Best NBA Players of the 70s and 80s

The NBA was gaining popularity in the 1960s. People were storming into the courts to watch their favorite teams and players. Naturally, NBA was expecting a bigger boost in their popularity in the 70s. However, during the 70s and 80s, the NBA was going through several problems.

Players were having problems with the clubs’ payment system, and many players were dangerously drug-addicted. Fans were losing interest in the NBA. Nonetheless, there were some players who were still drawing fans.

In both the 70s and 80s, the NBA had some of the greatest players of all time, which saved the league during that time and helped the NBA turn around. Here we will see the best NBA players of the 70s and 80s.

Best NBA Players of the 70s

In this list, we have mentioned the players with the best performance from 1970 to 1979. The tables only include their achievements during this timeline. They may have won more awards before or after this time period which has been excluded.

1. Karim Abdul-Jabbar

Karim Abdul-Jabbar
Full NameKareem Abdul-Jabbar (Born Name: Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr.)
Date of BirthApril 16, 1947
Birth’s PlaceNew York City, New York, US
OccupationBasketball Player, Coach, Actor, Screenwriter Author
TeamsMilwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers
Height7 ft 2 in (2.18 m) 
Weight102 kg (225 lb) 

No player had a better decade than Karim Abdul Jabber had in the 70s. He won everything during this time frame.

He won the Rookie of the Year award, NBA MVP, Finals MVP, All-NBA First team, and All-Defensive First team; he had these all. Despite winning only 1 NBA league, he became the best player of the 70s.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPFinals MVPScoring Champion

Karim won the MVP award five times in the seventies. In fact, with a total of 6 MVP awards, he holds the record for most MVP awards in NBA history. Karim became the MVP in 1975-76, even when his team did not make it to the Playoffs.

Karim played only a little more than 300 matches in the 70s. Yet he surpassed greats like Oscar Robertson, Bob Dandridge, or Jon McGlocklin.

Though Karim played in the center position, he made a total of 5660 assists. Karim retired in 1989. By then, he had established himself as one of the NBA’s best players of the 70s and of all time too.

2. Bob McAdoo

Bob McAdoo
Full NameRobert Allen McAdoo Jr.
Date of BirthSeptember 25, 1951
Birth’s PlaceGreensboro, North Carolina, US
OccupationBasketball Player, Basketball Coach
TeamsBuffalo Braves, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons
Height6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)
Weight95 kg (210 lb)

Bob McAdoo, is another great center player from the 70s. McAdoo made his NBA debut in 1973. Quickly he came into the limelight by winning the Rookie Of the Year award. McAdoo became a five-time All-star in the next six seasons.

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McAdoo had an impressive average scoring of 22.1 per game. McAdoo gave his best in 1975, and he was awarded the MVP of that year. The 6 ft 9 inches tall Center player from North Carolina played for four different teams in his career. But he never won the NBA league. Still, McAdoo is considered one of the best NBA players of the 70s.

3. Bob Lanier

Bob Lanier
Full NameRobert Jerry Lanier Jr.
Date of BirthSeptember 10, 1948
Birth’s PlaceBuffalo, New York, US
OccupationBasketball Players, Basketball Coach
TeamsDetroit Pistons
Height6 ft 11 in (2.11 m)
Weight113 kg (250 lb)

Rober Jerry Lanier Jr. aka Bob Lanier, was born in 1948 in New York. He played in the center position and became one of the best of the decade.

He had an impressive career that consisted of 110 rebounds per game and over 12,000 points only in the 70s. He was the star player of the Detroit Pistons and had always been loyal to the team. Lanier never left the team, despite not winning any championship.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPNBA All-Star

During the 70s, he made it seven times to the NBA All-Star Team. Lanier is a legend to the Pistons fans. He had an impressive 3.1 average assist during this time.

