An elite center is the ultimate building block of any NBA franchise. With a dominant big man, teams can control the paint at both ends of the floor, win closely contested playoff battles, and ultimately bring home championships. The game of basketball is stacked with center lore: Bill Russell blocking shots to himself, Bill Walton throwing outlet passes, Kareem’s skyhook, and Shaquille O’Neal tearing down the basket support on a tomahawk jam.
Offensively, the greatest NBA centers of all time were unstoppable on the low block. A top-flight center would establish his position in the post, pin you on his back, and receive a lob entry pass for the easy score time and time again. With an unreal combination of size, speed, and agility, each great center could reach into his bag of tricks to wheel and deal down low with a collection of spin moves, drop steps, hooks, and turnaround jumpers.
At the other end of the floor, the greats were all intimidating rebounders and shot blockers. As the ultimate enforcer, a great center would perfect the no-layup rule. As the last line of defense, a top center would either swat your shot into the stands or get physical at the point of attack to knock you on your backside and into next week on the floor. When it all came together, the big man would be rewarded for his tough defense with a sweet pass that leads to yet another rim-rocking dunk. Here’s our list of 10 great NBA centers of all time.
10. Bill Walton
Bill Walton (above, right), in his own unorthodox, hippie way, was the ultimate winner. During his time with the UCLA Bruins, Walton brought two consecutive national championships to Westwood to finish off back-to-back 30-0 seasons. From there, the Portland Trailblazers selected Walton as the first overall pick in the 1974 NBA Draft. At the NBA level, the Grateful Dead’s biggest fan went on to win one championship each with the Blazers and Boston Celtics in 1977 and 1986, respectively.
A tragic hero, Walton’s litany of complicated foot and ankle injuries sabotaged his star-crossed career. Despite apparently meager career averages of 13 points and 10 boards per game, Walton was, at his best, one of the most technically proficient centers of all time, as he could play the angles to knock down outside shots, power to the goal, and lay in the ball.
As an unselfish gamer, Walton was a master of both the outlet to ignite the break and interior passing from the low block to get his teammates involved. In 1977, Walton dropped 19 points per game while also leading the league in rebounding (14) and shot blocking (3.2) averages. In 1978, he put up similar numbers to go alongside 5 assists per game and a league MVP trophy.