Court vision and the ability to deliver the basketball to the right spot at the right time are skills essential to getting assists. The top five assist leaders in NBA history have used these skills to throw basic chest passes as well as spectacular no-look passes to teammates for baskets.
The five men at the top of the NBA all-time assist leaders list have helped their teammates make 57,091 baskets. As a group these men have been selected to 45 All-Star Games and have led the NBA in assists 25 times. Three of the five were named Rookie of the Year; and three of them are members of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Here is a list of the top five assist leaders in NBA history (as of April 15, 2010):
5. Oscar Robertson (9,887 Career Assists)
Teams: Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks
Robertson is arguably the most complete player in NBA history. In just his second season in the league (1961-1962) “The Big O” averaged a triple-double (30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists) for the entire season, a feat that will probably never be duplicated. The 12-time All-Star (1961-1972) was named Rookie of the Year in 1961 and earned Most Valuable Player honors in 1964. Robertson led the NBA in assists six times (1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, and 1969) and in 1971 helped the Milwaukee Bucks win their only NBA Championship. Robertson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980 and in 1996 he was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
4. Earvin “Magic” Johnson (10,141 Career Assists)
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Whenever “Magic” Johnson had the basketball in his hands fans anticipated something magical. And he usually delivered. “Magic,” his infectious smile, and his rivalry with Larry Bird revitalized the NBA. The five-time NBA Champion (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988) led the NBA in assists four times (1983, 1984, 1986, and 1987). Johnson was selected to 12 All-Star Games (1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992) and won three Most Valuable Player Awards (1987, 1989, and 1990). “Magic” was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996 and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
3. Mark Jackson (10,334 Career Assists)
Teams: New York Knicks (twice), Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers (twice), Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz, and Houston Rockets
Jackson was never the most athletic player on the court but his ability to lead a basketball team is unquestioned. In his rookie season (1987-1988) Jackson led the New York Knicks (who had missed the postseason the prior three seasons) to the playoffs. During his 17-year career he led his team to the postseason 14 times. The 1988 Rookie of the Year holds the rookie record for assists in a season with 868. “Action” Jackson was named an All-Star in 1989 and led the NBA in assists in 1997.
2. Jason Kidd (10,923 Career Assists)
Teams: Dallas Mavericks (twice), Phoenix Suns, New Jersey Nets
Kidd, the only active player on this list, will become the second player in NBA history to dish out 11,000 career assists early in the 2010-2011 season. The 10-time All-Star (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2010) has led the NBA in assists 5 times (1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004). Kidd shared Rookie of the Year honors with Grant Hill in 1995 and will become eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame five years after he retires.
1. John Stockton (15,806 Career Assists)
Team: Utah Jazz
On February 5, 1995, at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Karl Malone converted a 17-foot baseline jumper off of a bounce pass from John Stockton. That pass gave Stockton his 9,222nd assist as he surpassed “Magic” Johnson and became the NBA’s all-time assist leader. “Stock” would play another eight seasons and add 6,584 more assists to his career total. The 10-time All-Star (1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 2000) led the league in assists an NBA record nine consecutive seasons (1988-1996) and recorded more than 1,000 assists seven times. Stockton, who is also the all-time leader in steals, was so unselfish that he recorded more assists (15,806) than field goal attempts (13,658) for his career. In 1996 Stockton was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and in 2009 he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Click here for profiles on the top five scorers in NBA history.
Click here for profiles on the top five rebounders in NBA history.
Click here for a list of the NBA’s all-time assist leaders.
Information from Basketball-Reference.com, NBA.com: Encyclopedia, and NBA Universe.com was used for this article.