Greatest NBA Small Forwards of All Time
The most versatile position in basketball is the small forward. A player who can do whatever needs to be done on a court. Over the years, small forwards have changed the way the game is played and defined the NBA itself.
What makes the perfect small forward? Is it shooting range? Ball-handling ability? Defense? Playing above the rim? The truth is it's a little bit of everything.
These are the greatest NBA small forwards of all time.
30. Cliff Hagan
Born: Dec. 9, 1931 (Owensboro, Kentucky)
High school: Owensboro High School (Owensboro, Kentucky)
Height/weight: 6-foot-4, 210 pounds
Career: 13 seasons (1956-69)
Teams: St. Louis Hawks (1956-66), Dallas Chaparrals (1967-69)
Career highlights: NBA champion (1958), five-time NBA All-Star (1958-62), two-time All-NBA Team (1958, 1959), ABA All-Star (1968)
Bottom Line: Cliff Hagan
Born and raised in Kentucky, Cliff Hagan was a schoolboy phenom at Owensboro High before he starred at the University Kentucky for legendary head coach Adolph Rupp, where Hagan won a national championship in 1951 and was a two-time All-American.
Nicknamed "Lil' Abner," Hagan was as good as any small forward in his era even though he delayed his professional career by two years with his military service. He was still a five-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA pick and won an NBA championship with the St. Louis Hawks in 1958.
29. Shawn Marion
Born: May 7, 1978 (Waukegan, Illinois)
High school: Clarksville High School (Clarksville, Tennessee)
Height/weight: 6-foot-7, 228 pounds
Career: 16 seasons (1999-2015)
Teams: Phoenix Suns (1999-2008), Miami Heat (2008-09), Toronto Raptors (2009), Dallas Mavericks (2009-14), Cleveland Cavaliers (2014-15)
Career highlights: NBA champion (2011), four-time NBA All-Star (2003, 2005-07), two-time All-NBA Team (2005, 2006), NBA All-Rookie Team (2000)
Bottom Line: Shawn Marion
Shawn Marion's nickname described his style of play pretty accurately. "The Matrix" could do anything on the basketball court. Marion could play shooting guard and power forward with equal aplomb, and could play shutdown defense on backcourt and frontcourt players alike, which made his true position small forward.
Marion was the perfect complement to point guard Steve Nash in Phoenix and had a career year in 2005-06, averaging 21.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals.
28. Glenn Robinson
Born: Jan. 10, 1973 (Gary, Indiana)
High school: Roosevelt High School (Gary, Indiana)
Height/weight: 6-foot-7, 240 pounds
Career: 11 seasons (1994-2005)
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks (1994-2002), Atlanta Hawks (2002-2003), Philadelphia 76ers (2003-2004), San Antonio Spurs (2005)
Career highlights: NBA champion (2005), two-time NBA All-Star (2000, 2001), NBA All-Rookie Team (1995)
Bottom Line: Glenn Robinson
Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson's 10-year, $68 million rookie contract after being picked No. 1 overall in 1994 is still the richest rookie deal in NBA history 27 years later. Robinson's career numbers are more than respectable. But the problem is the next two picks — Jason Kidd and Grant Hill — both ended up as Hall of Famers. And Robinson never made an All-NBA team.
Robinson's stats were always great. He just never got wins. In eight seasons with the Bucks, he only made the playoffs three times and made it past the postseason just once.
Big enough to play power forward, Robinson was so skilled with the ball that small forward became his natural position.
27. Peja Stojakovic
Born: June 9, 1977 (Slavonska Pozega, Croatia, Yugoslavia)
Youth club: Red Star Belgrade (Belgrade, Serbia)
Height/weight: 6-foot-9, 220 pounds
Career: 13 seasons (1998-2011)
Teams: Sacramento Kings (1998-2006), Indiana Pacers (2006), New Orleans Hornets (2006-10), Toronto Raptors (2010-11), Dallas Mavericks (2011)
Career highlights: NBA champion (2011), three-time NBA All-Star (2002-04), All-NBA Team (2004), two-time NBA 3-Point Contest champion (2002, 2003)
Bottom Line: Peja Stojakovic
Peja Stojakovic was great for both the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Hornets as one of the NBA's most feared shooters for over a decade.
