Here’s my take for most influential NBA players
George Mikan – credited for numerous NBA rule changes like the shot clock, goaltending, etc the first NBA superstar
Bill Russell – the first black superstar in the NBA, and the first black coach in American sports history
Wilt Chamberlain – also caused rule changes in the NBA, like you can’t dunk from free throw line for example
Oscar Robertson – the Oscar Robertson lawsuit led to higher salaries for all NBA players
Julius Erving – The main reason why the NBA decided to absorb the ABA was for this man, and he elevated dunking or “slam” dunking to a respected move whereas before it was looked down upon
Rick Barry – Rick Barry’s decision to sit out instead of play for the SF Warriors led to free agent contract changes in the NBA; now free agents have much less restrictive terms
Spencer Haywood – Spencer Haywood caused the NBA to changed which players can be drafted after high school; previously you had to go through 4 years of college before being drafted, but now you can be drafted right after high school, like Moses Malone (and later Kevin Garnett and others) did. It’s likely that Kobe and Lebron’s careers would be different if they were forced to play 4 years of college.
Larry Bird / Magic Johnson – “Saved the NBA”. The NBA had a drug problem in the 1970s and was seen as a black person’s game, didn’t get good ratings and the Finals were on tape delay. Bird and Magic revived the sport in America.
Michael Jordan – took the NBA global. Magic/Bird saved it in America, and Jordan took it international.
Stephen Curry is the poster child of the new NBA era – which is all about 3 point shots. Gone are traditional centers, gone are traditional midrange shots, now everyone plays small ball and shoots 3 pointers.