Pau Gasol’s top-10 list of the NBA’s all-time greatest players? Make it 11

Lakers forward Pau Gasol, right, and Miami Heat forward LeBron James battle for a rebound during Christmas Day game in 2010.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol, right, and Miami Heat forward LeBron James battle for a rebound during a Christmas Day game in 2010.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Pau Gasol leaned back in his chair and ran his hands over his T-shirt, which said, “Kobe, 24,” the two-time NBA champion with the Lakers now having to switch gears from his conversation about his Hall of Fame induction to his top-10 list of the NBA’s all-time greatest players.

Gasol was assured of walking among the greats of the game after being selected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He will join these legends of the game in a ceremony on Saturday in Springfield, Mass.

Now, Gasol was being asked to comment on who he thinks are the greatest players among the NBA’s greats.


He smiled before answering, gathering his thoughts.

“It’s a tough question,” Gasol said. “It’s very personal, subjective, or both, I guess.”

A few seconds later, Gasol came up with his top-10 list of all-time NBA great players, in no particular order.

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Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, Stephen Curry.

Yes, that’s 11, Gasol was told. He just shrugged and smiled.

Then he offered his perspective on why he chose this group.

He started with Abdul-Jabbar, who won five of his six NBA championships with the Lakers and was a six-time league most valuable player, and Russell, who won 11 NBA championships with the Boston Celtics.

“They were two very, very special players,” Gasol said. “I think they stood out from the rest during their time.”

Next up was Johnson, who won five titles with the Lakers and three league most valuable player awards, and Bird, who won three titles with the Celtics and three league MVPs.

“I think Magic and Larry also changed the game in a very unique way,” Gasol said.

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Gasol went on to explain why he chose Jordan, who won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls, and Bryant, who won two of his five championships with Gasol as a teammate.


“I think Michael and Kobe had a huge influence on the game,” Gasol said. “They are two of my favorites as well.”

As for Duncan, who won five titles with the San Antonio Spurs, Garnett, who won one title with the Celtics, and Nowitzki, who won a title with the Dallas Mavericks, Gasol said he admired them because they pushed him to become a better power forward.

“They were my three top players at power forwards that I used to model my game to theirs and try to beat them to become one of the better power forwards in the league,” Gasol said. “Those were references when I played throughout my years. So, they are very special. And Dirk is probably on that list because also of being international, the way he changed the game is very unique and I think it’s meaningful and that’s impactful for European and international players.”

James, who won one of his four titles with the Lakers, and Curry, who has won four NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors, were favorites of Gasol.

“You have to acknowledge LeBron’s contributions to the game of basketball,” Gasol said. “He’s played 20-plus years and what he has done is pretty remarkable. And you can say Steph is another player that I would put in that category of greatness and uniqueness in changing the game and growing the game.”

“So, I think those players deserve a special mention because all they’ve done is grow the game and open more doors and provide a better reality and presence for NBA players today. And you have to be thankful for those guys.”