You can make a good argument that New Orleans was never better than when it had the core of Stojakovic at small forward, Chris Paul at point guard, David West at power forward and Tyson Chandler at center.
It was a unit that helped the team win a franchise-record 56 games during the 2007-08 season, when Stojakovic averaged 16.1 points, led the NBA by hitting 92.1 percent from the free-throw line and shooting 44.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
26. Rudy Tomjanovich
Born: Nov. 24, 1948 (Hamtramck, Michigan)
High school: Hamtramck High School (Hamtramck, Michigan)
Height/weight: 6-foot-8, 220 pounds
Career: 11 seasons (1970-81)
Teams: San Diego/Houston Rockets
Career highlights: Five-time NBA All-Star (1974-77, 1979)
Bottom Line: Rudy Tomjanovich
Rudy Tomjanovich was a small forward ahead of his time at 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds with the ability to score and defend at an elite level. He easily could compete with power forwards who were just his size and stretch defenses.
Unfortunately, Tomjanovich's career was altered by an ugly incident in 1977, when he suffered life-threatening injuries after being punched by Los Angeles Lakers forward Kermit Washington during a game.
Tomjanovich went on to have his greatest success as a head coach, leading the Houston Rockets to back-to-back NBA championships in 1994 and 1995.
25. Andre Iguodala
Born: Jan. 28, 1984 (Springfield, Illinois)
High school: Lanphier High School (Springfield, Illinois)
Height/weight: 6-foot-6, 215 pounds
Career: 19 seasons (2004-present)
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers (2004-12), Denver Nuggets (2012-13), Golden State Warriors (2013-19, 2021-present), Miami Heat (2020-21)
Career highlights: Four-time NBA champion (2015, 2017, 2018, 2022), NBA Finals MVP (2015), NBA All-Star (2012), two-time NBA All-Defensive Team (20111, 2014), NBA All-Rookie Team (2005)
Bottom Line: Andre Iguodala
Andre Iguodala has played almost two decades in the NBA, and when his career is over, it'll be his play in the postseason that people point to first as the biggest part of his legacy.
Iguodala caught lightning in a bottle with the Golden State Warriors for six seasons, where he won three NBA titles and played in the NBA Finals five times, including winning NBA Finals MVP in 2015.
Iguodala made it back to the NBA Finals in 2020 with the Miami Heat before returning to a rejuvenated Golden State team for the 2021-22 season.
24. Bob Dandridge
Born: Nov. 15, 1947 (Richmond, Virginia)
High school: Maggie Walker High School (Richmond, Virginia)
College: Norfolk State
Height/weight: 6-foot-6, 195 pounds
Career: 12 seasons (1969-1981)
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks (1969-1977, 1981), Washington Bullets (1977-1981)
Career highlights: Two-time NBA champion (1971, 1978), four-time NBA All-Star (1973, 1975, 1976, 1979), All-NBA Team (1979), NBA All-Defensive Team (1979), NBA All-Rookie Team (1970)
Bottom Line: Bob Dandridge
There’s a long lineage of forwards rounding out championship trios in the NBA based on their ability to blend with generational talent and still cut their own swath. Chris Bosh with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James on the Heat in the 2010s.
Horace Grant and Dennis Rodman with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on the Bulls in the 1990s. James Worthy with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980s.
In the 1970s, it was Bob Dandridge, who scored more points in the NBA Finals in that decade than any NBA player while winning a title in 1971 alongside Oscar Robertson and Abdul-Jabbar on the Bucks, then alongside Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld on the Bullets in 1978.
23. Grant Hill
Born: Oct. 5, 1972 (Dallas, Texas)
High school: South Lakes High School (Reston, Virginia)
Height/weight: 6-foot-8, 225 pounds
Career: 19 seasons (1994-2013)
Teams: Detroit Pistons (1994-2000), Orlando Magic (2000-07), Phoenix Suns (2007-12), Los Angeles Clippers (2012-13)
Career highlights: Seven-time NBA All-Star (1995-98, 2000, 2001, 2005), five-time All-NBA Team (1996-2000), NBA Co-Rookie of the Year (1995), three-time NBA Sportsmanship Award (2005, 2008, 2010)
Bottom Line: Grant Hill
For the first six seasons of his career, not many small forwards in NBA history could compare with Grant Hill, who became one of the more well-known basketball players in the world before he'd ever played a pro game thanks to his time at Duke.
