There's actually a great GOAT—as the kids say it—debate here as well, like the endless Michael/LeBron, Michael/Kobe, Michael/Magic, Michael/Babe Ruth who's best. Kareem or Wilt? They're one/two at center. The old guys generally prefer Wilt. The almost-as-old ones Kareem. Sorry, Shaq. Wilt was the most dominant player in NBA history, at times scoring so easily over real big men despite what the unconventional wisdom may be (Thurmond, Bellamy and eventually Kareem) that he started shooting fadeaway bank shots to keep himself interested. He may also have been the game's best athlete, too, an Olympic-level track star. And living with actress Kim Novak (Farragut's most famous graduate before Garnett). Not always the best teammate. And like Ewing, Malone, and Barkley coming along in the wrong decade against the greatest dynasty and coach/executive of all time. So Wilt didn't get as many titles. Kareem wasn't always the most engaged on the boards, but his scoring and impact overwhelmed the league. His longevity made him the quantity scorer of all time and he was the most graceful for his size. Russell is third because he was the best teammate ever. Perhaps not always off the court, but he fit like the ultimate gear, giving the Celtics just what they always needed and being the truly indispensable man. It gets difficult from there. And a good debate.
I probably go with Hakeem fourth, Moses Malone fifth and Shaq sixth. Shaq will be mad about that since he's likely a regular bulls.com reader. If Shaq extended himself like Kareem or Hakeem, he'd have been Wilt. It's really the genesis of the feud with Kobe. Kobe never could understand—and accept—Shaq using the regular season as warm-up for the playoffs. Which is why Shaq won every Finals MVP over Kobe, who treated all 82 like the Finals. Hakeem's footwork, speed, and elusiveness was a model for the modern NBA. From there I get eclectic. I have to go with a few asterisks first. If not for injury, Bill Walton would be a top-five. And Wes Unseld probably a top 10. Wes slowed halfway through his career with knee problems, and, of course, Walton had more than 30 surgeries. But if you'd have seen him before then there probably never was a more complete big man, and with the relentless nature, Kareem lacked. Perhaps Dave Cowens, too, if not for slowing down after a few championships. I still make Walton No. 10. So I go with George Mikan for his almost unprecedented impact on the game at No. 7. It was a different time, but he was the league then. There was the famous New York marquee: George Mikan vs Knicks. And Mikan won the championships. They widened the lane to limit him and even played a game with a higher basket, Mikan. That's being a force. Then probably to round it out David Robinson and Nate Thurmond, the latter an incredible defensive and rebounding force who probably was Chamberlain's toughest opponent. So Artis doesn't make the cut with less impact in the NBA and not much size to play against in the ABA and Ewing because he didn't become Bill Russell. Ewing, like Robinson, looked in college like he was going to be a seven-foot Russell. Ewing was the fiercest defensive force in the game and then fell a bit too much in love with the jump shot. Robinson couldn't be the defensive guy because they had so little with the Spurs at the time. So he had to be the scorer, which wasn't as natural. It's a great history. There's always a place for a great center.