I think there's too much discrepancy when it comes to stating what makes a player "greater" than another.
I have a personal view on the subject that I always stick to:
Take Shaq vs Hakeem, for example. Who's "greater"?
Shaq was more dominant throughout his career, meaning, he was more statistically productive, and he also won more. He would be the popular choice for "greater" or "better". But Hakeem I thought was actually the "better basketball player", because he went much further in terms of mastering the game, which I think is what makes you truly "better". Not just putting up stats, but mastering different aspects of the game, becoming not just efficient but proficient.
Some people will say, "no, the player that gives a team a better chance of winning with his individual play is the better player". And it's tough to disagree. I just think that we should reward the finetuning of skills, the training and work it takes to achieve great proficiency and master various aspects of the game, maybe even the entire game. Fundamentals, skills, versatility, longevity. Not just being a physical freak who is just too big and too strong to stop.
So, considering this, I've always thought of TWO lists. The first is a list of the "greatest players ever" in the conventional sense, i.e., considering their on-court production and achievements. The second list is a list of (IMO) the best basketball players of all time, using the reasoning I described above.
Here they are:
"GOAT" in the conventional sense: 1) MJ. 2) Kareem. 3) Magic. 4) Russell. 5) Kobe. 6) Shaq 7) Wilt. 8) Bird. 9) Duncan. 10) Hakeem - Big O.
Best basketball players ever (IMO - in terms of mastering the game): 1) MJ - Kobe. 2) Kareem. 3) Bird. 4) Magic. 5) Hakeem. 6) Jerry West. 7) Duncan. 8) Karl Malone. 9) Iverson-Baylor-Maravich 10) John Stockton.
This last one was a very tough list to compile, especially the last three positions. I have other players in mind that you could place in those spots and I wouldn't argue that much.
I went with Malone at 8) because I believe he deserves a lot of recognition for his offensive prowess, and also his ability to sustain it for an amazing period of time. Longevity in terms of sustained excellence is a very important aspect of the game to me, because it shows the depth of a player's ability, their dedication and work ethic, and their versatility.
#9 is a weird part of my list. There I placed players that met my criteria of high level of basketball ability and versatility, but also grouped them together for a special reason: each player was so unique and different in his extensive ability, that they revolutionized their positions.
Iverson gets the spot because his playing style was very unique, and when talking pure ability, his goes through the roof.
He was an impressive and versatile offensive player, and a very disruptive defender too. His tendency to take ill-advised shots or to shoot too much (combined with his lack of certain "accolades") usually gets him bounced from most lists, but I think he deserves a spot.
Same with Baylor and Maravich. Incredible individual talents, but they often get looked over because either people don't know much about them, or focus way too much on championships (which can be unfair, since a player's title hopes can be greately affected by external forces and the circumstances of his time).
I think they deserve more recognition, as they were trascendent players that revolutionized the game.
Dr J could fit the same mold as well. I have him a little lower, but not much.
I went with Stockton at 10) because I think he was as pure a PG as you can find. Magic played a very different style, and I believe he was the better player, but Stockton is that far behind. I don't think any PG has been as fundamentally sound as Stockton other than Nash, but Nash lacked / lacks the defensive ability Stockton had (one of the all-time steals leader).
I leave out Shaq and Wilt, because, while historically GREAT in terms of absolute domination, their close to unparalelled productivity comes almost purely from their once-in-a-lifetime bodies. They weren't really proficient, their basketball "skills" were limited, they couldn't make FTs, and they never got as far as the players on the list in terms of mastering the different areas of the game.
I think other players that would be top 20 are: Kevin Garnett, Nowitzki (I think he's underrated; his offensive game for a big man is extremely unique. His shooting touch arguably unparalelled as centers go, and his skillset is quite complete), Steve Nash (offensively, among the best PGs to ever play the game), Big O, LeBron James, to name some.
"The first time I ever saw my uniform hanging in the locker I put it on right away, and it just felt like I was putting on golden armour. From that day forward, I just called it 'the golden armour', it just felt like there was something mystical and magical about it" - Kobe Bryant.