The highlight of the 2022 NBA All-Star Weekend was the celebration of the all-time best players throughout the 75 years of the league. The NBA named and honored the players, but with every outlet taking a stab at rankings, we’ll do it too, with a twist.
We just give a high-line reason why each player slots into the position he does, but also factor in ABA success. After all, ABA stats and honors count, unlike the USFL for football. We also give a rundown of what the player was like in high school and group all of them into six categories: All-Time Great, HS All-American, All-Stater, Run Of The Mill, Did Not Play, International.
We rank the best high school players of the group into a Top 25, based on performance.
The most interesting part is we insert our snubs where we think they belong on the list, because the 76 players who were honored by the NBA are not the 76 best NBA players of all-time!
Two things really stand out in ranking these all-time NBA greats. Many of them won’t be around when the NBA has its 100th anniversary celebration and quite a few were not high school basketball All-Americans. In fact, some were bench-warmers or didn’t even play.
Goes to show how remarkably different people’s paths are to greatness and immortality.
Editor’s Note: Accomplishments in the ABA are considered here because the statistics count and some of the league’s best players ever did compete in the upstart league. The list of 76 players (there was a tie during the NBA’s voting for its 75th Anniversary Team) are listed by high school, high school size and year of graduation and we insert deserving snubs where they belong. Those players are noted by italics.
1) Michael Jordan, Laney (Wilmington, N.C) 6-4 G ’81
He was a second team All-NBA choice as a rookie and got exponentially better in subsequent seasons with regards to his shooting, ball-handing and offensive attack. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to say MJ is both the most talented offensive and defensive perimeter player of all-time. He also kept the motivation and drive to meet his goals despite becoming one of the most recognizable people on the plant by the time his championship run began with the Bulls in 1991. He also never took plays — or games — off.
HS Status (All-American): After being cut from the varsity team as a sophomore, talent scout Brick Oettinger called him the best “two guard” prospect he’d ever seen the first time seeing MJ play as a junior. The next perceived slight that motivated Jordan was not being listed as a preseason All-American by Street and Smith’s Magazine or even a top 500 player. The late Dave Krider placed Jordan on his post-season first five All-American team for Basketball Weekley, but that “make good” choice didn’t phase Jordan because he still wasn’t named State Player of the Year in North Carolina.
2) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Power Memorial (New York) 7-1 C ’65
Six titles, six MVPs, and all-NBA 15 times only tells half the story. Jabbar was expected to dominate the game and he did. He also understood taking care of his body well before most of his peers and the “Showtime Lakers” rejuvenated his career enough to the point he was still capable of a 24-point, 13-rebound performance like the one he put forth in his second-to-last game in the 1989 NBA Finals.
HS Status (All-Time Great): It’s not a stretch to say Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) was the best player at each level of the game, college included (UCLA). By the time he enrolled at UCLA, he was considered one of the ten best players in the World and was a two-time National Player of the Year.
3) Earvin Johnson, Everett (Lansing, Mich.) 6-8 G ’77
Nobody else as an ALPHA went toe-to-toe with four other legit dynasties and he came out of those highly-anticipated battles with a 5-4 NBA Finals record. He is the most unique player of all-time, possessing Bill Russell’s size with the ball-handling wizardry of a man six inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter. Had two NBA titles and two NBA Finals MVPs by 22 and the Lakers were still favored to win the West in 1991-92 before he shocked the world by retiring at 32.
HS Status (All-Time Great): A well known commodity even in middle school, his high school coach George Fox gave him his nickname in tenth grade. As a senior, he averaged 31 ppg, 17 rpg with 121 assists and 73 steals. If the Detroit Pistons had their way, he would have come out after his freshman year at MSU and been the No. 1 pick.
4) LeBron James, St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio) 6-8 F ’03
The most scrutinized player of all-time, James’ peers at the top of this list layed the groundwork for the league to survive and make it thrive, but he transformed himself from a player to an active stakeholder in the league’s multi-billion dollar business. Some feel that detracts from playing the game, but there is no denying his all-around ability and sustained excellence. If he becomes the league’s all-time leading scorer, it should put things in perspective as he’s known for being a pass-first point forward.
HS Status (All-Time Great): A once-in-a-generation talent, he lived up to tremendous media expectations and produced three state championships and an unbeaten FAB 50 national title as a senior. His lasting legacy is making high school basketball a nationally televised sport and showing the tremendous monetary value top tier high school athletes possess.
5) Wilt Chamberlain, Overbrook (Philadelphia, Pa.) 7-1 C ’55
If Jordan is not the greatest athlete to ever play the game, Wilt certainly is. The term “ahead of his time” is tossed around way too loosely but Wilt is really one of the few players who really was, along with Pete Maravich. He was just so big, strong and athletic that his mind-boggling numbers are taken for granted.
HS Status (All-Time Great): Wilt didn’t play in college for free and Dipper had already made a nice chunk of money working as a bellhop at Kutsher’s Country Club, a Jewish resort in the Catskill Mountains of New York. He was coached there by Red Auerbach and it’s not a stretch to say by his senior season at Overbrook, he was already the best player in the World.
6) Bill Russell, McClymonds (Oakland, Calif.) 6-9 C ’52
Russell had a knack for timing, whether it showing up in Boston as a perfect piece to a budding dynasty, or retiring on top with his eleventh championship. In between, Russell revolutionized defensive basketball and the NBA fast break. Individually, he won five NBA MVPs and his impact can’t be measured in stats alone.
HS Status (Run of the Mill): Played with talented athletes in high school and backed up future MLB HOFer Frank Robinson at Mack. A lot of credit goes to USF coaches who saw the potential and how to utilize his budding quickness and instincts around the basket.
7) Larry Bird, Springs Valley (French Lick, Ind.) 6-8 F ’74
Take it from people that watched him live and in real time, he was quick and had some of the game’s best defensive instincts before his back began to act up. The only 20-10-5 player ever; one of one. And he was way over 5 assists (6.3 apg) despite sometimes rarely handling the ball. All it took was a quick flick, or tap, and Bird could find the open man without needlessly pounding the rock.
