THE 2019-20 NBA Playoffs are finally underway in the Orlando bubble.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks are aiming to win their first title since 1971 after securing the best record in the league during the regular season.
And the Bucks could face LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, after they topped the Western Conference.
Amongst other huge talking points, LeBron will be hoping to make it title No4 as he aims to close the gap on Michael Jordan – his biggest rival for the GOAT mantle.
With the games coming thick and fast, SunSport takes a look at the top ten NBA players of all time – and whether LeBron is already No1 or not…
Years active: 1992-2011
Teams: Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics
THE fun-loving NBA analyst absolutely redefined the position of centre, already graced by greats like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
At 7ft 1in, O’Neal boasted an explosiveness and athleticism never before seen for someone of his size.
Shaq was a human highlight reel during his days at the Magic and Lakers, where his partnership with Kobe Bryant bore four NBA titles.
O’Neal was named Most Valuable Player in three NBA Finals and averaged a double-double for his career, at 23.7 points per game and 10.9 rebounds per game.
He was NBA MVP in 1999-2000 – and was named to the All-Star team a staggering 15 times.
He’ll forever be remembered for literally shattering glass backboards and pulling them down, such was his strength.
O’Neal narrowly beats centres such as Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon to a spot in SunSport’s top ten.
Years active: 1997-2016
Position: Power forward
Teams: San Antonio Spurs
SO often left off lists of the all-time greats, Duncan is regularly forgotten for being “boring” – even nicknamed “The Big Fundamental” for his simple style of play.
But Duncan dominated the league for nearly two decades with the Spurs, winning five titles.
During that run, the power forward NEVER missed the Playoffs as he starred alongside the likes of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili – and even Kawhi Leonard later on.
With Duncan – and some fellow veterans – now gone, the Spurs are a few weaker side and saw their 22-year streak snapped.
Duncan won 1,001 matches during his career – the most for any player at a single team.
The American star should never be under-appreciated – and beats the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Karl Malone, Dennis Rodman and Kevin Garnett to our top ten.
Years active: 1979-1992
Position: Small forward
Teams: Boston Celtics
BIRD helped reinvigorate the NBA in the 1980s thanks to the Celtics’ incredible rivalry with the Lakers.
Going toe-to-toe with Magic Johnson on a regular basis was a sight to behold for fans across the globe.
Bird – who had a cameo in the original Space Jam – averaged over 20 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists per game for his career.
He won three titles with Boston, too – and won three MVP awards in a row between 1984 and 1986, only the third player to ever do that, after Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
Bird’s all-round ability easily sees him crack the top ten in our list – and holds off fellow small forwards such as Kevin Durant and Scottie Pippen.
Years active: 1958-1973
Teams: San Francisco Warriors, Philadephia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers
PLACING Chamberlain so low in our list may be somewhat controversial.
After all, the big-man STILL holds the record for most points (100) and most rebounds (55) in a single game.
Chamberlain averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game for his career – and a scarcely-believable 50 points per game for a whole season, at one stage.
Yet he only won two NBA titles which has hindered his status in basketball folklore.
While everyone will remember his incredible stat-lines, he is rarely uttered in the same breath as LeBron or MJ.
Years active: 1956-1969
Teams: Boston Celtics
THROUGH 13 seasons in the NBA, Russell won a staggering 11 titles – the most in NBA history.
Only former Celtics team-mate, Sam Jones, comes close – with ten.
His defensive abilities helped counter the threat of a host of star big-men, including stat-sheet-stuffer Chamberlain in his prime.
Russell finished his career averaging a staggering 22.5 rebounds per game, as well as over 15 points per match.
As well as his 11 NBA titles, Russell was also named league MVP five times such was his ability in a star-studded Boston team.
Years active: 1979-1991, 1996
Position: Point guard
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers
AT 6ft 9in, the basketball world had never seen anyone like Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Easily the tallest point guard of all-time then, Johnson’s passing ability was magical.
Thanks to his height and athleticism, he was able to secure a triple-double almost every game, long before Russell Westbrook came on the scene.
