Hardwood, concrete, locker rooms, sports bars, water coolers, social media - the time and place options are endless and so too are the options for who the Best All Time Player for your favorite team. While there are a couple of teams that the answer is indisputable and given, for others it is debatable. The criteria for defining the Best or the Greatest is also endless. Does one judge based on their individual accomplishments or their championship rings? Can you fairly evaluate players from the early NBA era to those who currently run the courts? Players of yesteryear didn’t have the pleasure of the three point line or having blocked shots count as a stat, whereas today’s NBA players have to deal with more travel and off court commitments.
There are a lot of different components and factors when embarking in a conversation on who is or was the best player. Is it individual stats and awards? Championship rings? Team success in the regular season? Duration of their career with the team (in this case, the requirement is a minimum of five years) The factors can be endless. However for this article, we will take into consideration all of the above. Is it possible to have a list in which some of the greatest players in NBA history do not appear?
Chances are you may or may not agree with certain players on this list, which makes for great counter-conversation. So without further ado, we bring you the Best Players in the history of each NBA Eastern Conference team.
15 Atlanta Hawks - Bob Pettit
Credentials: Hall Of Famer, 1 Championship, 2-time NBA MVP, 11 All-Star Games, Rookie Of The Year
Before they settled in Atlanta, the Hawks were located in Milwaukee and St. Louis. All Pettit did during his time with the Hawks was lead the team to the NBA Finals three times, capturing one championship banner during the 1957-58 season. Averaging 26.4 points and 16.2 rebounds per game throughout his time as a Hawk, Pettit was a back to the basket post player in college, before reinventing his game to play facing the hoop for his pro career. While many fans today will probably relate more to Dominique Wilkins as the face of the Atlanta Hawks, the Hall Of Fame forward from Baton Rouge deserves the nod here not only for his personal accolades, but also for leading the team to their only championship in franchise history.
14 Boston Celtics - Bill Russell
Credentials: Hall of Famer, 11 Championships, 5-time NBA MVP, 12 All-Star Games
There are a lot of numbers that hang on the banner above the parquet floor, belonging to Bird, Havlicek, McHale, and soon to be Paul Pierce. However, the number 6 stands out among all. One of the factors that stands out about Russell more than others on this list of NBA greats is that his contributions came more on the defensive end of the court than by the number of baskets he made. During his thirteen years with the Celtics, Russell never averaged more than 18 points per game and for his career notched 15.1. The 6’10” forward made his impact on the glass, averaging 22.5 rebounds per game during his career, including a season high 24.7 in 1963-64. While NBA stat sheets didn’t record blocks during his career, Russell was clearly a threat to stop and alter opponent’s attempts. In 2009, the league would show their gratitude to Russell by naming the NBA Finals MVP in his honor.
13 Brooklyn Nets - Jason Kidd
Credentials: 5 All-Star Games, 2 NBA Finals Appearances
One might argue that Julius Erving or Buck Williams should be listed here, however Dr. J played with the Nets in the ABA and Williams, while still holding numerous team records to this day, didn’t have the same team success . Kidd came over from the Phoenix Suns in a trade for Stephon Marbury in 2001 and made an immediate impact in New Jersey, leading the team on back to back trips to the NBA Finals, where he would run into the LA Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. The following four seasons, Kidd led the Nets to the playoffs, capping out with three losses In the Eastern Conference Semi Finals. If one were to look at the following rebounding numbers per game of 7.3, 6.3, 6.4, 7.4, 7.3, 8.2, 8.1, they may think that they belong to one of the Nets power forwards, not their 6’4” point guard. Add in an average of 9.1 assists per game during his time in New Jersey, along with 14.6 points per game, and it isn’t hard to see why Kidd is on the top of the list of best Nets players of all time.
12 Charlotte Hornets - Larry Johnson
Credentials: 2 All-Star Games, Rookie Of The Year
Grandmama and Zo may have been Shaq and Kobe before the dynamic duo hit LA. Had the two forwards had a better relationship and stayed together in Charlotte, there may have been more accolades beside Johnson’s name. People may say that Alonzo Mourning may have been a better choice as Johnson’s stats took a decline when Mourning joined the team, but that is a given when a strong supporting player is added to any roster. Nearly a 20/10 player during his time in Charlotte, Johnson was the first Hornets player to be named to the NBA All-Star Game and was one of the players to kick start the big money, big contract era.
