Our understanding of elite rebounders has changed over the years, as the solid oak centers of the 1970s have evolved into the hyper-versatile big men of today. What hasn't changed are the ingredients necessary to wreak havoc on the boards: energy, will, instincts and a touch of nastiness.
That mixture can come in all shapes and sizes, from undersized power forwards to supersized centers, and from a sinewy worm to a 300-pound-plus Superman. Here's a rundown of the 10 paint monsters who ruled the rebound in the NBA, with a definition of rebounding strength that takes into account volume, per-game productivity, longevity and the range of body types that can get the job done.
The fact that no current players make the list says more about their predecessors than it does about the quality of active rebounders. Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard were all seriously considered, and Kevin Love could emerge as another legitimate candidate if he continues his strong early career work. But making room for one of those four requires displacing one of the following 10 rebounding legends, nine of whom are already Hall of Famers with the 10th on his way to Springfield soon.
10. Shaquille O'Neal
The self-proclaimed "Most Dominant Ever" didn't own the rebounding record books as much as you would expect, given his unprecedented physical gifts. O'Neal never won a rebounding title in his 19-year NBA career, as rebounding specialists like Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace stood in his way, but he did average at least 10 rebounds in each of his first 13 seasons. A giant whose nicknames invariably started with "Big," O'Neal possessed a huge base, very good quickness for his size and next-level upper-body strength. He ranks No. 13 all time with more than 13,000 rebounds.
9. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The NBA's all-time scoring leader stands as the league's third-most-prolific rebounder, having secured more than 17,000 rebounds in a career that spanned most of the 1970s and 1980s. The slender Abdul-Jabbar might not have been a "paint monster" in its traditional form, but power and productivity are not mutually exclusive. The same insane wingspan that launched skyhook after skyhook helped him average double figures in rebounds for 12 straight seasons, including every year of the 1970s. Abdul-Jabbar peaked in 1975-76, averaging 16.9 boards to win his only rebounding title and his fourth of six MVP awards.
8. Charles Barkley
Many observers regard Barkley -- nicknamed the Round Mound of Rebound -- as the best "inch-for-inch" glass cleaner the game has known. Officially listed at 6-foot-6, Barkley told
7. Wes Unseld
A punishing, old-school big man who played much bigger than his 6-7 frame, Unseld simply "abused" people, according to Knicks great Willis Reed. The NBA's No. 10 all-time rebounder won the 1975 rebounding title and helped lead the Bullets to four Finals appearances, winning the 1978 title and earning Finals MVP honors. Regarded as a bit of an overachiever who pushed his physical gifts to the limit, Unseld finished in the top three in rebounding six times and retired with an average of 14 per game over a 12-year career, the sixth-best mark in league history.
6. Nate Thurmond
The rugged, bruising Thurmond was a talent on both sides of the ball and a prototypical monster in the paint. Thurmond never won a rebounding title, as his peak years coincided with those of Wilt Chamberlain and Elvin Hayes, but he did average more than 20 rebounds in 1967 and '68, highlighting a 12-year run in which he averaged double digits. The seven-time All-Star is one of only five players to average more than 15 rebounds for his career and he ranks No. 8 on the all-time list. Thurmond also happens to hold the distinction of being the first player to record a quadruple-double (once blocks became an official statistic).
5. Elvin Hayes
The Big E's laundry list of accomplishments includes 12 All-Star appearances, the 1978 title and a place in the Hall of Fame, but his monster early-career productivity can get lost in Chamberlain's mammoth shadow. Hayes wasn't too far behind as Chamberlain was racking up the rebounding titles, averaging at least 14 rebounds in his first six seasons after being the No. 1 pick in the 1968 NBA draft. He won two rebounding titles, including in 1973-74, when he hauled in more than 18 rebounds per game while also leading the league in minutes with 44.5. A voluminous rebounder into his 30s, Hayes ranks No. 4 on the all-time list.
4. Moses Malone
The strong, determined Malone managed a feat neither Chamberlain nor Bill Russell can claim: He won five straight rebounding titles. From 1980 to 1985, Malone reigned supreme, averaging between 13 and 15 rebounds every season for the Rockets and Sixers, bringing home a 1983 championship ring and two of his three MVP awards in the process. The 12-time All-Star ranks No. 5 all time in rebounding, even though his 1,622 rebounds over two ABA seasons aren't included in his NBA total. Although the stat wasn't kept until the 1970s, Malone ranks No. 1 in offensive rebounds, with 6,731, more than 2,000 clear of his closest competition.
3. Dennis Rodman
The Worm possessed the best rebounding instincts the modern game has ever seen, wiggling his way to rebounds on both ends through hustle and sacrifice. With only a limited offensive game to draw upon, Rodman searched for every possible advantage, fully embodying the rebounding specialist role by studying angles and player tendencies and becoming a master of mind games. His hairstyles, piercings and off-court lifestyle suggested a player who was lacking in self control, but his seven consecutive rebounding titles (an NBA record), five titles and 13.1 career rebounding average (No. 11 all time) were the results of a committed, gifted professional. The iconic picture of Rodman has him fully laid out, horizontal, tracking down the basketball. Nothing and no one would stand in his way.
2. Wilt Chamberlain
The Big Dipper was so dominant that his numbers are incomprehensible in the the modern context: He averaged 50 points per game in 1962, pulled down more than 27 rebounds per game as a rookie and secured an NBA-record 55 rebounds in one game in 1960. Although he played only 14 seasons, fewer than many of the names on this list, Chamberlain won a record 11 rebounding titles and he had a chance to win eight straight if not for a knee injury that cost him most of the 1969-70 regular season.
Big, extraordinarily fast and blessed with elite athleticism and technical skills, Chamberlain was a solid two decades ahead of his time. He remains No. 1 in career rebounds and rebounding average. For comparison, the top active rebounder, Kevin Garnett, trails Chamberlain by more than 10,000 rebounds and has averaged less than half as many rebounds per game over his own first-ballot Hall of Fame career.
1. Bill Russell
The "Russell vs. Chamberlain" debate will rage forever, but the Celtics' center is the only man who can be placed in the same galaxy as Wilt The Stilt when it comes to rebounding stats. Russell is the NBA's No. 2 rebounder, with more than 21,000 rebounds in a 13-season career, and he averaged an eye-popping 22.5 rebounds, just a few decimal points behind Chamberlain.
No player controlled a game like Russell, whose board work and shot-blocking skills powered Boston to 11 titles, making him the NBA's all-time winningest player. He led the NBA in rebounding five times and finished second to Chamberlain five additional times. He is the NBA leader with 4,104 rebounds in the playoffs.