HS Status (All-Stater): Averaged 31 ppg, 21 rpg and 4 apg as a senior, but amazingly wasn’t first team all-state. Indiana coach Bob Knight took him because of his size as an in-state recruit, but expectations for Bird at IU were not high. Perhaps if Knight had taken a bit more interest, he stays, but in reality the Hoosiers were good without him.
8) Kobe Bryant, Lower Merion (Ardmore, Pa.) 6-6 G ’96
Revered by peers and fans alike, a tireless work ethic and self belief drove him to capture five NBA titles. There is some nostalgia when it comes to his career, as his defensive accolades were a bit reputational and he was never quite the same after tearing his achilles in 2013. The polarizing place on lists like this one are only heightened by his untimely passing.
HS Status (All-American): He wasn’t considered the best in his class right away, but vowed to ABCD Camp director Sonny Vaccaro he would be the best player at his event in his second appearance in 1995. What separated him from Tim Thomas in his class? The same thing that separated him from his NBA peers — drive and ethic.
9) Tim Duncan, St. Dunstan’s Episcopal (Saint Croix, V.I.) 6-11 C ’93
Boy it’s hard to separate Duncan and Bryant; but if you seen both play consistently there is just something dynamic about Bryant that makes you think the Lakers could win any game. That’s the beauty of Duncan, however, as his won five titles with less fanfare. He was first team all-NBA as a rookie and the Spurs made the playoffs in each of his 18 seasons, a couple of things Bryant was not close to matching.
HS Status (International): He picked up basketball after having dreams of being an Olympic swimmer and was a quick learner. After averaging 25 ppg as a senior, he fielded D1 offers and got better under the tutelage of Dave Odom at Wake Forest.
10) Oscar Robertson, Crispus Attucks (Indianpolis, Ind.) 6-5 G ’56
Interestingly enough, when the 50th anniversary team dropped 25 years ago, the Big O was consistently in the top 3 or 4 discussion. Consistently. Respect for older players has waned and perhaps the novelty of the triple-double has worn off as well. Even simpler, there was not much flash to Robertson’s game; he’d just back his man down and shoot right over the top. Time and time again.
HS Status (All-Time Great): As a junior, he starred on the first team with an all-Black starting five to win a de-segregated state championship and was the best player in the country as a senior. How good was he? John Wooden said on tape he was good enough to go from high school to the pros. Go look it up!
11) Shaquille O’Neal, Cole (San Antonio, Texas) 6-11 C ’89
He would have been the No. 1 pick in any of the four drafts after one year of college and made an immediate impact, earning player of the week honors in his first week in the NBA. With regards to the Shaq-Kobe relationship-feud: Shaq had the Heat in a Game 7 of the conference finals the very next year after he was traded and brought the franchise a title in his second season, while the Lakers went through some tough times before getting back on top in 2009-10.
HS Status (All-Time Great): An army brat, Shaq moved around in his youth before his family settled in San Antonio, where he led Cole to a 68-1 mark his last two seasons. He blew up as a national recruit at the BCI Tournament the summer before his monster senior campaign.
12) Jerry West, East Bank (W.V.) 6-3 G ’56
We’re talking about the second greatest playoff performer behind Jordan, whose outputs were clearly affected by not having a 3-point goal during his career. In addition to his trademark pull-up jumper, West won a scoring title, an assist title when he moved to the point, and was an accomplished defender.
HS Status (All-Time Great): A folk hero in West Virginia, West was considered on par with Oscar Robertson in his class. Interestingly enough, the duo teamed up on the 1960 Olympic team and there were a plethora of prep standouts in the 1960s and 1970s dubbed the “Next West” and “Next Oscar” who could never live up to those lofty expectations.
13) Moses Malone, Petersburg (Va.) 6-11 C ’74
For a period in the late 1970s and 80s, he was easily the best player in the World. He just pounded other talented big men and should get more credit as arguably the best rebounder ever. There are three statistical outliers in the NBA: Wilt’s single-season scoring outputs, Steph Curry’s 3-point shooting and Big Mo’s offensive rebounding numbers.
HS Status (All-Time Great): He was courted by over 300 colleges and signed a Grant-In-Aid with Maryland as the best recruit since Jabbar in ’65. Perhaps Lefty could have made the Terrapins “UCLA of the East”, considering Malone was a ABA All-Star at 19 years old, had he actually enrolled.
14) Hakeem Olajuwon, Muslim Teachers College (Lagos, Nigeria) ’81
Everyone knows about Dream’s stellar offensive footwork, but some don’t know he used it on the defensive side of the ball with the same devastating affects. Dream was a nine-time all-defensive selection, and if you saw him play, you know he could pick a guard’s pocket and go the length of the floor as easily as he could block a shot inside.
HS Status (International): He was the first non-American to do hit these individual marks: All-Star, NBA MVP, NBA Defensive Player of the Year. But he worked hard to get better after not picking up the game until 15 and got exponentially better by playing pick-up with Moses Malone once at U of H.
15) Steph Curry, Charlotte Christian (N.C.) 6-1 G ’06
He’s the greatest range shooter ever and his volume and percentage of makes from 3-point range is still breath-taking, even after all the accolades (2-time MVP, 3-time NBA Champ, etc.). People relate to him because his size and unassuming demeanor, but it’s a complete misnomer that he’s not one of the best athletes in the world. His balance and strength are incredible.
HS Status (Run of the Mill): It’s embarrassing the colleges that overlooked him and didn’t offer a scholarship, considering the access he had as the son of a NBA player. Same thing can be said about NBA brass on draft night.
16) Isiah Thomas, St. Joseph (Westchester, Ill.) 6-1 G ’79
The ringleader of the Bad Boy Pistons, that terrific group are the greatest “party crashers” in NBA history, keeping the Lakers and Celtics from total dominance and suppressing Jordan’s Bulls as long as it could. The only thing keeping Thomas higher is the abrupt decline to his career because of wear and tear to his small frame.