11 Chicago Bulls - Michael Jordan
Credentials: Hall Of Famer, 6 NBA Championships, 6-time NBA Finals MVP, 5-time NBA MVP, 12 All-Star Games, Rookie Of The Year
The above list of credentials hardly covers what MJ captured as arguably the greatest player to every play the game. Throughout his 13 years in Chicago (and to a lesser extent the two in Washington) anything and everything that Jordan was involved in as a player was a success, from the Bulls, to Space Jam to the Dream Team to the Air Jordan Brand; the list is endless. Away from the game has been the only time the world has seen His Airness struggle as his front office involvement with the Washington Wizards and the Charlotte Hornets have proved to be for the most part unsuccessful, but that is Jordan in street clothes. Jordan as we all know him, in the familiar red and white Bulls uniform, was on another level that set the bar so high that only few have managed to even come close to reaching it. Whether their name was Harold "Baby Jordan" Minor, Grant Hill, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, all have tried to live up to the moniker of being the "Next Jordan" and all have fallen short. Honestly, even to this day, if MJ wanted to run for President of the United States, he would win in a landslide.
10 Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James
Credentials: 1 NBA Championship, 2-time NBA MVP, 1-time NBA Finals MVP, 8 All-Star Games, Rookie Of The Year
There is Jordan and then the argument for second best player ever gets a little tougher to decide. Offensive talent, check. Defensive ability, check. Scoring, check. Ball handling, check. Passing, check. Rebounding, check. Individual awards, check. Championship rings, check. After falling short of bringing a championship to Cleveland during his first stint with the Cavs, James held true to his promise upon his return to his hometown two years ago, claiming Cleveland’s first major sports championship since the Browns won the Super Bowl in 1964. This coming season, LeBron should take over as the Cavs career Games Played leader to go along being the team’s all time scoring, assists and steals leader. When you add in the fact that he has accomplished those feats in only nine seasons and, at 31 years old, still has at least five or six good years left in him, chances are, if he can grab another ring or two, there will be no need for discussion as to who second best is, it may be a discussion as to who is the BEST.
9 Detroit Pistons - Isiah Thomas
Credentials: Hall of Famer, 2 NBA Championships, 1-time NBA Finals MVP, 12 All-Star Games
Could you have Isiah Thomas without Joe Dumars? It’s like a PB&J with no jam. But for the sake of this piece and future conversation, Thomas takes the nod. With two championship rings and a spot atop many of the Pistons All-Time Leaders lists, the Hall Of Fame point guard is the catalyst for the Pistons success during the mid 80s – early 90s. When you talk about big time playoff moments, you can’t forget to add Thomas’ 16 points in 90 seconds in the 1984 Eastern Conference playoffs against the NY Knicks or the incredible 25 points in the fourth quarter against the LA Lakers while sporting a bad wheel. He was a terrible general manager, but there's no doubt he's a legendary point guard.
8 Indiana Pacers - Reggie Miller
Credentials: Hall of Famer, 1 NBA Finals Appearance, 5 All-Star Games
He may be known more for his mouth than his game, but regardless of how much trash he spewed, Miller was often able to back it up. Whether it was against Jordan, Bird or Bryant, Miller was never shy about trying to get into the head of his counterpart, no matter who it was. During his eighteen year career, Miller’s Pacers reached the playoffs fifteen times, including six trips to the Eastern Finals and one shot at a ring that was shot down by the Lakers dynasty. While his career numbers of 18.2 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists per game do not exactly scream legend, Miller more than made up for it with his big shots at big moments. If you aren’t familiar of those times, just ask Spike Lee.
7 Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade
Credentials: 3 NBA Championships, 1-time NBA Finals MVP, 12 All-Star Games
Many felt that Dwyane Wade would fall into the category of all time greats who played with a single team for their entire career. Unfortunately that's no longer the case, as the Miami Heat and Wade parted ways this summer and Wade is taking his talents back home to Chicago. Led by a combo of Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, the Heat captured their first of three NBA Championships in 2005-06, before the Super Team of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh brought back to back titles to South Beach. Although O’Neal and James may have been bigger names, Miami still belonged to Wade and although the team is in need of a rebuild, Pat Riley should have done more to keep the face of the franchise in a Heat uniform for the remainder of his career.
