Rebounders are often the unsung heroes of basketball – often ranking right up there with shot blockers. Fans like to see flashy shooters, breakneck fast breaks and high scoring games. Great rebounders are often overlooked and underrated because people often do not realize how rebounding affects the score. Rebounding is an integral part of championship caliber basketball. Offensive rebounds give the team second and third chances at scoring the bucket – therefore it increases the opportunities to score points.
If a professional player makes 50% of his shots, than one offensive rebound translates into two or three points. Defensive boards play an important role in keeping the opponent from getting those second and third opportunities to score. In other words it reduces their chances of scoring points, translating into victories. Teams that dominate the boards are more likely to win the game, have a winning season, make the playoffs, and ultimately win championship.
You will soon see that most of the men on this list were champions or were championship contenders multiple times over their careers – the proof is in the pudding so they say. There is a saying that says “defense wins championships,” but it could also be quickly refrained “good rebounding doesn’t hurt.” The following list is primarily based on the players with the highest rebounds per game (RPG) average over a career, and total number of rebounds over a career are taken into consideration.
Other factors were considered such as the player’s reputation as a good rebounder, specific outstanding seasons in rebounding, championships won, statistical dominance in other categories in addition to strong rebounding statistics, and the author’s personal preferences led to some creative liberty in the choices. In a list like this one it is inevitable that some players had to be left out, and while care could be taken to not step on anyone’s toes the reality is that not everyone will agree with the choices, so deal with it and enjoy it for what it is.
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15 Karl Malone - 10.14 RPG – 14,968 total
Karl Malone is one of the greatest Power Forwards to ever play the game. One cannot soon forget his epic conference battles with his nemesis, Charles Barkley. Despite making the playoffs every year of his stellar career, Karl Malone only lacks one thing – a championship. He has a career mark of 10.1 RPG in 18 seasons with the Utah Jazz and one with the Los Angeles Lakers. His career 14,968 rebounds ranks him 6th all-time.
14 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 11.18 RPG - 17,440 total
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a dominating inside force throughout his 20-year career. Perhaps best known as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, and as the inventor of the“Sky-Hook." He won six NBA titles, and was elected to 19 all-star appearances – an astonishing statistic. Though remembered as a scoring machine, his rebounding was not too shabby - he ranks in at number three with 17,440 boards and his career RPG puts him at number 22.
13 Charles Barkley –11.69 RPG - 12,546 total
Charles Barkley has been ranked as one of the greatest players to play the game of basketball. He was nicknamed “The Round Mound of Rebound” because of his tenacity on the boards. He ranks 19th all-time in RPG, and 18th all-time in career rebounds. He played in one NBA championship, his Phoenix Suns losing to his good friend Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. He and Karl Malone had many playoff battles over the years – making for one of the greatest rivalries in history.
12 Moses Malone – 12.20 RPG - 16,212 total
Malone dominated the rebounding title throughout the '80s with five consecutive. He was especially adapt at pulling in the offensive boards giving his team second and third opportunities to score. He led the league nine times in offensive boards. His average rebounds per game rank him only at number 15, as his numbers declined late in his career it brought down his averages. If you include his ABA rebounding numbers he would rank in at number three for career all time rebounds.
11 Elvin Hayes – 12.49 RPG - 16,279 total
Elvin Hayes was a consistently dominant rebounder throughout his career. His 12.5 average rebounds per game puts him in the top 15 on the all time list. He holds the record for the most offensive boards in a finals game (11) and the highest average for defensive boards per game in a season (13.7 per game in 1973-74). He was the rebounding king twice in his career. Hayes was a force to be reckoned with in Washington.
10 Dennis Rodman – 13.12 RPG. 11,954 total
Dennis Rodman is the most dominant rebounder in the modern history of the NBA. Nicknamed the “Worm,” perhaps for his ability to get under the opponents skin, was a master rebounder. He made rebounding a science like few who have ever played the game. In 1991-92 he averaged 18.7 boards per game, which is the most single season rebounding average by anyone since the days of Chamberlain and Russell. His career average of 13.3 RPG is the highest by anyone to play in the NBA after 1990. He checks in at 10th all-time for RPG, and 22nd for total rebounds. While Jordan gets most of the glory, having a player like Rodman on the roster played a huge part in the Bulls' dynasty of the 90's.
9 Elgin Baylor – 13.55 RPG - 11,463 total
Elgin Baylor was a spectacular acrobatic player before the days of shoe endorsements and commercial deals. He spent 14 years in the NBA with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged 27.4 points per game. His 13.5 rebounds per game are even more impressive when you consider that he was not one of the tallest players on the court. He played in an impressive eight championship games, and eleven all-star games. He was the first player to finish in the top five in four different statistical categories – scoring, rebounding, assists, and free-throw percentage ('62-'63). He was a great all-around player - something that is becoming a rarity today.