HS Status (All-Time Great): Entered high school with plenty of fanfare, but some felt Bloom’s Raymond McCoy was going to be the greater guard. That began to change by the end of the junior season and by the end of his high school career it was evident Thomas was a future NBA All-Star.
17) Kevin Durant, Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) 6-9 F ’06
Some feel KD is the greatest scorer in the history of the game, and he’s already a nine-time all-NBA choice at age 33. The four-time scoring champ is excellent percentage wise from the field and the line, while his assist numbers have steadily increased over the latter part of his career.
HS Status (All-Time Great): He was the No. 2 prospect in his class behind Greg Oden and it’s so easy to say Portland screwed up the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. It wasn’t bad scouting, as Oden was a once-in-a-decade center talent, but one thing scout Clark Francis noted was that KD has one of the best work ethics he’d ever seen in a young player with that much talent.
18) Julius Erving, Roosvelt (N.Y.) 6-7 F ’68
Most people under the age of 45 have seen the Good Doctor’s NBA highlights, but most of those are against the Lakers in the NBA Finals as an aging Superstar. His work is the ABA is simply stellar, as Erving was a tireless rebounder, terrific defender and more than solid 3-point shooter considering the league-wide average. Want proof? Go check how many times he blocked over 100 shots in his career and how many times LeBron has done it.
HS Status (All-Stater): He earned all-county and all-Long Island honors and was actually seen by legendary grassroots scout Howie Garfinkel in high school. He he played in New York City’s PSAL or Catholic League, he likely would have received tons more acclaim. Either way, he was a terrific long-term prospect and made an immediate impact at UMASS.
19) Karl Malone, Summerfield (La.) 6-9 F ’81
How much higher would be on this list if the Jazz won a NBA title? Not much, honestly. What you see is what you get, a physical specimen who kept improving to the point of where he won MVPs at 33 and 35 years old.
HS Status (All-Stater): A small-school terror who led his school to three consecutive Class C state titles, the Mailman got a glimpse of what modern, big-time travel ball is today. He played on the New Orleans-based First Progressive club financed by a wealthy banker that also featured NBA Top 75 snub Joe Dumars.
20) John Stockton, Gonzaga Prep (Spokane, Wash.) 6-0 G ’80
The all-time leader is assists and steals (by a sizable margin), Stockton was tough and had a nasty streak that only made him that much more appealing to Jazz fans. Stockton only missed 22 games in 19 seasons.
HS Status (All-Stater): He had offers to Idaho and Montana after breaking local scoring records, but chose to stay home and play for Gonzaga.
21) Rick Barry, Roselle Park (N.J.) 6-7 F ’62
The ABA’s all-time regular season and post-season scoring leader, Barry also averaged 40.8 ppg in the ’67 NBA Finals and 36.3 ppg in all NBA Finals games. He’s also won a title in both leagues as an ALPHA player and is the only player to go for 50 plus points in a Game 7 playoff contest.
HS Status (All-Stater): Was a fine high school player, but it wasn’t until he arrived at Miami that he began to show the makings of a future NBA standout. Going to play for the Hurricanes was a terrific fit for the fast-rising prospect.
22) Kevin Garnett, Farragut (Chicago) 6-11 F ’95
The Kid developed into the Big Ticket and for a couple seasons in the early 2000s, he was as good as any player in the game in helping the Timberwolves gain respectability. A NBA champ with the Celtics, Garnett made 12 all-defensive teams and averaged double-digits in rebounds for 10 seasons.
HS Status (All-Time Great): Ranks with LeBron as the most talented player of the past quarter century. KG did show glimpses it was possible he could successfully make the leap from high to the pros as a rising junior. If NBA front offices could have measured his determination and work ethic, he would have been the No. 1 pick instead of arising skepticism when he declared for the draft.
23) Dirk Nowitzki, Rontgen Gymnasium (Wurzburg, Germany) 7’0 F ’98
From 1998-2019, the Mavs only had six All-Star selections outside of their sweet-shooting German and when they won the NBA title in 2011, he was their only all-star. Just as impressive, the Mavs won 50 games for 11 straight seasons (2000-11) without attracting a lot of high-profile free agent talent.
HS Status (International): The first Euro player to win NBA MVP, Dirk showed glimpses of that talent with his 33-point, 14-rebound performance at the ’98 Nike Hoop Summit. Had he played in the states in the American grassroots system, there is little doubt he would have been the No. 1 player in an otherwise pedestrian class.
24) David Robinson, Osbourn Park (Manassas, Va.) 7-1 C ’83
One of the greatest physical specimens ever to lace them up, Robinson dominated immediately after serving two years in the Navy and closed out his career with a NBA title in 2003. As late as 2001, he was still playing at an all-NBA level (third team).
HS Status (Run of the Mill): The Admiral shot up from 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-6 as a senior, but didn’t receive any scholarship offers after an all-district season. He didn’t stop growing until his second year in the Navy, when he was too tall to every serve on a U.S. naval ship.
25) Bob Pettit, Baton Rouge (La.) 6’9 F ’50
Watch film of Big Blue, and it’s easy to see how he’d still be terrific in the modern NBA, working the baseline and scoring from all angles. He also gets credit for ending Boston’s stronghold on the title with a memorable performance in the ’58 Finals, en route to first team all-NBA accolades in each of this first 10 seasons.
HS Status (All-Stater): A two-time all-city performer after not making the team as a sophomore, Pettit kept working on his craft until he led Baton Rouge to a state title and accepted a scholarship from nearby LSU.
26) Charles Barkley, Leeds (Ala.) 6-4 F ’81
When today’s players and scouts describe a “Unicorn”, it evokes images of Sir Charles, one of the most uniquely gifted players of all-time. In his prime, he did things NBA fans are hoping a healthy Zion Williamson can do in terms of running the court, finishing with authority and blocking shots.
