Originally Posted by WillC
Don't get this confused with 'best players ever' or 'greatest players ever'. These are the most significant players ever; they were remarkable players, they resonate with fans to this day, they are well remembered, and their play resulted in some kind of change to the game that we love. I fully expect this list to go over the heads of the average reader who will no doubt petition for Kobe Bryant and Johnny-come-lately while not understanding what it means to be significant (probably because they won't read this paragraph).
The top 10: (in alphabetical order of surname)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - Most points in NBA history
Larry Bird - 3 consecutive MVP awards
Wilt Chamberlain - Most rebounds in NBA history
Julius Erving - 16 time ABA/NBA All-Star
Magic Johnson - Highest APG in NBA history
Michael Jordan - Highest PPG in NBA history
Pete Maravich - Most points in NCAA history
George Mikan - Voted Greatest Player of the First Half Century*
Oscar Robertson - Voted Player of the Century in 2000**
Bill Russell - Most championships in NBA history
*Voted by the Associated Press
**Voted by the National Association of Basketball Coaches
Elgin Baylor - 10 time All-NBA 1st Team
LeBron James - Youngest player in NBA history to score 15,000 points
Shaquille O'Neal - 15-time NBA All-Star
Others gaining strong consideration:
I would have Bob Davies and Marques Haynes at least on the consideration list.
But I can't really argue with the top 10.
Semi-Arguable would be
Cousy vs Maravich: Cousy came first and played on a winner. But I'd go with Maravich because he is so often cited by ballhandlers from 80s on as an influence (e.g. Isiah, Magic). I probably wouldn't justify his inclusion on LSU though, that college career simultaneously built his legendary status and, to my mind, damaged Pete and Press in the long term.
Baylor vs Erving: Baylor came first with the aerobatics, and was probably a better player, Erving might have had more impact because his stuffs were captured on video. I'd want to say Baylor because I think he was probably better, but again video (clips) of early, mainly ABA Erving is/was more available and more spectacular. The case for Baylor would be that perhaps without Baylor, Erving wouldn't have been what he was.
Shaq was uber-dominant at his apex but maybe not influential so I can understand him not being in the top 10, for LeBron it's too early to judge historical significance and influence but a player of his calibre would, I think, be likely to land in the top 10.