I know I have always said Jordan, and I think the precipitous drop off in the Bulls upon his departure and subsequent 72-10 mark upon his return are pretty compelling, as are his 6 finals MVPs and 5 regular season MVPs.
But......look at Wilt Chamberlain.
How many players have ever averaged over 50 points in a season? 1, Wilt.
40 ppg? Wilt, twice.
35 ppg? Wilt has 5, 4 other guys did it once (Jordan, Kobe, R. Barry, Baylor)
How many guys have had a 20-20 season? 4 - Wilt, Jerry Lucas, Nate Thurmond, Bob Petit. Lucas had 2, the other guys one each. Wilt? 10.
Greater than 20 Win Shares in a Season:
LeBron and Oscar - 1 each
Mikan, Jordan, Kareem - 3 each
In 1963-64, Wilt registered 25.0 Win Shares and took a team to the Finals that had Tom Meschery as its second best player. Wilt had the famous 50 PPG and 27 RPG season, but the 1963-64 season is statistically his best.
Wilt had a season where he averaged 24-23-8.6 and another 24-24-7.3. Since 1985-86, there have been 3 such 24-23-8 GAMES! (Barkley, KG, Vlade).
Wilt has more rebounds than anyone in the history of the game, averaging over 22 a game. Everyone says that is because the game was played at a far faster pace in, for example, 1961-62. True, pace was higher, but how much faster? By the 1980s, pace of play was about 100 possessions a game. In 1961-62, Wilt's team averaged 131 (#1 Pace in the league for any team). So - if you reduced his 22-27 rebounds a game during his peak by dividing by 1.31, a guy like Charles Barkley should have been rolling in 17-20 a game. His career average? 11.
And let's use some common sense. If the reason Wilt's numbers are so high is that the game was different, then why aren't EVERYONE's numbers from the 1960s so high? Why aren't there routinely 5-6-7 guys a year going 20-20? Why does Wilt have 10 such seasons and the rest of the universe of guys who have ever played has 4? Wilt averaged 50 points a game. NONE of his contemporaries ever averaged 40.
If you reduce Wilt's 24-24-8 down to 15-15-3, do you know how many seasons there have been since 1979 where a guy averaged 15-15-3? That would be none. If you go down to 15-15-2, you get Kevin Love one year and Kevin Willis another. That is it.
Wilt's reputation is always hurt by the claim that Bill Russell was better. Really? Russell's offensive stats are an utter embarrassment. He shot 44% from the floor and 56% from the line. Of all NBA players to play 20,000 minutes or more in the league, only two have this level of shooting -- Bill Russell and Bruce Bowen. Would we say that Bruce Bowen was a better player than Kobe? Because there were series where Bowen guarded Kobe and the Spurs won?
Wilt's career win loss record against Russell's teams is 25-26 regular season and 15-21 playoffs. Russell had Cousy, Sharmin, Jones, Jones, Havlicek, Heinsohn. Wilt one year had Meschery. when Wilt got a Hal Greer, he won a title. When Wilt got a Jerry West, he won a title.
Anyway, food for thought. My current belief is that the 4 best players in the history of the NBA are, in some order -- Jordan, LeBron, Wilt, Kareem. I am just saying that there is a good solid argument for Wilt being #1.