In 1996, the NBA released the top 50 players in the league’s history in honor of the NBA’s 50th anniversary. 47 of the players gathered in Cleveland for the All-Star game and ceremony. Among those that were not there was Jerry West because of an ear surgery and Shaquille O’Neal because of a knee injury. The only member of the NBA 50 who died prior to 1996 was the great Pete Maravich. It is pretty miraculous how few basketball players that died out of the NBA Top 50 players even though some players had retired 30 years prior.
This year was the NBA’s 75th anniversary and the league released the top 75 (76 because of a tie in voting) players of all time just like they did in 1996. Because it has been 25 years later there were many more basketball players that died than the NBA 50. So I decided to rank the basketball players who died in the NBA 75.
- Kobe Byrant
Kobe is incredibly polarizing and in general is probably a little overrated. With that being said Kobe won 5 titles and was the face of the league for 5-6 years. Kobe is a top ten player of all time and unlike a majority of this list he tragically died very young. Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player that has died.
- Wilt Chamberlain
Chamberlain is maybe the best athlete basketball has seen but his ego and disinterest for the game has to be factored in when ranking him all time.
- Moses Malone
For three seasons, Moses Malone was the best player in the NBA. Malone was also one of the first players to be drafted straight out of high school.
- Elgin Baylor
The way Elgin Baylor played inspired Julius Erving and Erving would go on to inspire Michael Jordan. Although he never won a championship, Elgin Baylor is one of the most influential players in league history.
- John Havlicek
One of the more underrated players of all time. Havlicek, like most Celtics at the time, only cared about winning and was willing to sacrifice personal accolades and stats in order to do it. No matter where you rank him, Havlicek is among the best basketball players that have died.
- Dolph Schayes
Talk about a player who was ahead of his time. Schayes shot 90% in a season from the free throw line and was a power forward. If he played in today’s game he certainly would be a stretch four that can shoot 3’s.
- George Mikan
Mikan was the league’s first superstar and although he did not have much competition he was still able to win 5 titles in only a 7 year career.
- Wes Unseld
Only Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld have won an MVP as a rookie. Sadly for Unseld that was relatively the peak of his career although he did win a championship in 1978.
- Paul Arizin
In the heart of his prime, Arizin had to step away from the game in order to serve in Korea. After two years away from the game Arizin returned and immediately was an all star again.
- Sam Jones
Nothing about Sam Jones stats pop off the page but he was just a winner with 10 championships in only 12 seasons.
- Hal Greer
Was a key member of the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers who are regarded as one of the best teams of all time winning 68 games and the title.
- Bill Sharman
It shows how impressive this list is that a 4x champion, 8x all-star, and 7x all-NBA player is ranked 12th.
- Dave DeBusschere
Knick fans remember Dave DeBusschere as one of the integral parts of the 1970 and 1973 title winning teams, which are their only titles.
- Pete Maravich
Maravich was incredibly ahead of his time as an elite ball handler and deep shot maker. His game never directly translated well in the NBA but his impact is still felt.
- Nate Thurmond
Thurmond was never an all-NBA member which meant he was never regarded as a top ten player in a season. Even though he is still an incredible player for that reason I put him last.