What makes a great basketball player?
There’s clearly a wide range of factors that shape the psyche and physicality of a great basketball player, from determination and commitment to an innate desire to be the best.
But could a lack of hair also help to distinguish the good from the great? We jest, of course, but there’s no doubt that some of the best NBA players of all time had one thing in common: their baldness.
So, here’s our breakdown of the best bald NBA players and a look at what made them so successful in the sport.
Before you mention it, we know that Kobe Bryant isn’t technically ‘bald’, but the so-called “Black Mamba” shaved his head so regularly that he’s more than qualified to feature on this list.
The Laker legend spent his entire 20-year career in Los Angeles, and is one of the greatest ever scorers to ply his trade in the NBA (he currently sits fourth on the league’s all-time scoring list).
Also renowned for his immense work ethic and intense mentality, Bryant has hit countless game winners and clutch shots and has the distinction of being an 18-times All Star.
He has also lifted the NBA Championship five times, which makes this guaranteed hall-of-famer one of the most decorated, shaven headed players in the history of basketball.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Like Bryant, Kareem Abdul Jabbar sported hair early in his career, with the highly decorated college player renowned for his eye-catching fro as a youngster.
As a college player, Jabbar won the NCAA Championship and the National College Player of the Year in each of his three years at UCLA, under the tutelage of legendary coach John Wooden.
He then went on to dominate the NBA, winning six Championships, the same number of MVPs and making a staggering 19 All-Star teams. Oh, he’s also earned repute as the all-time leading NBA scorer, thanks largely to his truly unstoppable ‘skyhook’ finish.
For his utter dominance of college basketball and the NBA alone, he deserves to rank high on any list of the best bald players of all-time! Also, few of the stars on our list rock the shaven headed look quite like Jabbar!
And now for the least surprising entry on our list; as Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, with or without hair!
He can also lay claim to being one of the best and most successful bald athletes in history, which is quite an achievement when you consider the iconic status of Kelly Slater, Floyd Mayweather and similar stars.
To reel off his incredible list of accolades is to pay homage to his immense talent, with Jordan currently ranked as the fifth leading scorer in NBA history and revered as a six-time champion.
‘Air Jordan’ is also a five-times MVP winner and a 14-times All Star, despite the fact that his career in the NBA was limited to just 15 seasons.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Jordan was his ruthlessness and ability to perform in big matches, as proven by his undefeated record in the finals. No single match embodied this better than the so-called “Flu Game”, where Jordan played despite being extremely sick and led the Chicago Bulls to a crucial victory against the Jazz in the 1997 NBA finals.
In fact, he managed to drop 38 points and a clutch jumper during this game, so those of you who never saw him in action can only imagine just how good this bald icon was when fully fit!
Shaquille O’Neal is another all-time great, and one who’s renowned as an incredibly dominant player (both in terms of his achievements and immense physicality).
To put this in perspective, Shaq measured a staggering 2.16 metres (7ft 1in) in height, meaning that he towered over many of his competitors and made for an imposing player on court.
As for his list of honours, these include four NBA Championships and 15 All Star selections, while Shaq was also voted as the NBA’s most valuable player in 2000.
O’Neal also won three consecutive NBA finals MVP awards between 2000 and 2002, during which time he peaked as a player and starred for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Interestingly, O’Neal’s unique strength and power equipped him with an effective ‘drop step’ and dunking ability, which contributed to an impressive career field goal accuracy of .582 (second only to Artis Gilmore as the highest field goal percentage of all-time).
Overall, the shaven-headed Shaq led the NBA in field goal percentage 10 times, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s record of nine in the process.
On the subject of dunking, the next entrant on our list is Vince Carter. Make no mistake; “Vinsanity” threw down some truly incredible dunks during his career, which spanned an astonishing 22 years between 1998 and 2020.
That’s right, Carter retired in June 2020 at the tender age of 43, after representing eight teams and earning eight NBA All Star awards throughout his career.
During his career, Carter became one of just six players in NBA history to average at least 20 points, four rebounds and three assists per game in 10 straight seasons. These represent genuine Hall-of-Fame level numbers, so it’s no surprise that this bald superstar features prominently on our list!
However, it’s as a dunker that Carter remains best known, with the shooting guard having once jumped over a seven-footer during a game in the Olympics.
He also dominated the NBA ‘Slam Dunk Contest’ in 2000, arguably providing the single most memorable performance in the history of the event. This included an array of creative dunks, such a 360-degree windmill, a between-the-legs bounce dunk and the iconic ‘elbow in the rim’ dunk (also known as a cookie jar dunk).
Kidd is another star who made our ‘best bald athletes’ list in February, although like Kareem Abdul Jabbar he sported a full head of hair early on in his career.
This took the form of a shocking bleach-blonde crop, although it’s fair to say that Kidd sported a clean, shaven-headed look for the vast majority of his time in the NBA.
We’d also argue that he may not have achieved the career he did without shaving his scalp, but then we’re probably a little biased!
