LeBron James

Yes, the man many fans (incorrectly) regard as the league’s most overrated choke artist is, in fact, the best player to ever step foot on a court. LeBron James simply does things that are not humanly possible. He’s bigger than the majority of NFL players, but he moves as gracefully as the most nimble guards in basketball. Furthermore, despite the enormous pressure of being named “The Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated as a teenager, he has exceeded the lofty expectations placed on him. As good as previous players were, they never had to deal with the 24/7 stresses of 21st century media, which James does expertly. Since the publication of this list, James has averaged a Robertson-esque 27.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 steals per game, and unlike the Big O, he has done so against elite athletes rather than players who smoked cigarettes at halftime. When people criticised him for not winning championships early in his career, they forgot that he almost single-handedly led an undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers team to the 2007 NBA finals at the age of 22. And, of course, he’s since won two championships (and counting?) with the Miami Heat. Not only does he routinely pull off feats I’ve never seen before, but he has consistently evolved his game to correct the relative flaws he was previously chastised for. Isn’t that pretty much all you can ask for from the best ever?

Michael Jordan

I know I’m risking being run out of my beloved Chicago on a rail for suggesting His Airness isn’t the greatest player ever, but I just don’t think he is. The most famous player in history? Absolutely. The most important player in history? Very possibly. Most obsessively competitive to the exclusion of any normal human relationships? Oh my goodness, yes. The man’s desire to be the best is legendary, propelling him to six championships, five MVP awards, All-Star appearances in every full season he played, and possibly the best defender ever. In addition, his 30.1 points per game is the highest career scoring average in the NBA. But, during his most productive years, he played alongside another top-25 talent in Scottie Pippen and was coached by the strategic genius Phil Jackson. He was incredible, but he had a lot of help, at least more than the previous man on this list. And, to be honest, it’s kind of fun teasing all the Chicagoans who are surprisingly defensive about their athletic achievements. Did you know that the Seattle Seahawks had the best defence in NFL history in 2013?

Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson

Johnson’s charm was a major factor in the league’s massive increase in popularity during the 1980s. He was one of the most ebullient personalities to ever play in the NBA. But he was much more than a bright smile. Johnson’s otherworldly passing laid the groundwork for the “Showtime” L.A. Lakers teams that won five championships during his 13-year tenure with the team. The 6’9″ Johnson (the NBA’s tallest point guard) not only had the best assists-per-game mark in league history (11.2), but he also had a fantastic all-around game. As a 20-year-old rookie, he famously played centre in place of an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in game six of the 1980 NBA finals. Oh, and while it has nothing to do with his ranking on this list, it’s still incredible and noteworthy that he has successfully fought HIV for over two decades, helped de-stigmatize AIDS through high-profile advocacy, and launched a second career as an entrepreneur who opens businesses primarily in impoverished areas in an effort to spur urban revitalization. So, yeah, Magic Johnson is a cool dude.

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Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain

Although Chamberlain played at a time when post players were much smaller and basketball didn’t attract the types of athletic marvels that it does today, the man was so dominant that he deserves a spot in the top five regardless of context. Chamberlain has the four highest all-time NBA single-season scoring averages…all in his first four professional seasons. His most notable scoring performance came on March 2, 1962, when he scored 100 points in a game, an NBA record that will almost certainly never be broken. In addition to his unrivaled scoring ability, Chamberlain was the only player in league history to average more rebounds per game than Bill Russell (22.9), all while averaging more minutes played per game than any other player (45.8). The only time he was not an All-Star in his 14-year career was in 1970, when an injured Chamberlain was limited to only 12 regular-season games but still managed to will his team to the NBA finals upon his return.

Oscar Robertson

oscar robertson
oscar robertson

Oh my goodness, this guy. While I was too young to see him play, his statistics are so impressive that I wish I had a time machine so I could go back in time and watch him play. “The Big O” averaged a triple-double with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game during the 1961–62 season. Oh, and the 12-time All-Star was instrumental in bringing true free agency to the NBA through a landmark antitrust suit, an accomplishment as impressive as his on-court exploits.

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