Johnson – during the famous Lakers-Celtics rivalry years – would lead LA to nine NBA Finals, winning five of those.
Before the NBA was a global game, as it is in the 21st century, Johnson and “Showtime Lakers” were one of the most-exciting sports teams on the planet.
Johnson keeps point guards such as John Stockton, Steve Nash and Oscar Robertson out of our star-studded top ten.
Years active: 1996-2016
Position: Shooting guard
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers
BRYANT was an absolute legend of the game who will never be forgotten.
The NBA legend spent 20 years under the burning spotlight of the Lakers – and not only survived, but thrived.
Along with the likes of Shaq, Bryant helped win his team five championships.
There are too many highlights to list.
But his 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors and scoring 60 points in his final-ever match against the Utah Jazz will live forever in the memory of even the most-casual of basketball fans.
His grit and determination will never be forgotten and while many joke about how shot-happy he could get, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see another Bryant – even with Devin Booker rising rapidly, channeling Kobe’s “Mamba Mentality”.
His on-court demeanour could be ultra-competitive, but off it, Bryant was always happy to help his rivals either mentally or physically.
Bryant tragically died along with daughter Gigi in January 2020 in a helicopter crash.
Years active: 1969-1989
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers
HARDLY a flashy player, Kareem WAS unstoppable – thanks to his patented “sky-hook” shot, using his height and touch to torch defences.
Drafted to the then-newly-found Milwaukee Bucks, Abdul-Jabbar won them their only-ever NBA title in 1971.
And he would go on to win FIVE more with the Lakers – winning his first and last titles 17 years apart, such was his longevity.
Averaging nearly 25 points and over 11 rebounds per game, the American big-man was named MVP SIX times – and made the All-Star team an unbelievable 19 times in 20 years.
Years active: 2003-present
Position: Power forward
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers
WHILE the top ten is forever debatable, the top two is not… it is LeBron vs Jordan for the GOAT title.
Drafted way back in 2003, LeBron was ultimately unable to deliver Cleveland its first-ever NBA title and headed off to the Miami Heat.
He former a super-team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – winning the first two of his titles in Flordai.
James returned to his home state of Ohio and DID manage to lead the Cavaliers to their first-ever title – not just in NBA but in ANY sport.
In beating the Golden State Warriors in 2016, LeBron and the Cavs made history in becoming the first team in history to overturn a 3-1 deficit to win 4-3 and clinch the title.
Standing 6ft 9in and boasting explosive power, fans can be forgiven for focusing on his highlight-reel dunks and incredible blocks – such as his Game 7 swat on Andre Iguodala in 2016.
But his passing is what sets him apart from the chasing pack – averaging 27.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.4 APG for his career.
His basketball IQ and court-vision is unparalleled even amongst out-and-out point guards, such as John Stockton and Magic Johnson.
The only slight critics have on his Hall Of Fame career is the fact he has only won three NBA titles in 17 years.
LeBron will hope to change that, still putting up elite numbers at the Lakers aged 35 with two more seasons to run play after the current campaign…
Years active: 1984-1993, 1995-1998, 2001-2003
Position: Shooting guard
Teams: Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards
WHEN you talk about players who define a sport – Michael Jordan is Mr Basketball.
MJ helped get basketball out there on a truly global scale and was the most-marketable sportsperson in the world long before the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Jordan won six NBA titles – in two spells of three in a row, with the second of those runs coming AFTER his initial retirement.
The Chicago Bulls legend teamed up with the likes of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman to devastating effect.
Individually, Jordan won the MVP award five times, as well as SIX Finals MVP gongs.
MJ will forever be remembered for some epic games, such as the infamous “Flu Game” in the 1997 NBA Finals and hitting the winner in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals.
Jordan’s career figures – which are somewhat diluted by his third spell in basketball with Washington – sit at a jaw-dropping 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG and 2.3 SPG.
For now, MJ is the GOAT – but LeBron James still has at least two more years to try to change that…