There can often be a huge difference between the best basketball players and the ones who are most famous. Ironically when talking about the 10 most famous basketball players you might think about just listing the top scorers, but there are many NBA players who jump to mind for the casual fan more quickly than Karl Malone, Oscar Robertson, or Moses Malone all of whom are among the top ten all time scorers.
#10 Patrick Ewing
Being part of a famous Georgetown NCAA tourney team helped make Ewing famous even before becoming a Knick. A top 20 all time scorer, Ewing landed in New York City which kept him in the eyes of tens and millions. By far and away the most famous Knick, this 11 time all star comes in at number ten in part because the one thing that could have pushed him higher was what he never achieved: an NBA championship ring.
#9 Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan is quiet and professional, which usually keeps you out of the news with a small market team. In this case though Duncan has four championships and has been the face of one of the NBA’s consistently most successful franchises for the last fifteen years. He is a huge favorite of fans who hate showboating or love the old fashioned work ethic. Add in the fact he is one of the best forwards of all time and Tim Duncan doesn’t need to speak up to be well known.
#8 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Remembered more by older fans, even young fans know the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as he led one of the original Los Angeles Laker dynasties before Shaq or Kobe. This hall of fame player was famous for his sky hook shot and by retirement in 1989 had won more MVPs than any other player up to that point.
#7 Larry Bird
Larry Bird is always going to be synonymous with the Celtics and was known as an insane 3 point shooter and a no-brainer for the NBA’s 50th anniversary all time team. Three championships only told part of the story as the Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson rivalry helped completely rejuvenate TV ratings for the NBA in the 1980s, as did his later career rivalries with a young Michael Jordan. Remaining as a GM with the Indiana Pacers has only helped him keep in the limelight even decades after his retirement.
You can’t have a top 10 most famous basketball players list without Shaq. Not only was this giant always “bigger than life,” but he had multiple championships with the Lakers and then the heat, a major feud with Kobe, and between movies, TV, and music it’s hard to not see Shaq. A huge personality to go with a huge TV talent – he won’t be easy to forget.
#5 Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson was one of the great players and his rivalry with Larry Bird in the 1980’s really led the way for the popularity of the modern NBA. Magic was part of the original Olympic “Dream Team.” His career was cut short when he retired after finding out he was infected with HIV, which brought this disease into the main spotlight. Johnson’s consistent work as an announcer and analyst still keeps him in the eyes of even the youngest NBA players.
#4 Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain is one of the all time great players and is still the 5th all time scorer. He remains the only player to score 100 points in a game and he did it more than once. Chamberlain is one of the all time greats and continued to entertain eventually as part of the Harlem Globetrotters.
#3 Kobe Bryant
One way to know if a basketball player is truly famous is if their one word name instantly makes you think of that player. Kobe started off with a bang as a great young player and openly feuding with sure fire future hall of famer Shaq. Kobe has the potentially to become the all time leading scorer before his career is over, and five rings puts him up there as one of the all time champions.
#2 Lebron James
Lebron is the biggest name in the sport today, and “King James” has added to his legacy with two championship rings with the Heat. From the heartbreak in Cleveland with his failed attempt to single-handedly win a championship to forming a new dynasty in Miami, as long as Lebron keeps playing at this high of a level he’ll remain one of the most famous all time great players.
#1 Michael Jordan
Was there any chance of anyone else topping this list? Jordan is so transcendent as a basketball player that “the next Jordan” is synonymous with looking for a new player who is that much better than everyone else out there. Six championship rings won from a 6-0 record only tells part of the story. His 30.1 point per game average is matched only by Wilt Chamberlain and is unheard of for the modern era.
Jordan’s fame is widespread well beyond basketball, and he is one of the most recognizable faces in the United States, not just with NBA fans. No one else could truly top a list of the top 10 most famous basketball players.