HS Status (All-Stater): Short (5-10) and heavy (220 lbs.) as an underclassmen, Barkley blossomed as a senior (19.1 ppg, 17.9 rpg) and get noticed by Auburn’s coaching staff after he went up against Huntsville Butler’s Bobby Lee Hurt, a first team All-American forward.
27) John Havlicek, Bridgeport (Ohio) 6’5 F ’58
Hondo would still be an all-timer if he just stayed in his sixth man/secondary role, but after Russell retired he took the role of an ALPHA and led the Celtics to championships in ’74 and ’76. Not only the Celtics’ all-time scoring leader, he also was an eight-time all-defensive choice.
HS Status (All-Stater): Hondo was known more as a terrific athlete than an all-world basketball player in high school. He had the ability to play in the NFL and was actually in the Cleveland Browns’ mini-camp before he decided to concentrate on basketball.
28) Jason Kidd, St. Joseph (Alameda, Calif.) 6-4 G ’92
No guard has been in the same breath as Magic since he came onto the scene 40 years ago, but from the standpoint of pushing the rock and setting up, Kidd comes in No. 2. He also was a hellacious defender and all-NBA first team five teams.
HS Status (All-Time Great): Known for his strength and stamina from the lead guard position, he was four-time all-NorCal, three-time all-state and generally considered NorCal’s best prep ever.
29) Dwyane Wade, Richards (Oak Lawn, Ill.) 6’3 G ’00
D-Wade plays big and came up big as a cornerstone of three NBA title teams in “Wade County”. He was named first or second team All-NBA five times and blocked more shots than any guard in history.
HS Status (Run of the Mill): Famously came off the bench for his loaded travel team and was ranked No. 51 in the country by talent scout Bob Gibbons.
30) Walt Frazier, Howard (Atlanta, Ga.) 6-4 G ’64
A flashy backcourt performer, he doesn’t get enough credit for being an ace defender and for his scoring ability. Put together the best ever NBA Finals Game 7 performance (36 points, 19 rebounds) to lead to Knicks to the first of two titles.
HS Status (All-American): A terrific all-around athlete with dreams on being a NFL quarterback, Frazier is considered one of The Peach State’s best guards ever, even though his career exploits are a bit buried playing at an all-Black school during segregation.
31) Elvin Hayes, Britton (Rayville, La.) 6-9 C ’64
The “Big E” was durable and dominant, leading the Bullets to a NBA title and making 12 all-star teams.
HS Status (All-American): A great recruit for legendary U of H coach Guy Lewis who always dreamed of playing MLB, just like many other black youth after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
32) Patrick Ewing, Ringe & Latin (Cambridge, N.Y.) 7-0 C ’81
He was billed as the next Bill Russell with way more offense coming out of Georgetown, but even though he never was that great, Big Pat was still damn good. He endeared to fans because of how hard be played and because of his effort in trying to bring the Knicks a championship against rugged 90s competition.
HS Status (All-Time Great): One of the most decorated big men of all-time, his was a three time All-American, the nation’s top recruit and his college commitment to Georgetown was national news.
33) Giannis Antetokounmpo, Filathlitikos (Athens, Greece) 6-10 PF ’12
There is little doubt when the final chapter is written, The Greek Freak will be quite high on this list, perhaps near the range of the top dozen. He’s already a two-time NBA MVP and had a 50-point, 14-rebound, 5-block performance to help the Bucks clinch their first title in 50 years.
HS Status (International): He played in the semi-pro Greek B Basket League, and a number of major Euro clubs had interest in the Nigerian who grew up in Athens. His rise is why international high school aged scouting is such a major part of the recruiting landscape and NBA mock drafts now.
34) James Harden, Artesia (Lakewood, Calif.) 6-5 G ’07
Unless you’ve seen him up close or studied his numbers, you don’t realize how talented he really is at the offensive end. Despite being so polarizing, he’s accomplished things only the game’s very best have.
HS Status (All-American): A two-time divisional state player of the year, Harden averaged 19 ppg on California’s best team and was significantly younger than many of his peers in a great class.
35) Scottie Pippen, Hamburg (Ark.) 6-7 F ’83
A terrific all-around talent who kept getting better early in his NBA career, this seven-time All-NBA performer gets dinged for not leading a team to a NBA title as an ALPHA performer. He certainly had a couple of golden opportunities.
HS Status (Run of the Mill): Young Pip had some talent, but not a lot of refinement and not enough exposure for a scholarship offer.
36) Elgin Baylor, Spingarn (Washington, D.C.) 6’5 F ’54
A 10-time all-NBA First Team selection, Baylor was one of the pioneers of above-the-rim play and making moves while suspended in mid-air. A gifted scorer, he also averaged 13.5 rpg, including a high of 19.8 rpg.
HS Status (All-Time Great): Dropped out of high school for a year to work, but came back as a senior to average 36.1 ppg, including a D.C. single-game record of 63 points. Had he played even just a few years after Brown vs. Board of Education instead of at an all-Black program, his accolades would have been much more national in scope.
37) Chris Paul, West Forsyth (Clemmons, N.C.) 6’0 G ’03
The first player in history with 20,000 career points and 10,000 career assists. Gets credit for his sustained excellence, but at his peak there are guys ranked lower who were better and Paul doesn’t own one monster playoff run one can’t point to in order to justify a higher spot.
HS Status (All-American): Averaged 31 ppg, eight apg and six spg to earn state Mr. Basketball honors. Like everyone in his class, his exploits were over-shadowed by Lebron James’ larger-than-life persona.
38) Allen Iverson, Bethel (Hampton, Va.) 6-1 G ’94
Some people love him for his style and cultural influence, but he’s one of the fastest, quickest and toughest athletes in history. A four-time scoring champ and ’01 MVP, AI was also a volume shooter who connected on less than 43 percent of his field goal attempts.
