There was a time when the National Basketball Association, or the NBA, was not even being broadcasted live on network television. The NBA Finals during the latter part of the 1970s were shown on tape delay. All these changed in the 1980s, when the successive entries of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan energized the league and brought in new fans. And its popularity has been going up ever since, especially with the introduction of international players that is bringing in variety into the game, even as the league continues to break grounds into new markets.
These are the players who have carried the torch. They are the ones that have brought the NBA to new heights with their amazing talents that mesmerize the world. And the best part is that this is a dynamic list. It may change every year as new talents keep coming in and changing the nature of the game. Pretty soon, we may see the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin included here. But in the meantime, here is a list of the top 10 most popular NBA players.
10 Michael Jordan – Chicago Bulls/Washington Wizards, 1984-2003
He has six NBA rings and five MVP awards. His shoes are some of the most expensive sneakers in the world. He was a great scorer and a great defender. He knew how to entertain as well, winning the Slam Dunk contest twice. He could probably have won more rings but he left the league for a year and a half to try his luck in baseball. Up to now, everyone is still trying to be like Mike.
9 Magic Johnson – Los Angeles Lakers, 1979-96
He lit up the NBA with his smile. In his rookie year, he played all five positions after Jabbar got injured in the clinching game of the Finals. He won five NBA rings and was a three-time MVP and Finals MVP. Magic was the fulcrum behind the Showtime offense of the Lakers, often showcasing his ability to find the open man and give up the ball at just the right moment.
8 Bill Russell – Boston Celtics, 1956-69
He played 13 years in the league, winning the title 11 times. That alone is enough to see why Russell is known as a winner. He was also five-time MVP and five-time rebounding king. And he did it all while playing against Wilt Chamberlain, one of the game’s most dominant players.
7 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Milwaukee Bucks/Los Angeles Lakers, 1969-89
He used the hook shot to perfection, making it an unstoppable shot in two decades in the league. He won six NBA crowns and six MVP awards. He is the all-time leading scorer of the NBA with 38,387 points, most of it using his skyhook.
6 Larry Bird – Boston Celtics, 1979-92
He won three NBA rings and simply made his teammates look better. He is probably the best pure shooter in history, once averaging almost 30 points per game while shooting 52.7 percent from the field, including 41.4 percent from the three-point line, and 91.6 percent from the free throw line. He is called “Larry Legend.”
5 Wilt Chamberlain – Philadelphia Warriors/San Francisco Warriors/Philadelphia 76ers/Los Angeles Lakers, 1959-73
He was the most dominant player of his time. He once scored 100 points in one game. He also once averaged more than 50 points in one season. He won seven scoring titles, 11 rebounding titles and nine field goal percentage crowns. Amazingly, he also once led the league in assists. He is also the only player to average 30 points and 20 rebounds in the course of an entire season, a feat that he achieved nine times. His career averages also exceed the 30-20 mark. He also has two NBA rings to his name, which could have been more had his teams not been up against legendary Celtic and the Knick teams.
4 Oscar Robertson – Cincinnati Royals/Milwaukee Bucks, 1960-74
He was known as “The Big O.” He was having triple double numbers way before Magic Johnson made it famous. In the 1961-62 season, Robertson did it so regularly that he averaged triple double for the entire season, recording 30.8 points, 11.4 assists and 12.5 rebounds per game. He was named MVP in 1964 at a time when Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain dominated the league. He was traded to the Bucks in 1970 and he partnered with Lew Alcindor to bring Milwaukee an NBA title. They made the Finals once more in 1974 before losing to the Celtics. Robertson retired afterwards and the Bucks fell from being conference champion to one with a losing record.
3 Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers, 1996-present
He entered the NBA straight out of high school. His partnership with Shaq resulted into three NBA rings, though it was also frequently marked by tension and sniping. Still, the two will forever be linked. You can just imagine how many titles they could have won had they learned to co-exist harmoniously and remained teammates for a long time. Shaq eventually beat him to a fourth ring when the big man went to Miami. Kobe, however, got his fourth and fifth in 2009 and 2010, meaning he now has five rings.
2 Shaquille O’Neal – Orlando Magic/Los Angeles Lakers/Miami Heat/Phoenix Suns/Cleveland Cavaliers/Boston Celtics, 1992-2011
He was one of the most dominant big men to ever play the game. During his prime, the only way to stop him was to foul him and take advantage of his free throw shooting woes. There was a time when the opposing team would just foul him intentionally even when he was far away from the play. But he proved his mettle when he converted his foul shots in the clutch during a tense Western Conference Finals Game 7 against the Sacramento Kings. Shaq was named Finals MVP three times, All Star Game MVP thrice and regular season MVP once. To top it all, he has four championship rings.
1 Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs, 1997-present
He is quiet, unassuming and restrained. He lets his game speak for him. He has garnered two MVP awards, four NBA rings, 13 All-Defensive Team honors and 13 All-NBA recognitions. He plays intelligently and unselfishly. He has no problems taking a backseat when his teammates are performing well, which is partly the reason why Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have shined for the Spurs