6 Milwaukee Bucks - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Credentials: Hall Of Famer, 1 NBA Championship, 1 NBA Finals MVP, 3-time NBA MVP, 6 All-Star Games, Rookie Of The Year
He may be best known for his time with the LA Lakers, but at 22 years old and in his second year in the league, Abdul-Jabbar’s talent brought the Bucks their only NBA Championship. During their run to the title during the 1970-71 season, Abdul-Jabbar paced the team with 31.7 points and 16 rebounds per game during the 82 game schedule. Although he only played 467 games with the Bucks, the Hall of Fame big man remains the team’s career points and rebounding leader. Chances are these numbers will remain in the Bucks record books for a long time as the current longest tenured player, John Henson, has only played in 257 games and, with no offense towards the former Tar Heel, they aren’t exactly in the same conversation when it comes to place in NBA history books.
5 New York Knicks - Walt Frazier
Credentials: Hall Of Famer, 2 NBA Championships, 6 All-Star Games
One of the league’s most storied franchises leaves a lot of players to debate. How do you leave off Willis Reed, Patrick Ewing or Earl Monroe? , Well, during his ten years in the Big Apple, Walt Frazier piloted the Knicks to their only two titles, which gives him the nod over any others that could have been given the title of greatest Knick ever. Although Ewing dominates all of the Knicks individual records, expect for the Assists category, Frazier’s was no slouch during his time with the team, averaging a shade under 19 points, 6.1 assists and just under 6 rebounds per game in 759 games. He'd actually up his play in the playoffs, managing 20.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game when the games started to matter.
4 Orlando Magic - Dwight Howard
Credentials: 1 NBA Finals Appearance, 6 All-Star Games
This one is going to bring a lot of head shakes, groans and WTF’s. But when you consider the fact that Shaquille O’Neal was only in town for four years and D12, whether it was due to duration or not, took the team to the same playoff success, plus his individual accomplishments, Howard gets the nod. One major factor here is that Howard played over six hundred games for the Magic, while O’Neal appeared in less than 300. When debating Howard or O’Neal, one other important factor to consider is the group of players that they suited up with. Howard’s supporting cast included Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson, whereas Shaq rolled with a superior crew of Anfernee Hardaway, Nick Anderson, Dennis Scott and Horace Grant. Just imagine if we threw Penny into the conversation.
3 Philadelphia 76ers - Julius Erving
Credentials: Hall of Famer, 1 NBA Championship, 1 NBA MVP, 11 All-Star Games
Could you put Iverson, Barkley or Chamberlain on this list, without a doubt, however when you consider the stats, the championship and the excitement that Dr. J brought to not only Philadelphia, but the league itself, he gets the nod. Before joining the Sixers, Erving spent six years in the ABA, time which could have solidified his spot on this list even more. Posting averages of 22 points, 6.7 rebounds and nearly 4 assists per game during his time with the Sixers, Erving is also credited with bringing flash and flair to the game. To this day, players still honor #6 during All-Star weekend attempting to complete and improve on the free throw line dunk.
2 Toronto Raptors - Vince Carter
Credentials: Rookie of the Year, 5 All-Star Games
Credit Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan for their recent efforts in bringing the Raptors to the forefront of the Eastern Conference, but when you are tagged with the moniker “Half Man / Half Amazing,” you have done something to impress someone. For most of his time in Toronto, VC owned the city. Thank the Golden State Warriors for bringing Carter to Toronto, as the team swapped his draft rights for Antawn Jamison. While his time in Toronto wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, due to controversial decisions and comments. he still made Toronto important for the first time in the NBA. Although Chris Bosh’s name will be found among the top of the Raptors All-Time stats lists, it was Carter that broke ground in Canada with his nightly SportsCentre appearances. In just over 400 games played with the Raptors, Carter averaged 23.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Add in at least two highlight plays and the anticipation of a couple more and Carter made basketball in Canada must see TV.
1 Washington Wizards - Elvin Hayes
Credentials: Hall of Famer, 1 NBA Championship, NBA 50 Team, 8 All-Star Games
As the leading scorer and rebounder for the Wizards (Bullets) only championship team, Hayes averaged a double-double throughout his nine seasons in Washington with 21.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Coming over to Washington from Houston in a lopsided trade for forward Jack Marin, Hayes would lead Washington to eight straight playoff appearance and three total NBA Finals, including an attempt at back to back titles following the 1978-79 championship. During his time in Washington, Hayes proved to be one of the league’s ironmen, missing only seven games in nine seasons before returning to finish out his career in Houston (he would miss only nine games over the course of sixteen years).