In the middle of all the craziness that we as NBA fans have endured over this off-season, two legends made significant decisions. One decided to hang up his sneakers after 20 illustrious years with the same team and the other decided to leave what he had once built for a fresh start in his home town of Chicago. Yes, Tim Duncan has officially retired and Dwyane Wade has officially left the American Airlines Arena in Miami. Whether you believe in players jumping ship or not, you have to at least understand it. Of course it is awesome to see a player drafted by a team, blossom into a superstar, bring home a title, and ride off into the same sunset in which they once came. We have to understand, however, that these are people too and like any job, if a better, more suitable opportunity comes along in the workplace, you take it.
What Dwyane Wade did in Miami is totally independent of the fact that he will most likely finish his career in Chicago. Wade built a legacy there, brought home three championships, and is the greatest player in the history of the franchise, bar-none. The large majority of players do the same thing as Wade and it is tough to blame them when one thinks about the possibility of 29 other NBA experiences that they could endure and the possibilities that come with each of them. However, what Tim Duncan did is quite incredible and has inspired us here to compile a top-20 list of the greatest NBA players who played for just one team over their entire careers. With Duncan officially announcing his retirement on Monday, it is safe to say you will find him somewhere near the top of the list.
20 Reggie Miller: Indiana Pacers, 1987-2005
Even if you never got to see Reggie Miller play, chances are you have heard of, or YouTubed, his famous eight points in nine seconds to steal game one against the Knicks in the 1995 Conference Semi-Finals. This just about summed up Reggie's career. He was a big-time shot maker, clutch performer, and cut-throat competitor. As one of the better trash talkers in the game, Reggie was known for getting into the heads of his opponents and reaffirming this physiological warfare by raining jumpers from all over the court. Despite his slender build, Reggie has also been one of the NBA's iron-men, missing very few games over his career and sitting 10th all time in games played. He is known as one of the most efficient shooters of all time and is just one of seven players to ever join the 50-40-90 club, shooting 50% from the field, 42% from three-point land, and 90% from the free-throw line in 1993-94.
There are a few key factors holding Reggie at the bottom of our list. Reggie was a premier shooter (second most 3-pointers all time), but his game quickly fell off after this. He was not the type of player who could make his teammates better and, in fact, relied on them to create open shots for him a lot of the time. Despite making three All-NBA Third teams, he could never crack the second or first, meaning he was never the best or even the second best player at his position while he was playing. Although the Pacers finally broke through into the NBA Finals in 2000, Miller could never capture that illustrious ring and would never get another shot.
19 Joe Dumars: Detroit Pistons, 1985-1999
A key member of the infamous "Bad Boy" Pistons of the '80s, Joe Dumars was drafted by Detroit in 1985 and made an immediate impact in the league, cracking the All-Rookie First Team in 1985 and helping the Pistons get to their first Conference Finals since 1956 the very next season.
Although Dumars could get buckets (career 16.1 points-per game) he was primarily known for his defensive ability and was the perfect fit for a Pistons team who used physical intimidation to get to their opponents. Dumars collected four NBA All-Defensive First Team honors and was named to six NBA All-Star games. He won back-to-back rings with the Pistons in 1989-1990 and sits top-100 all time in points (97), assists (74), three-pointers (89), and minutes played (64).
18 18. Hal Greer: Syracuse/Philadelphia Nationals, 1958-1973
Many of you may not be too familiar with Hal Greer, but he was absolutely awesome. As a ten-time All-Star, arguably the best player on the championship winning '67 Sixers, an incredible playoff performer (20-6-4), and a member of the 20,000 point club, it's more than enough to land Hal a spot in our top-20. Greer was a premier point-guard with one of the smoothest jump-shots in the game and is ranked 33rd all-time in NBA points and 74th in assists.
Greer earned All-NBA Second Team honors six times, but if it were not for NBA legends Bob Cousy and Jerry West, Greer would have been named to the All-NBA First team every time. Players like Greer, West, and Sam Jones would have benefited immensely from having a three-point line, but this innovation was still years away from their playing days. However, with one of the smoothest jimmys of the 1960s, Greer would have done damage from outside and this would have put him even more ahead of the competition.