4. Tiny Archibald

Tiny Archibald
Full NameNathaniel Tiny Archibald
Date of BirthSeptember 2, 1948
Birth’s PlaceNew York City, New York, US
OccupationBasketball Player, Basketball Coach 
TeamsCincinnati Royals, Kansas City-Omaha Kings, Kansas City Kings, New York Nets, Boston Celtics 
PositionPoint Guards
Height6 ft 1 in (1.85 cm) 
Weight68 kg (150 lb) 

Tiny Archibald was the best Point guard to play in the 70s. He started his NBA career in 1970 and played till 1984. During this time, he played for five teams, including New York Nets and the Boston Celtics.

Tiny Archibald was g ft 1 inch. In comparison to other great NBA players, he was not that big. But inside the court, he was a big threat.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPNBA All-Star

Archibald played a total of 536 games in the 1970s and scored an average of 18.8 points per game. He also made 7.4 assists per game. He secured his position in the NBA All-Star three times. Archibald also had an impressive steals record of 0.8 per match.

His statistics show how great of a player he was. Undoubtedly, he is one of the best NBA players of the 70s.

 5. Elvin Hayes

Elvin Hayes
Full NameElvin Ernest Hayes
Date of BirthNovember 17, 1945
Birth’s PlaceRayville, Louisiana, US
OccupationBasketball Player, Radio Analyst
TeamsSan Diego, Houston Rockets, Baltimore, Capital, Washington Bullets
PositionPower Forward
Height6 ft 9 in (206 cm)
Weight107 kg (235 lb)

If consistency had a face, it would look like Elvin Hayes. Hayes was also known as Big E. Hayes defined consistency in the 70s. He was included in the NBA All-Star each and every year of that decade. A perfect ten on ten.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPNBA All-Star

From 733 games, Hayes scored more than fourteen thousand points and made more than a thousand assists. Hayes won the NBA Championship with the Washington Bullets in 1977-1978.

Often people forget to mention Hayes’ name while talking about the greatest players of the NBA, but he should be included in such conversations. Hayes is, without any argument, one of the best NBA players of the 70s.

 6. John Havlicek

John Havlicek
Full NameJohn Joseph Havlicek
Date of BirthApril 8, 1940
Birth’s PlaceMartins Ferry, Ohio
OccupationBasketball Player
TeamsBoston Celtics
PositionSmall Forward
Height6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)
Weight92 kg (203 lb)

John Havelick was born in 1940 in Ohio. He played as a small forward throughout his career with the Boston Celtics. Just like Big E, Havlick had been a consistent performer. From 1970 to 1978, he was a part of the NBA All-Star.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionFinals MVPNBA All-Star

Havelick played 638 games in the 70s and won two NBA titles. The first he won in 1974 and the latter in 1976. Havelock was also the Finals MVP in 1974. His contribution that year helped the Celtics win the tournament.

John Havelick had quite impressive statistics. He scored on average 20.8 points per game and made 4.8 assists on average. Havlicek stats speak for him. His accomplishments in the NBA are massive. No wonder he is one of the best NBA players of the 70s on our list.

 7. Jerry West

Jerry West
Full NameJerome Alan West
Date of BirthMay 28, 1938
Birth’s PlaceChelyan, West Virginia, US
OccupationBasketball Player, Basketball Coach
TeamsLos Angeles Lakers
PositionShooting Guard
Height6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight79 kg (175 lb)

Jerry West made his NBA debut in 1960. He was one of the best players of that decade. He entered the seventies as a veteran, and his dominance did not lessen. West played till 1774, the half of the 70s. Yet he is one of the best NBA players of the 70s.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPAll-Star MVP

West played 246 games during this time and became NBA champion in 1972. West was an All-Star MVP that year. West was one of those players who remained top in their game from beginning to end. This makes him one of the greatest players in NBA history of all time.

8. George McGinnis

George McGinnis
Full NameGeorge F. McGinnis
Date of BirthAugust 10, 1950
Birth’s PlaceIndianapolis, Indiana, US
OccupationBasketball Player
TeamsIndiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets
PositionPower Forward
Height6 ft 8 in (2.03 m)
Weight107 kg (235 lb)

George McGinnis was born in 1950 in Indiana, USA. He played as a Power Forward and was one of the best in his time. 

