NBA’s 10 most important players ever


Ranking the NBA‘s all-time greats is difficult, and Colin Cowherd wants no part of it. But he can tell you who the most important players are.

Cowherd’s criteria: Who made the most significant impact on the growth and culture of their team, the sport, and the league?

Kobe, LeBron make Colin’s Top 10 most important NBA players ever

Colin Cowherd can’t tell you who the best NBA players of all time are, but he can tell you who’s been the most impactful. Watch as he lays out why players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry make up three of the top 10 players who have been most important for the growth and cultural impact of the league today.

Several names may come to mind, but here’s Cowherd’s list of the most important NBA players ever, in chronological order.

Bill Russell, Boston Celtics

Key stats: A 12-time all-star, Russell averaged 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 44% shooting from the field and 56.1% from the free-throw line. He played 13 seasons with the Celtics and won 11 NBA titles.

Cowherd’s thoughts: “Not only did he win 11 NBA championships, but he’s also the winningest player in NBA history. He was a coach, he was a broadcaster when I was a kid growing up. He defined what it was about. It wasn’t about blocking shots, it was about blocking a shot to a teammate.”

Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers

Key stats: West averaged 27.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game while shooting 47.4% from the field and 81.4% from the free-throw line. He won one championship in 1972 and his silhouette is the NBA’s logo.

Cowherd’s thoughts: “Not only was Jerry a great player, but he played 14 seasons in the NBA and was an All-Star every year. He then became an architect for arguably the most popular team in league history, the Showtime Lakers. He built that.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers

Key stats: Abdul-Jabbar played 20 NBA seasons, six with the Milwaukee Bucks, and 14 with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was an all-star 19 of those seasons and two-time Finals MVP. In those two full decades, he averaged 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game while shooting 55.9% from the field and 72.1% from the free-throw line.

Cowherd’s thoughts: “After publicly requesting a trade from Milwaukee, he became the league’s all-time leading scorer, he’s the only player in league history with six championships and six MVPs. He’s the greatest scorer ever, the most unstoppable shot ever.”

Julius Irving, Virginia Squires (ABA), Philadelphia 76ers, New York Nets

Key stats: In 16 professional seasons, five in the ABA and 11 in the NBA, Irving averaged 24.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, while shooting 50.6% from the field, and 77.7% from the free-throw line. Irving won 3 ABA MVPs, an NBA MVP, and a title with the Sixers in 1983.

Cowherd’s thoughts: “The term posterized, he added flare to the league. He also legitimized the ABA, which remains one of the greatest sports stories of all time. He was the best player in that league, came to the NBA, and was arguably the best player in that league. He also had one of the earliest shoe contracts with Converse.”

Larry Bird, Boston Celtics

Key stats: Larry Legend played 13 seasons in the league, all with Boston, and was a 12-time all-star. He averaged 24,3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game on 49.6% shooting, 37.6% from three and 88.6% from the free-throw line. Bird won three MVPs, two Finals MVPs, and three titles with the Celtics.

Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers

Key stats: In 13 seasons, all with the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic Johnson averaged 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 11.2 assists, while shooting 52.0% from the field and 84.8% from the free-throw line. Johnson won five titles, was a two-time MVP and three-time Finals MVP.

Cowherd’s thoughts (Johnson and Bird): “They had a college rivalry briefly, but later became friends. But it was the Celtics. It was the Lakers. It was hard-nosed Larry Bird and Showtime Magic. Hugely, hugely valuable to the domestic product.”

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls

Key stats: In 15 NBA seasons, Jordan was an all-star 14 times while averaging 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. He shot 49.7% from the field, 32.7% from 3, and 83.5% from the free-throw line. Jordan went to six NBA Finals and won all six, as well as five league MVPs.

Cowherd’s thoughts: “Jordan’s brand is now worth $10 billion. Ten-times LeBron. Ten-time scoring champ and I would argue the most memorable and dynamic player in league history.”

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Key stats: Bryant averaged 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists on 44.7% shooting, 32.9% from three, and 83.7% from the free-throw line over 20 seasons, all with the Lakers. He made 18 All-Star games, won five championships, an MVP and two Finals MVPs.

Cowherd’s thoughts: “Kobe’s shoes this year were worn by 90 players. They were the most worn shoe in the league. The all-time leading scorer in the most noteworthy franchise in this league. An 18-time all-star, and the closest thing we’ve seen to Michael, with the same level of artistry.”

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers

Key stats: Through 19 seasons, James has averaged 27.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game on 50.5% shooting, 34.6% shooting from three, and 73.4% from the free-throw line. James has four titles, four MVPs and four Finals MVPs.

Cowherd’s thoughts: “He has won championships in Miami, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. He remains a top-five player in the league two decades in.”

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Key stats: Curry is a 13-year veteran who has played every season with the Warriors. He averages 24.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game while shooting 47.3% from the field, 42.8% from three and 90.8% from the free-throw line. Curry is an eight-time all-star, two-time league MVP and four-time champion.

Cowherd’s thoughts: “He literally changed the game. It looks different at the high school, AAU, college, and professional levels. From G-League to international, you play basketball differently, analytically, because of Steph Curry.”

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