17 James Worthy: Los Angeles Lakers, 1982-1994
We think it's safe to say, if your nickname is "Big Game James," you are probably not only great, but pretty damn clutch. If anything, James Worthy is best known for this quality. An ice-in-veins shooter, Worthy could shoot 2-14 on a given night, but one of his two field goals would end up icing the game for the Lakers. Worthy was taken first overall by the Lakers in 1982 and with his speed, dynamic ability to score with either hand, and alluring play above the rim, was the perfect fit for the "Show-Time" Lakers of the '80s. Worthy, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar created one of the most dominant trios in the history of the NBA.
So why Big Game James? Well, in 34 NBA Finals games, he averaged 22.2 points per game on 53% shooting. Worthy played in four Game Sevens in his career and averaged 27 points and 8.2 rebounds on 60% shooting in these contests. He simply showed up when the bright lights were on and everyone was watching. Seven All-Star games and three championships later, James is most definitely Worthy (okay, that was cheesy, I know) of a spot on our top-20.
16 Willis Reed: New York Knicks, 1964-1974
Remember when Knicks fans used to smile? When they used to be happy, winning and on top of the basketball world? Probably not, because it was a long damn time ago and Willis Reed was the number one reason for this happiness. Reed led the Knicks to their only two championships ever in 1970 and 1973 and took home Finals MVP honors in both of them, averaging 18.5 points per game, 11 rebounds, and 2.3 assists over the two finals appearances. In 1970, Reed became the first player in NBA history to be named the NBA All-Star Game MVP, the NBA regular season MVP, and the NBA Finals MVP in the same season. Reed could play on both sides of the ball in fact, as he also brought home All-Defensive First Team honors in 1970.
Reed's career was quite brief, however, as he only spent 10-seasons with New York in the NBA. A series of knee and thigh injuries would slow the big man down to the point where he would be forced to retire in 1974. After taking down Wilt Chamberlain and the Lakers in the 1970 Finals, Reed solidified himself as one of the most dominant big men to have ever played the game.
15 Elgin Baylor: Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers, 1958-1972
Elgin Baylor made an immediate impact on the NBA over the 1958-59 season, taking home Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 24.9 points, 15 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per-game during his rookie campaign. Baylor was an absolute scoring machine, averaging 34+ points in three straight seasons, including a career best 38.3 points per game in 1961-62. Baylor also made eleven All-Star game appearances and was named to the All-NBA First team ten times over his career, tying him with a handful of NBA stars for second most appearances all-time, just one shy of Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone who share the record with eleven.
Baylor was excellent at racking up accolades, but if you haven't caught on yet, most of his accomplishments are individual in nature. Keeping him at the bottom of our list is largely the fact that during a time where there were just eight and nine teams in the NBA, Elgin was on one of the best and could never win a championship. In fact, Baylor holds the unfortunate record of biggest loser in NBA finals history, as he and his Lakers were 0-8 in finals appearances. In Elgin's defense (kind of), year after year the Lakers matched up against the seemingly unbeatable Boston Celtics, built around the legend himself, Bill Russell, who you won't get to on this list for quite some time, for essentially the opposite reasons. To rub salt in the wound of Baylor's legacy, he would retire at the beginning of the 1971-72 season,and the Lakers would go on to win 69-games and win the championship that immediate year. Ouch.
14 Sam Jones: Boston Celtics, 1957-1969
Sam Jones was the shooting guard for one of the greatest teams of all time - Bill Russell's Boston Celtics of the '60s. Jones had one of the sweetest jumpers in the game and, as mentioned earlier, would have thrived with a three-point line. Jones made five All-Star appearances, collected three All-NBA Second Team honors and won a whopping 10 championships. You are probably thinking, how the hell could a guy with 10 rings be outside of the top-ten? Well, Sam Jones was awesome, but he was also a large beneficiary of the league, the team he played for, and the leader that he had in Bill Russell.
