Every major sport has one position that is the ultimate building block for all future success. It is the one position that 99% of all teams cannot win a championship without. Sure, there are always some exceptions to the rule but those are far and few between. If you want to have consistency and titles, each sport has to have their backbone.
In football, it is broken down by offense and defense. On offense, it is the Left or Right Tackle, depending on which arm the QB throws with. He is the unsung hero that protects the QB's backside, keeping the play alive and giving the rest of the offense time to make something happen. On the defensive side, it is the Middle Linebacker. He is the QB of the defense, keeping everyone else in the correct spots, reading plays, and calling blitzes.
For baseball, it is a closing pitcher. Every team that has won a World Series has had to rely on a closer at some point in the postseason. It is almost a rarity to not have a reliable closer that can be counted on when the pressure is on and the heat is turned all the way up. Just go ask the Chicago Cubs, they will tell you all about Aroldis Chapman.
Finally, in basketball, it is an All-Star Center. The Center position is vital in any team winning a NBA title unless they have LeBron James or Michael Jordan, but those are exceptions to the rule. An elite Center protects the floor, slows down the game, and helps control the paint by keeping the offense from getting too many second chance shots.
Look at all of the NBA Champions from the past 20 years and you will see a majority of the teams have superstar Centers. The Lakers had Shaq and Gasol, the Spurs had Tim Duncan, the Pistons had Ben Wallace, and the Heat had Chris Bosh.
It is nearly impossible to win a NBA Title anymore without having a superstar at the Center position. So let's take a look back at the NBA's 15 Most Dominant Big Men Since 2000.
15 Brad Miller (1998-2012)
During his senior season at the University of Purdue, Brad Miller opened up scouts eyes to his abilities and by the end of his final season, he was gaining steam heading into the NBA draft. However, because he came on so late in his career, NBA teams did not see him as anything more than just another benchwarming big guy and he went undrafted the same year as the NBA lockout and headed off to Italy to play. He then returned to the NBA and signed with the Charlotte Hornets.
It took him a few years in the league before he started to become an All-Star and by 2001, he was averaging 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. He continued throughout the 2000s, playing for several teams while consistently averaging around 12.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game, usually coming off the bench.
14 Brook Lopez (2008-Present)
Brook Lopez and his twin brother Robin Lopez dominated college basketball for two seasons before they both declared for the NBA Draft and prepared to make their mark in the biggest basketball league on the planet.
But between the two men, Brook was the more talented one and he has gone on to have the better NBA career averaging 18.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game, all while playing for the broken New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets. He might have to get away from the Nets if he ever wants to win a NBA Finals ring if they are not going to build around him as they should have done so far. He is a true talent that you can build around, as long as the owners can figure it out.
13 Marc Gasol (2009-Present)
Thanks to his older brother, Pau Gasol, Marc ended up landing on the perfect team for his particular set of skills, the Memphis Grizzlies. As a true to form NBA center, Marc Gasol is a big man that can rebound, block, and score inside the paint, at will. He has the abilities to take over a game and has been the leader of one of the NBA's top-rated defenses for the past several seasons.
He got to Memphis after the Los Angeles Lakers drafted him in 2008 and then preceded to trade him for Pau Gasol, which as we all know, turned the Lakers into World champions again. But it was a perfect move at the time and if roles were reversed, the odds are that the Lakers would not have won those titles.
12 Marcus Camby (1997-2013)
Marcus Camby was never a pretty player, but he was definitely a great defender. For his career, he was never a 20 point scorer or a guy you can rely on to check in a game and bring a team back by himself. But as a Center, he was a human wall in the paint. He owned the paint on the defensive side of the ball better than just about anyone in the league and he did it quietly. No one even noticed just how good he was until they read the stat line and saw the rebounds, blocks, and steals.
His long arms and tall skinny frame turned him into a giant in the paint, making it almost an impossible place to drive through. He was great at forcing opponents to shoot from outside the paint, which is a huge talent for a center. He was able to divert traffic away from the paint nightly.
11 DeAndre Jordan (2009-Present)
Since 2008, DeAndre Jordan has improved like clockwork, slowly getting better each and every year until he has become the league's best center this season. He would be higher on the list but the one thing he has not done is improve his free throw shooting. He is one of the worst free throw shooters in NBA history and because of this, he loses value because once fouled, with a career 42.9% free throw shooting average, he is going to miss more often than make from the stripe.
But when he is not shooting free throws or catching alley-oops from Chris Paul, he is rebounding on the defensive side of the ball. He has consistently grabbed 13 or more rebounds per game over the past four years, leading the NBA in the process.
10 Amar'e Stoudemire (2003-2016)
Before leaving Phoenix for the New York Knicks, Amar'e Stoudemire was considered the best Power Forward in the NBA. As a Sun, he went to four All-Star games, was voted the NBA's Rookie of the Year, and made four All-NBA Team's. But then he left for New York and things began to change.
After his first year with the Knicks, where he averaged 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.9 blocks, his numbers started to dip each season thereafter while his knee injuries also started to worsen. He would eventually retire from the league earlier in 2016 after he spent one season in Miami, playing sporadically. Despite his dip later on in his career, there is no way of denying the dominance of Stoudemire during his healthy playing days.
9 DeMarcus Cousins (2011-Present)
Just because a player is a problem in the locker room should not take away from what he can do on the basketball court. In the case of DeMarcus Cousins, however, it has become who he is in the league. No one wants to trade for him or sign him knowing that he is truly one of the best centers in the game because they would have to deal with his tantrums and locker room issues.
