The Faces Of The NBA Throughout History Featuring Michael Jordan, LeBron James And More

The Faces Of The NBA Throughout History Featuring Michael Jordan, LeBron James And More

Here is the complete list of the players who became the faces of the NBA throughout history, featuring Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and more.

 

NBA ANALYSIS

MICHAEL JORDAN

SHAQUILLLE O’NEAL

MAGIC JOHNSON

LEBRON JAMES

LARRY BIRD

STEPHEN CURRY

KOBE BRYANT

KEVIN DURANT

Step into the hallowed halls of NBA history, where legends are immortalized and dynasties are forged amidst the echoes of roaring crowds and the squeak of sneakers on the hardwood. From the towering dominance of giants like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the mesmerizing grace of Michael Jordan’s airtime ballet, the NBA has been a stage for the most electrifying talents and captivating narratives the world of sports has ever seen.

 

As the game evolved, so did its protagonists, from the transcendent Magic Johnson and Larry Bird rivalry that revitalized the league to the global phenomenon that is LeBron James, whose indomitable will and basketball brilliance have reshaped the very fabric of the sport. Here are all of the faces of the NAB throughout history.

 

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George Mikan – 1949 To 1954

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George Mikan, often hailed as the NBA’s first dominant superstar, revolutionized the game during his tenure with the Minneapolis Lakers. Standing at 6 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 245 lbs, Mikan’s imposing presence in the paint helped lead the Lakers to five championships in six years (between 1949 and 1954), showcasing his unparalleled scoring ability and shot-blocking prowess.

 

Mikan averaged 24.3 points and 14.1 rebounds per game during this period and he first placed the NBA on the map with the Lakers. His impact on the game was profound, prompting rule changes and defensive strategies designed specifically to contain him. Four All-Star Team appearances and three scoring titles on the resume place Mikan in special company among all-time greats.

 

Bob Pettit – 1955 To 1956

Once Mikan retired in the 1955 season and returned to only play 37 games in the 1956 season, it was Bob Pettit’s turn. Pettit, a versatile power forward for the St. Louis Hawks, left an indelible mark on the NBA during his brief yet impactful reign. Pettit averaged 20.4 points and 13.8 rebounds in his Rookie of the Year campaign in 1955 and posted 25.7 points per game in 1956 which led the league.

 

He also captured the MVP award and was the next face of the league. If not for the incredible abilities of Bill Russell and eventually, Wilt Chamberlain, Pettit would have been the face of the league going forward. It is important to note that in 1958, Pettit led the Hawks to their first and only NBA championship, even when he wasn’t the face of the league, per se.

 

Bill Russell And Wilt Chamberlain – 1957 To 1969

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Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, two towering figures of the NBA’s golden era with centers, engaged in one of the most storied rivalries in sports history. Russell’s unparalleled defensive prowess and leadership guided the Boston Celtics to an unprecedented 11 championships in 13 seasons, while Chamberlain’s unmatched scoring ability and dominance in the paint redefined the center position.

 

Russell’s rookie campaign came in 1957 when he posted 14.7 points and a league-high 19.6 rebounds per game and went on to win his first NBA title. That would kick off his run of 11 rings in 12 Finals appearances between 1957 and 1969, making him the ultimate unselfish superstar and defensive maestro.

 

Wilt Chamberlain was able to win a championship in 1967, but his true dominance came on the stat sheet as he won seven scoring titles in Bill Russell’s championship era including having a season averaging 50.4 points per game in 1962 and scoring 100 points in a single game. The two towering superstars no doubt led the NBA in the late 1950s until the 1970s before Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took over.

 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 1970 To 1979

Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

 

Even if Wilt Chamberlain’s second and final NBA championship came in the 1972 season, there is no doubt that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (originally Lew Alcinder) was the face of the league. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer upon his retirement, enjoyed a decade of dominance during the 1970s.

 

Known for his patented skyhook shot and unmatched scoring consistency, Abdul-Jabbar led the Milwaukee Bucks to the 1971 championship and later earned five MVP awards in the 1970s (he earned his sixth in the 1980 season). His impact on the game extended beyond the court, as he became a cultural icon and advocate for social justice as well.

 

Even if most fans will tend to place Kareem on another level during the 1980s since he won five NBA titles during that decade alongside Magic Johnson, he was the undisputed best player and face of the league during the 1970s and he made his name during his formative years as a superstar.

