Basketball Reference Blog

Top 10 NBA Centers of All Time

Posted by Jonah Gardner on November 21, 2022

It is very difficult for an NBA team to win a title without one of the best centers of all time on their roster. Throughout history, from the Celtics of the 1950s to today’s teams, we’ve seen a lot of dynasties built around the best centers in the NBA. Today, the position is more diverse than ever, as big men like Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid face off for MVP awards, while teams like the Golden State Warriors won with 6’6” Draymond Green playing a lot of minutes at the position.
Today, we’re going to look at the top 10 NBA centers of all-time. Rather than including currently active players, this list is going to be a celebration of the old-school center, the big man who wasn’t afraid to dominate on the block and battle for every rebound. Who’s your pick for the best NBA center of all-time?

Photo of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Pronunciation: \kuh-REEM ab-dool juh-BAR\

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Twitter: kaj33

(born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr.)

(Lew, Cap, Murdock, Big Fella)

Position: Center ▪ Shoots: Right

7-2225lb (218cm, 102kg)

Born: April 16, 1947 (Age: 75-219d) in New York, New York us

College: UCLA

High School: Power Memorial in New York, New York

Draft: Milwaukee Bucks, 1st round (1st pick, 1st overall), 1969 NBA Draft

NBA Debut: October 18, 1969

Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 1995 (Full List)

Career Length: 20 years

SUMMARY

Career

G

1560

PTS

24.6

TRB

11.2

AST

3.6

FG%

55.9

FG3%

5.6

FT%

72.1

eFG%

55.9

PER

24.6

WS

273.4

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer has to be on any list of the greatest centers of all-time. Kareem finished with an astonishing 38,387 points in his career. In addition to being the all-time leader in points, Kareem also holds the record for win shares and minutes played. He’s the only player in NBA history to win the MVP award six times, and his 19 All-Star selections also stand as the record.


Photo of Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain

Pronunciation: \CHAIM-bur-lin\

Wilton Norman Chamberlain

(Wilt the Stilt, The Big Dipper, Dippy, Dip, The Load, Big Musty, The Record Book, Hook and Ladder, Wiltie, Whip, Whipper)

Position: Center ▪ Shoots: Right

7-1275lb (216cm, 124kg)

Born: August 21, 1936 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania us

Died: October 12, 1999 (Aged 63-052d)

College: Kansas

High School: Overbrook in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Draft: Philadelphia Warriors, 1st round (3rd pick, 3rd overall), 1959 NBA Draft (territorial selection)

NBA Debut: October 24, 1959

Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 1979 (Full List)

Career Length: 14 years

SUMMARY

Career

G

1045

PTS

30.1

TRB

22.9

AST

4.4

FG%

54.0

FT%

51.1

PER

26.2

WS

247.3

On a March night in Hershey, PA, Wilt did the impossible, scoring 100 points in an NBA game. That performance alone probably would land him on any list of the best centers of all time, but there’s far more to Wilt’s career than just one unbreakable record. He averaged 30.1 points per game, second most in NBA history, and he’s the all-time leader in both total rebounds and rebounds per game.


Photo of Bill Russell

Bill Russell

William Felton Russell Twitter: realbillrussell

(Russ, Whiskers, Willie, Bill the Hill, The Stuffer)

Position: Center ▪ Shoots: Left

6-10215lb (208cm, 97kg)

Born: February 12, 1934 in Monroe, Louisiana us

Died: July 31, 2022 (Aged 88-169d)

Relatives: Cousin Bob Hopkins

College: San Francisco

High School: McClymonds in Oakland, California

Draft: St. Louis Hawks, 1st round (2nd pick, 2nd overall), 1956 NBA Draft

NBA Debut: December 22, 1956

Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 1975 and Coach in 2021 (Full List)

Career Length: 13 years

SUMMARY

Career

G

963

PTS

15.1

TRB

22.5

AST

4.3

FG%

44.0

FT%

56.1

PER

18.9

WS

163.5

Bill Russell is more than just one of the best NBA centers of all-time. He’s perhaps the greatest winner in NBA history. He won 11 NBA titles with the Boston Celtics, the most championships by any player in the league’s history. Russell didn’t post the gaudy scoring numbers of Chamberlain or Abdul-Jabbar, but he was a defensive force. Russell holds the all-time record for most defensive win shares and it was his defensive effort that served as the anchor for the Celtics’s dynasty.