But guess what owners, that is on you and your coaches. Every team in the league should want DeMarcus Cousins, regardless of how he acts. He is a scary, scary, center that can score from all over the court. He has improved from 14.1 points a game to 28 points per game this season. He is also averaging 10.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game in 2016-17 making him one of the best all-around big men in the game today.
8 Tyson Chandler (2002-Present)
Tyson Chandler does not own an Olympic Gold medal because he was a last minute replacement for someone else. He earned it from the moment he stepped foot on the courts in London, in 2012. That's all because he is a defensive beast that does not score very often, he just does everything else right, like rebound, steal, block, and defend.
He has been doing it since he got to New Orleans and teamed with Chris Paul. That was when the NBA realized that he is not a scoring center and should not be forced into the offense. He is a defender that will score whenever he is open or near the hoop. But the offense should never be run around him, just next to him.
His value as a defender has turned him into a very good player that is tough to sign because he is 34 years old and still wanted by most NBA teams.
7 Yao Ming (2003-2011)
At 7'6", Yao Ming was one of the tallest players in league history. There have been taller players but they were never this good. Yao could shoot, he could dribble, he could rebound and defend. He was a special talent and was nearly unstoppable. He started off with yearly averages of 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game during his rookie season. But by the 2006-07 season, he was almost unreal scoring 25 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game.
If he ended up not having so much trouble with his foot injuries, Yao Ming could have played a few more seasons. He retired at the age of 30 and was just recently inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame last year.
6 Kevin Love (2009-Present)
Since 2008, Kevin Love has become one of the league's best centers. He brought to the league one of the best rebounding skill sets that we had ever seen. Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace knew how to rebound but Kevin Love is not only a great rebounder, he can score too, from all over the court. Not only can he score in the paint, he can step outside and shoot a 3-pointer.
When he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he was great but everyone knew he was missing that one teammate that he could partner with to get to the title game. It was supposed to be Ricky Rubio but he had injury after injury and Kevin Love decided to head to Cleveland and team up with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James.
At first glance, it was a shock. But now that we have seen them play togehter for three seasons now, it makes sense. It works.
5 Pau Gasol (2002-Present)
As we mentioned earlier, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol were traded for one another in a perfect move for both franchises, the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies.
Pau Gasol was the better scorer and was averaging anywhere between 18 to 20 points per game throughout most of the 2000's when he was playing in Memphis and Los Angeles. But it was when he got to LA and partnered with Kobe Bryant that he turned into a superstar. He was the perfect complement to Kobe and the two of them won multiple NBA Finals.
He is a tall, skinny, European monster that plays much bigger and stronger than he looks, and has played that way since his rookie season which why he has become a six-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA World Champion. He deceives his competition into believing they can push him around and bully him up but then he drops 40 points, 15 rebounds, and five blocks on them before they even have a chance to realize what just happened.
4 Ben Wallace (1997-2012)
Dennis Rodman knew how to defend. He knew how to box out a player and grab a rebound better than just about everyone else in the league. He was smart and he was focused solely on his defense. For awhile, he was the only one-way defender in the league that was not a scorer. Then came Ben Wallace, in 1997.
Ben Wallace was never marketable, nor was he ever fun to watch. He barely scored nine points per game and was a terrible free throw shooter. He would grab a rebound and never even look at the basket. He would much rather kick it out for an open three or to a teammate to take a mid-range jumper. It was his defense that turned him into a great Center who ended up leading the Detroit Pistons to a NBA Title.
If there was ever a player that was the defensive backbone of team, it would be Ben Wallace.
3 Andre Drummond (2013-Present)
In only five seasons, Andre Drummond has quickly become a true All-Star at the Center position and is averaging 13.4 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game. Last season, his points per game average rose to a career high of 16.2 points and 14.8 rebounds, earning him his first ever All-Star game appearance, as well as being selected for the All-NBA Third Team.
With the addition of Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris last season, and Ish Smith and Jon Leuer this season, the Pistons have started to become a playoff caliber team in the Eastern Conference behind the play of their All-Star Center, Andre Drummond. As they continue to grow as a unit, he can only get better along the way.
2 Dwight Howard (2005-Present)
Just like Shaquille O'Neal, Dwight Howard also began his career with the Orlando Magic, where he played for eight seasons before demanding a trade and then being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, a mistake from which he has not yet recovered from. Prior to his departure from Orlando, Dwight was averaging 18.4 points, 13 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game. Since then he has been averaging around 16 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game. But it cannot be fully blamed on the trade as he has had several issues staying healthy.
But when you break down the numbers and look at the past 17 years, there truly has only been one other Center in the NBA that has been a bigger contributor to the league.
1 Shaquille O'Neal (1993-2011)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bill Russell were three of the best Centers in NBA history. But only one of them has better career averages than Shaquille O'Neal, and that would be Kareem, and not by much. He is the only one that has better averages in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks than Shaquille O'Neal. That means that Shaq is one of only two men that have 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.3 blocks per game, or more, in NBA history.
Since 2000, Shaq's legacy became known and he played several more years than most people probably expected from a man as large as Shaq. Usually, a player his size finds themselves battling various knee, back, or foot injuries practically ending their careers earlier than usual.
But any way you slice it, Shaquille O'Neal was so hard to defend that the NBA had to institute a rule, just for him and other players like him.