 

Magic Johnson And Larry Bird – 1980 To 1987

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Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, often credited with revitalizing the NBA during the 1980s, ushered in a new era of basketball excellence with their rivalry. Johnson’s flashy playmaking and Bird’s deadly shooting touch captivated audiences and propelled the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics to five and three championships respectively.

 

Bird was a superstar as soon as the 1979-80 campaign, winning Rookie of the Year before capturing three straight MVP awards between 1984 and 1986. Meanwhile, Magic Johnson had the greatest rookie season ever, winning the NBA title and Finals MVP as a 20-year-old, and then went on to capture two MVP awards in the 1980s (three total). The legendary battles between Johnson and Bird in the NBA Finals, including the iconic 1984 and 1985 matchups, helped elevate the league’s popularity to unprecedented levels. Johnson and Bird saved the NBA and set the stage for the legendary Micahel Jordan to take over.

 

Michael Jordan – 1988 To 1993

Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

 

Michael Jordan, widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time, dominated the NBA throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. By his rookie campaign, Jordan was the most spectacular individual player we had seen, and not even Magic and Bird could argue against that. Jordan averaged 28.2 points per game and won Rookie of the Year in 1985, but his era did not officially start until the 1988 season when he had arguably the greatest MVP season ever.

 

Jordan averaged 35.0 points per game to win the scoring title while capturing Defensive Player of the Year, the last time we might see that happen again. His battles against Isiah Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons helped form the NBA’s competitive landscape, and his three straight championships with the Chicago Bulls (1991 to 1993) cemented his legacy as a basketball legend before his first retirement.

 

Hakeem Olajuwon – 1994 To 1995

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With Michael Jordan retired, Hakeem Olajuwon, known as “The Dream,” showcased his extraordinary talents during the mid-1990s, leading the Houston Rockets to back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995. His unparalleled footwork and defensive prowess in the post earned him the nickname “The Dream Shake” and solidified his status as one of the greatest centers of all time.

 

An unselfish superstar with a mix of size and raw skill, Olajuwon was the undisputed greatest player in the world and he took the throne from Jordan. Until today, we have not seen a player with better footwork, and his exceptional post-moves meant no opponent had a chance of slowing him down in the two greatest seasons in Rockets history.

 

Michael Jordan – 1996 To 1998

Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

 

Jordan immediately returned as the face of the NBA in his first full season back in 1996, and he won three consecutive championships.. Jordan led the charge with the Chicago Bulls alongside Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, defeating the Seattle Supersonics and Utah Jazz in three straight Finals appearances.

 

Add in three more scoring titles (taking his total to 10) and two MVPs (total of five), Jordan’s status as the greatest player of all time was finalized as soon as the 1998 season was complete. Without disrespect to the all-time greats before and after this era, there hasn’t been a player as dominant as Michael Jordan.

 

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Shaquille O’Neal – 1999 To 2003

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Shaquille O’Neal, a dominant force in the paint, reigned supreme in the early 2000s, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a three-peat from 2000 to 2002. His combination of size, strength, and agility made him virtually unstoppable in the low post, earning him three NBA Finals MVP awards and an MVP trophy during his championship run with the Lakers.

 

O’Neal proved to be the single most dominant physical force since Wilt Chamberlain, and he immediately earned a three-peat following Jordan’s reign which was a great sign for the NBA. At the same time, Shaq formed the most dominant partnership we might have seen with budding superstar Kobe Bryant and it seemed only a matter of time before the shooting guard would take over.

 

Kobe Bryant – 2004 To 2010

Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

 

Kobe Bryant carried the torch for the Los Angeles Lakers following Shaquille O’Neal’s NBA-wide dominance, and we always knew he would strive to be the next Michael Jordan. Bryant did his best to mimic the all-time great Chicago Bulls star and he came awfully close.

 

Already owning three NBA titles, Bryant went on a path to prove himself as the single best player in the world following the 2004 Finals loss. Bryant felt he was the best player in the world in that Finals, and we might have had to accept that. Despite posting 81 points in a single game and winning two scoring titles, Bryant established himself as the best player since Jordan by leading the Lakers to two more championships in 2009 and 2010.

 

Bryant’s scoring prowess, competitive spirit, and clutch performances cemented his legacy as one of the greatest players in NBA history. Even if Bryant was still a top-two player in the world between 2011 and 2013, he was slightly older and attrition began to take a toll on his body which set the stage for The King, LeBron James.