There's a clear delineation to his career, though. After a devastating ankle injury in 2000, he was hardly more than a high-level role player the rest of his career and only made it past the first round of the playoffs just once in 19 seasons.
Grant was still a solid player and an all-time great small forward, but it's hard to look at his Hall of Fame induction with any amount of validity.
22. Jack Twyman
Born: May 21, 1934 (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
Died: May 30, 2012, 78 years old (Cincinnati, Ohio)
High school: Central Catholic High School (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
Height/weight: 6-foot-6, 210 pounds
Career: 11 seasons (1955-66)
Teams: Rochester/Cincinnati Royals
Career highlights: Six-time NBA All-Star (1957-60, 1962, 1963), two-time All-NBA Team (1960, 1962)
Bottom Line: Jack Twyman
Jack Twyman was cut from his high school basketball team three times before he finally made the team at Central Catholic High as a senior — a study in determination for what eventually became a Hall of Fame career.
Twyman absolutely lit up the stat sheet in a time when players weren't scoring in big numbers, and alongside Wilt Chamberlain, they became the first two NBA players to average over 30.0 points per game in 1959-60.
Twyman's true legacy is as perhaps the greatest teammate in NBA history. He was the legal guardian for teammate Maurice Stokes from 1958 until Stokes' death in 1970 after he was paralyzed from an in-game fall.
21. Bernard King
Born: Dec. 4, 1956 (Brooklyn, New York)
High school: Fort Hamilton High School (Brooklyn, New York)
Height/weight: 6-foot-7, 205 pounds
Career: 13 seasons (1977-1985, 1987-91, 1993)
Teams: New Jersey Nets (1977-79, 1993), Utah Jazz (1979-80), Golden State Warriors (1980-82), New York Knicks (1982-87), Washington Bullets (1987-91)
Career highlights: Four-time NBA All-Star (1982, 1984, 1985, 1991), four-time All-NBA Team (1982, 1984, 1985, 1991), NBA All-Rookie Team (1978)
Bottom Line: Bernard King
Bernard King's career stands out as one of the more "what if" NBA legacies of all time.
King was one of the most talented scorers to ever step on a basketball floor. His career average of 22.5 points was done while King played through a persistent cocaine addiction, sexual assault arrests and what should have been multiple career-ending injuries.
We can only imagine what King could have done on the basketball floor without his drug addiction and troubled personal life.
20. Gus Johnson
Born: Dec. 13, 1938 (Akron, Ohio)
Died: April 29, 1987 (age 49, Akron, Ohio)
High school: Central High School (Akron, Ohio)
Height/weight: 6-foot-6, 230 pounds
Career: 9 seasons (1963-72)
Teams: Baltimore Bullets (1963-72), Phoenix Suns (1972)
Career highlights: Five-time NBA All-Star (1965, 1968-71), four-time All-NBA Team (1965, 1966, 1970, 1971), two-time NBA All-Defensive Team (1970, 1971), NBA All-Rookie Team (1964)
Bottom Line: Gus Johnson
Gus Johnson played with a rare combination of size, strength and leaping ability that would've helped him dominate in any era.
One of the first players in NBA history to make dunking a key part of their game, Johnson shattered three backboards in his career. But the best example of Johnson's prowess on the court was his rebounding. He averaged 12.2 boards for his entire career.
Johnson closed out his career by winning an ABA title with the Indiana Pacers in 1973.
19. Carmelo Anthony
Born: May 29, 1984 (Brooklyn, New York)
High school: Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Virginia)
Height/weight: 6-foot-8, 238 pounds
Career: 19 seasons (2003-22)
Teams: Denver Nuggets (2003-11), New York Knicks (2011-17), Oklahoma City Thunder (2017-18), Houston Rockets (2018-19), Portland Trail Blazers (2019-21), Los Angeles Lakers (2021-22)
Career highlights: Six-time All-NBA Team (2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013), 10-time NBA All-Star (2007, 2008, 2010-17), NBA All-Rookie Team (2004)
Bottom Line: Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony had some great years with the New York Knicks, but it was his decade with the Denver Nuggets to kick off his career when Anthony was at his best in the NBA. He made the All-NBA Team four times with the Nuggets and averaged 24.8 points with the club, just one-tenth of a point higher than his average with the Knicks.