Photo of Shaquille O

Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal Twitter: SHAQ

(Shaq, Diesel, The Big Aristotle, Superman, Shaq Fu, Shaq Daddy, Warrior)

Position: Center ▪ Shoots: Right

7-1325lb (216cm, 147kg)

Born: March 6, 1972 (Age: 50-260d) in Newark, New Jersey us

Relatives: Son Shareef O’Neal

College: LSU

High School: Cole in San Antonio, Texas

Draft: Orlando Magic, 1st round (1st pick, 1st overall), 1992 NBA Draft

NBA Debut: November 6, 1992

Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 2016 (Full List)

Career Length: 19 years

SUMMARY

Career

G

1207

PTS

23.7

TRB

10.9

AST

2.5

FG%

58.2

FG3%

4.5

FT%

52.7

eFG%

58.2

PER

26.4

WS

181.7

The most recent player on this list, Shaquille O’Neal was an absolute force to be reckoned with. Anyone who saw him knew immediately they were watching one of the best centers in the NBA. Shaq ranks third all-time in win shares, and he was so dominant around the rim that he led the NBA in field goal percentage in ten consecutive seasons. Shaq and Michael Jordan are the only players in NBA history to win Finals MVP three times in a row.


Photo of Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon

Pronunciation: \ah-KEEM ah-LAH-zhoo-wahn\

Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon Twitter: DR34M

(formerly Akeem Olajuwon)

(The Dream, Little Moses)

Position: Center ▪ Shoots: Right

7-0255lb (213cm, 115kg)

Born: January 21, 1963 (Age: 59-304d) in Lagos, Nigeria ng

College: Houston

High School: Muslim Teachers College in Lagos, Nigeria

Draft: Houston Rockets, 1st round (1st pick, 1st overall), 1984 NBA Draft

NBA Debut: October 27, 1984

Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 2008 (Full List)

Career Length: 18 years

SUMMARY

Career

G

1238

PTS

21.8

TRB

11.1

AST

2.5

FG%

51.2

FG3%

20.2

FT%

71.2

eFG%

51.3

PER

23.6

WS

162.8

The Dream is an obvious pick for any list of the top 10 centers of all time. A defensive force to be reckoned with, Hakeem is the all-time leader in blocks (with the caveat that those weren’t recorded as an official statistic until 1973). He’s also the only player to win multiple DPOYs and an MVP in his career. Hakeem’s 11 seasons with at least 1,500 points and 200 blocks are the most all-time.


Photo of David Robinson

David Robinson

David Maurice Robinson Twitter: DavidtheAdmiral

(The Admiral, D-Rob)

Position: Center ▪ Shoots: Left

7-1235lb (216cm, 106kg)

Born: August 6, 1965 (Age: 57-107d) in Key West, Florida us

College: United States Naval Academy

High School: Osbourn Park in Manassas, Virginia

Draft: San Antonio Spurs, 1st round (1st pick, 1st overall), 1987 NBA Draft

NBA Debut: November 4, 1989

Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 2009 (Full List)

Career Length: 14 years

SUMMARY

Career

G

987

PTS

21.1

TRB

10.6

AST

2.5

FG%

51.8

FG3%

25.0

FT%

73.6

eFG%

51.9

PER

26.2

WS

178.7

One of the best centers of all time, the man known as The Admiral is one of six centers with at least 10 All-NBA appearances. A Spur for his entire career, Robinson’s 20,790 points were the most by any center who played their entire career with one team. Robinson’s career peak came when the Spurs added Tim Duncan, creating the duo famously nicknamed the Twin Towers. Duncan’s time playing alongside Robinson and other centers is why he’ll be appearing on the list of power forwards, instead of this one.


