Superstars are more valuable in the NBA than in any other sport. Almost every NBA Championship winning team has at least one future Hall of Famer on the roster and there are typically two or three these days. The importance of drafting a dynamic talent to change the franchise for the better is always there but keeping the player is the toughest part. NBA players typically try different teams throughout their careers. The scenario of staying with one franchise for an entire legendary career is extremely rare. Recent history has shown us the players holding power will see them want to try new surroundings.
LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat for four seasons to win as many rings as possible with his friends. Kevin Durant ditched the Oklahoma City Thunder to form a new potential dynasty with the Golden State Warriors. The past has also shown how fluky situations can also cause a career to change. Michael Jordan came out of retirement to play for the Washington Wizards after spending his better years with the Chicago Bulls. We’ll look at the rare stories of players that found a way to remain in one place. These are the top fifteen NBA stars to spend their entire playing careers with just one team.
15 Dirk Nowitzki - Dallas Mavericks
The only active player on the list goes down as one of the greatest decisions ever made by Mark Cuban. Dirk Nowitzki has spent his entire career with the Dallas Mavericks and always makes it clear he isn’t planning to ever leave the franchise he loves. Most NBA superstars in Nowitzki’s position at least entertain the idea of embracing free agency in hopes of driving up the price for their desired team to pay more.
Nowitzki does the complete opposite. The former MVP has frequently agreed to contracts below free agent market value to help the team sign other stars. Dallas has made Nowitzki their hero of basketball and there will likely never be another NBA talent to pass him. Between 13 All-Star appearances, an MVP Award and bringing an NBA Championship to the franchise, Nowitzki has remained loyal to the Mavericks for good reason. There’s no doubt he will eventually retire in the only NBA home he has ever known.
14 Kevin McHale - Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics dominated the Eastern Conference during the middle of the 1980s and Kevin McHale was a key contributor. McHale was drafted third overall in the 1980 NBA Draft by the Celtics and never had any reason to leave the organization as a player over his thirteen seasons. The toughness of McHale made him an integral part of the team’s persona. Boston won three NBA Champions during the era of McHale and he certainly was an important reason why.
Celtics fans loved McHale for never backing down and hustling on every play. The reputation of Boston was a team that would scrap and fight for every point or loose ball. McHale is still beloved by the Celtics fans as he has worked for various other NBA teams as a head coach in more recent years. The love is reciprocated by McHale who often expresses his love for Boston. It proves a player spending his entire career with one team follows him into the next career.
13 James Worthy - Los Angeles Lakers
Most NBA fans are jealous of the Los Angeles Lakers organization. Maybe not these days due to their current decline, but things are bound to improve for the always lucky Lakers fans. Los Angeles somehow finds a way to draft, sign or trade for star talents. The majority of stars to blossom enjoy the great surroundings and that has led to the Lakers keeping many superstars for their entire careers. James Worthy is one of the best to accomplish that.
Worthy played a huge role in the Lakers winning three NBA Championships during the latter half of the 1980s. The extremely consistent star always provided reliability and actually took his game to new highs as the 1988 Finals MVP. Worthy retired in the Los Angeles mecca of basketball in 1994 never wearing a uniform other than the purple and gold. Lakers fans have had time to welcome Worthy back as an assistant coach in the player development section.
12 David Robinson - San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have lucked out when it comes to winning the NBA Draft lottery in the best years. One of those occasions saw them select David Robinson with the first overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft. Robinson would instantly become one of the best centers in the NBA and definitely ranks among the best at the position in league history. The best attribute about Robinson was his great character, giving a lot of his money, mind and time to charitable efforts.
San Antonio embraced his quiet and generous personality with the small market rallying around him. The fact that Robinson spent his college years in the Navy also added to the persona built up by the hard-working NBA star. Robinson delivered 14 years of great production for the Spurs and won two NBA Championships with the team. Tim Duncan getting drafted gave San Antonio two superstar big men to start a sixteen-year period of dominance by the Spurs. Robinson ending his career in San Antonio helped set the tone for the future of the franchise.