Anthony also had his most team success with the Nuggets, where he played in the conference finals for the only time in his career. Anthony officially retired from basketball in 2023, having never played in the NBA Finals.
18. Paul George
Born: May 2, 1990 (Palmdale, California)
High school: Knight High School (Palmdale, California)
College: Fresno State
Height/weight: 6-foot-8, 220 pounds
Career: 13 seasons (2010-present)
Teams: Indiana Pacers (2010-17), Oklahoma City Thunder (2017-19), Los Angeles Clippers (2019-present)
Career highlights: Eight-time NBA All-Star (2013, 2014, 2016-19, 2021, 2023), six-time All-NBA Team (2013, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021), four-time NBA All-Defensive Team (2013, 2014, 2016, 2019), NBA All-Rookie Team (2011), NBA Most Improved Player (2013)
Bottom Line: Paul George
Before Paul George became a meme associated with playoff failures and excuses after losing big games, he was carving out a reputation as an elite NBA small forward with the Indiana Pacers.
The Fresno State product and No. 10 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft overcame a gruesome injury in 2015 while playing for Team USA and was a four-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA pick while with the Pacers, as well as carving out a reputation as one of the best defensive players in his generation.
His struggles have come largely in the postseason, where he seems to consistently fall flat.
17. Adrian Dantley
Born: Feb. 28, 1955 (Washington D.C.)
High school: DeMatha Catholic High School (Hyattsville, Maryland)
College: Notre Dame
Height/weight: 6-foot-5, 228 pounds
Career: 15 seasons (1976-91)
Teams: Buffalo Braves (1976-77), Indiana Pacers (1977), Los Angeles Lakers (1977-79), Utah Jazz (1979-86), Detroit Pistons (1986-89), Dallas Mavericks (1989-90), Milwaukee Bucks (1990-91)
Career highlights: Six-time NBA All-Star (1980-82, 1984-86), two-time All-NBA Team (1981, 1984), NBA Rookie of the Year (1977)
Bottom Line: Adrian Dantley
The one statistic that jumps off the page about Adrian Dantley is 24.3 points per game over his 15-year career — numbers that match up with almost anyone in the Hall of Fame.
Dantley's real story was off the court as a malcontent and bad teammate. His trade from the Pistons to the Mavericks in 1989 for Mark Aguirre jump-started back-to-back NBA titles for Detroit.
Before that, Dantely spent seven seasons with the Utah Jazz, where he made all six of his All-Star teams and both of his All-NBA teams.
16. Cliff Robinson
Born: Dec. 16, 1966 (Buffalo, New York)
Died: Aug. 29, 2020, 53 years old (Portland, Oregon)
High school: Riverside High School (Buffalo, New York)
Height/weight: 6-foot-10, 225 pounds
Career: 18 seasons (1989-2007)
Teams: Portland Trail Blazers (1989-97), Phoenix Suns (1997-2001), Detroit Pistons (2001-03), Golden State Warriors (2003-05), New Jersey Nets (2005-07)
Career highlights: NBA All-Star (1994), two-time NBA All-Defensive Team (2000, 2002), NBA Sixth Man of the Year (1993)
Bottom Line: Cliff Robinson
You can make a good argument that Cliff Robinson would have been an even bigger star in today's game. He was the tallest player in NBA history to hit 1,000 3-pointers until Dirk Nowitzki and Rashard Lewis broke that record.
Robinson helped lead Portland to the NBA Finals twice, in 1990 and 1992, and was NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 1993 when he averaged 19.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.
Robinson died of cancer in 2020, at 53 years old.
15. Mark Aguirre
Born: Dec. 10, 1959 (Chicago, Illinois)
High school: Westinghouse Prep (Chicago, Illinois)
Height/weight: 6-foot-6, 232 pounds
Career: 13 seasons (1981-1994)
Teams: Dallas Mavericks (1981-1989), Detroit Pistons (1989-1993), Los Angeles Clippers (1993-1994)
Career highlights: Two-time NBA champion (1989, 1990), three-time NBA All-Star (1984, 1987, 1988)
Bottom Line: Mark Aguirre
Mark Aguirre was an elite scorer and one of the best players in the NBA during his eight seasons with the Dallas Mavericks and even led a team that pushed the Lakers to seven games in the 1988 Western Conference finals.
