So many players who play or played in the NBA have positively contributed to the game. Would you like to know who are the 25 best black NBA players in basketball history? We will delve into who these guys are and how they’ve changed the game we all have come to love.
What Percent of NBA Players are Black?
At this moment in time, the NBA prides itself on being a global melting pot of talent and backgrounds, but that was not always the case. The NBA started in 1946, at that time, it was named the Basketball Association of America, and for its first three seasons, not one black player was allowed to play. At that time, segregation was an unfortunate reality of US culture.
The New Your Knicks were the first team that fought to sign a black player (Nat Clifton) in 1950. That same year, two other black players were drafted to NBA teams. The Boston Celtics, drafted Chuck Cooper in the second round, and the Washington Capitols drafted Hall of Famer Earl Lloyd in round nine. Earl eventually became the first Black player to actually play a game in the NBA.
Things have massively changed since then. According to statista, around 72% of NBA players identify as Black. This statistic is a testament to the league’s commitment to inclusivity and its recognition of the extraordinary contributions made by Black athletes. It’s also fair to say that players of African descent have been dominating the basketball space, which is why most of the NBA players are black.
25 Most Famous Black NBA Players
The NBA is watched worldwide, and its popularity is continuously growing. Here are 25 of the most globally recognized NBA players of African descent. This list isn’t organized in any particular order.
1. Russell Westbrook
Since he entered the league, he became renowned for his explosive athleticism, reminding many people of Derrick Rose in his prime. Add to that his record-breaking triple-doubles, and you understand why he is so popular. Westbrook’s intensity on the court is unmatched.
2. Kevin Durant
Kevin is one of, if not the best black NBA player currently. Durant’s scoring prowess and seamless transition between positions have redefined the role of a forward. His skill set is nothing short of mesmerizing, especially at his size. This is one of the few players that coaches can plug and play on basically any team. He is regarded by many to be the greatest to ever play the game.
3. LeBron James
Often compared to legends of the past and the G.O.A.T. for many, LeBron’s combination of size, skill, and basketball IQ has propelled him into the annals of greatness. His leadership and impact also extend way beyond the hardwood.
4. Michael Jordan
Another G.O.A.T. candidate, MJ, is transcendent, to say the least. He could contribute at the highest level on all three ends of the court, offensively, defensively, and mentally. Let’s not even get started on his shoe brand.
5. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt the Stilt, The Big Dipper, these are just a few of the names this towering basketball legend has been called. When we use the word towering, it’s not just his height we’re talking about. Basically, any record you look up belongs to Wilt. The guy was a beast, and that’s why every basketball OG around the world knows his name.
6. Stephen Curry
Trailblazer, Game Changer, and Revolutionizer are just a few of the fitting titles that Steph has earned over the years. This generation of basketball lovers can truly say that they have watched this man change the game of basketball with their own eyes.
7. Shaquille O’Neal
Widely recognized as the most dominant player to ever play the game, Shaq was an absolute destructive force and a menace to deal with in the post. He is a global figure, to say the least. He has a massive personality to match his dominant gameplay. Unfortunately, his legacy may someday be tarnished by his unfair bias against current players who play the position he played.
8. Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett became a worldwide name because of his tenacious defence and trash-talking. He’d block you and let you know about it. This guy brought back the old-school bad boy era to the game while displaying the skill to back up his chat. He was a reliable mid to low-post scorer.
9. Paul Pierce
Shaq nick named him “The Truth” because he was as skilled as they come at the small forward position. Pierce was a scoring machine and delivered time and time again in the clutch for Boston Celtics fans around the globe.
10. Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson is a global icon to ballers around the world because of his stylish play style, fashion sense, and fearless on-court attitude. A.I. was one of the first “little guys” that the average kid could relate to in the NBA.
11. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Some people may say he invented the sky hook, he didn’t, but the way he mastered that shot will have a lot of people thinking he did. Kareem was a force to be reckoned with for defenders on the block.
12. Magic Johnson
Bet you think that’s his actual name. Earvin Johnson was considered to be a magician with a basketball in his hands. Redefining the Point Guard position with his large physique and skill, fans couldn’t get enough of him.
13. Bill Russell
You don’t get 11 NBA championships while playing for one of the most widely recognized franchises in NBA history without getting some recognition yourself. William Russell was a rebounding machine for the Celtics, averaging over 22 per game for his career.
14. Tim Duncan
Quiet, fundamentally sound, efficient – these are just of the best words to describe Timmy D as a baller. The Big Fundamental was a huge part of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty in a Western Conference with Kobe.
15. Oscar Robertson
Kids today know Russell Westbrook to be the modern triple-double machine, but before Russ had that title, the crown was worn by Oscar. He became famous for his package of all-round skill and effort on the court.
16. Kobe Bryant
In addition for his great talent, Kobe Bryant is well-liked around the globe because of his killer mentality on the court. He was an aggressive competitor who had the bag to back it up.
17. Ray Allen
Ray Allen led the way for guys like Klay Thompson to become the accepted 3- 3-point danger that he is. Ray’s clutch shot that helped Lebron James get his 2nd ring in Miami was heard around the world.
18. Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem, popularly called “The Dream”, is famous for his footwork and versatility. He became a global icon for players who played in the post because of this
19. James Harden
The Beard, Mr. Stepback himself. James Harden, in his prime, was arguably in the top 3 most effective offensive players in the history of the game. He has the uncanny ability to get to the free-throw line in what appeared to be an effortless manner.
20. Julius Erving
The Doctor is in. Doctor J became a worldwide superstar because of the way he took the game above the rim. He was the icon that many modern highflyers looked up to.
21. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Popularly called The Greek Freak or affectionately called Yannis by fans around the globe, his hard-to-pronounce name did not stop the world from falling in love with his style of play. Yannis used his athleticism to break barriers by bringing a title to Milwaukee without a stacked team.
22. Elgin Baylor
Elgin was unstoppable on offence when he played. This guy was able to average 27.4 points per game throughout his 14-year career as a forward. That’s not easy to do.
23. Charles Barkley
The younger generation knows him for his dramatic commentary on basketball for TNT, and the older folks love him for his dominance and skill displayed in his prime in Phoenix.
24. Tracy McGrady
T-Mac, as he is known worldwide, was a scoring machine. He’s known as one of the absolute best players to have ever played in the NBA without winning a ring. Fans fell in love with his ability to score and handle the ball at such a tall size.
25. Vince Carter
This man is arguably the best dunker the game has ever seen. Vince was paired with Tracy in the early stages of their careers in Toronto. The Duo did some damage but was ultimately split up. Vince officially put the world on notice in the 2000 Olympics when he literally jumped over 7’2” French Center Frederic Weis.
7 Most Influential Black NBA Players
These players not only achieved greatness on the court but also utilized their platforms to reshape the game and society. There are so many influential Black NBA players throughout the history of the sport, so it was extremely hard to find the most influential. Here are the guys we think make the cut, but there are a ton more who could have easily been placed on here. Remember that this list is about those who have influenced fans by affecting how the game is played, perceived, and embraced.
1. Kevin Durant
Kevin’s size and ability are like no other before him. His skills allow him to dribble the ball, create shots for himself and others, score effortlessly and also protect the rim. This playstyle from a seven-footer has influenced countless young “big men” to expand their skillsets so tey become more versatile.
2. LeBron James
Lebron is such a force on the court, especially in his prime, he was looked at as a freak and quickly crowned as the King of the game. He not only influenced fans of the game, but his exploits as Le GM have shown players that they can take a more active role in the trajectory of their careers.
3. Michael Jordan
Jordan’s competitiveness and exceptional work ethic have the basketball world following his blueprint as the path to success. His mid-range game, high-flying tongue-hanging dunks and defensive tenacity had all hoopers of his era trying to follow in his footsteps.
Outside of basketball, his shoes have undoubtably left their mark around the world.
4. Stephen Curry
In this era of the game, it doesn’t get more influential than Steph. His ability to shoot the ball has ballers all around the world thinking that no shot is a bad shot. Curry has the world shooting from deep.
5. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq has influenced the game in so many ways. He forced the NBA to change some of the rules in the NBA. He forced teams to change the way they play defence. His ability to score at will on offence and protect the paint fairly well showed the importance of two-way bigs more than ever.
6. Magic Johnson
Magic’s size and vision allowed him to play the guard position like no other before him. He was also able to switch between multiple positions inspiring bigger players to want to expand their skillset.
7. Reggie Miller
Reggiieeee! If you are from that era, you definitely know what that means. Miller’s ability to hit jump shots laid the blueprint for shooters like Ray Allen, Steph Curry, Klay and all the shooters of today’s game to follow.
Impact of Black NBA Players in NBA History
The best black NBA players of all time have impacted the NBA and the game of basketball more than can be placed in words, but we’ll try. African-American players also give back to their communities, so their impact goes beyond what happens on the court. These sports heroes have, without a doubt, left their mark on society.
Breaking Barriers and Pioneering Change
It wasn’t easy, but African-American players have constantly been forced to and have successfully broken racial barriers throughout their careers. These actions have led to a more inclusive and diverse league. Bill Russell, for instance, was not only a formidable player but also a pioneer in racial integration. He further shattered the racial glass ceiling when he became the first Black head coach in the NBA.
Modern players like LeBron James and Chris Paul have used their popularity and media platforms to raise awareness and advocate for social justice and equality. Black NBA players are continuously engineering actions to help drive important conversations and promote change beyond the court.
Transforming the Game
The way the game is understood and played has been constantly and consistently improving the way the game is played. For example, Magic Johnson redefined how we looked at the point guard position. His unparalleled court vision and versatility showed how important size was at the guard spot. MJ had a level of competitiveness boiling in his blood that showed everyone how to be a true, successful professional. And Shaq, well, what can we say, his effectiveness in the paint made him the goal of all big men. Let’s jump from inside to outside. Yup, the chef. Steph Curry made the 3-point shot the most important shot in the game.
Wrapping Things Up: 25 Famous Black NBA Players: Greatest of All Time
There are so many great/famous black NBA players in the history of the sport, from greats like Wilt, MJ, Kobe, King James, Durant, Magic, Steph, and so many more. They have all left their marks on the sport and the fans, some are even still doing it. Black NBA players have broken barriers and are still influencing the next generation.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.