11 John Havlicek - Boston Celtics
John Havlicek is another legend that managed to spend his entire playing career with the Boston Celtics. The stint of Havlicek lasted during the Celtics’ absolute domination of the NBA over the 1960s. Havlicek contributed to an astonishing 8 NBA Championships over the course of his NBA career in Boston. Thirteen All-Star appearances provided an impressive resume when Havlicek eventually retired in 1978. Celtics fans appreciated their heroes and Havlicek is definitely one of the most beloved stars in franchise history.
The strength of Havlicek is playing extremely well on both sides of the ball. Havlicek is currently the overall leader Celtics franchise for most points scored in a career. Voters also named him a 5-time NBA All-NBA Defensive Team defender. Havlicek did as much as any human could do in one organization. Boston valued him and never let him go. There’s no doubt he deserves to be listed among the NBA greats to never change teams once.
10 Isiah Thomas - Detroit Pistons
“The Bad Boys” completely changed the landscape of the NBA during the late 80s and early 90s with Isiah Thomas as the leader of the team. Thomas brought an attitude to his leadership that set the tone for the rest of the roster. They pulled no punches and made the game as physical as possible to establish “Detroit basketball.” Thomas instigated opposing players on his rival teams enough that Michael Jordan requested he be left off the 1992 Olympic Dream Team.
While snubbed, Thomas didn’t lack for winning other titles to make up for it. The Pistons brought home back-to-back NBA Championships in 1989 and 1990. Thomas was the star player on the team and shouldered the responsibility of leaving it all on the court every night. Detroit fans still idolize Thomas and are grateful he spent his entire playing career with the franchise. Isiah has developed other legacies outside of Detroit as a coach and general manager but he remains most popular for his Pistons run.
9 Reggie Miller - Indiana Pacers
No one captured the attention and love of Indiana Pacers fans more than Reggie Miller. The clutch three-point shooter is most remembered for his inherent ability to score baskets in the most important of times. Everyone remembers Miller dominating the New York Knicks in the final minutes of playoff games during their heated rivalry and engaging in trash talk with super fan Spike Lee at courtside. The memories created by Miller are enough to last a lifetime and that’s how long he will be celebrated in Indiana.
8 Elgin Baylor - Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers are back with another star player on the list. Elgin Baylor was actually drafted during the Lakers era in Minnesota but played an important role on the team in their first seasons in Los Angeles following the relocation. Baylor spent all thirteen years of his career with the franchise and never left for a new uniform. The resume of 11 All-Star appearances and 10 All-NBA Team spots says it all about Baylor.
With an average of 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game, Baylor was extremely consistent as one of the best small forwards of all time. The Lakers transition to Los Angeles saw Baylor emerge as a standout talent bringing new fans to the arena. Baylor has his number 22 retired by the Lakers and was named one of the 50 greatest players in the league back in 1996. The numbers and accolades back up Baylor’s greatness and only Lakers fans got to enjoy it.
7 John Stockton - Utah Jazz
The point guard position is arguably the most important in the NBA and the Utah Jazz scored big time by drafting John Stockton in 1984. Stockton went on to become one of the best facilitating point guards in NBA history and never left Utah. Jazz fans were spoiled by the combination of Stockton and Karl Malone giving them a legendary duo. Stockton made 10 All-Star appearances for the Western Conference and actually won the All-Star Game MVP in 1994.
Utah made the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons in 1997 and 1998 but fell just short both times to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Stockton’s elite play helped get them that far by finding ways to get the best out of his teammates. No one has been able to top Stockton’s active record for most assists in an NBA career since he retired in 2003. Stockton deserves to be towards the top of the rankings breaking down best point guards and top NBA Jazz legends.
6 Bill Russell - Boston Celtics
Bill Russell’s accolades tell the story. The iconic Boston Celtics big man racked up 11 NBA Championship rings and won 5 MVP Awards. Russell led the Celtics to the NBA Championship every season in between 1959 and 1966. Winning is the ultimate measure of success in the NBA and no one won more frequently than Russell. Boston fans were lucky enough to have the legend spend his entire playing career in the green colors.
The debate for Russell in the all-time greats list is always interesting. Russell’s winning speaks for itself but he did only average 15.1 points per game in his NBA career. The dominance in every other stretch of the game, including 22.5 rebounds per game, made up for the lack of scoring. Russell is a legend regardless of where you have him in your “G.O.A.T” rankings. Celtics fans will appreciate the living legend as long as they can to thank him for the greatness he brought to the city of Boston. Russell is still an ambassador for the NBA.
