Basketball strength is different. It’s holding your ground when a 280-pound goliath tries to post you up in the lane. It’s securing the loose ball in a scrum of hands and elbows. It’s repeatedly out-jumping taller players to snatch rebounds. It rarely shows up in weight room stats. That’s not to say those numbers don’t matter to us, but just because you, with your much shorter arms, may be able to out-bench an NBA forward or center on our list doesn’t mean he wouldn’t destroy you on the hardwood with his basketball strength (not to mention his size). So, for ballers, reputations matter, too. We sorted through the legends and verified the stats. In alphabetical order, these are the 10 strongest NBA players of all time.
6’11”, 250, center, NBA: 2013-
When ESPN crowned the strongest current NBA player three years ago, it was an easy choice: the Kiwi Giant, Steve Adams. Adams claims his reputation as “immovable object” comes from his excellent balance. “Most of the guys would smoke me in the weight room,” he said. “Like Serge [Ibaka], Serge in the weight room, mate, he was like getting it in every day, just killing it. But on the court, I could just move him around.” And no one can move him. His power pays off in other ways: long distance passes. In 2019, he threw an inbounds pass from beneath one basket to nearly the other basket (the court is 94 feet or 28.65 meters) for a buzzer beater halftime shot. Unofficially, at 92 feet, it’s the longest assist in NBA history.
7’1″, 275, center, NBA: 1959-1973
Wilt was a legend, and there a lot of legends about Wilt. Many peg him as the strongest NBA player of all time. Legends grow with time, so it’s difficult to sort the truth from the exaggerations now. We don’t believe he bench pressed 500 pounds, as is commonly reported. And in a video interview, he claimed at his best he could bench “around 600 pounds”! At his weight and height with such long arms, 400 would’ve been incredible. 300 would’ve been very respectable, arm length considered, and might still have put him on this list if he’d done it in the ’60s. Of course, he competed decades before Instagram workout posts. Still, we found no photo or film footage of him working out with weights. Did Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain, a 13-time All-Star and 4-time MVP, even lift during his playing days? Few players did then. Maybe that’s why he thought “around 600” was something he could do, not realizing it would’ve been a near world record during his playing career.
Okay, forget bench pressing. Wilt, who dominated the paint with the Warriors, 76ers, and Lakers, may still have been the strongest NBA player of his era. His combined size and athleticism was unmatched. No less than Arnold Schwarzenegger said in 2012: “He came to the gym and he would do a triceps extension that the strongest guys would do 120 [pounds], let’s say, and he would do 150 or 170 [pounds].” Arnold also said during filming of Conan the Destroyer (1984), 47-year-old Chamberlain “lifted me up with one hand like nothing.” But back to his playing days. Chamberlain’s former teammate, Johnny “Red” Kerr, said: “People talk about the strength of Shaq. I think Wilt could have picked up Shaq and thrown him through the hoop. That’s no disrespect to Shaq, but Wilt was the strongest guy I ever played against.” Some legends are true.
6’7″, 250, small forward, NBA: 2005-2011
Who? Here’s the guy on our list you’re least likely to have heard of. Like Stephen Paea on our NFL all-time strongest player list, Joey Graham is here for one reason: He holds the combine bench press record for NBA players. Unlike the NFL combine, which uses 225 lbs. for its bench press test, the NBA combine uses 185 lbs. Joey Graham put up 26 reps in 2005, which equates to a 347-lb. bench press for one rep. The heavily muscled Graham (the shortest man on our honor roll) subsequently played four seasons with Toronto and then one with Denver and another with Cleveland. We realize bench-for-reps isn’t an ideal qualifier of basketball strength, but as long as the NBA uses it as as their pre-draft strength test, we’ll salute the NBA player who cranked out the most reps.
