Top 10 Mentally Toughest NBA Players of All-Time
When it comes to the mentally toughest NBA players, there are two names that always pop up in the conversation. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. With that being said, the greatest of all time himself, Jordan, made headlines days before he inducted the Black Mamba in the Basketball Hall of Fame alongside Kobe’s wife, Vanessa Bryant. Jordan raised some eyebrows when he said that Kobe was the only player who was mentally tougher than he was, which sparked quite a conversation among sports outlets. With that being said, it is an interesting topic. A topic which warrants a top-10 list. So, without further adieu, let’s count down the 10 mentally toughest players in NBA history.
10 Most Mentally Tough NBA Players Ever
10. The 11x Champion
Having played in an era where racism was still widely prevalent, Bill Russell still made himself a made man. We all know about the 11 rings. However, some of the stories from his time are absolutely wild. This is the same man who would outplay the great, Wilt Chamberlain, almost every time they matched up with each other. Don’t let stats fool you, Wilt may have gotten numbers when going up against Russell, but usually, Bill was coming away with the last laugh and a W in the win-loss column.
Russell also had a clutch gene of his own as he was not a go-to scorer, but always made an impact in clutch time with his defense and his rebounding. He recorded an insane 24.9 rebounds per game during the postseason. He accomplished all of this while dealing with social justice issues off the court making him worthy of the 10th spot on this countdown.
9. Uncle Reg
Reggie Miller is known as one of the greatest trash-talkers of all time. The man was a sniper from long range and was willing to go at anyone. That included the likes of Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing. We all remember the infamous game where he did the choke at mid-court of Madison Square Garden and exchanged words with the famous, Spike Lee. Miller was a player you hated if he was on the opposing squad but loved to go to battle with if he was on your team.
LeBron James is a polarizing figure in basketball in general. It gets really heated when his mental toughness is brought up by the media. Earlier in his career, he would not have even cracked this list. As his career has progressed and has added to his resume, he now gets the eighth spot on this list. You do not go under as much scrutiny as he has received, come away with four titles, and have a streak of 10-straight NBA Finals appearances while undergoing constant criticism without having a little bit of mental fortitude. Love him or hate him, he does belong on this countdown.
7. The Captain
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has an argument for being the most decorated player in NBA history. His resume is absolutely insane. He is a 19-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion, one-time rebounding champion, four-time block champion, six-time NBA champion, 15-time All-NBA Team member, 11-time All-Defensive Team member, former Rookie of the Year, two-time Finals MVP, six-time league MVP, and of course, a Hall of Famer. Many forget that Abdul-Jabbar was actually a champion before he showed up to Los Angeles as he and Oscar Robertson won a title in Milwaukee for the Bucks. There is not much to say here, you do not get this myriad of accomplishments without being mentally tough.
6. The Bad Boys’ Point Guard
Isiah Thomas is famous for being the leader of the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons. The man backed down from no one, including Michael Jordan. As a matter of fact, Jordan and Thomas have never gotten along since their battles back in the 1980s and 1990s. Also, we cannot talk about Thomas’ mental toughness without mentioning the fact that he came back into a Finals game with a ruptured Achilles injury, one of the most painful injuries. Oh, and never mind the fact that he went on to score 25 points in the fourth quarter with this gruesome injury.
5. The Answer
Allen Iverson may be most known for his iconic crossover, but the dude also backed down from nobody. Despite all the bumps and bruises, he would continue to attack the paint and go up amongst the trees game after game. This was in an era where the officials were still letting the defenses be physical as well. Not to mention, it takes a special kind of person to go back and forth and jaw with the great Kobe Bryant. All of this is why he is the fifth mentally toughest player in NBA history.
4. The Big Fundamental
If there was ever a silent assassin in the NBA, then Tim Duncan fits that bill. Never forget the time when a young DeMarcus Cousins got a basket on him and made the mistake of getting hyped in front of the Big Fundamental himself. What did Timmy do? He proceeded to score for about five straight possessions. It was then when Cousins realized who he was dealing with. He had just witnessed a “welcome to the league,” moment. Duncan may have not been much for words, but he always kept his cool and always silently went to work stuffing the box score and coming out with the win. His mental toughness was one of the most underrated qualities of his game and it nets him fourth place on this list.
3. Larry Legend
The stories are endless when it comes to Larry Bird. Whether it was getting into full-blown fights on the court, walking into the locker room of the Three-Point Shootout and asking “whose coming in second?” and winning the contest without taking his warmup off, or playing an entire game while shooting with just his left hand and still posting a solid stat-line, Bird was certainly one of a kind. We know of the rivalry he had with Magic Johnson and just how insane Bird’s will to win was throughout his career. Before Michael Jordan even entered the league, Larry Bird was the one known for having a “killer’s mentality,” on the hardwood.
2. The Black Mamba
This should come as no surprise that Kobe Bryant is in the top two of the mentally toughest NBA players. Kobe emulated nearly everything of Michael Jordan. That included the mental aspect of the game. Sure, some may have hated playing alongside Kobe. Some could not deal with the intensity he even brought to practice. However, one thing cannot be denied is the success Bryant achieved for himself and his respective teammates. Just ask Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol, and many others. It is a shame he is no longer here. Hearing Jordan say that Kobe was mentally tougher would have been the ultimate compliment and feather in the cap for the Black Mamba himself to hear in person.
1. The GOAT-MJ
Are you really surprised that the GOAT is number one on this list of mentally toughest NBA players? If you need any more proof of Jordan’s mental toughness, just go watch or rewatch the Last Dance documentary. He may have not been the “nicest,” teammate to play with, but guys like Steve Kerr will tell you it was worth it in the long run.
Six titles, six Finals MVPs, 14 All-Star appearances, five MVPs, and many more accolades are the proof. No one was getting into Jordan’s head and his mental fortitude was unmatched by anyone in NBA history.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images