top of page

Your NBA-Obsessed

Email Newsletter

The Grip is delivered to your inbox every afternoon to please your info-craved basketball mind.


The Grip’s equation for deciphering the all-time top-10 list

We have good news. We’ve created a simple but foolproof equation for deciphering the 10 best NBA players of all-time.

Here it is:

  • A ranking based solely on total number of MVPs + Titles + Finals MVPs. 

(Oh, too simple? Then why didn’t you think of it?) A few rules/disclaimers: 

  1. To qualify, you must have at least one of each. That disqualifies flukes like Robert Horry and Derek Fisher, and also great-but-not-top-10 players like Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Isiah Thomas. 

  2. The equation is unfair to four people: Steph Curry, Kevin Garnett, Oscar Robertson and Dr. J, who all have an MVP and a ring -- the two hardest parts -- but no Finals MVP. 

  3. The only person the equation inflates is Willis Reed (1 MVP; 2 titles; 2 Finals MVPs). He was a great player of his time, but not among the handful of best ever. We're going to leave him off the list.

  4. The Finals MVP award came along in 1969, which means Bill Russell never won one (Jerry West, despite losing the series, won the only one Russell could have). That fact will serve as a reverse-curve for Russell, who racked up titles and MVPs in the less-competitive 1960s. 

Other than that, it works pretty well. The rankings, by MTFs (MVPs, Titles, Finals MVPs): 

  1. Michael Jordan, 17 (5 + 6 + 6)

  2. Bill Russell, 16 (5 + 11 + 0) 

  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 14 (6 + 6 + 2)

  4. Magic Johnson, 11 (3 + 5 + 3)

  5. LeBron James, 10 (4 + 3 + 3)

  6. Tim Duncan, 10 (2 + 5 + 3)

  7. Larry Bird, 8 (3 + 3 + 2)

  8. Kobe Bryant, 8 (1 + 5 + 2)

  9. Shaquille O’Neal, 8 (1 + 4 + 3)

  10. Wilt Chamberlain, 7 (4 + 2 + 1)

  11. Moses Malone/Hakeem Olajuwon/Kevin Durant, 5 

Others who register on the MTF scale: Dirk (3), Wes Unseld (3) In graph form:

The exact order is up for squabbling-- we would move LeBron to No. 2 and leapfrog Kareem over Russell -- but would anyone argue those, in some combination, are the 10 or so best players ever?

(If the answer is yes, you should simply show them this list.)

The immediate periphery of the top-10 is perfect, too; when measured in MTFs, Moses, Hakeem and KD are right there on the cusp of the top-10, which is exactly where they deserve to be.

Do you have a better equation?Let us know.


Let's take this to your inbox. Sign up below.


bottom of page