Aguirre's biggest career success came when he was traded to the Pistons, where he was paired with fellow Chicagoan and 1981 No. 2 pick Isiah Thomas. And they won NBA titles in 1989 and 1990.
But it was with the Mavericks where Aguirre had his best years. All three of his All-Star game appearances came while he was playing for Dallas.
14. Paul Pierce
Born: Oct. 13, 1977 (Oakland, California)
High school: Inglewood High School (Inglewood, California)
Height/weight: 6-foot-7, 235 pounds
Career: 19 seasons (1998-2017)
Teams: Boston Celtics (1998-2013), Brooklyn Nets (2013-14), Washington Wizards (2014-15), Los Angeles Clippers (2015-17)
Career highlights: NBA champion (2008), NBA Finals MVP (2008), 10-time NBA All-Star (2002-06, 2008-12), four-time All-NBA Team (2002, 2003, 2008, 2009), NBA All-Rookie Team (1999), NBA 3-Point Contest champion (2010)
Bottom Line: Paul Pierce
Like a few other players on this list, longtime Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce earned hate from NBA fans by being a hater, which sometimes overshadowed his play as one of the great small forwards of the last 20 years.
There was never another superstar player Pierce wasn't willing to trash during his career, and it always came off as either petty or delusional — and never more than when he said he was better than Kobe Bryant.
Pierce kept his hater skills sharp later in his career (and post-career as a commentator) by constantly bagging on LeBron James and other stars. He's a hater for the ages as well as an all-time great small forward.
13. George Gervin
Born: April 27, 1952 (Detroit, Michigan)
High school: Martin Luther King High School (Detroit, Michigan)
College: Eastern Michigan
Height/weight: 6-foot-7, 180 pounds
Career: 10 seasons(1976-86)
Teams: San Antonio Spurs (1976-85), Chicago Bulls (1985-86)
Career highlights: Nine-time NBA All-Star (1977-85), NBA All-Star Game MVP (1980), seven-time All-NBA Team (1977-83), NBA 50th Anniversary Team
Bottom Line: George Gervin
One of the greatest scorers in basketball history, George "The Iceman" Gervin actually spent the first four seasons of his pro career in the ABA with the Virginia Squires and the San Antonio Spurs, making the move to the NBA with the Spurs in 1976.
Gervin only played 10 seasons in the NBA and was a nine-time All-Star and led the league in scoring four times. Gervin's career was largely devoid of postseason success, and he never played in the championship finals in the ABA or the NBA.
12. Tracy McGrady
Born: May 24, 1979 (Bartow, Florida)
High school: Mount Zion Christian Academy (Durham, North Carolina)
Height/weight: 6-foot-8, 225 pounds
Career: 16 seasons (1997-2013)
Teams: Toronto Raptors (1997-2000), Orlando Magic (2000-04), Houston Rockets (2004-10), New York Knicks (2010), Detroit Pistons (2010-11), Atlanta Hawks (2011-12), San Antonio Spurs (2013)
Career highlights: Seven-time NBA All-Star (2001-07), seven-time All-NBA Team (2001-05, 2007, 2008), NBA Most Improved Player (2001)
Bottom Line: Tracy McGrady
Never has a player benefited more from his era than Tracy McGrady, a product of the post-Jordan, no-defense, soft-as-tissue era where talent was diluted across the league.
The greatest indictment of McGrady's career is his abject failure in the postseason. He played past the first round once, in 2013, as a bench player averaging 5.2 minutes per game for the Spurs in his final season.
McGrady was virtually unstoppable when he was with the Magic for four seasons, when he became a perennial NBA All-Star and averaged 28.1 points, including leading the NBA in scoring in back-to-back seasons.
11. Jimmy Butler
Born: Sept. 14, 1989 (Houston, Texas)
High school: Tomball High School (Tomball, Texas)
College: Tyler Junior College/Marquette
Height/weight: 6-foot-7, 230 pounds
Career: 12 seasons (2011-present)
Teams: Chicago Bulls (2011-17), Minnesota Timberwolves (2017-18), Philadelphia 76ers (2018-19), Miami Heat (2019-present)
Career highlights: Six-time NBA All-Star (2015-18, 2020, 2022), five-time All-NBA Team (2017, 2018, 2020, 2021), five-time NBA All-Defensive Team (2014-16, 2018, 2021), NBA Most Improved Player (2015), Eastern Conference Finals MVP (2023)
Bottom Line: Jimmy Butler
There's no better story for fans than when we see a player pull himself up by his bootstraps, so to speak, and become an elite NBA player.
