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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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