4) Leaping Ability
5) Body Strength
7) Body Control/Coordination
These are KOTC’s Seven Components of Athleticism. Over history, who has possessed the greatest amount?
1) Michael Jordan – Allegedly recorded a 49-inch vertical leap during a physical fitness test conducted at the University of North Carolina. Historically, his vertical leap has been properly rated (see: Air Jordan). His incredible first step, overall fastness and quickness may have been somewhat appropriately rated as well. But his physical strength never was. Michael absolutely punished players in the post; even for players with some pounds on him, it was nearly impossible to stop him down low. Many of his rebounds were made possible by his ability to shove aside the opposition. Michael was listed at a mere 190 pounds in his younger NBA years, but appearances can be very deceiving. Michael and his human flying is the best display of athleticism the NBA has ever seen.
2) Lebron James – Extremely fast, extremely strong, well-coordinated, has great body control, and supernatural leaping ability. The only thing that Michael Jordan had on Lebron by a large margin was quickness. Lebron is a once-in-a-lifetime type athlete where you just marvel at his physical gifts every time he makes a strong move. I’ll just leave this here.
3) Shaquille O’Neal – His size and brute strength is what made him so unique. During his younger years especially, Shaq was unbelievably agile for his size. He also possessed a vertical leap of around 35 inches. For what it’s worth, a little known fact is that Shaquille holds the all-time record for blocked shots in an NBA game (15).
4) Wilt Chamberlain – An absolute legend. Bear in mind this is a list constructed with the purpose of identifying athletic ability alone – in other words, Wilt gets no special treatment for being who he was in an earlier (and generally, physically inferior) era. He was just that special. Remember the best sprinter in your entire High School? Wilt was faster than him. Remember the strongest shotputter? Wilt threw further than him. Remember the best long distance runner? Wilt beat his time. And the best high jumper? A 6’6” clearance by Wilt says … you get the point. He was an outstanding all-around athlete. While I refuse to believe he jumped 22 feet from a standstill position, this was truly a man among boys. As was true for Jordan, Wilt was extremely strong for his size; however, the only thing that is holding him back is that to be the weightlifting king he was, he had to pack on a few pounds. Did I mention that Wilt averaged over 48 minutes per game one season?
5) David Robinson – Only a specimen could average four and a half blocks a game and rebound well over ten. More than anyone else on this list, David gets a boost due to his size. Being that fast, that agile, and that strong with that kind of long, muscular body is just incredible.
6) Dwight Howard – You wouldn’t guess it by watching this but Dwight wasn’t always fresh out of back surgery and looking stiff in his taut pantalones. Dwight possesses a forty inch vertical leap despite being a near seven footer. Show me how many other men like that exist. Fast for his size, incredibly strong, durable, and a great leaper, Dwight lands the six spot.
7) Derrick Rose – His legs look like wheels when he runs. He seems to generate an exceptional amount of force when he jumps and turns – a very quick, explosive, strong athlete in general. Rose’s body control is probably top-five all-time, too, which allows him to finish by the rim with such consistency.
8) Shawn Kemp – An absolutely electric power forward/big man. Other than perhaps Blake Griffin, for a power forward, Kemp likely possessed the greatest jumping abilities ever. Match this with great speed, quickness, and power for a rank of #8 all-time. The truth is, we can call many people fast or strong or high leapers. But the way Kemp put these all together along with his size was something special.
9) Russell Westbrook – It’s difficult to rank Rose above Westbrook, and vice versa – they are both incredible athletes but in slightly different ways. Rose is quicker, but Westbrook maintains a fast pace for incomparable amounts of time. As Rose is, Westbrook is very strong and possesses an otherworldly vertical leap. Amazing fact about his durability: Westbrook has never missed a game during his high school, college, and pro career. He can also do this.
10) Nate Robinson – Put up the best Combine numbers I have ever seen. We all know about Nate’s leaping ability (see: 3 Slam Dunk Championships). But Nate also possesses an absurd amount of quickness, and much more strength than he’s given credit for. Count how many times Nate’s taller opponents successfully post him up – you may be surprised.
11) Allen Iverson – While Iverson was unbelievably agile, we must acknowledge the fact that there have been many with similar quickness. What puts him at this spot on an all-time list is because he was so coordinated and efficient in the way he used his body. AI wasn’t very big, and wasn’t very strong (note: his toughness was a different question). He did have incredible endurance, quickness, and coordination, though.
12) Julius Erving – His body control and leaping ability alone put him in the elite of the elite. He was a blur on the fast break, too. I tried to not award him any extra points for being a pioneer for basketball, in the sense that he essentially invented flashy dunks and a high-flying style that was soon adored.
13) Dominique Wilkins – He could absolutely soar. He possessed innate power. One of the best ever in terms of body control. Nique’s an easy pick for a top 20 list.
14) Dwyane Wade – I used to say that if players were banned from moving horizontally on the basketball court, Dwyane Wade would suck. Wade is always winding, weaving, turning. And bumping. This man looks for contact, steps around and through you, and possesses a very quick, sizable vertical leap that has enabled him to rebound bigger than his size and block much bigger than his size. Speed, strength, unparalleled body control, and a great leap puts Wade at 14 on my list. The only thing working against him, really, is durability and size.
15) Vince Carter – The best NBA dunker of all-time. This matters because in order to be deemed such (especially by a large percentage of the NBA-viewing population), you need to be proficient in several areas. It just so happens that Vince is a great leaper (approximate forty inches), has outstanding body control, nice size, and possesses great strength. His speed and quickness, while elite, are rivaled by many – though the biggest thing working against this gifted man is his struggle to remain healthy (durability).
16) Clyde Drexler – An all-around great athlete. He was never the best in any regard – leaping, sprinting, body control, or strength – but overall, he has always been more than solid. His leaping ability and “smoothness” were likely his most notable traits – you don’t receive the nickname “Clyde the Glide” without reason.
17) Scottie Pippen – Much like Kobe Bryant and Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen was never the best at anything in terms of athleticism. He was terrific all-around, though, and well above-average in everything other than quickness. His long, bouncy, strong body puts him at a solid 17th all-time.
18) Blake Griffin – Leaping ability alone gets him on this list; Blake Griffin got the second highest I’ve ever seen anyone get in an NBA game. Not the quickest, not the fastest, not the best body control. But he does have great strength, size, and out of this world leaping ability. His past doctors may deserve some credit for this; in looking at Combine numbers, you’ll see that Blake Griffin and Kevin Love both posted maximum vertical leaps of 35 inches. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Much to his benefit, doctors may have later cured tendonitis within his knee while carrying out another procedure and forever boosted that leap of his.
19) Charles Barkley – Barkley was a much better player than many players on this list, but part of that was because of the way he harnessed the athleticism better than they did. If we’re purely looking at his physical tools, Charles was pretty far from typical. He was heavyset in both his younger and older years, yet remained very fast throughout. In his prime he was very fast, relatively quick, extremely strong, and had uncanny jumping abilities. Charles had a nice vertical, but it wasn’t otherworldly. His ability to rise up for second and third jumps in split seconds was, though. This man was very quick on his feet, and his strength combined with this made him an absolute force.
20) Karl Malone – Top five all-time in terms of durability. Top ten in strength. Very fast and difficult to stop in the open court. Coordinated. Quick off of his feet.
Honorable Mentions: Kobe Bryant, Steve Francis, Spudd Webb, Hakeem Olajuwon, Harold Miner, Gerald Green, John Wall.