HS Status (All-American): The nation’s top two-sport athlete as a junior, he didn’t get to play his senior season after a now infamous bowling alley brawl. The late John Thompson deserves plenty of credit for offering him a scholarship after the negative press. Felipe Lopez was the nation’s top player in his class, but would Iverson have pressed him for Mr. Basketball USA honors if not for the unfortunate incident?
39) Steve Nash, St. Michaels University School (Victoria, B.C.) ’92
At his peak, he was playing the position as well as anyone since Magic, but the Run ‘N Gun Suns never got over the hump in the NBA Playoffs. The two-time MVP led the league in assists five times and shot 42.8 percent from 3-point range.
HS Status (International): A budding prospect in British Columbia, Nash averaged 21.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, and 11.2 apg as a senior, but wasn’t recruited by any American college until Santa Clara’s Dick Davey took a look at his film.
40) Kawhi Leonard, Martin Luther King (Riverside, Calif.) 6-7 F ’09
The only player to earn NBA Finals MVP with a team from each conference in a full season, Leonard is dominant on both sides of the ball. In the era of stars switching teams, should Leonard one day lead a third franchise to a NBA title, he’ll continue to climb rapidly on this list.
HS Status (All-American): A somewhat late bloomer who was a part-time starter as a sophomore at Canyon Springs of nearby Moreno Valley, ‘Whi was definitely looked at as a big-time prospect and impact Pac-12 recruit. However, those programs got on board much too late and he stayed loyal to SDSU’s recruiting efforts.
41) George Gervin, Martin Luther King (Detroit) 6-8 G ’71
At his peak, the Ice Man made first or second team all-NBA seven consecutive years (1977-83) and was the best scorer in the league four times.
HS Status (All-Stater): He had a late growth spurt that allowed him to put up monster numbers (31 ppg, 20 rpg) as a senior. Jerry Tarkanian at Long Beach St. saw his potential, but he was homesick and wanted to get back to Michigan as soon as he could.
42) Russell Westbrook, Leuzinger (Lawndale, Calif.) ’06
One of the most explosive guards of all-time, he is also one of the most polarizing NBA MVPs of all-time.
HS Status (All-Stater): He was literally one of the final selections on the Cal-Hi Sports All-State team, after averaging 25.1 ppg. A growth spurt helped his game on the boards (8.7 rpg) while he honed his perimeter skill.
43) Paul Pierce, Inglewood (Calif.) 6-7 F ’95
There is no denying what he did in the big moments, outplaying Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in key playoff series, and his career marks.
HS Status (All-American): Started off his career slow, but took off his junior year and was considered the best player on the West Coast as a senior. One of the very best in a terrific class.
44) Dwight Howard, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy (Atlanta, Ga.) 6-10 C ’04
Our highest-rated snub, it’s mind-boggling to look at his accolades and think he’s not a Top 50 choice, much less Top 75. It’s almost as egregious as the ‘Nique snub 25 year ago. He’s been All-NBA First Team five times, an eight-time all-star and 3-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He also was the ALPHA on a NBA Finals team.
HS Status (All-American): The Georgia Player of the Year led his team to a state Class A title while averaging 25.5 ppg, 18.3 rpg and 8.0 bpg. A first five All-American choice and the top-ranked prospect in his class.
45) Willis Reed, West Side (Lillie, La.) 6’9 C ’60
A rugged defensive player, he also earned every individual accolade a player can get. A two-time NBA finals MVP.
HS Status (All-Stater): A terrific all-around athlete who excelled in hoops, football, baseball and track, Reed was recruited to play football at Grambling for legendary coach Eddie Robinson. He smartly chose basketball as a career path.
46) Carmelo Anthony, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 6-7 F ’02
A top ten all-time scorer, Anthony gets knocked here because has never been the difference maker in a big playoff series.
HS Status (All-American): Would have been Mr. Basketball USA as a senior if not for a junior named LeBron, whom entered the league with him amid much fanfare.
47) Bob McAdoo, Smith (Greensboro, N.C.) 6-9 C ’69
By the end of his fourth season, he had ROY, three scoring titles and a MVP is his pocket. A scoring machine in the 70s, he adjusted his game to help the Lakers win two of their five “Showtime” titles.
HS Status (All-Stater): Led his team to the state semifinals and was also an excellent all-around athlete, winning a state title in the high jump.
48) Dominique Wilkins, Washington (N.C.) 6-7 F ’79
It was embarrassing when Wilkins didn’t make the NBA Top 50 team 25 years ago. Until Trae Young came along, he WAS the Atlanta Hawks for his high-flying style of play. He produced and played hard even after he came back from a potentially devastating Achilles injury on the back nine of his career.
HS Status (All-American): Two-time All-American was one of the very best players in the most legendary class of all-time that helped shaped the popularity of the NBA in the 1980s. ‘Nique played in every camp and all-star game he could get to, with his famous “Human Highlight Film” nicknamed coined by Naismith HOF grassroots camp mogul Howie Garfinkel.
49) Gary Payton, Skyline (Oakland, Calif.) 6-4 G ’86
The Glove is one of the best practical and reputation defenders ever, earning first team all-defense nine consecutive seasons. Payton was also durable, underrated offensively and a noted clubhouse presence for teams looking to get over the hump.
HS Status (All-Stater): A third five all-state selection as a senior, the first team all-East Bay choice led Skyline to back-to-back OAL titles alongside future NBA player Greg Foster. As a a senior, he averaged 20.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg and 10.5 apg.
50) Nate Thurmond, Central (Akron, Ohio) 6-11 C ’59
Anyone that averaged 15 rpg for his career is a bad dude, and Thurmond epitomized toughness during an era defined by inside play.
HS Status (All-Stater): Was a teammate of high-flying future NBA player Gus Johnson at Central and chose not to go to Ohio St., so he could see the court right away instead of battling NBA 75 member Jerry Lucas for playing time.
51) Artis Gilmore, Carver (Dothan, Ala.) 7-2 C ’67
After a distinguished run in the ABA, where he earned MVP honors in ’72 and was playoff MVP in ’75, he put forth together a nice run through the NBA, too. Gilmore was a five-time All-Star, including his last selection in his 15th pro season in ’86.