The Celtics were absolutely dominant throughout the 1960s and were loaded with talent. Jones put up a modest career line of 17.7 point per game, shooting 45.6% for his career and was arguably the third best player on those Celtics teams. The rings are extremely impressive of course, but in the grand scheme of things, Jones was no Larry Bird, Bill Russell or John Havlicek.
13 13. Kevin McHale: Boston Celtics, 1981-1993
Kevin McHale was one of the three major pillars that held up the dynasty Celtics of the 1980s. Taken third overall in the 1980 NBA Draft, McHale was the perfect fit to play alongside the legend himself, Larry Bird, as well as newly acquired big man Robert Parrish. He was extremely versatile, selfless, and could play a primary role at both ends of the floor. McHale would play in seven All-Star games, be named to the All-NBA Defensive First team three times, and All-NBA First Team once. His versatility flourished early on in his career, when he proved that he could come off the bench, winning Sixth Man of the Year honors in both 1984 and 1985.
McHale grew into an absolute dominant post scorer and invented many of the post moves that we see NBA big men use in today's game. He finished with a career 17.9 points per game, shooting 55.4% from the field. McHale, Parrish, and Bird carried the Celtics to titles in '81, '84, and '86, with the 1986 team being dubbed by most of the NBA community as one of the greatest teams of all time.
12 John Stockton: Utah Jazz, 1984-2003
John Stockton provided NBA fans with the perfect prototype of what a point guard should be. A pure passer with tremendous vision, Stockton was incredible at controlling the tempo of a game and getting his teammates involved at every opportunity. For 19 seasons, the Utah Jazz played through Stockton and if it weren't for a good old fashion case of what we like to call wrong-place wrong-time syndrome, Stockton would have without a doubt won an NBA title. Michael Jordan and John Stockton were selected in the same 1984 draft and unfortunately for Stockton, they seemed to peak at quite similar times. Throughout the mid-to-late '80s, the Jazz struggled to make it past the first round of the playoffs and when they finally did and were able to claim control of the Western Conference, Jordan and the Bulls were there to knock them back down. Stockton and the Jazz would make the NBA Finals in both 1997 and 1998, only to fall to the Bulls each time.
Regardless, Stockton's career statistically is simply stunning. Stockton would end his career averaging 13.1 points per game and 10.5 assists per game to go along with 51.5% shooting from the field and 38.4% from three point range. He is the NBA's all-time leader in steals and holds one of the more untouchable records in today's game with 15,806 career assists. The closest active player is Andre Miller with just 8,524.
11 Isiah Thomas: Detroit Pistons, 1981-1994
Isiah Thomas was the original member and leader of the "Bad Boy" Pistons of the '80s that were known for using intimidation and over the top physical play as their primary strategy. Thomas was drafted second overall in the 1981 draft to the Detroit Pistons and would remain there for all 13 years of his illustrious career. After acquiring Bill Laimbeer, drafting Joe Dumars in 1985, Dennis Rodman in 1986, and shipping out Adrian Dantley for Mark Aguire in 1989, Isiah finally had the championship team that he waited ever so patiently for in Detroit.
Again, Thomas was the heart and soul of the Bad Boy Pistons. In a city that had not seen or felt basketball supremacy, Thomas became a savior of sorts, finally taking down Magic Johnson and the Lakers in the 1989 NBA Finals and defeating the Trail Blazers the following year to complete the championship repeat. Isiah averaged 19.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 9.3 assists and 1.9 steals throughout his career, with an impressive 20.4/4.7/8.9/2.1 over 111 playoff games. With 12 All-Star games, two championship rings, one finals MVP, three All-NBA First Team appearances, and as the Detroit Pistons all-time leading scorer, IT comes in at number 11 on our list.
10 David Robinson: San Antonio Spurs, 1989-2003
As one of the most incredible specimens of the game, David Robinson could easily challenge LeBron James as the greatest pure athlete to ever play the game of basketball. Robinson was like a piece of art work, finely cut and chiseled, with not an ounce of fat on his body. His physical stature, leadership ability, and raw skill-set makes David Robinson one of the most special players that the NBA has ever seen.
