There are many NBA players who have been considered "iron men". For many players, playing in most of the games during a successful NBA career is enough to earn iron-man status, while other players were able to consistently average over 40 minutes of playing time each game. In either case, these players, who could play in or remain in almost every game, shared one thing in common. They could all make their impact felt in a game, and the more games or minutes they played, the more of an impact they often made.
Bill Russell, John Havlicek and Wilt Chamberlain played an awful lot of minutes during each NBA season. In the 1961-62 NBA season, Chamberlain played in all 92 of his teams games, averaging 48.5 minutes played per game during the regular season and 48 minutes played per game during the playoffs. This was quite an incredible feat, but still couldn't measure up to the feat of A.C. Green. Green holds the NBA record for consecutive games played, with 1,192, played mostly in the uncomfortable confines of the paint. Both of these players were terrific athletes who also came into each NBA season in outstanding shape.
They are just a few examples of the top 20 players who were, or currently are, iron-men of the NBA. They play with nicks and bruises, find their second wind during closely contested overtime games, and consider a complete season to be an 82-game affair. They might have experienced different levels of success in their NBA careers, but one big thing they shared in common was their tendency to make their impact felt during the course of a regular season, as well as during the course of a game. Their inclusion on this list is a testament to the shape they were in as well as the mental and physical toughness that helped them each fight through fatigue.
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20 Charles Oakley, F/C - Five Different NBA Teams
Charles Oakley kicks off this list with his ability to take and dish out his own punishment game after game in the paint. Oakley was an NBA All-Star once (1994), and made his way onto two NBA All-Defensive Teams throughout his 19-year NBA career. He averaged 9.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game for his career, but was known more for his intimidation and defense. Given his 240-250 pound frame, Oakley was more of an enforcer than a scoring machine. He was tough enough to miss only five games in his first four seasons, logging over 75 games played in 12 different seasons. Oakley finished with 1,282 games and 40,280 minutes played in a career that was spent mostly absorbing punishment in the paint. He was a durable player who made his presence felt on the defensive end and even led the NBA in rebounding twice.
19 Cliff Robinson, F/C - Five Different NBA Teams
Cliff Robinson was a force on the offensive end, averaging 14.2 points scored through the course of his 18-year NBA career. He was an NBA All-Star in 1994 and won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1993. Robinson was also a solid defender, making it on the NBA's All-Defensive Team twice. He spend much of his time posting up or pulling up for jump shots in the paint, while also averaging 4.6 rebounds and one blocked shot per game. His consistent production paled in comparison to his consistency of playing in most of his team's games. Robinson played in every game during his first five seasons, going on to miss only 13 games in a span of 15 seasons. He played in at least 80 games for 13 of his NBA seasons, amassing 42,561 minutes of playing time. Robinson managed to play in 1,380 games, scoring 19,591 points in a career where he spent a good amount of time coming off the bench.
18 Kevin Garnett, F/C - Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets
Kevin Garnett is a warrior on the court, getting his fair share of points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. He has played in 1,424 NBA games, throughout his remarkable 20-year NBA career. Garnett is a 15-time NBA All-Star, winning the NBA's MVP Award in 2004, and the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2008. He has been a great rebounder, averaging over 10 rebounds per game in nine consecutive NBA seasons. He can also pass and score, dishing out over 4 assists per game in 10 different seasons and coring over 20 points per game in nine different seasons. He has also been incredibly consistent throughout his career at playing in most of his games, missing only 13 games in his first 10 NBA seasons. Garnett currently has logged 49,862 minutes played during the regular season, with another 5,283 minutes played in 143 playoff games. Garnett has been able to remain a legitimate offensive and defensive threat for each of his 20 seasons played.
17 John Havlicek, F - Boston Celtics
John Havlicek was one of the primary faces of the Boston Celtics during the 1960s and 1970s. Havlicek played in 1,270 games during his 16-year NBA career, averaging 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. The Celtics ran their offense through Havlicek who was quick to find open shooters when he was covered or double-teamed. Havlicek was selected to an astounding 13 NBA All-Star teams, winning the NBA Finals MVP Award in 1974 as well. He was also a very capable defender, with the durability and stamina to routinely make an impact at both ends of the floor. Havlicek finished his career with 46,471 minutes played, never having a season in which he played in fewer than 71 games. He played in at least 80 games during 11 of his 16 NBA seasons, managing to average about 40 minutes of work per contest in 172 playoff games as well.
