Talented players can dominate games and help their team to a victory, but the truly great players can dominate entire seasons and spearhead their team to important playoff berths, and sometimes even championships. The NBA is one of the most demanding leagues around the world, with multiple games throughout the week in areas all over the States, and of course Toronto (and previously Vancouver) too. A total of 82 games plus the post-season makes this incredibly demanding both physically and mentally, so for a player to dominate an entire season it takes much more than just talent to pull this off. These few elite players have managed to dominate from the opening tip of the first game through to the last game of the season, and in some cases well into the post-season. It does not matter if they have played the night before, had next to no sleep on a flight across to the other side of the country, or they are coming up against one of the top teams in the league. These players have still dominated, and therefore proven themselves to be truly great.
An entire season of dominating the NBA is no fluke, which is why all of these players are famous for much more than these individual campaigns. They span the history of the NBA, with each legend inspiring those that came after him. Rule changes in the NBA, alongside changes in playing style and physicality, make it difficult to compare and rank these dominant seasons, with each one being unique and special in their own right. It also proves that within each era of the NBA, there has been at least one player that has proven themselves to be a warrior and truly elite. Talented players that dominant a few games throughout the season come and go, but these players are highly revered and often make up peoples greatest all-time team.
Here are the top 10 dominant individual seasons for players in NBA history. Honourable mentions to Bill Russell (1961-62), Willis Reed (1969-70), Moses Malone (1982-83), Larry Bird (1985-86), and Kevin Garnett (2003-04).
10 Tim Duncan, 2002-03
In the 2002-03 season, Duncan was the only Spurs player in his prime. He was playing alongside an aging David Robinson, and his future partners in crime, Ginobli and Parker, were in their rookie and sophomore years respectively. This meant that for this year the entire focus was on The Big Fundamental, and he certainly delivered. The Spurs went 62-20 in the regular season, with Duncan racking up a statline with 23.3 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.9 BPG and shooting 51% from the floor.
It was in the post-season where Duncan furthered his dominance. Here he dismantled the Suns, the four-peat seeking Lakers and Texas rival Dallas, before meeting Jason Kidd and the Nets in the finals. Duncan was unstoppable on both ends of the floor and impressed in every area, averaging 24.2 PPG, 17 RPG, 5.3 APG and 5.3 BPG. He came agonizingly close to a quadruple double in Game 6, finishing with 21, 20, 10 and 8 blocks, a monstrous performance to close out the series. In this dominant season Duncan won the title, finals MVP, regular season MVP and was nominated to All-NBA and All-Defensive first teams. He has had a lot more help before and since this season, but it was in this year that he proved himself to be one of the all-time greats.
9 Magic Johnson, 1986-87
Magic is one of the most dominant players to have ever played in the NBA, partly due the fact that he was a 6-foot-9 point guard, which caused chaos for opponents trying to match up. Not just this however, he is also one of the greatest point guards of all time, with an extraordinary ability to read the game and share the ball.
This was best demonstrated during the 1986-87 season, where Magic guided the Lakers to 65 wins in the regular season and then on to the NBA title. On his way, Magic achieved an astonishing statline of 23.9 PPG, 12.2 APG, 6.3 RPG and 1.7 SPG. In terms of point guard production, there has never been a season quite as dominant as this one, but importantly the Lakers also managed revenge against the fierce rivals Boston Celtics in the finals. It was an unforgettable series where Johnson demonstrated his versatility and ability to produce on the big stage, including a famous baby-hook to clinch Game 4. After being defeated in six games, Larry Bird would say that Magic was “the best I’ve ever seen”. Johnson finished the finals averaging 26.2 PPG, 8 RPG and 13 APG.
8 LeBron James, 2011-12
Although a lockout shortened campaign, LeBron’s production in the 2011-12 season was phenomenal. Many questioned LeBron after “The Decision”, and faltering to the Mavs in the finals in the previous season, where he did not rise to the occasion. He returned for the shortened season with a vengeance, where he averaged 27.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.9 SPG and shot a career high 53.1%. This led Miami to a 46-20 record and his incredible efficiency won him the MVP award.
He stepped up his game even more during the post-season, putting the Heat on his back and carrying them to the finals. With the Heat trailing 2-1 in the conference semi-finals against the Pacers, LeBron unleashed hell as he scored 40 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and handed out 9 assists. This mammoth performance turned the series on its head and the Heat won the next three games. Similar gigantic performances followed in Games 6 and 7 of the conference finals to edge the Celtics, before finishing the Thunder in five games for his first title. LeBron recorded a triple double in the deciding game, punctuating an incredible season, which he dominated from start to finish.
7 Shaquille O’Neal, 1999-00
There was a time in Shaq’s career where he was completely unstoppable, and this was best demonstrated in the 1999-00 season. Not only was he the key ingredient in helping the Lakers to the title, but he also took home the all-star, finals and regular season MVP. He was also elected into the All NBA first team and All-Defensive second team, and led the league in scoring (29.7 PPG) and field goal percentage (.574). The Lakers finished the season 67-15, including a stunning 19-game win streak.
His size and strength caused havoc for opponents, who were forced to double team which opened up scoring opportunities for the likes of Fisher, Horry, Shaw and of course Kobe. Shaq’s complete dominance this season was reflected by his MVP award, where he nearly became the first player to become unanimous MVP, with 120 out of 121 first-place votes. Shaq was, in his prime, one of the biggest handfuls in NBA history, with this season being his most dominant and one of the all time greats. This was the first of the Lakers three-peat.
