Top 5 Centers in Basketball History

by Gabriel Gross

Sometimes you have to understand the past to appreciate the present.

The NBA season has just started, where many modern centers are making their way, like Nikola Jokic from the Nuggets, or Joel Embid from the 76ers. Most people have heard about these players, but do they know about the all-time greats? Let’s look at some older centers in basketball history that shaped the face of the league.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of the most influential centers of his time. He played 20 seasons in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks, winning 6 championships in his career. He also holds the NBA all-time points record in a career at a whopping 38,387, though Lebron James is likely to surpass him in points this season. Lastly, he perfected one of the most iconic shots in basketball history: the skyhook! This one shot was so effective, not only because Kareem was over seven feet tall, but when he went to shoot it, the opponent had to come across his body, oftentimes fouling the player. Kareem said he developed the skyhook because when he was younger, he played with older, more skilled players. At times, this was the only shot he could shoot that wouldn’t get blocked. The skyhook is one of the things that helped deliver Kareem’s point record.

Another legendary player, Wilton Norman Chamberlain, played for the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. Before playing in the NBA, Wilt played with the Harlem Globetrotters. Along with Kareem, he also holds some incredible records. One of his most iconic records was his 100-point game. His famous season of 1961-62 was the big one, in which he averaged an astonishing 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game. In his career he averaged 22.9 rebounds and 30.1 points per game. The only other person to average 30 points per game for a career was Michael Jordan.

Third on the list is the big man Shaq. Shaquille O’Neal played for several teams in his career, notably with the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat, but for the bulk of his career he was known as a Laker. He signed with the team in 1996, joining small forward, Kobe Bryant, to become one of the most effective duos in basketball history, especially in the modern era. They won three consecutive championships from 2000-2002, and O’Neal led the NBA in player efficiency—a minute rating that shows a basketball player’s positive contributions while they are on the court—from 1997-2002. With a personality to match his size (more than seven feet tall), Shaq was such a dominant player that he once brought the backboard crashing down after a slam dunk. 

Next up is one of the best shot blockers of all time, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, who started playing basketball when he was 17 years old. Before that he was a soccer player, and his agility quickly led him to NBA success. Great on the offensive end, he was also an outstanding defender, as demonstrated by his record for career blocks at 3,830. Hakeem also won two championships with the Rockets in 1994 and 1995. He scored at least 20 points per game for the first 13 of his 18 seasons in the league.

Moses Eugene Malone is the last center on the list. He stood nearly seven feet tall and played for the 76ers and the Rockets. Moses came right out of high school and started playing in the ABA in 1974, making the switch to the NBA in 1976. Moses was an exceptional rebounder, leading the NBA in this statistical category six times. No one has ever topped his record of most offensive rebounds at 6,371.

These famous centers had unique playing styles that were very effective. Their contributions to the game went way beyond dunking the ball. Their legacies certainly influence modern centers today such as Nikola Jokic and Joel Embid. 

About Gabe Gross 

Gabriel Gross is an eighth grader at St. Thomas school in Peoria Heights. He is the Student Council president. He plans to go to Richwoods and apply for the IB program. He loves baseball, basketball, and traveling. He also enjoys learning about history and how much it has changed our lives today.