Jimmy Butler did just that, going from an afterthought to an All-Star to one of the best players of his generation while playing for the Chicago Bulls. Then, he spent a weird two years on two different teams — pulling the Minnesota Timberwolves apart from within and leading the Philadelphia 76ers to within seconds of making the NBA Finals — before arriving in Miami.
Since joining the Heat, he's led them to the NBA Finals twice, in 2020 and 2023 and earned two of the better nicknames of the last decade — "Himmy" and "Playoff Jimmy."
10. Dennis Rodman
Born: May 13, 1961 (Trenton, New Jersey)
High school: South Oak Cliff High School (Dallas, Texas)
College: Southeastern Oklahoma State
Height/weight: 6-foot-7, 228 pounds
Career: 14 seasons (1986-2000)
Teams: Detroit Pistons (1986-1993), San Antonio Spurs (1993-1995), Chicago Bulls (1995-1998), Los Angeles Lakers (1999), Dallas Mavericks (2000)
Career highlights: Five-time NBA champion (1989, 1990, 1996-98), two-time NBA All-Star (1990, 1992), two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1990, 1991), two-time All-NBA (1992, 1995), eight-time NBA All-Defensive Team (1989-96)
Bottom Line: Dennis Rodman
NBA fans who got to know Dennis Rodman in the 1980s, when he first joined the league, were able to appreciate his innate toughness before his life off the court overshadowed his game.
Rodman was always willing to do that little extra to get a rebound or make a defensive play, which usually meant sacrificing his body by diving for a loose ball. The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year averaged 13.1 rebounds per game, among the NBA’s best career marks.
From 1989-1998, he won five NBA titles with two different teams, the Pistons and Bulls, and averaged at least 15 rebounds per game for seven seasons in that stretch, with a career-high 18.7 rebounds in 1991-92.
Rodman, who was as good at power forward as he was small forward, was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
9. Kawhi Leonard
Born: June 29, 1991 (Los Angeles, California)
High school: Martin Luther King High School (Riverside, California)
College: San Diego State
Height/weight: 6-foot-7, 225 pounds
Career: 12 seasons (2011-present)
Teams: San Antonio Spurs (2011-18), Toronto Raptors (2018-19), Los Angeles Clippers (2019-present)
Career highlights: Two-time NBA champion (2014, 2019), two-time NBA Finals MVP (2014, 2019), five-time NBA All-Star (2016, 2017, 2019-21), NBA All-Star Game MVP (2020), five-time All-NBA Team (2016, 2017, 2019-21), two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2015, 2016), seven-time NBA All-Defensive Team (2014-17, 2019-21), NBA All-Rookie Team (2012), NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Bottom Line: Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard, a two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, forced a trade from the Spurs to the Toronto Raptors before the 2018-19 season after sitting out almost an entire season with a mysterious injury. And the soft-spoken star was the perfect fit in Toronto, leading the Raptors to one of the more shocking NBA championships of all time.
That came after Leonard led the Spurs to the NBA championship in 2014 over LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Leonard would be higher on this list had it not been for what has been a legacy-dampening run with the Los Angeles Clippers, where he's rarely played since 2021 due to injuries.
8. Scottie Pippen
Born: Sept. 25, 1965 (Hamburg, Arkansas)
High school: Hamburg High School (Hamburg, Arkansas)
College: Central Arkansas
Height/weight: 6-foot-8, 228 pounds
Career: 17 seasons (1987-2004)
Teams: Chicago Bulls (1987-98, 2003-04), Houston Rockets (1998-99), Portland Trail Blazers (1999-2003)
Career highlights: six-time NBA champion (1991-93, 1996-98)
Bottom Line: Scottie Pippen
The perfect complement to Michael Jordan during the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s, Scottie Pippen was also one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history. Pippen and Jordan's Batman and Robin routine produced six championships in nine full NBA seasons together and cemented both players as two of the greatest of all time.
Pippen averaged an NBA-leading 2.9 steals in 1994-95, the second consecutive season he averaged 2.9 steals. And he averaged 2.1 steals in 12 seasons with the franchise.