5 Jerry West - Los Angeles Lakers
You know you are a sports icon when the league uses a silhouette of you as their logo. Jerry West is often referred as “The Logo” and deserves the honor of being a representative of the NBA in art. The Los Angeles Lakers hosted the playing career of West and he rewarded them with fourteen years of superb results. West helped lead the Lakers to the 1972 NBA Championship but may be equally remembered for making history in 1969 winning the NBA Finals MVP despite losing the series.
The relationship went beyond his playing career as West went on to win another 5 NBA Championships as an executive with the Lakers. It only made sense a genius on the court would go on to find success in the franchise office. West eventually did leave Los Angeles as an executive and currently works for the Golden State Warriors but Lakers fans still have bragging rights of being the only team to have him play in their uniform.
4 Tim Duncan - San Antonio Spurs
The recent retirement of Tim Duncan forced San Antonio Spurs to try to find life after his unbelievable tenure with the team. San Antonio saw their rise to the top of the NBA begin when drafting Duncan with the first overall pick in the 1997 Draft. The quiet dominance at the power forward position gave the Spurs a new superstar to pair with David Robinson. San Antonio won their first NBA Championship in 1999 with Duncan winning Finals MVP.
Duncan would go on to play a huge part in another 4 NBA Championships and recently retired as arguably the best to ever play his position. The Spurs franchise will miss him but they are still in a great position thanks to the foundation built around Duncan. 15 All-Star appearances and 2 MVP Awards also proved his individual dominance aside from the team success. Every team dreams they draft a player with the persona and talent of Duncan.
3 Larry Bird - Boston Celtics
The most memorable Boston Celtics star in recent history is definitely Larry Bird. 80s fans remember his dominance and newer fans can easily watch footage on NBA TV or YouTube to compare him to the current greats. Bird inspired many of today’s stars with his gorgeous shooting game from three-point range. The toughness and leadership of Bird helped bring 3 NBA Championships to the Celtics in the 1980s.
Bird averaged an impressive 24.3 points, 10 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game over his career. The rivalry between Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers endeared Bird even more to Celtics fans seeing just how badly he wanted to win. The impact left by Bird will always be remembered in Boston for a special connection between an athlete and a fan base. Bird left the Celtics family for a coaching job with Indiana and still works in the office for the Pacers but everyone still knows him first for his playing days in Boston.
2 Magic Johnson - Los Angeles Lakers
You can’t have Larry Bird on a list without Magic Johnson. The Los Angeles Lakers drafted Johnson with the first overall pick in the 1979 Draft and changed the foundation of the franchise. Johnson instantly became a premiere point guard in the league and still is the top answer for the best of all time at the position. The Lakers would win 5 NBA Championships during Johnson’s career and became the most entertaining team in the league thanks to his style of play.
Johnson earned 3 regular season MVP Awards and 3 NBA Finals MVPs proving his excellence shined at all times on the court. The sad tale of Johnson getting infected with HIV forced him to retire earlier than planned but finished his career wearing the same purple and gold he entered the league in. Magic has remained a member of the Lakers family in a few different roles and is basically a spokesperson for the team at this point.
1 Kobe Bryant - Los Angeles Lakers
Next season will be absolutely surreal when the Los Angeles Lakers enter the court with Kobe Bryant on the roster. The iconic shooting guard made the decision to retire last season after spending 20 seasons in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant joined the Lakers fresh out of high school in 1996 and found a home with the Los Angeles fans. Between his must-watch style of play and the unmatched desire to win, Bryant was the perfect face of the Lakers franchise.
The combination of Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal led to one of the most dominant three-peats from 2000 to 2002 with the Lakers winning three titles in that era. Drama took place with the egos involved and the Lakers decided to trade Shaq in hopes of keeping Bryant. Through various battles, Bryant and the Lakers stayed together and won another 2 NBA Championships in 2009 and 2010. The fan love exhibited in his final NBA game at Staples Center last season showed just how important he was to the NBA and how beloved he was by Lakers fans.