Basketball has always been known as a big man’s sport. Indeed, tallness is a staple of the game. Basketball would not be basketball without inordinately tall players. Of course, this fact is no secret. Taller players are closer to the basket, which makes it easier for them to score (theoretically), and they can disrupt opposing offences in that they can block shots with greater ease. Indeed, the tallest players on the court tend to be the linchpins of their respective defenses.
Though the NBA’s style of play has changed in recent years, becoming quicker, the NBA still has a wealth of talented big men. Big centers tend to get lost in fastbreak offences, but their value to their respective teams is undeniable. In many cases, their value is unquantifiable, as big men can alter games without filling up the stats sheet with eye-popping numbers. Consider, for instance, how important Andrew Bogut will be for the Golden State Warriors come playoff time. Or, remember when the Suns sacrificed their beloved speed for stability in the paint when they traded for an aging Shaquille O’Neal in 2008? Strong big-man talent guarantees success beyond the often fleeting triumph that good guard play brings.
The NBA has a storied history of dominant big men. By the NBA’s standards, a player taller than 6 feet is not that tall. To be considered tall in today’s NBA, a player needs to be approaching 7 feet. What is still more amazing is that 7 footers in today’s NBA are not one-dimensional; 7 footers like Dirk Nowitzki can score from a variety of spots on the floor, which makes them tougher to guard.
This list thus celebrates the most dominant 7-footers in NBA history. Although the following players’ games are different from one another, they all are/were dominant players. Each player’s career earnings, if available, have been listed.
10. Yao Ming – Career Earnings: $93,390,336
Unfortunately, foot injuries forced Yao Ming into an early retirement. In his eight-year career though, he dominated opposing defences, as he could score effectively from outside the paint. The 7’6 center from China averaged 19 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game over his tenure in the NBA. Yao’s career will unfortunately be judged by his lack of success in the playoffs. He and Tracy McGrady could never get their Houston Rocket squads very far into the postseason.
9. Dikembe Mutombo – Career Salary: $143,666,581
Standing 7’2, Dikembe Mutombo was the most feared shot blocker in his prime. His four Defensive Player of the Year Awards corroborate this point. His finger wag, which he would do after blocking a shot, is one of the most iconic celebrations in league history. Over his career, in which he played with 6 different teams, Mutombo averaged 9.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game. In the 1995-1996 season, he averaged an astounding 4.5 blocks per game. Unfortunately, he was never a dominant scorer and never won a championship.
8. Patrick Ewing – Career Earnings: $119,943,120
Patrick Ewing is arguably the greatest player to never win a championship. Over his career, he averaged 21 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game, and he was an 11-time All-Star. The 7-foot-tall center played the majority of his career in New York, but injuries plagued Ewing the only time one of his teams made the finals. Although he was on the wrong end of many famous plays in college and the NBA, basketball fans (especially New York fans) fondly remember Ewing.
7. Dirk Nowitzki – Career Salary: $204,063,985
Dirk Nowitzki is not a conventional 7-footer, as he can spread the floor and knock down long three pointers or Jordan-like fadeaways. A past MVP, Nowitzki led his team to a championship in 2011, as Dallas beat the high-powered Heat in a thrilling series. Over his career, he has averaged 22.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. He shows no signs of slowing down, as he is averaging 22 points and 6.2 rebounds per game this year, shooting just below 50% from the floor. Dallas is surprisingly good, but the team will have a tough time advancing in the playoffs, since the Western Conference is loaded with dominant teams.
6. Robert Parish – Earnings from 1985-86 to 1997-98: $24,364,666
Robert Parish had the good fortune of playing with some of the greatest players in NBA history. In the eighties, he played on the Boston Celtics, a team led by the great Larry Bird, and he spent his last two years in Chicago, winning a championship in 1997, though he was no longer as dominant by that point. Over his career, the 7-footer averaged 14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. He was also an efficient scorer, shooting over 50% from the floor in a career that spanned 21 seasons.
5. David Robinson – Career Salary: $116,500,123
Nicknamed “The Admiral,” David Robinson combined efficiency with freakish athleticism, as he was one of the most dominant centers in the nineties. Robinson was the league’s MVP in 1995, played on the 1992 Dream Team, and won two NBA championships as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. His best statistical years came before San Antonio drafted Tim Duncan, but he will be remembered for the seasons that they played together, as Robinson and Duncan were one of the league’s most formidable big-man duos. Over his career, Robinson averaged 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game, shooting over 50% floor the floor.
4. Wilt Chamberlain – Earnings Unavailable
Wilt Chamberlain, affectionately known as “Wilt the Stilt,” was unquestionably the most dominant player in his era of basketball. He won four MVP Awards, two NBA Championships, and was a 13-time All-Star. Over his career, he averaged 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game. He played in an era of basketball where blocked shots were not counted as stats, so one can only conjecture how many blocked shots he had in his career. His stats are unthinkable today, since the NBA has changed drastically. He also played in an era without the rule for 3 seconds in the key, and he generally towered over all his matchups. These historical facts bring his sublime stats somewhat down to earth, but nevertheless, his legacy remain incredible.
3. Hakeem Olajuwon – Earnings from 1985-86 to 2003-04: $107,011,426
Given the sobriquet “Hakeem the Dream,” Hakeem Olajuwon was indeed a dream come true for the Houston Rockets. The 7-foot center averaged 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game over his 18-year career. Winning the MVP Award in 1994, Olajuwon also led his team to consecutive championships in 1994 and 1995, though NBA fans tend to mark those championships with asterisks, since Michael Jordan was busy playing baseball. He was known for his skilled footwork on offense, and he continues to teach current NBA players (as he did Kobe Bryant) the secrets to his game.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Earnings from 1985-86 to 1988-89: $7,030,000
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was consistency awe-inspiring in his playing days. He averaged over 20 points per game in 17 of his 20 seasons, and never had a season where he averaged less than 10 points per game. The 7’2 center wound up averaging 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game over his career, while shooting over 55% from the floor. His famous sky-hook shot is one of the most iconic moves in basketball, and it was virtually impossible to defend, given Kareem’s height.
1. Shaquille O’Neal – Career Salary: $292,198,327
The biggest knock on Shaquille O’Neal is that during his career he did not work hard enough. And yet, Shaq still averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game over his career. He was the league’s MVP in 2000, an eight-time first team All-NBA selection, and he won 4 NBA Championships. What separates Shaq from the rest of the 7-footers on this list is his dominance. During the Lakers’ run of three consecutive championships, Shaq was unstoppable, and he was named the finals MVP in all three of those championship seasons. Whereas Magic Johnson led Kareem’s dominant championship squads to victory, Shaq undoubtedly led his own.
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