16 Andre Miller - Seven Different NBA Teams
Andre Miller has played in 16 NBA seasons and is still in the league playing for the Sacramento Kings today. Miller's durability, scrappy play and career assist average of 6.7 per game, have helped him remain relevant throughout his career. Although Miller has never been an NBA All-Star, he did lead the league in assists during the 2001-02 season with an average of 10.9 assists per game. Never a prolific scorer, Miller did average at least 12 points per game for 12 consecutive seasons, while also averaging over three rebounds, five assists and a steal during that same time. What has really made Miller a significant member of this list, is his toughness and determination that has enabled him to play in 1,235 NBA games. Miller only missed three games during his first seven years in the league, also playing in 10 seasons in which he didn't miss a single game.
15 Gary Payton, G - Five Different NBA Teams
Gary "The Glove" Payton was one of the premier point guards of his time with his play on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. For 17 seasons, Payton was a pest for any point guard who happened to play for the opposing team. He averaged 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game, but it was his defense that was really his claim to fame. Payton averaged at least two steals per game in eight different seasons, leading the league with 2.9 steals per game during the 1995-96 season. Payton was selected to the NBA first-team All-Defensive Team nine times during his career and was the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 1996. Payton was also good at playing in most of his team's games. He set the tone for the Seattle SuperSonics by missing only seven games in his first 13 years in the league. Payton ended up playing in 1,335 games, logging 47,117 minutes of playing time while maintaining his pesky defense throughout his career.
14 Reggie Miller, G/F - Indiana Pacers
Reggie Miller didn't exactly have the body that would be associated with being an "iron-man", but he managed to play in 1,389 NBA games. Miller was, without a doubt, one of the NBA's all-time greatest shooters, finishing his career with a 3-point shot conversion rate of 39.5%, and a career free-throw shooting percentage of 88.8%. He had a career scoring average of 18.2 points per game to go along with averages of 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Miller was a five-time NBA All-Star, the face of the Indiana Pacers and a player who loved to talk and play the game. He managed to keep fans and players entertained in most of his team's games. Miller logged 47,619 minutes in his 18 NBA seasons, missing only 25 games in his first 15 years in the league. Miller was a great player, one of the NBA's premier shooters, and was a lot tougher than he might have looked.
13 Bill Russell, C - Boston Celtics
Bill Russell played in 13 NBA seasons, never missing the playoffs during his illustrious Celtics career. He averaged a ridiculous 22.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 15.1 points per game for his career. Russell was a 12-time NBA All-Star and 11-time NBA champion as well, earning the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award in 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1965. He was a force for the Celtics in the paint and was good at bringing his lunch pail and intestinal fortitude to just about every game. He played in at least 70 games for 11 of his 13 seasons, racking up an incredible average of 42.3 minutes played per game for his career. Russell averaged at least 42 minutes played per game in nine seasons. On top of that, Russell averaged an incredible 45.4 minutes played per game in 165 career postseason contests. Between the regular season and playoffs, Russell played over 48,000 minutes in just 13 seasons.
12 Buck Williams, F - New Jersey Nets, Portland Trailblazers, New York Knicks
Buck Williams was a slightly undersized, 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds, power forward who was well known for his durability, rebounding, and ability to score tough baskets. Williams was a three-time NBA All-Star who averaged at least 12 rebounds per game for his first six seasons in the league. He was selected to four NBA All-Defensive Teams (1st or 2nd team) and was the NBA's Rookie of the Year in 1982. As a scorer, Williams averaged at least 13 points per game in his first nine seasons in the NBA, and finished his career with a scoring average of 12.8 points per game with and 54.9% shooting. Williams managed to be a factor in most of his team's games, never missing more than 12 games in a season until his final year in the league. He played in at least 80 games during 12 of his 17 NBA seasons, missing only one game during his first six seasons in the league. He finished his career having played in 1,307 games, logging over 42,000 minutes played.