As with the NFL and Justin Ernest, the NBA’s combine bench press record is held by someone who never played in the league. Jason Keep benched 27 reps in 2003 but never logged an NBA minute. Additionally, Josh Duncan, JP Batista, and Kenny Adeleke each, like Graham, benched 26 at the combine, but, unlike Graham, none of them ever made an NBA roster.
6’9″, 250, power forward, NBA: 2009-
Let’s stick with combine numbers for Blake Griffin. His 22 bench press reps with 185 (equating to a 321-pound bench press for one rep) in 2009 is the best total for a good NBA player, let alone a great one like this 6-time All-Star. (12 reps is the combine average for big men.) At that same combine, his vertical leap was 35.5 inches, which requires a lot of leg power when you weigh, as he did then, 248 pounds. During his NBA career, mostly with the Clippers, Griffin has been one of the most muscular players. He’s worked for it. His shoulders stand out, but he claims it’s the relentless core and lower body work that has best translated to the basketball court. “People think the stronger you are in the upper body, the better you’ll be,” Griffin said. “But a lot of time, the strongest-looking guys are the easiest ones to push around because, from the waist down, they aren’t strong.” Griffin doesn’t get pushed around. He does the pushing.
6’11, 265, center, NBA: 2004-
Once a skinny kid who couldn’t even bench press 135 when he first tried in high school, 8-time NBA All-Star Dwight Howard built himself into a three-time Defensive Player of the Year (2009-11). In early 2008, he told Stack that he had recently bench pressed 365 lbs. Judging by his physique, we believe it—even considering his long arms. “Dwight is unique in that he’s got that genetic ability to do pretty much anything we put in front of him. He’s naturally strong and naturally gifted in every sense. He’s just a freak when it comes to strength, power and speed. You couldn’t ask for a better physical specimen,” the Orlando Magic’s strength coach said of Howard then. Like Griffin, Howard also had a 35.5-inch vertical leap at the combine (in 2004, when he weighed 240). In 2008, Howard said, “I remember when I used to be really skinny. And because of that, I’ve always wanted to have nice arms with big triceps and big biceps. I want to continue to make my chest real big and get my abs nice. This helps me as a basketball player, too; because when I’m like this and in tip-top shape, it helps me avoid injuries. I plan on spending a lot of time in the weight room lifting, so I can play for a very long time.” At 36, he’s still playing, and he’s still one of the best built and strongest players in the NBA.
6’9″, 260, power forward, NBA: 1985-2004
Refusing to talk about the specifics, “The Mailman” told Sports Illustrated in 1992: “Look, my workout is important to me. I don’t do it for fun, and I don’t do it for glory. I do it because it’s necessary. I feel my strength and my endurance have given me an advantage, and I want to keep that advantage.” You can’t always judge strength by size, but in Malone’s case the muscles didn’t lie. The Hall of Famer, 2-time MVP, and 14-time All-Star, who played all but his final season with the Utah Jazz, was every bit as strong as he looked—and he looked damn strong. In 1997, the Jazz strength coach said: “People always ask me how much can Karl bench press. I give them this dead pan look and say, ‘About 350 pounds. Are you impressed?’ They sort of wrinkle their forehead and answer, ‘Yeah, I guess.’ But, you just know they wanted to hear something like 500 pounds. Then I say, ‘Karl can bench 350 and then sprint down to the other basket and bench 350 again. Then, sprint all the way back to the other end of the court and do it again. And, I’d bet my last wad of bubble gum that Karl Malone could stay above 300 pounds with 100 trips up and down the court. Now are you impressed?’ Every time, I get this big wide grin as they answer in the affirmative.” That’s basketball strength.