It's sad to see how he's chosen to frame his legacy in recent years as an adversary to Jordan instead of a friend.
7. Elgin Baylor
Born: Sept. 16, 1934 (Washington, D.C.)
Died: March 22, 2021, 86 years old (Los Angeles, California)
High school: Spingarn High School (Washington, D.C.)
Height/weight: 6-foot-5, 225 pounds
Career: 13 seasons (1958-1971)
Teams: Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers
Career highlights: Eleven-time NBA All-Star (1959-65, 1967-70), NBA All-Star Game MVP (1959), 10-time All-NBA Team (1959-65, 1967-69), NBA Rookie of the Year (1959), NBA 50th Anniversary Team
Bottom Line: Elgin Baylor
With the benefit of hindsight, the first time an NBA team truly nailed the No. 1 overall pick was when the Lakers took Elgin Baylor first overall out of Seattle University in 1958.
Baylor was an offensive wizard and is one of the game's greatest players. His career averages of almost 30 points and 14 rebounds per game jump off the page.
But Baylor does have one big thing missing from his resume. The Lakers went 0-for-8 in the NBA Finals over the course of his career, with seven of those losses coming at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
6. Dominique Wilkins
Born: Jan. 12, 1960 (Paris, France)
High school: Washington High School (Washington, North Carolina)
Height/weight: 6-foot-8, 230 pounds
Career: 16 seasons (1982-1997, 1999)
Teams: Atlanta Hawks (1982-94), Los Angeles Clippers (1994), Boston Celtics (1994-95), San Antonio Spurs (1996-97), Orlando Magic (1999)
Career highlights: Seven-time All-NBA (1986-89, 1991, 1993, 1994), NBA All-Rookie Team (1983), two-time NBA Slam Dunk champion (1985, 1990)
Bottom Line: Dominique Wilkins
Dominique Wilkins spent the first 12 seasons of his career with the Atlanta Hawks, where he established a legacy as one of the most exciting players in NBA history.
Wilkins was a marvel on the basketball court. Few players have been as creative or had as much success playing above the rim. What doesn't get enough credit is his mid-range game. Through hard work, Wilkins developed a pop-and-drop jumper that was almost impossible to defend.
Wilkins won his lone NBA scoring title in 1986 with the Hawks and was also a two-time NBA Slam Dunk champion.
5. Rick Barry
Born: March 28, 1944 (Elizabeth, New Jersey)
High school: Roselle Park High School (Roselle Park, New Jersey)
College: Miami (Florida)
Height/weight: 6-foot-7, 205 pounds
Career: 10 seasons (1965-67, 1972-80)
Teams: San Francisco/Golden State Warriors (1965-67, 1972-78), Houston Rockets (1978-80)
Career highlights: NBA champion (1975), NBA Finals MVP (1975), eight-time NBA All-Star (1966, 1967, 1973-78), NBA All-Star Game MVP (1967), six-time All-NBA Team (1966, 1967, 1973-76), NBA Rookie of the Year (1966), NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Bottom Line: Rick Barry
There was very little Rick Barry couldn't do on a basketball court. He was the prototype for the point-forward position — a forward who was the primary ball-handler in his team's offense with an ability to pass and dish out assists at a high level.
Barry left the NBA and the Warriors to play five seasons in the ABA in his prime, then returned to lead the Warriors to one of the greatest upsets in NBA history with a sweep of the Washington Bullets in the 1975 NBA Finals.
The knock on Barry was always that he wasn't very nice to deal with. In retrospect, it's not as big of a deal.
4. Julius Erving
Born: Feb. 22, 1950 (East Meadow, New York)
High school: Roosevelt High School (Roosevelt, New York)
Height/weight: 6-foot-7, 210 pounds
Career: 9 seasons (1976-87)
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers
Career highlights: NBA champion (1983), NBA MVP (1981), 11-time NBA All-Star (1977-87), two-time NBA All-Star Game MVP (1977, 1983), seven-time All-NBA Team (1977, 1978, 1980-84), NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Bottom Line: Julius Erving
What's really amazing about Dr. J's dominance in his nine seasons in the NBA is that he spent the first five seasons of his career in the ABA, where he was arguably the greatest player in that league's history.
Dr. J won MVP honors in both leagues and won championships in both leagues, teaming with Moses Malone to win the 1983 NBA championship on the 76ers.
