Center. Power forward. Forward. Stretch five. Stretch four. Five. Four. Big man. Let’s take a look at the best big men NBA has to offer.
However you slice it, the guy typically near the basket, the dude who’s normally the tallest and biggest on your squad, that position is one of utmost importance for any basketball team in the world, not to mention in the game’s top league…the NBA.
The center role has changed dramatically over the years, particularly within the last decade. From a traditional center, back-to-the-basket, conducting post moves, grabbing boards, boxing out, dunking on everyone, the center position in the game has turned into a versatile position where the ‘5’ can stretch the floor by either shooting, dribbling, or passing.
Just look at who won the NBA’s MVP this past season: Nikola Jokić aka ‘The Joker’. It was no joke, this guy was for real. Jokić’s skillset resembles what the prototypical center is today: a guy who can shoot the 3-ball, pass, handle the ball, and still finish down low with the big guys.
Yet no matter what the role of the center was, the purpose remains the same: helping the team win, no matter what. And whether that was in an era where they were expected to get most of the boards and dish it back to their teammates or pop outside to open the lane for a playmaker, we’ve got you covered in this range of the best big men to play in the NBA.
An important role, a pivotal role, pivoting from one generation to the next, the big man has always been a staple to the league.
Disclaimer: I know, I know, there’s bound to be dudes left off this list who need to be on it. I’m telling you, there’s been so many great big men in the league, as you’re aware. You’d need probably a top 500 to include everyone. For now, will try to do my best at this, giving this a shot at a list of the 25 of the best big men in the NBA, starting with an honorable mention.
Dude’s nicknamed ‘the unicorn’ for a reason. A true modern-day big man, Porzingis can catch and shoot, make space for himself off the drible, bring the ball up, and has a strong inside game. Give it a few years and he’ll crack the list into the top 25.
25 of the Best Big Men NBA Has to Offer
Shout out to Basketball Reference where the stats are from within this article.
25 – Shawn Bradley
Known for being one of the tallest big men in the NBA, he also was in the OG Space Jam with other big men on this list and a pivotal player on a Dallas Mavericks team.
As you can see from the above Yahoo Sports tweet, he reportedly was in an accident earlier this year. Prayers up to Bradley and his family as they go through this adversity together.
24 – Charles Oakley
Charles Oakley was twice named to the All-Defensive team, was an NBA All-Star, and, per NBA.com “lasted parts of 19 seasons in the NBA, playing 1,282 games, 40,280 minutes, shooting 47.1% from the field, 76.1% from the free throw line while averaging 9.7 points and 9.5 rebounds.”
23 – Dwight Howard
Known for his creative dunk contest dunks to his post-up, rebounding game on the court, Howard is that traditional big man still making an impact for teams in the game today.
22 – Pau Gasol
Though he would post up against Team USA with Team Spain in the Olympics, he played alongside Kobe Bryant in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers as they won two NBA titles together. Gasol was also a six-time All-Star and named to the All-NBA team four times.
21 – Kevin McHale
20 – Artis Gilmore
Maybe one of the least recognizable names on this list doesn’t at all diminish what Artis Gilmore did as a big man. As a matter of fact, don’t sleep on Artis because he really was one of the best big men to play the game. Standing at 7’2″, his nickname was literally “The Late Sleeper”, is a Hall of Famer, was an 11-time All Star, five-time All ABA, and the 1971-72 MVP. And the fro alone is easily one of the best hairstyles the game has ever seen.
19 – Elvin Hayes
Hall of Famer. Twelve-time All Star. 1968-69 scoring champion. NBA champion. Two-time All-Defense. Enough said.
18 – Dennis Rodman
A rebounding extraordinaire, he specialized in the art of hustling and crashing the boards, which led to NBA title after NBA title with the Detroit Pistons ‘Bad Boys’ and Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan and co. If you’re curious as to the method behind Rodman’s rebounding, look no further than ‘The Last Dance’.
17 – Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki’s imprint on the game is real. So real it lasts as a logo and as players try to replicate that signature Dirk fadeaway. Ahead of his time, Dirk could shoot the ball as a big man, specifically with that step-back fadeaway from midrange or beyond the arc.
16 – Dikembe Mutombo
Another big man who made his imprint on the game in a big (pun intended) way was Dikembe Mutombo. Not only is his signature ‘no-no’ finger wag still used today, it was implemented for good reason. Mutombo became one of the best shot blockers in the game and would signal that signature finger wag as if to say, “Not in my house!” or “Get that outta’ here”. It was swat city if you were going to drive on Dikembe.
15 – Robert Parish
Simply one of the best big men the game has seen, Parish according to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame was “(a) superbly conditioned athlete (who) played in more seasons (21) and games (1,611) than any player in NBA history, when he retired following the 1997 season. Parish formed, along with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, the Boston Celtics ‘Big Three,’ widely regarded as one of the greatest frontlines in NBA history.”
