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.
15 Karl Malone - 10.14 RPG – 14,968 total
14 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 11.18 RPG - 17,440 total
13 Charles Barkley –11.69 RPG - 12,546 total
12 Moses Malone – 12.20 RPG - 16,212 total
11 Elvin Hayes – 12.49 RPG - 16,279 total
10 Dennis Rodman – 13.12 RPG. 11,954 total
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
7 Walt Bellamy – 13.65 RPG - 14,241 total
6 Wes Unseld – 13.99 RPG - 13,769 total
5 Nate Thurmond - 15 RPG - 14,464 total
4 Bob Pettit – 16.22 RPG - 12,849 total
3 Jerry Lucas – 15.61 RPG - 12,942 total
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.
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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