11 Wilt Chamberlain, C - Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers
Wilt Chamberlain was such an outstanding athlete for a big man, that it made him virtually unstoppable anywhere in or around the paint. Due to his athleticism and conditioning, he also managed to remain in games. He finished fourth all time in the NBA for minutes played, with 47,859, while also leading the league in minutes played eight times during his 14-year NBA career. His success in the NBA is legendary, as Chamberlain led the NBA in scoring for six consecutive seasons after averaging a ridiculous 37.6 points per game during his rookie campaign. That same year he included 27 rebounds per game and 46.4 minutes played per game, leading the league in both categories. Chamberlain finished his career with 31,419 points scored, 23,924 rebounds and respective averages of 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game. Chamberlain also averaged 45.8 minutes per game played during the 1,045 regular season games that he played. He even averaged a mind-boggling 47.2 minutes per game in 160 career playoff contests.
10 Terry Tyler, F - Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks
Terry Tyler was a big iron man for the Detroit Pistons, setting a franchise record for playing in 574 consecutive games between 1978 and 1985. He came into the league with great success, making the NBA's All-Rookie Team in 1979 by averaging 12.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per game. Tyler was never an NBA All-Star or even a star of his own team, but he was productive with a career scoring average of 10.2 points per game to go along with 5.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots per game. He averaged almost a steal per game and gave the Pistons a great defensive presence at either forward position. What Tyler was very good at, was playing in consecutive games. He didn't miss a single game during his first 7 NBA seasons, all spent with Detroit. He went on to miss just 31 games in his 11-season NBA career.
9 Karl Malone, F - Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers
Karl, "The Mailman", Malone was one of the most durable players the league has ever seen. Malone's durability was remarkable considering the fact that his body was subjected to so much abuse in the paint. Malone finished his career with 13,188 free throw attempts, leading the league in free throw attempts seven times during his 19-year NBA career. He finished his career having 15 seasons with over 600 free throw attempts. This helped him attain a scoring average of 25 points per game, to go along with a rebounding average of 10.1 per game and 3.6 assists per game. Malone also ended up being selected to 14 NBA All-Star teams, and was the league's most valuable player twice. His ability to score was matched only by his ability to play in just about every game. Malone logged 54,852 minutes, playing in 1,476 games throughout his career. He was so consistent that he missed only 10 games during his first 18 seasons.
8 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, C - Millwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a legendary center who used his patented skyhook shot to remain relevant for 20 NBA seasons. He was so relevant throughout his career, that he was selected to NBA All-Star teams in 19 of 20 seasons, finishing with averages of 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists for his career. On top of his scoring and rebounding prowess, Abdul-Jabbar also suited up for an incredible 1,560 NBA games. He logged an equally impressive 57,466 minutes played for his career, establishing an NBA record for minutes played. While Abdul-Jabbar watched so many premier centers have problems with their feet, he managed to have 17 seasons where he played in at least 75 games. Thanks to his productivity and durability, Abdul-Jabbar gains plenty of consideration for being one of the top NBA centers and iron-men of all time.
7 Elvin Hayes, F/C - San Diego/Houston Rockets, Baltimore/Capital/Washington Bullets
Elvin "Big E" Hayes was one of the best power forwards of his time. He could score, averaging 28.4 points per game his rookie season in 1968-69, rebound, averaging 18.1 rebounds per game for the Capital Bullets in 1973-74 and play solid defense. He was a relentless force in the paint, finishing his career with a scoring average of 21 points per game along with a rebounding average of 12.5. Hayes was selected to 12 NBA All-Star games and was an NBA champion in 1978. Despite double-teams and the physical play he encountered each and every game, Hayes managed to play in at least 80 games for all 17 seasons of his NBA career. Hayes ended up playing in 1,303 games and was third all-time in the NBA with 50,000 minutes played. Hayes even averaged over 41 minutes played per game during his first seven NBA seasons, leading the league in minutes played per game twice.