14 – Moses Malone
Moses Malone knew how to play the game the right way as a big man as, per the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, “(d)espite his aggressive style, he played a record 1,212 games without a single disqualification.”
Malone would, per the Hall of Fame, make “his home in the paint, few men in history dominated the low block like the imposing center out of Petersburg High School. The first modern player to go straight from high school to professional basketball, Malone started in the ABA with the Utah Stars and Spirits of St. Louis, before moving on to 12 NBA All Star seasons primarily with the Houston Rockets and the Philadelphia 76ers.”
13 – Karl Malone
Another ‘Malone’, this time we’re dishing it to ‘the mailman’ in Salt Lake City. Karl Malone, per the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, “(t)he 14-time All Star was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player twice in his career and also earned All-NBA First Team honors for an astounding eleven consecutive seasons starting in 1989. Malone scored 36,374 career points, second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the time of his (Hall of Fame) enshrinement and scored 2,000 or more points a record twelve seasons, including eleven in a row.”
12 – Charles Barkley
Now on the Inside the NBA TNT set talking hoops, he also let his game speak on the court. Per the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame: “Barkley outplayed, outperformed, and outclassed opponents who regularly stood more than half a foot taller than him…The 11-time NBA All Star is one of only four players to record more than 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 4,000 assists in a career. In 1993, Barkley was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player and was the catalyst for a Phoenix Suns team that recorded the best record in the league and advanced to the NBA Finals.”
11 – Patrick Ewing
Coming in at 11th on this list is 11-time All Star, Hall of Famer, seven-time All-NBA, three-time All Defensive team, and Georgetown Hoyas head coach. Coaching where he played college ball, he’s found recent success as he led the Hoyas to March Madness this year (they won the Big East tournament per The Hoya).
10 – Anthony Davis
Easily one of the best big men in today’s game, if not the best modern-day big man, Anthony Davis recently got that NBA title with LeBron James and the Lakers. You may know him from his time with the New Orleans Pelicans as he helped the team to multiple playoff runs, as well. Davis can shoot from three, handle the rock, post up, and grab boards. What more could you want from a stretch-five in today’s game?
9 – Tim Duncan
Otherwise known as ‘Mr. Fundamental’, there’s a reason why fundamentals work in the game and why coaches emphasize the fundamentals. Tim Duncan was almost automatic when you gave him the rock down low. Duncan showed you don’t have to be flashy or do anything fancy to find sustained success. Fundamentals leading to five NBA championships, 15 All Star appearances, 15 All-NBA and All-Defensive teams, two MVP’s, and three Finals MVP’s showed that.
8 – Hakeem Olajuwon
Hall of Famer. Twelve-time All Star. Two-time NBA champion. Two-time rebounding champion. Three-time blocks champion. Nine-time All-Defensive team. Two-time Defensive Player of the Year. 1993-94 MVP. Two-time Finals MVP. The accolades speak for itself.
7 – Wilt Chamberlain
When you set the record for most points in a game at 100, you have to be in the top 10 of best big men of all time in the NBA. The Hall of Famer, four-time MVP, two-time NBA champion, NBA Finals MVP, and 13-time All-Star was also a seven-time scoring champion and could also play defense with the best of ’em as he was twice named to the All-Defensive team.
6 – Nikola Jokić
The league’s most recent MVP award given for the 2020-21 season was given to…a big man! The aforementioned Jokić got the nod and is now the defending NBA MVP. Jokić, along with Davis, go hand-in-hand as the best centers in today’s game and this MVP award is proof of that. Sure, we could place some of the OG’s on this list ahead of Jokić and rightly so, but because the ‘joker’ got this MVP award in an era where small-ball takes precedence, I’m sure all big men around the world are ecstatic. Go ahead, Nikola, have your moment!
5 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
38,387. I’ll just leave that number right there. That’s the record. That’s the most career points ever scored in the NBA and it’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who holds that record with Malone right behind him A dude by the name of LeBron James is third in league history.
4 – Ben Wallace
The most recent Hall of Fame nominee on this list, Ben Wallace is the “first undrafted player inducted into (the) Hall of Fame” per the Detroit Free Press’ Omari Sankofa II. When you go undrafted then take full advantage of the opportunity presented to you in the NBA through hard work, grit, and determination to become easily one of the best, if not the best, defensive players in the game, that’s a true overcoming mentality right there. And that’s deserving of being considered one of the best big man to ever play in the NBA.
Four-time All Star, two-time rebounding champion, one-time blocks champion, four-time Defensive Player of the Year, Big Ben showed that defense truly can win championships. Wallace also showed that it doesn’t matter how you got there, all that matters is what you do with the opportunity.