HS Status (All-American): Gilmore was a high-jumping, dominant big man who attended Carver after de-segregation in his hometown of Chipley, Fla. He was a third five All-American and considered a terrific prospect.
52) Anthony Davis, Perspetives Charter (Chicago) 6-9 F ’12
Some were surprised to see AD make the cut, but we’re even more surprised to see him make it in front of Dwight Howard. AD has never carried a team deep in the playoffs as an ALPA like Howard did in Orlando.
HS Status (All-American): Rates with Bill Walton and Tracy McGrady as the players who skyrocketed the quickest to the elite status in their respective class after their junior year of high school. A growth spurt allowed AD to average 32 ppg, 22 rpg and 7 bpg, even though his team went 6-18 against Class 3A competition.
53) Wes Unseld, Seneca (Louisville, Ky.) 6-7 C ’64
In many respects, he’s still the face of the Washington Wizards (then known as the Bullets) franchise. The ’78 NBA Finals MVP, never made all-NBA after his rookie season when he was also named MVP.
HS Status (All-Time Great): Would have been the national player in the year as a senior if it wasn’t for a junior named Lew Alcindor. Considered one of the all-time greats in the Bluegrass State and expected to be a future NBA player.
54) Dave Cowens, Central Catholic (Newport, Ky.) 6-9 C ’66
There is this misnomer the Celtics fell off after Russell retired in ’69. In reality, Cowens led them to a 68-14 record in ’73, when he won MVP, and to two NBA titles.
HS Status (All-Stater): He wasn’t recruited by UK, but made an excellent choice in Florida St. because he would get playing time and further develop his game and aggressive style.
55) Clyde Drexler, Sterling (Houston) 6-7 G ’80
One of the best all-around big guards in NBA history, Drexler came at a time when he was over-shadowed by Michael Jordan and bigger, more marketable personalities. Go look at his numbers.
HS Status (Run of the Mill): After growing six or seven inches the summer after his freshman season, he kept getting better and people could see the potential. Although not a prime-time recruit, U of H’s Michael Young recommended him to the Cougars’ coaching staff and someone tipped off talent scout Bob Gibbons, who ranked him No. 4 in the class.
56) Dennis Rodman, South Oak Cliff (Dallas, Texas) 6-7 F ’79
The greatest rebounder ever who did not play the traditional pivot, Rodman was a winner and consummate team player.
HS Status (Did Not Play): He was listed at 5-foot-6 as a freshman and not considered a talent in basketball or football, the latter which he loved like most Texas schoolboys.
57) Robert Parish, Woodlawn (Shreveport, La.) 7-0 C ’72
In his 14 seasons with the Celtics, he averaged a double-double and shot over 55 percent from the field. He did his job and did it well.
HS Status (All-Time Great): His first high school was closed due to de-segregation, but he was the Mr. Basketball USA choice as a senior and finished his prep career with 3,562 points.
58) Nate Archibald, DeWitt Clinton (Bronx, N.Y.) 6-1 G ’66
Everybody knows he’s the only cat to lead the league in scoring and assists in the same season, but he also adjusted his game to fit on a World Championship team in Boston.
HS Status (Run of the Mill): Cut from the varsity as a sophomore, but mainly because Clinton was loaded beyond belief. There was three future NBA players on the team he got cut from and his senior year he wasn’t the star, but helped Clinton win the mythical national title.
59) Bill Cunningham, Erasmus Hall (Brooklyn, N.Y.) 6-6 F ’61
For three years running, the Kangaroo Kid was first team all-NBA and is one of the greats in the ABA as well.
HS Status (All-American): A top five player in his class, Cunningham is one of the greatest Caucasian playground legends of all-time, known for his jumping ability.
60) James Worthy, Ashbrook (Gastonia, N.C.) 6’8 F ’79
Similar to Boston’s Sam Jones, “Big Game James” was statistically better across the board in the post-season. The Lakers has a chance to draft Dominique Wilkins, but have no regrets selecting one of the best “No. 3 option” of all-time.
HS Status (All-American): A two-time All-American, Worthy averaged 21.2 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 5.0 apg and shot .594 from the field as a senior. Believe it or not, he drew some comparisons to his future NBA teammate Magic Johnson.
61) Earl Monroe, Bartram (Philadelphia, Pa.) 6-3 G ’63
An iconic player, “Black Jesus” would have been a Mixtape sensation as a modern player. It’s hard to believe he only made all-NBA only once.
HS Status (All-Stater): Averaged 21.4 ppg as a senior and often played in the front court as a youth. He attended prep school and was later recruited to play for legendary coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines at Winston-Salem State.
62) Dolph Schayes, De Witt Clinton (Bronx, N.Y.) 6-9 F ’44
12-time all-star was a pioneer and reliable, but for a big guy inside his shooting percentages were not up to snuff.
HS Status (All-Stater): He was one of the early stars of New York’s Public School Athletic League and led his famous school to a borough title as a senior. He entered college at 16.
63) Hal Greer, Douglass (Huntington, W.Va.) 6’2 G ’54
A model of consistency, Greer was a 7-time second team All-NBA choice and didn’t have any weaknesses.
HS Status (All-Stater): Went to an all-Negro school and was the first African-American to play for a public college in his home state (Marshall).
64) Dennis Johnson, Dominguez (Compton, Calif.) 6-3 G ’72
Perhaps D.J. was snubbed from this team because three members of the 1980s Celtics already are on, but he can’t be judged just by what he did in Boston. A trusted, clutch performer and one of the best defensive guards ever, Johnson has to get credit for being a first team all-NBA performer in ’81 and second team in ’80. On top of that, he was the ’79 NBA Finals MVP for the Sonics.
HS Status (Run of the Mill): He hardly ever played at Domingues, toiling deep on the Dons’ bench. Jim White, the coach at L.A. Harbor College, saw him play and encouraged him to enroll. In three years, he developed into a second round draft choice.
