The full list of ESPN’s 100 greatest NBA “Game Changers” of all-time #NBArank

NBARank ESPN's Top 100 Game Changers in NBA History

In this day and age of non-stop information flying across our screens through all types of social media and in the form of memes and blurbs and inspirational quotes, ESPN’s list of the NBA’s 100 Influential Game Changers is bound to be misconstrued by a good chunk of the public for no good reason.

My guess is that no less than 40% of comments will read their article as the 100 greatest NBA players ever, a list of the G.O.A.T.s, without realizing or reading that that’s not the point or the intent of the list. Even though the #NBARank article clearly states “Game Changers”, many will scan the title, get emotional (angry) and dismiss the list that was created, researched and published out by a panel of experts that DO THIS AS THEIR FULL TIME JOB*.

So there is a rationale to placing John Stockton above Isiah Thomas (even though I disagree) when it comes to how they impacted the game and how we understood the game. That’s also why you see young players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green make this historic list.

If there’s one thing you should remember when looking at this list is that it’s all about the those that changed the game and influenced it to where it is today — not the best players.

ESPN’s Game Changers: The 25 Most Influential Players in NBA History

ESPN spent the last week releasing the list of one hundred in four parts, so there’s no way to look at the full list. As we love to do, we created an easy to read/compare list so you don’t have to go back and forth.

1 Michael Jordan
2 LeBron James
3 Magic Johnson
4 Bill Russell
5 Wilt Chamberlain
6 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
7 Oscar Robertson
8 Julius Erving
9 Larry Bird
10 Stephen Curry
11 Jerry West
12 Kobe Bryant
13 Allen Iverson
14 Charles Barkley
15 Kevin Garnett
16 Hakeem Olajuwon
17 Shaquille O'Neal
18 Pat Riley
19 Phil Jackson
20 Dirk Nowitzki
21 Steve Nash
22 Earl Lloyd*
22 Chuck Cooper*
22 Nat Clifton*
22 Don Barksdale*
22 Wat Misaka*
23 Elgin Baylor
24 Tim Duncan
25 George Mikan
26 Moses Malone
27 Scottie Pippen
28 Bill Walton
29 Yao Ming
30 Pete Maravich
31 Lenny Wilkens
32 Manu Ginobili
33 Vince Carter
34 Walt Frazier
35 Dominique Wilkins
36 Ray Allen
37 Bob Cousy
38 John Stockton
39 Wayne Embry
40 Jason Kidd
41 Drazen Petrovic
42 Isiah Thomas
43 Dikembe Mutombo
44 John Thompson
45 David Robinson
46 Mike D'Antoni
47 George Gervin
48 Rick Barry
49 Chris Paul
50 Spencer Haywood
51 Chris Webber
52 Arvydas Sabonis
53 James Harden
54 Kevin Durant
55 Penny Hardaway
56 Dennis Rodman
57 David Thompson
58 Don Nelson
59 Darryl Dawkins
60 Dwyane Wade
61 Karl Malone
62 Clyde Drexler
63 Joe Dumars
64 Gary Payton
65 Bill Sharman
66 Draymond Green
67 Sarunas Marciulionis
68 Tracy McGrady
69 Russell Westbrook
70 Kevin McHale
71 Earl Monroe
72 Bill Bradley
73 John Lucas
74 Chris Bosh
75 Jeremy Lin
76 Steve Kerr
77 Connie Hawkins
78 Jason Collins
79 Patrick Ewing
80 Bob Pettit
81 Tom Heinsohn
82 Danny Ainge
83 Maurice Stokes*
83 Jack Twyman*
84 Rasheed Wallace
85 Ed O'Bannon
86 Bob McAdoo
87 Giannis Antetokounmpo
88 Bob Lanier
89 Kyrie Irving
90 Reggie Miller
91 Nate "Tiny" Archibald
92 Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf
93 Carmelo Anthony
94 KC Jones
95 John Havlicek
96 Pau Gasol
97 Calvin Murphy
98 Manute Bol
99 Rafer Alston
100 Al Attles

* ESPN’s NBA panel voted more than 11,000 times to select the top 90 game changers, and a smaller committee of writers and editors selected the final 10

If you couldn’t tell by looking at the list, it wasn’t just what the players did on the court, but what the impact they had off the court and how it influenced the culture mattered too. From three-point revolutionaries to streetball players to the first Black player to be drafted. Particularly, it’s great to step off the court to recognize those that blazed a trail culturally like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Nat Clifton, Don Barksdale and Wat Misaka did for minorities (and I would argue that Collins deserves to be here too). All five players all share the #22 spot for their groundbreaking presences. From ESPN:

Though Cooper was the first black player drafted, Earl Lloyd was the first to play in an actual game. Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton was the first to join the league from the Harlem Globetrotters. Barksdale was the first black All-Star and before joining the NBA was the first black NCAA All-American and first black player to win gold in basketball at the Olympics… In 1947, Misaka joined the BAA (forerunner of the NBA) to become the league’s first non-white player and the first player of Asian descent.

It’s more than reasonable to not agree with ESPN’s list, but you have to understand the purpose behind it so you’re not just reacting off-the-cuff to seeing Rasheed Wallace, Danny Ainge, Ed O’Bannon and Steve Kerr on the list. So yes, there’s real reasons why Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Rafer Alston, Jason Collins, and Jeremy Lin are on this list of influencers. Same goes for international players that were never NBA all-stars but impacted the game in different ways Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis.

If you’ve followed NBA basketball for more than a decade, then you’ve run across the tired “Who is the top (insert arbitrary number) NBA basketball players of all time” discussion with all the focus on individual accomplishments and far from objective opinions. So this list was refreshing to say the least to turn the focus away from just numbers and championships. To recognize the players, coaches and contributors that changed the game and helped to make the NBA the diverse, forward-thinking league it is today.


1 Comment

  • I would have put Olajuwon higher, even today there is no better “guard in a center’s body” than the Dream was

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