The Greatest NBA Centers of All Time

Over 14.4K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Greatest NBA Centers of All Time
Voting Rules
Professional basketball players in the center position

Throughout basketball history, having a franchise center has been a crucial part of building a championship team. The best NBA centers have carried the success of many basketball teams. A lot of teams spend years looking for a dominant center, but not too many graduate from project to an iconic, Hall of Fame big man. Some teams have had better luck than others when landing a great NBA center. The Los Angeles Lakers has been the best NBA team at developing and trading for the best centers in the league. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, George Mikan and Shaquille O'Neal are all centers who have played for the Lakers.

Another team that's had a number of great centers on its roster is the Houston Rockets. Counting Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Yao Ming as its alumni, not to mention Dwight Howard, could all be considered some of the top centers in the NBA. While a great center may not guarantee a championship, it certainly doesn't hurt to have any of the big men on this list on your team.

Many of these centers are the biggest names in basketball history. They have MVP awards, scoring titles, and Defensive Player of the Year awards spread among them. Vote for the players you think deserve to be called the best centers of all time.

Most divisive: Ralph Sampson
Ranked by
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks
    7,996 votes
    • Position: Center
    • Age: 76
    • Birthplace: New York City, USA, New York

    A dominant force in the NBA for 20 seasons, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar revolutionized the game with his incomparable skyhook, which remains one of the most iconic and unblockable shots in basketball history. Beyond his scoring prowess, Abdul-Jabbar was a fierce defensive presence, amassing numerous block records and altering the course of countless games. His incredible longevity, coupled with six championships, cements him as one of the greatest centers to ever grace the hardwood.

  • Bill Russell
    Boston Celtics
    6,813 votes
    • Position: Center
    • Age: 89
    • Birthplace: West Monroe, Louisiana

    The epitome of a winner, Bill Russell led the Boston Celtics to an astounding 11 championships during his 13-year career, earning him a place among the most successful athletes in the history of professional sports. Known for his defensive tenacity, shot-blocking ability, and gritty determination, Russell was the ultimate team player who consistently put his squad before personal accolades. His fierce rivalry with Wilt Chamberlain and unwavering commitment to winning continue to serve as a standard for greatness in the realm of professional basketball.

  • Wilt Chamberlain
    Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia Warriors
    7,934 votes
    • Position: Center
    • Age: Dec. at 63 (1936-1999)
    • Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    The legendary Wilt Chamberlain stands tall in NBA lore as one of the most dominant and prolific scorers the league has ever seen, once even scoring an unfathomable 100 points in a single game. But "Wilt the Stilt" was far more than just a scorer, as he also possessed an unparalleled physicality and a relentless motor that made him a dominant rebounder and shot-blocker throughout his storied career. Chamberlain's otherworldly athleticism and sheer dominance laid the groundwork for future centers and forever changed how the game was played.

  • Shaquille O'Neal
    Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns
    8,214 votes
    • Position: Center
    • Age: 51
    • Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, USA
    • Number: 33

    A force of nature in the paint, Shaquille O'Neal's sheer size, strength, and agility redefined what was possible for a big man in the NBA. With few defenders able to contain his overpowering presence, Shaq led the charge for the Los Angeles Lakers during their three-peat championship run from 2000 to 2002. Complementing his physical prowess with a magnetic personality and larger-than-life charisma, O'Neal's impact on the league is still felt by centers and fans alike today.

  • Hakeem Olajuwon
    Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors
    7,702 votes
    • Position: Center
    • Age: 60
    • Birthplace: Lagos, Nigeria

    Hakeem Olajuwon dominated the paint during the '90s and is widely regarded as one of the most skilled big men to have ever played the game, possessing an unmatched combination of footwork, agility, and defensive prowess. With an offensive skill set boasting the iconic "Dream Shake" and an uncanny ability to read opposing players on defense, the Nigerian-born center led the Houston Rockets to back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995. Olajuwon's all-around brilliance not only earned him a place in the pantheon of great NBA centers but also inspired a generation of big men to follow in his footsteps.

  • Tim Duncan
    San Antonio Spurs
    3,264 votes
    • Position: Power forward
    • Age: 47
    • Birthplace: Christiansted, United States Virgin Islands
    • Number: 21

    Dubbed "The Big Fundamental," Tim Duncan's quiet demeanor and selfless style of play belied a fierce competitor who spent his entire 19-year career with the San Antonio Spurs, bringing home five championships in the process. As both a defensive stalwart and an offensive force, Duncan's ability to consistently hit mid-range shots and exploit mismatches gave opposing teams fits. His leadership, unflagging work ethic, and focus on team success have earned him a spot alongside the greatest big men in NBA history.