Ranking the top 1,000 players in basketball history

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Photo: Twitter / The Undefeated

All-time ranking lists can be a fun topic for debate. Some lists spark lively debates; others are dismissed as crazy or totally off the mark. What about basketball’s top-ranked players of all time?

A website called AinsworthSports.com has rankings for a wide range of sports and leagues, including pro basketball, primarily the NBA. For basketball, the website has rankings by decade, by position, by team, by home state, by college, by half decade, by rookie year, among other categories.

The all-time rankings list is seemingly endless. It goes beyond the top 1,0000. Actually, it stops at No. 5,000.

That ranking goes to … point guard Tony E. Jackson, who had a two-game stint with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980-81 season. He scored one point.

Rankings explanation

For the all-time rankings, here’s how it was done (from the website):

All qualified players are statistically ranked by position every year.

The players receive a rating that is not posted on the website.

The rating for basketball players is the average rank of their 7 best years + a fraction of the average ranking for all qualifying years.

Players who have not or did not play 7 qualifying years receive a penalty to the rating for every year under 7 that they played.

Ainsworth Sports’ Top 50:

Rnk Athlete POS Rookie Yr
1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar C 1970
2 Michael Jordan SG 1985
3 Wilt Chamberlain C 1960
4 LeBron James SF 2004
5 Bill Russell C 1957
6 Larry Bird SF 1980
7 Shaquille O’Neal C 1993
8 Oscar Robertson SG 1961
9 Bob Pettit PF 1955
10 George Mikan C 1949
11 Hakeem Olajuwon C 1985
12 Russell Westbrook PG 2009
13 Karl Malone PF 1986
14 Magic Johnson PG 1980
15 Kobe Bryant SG 1997
16 Moses Malone C 1975
17 David Robinson C 1990
18 Kevin Garnett PF 1996
19 James Harden SG 2010
20 Neil Johnston C 1952
21 Elgin Baylor SF 1959
22 Dolph Schayes PF 1950
23 Allen Iverson SG 1997
24 Kevin Durant SF 2008
25 Jerry West SG 1961
26 Charles Barkley PF 1985
27 Tracy McGrady SF 1998
28 Elvin Hayes PF 1969
29 Bob Lanier C 1971
30 Bob Cousy PG 1951
31 Tim Duncan PF 1998
32 Julius Erving SF 1972
33 Alex English SF 1977
34 Chris Webber PF 1994
35 Chris Paul PG 2006
36 Paul Arizin SF 1951
37 Patrick Ewing C 1986
38 Dwyane Wade SG 2004
39 George Gervin SG 1973
40 Jerry Lucas PF 1964
41 Rick Barry SF 1966
42 Ed Macauley C 1950
43 Isiah Thomas PG 1982
44 Walt Bellamy C 1962
45 Billy Cunningham PF 1966
46 Dave Cowens C 1971
47 Gary Payton PG 1991
48 John Havlicek SF 1963
49 Dominique Wilkins SF 1983
50 Grant Hill SF 1995

Who else made the website’s top 1,000?

There may be more than a few surprises.