65) Jerry Lucas, Middletown (Ohio), 6-8 F ’58
Can’t ignore 15.6 rpg for his career. Plus he made first or second team all-NBA five times and later adjusted his game to play a role on a championship NY Knicks club.
HS Status (All-Time Great): His games were on radio all across Ohio and he’s one of the biggest high school stars ever. The first two-time national player of the year (only Lew Alcindor and LeBron matched that feat).
66) Bernard King, Fort Hamilton (Brooklyn, N.Y.) 6-7 F ’74
One of the first players to come back from a devastating ACL injury, King averaged 28.4 ppg and 4.6 apg in 1991 on his re-constructed knee. He was looking like an MVP candidate before the injury and quickly established himself in the NBA, averaging 24.2 ppg as a rookie for the Nets. You’d have to have seen him in real time to realize his explosive scoring ability and rightful place on this list.
HS Status (All-Stater): King was considered a talented prospect, but he got even better at Tennessee, and was more suited for the pros than his college running mate Ernie Grumfield. King’s younger brother Albert is one of the biggest high school legends of all-time, but was a pedestrian pro.
67) Pete Maravich, Broughton (Raleigh, N.C.) 6-5 G ’65
Arguably the greatest showman of all-time, this basketball wizard was four-time all-NBA. He led the league in scoring once and made 10-of-15 3-pointers in his final season, the same year the NBA 3-pointer was instituted.
HS Status (All-American): Like everyone else in his class, he was overshadowed by the exploits of Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). He did a year of prep school be enrolling at LSU to play for father Press Maravich.
68) Ray Allen, Hillcrest (Dalzell, S.C.) 6-5 G ’93
Very good at what he does, but similar to Reggie Miller, he was never considered among the league’s very best. Made All-NBA Second Team and Third Team once. A very good player on solid teams and a specialist on championship teams.
HS Status (All-American): Part of one of the all-time great classes, Allen was just a notch below McDonald’s All-American status. He did play in the Nike US vs. Illinois game that featured many of 93’s top talent.
69) Kevin McHale Hibbing (Minn.) 6-10 F ’76
One of the most efficient and dangerous low-post players ever, McHale thrived off the bench and became an all-NBA performer once he moved into a starting lineup. Although injuries eventually slowed him down, McHale played through pain and was beloved for it.
HS Status (All-Stater): He led his team to the Class AA state final and even though he was named Mr. Basketball in the state of Minnesota, he was known as a team-first player.
70) Dave Bing, Spingarn (Washington, D.C.) 6-3 G ’62
Was one of the best players in the league in his prime and a fan favorite.
HS Status (All-American): Bing was one of the very best guards in the nation after having dreams of playing MLB as a youth.
71) George Mikan, Joliet Catholic (Joliet, Ill.) 6-10 C ’42
Much of his dominance came off the offensive glass, as Big Mike proclaimed in countless interviews later in his life. Sure, his dominance might have waned had he played in future decades playing at the level he did in the early 50’s, but he must get credit for being the league’s first star attraction and capturing five titles with the Minneapolis Lakers.
HS Status (Did Not Play): The big fella was a bit awkward and reserved during his high school days, but legendary college coach Ray Meyer of DePaul harnessed his potential.
72) Bob Cousy, Jackson (Queens, N.Y.) 6-1 G ’46
The “Cooz” admitted well after his playing days were over that 12-year old kids on the playgrounds could do some of his NBA moves. The game progressed, but that’s not the point. He was called “Mr. Basketball” because he deserves plenty of credit for helping make the NBA worth-while entertainment and worth the price of a stand-alone ticket.
HS Status (All-American): He was a NYC standout as a senior, but that was after he was cut the first two years and missed the beginning of his junior season because of a failed citizenship course.
73) Paul Arizin, La Salle College (Philadelphia, Pa.) 6-4 F ’46
The jump shot pioneer was still a terrific player in his last NBA season (21.9 ppg)
HS Status (Did not play): Cut from tryouts as a senior.
74) Bill Walton, Helix (La Mesa, Calif.) 6-11 C ’70
At his peak, Walton was one of the very best players in the league. Defeating the ’77 76ers in the finals is one of the best individual accomplishments for a ALPHA leading a non-dynasty club. Outplayed Kareem in the conference finals the same season and had the Blazers rolling the next season until injury changed the projection of his career. If peak performance is a criteria of focus, the Big Red Head more than deserves his spot on this list.
HS Status (All-Time Great): After a nondescript junior season, Walton wasn’t considered the front-runner for state player of the year even though he was a good college prospect. That all changed when Helix ventured to the San Dimas Tournament of Champions. After his performances, scouts and college coaches knew Walton was probably a better prospect that SI cover boy and three time All-American Tom McMillen.
75) Tony Parker, INSEP (Paris, France) 6-2 G ’00
A four-time NBA champion, Parker was also named NBA Finals MVP in 2007 when the Spurs steamrolled to the title. Parker was a six-time NBA All-Star and three-time all-NBA second team; his importance and impact in big games cannot be understated and that’s why he’d make our final cut.
HS Status (International): After excelling at the 2000 Nike Hoop Summit, many American colleges wanted him to enroll but he decided to remain in the French League before declaring for the 2001 NBA Draft.
76) Tracy McGrady, Mt. Zion Christian Academy (Durham, N.C.) 6-8 F ’97
Injuries robbed him of a career in the NBA after 30, but in his prime there were few scorers better than T-Mac. He won two scoring titles and was a seven-time NBA All-Star.
HS Status (All-Time Great): Wasn’t considered a Top 500 prospect entering his senior year, but all that changed when he was recommended for the ABCD Camp. He quickly showed explosive talent and left the camp on par with Lamar Odom, the No. 1 player in the country. No player in the history of grassroots basketball had his fortunes change as quickly as McGrady, who was drafted into the league out of high school less than a year later.
77) Lenny Wilkens, Boys (Brooklyn, N.Y.) 6-1 G ’56
He just got better as he got older, and it’s probably a foreshadow to his lengthy coaching career.