Robinson posted a career of 21.1 points per game and 10.6 rebounds per game to go along three blocks per game. He was named four times to both the All-NBA First Team and All-NBA Defensive First Team, ten All-Star games, the 1991-92 Defensive Player of the Year, the 1995 NBA MVP, and on top of all that, won two championships as well. Robinson also played a significant role when rookie Tim Duncan was drafted by the Spurs first overall in 1997. Robinson was the perfect predecessor for Duncan, as they played a very similar style of game and were both first-class human beings on and off the court.
9 Bob Pettit: Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks, 1954-1965
Bob Pettit is one of the NBA's earliest superstars and we want to be sure that no one forgets about how dominant this dude really was. After apparently being cut by his high school team twice, Pettit flourished in the NBA. Pettit only hung around for 11 seasons, but was named to the All-Star team in each and every one. He sported an eye-popping 26.4 points per game and 16.2 rebounds per game and if they had of kept blocks and steals at that time, would probably have been tops in both. The defining moment of Pettit's career came during the 1958 NBA Finals. It was Game Six against Bill Russell's Boston Celtics and Pettit had a chance to clinch the championship for his team. In a heroic effort, Pettit dropped 50 points in a 110-109 win for the Hawks, an NBA playoff record at that time. This would be Pettit's only championship, but he would also claim the 1956 and 1959 NBA MVP honors, 10 All-NBA First team honors, 17th most rebounds in NBA history, 35th most points, and the seventh highest PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of all-time.
8 Julius Erving: Philadelphia 76ers, 1976-1987
After the ABA folded in 1976, Julius Erving would be sold by the New York Nets to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 million and would take his skills to the NBA. Erving would average 22 points per game over 11 seasons in Philadelphia, was named to the All-Star team every season and was the 1981 NBA MVP. In his first year with the team, Erving led the Sixers to the 1977 NBA Finals, but they would fall short to the Portland Trail Blazers in six games. After reaching the finals but falling short again in both 1980 and 1982, the Sixers would finally win the championship in 1983 over the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Julius Erving and Moses Malone.
Erving is one of those rare NBA legends who impacted the game both statistically and culturally. The ABA invented the dunk-contest in 1976 in an attempt to keep their league above water (didn't work) and Julius Erving was the main attraction. Erving would become the first ever dunk contest winner, as he would complete a 15 foot jump from the free-throw line, stopping time as he soared gracefully through the air and slammed the ball through the hoop, to the awe of a sold out crowd at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver. We have seen many players such as Michael Jordan, Dwight Howard, and Zach LaVine complete similar dunks, but don't be fooled and always remember, Julius Erving is the original and true slam dunk king.
7 John Havlicek: Boston Celtics, 1962-1978
John Havlicek, AKA "Hondo" is one of Boston's most prized possessions. Havlicek was part of the Celtics dynasty of the 1960s, alongside Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, and of course, the great Bill Russell. Over 16 seasons with the Celtics, Havlichek was named to the All-Star team 13 times and won eight championships. Havlichek also took home the honors of 1974 NBA Finals MVP, averaging 27.1 points per game in the post-season. The major significance of all of this? It was the post Bill Russell era and many fans in Boston began to wonder what the future would hold without their beloved superstar, as they had yet to win a title since his departure in 1969. Havlicek would carry the load and in fact help lead the Celtics to another title in 1976 before retiring in 1977.
To this day, Havlicek sits at near the top of many NBA statistics that include being 33rd all-time in assists, 15th all-time in points (26 K club), 13th all-time in minutes played, and 10th all-time in made field goals. Along with his offensive capabilities, Havlicek was a premier defender and two-way player as he was named to five NBA-All Defensive First teams. Oh yeah, and despite all of the legends that have come and gone in Boston - Russell, Cousy, McHale, Bird, Pierce, etc, Havlicek remains the Celtics all-time leading scorer.