7’1″, 315-395, center, NBA: 1992-2011
Shaq is the biggest big man on our list. Other players couldn’t move him, and he could move easily through other players. His basketball strength is legendary, but he never visited the weight room during the season. He told Muscle & Fitness: “You get beat up during the season. I was too tired to waste energy lifting weights.” He claimed his favorite exercises were the bench press and swimming. And when he did bench press during the offseasons of his NBA career, he claimed his best bench press was 475. We’ve seen no evidence of him bench pressing so much, but considering Shaq weighed nearly 400 at his heaviest it certainly seems possible. Any strength feat seems possible with the supersized Shaq. O’Neal, a 15-time All-Star, MVP, and Basketball Hall of Famer, has become something of a bodybuilder since retiring. Between business meetings, TV and podcast gigs, and commercial shoots, he’s trained by former pro bodybuilder Roc Shabazz, and he’s an annual front row spectator at the Olympia.
6’11”, 310, center, NBA: 2010-2017
Early drafts of this list included legends Lebron James and Artis Gilmore, who would still make our top 12. But too many players pointed to the Montenegrin Mountain as the strongest player they ever faced, so he edged out those legends and a few more. Nikola Peković is not a big NBA name today. But he was a very big NBA player. He could supposedly bench press 360 lbs. and “squat a dump truck,” but it wasn’t his weight room numbers that impressed. It was his inability to be moved by anyone and his ability to move everyone. Veteran center Brad Miller said in 2012: “He’s probably the strongest guy in the league right now.” And Minnesota Timberwolves teammate Anthony Tolliver said then: “If he decides to get to a spot, you can’t move him. As a defender, you can’t really push him out of the way.” In 2020, Andre Drummond said of Peković: “He’s by far the strongest human I played against in my life. He is a very, very strong man. I hated playing them every time I saw them on the schedule. Hated it. I knew he would move me around. I felt like a kid. He was just pushing me around. I’m fighting as hard as I can to stop him from backing me into the paint and I can’t stop him. Yeah, he’s very, very, very strong. He’s the reason I started lifting harder. I can say that to this day, he is the reason why I started lifting weights more seriously.” Recently, Chandler Parson also highlighted Peković as the strongest player he ever faced. Nikola Peković’s career was cut short by ankle injuries, but his legendary strength endures.
6’9″, 240, power-forward/center, NBA: 1996-2012
Ben Wallace claims his biggest bench press was 460 pounds, which is nearly twice his playing weight! We’ve seen no evidence of such a big bench. Still, one thing isn’t in doubt: Wallace transformed himself in the weight room from a skinny, weak kid into one of the strongest players of his era. Initially undrafted by the NBA, he played a season in Europe before making it the big league and becoming an unlikely NBA superstar. Though he never average even 10 points per game, he was a 4-time Defensive Player of the Year, 2-time Rebounding Champ, 1-time Block Leader, and 4-time All-Star. In a segment for NBA Inside Stuff, Wallace claimed shoulders were the area of his body that needed to be the strongest to absorb the pounding he had to take from opposing players. Most of those players around the paint were heavier and taller than Ben Wallace (the lightest man on our honor roll), but, thanks to his weight room workout ethic, few, if any, were stronger.
7’0″, 245, power forward/center, NBA: 1984-2005, 2007
Who was the strongest NBA player of the ’80s? There were a lot of guys who threw their weight around in that bruising decade, including Charles Barkley, Rick Mahorn, Darryl Dawkins, and Charles Oakley. But we’ve narrowed it down to Malone or Willis. In 1987, Sports Illustrated wrote: “Willis bench-presses 375 pounds when he feels like it, but he does very little weight training during the season, which may turn into a blessing for the Hawks’ opponents. ‘If I get much stronger, I’m going to hurt somebody bad and not mean to,’ he says, almost smiling.” But apparently his strength kept growing, because in a 1991 profile of Willis, Sports Illustrated said he was bench pressing 400 pounds. The next year he grabbed a career high 15.5 rebounds per game and was an All-Star. And basketball’s Iron Man just kept going and going. Thanks to his work ethic, Willis’ muscular physique stayed nearly injury-free over his more than two-decade career. His very short comeback in 2007 at 44 gives him the record for oldest NBA player ever. But its his strength 15-20 years before that places him on this list.