basketball lists, NBA

The Full List: ESPN’s ranking of the NBA’s Top 75 Players (#1-76)

During the 2022 NBA All-Star Weekend, the NBA’s 75 best players were invited to gather in Cleveland to continue the celebration of the league’s 75th anniversary.

We saw living legends Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Bob McAdoo, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Isiah Thomas, Julius Erving, Oscar Robertson and Dennis Rodman rub elbows, joke and reminisce then watch the the league’s current superstars, future Hall-of-Famers and fellow NBA 75 members LeBron James (24 points and game-winner), Steph Curry (16 threes and 50 points) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (30 points and 12 rebounds) lead Team LeBron to the thrilling 163-160 win over Team Durant at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

Seeing Curry, LeBron, and Giannis on the court and seeing past superstars Hakeem Olajuwon, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Allen Iverson, Magic Johnson, George Gervin, and Patrick Ewing watching from the sidelines was surreal.

ESPN's Ranking of the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team
1 Michael Jordan
2 LeBron James
3 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
4 Magic Johnson
5 Wilt Chamberlain
6 Bill Russell
7 Larry Bird
8 Tim Duncan
9 Oscar Robertson
10 Kobe Bryant
11 Shaquille O'Neal
12  Kevin Durant
13 Hakeem Olajuwon
14  Julius Erving
15  Moses Malone
16 Stephen Curry
17 Dirk Nowitzki
18  Giannis Antetokounmpo
19  Jerry West
20  Elgin Baylor
21 Kevin Garnett
22 Charles Barkley
23 Karl Malone
24  John Stockton
25  David Robinson
26  John Havlicek
27 Isiah Thomas
28 George Mikan
29  Chris Paul
30 Dwyane Wade
31  Allen Iverson
32 Scottie Pippen
33  Kawhi Leonard
34 Bob Cousy
35 Bob Pettit
36  Dominique Wilkins
37 Steve Nash
38 Rick Barry
39  Kevin McHale
40 Patrick Ewing
41 Walt Frazier
42  Gary Payton
43 Jason Kidd
44  Bill Walton
45 Bob McAdoo
46 Jerry Lucas
47 Ray Allen
48 Wes Unseld
49 Nate Thurmond
50  James Harden
51  Reggie Miller
52  George Gervin
53  Clyde Drexler
54 Pete Maravich
55 Earl Monroe
56  James Worthy
57  Willis Reed
58 Elvin Hayes
59 Nate Archibald
60 Sam Jones
61 Dave Cowens
62 Paul Pierce
63 Robert Parish
64 Hal Greer
65 Lenny Wilkens
66 Paul Arizin
67  Dennis Rodman
68  Russell Westbrook
69  Carmelo Anthony
70 Dolph Schayes
71  Anthony Davis
72 Billy Cunningham
73 Dave DeBusschere
74 Dave Bing
75  Damian Lillard
76 Bill Sharman

We all have our opinions and biases as to why we would place Isiah Thomas over John Stockton or Drexler over James Harden, but we’ll spend our time speaking to what we believe as the most-glaring mistakes. That mistake being including less-accomplished active players.

Premature to include Lillard, Davis

We’re obviously not talking about Steph, LeBron, Giannis or Chris Paul. All of whom are Hall of Fame locks and arguably top five in their positions in all time. On top of that, all four were named to the NBA All-Star Team this season. Whom we’re talking about is Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis. Both were included in the NBA 75 official list, but weren’t even voted on as an NBA All-Star this season – which you can see as just a coincidence or evidence that their inclusion was obviously premature.

We opine that there are way too many accomplished players in the seventy-five years that the NBA has been in existence to include Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard. Not that AD and Dame won’t be worthy when their careers are all said and done, but their current numbers and accomplishments simply doesn’t justify their inclusion.

Davis doesn’t even have 15,000 points in his career and Lillard stands at ~17,500 points. If Lillard and Davis were to retire tomorrow, their inclusion would most-certainly be questioned especially in the face of excluding Dwight Howard, Manu Ginobili, Vince Carter, Alex English, Klay Thompson, Adrian Dantely, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo. We would argue that Howard and Ginobili deserves a spot over Davis and that Klay has a resume better-suited for the list than Lillard.

As with these type of lists with individual player rankings across different generations, there’s no way of putting together a perfect list. ESPN recognizes this and speaks to the pitfalls of ranking so many great players. Even though there’s never going to be one list we can all agree upon, it’s an interesting exercise that pushes the arguments and discussions about how we quantify greatness.


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