3 – Shaquille O’Neal
You also know him from the Inside the NBA TNT set with Chuck, Kenny, and Ernie. While on the court, Shaq was a beast. The Hall of Famer made the All Star game 15 times, was a two-time scoring champion, four-time NBA champion, 14-time All-NBA team, three-time All-Defensive team, the 2000 MVP, and a three-time Finals MVP. NBA big man and Shaq just go hand-in-hand. It’s like peanut butter and jelly. It’s why Shaq knows (and he’ll let you know it on air) what he’s talking about when he talks about ‘big men’ in today’s NBA on Inside the NBA.
2 – Bill Russell
Not just one of the best big men in the game but one of the best basketball players to ever pick up a basketball. Bill Russell. A Hall of Famer, a 12-time All Star, a four-time rebouding champion, an 11-time NBA champion (let me repeat that: 11-time NBA champion), five-time MVP, a one-time All-Defensive team, and 11-time All-NBA, Russell goes down as one of the best basketball players of all time.
1 – David Robinson
‘The Admiral’ leads the way in this list. Honestly, it could be a toss-up on who takes the top spot for best big man in the league’s history but Robinson gets the nod and wins the tip off not only for his excellent play on the court as a big man, leading that Spurs team, but for his excellent service off the court as a leader and veteran.
The Hall of Famer was a 10-time All Star, one-time scoring champion, the 1990-91 rebounding and blocks champion, a two-time NBA champion, 10-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Defensive team, a NBA MVP, and a one-time Defensive Player of the Year, Robinson showed what being a true teammate and leader is all about. Playing hard on both sides of the court, he excelled on offense and defense.
According to NBA.com, “Robinson’s lasting legacy was also defined by his status as one of the preeminent philanthropists in all of professional sports. On March 23, 2003, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that future winners of the NBA Community Assist Award would receive the David Robinson Plaque, with the inscription, ‘Following the standard set by NBA Legend David Robinson, who improved the community piece by piece.’ Among Robinson’s charitable achievements was his $9 million commitment toward the construction and operation of The Carver Academy, an independent school for San Antonio students from a culturally diverse community.”
“I kind of felt the Lord had spoken to me two years before the 1999 championship that we were going to win. I just felt it in my heart we were going to win one. It takes some of the glory out of it for you because you know it’s going to happen. It’s not like you’re the one who’s making it happen. You’re just doing what God gives you to do. So I was very relaxed going in. I enjoyed the season, I enjoyed the guys, I was faithful to what God asked me to do, and by the end of the season we had a team that was on one page praying together.”David Robinson per Sports Spectrum’s Darryl Howerton in 2002 according to Sports Spectrum’s Jason Romano
From the traditional big men to the modern-day big men, there you have it!
Let me know who your favorite big man in the NBA of all time is in the comments, whether or not they ended up on this list. Until then, keep posting up and dunking on your haters by letting your actions speak and being an integral part to the team unit you may already be a part of in life.
Charlie Lapastora is a sports/news multimedia journalist who’s reported, written, produced, anchored, shot video/edited on different NBC, ABC, and FOX shows in multiple TV markets, along with digital & new media companies. Charlie has traveled the country telling national sports, news, feature, and original stories on a cable news network, airing on top 10 TV markets, satellite radio, and digital platforms. He is passionate about his faith, family—being a husband to whom he calls the G.O.A.T. of women—about reppin’ his home state of Michigan and Detroit teams (yes, including the Lions), good coffee, and loves how sports brings people together. He’s traveled the world leading and coaching sports camps and has also worked at the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers’ NBA teams.
- 1 Honorable Mention
- 2 Kristaps Porzingis
- 3 25 of the Best Big Men NBA Has to Offer
- 4 25 – Shawn Bradley
- 5 24 – Charles Oakley
- 6 23 – Dwight Howard
- 7 22 – Pau Gasol
- 8 21 – Kevin McHale
- 9 20 – Artis Gilmore
- 10 19 – Elvin Hayes
- 11 18 – Dennis Rodman
- 12 17 – Dirk Nowitzki
- 13 16 – Dikembe Mutombo
- 14 15 – Robert Parish
- 15 14 – Moses Malone
- 16 13 – Karl Malone
- 17 12 – Charles Barkley
- 18 11 – Patrick Ewing
- 19 10 – Anthony Davis
- 20 9 – Tim Duncan
- 21 8 – Hakeem Olajuwon
- 22 7 – Wilt Chamberlain
- 23 6 – Nikola Jokić
- 24 5 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- 25 4 – Ben Wallace
- 26 3 – Shaquille O’Neal
- 27 2 – Bill Russell
- 28 1 – David Robinson
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