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPNBA All-Star

McGinnis played 624 games in the 1970s and scored more than twelve thousand points, averaging 20.2 per match. He also had an incredible assist record. Because of his performance, McGinnins was part of the NBA All-Star three times.

 9. Dave Cowens

Dave Cowens
Full NameDavid William Cowens
Date of BirthOctober 25, 1948
Birth’s PlaceNewport, Kentucky, US
OccupationBasketball Player, Basketball Coach
TeamsBoston Celtics
Height6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)
Weight104 kg (230 lb)

One thing is certain the 70s had some of the greatest center players. Dave Cowens aka Big Red is the fourth Center player in this list. He started his NBA career with the Boston Celtics. The Celtics were always a top team, and playing for such a big team proves how good he was.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPNBA All-Star

During this time, Cowens won two NBA championship rings in 1974 and 1976. He was one of the, if not the best, players at both times on the team. He had a career-scoring average of 17.6 and 3.8 assists per game and 0.8 steals as well.

Cowens was a Rookie of the Year, seven-time NBA All-Star, and 1 NBA MVP in 1973. Cowens added every achievement in his accolades and thus became one of the best NBA players of the 70s.

10. Pete Maravich

Full NamePeter Press Maravich
Date of BirthJune 22, 1947
Birth’s PlaceAliquippa, Pennsylvania, US
OccupationBasketball Player
TeamsAtlanta Hawks, New Orleans, Utah Jazz
PositionShooting Guard
Height6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 
Weight89 kg (197 lb) 

Pete Maravich had his NBA debut in 1970 when he was only 22. He started his career with the Atlanta Hawks and quickly became a hot topic in the NBA. He was a Shooting guard in the court for his team.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPNBA All-Star

Maravich played about 615 games in the 70s and had been a consistent performer. He never was an MVP but he was a five-time NBA All-Star. He had an impressive steals average of 0.9 and a scoring average of 24.2 per match. With such great performance, he became one of the best NBA players of the 70s.

Best NBA Players of the 80s

If the NBA in the 70s was doing decently, the 80s were a little worse. Drug addiction among the players was at an all-time high. There were internal issues. Many franchises were losing money.

However, there were some players who saved the NBA at this time. Fans were still coming into the arenas to see these players. Some of them are not just the best NBA players of the 80s but of all time.

1. Larry Bird

Full NameLarry Joe Bird
Date of BirthDecember 7, 1956
Birth’s PlaceWest Baden, Indiana, US
OccupationBasketball Player, Basketball Coach, Actor
PositionSmall Forward
TeamsBoston Celtics
Height6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)
Weight100 kg (220 lb)

Larry Bird made his NBA debut in 1979. He was drafted to the Boston Celtics, the most dominant team of the last century. Bird immediately drew the spotlight on him.

Bird was the small forward of the team. Between 1980 to 1989, the Celtics became three times NBA champions. Bird was their key player.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPFinals MVP

During this time, Bird was three times MVP in a row(1984, 1985, 1986). Bird was also a two times Finals MVP. He was a consistent performer for the Celtics. In the 80s, Bird scored more than seventeen thousand points from 710 games.

 In his career, he made a total of more than four thousand assists. No doubt Bird is one of the best NBA players of the 80s.

2. Magic Johnson

Full NameEarvin Magic Johnson Jr.
Date of BirthAugust 14, 1959
Birth’s PlaceLansing, Michigan, US
OccupationBasketball Player, Basketball Coach, Actor, Entrepreneur, Film Producer, Motivational Speaker, Philanthropist and Sports Commentator
TeamsLos Angeles Lakers
PositionPoint Guards
Height6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)
Weight100 kg (220 lb)

Magic Johnson, true to his name, was a magical player. He is the most successful player of the 80s. During this time, he became the NBA champion five times (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988).