6 Jerry West: Los Angeles Lakers, 1960-1974
We know we already mentioned this fact for other players, but would the three point line ever have benefited the career of Jerry West. Not that he needed it, but "Mr.Outside" was leaps and bounds ahead of most players when it came to hitting tough and long distance jumpers. Jerry West was, and, is an NBA icon. So much so that they elected to make him the logo of the NBA. West, however, with teammate Elgin Baylor got caught up in a tough time as they constantly were faced with the challenge of taking down the Bill Russell Celtics. Finally in 1971-72 the Lakers would have their historic 69-13 season and win a record 33-straight games that still stands today, enroute to West's first and only NBA Championship.
West was named to the NBA-All Star team every season of his career and finished with a dazzling career line of 27 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, and 6.7 assists per game, as well as 2.6 steals per game. West averaged 30 points or more during four seasons throughout his career - only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain did this more. West was a ten time All-NBA First Team honoree and a four time All-NBA Defensive First Team honoree. He ranks 30th all time in career assists, 20th in points, sixth in points per game, and sixth in free-throws made. Many NBA grinches like to hold his 1-8 NBA Finals record against him, but the truth is, West always gave them a chance to win and without him, they would have struggled to reach nine NBA Finals to begin with.
5 Kobe Bryant: Los Angeles Lakers, 1996-2016
I will start by saying this, putting the top five players on this list in order, took much longer than ranking six through 20. They are all incredible and generational talents that we as fans have been lucky to embrace. That being said, coming in at number five is Kobe Bryant. He is the only player ever to play twenty seasons with a single NBA team, an impressive feat in and of itself. Kobe is one of the most polarizing figures that we have ever seen in the NBA. Driven by hate, competition, and the urge to be better than anyone who steps in his path, Kobe Bryant was the NBA's ultimate assassin and one of the greatest competitors of all time. Even most of his teammates hated him, but it didn't matter because Kobe brought home results. Five NBA championships, including the infamous three-peat from 2000-2002, back-to-back finals MVPs (2009-2010), 18 All-Star appearances, 11 time All-NBA First Team honors, nine time All-NBA First Defensive Team honors, a two time NBA scoring champion, the 2008 NBA MVP, and, oh yeah, the third highest scorer in NBA history. Whew.
Kobe's style of play and on court behavior however has kept him out of our top four. He honestly may be the greatest individual player to ever play the game. Basketball, as we know, is the ultimate team sport and Kobe, while still winning championships, burned a hell of a lot of bridges, ruined a lot of relationships, and most recently dug the Lakers, the team that he helped build, into a massive hole. For these reasons Kobe sits at number five, as individual greatness can only get one so far.
4 Tim Duncan: San Antonio Spurs, 1997-2016
They call him The Big Fundamental for a reason. There is nothing flashy about Tim Duncan's game, except for the five rings that sit sparkling on his fingers. Tim Duncan is not only in the top five greatest players to ever play for one team, but also most significant players to ever play for one team. Duncan meant the world to the San Antonio Spurs and now that he is officially gone, there will need to be a shift in identity, as Duncan was their identity for the last 19 seasons in San Antonio. Duncan is arguably the most selfless player to ever play the game. He is an incredible teammate, premier leader, and unbelievable role model for NBA fans everywhere. But enough about Tim's charm and charisma, because Duncan could ball!
Duncan won five NBA Championships with the Spurs and is the only player in NBA history to win a championship in three different decades (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014), putting his longevity and clutch demeanor on display. Duncan also NEVER missed the playoffs and, outside of the 1998-99 lockout season (which was only 50-games), NEVER won less than 50 games in a season. Those two stats alone are incredible and completely untouchable. Duncan won two Finals MVPs (2003, 2005), back-to-back NBA MVPs in 2002 and 2003, 10 All-NBA First Team honors, eight All-NBA Defensive First Team honors, and is the Spurs all-time leading scorer.