8 Dave Cowens - 13.6 RPG - 10,444 total
Bill Russell was an amazing player with big shoes to fill. After he retired in 1969 the Celtics drafted Dave Cowens with big expectations. Not that he could be expected to compete with Russell, but he played big immediately and helped lead the Celtics to two championships in 1974 and 1976. He was once NBA MVP, an All-Defensive first team player, a seven-time All-Star, an All-Star MVP, and he was voted one of the 50 greatest players in history. His 13.6 RPG throughout his career ranks him as number eight.
7 Walt Bellamy – 13.65 RPG - 14,241 total
Walt Bellamy had a very impressive NBA career, despite being relatively unknown. He averaged 20.1 PPG, 13.65 RPG (7th all time), and he had a career rebound total of 14,241 (11th all-time). Bellamy shifted around from the Chicago, Baltimore, New York, Atlanta Detroit and New Orleans, and was always productive in his rebound totals. He was always a useful player, which is why his services were so often coveted. Perhaps the quietest entry of the list.
6 Wes Unseld – 13.99 RPG - 13,769 total
Wes Unseld was the interior strength of the Bullets teams that made four finals appearances in the 70’s and won a championship in 1977-78. He was the kind of player that every coach wants on his team - a guy who does all the little/important things that win games. He was not known for his scoring as much as his defense and rebounding. He was only 6’7” but played the center position like a man much larger. He grabbed 13,769 boards in his career ranking him number 12 on the all-time list. His 13.99 RPG gives him the number 6 spot.
5 Nate Thurmond - 15 RPG - 14,464 total
Nate “The Great” Thurmond was one of the greatest centers in NBA history. He was known for his ability to intimidate his opponent. He was a dominant defender who played 14 seasons in the NBA during the 1960s and 70s. He was an NBA All-Star seven times, and was ranked one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1996. He was the first player in history to record a quadruple double. His career rebounding numbers place him eighth on the all-time list and he is fifth in RPG.
4 Bob Pettit – 16.22 RPG - 12,849 total
Bob Pettit played in the NBA for 11 seasons (1954-1965), and is the first player ever to be named the NBA MVP. He was the All Star Game MVP four times a feat that has only been matched in recent history by Kobe Bryant. Pettit led the Hawks to a championship in 1958, which is still the franchise's last title. He makes this list because of his impressive 16.22 RPG average ranking him third all-time for RPG. His 12,849 career boards rank him 17th all-time.
3 Jerry Lucas – 15.61 RPG - 12,942 total
Jerry Lucas had an illustrious career spanning 12 seasons, and four teams. Lucas joined the New York Knicks and won a championship in 1973, the franchise's last title. He was a seven-time all-star, and like most others on this list, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His 12,942 rebounds rank him 16th all time, and his 15.61 RPG rank him number four. The Knicks enjoyed their best years as a franchise with Lucas scooping up the remains in front of the basket.
2 Bill Russell – 22.45 RPG - 21,620 total
Can you imagine a a 20-year run in NBA history when the Leagues top rebounder averaged 20-plus boards a game each year? Today this is unheard of -not just unlikely, but considered impossible. This was the era of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. These two men were number one and number two in rebounds every year during this 20-year period of time. Bill Russell is one of the two greatest rebounders ever to play the game of basketball. Had Bill Russell not played at the same time as Wilt Chamberlain, he would have led the league in rebounding every year of his career - it sounds like a fairy tale, but it is the truth.
He still holds various rebounding records - the most boards in a half (32), the most boards in a quarter of a playoff game (19), the most rebounds in a NBA finals game (40). This stat is even more astounding when you consider that he has done it twice. To top it all off Bill Russell won 11 championships, and lost one with the Boston Celtics in his 13-year career. In other words he played in the championship game every year of his career except one - no-one has remotely come close to this level of dominance. Though Russell did not have the offensive scoring numbers that his rival Wilt Chamberlain had, he far surpassed him in championships, making Russell, in the authors mind, the better of the two.
1 Wilt Chamberlain – 22.89 RPG - 23,924 total
Wilt Chamberlain dominates the personal statistics in many categories in basketball history. There really is no one who can compare to Wilt Chamberlain. We think of him as the great scorer who once scored over 100 points in a single game, but many people do not realize what a dominant rebounder he was. He also holds a number of rebounding records: most boards in a single game (55), most rebounding titles (11), most rebounds per game in a single season (27.3 RPG), most rebounds per game over his whole (22.9 RPG), and finally the most career rebounds (23,924). This makes Wilt Chamberlain the All-Time Rebounding King.
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