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPFinals MVP

Johnson spent his entire NBA career playing for the Lakers. His position was the point guard, and he was the best in it. He had an average career score of 19.5 and 11.2 assists, along with 1.9 steals. The rivalry between Larry Bird and John was one of the most iconic rivalries in NBA history. Even in the 80s, people stormed into the arenas to witness their games.

Johnson was two time NBA MVP (1987, 1989), and a four-time assist leader (1983, 1984, 1986, 1987). Johnson’s achievement does not end there. He was also three times in finals MVA, a record feat at that time. Without a doubt, Magic Johnson is one of the best NBA players of the 80s.

3. Moses Malone

Full NameMoses Eugene Malone
Date of BirthMarch 23, 1955
Birth’s PlacePetersburg, Virginia, US
OccupationBasketball Player
TeamsHouston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Bullets, Atlanta Hawks
Height6 ft 10 in (2.08 m)
Weight118 kg (260 lb)

If Big E was the face of consistency in the 70s, so was Moses in the 80s. Moses was an NBA All-Star ten straight times from 1980 to 1989, a whole decade. Moses was in the limelight from the second half of the 70s. He used to play for the Houston Rockets and came close multiple times to become the champion but never had it.

Finally, in 1982, Moses joined the Philadelphia 76ers and became the NBA champion in 1983. Moses was the Finals MVP of that year as well. Moses was a two-time MVP of the decade (1982, 1983).

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPFinals MVPAll-Star

 4. Michael Jordan

Full NameMichael Jeffrey Jordan
Date of BirthFebruary 17, 1963
Birth’s PlaceBrooklyn, New York, US
OccupationBasketball Player, Entrepreneur and Spokesperson
TeamsChicago Bulls
PositionShooting Guard
Height6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) 
Weight98 kg (216 lb) 

Michael Jordan is considered one of the greatest players of all time. During the 80s. Jordan did not become an NBA champion in his earlier career. However, his personal achievement was a lot.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPAll-Star MVPScoring Champion

Jordan had a scoring average of 30.1 and made 5.3 assists per game. During the 80s, Jordan was 1 All-Star MVP and 3 Scoring Champions. The 80s was just the beginning, and he unleashed his full potential in the 90s. Yet, in his 345 matches in the 80s, he proved his class.

Jordan was born in 1963 and began his NBA career in 1984 with Chicago Bulls. He played for the Bulls till 1998. In his first season, Jordan made a huge difference for the Bulls and became the Rookie player of the year. 6 seasons were enough for Jordan to be one of the best NBA players of the 80s.

5. Isiah Thomas

Full NameIsiah Lord Thomas III
Date of BirthApril 30, 1961
Birth’s PlaceChicago, Illinois, US
OccupationBasketball Player, Basketball Coach, Consultant, Film Producer, Actor and Commentator
TeamsDetroit Pistons
PositionPoint Guards
Height6 ft 1 in (185 cm)
Weight82 kg (180 lb)

Magic Johnson is the best Post guard NBA had in the 80s, no doubt. If anyone gave him tough competition, it was Isiah Thomas. Thomas played for the Detroit Pistons throughout his whole NBA career.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPAll-Star MVPAll-Star

Thomas did not become MVP in the 80s, which is understandable considering that he had to compete with names like Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Moses Malone, and Magic Johnson. However, he was an eight-time NBA All-Star and had two all-star MVPs.

Thomas finally became the NBA champion in 1989. Thomas had his debut in 1981 and was the Rookie of the Year. He had been a key player for the Pistons throughout the 80s. His stats establish him as one of the best NBA players of the 80s.