A stellar career saw Kidd claim one NBA Championship, Rookie of the Year in 1995 and an impressive 10 NBA All Star selections. He also earned an Olympic Gold in Sydney in 2000, while amassing 25,728 points (16.7 per game) in his career.
Although we’re well aware that Kidd didn’t do particularly well as a coach, Kidd’s consistency and on-court achievements make him a guaranteed Hall-of-Famer, so he’s well worth a place on this star-studded list.
Now for a genuine and iconic bald superstar, who’s probably best known for his time representing the Seattle Supersonics.
Known as ‘The Glove’, Payton is considered to be one of the best defenders of all time, with the point guard boasting a slick and comprehensive skill set that was even known to trouble the great Michael Jordan on occasions.
During a 17-year professional career, Payton claimed an NBA Championship and nine All Star selections. He’s also a former ‘Defensive Player of the Year’ (1996), while he has already earned accreditation in the NBA’s coveted Hall of Fame!
Overall, Payton spent 13 years with the Sonics, so it should come as no surprise that he continues to hold Seattle franchise records in points, assists and (most importantly) steals.
However, it’s interesting to note that despite his stellar performances for the Sonics, his sole NBA Championships came towards the end of his career at Miami Heat in 2006.
The Glove retired the following year, while the bald icon currently plies his trade as a coach in Ice Cube’s BIG3 League!
The fact that the great Charles Barkely is number eight on this list is telling, particularly in terms of just how many bald NBA stars have plied their trade through the years.
Also known lovingly as ‘Chuck’, Barkley is an 11-times All Star, achieving this recognition for 11 consecutive years between 1987 and 1997. This run spanned his time with three NBA teams; namely the 76ers, Phoenix Suns and the Houston Rockets.
Barkley also earned repute as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 1993 (his second season with the Suns), while two years’ previously he’d become the NBA All Star Game MVP.
Of course, Barkley’s list of career accolades is missing an NBA Championship, which makes him something of an outlier amongst his peers here. However, his consistent performances and dominance as a rebounder (despite being relatively short for a power forward) are testament to his incredible mentality and immense will-to-win as a player.
Barkley was also named as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history during the league’s 50th anniversary in 1996, while this irrepressibly bald superstar now continues to make waves as a skilled analyst on the hit ‘Inside the NBA’ show.
On the subject of skilled bald power forwards, no list of this type would be complete without Karl ‘The Mailman’ Malone.
Arguably the best power forward of all-time, Malone spent a considerable period of time as the NBA’s leading points scorer, although he has since fallen to second having been overtaken by Kareem Abdul Jabbar (another bald icon on our list!).
In addition to amassing a staggering 36,928 points, the distinguished Malone is a 14-times All Star and 2-time MVP. He also won two NBA All Star Game MVP awards in 1989 and 1993, during which time he embarked on a stellar 18-year stint with Utah Jazz.
Here, both he and John Stockton lit up the court for the Jazz, forming an often unstoppable scoring duo that put numerous teams to the sword. Overall, Malone performed at the very highest level for 26 years, playing the final year of his career with the LA Lakers after leaving the Jazz in 2003.
Like Barkley, the only thing missing from Malone’s resume is an NBA Championship, but he can surely lay claim to being the best player ever not to win this honour?
Big, bald and bold, Kevin Garrett is a bald baller who put up some truly astounding numbers during his 21-year career with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets.
Interestingly, he both started and ended his career with the Timberwolves, spending 12 years with the side between 1995 and 2007 before playing out his final year at the Target Centre.
Although Garnett may lack the name or perceived ability of a Jordan or a Barkley, he’s highly thought of within the NBA, while his roll of honour is up there with any of the bald icons previously mentioned on our list.
To this end, ‘The Big Ticket’ is a 15-times All Star, a former MVP (in 2004) and an NBA Championship (won during his second year with the Boston Celtics in 2008). He starred alongside Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in his championship year, making the All-NBA First Team for the fourth and final time in the process.
It’s his efforts with the Timberwolves which really caught the eye, however, as Garnett’s incredible talent and larger-than-life persona dragged the team from obscurity and to their first ever play-off win in 1997.
During his career, Garnett scored a staggering 26,071 points (17.8 per game), while also landing 14,662 rebounds (at a rate of 10.0 per game).
The Last Word
So there you have it; our list of the best bald NBA players of all time! Of course, these stars are also amongst the best ever to have plied their trade in the NBA, regardless of whether they shaved their heads or lost their hair gradually over time.
Some of you may also notice the absence of Magic Johnson, but while this five-time NBA Champion 12-times All Star may sport a shaved scalp now, he had a full head of hair when he played. So while he doesn’t quite qualify for the list, Magic Johnson definitely earns an honorary mention as one of the most iconic NBA players.
What do you think? There are so many talented athletes in the world of basketball – many of who confidently sport a bald or shaved head – so these are just a few of our personal favourites. If you agree with our list, or if there’s anyone you think we missed, be sure to comment below!