Basketball is a great spectator sport, but what sets it apart from other pro sports is how insanely flashy the athleticism of players can be. Seeing players cut on the gridiron or whip a baseball a hundred miles per hour with precision is great, but to watch a man fly? That is what makes the NBA’s athletes some of the greatest in the world. Like Russell Crowe’s character once proclaimed in The Gladiator, “are you not entertained?!” Without a doubt, the athletes of today’s NBA are being more and more groomed around the globe to make their mark on the growing global sport. Even so, it is a testament to the rich history of the sport that a majority of the league’s most athletic players of all time didn’t even play in the modern day NBA. To add to that, there are plenty of players in history who can flat out fly, or are quicker than John Wall, but just never put it together and became a complete basketball player, missing the pros altogether. So let’s get into it and see who some of the most insanely athletic NBA players of all time are, as well as some players that couldn’t even jump over the Yellow Pages!
15 Most Athletic - Giannis Antetokounmpo
They don’t call him The Greek Freak for nothing, as this kid can do it all. Standing at six feet eleven inches at the raw age of twenty two, he is one of the innovators of position-less basketball. Not only does Antetokounmpo give nightly highly reels of jaw-dropping dunks, but he maintains the poise and vision of a point guard, as his coach and mentor Jason Kidd has many times had him run the floor for the Milwaukee Bucks. Greek also boasts gaudy averages, leading his team in all major statistical categories as well as top ten in the league in both blocks and steals. He is truly a beast that will prove to dominate this league with sheer athleticism as he matures this decade.
14 Least Athletic - Joakim Noah
Making the list of the least athletic players of all time is truly a feat. Not only have these players made their mark on the NBA, but they have done it with almost no athletic ability. Heading things off is a modern player, current New York Knickerbocker, Joakim Noah. Known for his rough and tough rebounding style reminiscent of the 90s, Noah simply can’t get off the ground. To make things worse, his shooting form is considered one of the worst of all time, as he was booed loudly in Madison Square Garden this season for flat out air-balling an uncontested jump shot. He makes up for his weaknesses, however, with tons of grit, heart and determination, especially during his run with the Chicago Bulls during the heyday of Derrick Rose. However, he inevitably fell flat as injuries ended the flat-footed big man’s relevancy in the NBA.
13 Most Athletic- Shawn Kemp
What wears yellow and green and makes Blake Griffin look like the Monstars stole his talent? Shawn Kemp! The Seattle SuperSonics legend was synonymous with the word ‘dunk’ in the 90s, and was no-doubt the player who could jump out of the gym more than anyone else during that decade. Starting out as a raw athletic project, he quickly developed into a double-double machine. Most famed for taking the Sonics to the finals in ’96 (eventually losing to a prime Michael Jordan’s Bulls), the six foot ten inch high flier ironically ended a long run of come back attempts due to weight problems. Kids today won’t remember, but the athleticism Kemp boasted for his height alone puts him on this list.
12 Least Athletic - Manute Bol
Famous for being the tallest player of all time, the late Sudanese-born center stood at a ridiculous seven feet and seven inches! It should come as no surprise that the poor guy had a little trouble moving up and down the floor. If anything, it was impressive that he was able to even keep up with other professional ballers on the hardwood. His height and proximity to the hoop, unfortunately, didn’t stop Bol from frequently botching dunks and lay-ups alike. Ironically, his son Bol Bol, is currently one of the top prospects in the nation, sporting a smooth handle and dagger pull-back jumper similar to that of Kevin Durant’s game. My how the times have changed!
11 Most Athletic - Wilt Chamberlain
Many will argue that Wilt Chamberlain was just a really tall player in a time when height wasn’t being bred worldwide to compete in the NBA. And although that may be true, many will forget a lot of the insanely athletic things that Wilt the Stilt was able to do besides score 100 points in one game, as well as set impossible records in scoring in rebounding. At his height, his no-look passing, finesse finger-rolls, hook shots, and ridiculous vertical leap were not only an anomaly for the time-period, but big-men with his type of finesse wouldn’t even come close to that kind of skill set until the three and D style of modern day.
10 Least Athletic - Shawn Bradley
Another skyscraper scouted almost purely to defend the rim, Shawn Bradley was often the subject of ridicule as he would miss easy lay-ups or fumble the ball in easy situations. Bad hands aside, the giant stood at seven feet six inches, and famously wore the jersey number seventy-six, all while playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. Slow feet, bad hands and a gimmick: unfortunately his lack of athleticism didn’t stop Bradley from jumping into the limelight. Nonetheless, it is still impressive for a player with such physical restrictions being able to string together a twelve-year NBA career. Bradley also famously gave his spectators as awkward of a stat-line as his physical appearance: a triple double with no assists! Bradley achieved the unique accomplishment with ten points, ten rebounds and ten blocks!
9 Most Athletic - Julius “Dr. J” Erving
With recent news of Jerry West wishing to be replaced as the NBA logo silhouette, Dr. J should certainly at least be considered. Erving not only popularized the then struggling ABA (American Basketball Association) with his unprecedented high-flying above the rim style, but is largely responsibly for the successful merger of it and the NBA, giving us some of the great franchises of today including the San Antonio Spurs, the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers, and the Brooklyn Nets. But of course, the enigmatic scoring machine wouldn’t be on this list with out his famed and then-unheard of free-throw line dunk. Even today, you would be hard pressed to find players who can dunk from that far away.
