When Earl Lloyd stepped on the floor for the Washington Capitols on October 31, 1950, it opened the door for hundreds of gifted Black basketball players to show their talents to the world. Today, around 70% of NBA players are Black, a great sign of the advancement of civil rights in America and around the globe. These Black basketball stars raised the league’s quality and popularized the sport across several decades!
1. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan ushered in the highlight era on sports television and transcended the boundaries of sports. People on every continent of the globe knew about Air Jordan’s aerial assault on the rim and his six championships with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan remains at the pinnacle of basketball greatness 26 years after his last title.
2. LeBron James
LeBron James garnered more media attention than any high school athlete in history, and he’s lived up to every ounce of it. James is still going strong over two decades later, breaking records and redefining longevity in sports. LeBron’s status as a billionaire also inspires kids all over the world to work hard and innovate in the business world.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar endured racism in 1970s America during the peak of his career, overcame the doubters, and decorated his resume with more accolades than any center before or since. Kareem’s thoughtful and intelligent personality supported a hearty desire to defeat his opponents.
4. Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson entertained the masses with a charismatic smile and an infinite desire to turn basketball into something much greater than just a game. Johnson transformed the Lakers into Hollywood’s preeminent spectacle during the Showtime era of the 1980s, headlined by his leadership and his five NBA titles.
5. Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan’s consistency set the tone for the San Antonio Spurs for almost 20 years. Through ups and downs, the Spurs never endured the type of duress other franchises experienced, thanks to Duncan’s work ethic and willingness to adapt to whatever situation he was thrown into.
6. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant connected with his fans on an ethereal level, transcending basketball into a spiritual experience and a mindset. The Mamba Mentality represents the human desire to succeed at the highest level, no matter the cost. Bryant’s death in 2020 only further cemented his place in mourning fans’ hearts.
7. Steph Curry
Steph Curry revolutionized NBA offensive techniques and strategies by expanding the court beyond the three-point line. Fans never know where Curry will pull up for a shot, and kids of all ages have connected with his flair for the dramatic. The four-time champion remains one of the league’s biggest draws even into the twilight of his career.
8. Bill Russell
Bill Russell fought for civil rights off the court while initiating the biggest dynasty in basketball. The Boston Celtics won 11 titles during Russell’s career, while the center fought back against racist vandals and other personal attacks living in Massachusetts. Russell always took his responsibility as a Black man playing basketball very seriously.
9. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain towered over the basketball world, but his skillset resembled a smaller player’s. Wilt always wanted to prove to the league that his height and weight weren’t the main factors in his success, so he diversified his talents by leading the league in assists and deferring to Gail Goodrich and Jerry West late in his career.
10. Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem Olajuwon pioneered international basketball relevance when he immigrated from Nigeria in the early 1980s. The Dream showed Black excellence extended well beyond the shores of America and manifested all of his potential with the Houston Rockets. Olajuwon often mentors younger players in the league today.
11. Shaquille O'Neal
The only thing bigger than Shaq’s gigantic frame was his supersized personality. O’Neal’s marketability helped the NBA through the transitional end of the Michael Jordan era. Shaq knew he was stronger than everyone and leveraged his height and weight to win four titles with the Lakers and Heat.
12. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant puts points on the board like nobody in league history. With an effortless shooting stroke and several inches on his defenders, Durant’s creativity and shot selection make him one of the most unstoppable players of the 2010s and 2020s.
13. Oscar Robertson
Oscar Robertson’s legacy deserves to stand as much more than just his triple-double average. Guards of the 1960s couldn’t match Robertson’s all-around game. He always knew how to balance his scoring and passing and culminated his career by teaming with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for a title in Milwaukee.
14. Moses Malone
Moses Malone worked harder than his competition, swallowing rebounds and out-hustling star centers who wouldn’t put in the same effort. Malone may be the most overlooked MVP player in any sport. He took home the award three times with the Rockets and Sixers.
15. Julius Erving
Julius Erving bridged the gap between Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson to define basketball during the 1970s. Dr. J’s superstardom made it possible for Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James to carve out the enormous careers they possessed. Erving’s dunking and jumping felt heroic to kids watching at home.
16. Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor stuffed the stat sheet better than anyone except Wilt in the 1960s. Baylor’s verticality and dynamic scoring ability allowed him to dunk, shoot from the midrange, or gobble up rebounds, depending on the situation.
17. Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett brought every drop of pride and integrity in his body to the basketball court. Often sweating before the game even started, the Big Ticket let fans know just how much the game meant to him and that they would always get their money’s worth if they attended one of his games.
18. Dwyane Wade
While Kobe Bryant’s game resembled Michael Jordan’s, D-Wade felt like a completely unique shooting guard. Wade could slash to the basket and block shots like a power forward. His personality and style matched the excitement of South Beach.
19. Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley played basketball unequivocally as himself. Barkley’s honesty and fearless nature allowed him to operate from the painted area despite only standing about 6’4’’, and his opinionated and outspoken extroversion has made him the best TV personality in basketball history post-playing career.
20. Karl Malone
Karl Malone averaged over 25 points per game 12 times in his career and stood as the second-highest scorer ever for much of the last two decades. Malone’s strength and skill made him a preview of players like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
21. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo came into the NBA with a lot of potential, but few analysts expected him to live up to his gifts the way he did. Giannis means everything to Wisconsin, sticking with a small market franchise when others run and winning the Bucks their first championship in 2021.
22. Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas should have been a lot more likable. He instead leaned into the bad guy role with the Bad Boy Pistons, but it worked out splendidly in the end. Thomas navigated a big man’s game while barely standing above six feet tall, surpassing Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to win titles with Detroit.
23. Chris Paul
Chris Paul makes nearly every team he’s ever been on better. CP3 makes the right decision, scores when his team needs him, and surgically destroys the defense with pinpoint passing. A lack of a title holds him back from discussions of the best point guard in league history.
24. David Robinson
David Robinson brought otherworldly physical fitness to the San Antonio Spurs with a carved physique and a work ethic from the United States Navy. Robinson made it easier for Tim Duncan because he operated with class and turned the Spurs into a winning organization during the 1990s.
25. Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen’s willingness to step behind Michael Jordan and fill in the gaps allowed Chicago to win six titles. Pippen’s length and agility on defense made him playable with any lineup and showed the world how important wing players were to the future of the league.