HS Status (All-Stater): One of the great players from The High, a breeding ground for talented players in the 50s and 60s.
78) Sam Jones, Lauringburg Institute (Lauringburg, N.C.) 6-4 G ’51
As the Celtic dynasty aged, Jones had to score more and made his first all-star team at 28 years old. Mr. Clutch won 10 NBA titles and is one of the league’s greatest playoff performers.
HS Status (Run of the Mill): Played at a D2 college (HBCU North Carolina Central) and was recommended to Red Auerbach by the Wake Forest coach.
79) Joe Dumars, Natchitoches Central, Natchitoches, La.) 6-3 G ’81
Very few accolades missed Dumars, as he was the unsung cog on the Bad Boys dynasty and teamed with Isiah Thomas to form of the best backcourts in history. He was a but more durable, too, playing in his sixth and final all-star game in 1997 well after Zeke retired. A five-time all-defensive choice, Michael Jordan felt Dumars was his toughest check.
HS Status (Run of the Mill): Known more for his football ability at an early age, Joe-D eventually gravitated for hoops and became a prolific scorer at McNeese State University.
80) Chauncey Billups, Washington (Denver, Col.) 6-3 G ’95
The 2004 Detroit Pistons are the only NBA champ without a Top 75 member, but Mr. Big Shot should be included above a few who made it, with his teammate Ben Wallace also deserving. A clutch player in the mold of John Havlicek or Sam Jones, Billups was the 2004 NBA Finals MVP, averaging 21 ppg, 5.2 apg and 3.2 rpg against the favored Lakers. He was a five-time NBA All-Star.
HS Status (All-American): Billups was known in the region as a terrific prospect in ninth-grade and was expected to be one of the best players Colorado ever produced. He always looked forward to summer camps to prove he was one of the best players in the country.
81) Dikembe Mutombo, Institute Boboto (Kinshasa, Congo) 7-1 C ’84
In the early days, blocked shots weren’t an official statistic but by the time Mutombo retired, he had the second most in history behind Hakeem Olajuwon. An eight-time All-Star, Deke also averaged double-digit rebounds his first 13 seasons and was a four-time Defensive Player of the Year honoree.
HS Status (International): Mutombo was a gifted student and picked up basketball in his late teens. He decided to come to the states at age 21 and he chose the perfect mentor in John Thompson to teach him the defensive fundamentals of the game.
82) Bill Sharman, Porterville (Calif.) 6-1 G ’44
Four-time champ and a great shooter, if Sharman is on so should the No. 2 or No. 3 options from more recent great dynasties.
HS Status (All-Stater): Sherman was an accomplished athlete during WW2.
83) Ben Wallace, Central (Hayneville, Ala.) 6-9 F ’92
Earned NBA Defensive Player of the Year honor four times, a record he shares with Dekembe Mutombo. He also led the league in blocked shots once, rebounding twice and made All-NBA Second Team three times.
HS Status (All-Stater): A terrific all-around athlete, Wallce played football, basketball and baseball and was recommended to Virginia Union but another player from the D2 school built in his mold: Charles Oakley.
84) Walt Bellamy, Barber (New Bern, N.C.) 6-11 C ’57
Although his scoring tailed off at the end of his career, Bellamy averaged 20.1 ppg and 13.7 rpg in a 14-year career. He was over-shadowed by some of his contemporaries, but his overall numbers can’t be ignored.
HS Status (All-American): Bellamy was one of the state’s top recruits, but couldn’t go to an ACC school. Instead of going to a HBCU, he went to Indiana, where he developed into of the storied program’s best players.
85) Dave DeBusschere, Austin Catholic (Detroit, Mich.) 6-6 F ’58
A rugged and great team-oriented defensive player, there are definitely better, more accomplished talents who didn’t make the cut.
HS Status (All-American): Helped his school defeat Chet Walker’s team in the state Class A final and was a terrific all-around athlete. In fact, one of the best on the NBA 75 team.
86) Alex English, Dreher (Columbia, S.C.) 6-7 F ’72
He averaged 21.3 ppg or more for every season of the 1980s and won a scoring title in 1983 (28.4 ppg). English made All-NBA Second Team three times and most important, the Nuggets made the playoffs nine consecutive times in his prime.
HS Status (All-Stater): Before he retired from the NBA as its seventh leading scorer, he was all-region and all-state at Dreher. His jersey number No. 22 was retired by his high school in 2020.
87) Reggie Miller, Poly (Riverside, Calif.) 6-6 G ’83
Pacers all-time great never made higher than third team All-NBA. His longevity makes him better than guys like Klay Thompson, Vince Carter, Sidney Moncrief or Marques Johnson, guys who were better at their peak but either haven’t played as long or didn’t last as long.
HS Status (All-Stater): Was a first five choice as a senior, but Miller and the other seniors in California were overshadowed by a terrific crop of juniors.
88) Damian Lillard, Oakland (Calif.) 6-2 G ’08
A clutch shooter, Lillard will move up on this list one day, but he was more suited for the 100th anniversary team.
HS Status (All-Stater): Averaged averaged 22.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 2.3 apg as a senior, just never got to play in the big showcase game or tournament to show he was on par with California’s very best players.
NBA TOP 75: Top 25 GREATEST AS HIGH SCHOOL PLAYERS
1. Lew Alcindor 2. Wilt Chamberlain 3. Moses Malone 4. LeBron James 5. Kevin Garnett 6. Oscar Robertson 7. Jason Kidd 8. Jerry Lucas 9. Magic Johnson 10. Jerry West 11. Patrick Ewing 12. Isiah Thomas 13. Wes Unseld 14. Elgin Baylor 15. Shaquille O’Neal 16. Kevin Durant 17. Robert Parish 18. Bill Walton 19. Kobe Bryant 20. James Worthy 21. Dominique Wilkins 22. Tracy McGrady 23. Carmelo Anthony 24. Billy Cunningham 25. Michael Jordan.