The Best Centers of All Time

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The NBA is known as a big man’s league, and teams rarely win championships without one. From seven-footers towering over opponents to smaller fives with finesse and speed – big men have had their place among NBA legends for decades.

From George Mikan’s classic post-up game to Joel Embiid’s face-up style of today, here are six of the most significant centers ever.

1. Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain was one of his era’s most physically dominant NBA players, dominating for two decades due to his size and skyhook jumper. Chamberlain won four MVP awards, 11 rebounding titles, and two championship rings, scoring 100 points once while averaging 56 rebounds per game during his career – not to mention being an incredible shot blocker who protected the paint like no one else of his era.

Artis Gilmore of the American Basketball Association was the ABA’s version of a low post-king during the 1970s. Winning two NBA Championships with Boston, he became a perennial All-Star during his 12-season career, ranking fifth all-time for field goal percentage shooting ability and seventh all-time in field goal percentage shooting accuracy.

George Mikan may not be one of the highest scorers on this list, but he deserves recognition due to his impactful contributions to basketball. Mikan was one of the original pioneers who introduced goaltending into NBA play while widening foul lanes. Also, Mikan was an excellent defensive player and fearsome rebounder.

Dikembe Mutombo was an NBA hall of famer and is widely considered to have been its most excellent defender at any position ever. Standing seven feet 2 inches, Mutombo could swat any ball his way and excelled as a rebounder. Mutombo was honored four times with being named Defensive Player of the Year during his stellar NBA career.

2. Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon is among the greatest basketball players ever stepping onto a court. A key figure in Houston Rockets’ only two NBA Championship wins and widely considered one of the most excellent Centers in history, Hakeem was known for his innovative post moves and solid defense.

Olajuwon was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, where he excelled at association football and team handball before discovering basketball at 15. After two years of learning the sport, he was recruited by the University of Houston, where the Cougars made it to the Final Four in their inaugural National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament season under his watch – training alongside Moses Malone, who instilled toughness into Olajuwon through summer training sessions with him and push him hard towards being competitive and not giving in easily. This inspired him even further and pushed him harder toward playing hard and making him away from basketball than before – becoming known as one of Houston’s greatest basketball players ever since his introduction by University scouts fans when his talent was first discovered by them at 15. After two years spent learning more about basketball, he was recruited by the University of Houston after seeing him playing two years earlier (he had never before known before that season – having never before heard anything like him!), after which Olajuwon trained under Moses Malone who provided challenging training sessions that summer pushed Olajuwon towards being toughness on court during that first season (when Houston advanced to Final Four National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament). Moses Malone’s training provided toughness at training sessions as one of the Houston Cougars went all Season. Training alongside Moses Malone’s demanding training partner Moses Malone, pushing Olajuwon along his initial season at Houston), with Ola Juwon advanced to the Final Four!). Finally, being recruited made him for the final Four seasons — even during one’s harshness on the court to move to Houston teammate Moses Malone, going Ola Juwon into being tough, where his first season AA tournament. Ola tournament final four advanced again that year, but training was not easy on Ola. Ola advanced further by making the Final Four, where Olagain that season’s first season Cougars went all summer, making sure Ola’s toughness forced them further, pushing Ola one further! Malone himself competed! Malone is tougher. Malone is driving Ola. Malone. Malone moves Olad by trying hard enough to go Malone as far as he can. Malone. Malone. Malone’s Cougars to the Final Four against Malone himself, too; Malone was not accessible. But it was never any easier by training together. Malone made Olad him further on than Malone training for him into playing. Malone also encouraged Ola to have him hard. Malone then. This summer, training with Moses Malone on themself against one! Olju pushed hard against Malone, then! Malone didn’t do his internship with whom then. Made even more complex that summer! Tried them both, his coach. Pushed harder, Pushing him harder until all! While training him. Aa and move them as opposed to himself by going himself. This made them out! This summer was not soft enough to become challenging. – Although not easy for one, it was just like for oneself! While Malone. Push him harder, then. Malone was much faster than Malone in Houston, which had him harder than Malone, as Malone encouraged. This summer, Malone’s opponent that summer and Malone!! When.. Malone trained him to push them all, Malone helped Ola. He made him into being himself. But Malone, but then. Malone though!…

Olajuwon joined Ralph Sampson, another center who would become part of Olajuwon’s duo, “The Twin Towers,” on the Houston Rockets following graduation and their 1984 NBA draft selections. Together, they formed what came to be known as “The Twin Towers.”