6. Charles Barkley

Full NameCharles Wade Barkley
Date of BirthFebruary 20, 1963
Birth’s PlaceLeeds, Alabama, US
OccupationBasketball Player, Author, journalist, Announcer, Spokesperson and Sports Analyst
TeamsPhiladelphia 76ers
PositionPower Forward
Height6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)
Weight114 kg (252 lb)

Charles Barkley was born in 1963 in Alabama. He was picked in the NBA by the Philadelphia 76ers. He played the role of Power Forward for the 76ers throughout the rest of the 80s. In the 80s, Barkley got to play only 389 matches, but it was enough for him to establish himself as one of the best NBA players of the 80s.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPFinals MVPAll-Star

Barkley was a three-time NBA All-Star because of his solid performance. He declared retirement in 1999 while playing for Houston.

 7. Alex English

Full NameAlexander English
Date of BirthJanuary 5, 1954
Birth’s PlaceColumbia, South Carolina
OccupationBasketball Player, Basketball Coach and Actor
TeamsDenver Nuggets
PositionSmall Forward
Height6 ft 8 in (2.03 m)
Weight86 kg (190 lb)

The 6ft 8 inches tall Small Forward of the Denver Nuggets was the key player for his time. English gave his best but still fell short. Yet he did not leave the Nuggets. English never was NBA MVP, but he was an eight-time NBA All-Star.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPFinals MVPAll-Star

8. Hakeem Olajuwon

Full NameHakeem Abdul Olajuwon
Date of BirthJanuary 21, 1963
Birth’s PlaceLagos, Nigeria
OccupationBasketball Player
TeamsHouston Rockets
Height6 ft 11 in (2.11 m)
Weight116 kg (255 lb)

Hakeem Olajuwon began his career in 1984. In his Rookie year, he impressed everyone. However, he did not win the Rookie of the Year award at the same time Micael Jordan began playing. Hakeem never could surpass Jordan, but he was never too far.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPFinals MVPAll-Star

He had an amazing scoring average of 21.8 and a steal average of 1.7. English was a regular face on the NBA All-Star team after his debut. He was a five-time All-Star (1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989) in the 80s. With such a feat, he is considered one of the best NBA players of the 80s.

8. Adrian Dantley

Full NameAdrian Delano Dantley
Date of BirthFebruary 28, 1955
Birth’s PlaceWashington, DC, US
OccupationBasketball Player, Basketball Coach and Teacher
TeamsUtah Jazz, Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks
Height6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)
Weight94 kg (208 lb)

The 80s had many great players who did not become NBA champions or NBA MVPs. Adrian Dantley was one of them. Despite having an impressive point and assist score, he never became an MVP. He was six times All-Star, though.

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9. Karim Abdul-Jabbar

Karim Abdul Jabbar is the only player who has been a top player in both the 70s and 80s. Jabbar’s dominance of the 70s continued in the 80s as well.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPFinals MVPAll-Star

Jabbar became a five-time NBA champion in the 80s, with 1 MVP and 1 Finals MVP in 1985. Not just that, he was an NBA All-Star from 1980 to 1989. All these accolades secure his position as one of the best NBA players of the 80s.

10. George Gervin

Full NameGeorge Gervin
Date of BirthApril 27, 1952
Birth’s PlaceDetroit, Michigan, US
OccupationBasketball Player
TeamsSan Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Banco di Roma, Quad City Thunder, TDK Manresa
PositionShooting Guard
Height6 ft 7 in (2.01 m)
Weight82 kg (180 lb)

George Gervin was born in Michigan in the USA. He made his NBA debut in the mid-70s. He impressed everyone in his rookie career. He played as Shooting Guard and ended his career with the most blocks by any NBA player.

GamesPointsAssistsStealsChampionMVPFinals MVPAll-Star

Before retiring after the 1985-86 season, he was a six-time NBA All-Star in the 80s. He had an impressive 1.2 steals per game and average scoring of 25.1 points. All these feats make Gervin another best players of the 80s.


The best NBA players of the 70s and 80s were not just great players; rather, they were the saviors of the league. At a time when people were losing interest in NBA, they still held them invested.

From Elvin Hayes to Karim Abdul Jabbar to  Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, all these players have broken the time barrier and become some of the greatest players of the NBA. Their legacy will keep on inspiring new generation athletes.

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