8 Least Athletic - Yao Ming
Yao Ming was a massive Chinese icon in the early 2000s, both conceptually and physically. However, being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year sparked a huge amount discontent around the basketball world. Why should Yao, who at seven feet six inches played in an extremely injury limited 8 seasons, take the spot of other legitimate super-stars who have way more on their resumes? Look: Yao Ming was one of the first and greatest Chinese basketball players in the NBA, and nothing can take that away from him. But similar to Shawn Bradley, Manute Bol, Gheorge Mureson, and a handful of other giants to play in the league, the truth is that his lack of athleticism and de facto skill set makes him nothing more than a rim-protector that costs the team a lot more touches on the post that could be going to legitimate skilled scorers. Oh, and he was once blocked down-low by the famously short (five foot nine inch) Nate Robinson! For that alone, he makes this list!
7 Most Athletic - Vince Carter
Vinsanity, Half-Man/Half Amazing, or in his early career, Air Canada, will probably go down as the greatest dunker of all time. Creativity aside, his air time and leap-distance was beyond imaginability, and he was also amongst the first post-Jordan era players to be labeled “The Next Mike.” Although it didn’t quite pan out that way for Carter, perhaps one of the most amazing parts about him is that he not only still plays today, but appears to have lost almost none of his bounce. Famously, in 2015 at the age of 38, Vince Carter actually jumped higher then the 18 year old uber athletic Andrew Wiggins. This year, video surfaced of Carter throwing insane dunks down in practice and nailing half court shots with ease. He also famously flat out jumped right over seven foot center Frederic Weis in the 2000 Sidney Olympics. When it comes to dunking, Carter changed the game!
6 Least Athletic - Eddy Curry
Eddy Curry is quite possibly the least deserving championship ring holder of all time, having been rostered with the Miami Heat’s 2012 championship squad. True, standing at seven feet makes it pretty tough to be athletic, but given the other insanely athletic seven footers this league has seen, it isn’t enough to excuse his lack of work ethic and desire to maximize his potential. Throughout his career, Curry was often ridiculed for his lack of effort and completely unrealized potential. Soft hands was a big plus, but Curry inevitably fell out of NBA shape, ballooning to a whopping 400 pounds, and eventually spiralled out of control leading to unfortunate and career-crippling heart conditions. Nonetheless, the slow-footed big fella did very little to stay in shape and was one of the most out of shape NBA players to ever play.
5 Most Athletic - Russell Westbrook
Most people would not believe what Westbrook accomplished this season unless they saw it first hand. Most-closely resembling a Monstar from Space Jam, Westbrook took his Durant-ditching aggression out on the entire league this season, averaging a triple double on the season while smashing the triple double record previously held by Oscar Robertson. Part of what makes Westy so impressive athletically is his pace. It seems as if he never turns off “turbo mode,” grabbing boards and pushing the ball for drives and dunks like he was a freight train. For his point guard frame and nearly unblemished injury record, Westbrook’s uncanny speed, drive, flight and everything else in between makes him undoubtedly one of the most electrifying athletes not only in basketball, but in the world.
4 Least Athletic - Bryant Reeves
Who could forget Bryant “Big Country” Reeves? The then-newest expansion team Vancouver Grizzlies couldn’t have been happier to get their star early on in their history, only to quickly realize that he would become widely regarded as the most out of shape, flat footed, sloth-like NBA players to ever suit up. It is worth noting that the post-master had a knack for scoring and grabbing uncontested rebounds, but poor work ethic inevitable led to his NBA demise. As if the notable ugly uniforms weren’t enough, many consider Reeves’ lack of success to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, sending the young franchise out to Memphis where it has enjoyed reasonable success. Nonetheless, when the big man returned from the 1999 lock-out, he reportedly looked like he had literally not worked out one time in his eight month break. The next season, he had to leave a game early with back pains, famously requiring eight teammates to carry his stretcher.
3 Most Athletic - LeBron James
Since he entered the league in ’03, King James has done everything a superstar should do, and then some. However, it isn’t just his basketball IQ, diplomacy or off-court philanthropy that makes him the King, but it is his insane athleticism. Electrifying dunks aside, the sheer quickness and vertical leap of a guy who stands at a whopping six foot eight inches and tips the scales at 250 pounds seems at first impossible. King James’ ability to run the floor, get past defenders to the basket like he was a point guard, and get off the ground the way that he does makes him not only one of the greatest to ever lace up, but one of the greatest athletic specimens of all time.
2 Least Athletic - Brian Scalabrine
Hailed as the mock-Greatest of All Time, Brian Scalabrine deserves a ton of respect despite being one of the least athletically gifted players of all time. The red-headed career role-player took a tour of championship contending rosters in his time as a player, mostly noted for his positive locker room and culture presence, eventually winning a ring with the ’08 Celtics, playing minimal minutes. Despite these positives, Big Scal’s physique is nearly the opposite of what an NBA player looks like. Limitations aside, the White Mamba still made a career off of hard work and basketball IQ. It comes as no surprise then, that he has already made a name for himself in broadcasting for the Celtics and on Sirius XM’s NBA Station. An addition, he has taken a vocal role on in Ice Cube’s inaugural season of “The Big 3” league this summer.
1 Most Athletic- Michael Jordan
What would this list be without the inclusion of Air Jordan, the unquestionable greatest of all time? Michael Jordan not only led the world as the most unprecedented talent in basketball history, but he capped it off by being the quickest, fiercest, and undoubtedly highest jumping basketball talent the world has ever seen. What made Michael so impossible to guard was his ability to not only see the best route to getting around defenders, but to take it with ease. Once in the air, Michael left witnesses in disbelief that gravity was still “a thing.” No doubt, Jordan could do it all: from jumping from the free throw line, to rocking the cradle, to the famous “kiss the rim” dunk, no one had more hang time than Michael Jordan.