3 Larry Bird: Boston Celtics, 1979-1992
When it comes to the greatest Celtic of all time, or even the greatest player of all time, you will without a doubt hear Larry Bird's name come up. Bird was a goofy, awkward looking dude from French Lick, Indiana and after a tough college career that saw Bird switch schools due to homesickness and then lose the NCAA Finals to rival Magic Johnson, the true Larry Legend was born. Bird took these experiences to heart and became one of the fiercest competitors that the game has ever seen. Before the first ever three-point contest in 1986, Bird walked into the dressing room and asked the other competitors "so, who's coming in second?" He then proceeded to win the competition in dominant fashion.
As mentioned earlier, the Celtics of the 1980s rested upon the three pillars of Bird, McHale, and Parrish, but Bird was the ultimate leader of the pack. The legend was also known as one of the greatest trash talkers in the game, who could back up every word he spoke (three-point contest, case and point). Bird finished with an incredible career line of 24.3 points per game, 10 rebounds per game, and 6.3 assists per game, whiling shooting 49.6% from the floor and 37.6% from three point land. He led the Celtics to three NBA Championships and countless incredible battles with Magic Johnson and his Showtime Lakers. Bird was a twelve time All-Star, three time NBA MVP, and two time Finals MVP. He was named to nine All-NBA First Teams and also joins Reggie Miller as the only other player on this list to be a part of the 50-40-90 club. In fact, Bird did it in consecutive seasons in 1987 and 1988.
2 Magic Johnson: Los Angeles Lakers, 1979-1991, 1996
Magic Johnson was the heart and soul of the Showtime Lakers throughout the 1980s and captured five NBA Championships throughout his career, taking claim to three Finals MVP's in the making ('80, '82, '87). Magic literally was magical. He is the greatest point guard that the game has ever seen and simply made everyone around him better. His ability to get teammates involved was incredible as they would feed off of his energy and confidence. Magic was named to nine All-NBA First Teams and won three NBA MVPs as well ('87, '89, '90). With a career line of 19.5 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game, 11.2 assists per game, and 52% career shooting, Magic turned heads wherever he played. Magic also holds the record (tied this year by Russell Westbrook) for most triple-doubles in a season in the past 40 years, with 18.
One of Magic's signature moments, came in his rookie year and this seemed to begin the greatness we would see in the coming decade. With the Lakers heading into Game Six of the 1980 NBA Finals against Julius Erving and his Philadelphia 76ers, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar would be unable to play and in fact, could not even travel with the team due a bad ankle sprain. Upon boarding the plane, Magic opted to sit in Kareem's seat and announced to the team "never fear, E.J is here!" Turns out, he wasn't lying either, as Magic would score 42 points, grab 15 rebounds, and dish out seven assists on route to a 123-107 victory and Magic's first NBA Championship.
1 Bill Russell: Boston Celtics, 1956-1969
I hereby give Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers fans absolutely no wiggle room for complaining for the rest of eternity. This list comprises of a combined 11 Celtics/Lakers, but all alone at number one is Bill Russell. He was one of the three greatest players to ever play the game, as well as a pioneer for all African-American athletes, as Russell dominated the NBA during a time where racism was at an extreme high in the United States and especially around the NBA. Bill was great. He was the ultimate team player, didn't care about individual accolades and played to make his teammates better players as well as better people. He is the best two-way player to ever play the game, one of the best teammates ever, and gave Wilt Chamberlain nightmares throughout the 1960s.
Russell holds the record for most NBA Championships, as in just 13 seasons he managed to win 11 times... incredible. Russell has also won five MVP awards, tying him with Michael Jordan for second all-time behind just Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Russell was a twelve time All-Star, a three time All-NBA First Team honoree, and a four time rebounding champion. Oh yeah, not to mention, those titles in '68-'69 that he won, he was not only their best player, but he was actually the coach of the team as well. Yep. Bill could do it all. A jaw-dropping career line of 15.1 points per game, 22.5 rebounds per game, and 4.3 assists per game is incredible. Unfortunately the NBA did not keep track of blocks during Russell's day, but if you watch some footage, it is quick to assume that he could have been near the top all-time in this department as well. We may see another Kobe, another Bird, and even another Johnson, but we will never see another Bill Russell.