Photo of Patrick Ewing

Patrick Ewing

Pronunciation: \YOO-wing\

Patrick Aloysius Ewing

(Big Pat, Hoya Destroya, Pat)

Position: Center and Power Forward ▪ Shoots: Right

7-0240lb (213cm, 108kg)

Born: August 5, 1962 (Age: 60-108d) in Kingston, Jamaica jm

Relatives: Son Patrick Ewing

College: Georgetown

High School: Cambridge Rindge & Latin in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Draft: New York Knicks, 1st round (1st pick, 1st overall), 1985 NBA Draft

NBA Debut: October 26, 1985

Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 2008 (Full List)

Career Length: 17 years

SUMMARY

Career

G

1183

PTS

21.0

TRB

9.8

AST

1.9

FG%

50.4

FG3%

15.2

FT%

74.0

eFG%

50.5

PER

21.0

WS

126.4

The New York Knicks’s good fortune in the 1985 Draft Lottery landed them one of the greatest centers of all time in Patrick Ewing. Ewing became one of the most iconic players of the 1990s, leading the Knicks to a number of memorable playoff battles with Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller. Ewing is the Knicks’s franchise leader in games, points, rebounds, and blocks. He’s also one of four players with 24,000 points, 11,000 rebounds, and 2,800 blocks.


Photo of George Mikan

George Mikan

Pronunciation: \MIKE-in\

George Lawrence Mikan Jr.

(Mr. Basketball, Mikan the Magnificent, The Monster, Big Mike)

Position: Center ▪ Shoots: Right

6-10245lb (208cm, 111kg)

Born: June 18, 1924 in Joliet, Illinois us

Died: June 1, 2005 (Aged 80-348d)

Relatives: Brother Ed Mikan; Sons Larry Mikan, Terry Mikan

College: DePaul

High School: Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago, Illinois

NBA Debut: November 4, 1948

Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 1959 (Full List)

Career Length: 7 years

SUMMARY

Career

G

439

PTS

23.1

TRB

13.4

AST

2.8

FG%

40.4

FT%

78.2

PER

27.1

WS

108.7

One of the NBA’s first superstars, George Mikan led the league in scoring in each of his first three seasons in the league. He established his resume as one of the top 10 centers of all time by winning five NBA titles in seven seasons, establishing the Lakers as a powerhouse in the early years of the NBA, back when they played in Minneapolis.


Photo of Robert Parish

Robert Parish

Robert Lee Parish

(The Chief, Slim)

Position: Center ▪ Shoots: Right

7-1230lb (216cm, 104kg)

Born: August 30, 1953 (Age: 69-083d) in Shreveport, Louisiana us

College: Centenary (LA)

High School: Woodlawn in Shreveport, Louisiana

Draft: Golden State Warriors, 1st round (8th pick, 8th overall), 1976 NBA Draft

NBA Debut: October 22, 1976

Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 2003 (Full List)

Career Length: 21 years

SUMMARY

Career

G

1611

PTS

14.5

TRB

9.1

AST

1.4

FG%

53.7

FG3%

0.0

FT%

72.1

eFG%

53.7

PER

19.2

WS

147.0

Robert Parish may be a surprising choice for the top 10 centers of all time, but he has the resume to back it up. He holds one of the NBA’s most important records, as the leader in games played. He’s second in Celtics history in rebounds, behind only Bill Russell, and fourth in points, behind three non-centers in John Havlicek, Paul Pierce, and Larry Bird.


FAQs

Who is the greatest center of all time?

It depends on how you define “greatest”. With 11 NBA titles, Bill Russell was unquestionably the most successful, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the NBA record for points. Wilt Chamberlain was a uniquely dominant player compared to his level of competition. And even today, there are players like Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid achieving things at the position that we’ve never seen before.


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