Players and fans rarely share opinions in basketball. Fans lean on accolades and statistics, players lean on personal experience. In both cases, this leads to biases and bizarre rankings, bu there is one thing that both sides agree on: Michael Jordan remains the greatest basketball player of all time. His position atop the all-time leaderboard has never been questioned from a fan perspective, but in polling over 100 players around the league, Sam Amick of The Athletic confirmed that the league’s active stars side with Jordan as well. Here is how the voting broke down.
Michael Jordan (73%)
LeBron James (11.9%)
Kobe Bryant (10.6%)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1.7%)
Magic Johnson, Allen Iverson, Kevin Durant (1%)
Jordan taking the top slot shouldn’t surprise anyone. The margin with which he beat LeBron James, and the players that follow him, should. Only a year ago, James tore through the Eastern Conference posting playoff numbers that were superior to anything Jordan had done in the postseason. At that point, a real argument between the two seemed to exist. LeBron was so incredible that many wondered if even Jordan could have led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals.
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What a difference a year makes. James will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005, and his standing in the league seems to have fallen accordingly. He is now fighting to hold on to second place with Kobe Bryant right on his heels. The current generation of players reveres Bryant. Many of them seek out his advice both on and off of the floor. His standing is likely where fans and players diverge the most. While no two rankings are exactly alike, most experts have Bryant closer to the bottom half of the top 10 than the top three. As great as he was, he isn’t in the same tier as Jordan and James.
Recency bias clearly factors in as well. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar accomplished more than Bryant by just about every measurement. He won more championships, scored more points and played in more All-Star Games. But he retired in 1989, before most NBA players were even born. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain didn’t even get a single vote.
And that is where this list loses credibility. Allen Iverson was a great player. Kevin Durant still is one. But the notion that either were greater than Russell or Chamberlain is somewhat ridiculous. Abdul-Jabbar deserves to be far higher on this list, and Larry Bird didn’t earn a vote. Modern players still hold His Airness in high esteem, but their other opinions seem to be based far too much in the past decade or two of NBA history rather than its entirety. Had they played against Abdul-Jabbar or Russell, their opinions would likely be very different.