 

LeBron James – 2011 To 2016

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LeBron James, a transcendent talent with an unprecedented blend of size, skill, and athleticism, asserted his dominance over the NBA during the early 2010s. While some might argue James was on par with Bryant starting from the 2007 season when he made his first Finals appearance, the forward lacked killer instinct and refinement in his game that came once he joined the Miami Heat.

 

His decision to join the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010 sparked controversy but ultimately led to two championships in 2012 and 2013, followed by a triumphant return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he delivered a historic championship in 2016, overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors.

 

James proved himself to be the best leader since Magic Johnson and arguably the greatest triple-double threat we had ever seen. James’ return to Cleveland was a turning point in his global image as well, as he went from becoming the NBA’s villain to the ultimate superhero. Amazingly, as we sit in 2024, James is still the face of the NBA although he has shared the spotlight following the 2016 season with two other superstars.

 

Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant – 2017 To 2024

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Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant, three generational talents, have defined the NBA landscape in the late 2010s and early 2020s. Curry’s revolutionary shooting prowess alongside Splash Brother Klay Thompson put the Golden State Warriors on the map, but he was not a bigger face of the league than LeBron James.

 

By the time the 2017 season rolled around, Curry was on par with James as he had two NBA titles and had Kevin Durant by his side. Even today, Curry is the babyface of the league with two titles won in 2017 and 2018 and a critical one in 2022.

 

Speaking of Durant, he took the spotlight from Curry in some ways in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, playing as the best player in back-to-back Finals. Even beyond his stints with the Warriors, Durant has had exceptional individual seasons with the Nets and Suns on an individual level. As one of the most popular stars since 2017, Durant was one of the faces of the league.

 

Meanwhile, James’ decision to stay in Cleveland and eventually join the Lakers kept him in the NBA’s spotlight, especially after his 2020 championship triumph. As one of the greatest ever, James has gone on to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and made a record 20th All-Star appearance at 39 years old.

 

Faces Of The NBA Once LeBron, Curry, Durant Retire – Giannis, Jokic, Luka, Embiid

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As the era of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant draws to a close, a new generation of superstars emerges to carry the torch and shape the future of the NBA. Among them, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek Freak, stands as a towering force with his unmatched combination of size, athleticism, and skill, poised to dominate the league for years to come. He already has an NBA title, Finals MVP, two MVP awards, and a Defensive Player of the Year trophy to his name, and has the character behind him to grab the throne.

 

Alongside him, Nikola Jokic, the Joker, revolutionizes the center position with his exceptional passing ability and basketball IQ, redefining what it means to be a playmaking big man. Even if he is not the most explosive athlete, Jokic already has two MVPs to his name and his NBA title triumph last season places him in elite company.

 

Meanwhile, Luka Doncic, the prodigious talent from Slovenia, dazzles audiences with his wizardry on the court, showcasing an uncanny ability to control the game and deliver in clutch moments. Averaging a career 28.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game, Luka is reminding us of Larry Bird and he will be a perennial MVP candidate going forward as he is only 24 years old.

 

Then there’s Joel Embiid, the Cameroonian sensation, whose blend of size, skill, and charisma make him a force to be reckoned with in the paint. With two scoring titles and an MVP trophy to his name, Embiid has been on a terrific run over the last three seasons and might be getting better as an NBA Finals appearance eludes him.

 

Together, these rising stars represent the immediate faces of the NBA, carrying on the tradition of excellence established by their predecessors while forging their own legacies as the immediate faces of the league over the next few seasons at least.

 

Future Faces Of The NBA

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As the NBA landscape continues to evolve, a new wave of talent emerges, poised to become the future faces of the league over the long run. Among them, Anthony Edwards, the explosive guard from the Minnesota Timberwolves, captivates fans with his jaw-dropping athleticism and scoring ability, promising to be a dynamic force on both ends of the floor.

 

Alongside him, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder showcases his silky-smooth handles and versatile skill set, demonstrating poise beyond his years and a knack for making clutch plays when it matters most. Meanwhile, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics solidifies his status as a perennial All-Star with his polished offensive game and tenacious defense, leading his team to championship contention and earning the admiration of fans worldwide.

 

And then there’s Devin Booker, the dynamic scorer for the Phoenix Suns, whose lethal shooting stroke and competitive fire make him a threat to light up the scoreboard every time he steps on the court. Together, these rising stars represent the future faces of the NBA, poised to carry on the tradition of excellence and entertainment established by their predecessors while ushering in a new era of basketball greatness.

 

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Gideon Canice

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