: Elgin Baylor (12) was the first GOAT and "the best player who most of America never saw."
Hot Rod Hundley: Elgin Baylor (13)
Jonny Arnett: Elgin Baylor (14) was "the most underrated player of all time"
Dylan Carlson: Elgin Baylor (15) was "the most underrated player in the history of basketball " and he was "raised by wolves"
George Mikan (2) has three of the top twelve win share seasons of all time, third behind only Wilt Chamberlain (47) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (18)
Tom Heinsohn: Bill Russell (23)
Wali Jones at 3:30 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (48), Bill Russell (24), LeBron James (13), Michael Jordan (35), Rick Barry (1)
Ralph Sampson: Bill Russell (25)
Nate Archibald: Lenny Wilkins (1)
Allen Iverson at 5:30 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (49)
Nate Thurmond was "in awe" at 6:30 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (50)
Blair Floyd at 6:50 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (51)
Mo Howard at 7:30 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (52)
Chink Scott at 8:00 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (53)
Ducky Birts at 39:00 of this interview compilation: Wilt Chamberlain (54)
Gary Payton: John Stockton (3) was harder to guard than Michael Jordan
Backpicks has made a strong case for Steve Nash (2) to be included in the great NBA GOAT debate in this in-depth analysis (one of the best I've read)
Backpicks also has Kevin Garnett (1) among its top candidates for the NBA GOAT

Elgin Baylor: [Oscar] Robertson was the best guard I ever played against, Jerry West was the best I ever played with, and Pete [Maravich(3)] is the best I’ve ever seen.
Calvin Murphy: If you haven't seen [Pete Maravich(4)] "you haven't seen the best."

Calvin Murphy, one of the greatest ball handlers in NBA history, said in an interview: You know, in college, Pistol and I fought for the scoring leader in the country, and all three years I was second to Pistol. And I used to make excuses: “The only reason Pistol scored more than me is because his dad coached him,” and so on and so forth, until I got to play against him, and that was a lot of bologna. He was… He was… He was… Goodness gracious, it’s hard to describe somebody that was about 6’6″ or 6’7″ [who] handled the ball as well or better than myself. He just didn’t shoot the basketball, he was a pure shooter. He would pass the ball through the eye of a needle. I got a chance to play with him for the first time in the High School All-American Game in Memphis, and it’s tough. You’re trying to play your game, and you’re watching him. You know, you’re in the back court with him. We were starting guards for the All-American Team, and I got to be great friends with him from that point on. Well, you know, if you can’t beat ’em, you’ve got to join ’em!

The following "votes" were not counted but they probably could be ...

Steve Nash: We’re all doing things he did first. [This sounds like a ringing endorsement for Pete Maravich by perhaps his closest competitor.]
Rick Barry: He was the greatest ball handler I’ve ever seen in my life. He could do things with the basketball that were unbelievable.
Bill Walton: Like a master chess player, Pete Maravich saw things that nobody else did.

All-Time Starting Fives with Optional Sixth Man

In an interview where they were not allowed to vote for each other, these were the picks of all-time NBA greats Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. It was amusing that they started with five players, then six, and kept trying to squeeze in other favorite players. Here are the teams they came up with:

Wilt Chamberlain: Larry Bird (first), Jerry West, Oscar Robertson , Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and he also squeezed in Charles Barkley
Bill Russell: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bob Pettit

Kobe Bryant: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor
Karl Malone: Wilt Chamberlain, John Stockton, Oscar Robertson, LeBron James, Scottie Pippen
Allen Iverson: Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal
Bleacher Report GOAT analysis: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Jerry West
Michael R. Burch: Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor
Andrew Vojt: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird
Clutch Points: Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, LeBron James
Clubhouse Chatter: Wilt Chamberlain, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson
Chris Mannix: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Larry Bird, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Scottie Pippen
Mark Bechtel: Steve Nash, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, LeBron James, Bill Russell, John Havlicek
Michael Shapiro: Stephen Curry, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Manu Ginóbili
Jarrel Harris: Stephen Curry, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Hakeem Olajuwon, Lou Williams
Ben Pickman: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, LeBron James, Bill Russell, Stephen Curry
Robin Lundberg: Stephen Curry, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Shaquille O’Neal, Ray Allen
Heatcheck: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Best Defenders of All Time

Bill Russell (consensus)
Tim Duncan (fifteen-time NBA All-Defensive Team)
Kevin Garnett (twelve-time NBA All-Defensive Team)
Kobe Bryant (twelve-time NBA All-Defensive Team)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (eleven-time NBA All-Defensive Team)
Scottie Pippen (ten-time NBA All-Defensive Team)
Gary Payton (nine-time NBA All-Defensive Team)
Hakeem Olajuwon (nine-time NBA All-Defensive Team)
Michael Jordan (nine-time NBA All-Defensive Team)
David Robinson (eight-time NBA All-Defensive Team)
Dennis Rodman (eight-time NBA All-Defensive Team)
Walt Frazier (seven-time NBA All-Defensive Team)
Ben Wallace (four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year)
Dikembe Mutombo (four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year)
Joe Dumars (Magic Johnson)
Joe Dumars (Reggie Lewis)
Gary Payton (John Stockton)
Tony Allen (Kobe Bryant)
Nate McMillan (Magic Johnson)
Dennis Johnson (Magic Johnson)
Michael Cooper (Magic Johnson)
Nate Thurmond (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
Bob Lanier (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)

Best NBA Players by Decade

In the following "best of the decade" rankings, each player appears in only one decade ...

