The 10 Best NBA Players From The 1980s

While basketball is arguably hotter than it’s ever been now, that wasn’t always the case. The sport saw its huge boom in the 90s with some players you may have forgotten about, but some of the most legendary figures in the NBA were competing back in the 1980s.

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The 80s were a different time for the NBA, but despite that, a number of players managed to carve out their legacy and are still often considered to be the best of the best. In fact, many people believe that the 80s were a kind of unsung golden era for basketball thanks to the sheer quality of competition at the time.


10 Hakeem Olajuwon

While Hakeem Olajuwon might not be on everyone’s top-ten players of the 80s list, a lot of NBA fans forget the players with a more defensive style. In reality, only beginning in 1984, Olajuwon showed his potential to be a champion immediately.

He wouldn’t win his championships until the 90s, but he was so good in his rookie year that the only reason he didn’t win the distinction as Rookie Of The Year was that Michael Jordan was able to snag that great distinction.

9 Isaiah Thomas

Truly great players tend to stick to a single team throughout most if not all of their career, and that was the case for Isiah Thomas. The incredible point guard joined the Pistons in 1981, and spent the remainder of his on-court career with the team.

He was named Rookie Of The Year when he joined the NBA before eventually leading the team to back-to-back championship wins in the 1988-1989 and 1989-1990 seasons. To this day, Thomas is still considered to be one of the greatest NBA stars of all time.

8 Michael Jordan

The legacy of Michael Jordan is one that every NBA fan probably knows, making it obvious why he was one of the greatest stars of the 80s. Upon joining the NBA, Jordan made a huge difference on the Bulls and was named the Rookie Of The Year.

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The Bulls wouldn’t hit their stride until the 90s, but that was thanks to powerhouse teams like the Celtics and the Pistons of that era. Jordan still managed to keep the Bulls competitive, even when they weren’t the best looking team in the league.

7 Kevin McHale

Playing in the NBA throughout the entirety of the 80s, Kevin McHale managed to stand out as an incredible player on one of the most dominant Celtics teams of all time. It took him a few years to really warm up, but once he hit his peak, no one could keep up.

To this day, McHale is considered to be one of the major players in what is often argued as the greatest NBA team to ever take the court. He was so good that a portion of his game ended up receiving a nickname of its own, The Torture Chamber.

6 Julius Erving

While Julius Erving was already great long before the 80s and actually retired in the 80s, he still deserves a mention thanks to his incredible play. He became NBA Champion with the 76ers in 1983 in the midst of one of the best feuds of the era.

Larry Bird was legendary for his play, but also his many rivalries, one of which was with Erving. The two men put on some of the most spectacular clinics in the history of the sport when squaring off, and even had a game named after their rivalry.

5 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

For those who aren’t aware of how legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is, he won six NBA Championships throughout his career, and five of them took place in the 80s. It could be argued that he wasn’t the most key member of the team towards the end of the 80s, but Kareem was still a force on the court.

He was named as the Finals MVP in 1985, and remained an NBA All-Star throughout the decade until his retirement in 1989. To this day, Kareem still holds a number of impressive NBA records that only a few men can ever hope to beat.

4 Moses Malone

There are a lot of reasons why Moses Malone is one of the greatest players to ever do it, but his three Most Valuable Player wins (two of which came in the 80s) and his 1983 NBA Championship win all speak for themselves.

After coming close to the championship multiple times with the Rockets, Malone jumped to the 76ers in 1982 and finally won the big prize. He remained competitive throughout the eighties being named to the All-Star game nine years in a row during that decade.

3 James Worthy

A Los Angeles Lakers lifer, James Worthy helped lead the team to three separate championship wins in the late 80s. Officially joining the league in 1982, Worthy took some time to gain his footing in the league thanks to a serious injury in his rookie year.

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He bounced back quickly, and the Lakers became the most dominant force in the league with some extra help from some other legends of the sport. Still, Worthy’s skill as a small forward was a key piece in the success of the championship-winning team.

2 Larry Bird

When Larry Bird made it to the NBA, he was pretty much immediately successful. The three-time NBA Champion is not only regarded as one of the greatest players of the decade, but also of all time.

He’s a part of one of the most dominant teams in NBA history, the 1986 Celtics, and he had legendary rivalries with men like Magic Johnson and Julius Erving. He fell off a bit later in the 80s, but when Bird was on top, it was hard to bet against him.

1 Magic Johnson

The man, the myth, the legend, Magic Johnson was a five-time NBA Champion with every single win coming in the 80s. He spent his entire NBA career with the Lakers, something that clearly paid off for one of the best players to ever do it.

He picked up NBA Championships in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988, and managed to pick up more than a few additional awards during that time. His rivalry with Larry Bird is one of the most legendary in NBA history and is still fondly remembered today.

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