6 John Stockton, G - Utah Jazz
Since the Utah Jazz offense of the 1990s relied so heavily on the pick and roll combination of John Stockton and Karl Malone, it was a good thing they both never seemed to miss any games. Stockton was the consummate point guard, averaging 10.5 assists per game for his entire career. He was a 10-time NBA All-Star, nine-time assist leader, two-time steals leader, and five-time NBA All-Defensive second-team performer. Stockton is currently the NBA's all-time assists and steals leader with 15,806 assists and 3,265 steals. In his 19-year NBA career, Stockton played in all 82 games for 16 of his 19 seasons. He had a 609 consecutive games played streak and finished his career with 1,504 games played and 47,764 minutes played. At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Stockton was one of the smallest iron-men who came up big with determination and heart.
5 Dolph Schayes, C - Syracuse Nationals, Philadelphia 76ers
Dolph Schayes was one of the last players to use a two-handed set shot, and that somehow speaks volumes about his old-school game. Although Schayes stood at 6-foot-8, which was tall for his time, he was a terrific outside shooter who was a legitimate perimeter threat. He could score by driving to the hoop or hitting the outside shot. Schayes ended up getting selected to 12 NBA All-Star teams and was an NBA champion in 1955. He finished his career averaging 18.5 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. Unlike most of today's big men, Schayes was even accurate from the foul line, making 84.9% of his free throws throughout his career. In addition to his offensive prowess, he also managed to play in his share of games. Schayes once even played with a cast on his right arm for most of a season, developing a left hand in the process. He had a steak of 706 consecutive games played, finishing his career with the 996 games played, an NBA record at that time.
4 Robert Parrish, C - Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls
Robert Parrish, affectionately called "The Chief", was a talented center who could score as well as rebound and defend. He was a nine-time NBA All-Star, ending his career with averages of 14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. Parrish was a big part of three Boston Celtics NBA championship teams, teaming up with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale to form a dynasty. Parrish won another title with Chicago, becoming the third-oldest player to ever play in the playoffs, at the age of 43 years old. "The Chief", was also a consistent contributor throughout his lengthy 21-year NBA career. Parrish played in at least 72 games in 20 of his 21 seasons, finishing his career with an NBA record 1,611 games played. Parrish was enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003 and will be remembered for being an iron-man and the 21 seasons he played in.
3 Johnny Kerr, F/C - Syracuse Nationals, Philadelphia 76ers, Baltimore Bullets
Johnny "Red" Kerr was a player, coach, and commentator, who played and coached in the 1950s and 1960s. Kerr had a successful professional basketball career as a three-time NBA All-Star, NBA Champion in 1955, and NBA Coach of the Year in 1967. Kerr played in the NBA for 11 seasons, averaging 13.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Following his coaching career with the Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns, Kerr became the color commentator for the Chicago Bulls, a job he held onto for 33 years. Kerr knew a thing or two about longevity. He was the NBA's original iron-man, setting a record by playing in 844 consecutive games. His record stood until 1982 when it was broken by the high-flying athletic guard, Randy Smith. Kerr might not have had a particularly lengthy career, but he didn't miss many opportunities to play.
2 Randy Smith, G - Five Different NBA Teams
Randy Smith might have had a slight, 6-foot-3 and 180 pound frame, but he didn't back down from any challenge. Smith was a solid guard who played on both ends of the court and ended up averaging 16.7 points, 4.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. He was a two-time NBA All-Star and was even the MVP of the 1978 All-Star Game, but he was more of an opportunistic than prolific scorer. Smith was extremely athletic for his time, with great speed, leaping ability and quickness that enabled him to create open space anywhere on the court. With his style of play, it was quite amazing that he established a record, during his time, by playing in 906 consecutive games. Smith ended up playing in 976 games during his 13-year NBA career that ended up earning him acclaim for his toughness and durability. Not a bad career at all for a 7th round pick out of Buffalo State University.
1 A.C. Green, F - Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat
A.C. Green was part of the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, who won back to back titles in 1987 and 1988. Green did much of the Lakers' dirty work like rebounding, guarding the post, and having the task of shutting down or containing the other team's best forward. Green finished his career with averages of 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, but was worth far more for his consistency and dependability, than his points scored. Green set an NBA record that still stands today, with a streak of 1,192 consecutive games played. He missed three games in his second season in the league, finishing with an astonishing 1,278 games, while only missing three games! Many in the league gave him the adopted name, "Iron Man", for his ability to suit up and keep going during his streak. Thanks to his record and nickname, he tops this list.
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