Best NBA players of the 1950s: George Mikan, Bob Pettit, Paul Arizin, Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Bob Davies, Dolph Schayes, Jack Twyman, George Yardley, Maurice Stokes, Joe Fulks, Tom Gola, Harry Gallatin, Vern Mikkelsen, Jim Pollard, Neil Johnston, Clyde Lovellette, Ed McCauley, Chris Hagan, Gene Shue, Willie Naulls, Richie Guerin, Slater Martin, Alex Groza

Best NBA players of the 1960s: Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Billy Cunningham, Jerry Lucas, Willis Reed, Hal Greer, Dave Bing, Lenny Wilkins, Bailey Howell, Walt Bellamy, Mel Daniels, Sam Jones, Tommy Heinsohn, Chet Walker, Nate Thurmond, Wayne Embry, Dick Barnett, Gus Johnson, Zelmo Beaty, Don Ohl, Terry Dischinger, Dave DeBusschere, Ray Scott

Best NBA players of the 1970s: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Pete Maravich, Rick Barry, John Havlicek, Moses Malone, Bob McAdoo, Elvin Hayes, David Thompson, Connie Hawkins, George Gervin, Dave Cowens, Walt Frazier, Wes Unseld, Nate Archibald, Bob Lanier, Bob Love, Dave Bing, Earl Monroe, Maurice Lucas, Dan Issel, Lou Hudson, Jeff Mullins, Geoff Petrie, Jo Jo White, Spencer Haywood, Gail Goodrich, Charlie Scott, Sidney Wicks, Cazzie Russell, Rudy Tomjanovich, Calvin Murphy

Best NBA players of the 1980s: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, Isiah Thomas, Kevin McHale, Bernard King, Adrian Dantley, George Gervin, Alex English, James Worthy, George McGinnis, Robert Parrish, Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler, Mark Aguirre, Kiki Vandeweghe, Dale Ellis, Sidney Moncrief, Buck Williams, Tom Chambers, Jack Sikma, Dennis Johnson, Doug Collins, Paul Westphal, World B. Free, Mike Mitchell, Marques Johnson, Walter Davis, Reggie Theus, Terry Cummings, Kelly Tripuka

Best NBA players of the 1990s: Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin, Reggie Miller, Gary Payton, Penny Hardaway, Shawn Kemp, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, Alonzo Mourning, Kevin Johnson, Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway, Glen Rice, Joe Dumars, Latrell Sprewell

Best NBA players of the 2000s: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Chris Webber, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Dwight Howard, Allan Houston, Shawn Marion, Jerry Stackhouse, Stephon Marbury, Antawn Jamison, Antoine Walker, Michael Finley, Glenn Robinson, Peja Stojakovich, Amar'e Stoudemire, Gilbert Arenas, Michael Redd, Jalen Rose, Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn, Chris Bosh, Tony Parker, Ben Wallace

Best NBA players of the 2010s: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmello Anthony, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Paul George, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid, Damian Lillard, LeMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love, Klay Thompson, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Michael Conley, Brook Lopez, Monta Ellis, Demar DeRozan, Draymond Green, Kemba Walker, Isaiah Thomas, John Wall, Rudy Gay, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, David Lee, Zach Randolph, Derrick Rose, Danny Granger, Joe Johnson

Up-and-Coming: Tobias Harris, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, Victor Oladipo, CJ McCollum, Devin Booker, Khris Middleton, Kristaps Porzingis, Jayson Tatum, Brandon Ingram, Gordon Hayward, Luka Doncic

According to NBAmath.com and its progressive GOAT rankings (pGr), the NBA GOATs have been:

George Mikan through 1954
Dolph Schayes from 1955-1964 (10 years)
Bill Russell from 1965-1966
Wilt Chamberlain from 1967-1979 (13 years)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from 1980-2014 (35 years)
LeBron James from 2015

Dolph Schayes remained in the pGr top ten until 1982-1983, a remarkable run for someone who is little-known today. Bob Pettit remained in the pGr top ten until 1987-1988, a testimony to how great he was. We do have some serious quibbles with the pGr math, which clearly undervalues Magic Johnson (#8), Larry Bird (#9), Bill Russell (#17), Oscar Robertson (#27) and Jerry West (#28). Were Clyde Drexler and Jason Kidd better than the Big O and the Logo, really?

Related Pages: All-Time Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team, The Greatest Baseball Infields of All Time, Cincinnati Reds Trivia, Is Mike Trout the GOAT?, Best Baseball Nicknames, Mike Trout Nicknames, Weird Baseball Facts and Trivia, Baseball Hall of Fame: The Best Candidates, Why Pete Rose Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Big Red Machine Chronology, Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Season, Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR7

The HyperTexts