Olajuwon averaged 22.1 points and 12.5 rebounds in his first two seasons with the Rockets, earning two All-Star selections and being named NBA Finals MVP both years. He also holds the NBA record for blocked shots (3,830) and is recognized twice as Defensive Player of the Year.

Olajuwon initially proved an inconsistent teammate; however, as his career progressed, he became an outstanding leader for the Houston Rockets. He led them to two championships while helping stop the Chicago Bulls dynasty during the 1990s. Most famously during the ’94 NBA Finals when Knicks guard John Starks attempted a last-second three shot to win it all; Olajuwon blocked it, winning overtime game one for the Rockets!

3. Shaquille O’Neal

O’Neal often tops lists of most excellent centers ever, ranking all-time in points and rebounds while dominating post players of his generation and perhaps all-time. He was an impressive athlete who could score from anywhere while unstoppable in low post thanks to his legendary skyhook move, one of the main factors in driving up-tempo NBA play, and an intimidating figure on the court.

The Big Nasty wasn’t known for his rebounding or passing abilities during his era. Still, his presence forced the NBA to alter their offensive and defensive goaltending rules, forcing changes into effect during his tenure as leader of both scoring and rebounding. He is the only player ever to lead both scores and boards during their careers – an impressive accomplishment!

Hakeem Olajuwon should be included on any great centers in NBA history list. As an all-time leader in blocks (though those statistics weren’t recorded until 1973) and with his unique combination of size, skill, and athleticism – he was an unstoppable offensive threat who could alter an entire playoff series in one play.

David Robinson had one of the most incredible bodies in NBA history. Known as one of the “Asian Wonders,” Robinson used this flawless body to his advantage on both ends of the floor, using it both offensively and defensively to dominate opponents for years while scoring at high levels and playing stellar defense – particularly around the rim – with tremendous impact. Unfortunately, Duncan arrived and eclipsed Robinson, thus keeping him from rising further up this list.

4. Wes Unseld

Unseld, at 6-foot-7, seemed chiseled from stone with his unwavering resolve and calm demeanor. A relentless rebounder and one of the game’s most durable centers, Unseld led his team to two championships and five All-Star appearances during his 13-year career.

Undersized center Willis Reed stood against more prominent men of his day, recording more than 13,000 career rebounds to become seventh all-time in that category. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has called him one of his era’s most significant position rebounders, while Willis Reed once described him as “a big version of Charles Barkley.”

Unseld made up for his lack of height with brute strength and work ethic. He battled through the paint like a boxer, muscled under the boards, and used his 235-pound frame as leverage against opponents. Additionally, Unseld’s solid build allowed him to set screens like a linebacker to get opponents off balance and make scoring on him difficult.

Unseld’s most significant contribution to his team may have come in the form of outlet passing. He was adept at taking the ball off the glass and passing it off quickly for easy layups from teammates in transition, putting them in position to score while also creating opportunities for additional points through turnovers. He was an outstanding passer, giving teammates ample chances for easy buckets while providing valuable extra points off turnovers.

Unseld was an accomplished professional who never let the media or fans bother him. Respected by teammates for his calm approach to the game, Unseld is considered one of the finest center players ever seen in the history of the NBA.

5. Bill Walton

Bill Walton had only become well known outside the Pacific Northwest before arriving in Boston dressed like a lumberjack wearing lumberjack clothing. He received a standing ovation of one minute during his first game for the Celtics – only the start of an unforgettable NBA career for one of its most excellent centers ever!

Walton and the Blazers’ upset of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his Lakers in the 1977 Finals was more than an exhibition; it marked an epic battle to establish who would become the most dominant center in NBA history, setting up their ongoing competition over time.

Walton was known for his fluidity and passing ability. As a distributing center who passed like the best guards while rebounding like the most potent forwards, Walton personified Portland coach Jack Ramsay’s new style of play.

Walton stands out on this list as an individual with remarkable athleticism, an unbelievable vertical leap for his time, impressive strength and quickness, and a keen team play acumen developed under John Wooden at UCLA.

Unfortunately, injuries interrupted his storybook career that seemed so inevitable. Due to a variety of ailments – most notably a broken bone in their left foot – he only played 44% of career games due to injuries; still, his legacy lives on, and Christian Clark writes for BSN Denver as well as being on Twitter as @ChristianClarkBSN.