It was also during the regular season in 1983 that Dr. J, one of the game's best dunkers, orchestrated perhaps the greatest in-game dunk of all time — the "Rock the Cradle" dunk over Michael Cooper of the Los Angeles Lakers.
3. Kevin Durant
Born: Sept. 29, 1988 (Washington, D.C.)
High school: Montrose Christian School (Rockville, Maryland)
Height/weight: 6-foot-10, 240 pounds
Career: 15 seasons (2007-present)
Teams: Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder (2007-16), Golden State Warriors (2016-19), Brooklyn Nets (2019-23), Phoenix Suns (2023-present)
Career highlights: Two-time NBA champion (2017, 2018), two-time NBA Finals MVP (2017, 2018), NBA MVP (2014), 13-time NBA All-Star (2010-19, 2021-23), two-time NBA All-Star Game MVP (2012, 2019), 10-time All-NBA Team (2010-14, 2016-19, 2022), NBA Rookie of the Year (2008), NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Bottom Line: Kevin Durant
One of the greatest players in NBA history, there is literally nothing left for Kevin Durant to accomplish on a basketball court. Except win a title on a team where he's looked at as the alpha dog. Also, to be clear, Durant can play four positions with ease, and if pressed, we think he could be a center as well.
Durant actually played his rookie season in Seattle before the franchise moved to Oklahoma City in his second year and won NBA Most Valuable Player honors in 2014.
Durant's legacy in Oklahoma City is complicated thanks to him leaving the team in free agency after the Thunder blew a 3-1 lead to the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference finals. To go play for the Golden State Warriors. Traded from the Brooklyn Nets to the Phoenix Suns in 2023, he's now on his fourth franchise.
2. Larry Bird
Born: Dec. 7, 1956 (West Baden Springs, Indiana)
High school: Springs Valley High School (French Lick, Indiana)
College: Indiana State
Height/weight: 6-foot-9, 220 pounds
Career: 13 seasons (1979-92)
Teams: Boston Celtics
Career highlights: Three-time NBA champion (1981, 1984, 1986), two-time NBA Finals MVP (1984, 1986), three-time NBA MVP (1984-86), 12-time NBA All-Star (1980-88, 1990-92), NBA All-Star Game MVP (1982), 10-time All-NBA (1980-88, 1990), three-time NBA All-Defensive Team (1982-84), NBA Rookie of the Year (1980), three-time NBA Three-Point Contest champion (1986-88), NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Bottom Line: Larry Bird
Larry Bird was one of the greatest players in NBA history, and few players could measure up to him in his prime.
Drafted by the Boston Celtics out of Indiana State a full year before he joined the team, Bird led the franchise to three NBA championships in 13 seasons and won three NBA Most Valuable Player awards as well.
Bird's career is even more amazing when you consider that back injuries decimated the latter half of his career. He only played six games in 1988-89, 60 games in 1990-91 and 45 games in 1991-92, his final season.
1. LeBron James
Born: Dec. 30, 1984 (Akron, Ohio)
High school: St. Vincent-St. Mary High School (Akron, Ohio)
Height/weight: 6-foot-9, 250 pounds
Career: 20 seasons (2003-present)
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-2010, 2014-2018), Miami Heat (2010-2014), Los Angeles Lakers (2018-present)
Career highlights: Four-time NBA champion (2012, 2013, 2016, 2020), four-time NBA MVP (2012, 2013, 2016, 2020), four-time NBA Finals MVP (2012, 2013, 2016, 2020), 19-time NBA All-Star (2005-2023), three-time NBA All-Star Game MVP (2006, 2008, 2018), 19-time All-NBA Team (2005-2023), six-time NBA All-Defensive Team (2009-14), NBA Rookie of the Year (2004), NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Bottom Line: LeBron James
LeBron James will likely break Robert Parish’s career record of 1,611 games if he plays through the 2023-24 season, which he’s openly said he wants to do. He broke Kareem Abdul Jabbar's record as the NBA's career leading scorer in 2023.
James, with over 50,000 minutes played, is on track to break the NBA career minutes played record (57,466) as well. Consider also that James has played in three Summer Olympics, two FIBA World Championships and, in 20 years of professional basketball, has never had a major injury.
That makes the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player and 19-time All-NBA Team pick one of the toughest and most durable players of all time, along with possibly the greatest.