6 Hakeem Olajuwon, 1993-94
Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon proved himself to be one of the most dominant players of all time because of his incredible ability at both ends of the floor. He had a dazzling array of post-moves which would leave defenders bamboozled, and on the defensive end he was a monster - frustrating opponents, grabbing boards, steals and of course blocking shots (he still leads the NBA). This was best on display during the 1993-94 season, where Olajuwon won the regular season MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, an NBA title and the finals MVP, becoming the only player to ever achieve this remarkable accomplishment.
Impressively, Olajuwon won Houston this title with very little help, being the only all-star on the team. In a memorable 7 game series with the Knicks, Olajuwon held Ewing to just under 19 ppg on 36.3% shooting. Whilst putting in this stellar defensive effort, the Nigerian averaged 26.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.6 apg and 3.9 bpg. This led Houston to their first major-league championship in any sport, and cemented ‘The Dream’ as an elite NBA player.
5 Michael Jordan, 1990-91
This was the year in which Jordan firmly established himself as an NBA legend, as he secured his first NBA title and finally got the better of the Detroit Pistons. The Bulls, led by Jordan, completely dominated the regular season (winning a team record 61 games), as well as the playoffs, where they only dropped two games. On their way to this incredible title, Jordan picked up his fifth straight scoring title (31.5 PPG), his second MVP award, the finals MVP, and was nominated to both the All-NBA first team and All-Defensive first team as well as the All-Star game.
Jordan’s dominance extended to the finals, where he met Magic Johnson and the Lakers. The Bulls would lose the first game, but turned the series on its head by taking the next four, led by Jordan who averaged 31.2 PPG, 11.4 assists and 6.6 rebounds in a memorable series and the first of six rings for MJ.
4 Oscar Robertson, 1961-62
While Wilt Chamberlain was scoring for fun this season, there was another player that was dominating in each game too. In order to dominate the game of basketball, you need to be skilled in different areas of the game, which is what Big O demonstrated by averaging a triple double for the season. This incredible stat has never been replicated, and he did it with ease too as he put up 30.1 PPG, 12.5 RPG and 11.4 APG. This meant that Robertson was everywhere during games and showed himself to be one of the all time greats.
Much like Chamberlain, despite breathtaking statistics, he did not enjoy much team success and they were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs (where he maintained his impressive feat with averages of 29, 11 and 11). A triple double is impressive in any game, and although played in a different era, to average this over the season is an incredible feat and shows Robertson’s ability to do it all on the floor.
3 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1970-71
It’s difficult to image the Bucks winning a championship, but back at the start of the 70’s they achieved this thanks to an extraordinary season from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was in just his second season. The youngster was paired with Oscar Robertson, creating a deadly combination that the league was unable to contain as the Bucks won an impressive 66 games in the regular season. The towering 7-foot-2 Abdul-Jabbar led the league with 31.7 ppg, he pulled down 16 rebounds per game and also shot a staggering 57.7% from the floor. This incredible statline led him to his first of six MVP awards.
His dominance carried over to the playoffs, where the Bucks sailed to the finals whilst casting aside San Francisco and the L.A Lakers before meeting the Baltimore Bullets. They swept the finals, becoming the quickest expansion team to win a title in pro sports as it was just their third year of existence. In the finals, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 27 PPG, 18.5 RPG and 2.9 PPG. This marked the beginning of an extraordinary career for Abdul-Jabbar, who many believe to be the best 'big man' to play the game.
2 Michael Jordan, 1987-88
A young Michael Jordan showed the world what he was capable during the 1987-88 season, and although he would not win the title, it would be one of the most dominant periods of his career. Jordan became the first player to win the scoring title and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season, as well as the first player to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. He was outstanding on both ends of the floor, so no matter what player he was matched up with, they were in for a long night. Many modern day scorers neglect their duties on the defensive end, but this was not Jordan’s style.
During the regular season, Jordan averaged 35 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 3.2 SPG and 1.6 BPG, and would also shoot an efficient 53.5%, leading the league in steals as well as points per game. Although stifled by the Pistons in the playoffs (not for the first or last time), he would still put up 36.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG and 4.7 APG in the post-season. He also achieved back to back 50-point games in the playoffs against the Cavaliers. His incredible efficiency, scoring ability and efforts on the defensive end make this one of the most dominant seasons by the greatest to play the game.
1 Wilt Chamberlain, 1961-62
You can’t talk about dominating in the NBA without including Wilt Chamberlain and this jaw dropping season. Chamberlain put up statistics that have been unheard of ever since and represent just how much better he was than those around him, with a video game-esque statline of 50.4 PPG and 25.7 RPG, shooting 50.6% from the floor. It is difficult to compare this with modern day records due to the changes in the game, but nonetheless it shows that it was a man against boys for Chamberlain during the early 1960’s. This is also the season where Chamberlain dropped 100 points in a game, a record still standing strong today.
Despite this complete domination, Chamberlain did not enjoy much team success and was beaten to the MVP award by Bill Russell. By averaging over 50 points and 25 rebounds each game, and scoring 100 against the Knicks, no one has individually dominated a season quite like Wilt the Stilt.