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Top 25 retired players that never won an NBA Championship
Many of the greatest basketball players of all time left the hardwood without the elusive championship ring. Even before LeBron James(notes) was anointed King of NBA Nation expectations of greatness and predictions of multiple championships ensued. LeBron James is a dynamic scorer with phenomenal talent. However, NBA history reveals that predictions, promises, potential, and passion don't always produce championships. In fact, nine of the top twenty-one scorers in NBA history didn't win an NBA Championship. Will LeBron James make this same list one day?
The criteria for choosing the top 25
21 of the 25 players on this list are or will be enshrined into he Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Higher rankings were reserved for players who made it to an NBA Finals but lost verses players who never made it to the grandest stage. The ratings were based also on personal career statistics.
Top 25 retired players who never won an NBA Championship.
25. Tim Hardaway
Tim Hardaway averaged 17.7 points per game, 8.2 assists per game, and 1.6 steals per game in 14 competitive seasons. He is author of one of the deadliest crossovers, and could score from anywhere on the court despite being just six feet tall. These talents led him to 5,000 points and 2,500 assists in just 262 career games, only15 more games than the record holder Oscar Robertson. In 1989 the Big 3 of the Warriors included Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin, along with Tim Hardaway. Mitch was the only one of them to get a ring, during his final season riding the pine with the LA Lakers. Hardaway's most memorable years were in a Miami Heat Jersey battling the NY Knicks. Can you imagine Hardaway in Miami today? In 1992 he reached another milestone becoming just the 7th player in NBA history to average 20+ points at 23.4ppg, and 10+ assists at 10apg in a season.
24. Chris Webber
There are many players who might deserve to be in these final two spots on the top 25 list. I've chosen Chris Webber because of one statistic. Only 6 players in NBA history have averaged 20+ points, 9+ rebounds, and 4+ assists per game; Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, Kevin Garnett(notes), and Chris Webber. Only six! Webber led his Sacramento Kings in the glory days of Arco Arena. Who can forget Vlade Divac tipping a missed shot from the rim back to the top of the key where an open Robert Horry in turn, knocked down a game winning 3 ball. The only problem was, Horry was on the Lakers squad. That moment in NBA history shattered the Kings, they never made it to the NBA Finals and they never recovered as a franchise. If not for that moment, Webber might not be on this list. This one time rookie of the year, 5 time all-star had his best season in 2000-2001 averaging 27 points and 11 rebounds per game and was considered for MVP. Webber was almost awesome. Sadly, in 10 years no one will remember him outside of California. Before you feel bad for Chris Webber for never winning an NBA Championship, keep in mind he earned $200,000 illegally to play for Michigan in college, and another 176 Million dollars in his 15-year NBA career. Mike Smrek is sitting on three rings but working at Radio Shack. Who would you rather be?
He could have been a Manute Bol, Mark Eaton, or James Donaldson. James who? That's my point. Instead Dikembe Mutombo became one of the NBA's greatest defenders and a difference maker for whatever team he played for. One of his finest moments came in just his third season, when he led his 8th seeded Denver Nuggets past the number 1 seed Seattle Supersonics, a first in NBA history. The image of Mutombo clutching the basketball between his outstretched hands while lying on the court in exuberance is one fans will never forget. Nor will we forget the 31 blocks he had in that 5 game series (also an NBA record). He played for several teams throughout his career, including the Hawks, Rockets, 76ers, and Knicks. The summer after NY signed him, I was able to have dinner with him. I expected to hear some disappointment for not ever winning an NBA Championship, specifically in 2001 with the 76ers when he and Allen Iverson(notes) lost to the LA Lakers.
He smiled and responded in his deep voice, "Playing in the NBA Finals was amazing. Just being there was something special. I can't even describe it. It was the greatest experience."
Mutombo has something not everyone on this list has, NBA Finals experience. He got to play on the greatest stage. His 10ppg won't wow hall-of-fame voters. However he is the 2nd leading shot blocker in NBA history behind Hakeem Olajuwon. If we reward scorers who lack defense, we should reward players who make defense their top priority. Mutombo is a future Hall-of-Famer.
22. Adrian Dantley
Adrian Dantley's 23,177 points ranked ninth on the NBA career scoring list when he retired. He holds the record for the highest field-goal percentage for for a player at any position other than center. His sharp shooting helped helped him to average more than 30 points per game for four straight seasons. After winning the 1976 Olympic gold medal, the 1977 NBA Rookie of the Year award, he won the 1984 NBA Comeback Player of the Year award, and earned 6 All-Star appearances. In 1988, in his second season with the Detroit Pistons he averaged 20 ppg and helped lead his team to the NBA Finals against the Lakers. He scored 34 points (missing just 2 baskets) in Game 1. But the Lakers defeated the Pistons in seven games. The next season, Detroit returned to the NBA Finals and won the championship. Sadly, Dantley was traded to Dallas just two months prior to the playoffs. He never made it to the promise land again.
21. Bernard King
Bernard King was one of the best small forwards of the 1980's. As a rookie in 1977 he broke the NJ Nets franchise single season scoring record and reset it again in 1984 with 2,027 points. The next year he won the NBA scoring title with 32.9 ppg. After being traded to the NY Knicks in 1984, he was the first player in 20 years to score 50 or more points in two consecutive games. A month earlier on Christmas day he became only the tenth player in NBA history to score 60 or more points in one game. At the prime of his career, injuries struck. He was never the same. King retired with 19,665 points in 874 games, averaging 22.5 ppg. To this day, Knicks fans are still taunted by what could have been.
20. Connie Hawkins
Connie Hawkins road to a 1992 induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame is like none other on this list. A point-shaving scandal erupted during his freshman year at Iowa. Despite the fact that Hawkins was never arrested and he denied any involvement he was expelled from Iowa, and barred from the NBA. Hawkins played one year with the Pittsburg Rens of the American Basketball League, winning the MVP, then played three years with the Harlem Globetrotters. In an effort to prove he belonged in the NBA he sued the league and took his talents to the ABA where he led the Pittsburg Pipers to the 1968 ABA Championship while earning the regular and post-season MVP awards. A year later he won a $1.3 million dollar settlement and signed with the Phoenix Suns. In his first NBA season he averaged 24.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. In the final game of his rookie season, Hawkins peaked with 44 points, 20 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 blocks and 5 steals. The magical run continued in the post season as he led the Suns into battle against the mighty Los Angeles Lakers Big 3; Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West. Though the Suns lost the Western Conference Finals in 7 games, Hawkins averaged 25 points, 14 rebounds and 7 assists per game. He spent seven injury-plagued seasons in the NBA averaging16.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg. The Hawk could fly. He started dunking at age 11. He was the Michael Jordan of his era. But the NBA never saw him in his prime
19. Lenny Wilkins
Lenny Wilkens stopped playing in the NBA in 1975 having notched more than 17,000 points, 7,000+ assists, and 5,000+ rebounds. The short point-guard averaged 16.5ppg and 6.7apg. Many players transition into coaching after their playing days fizzle. But no one has more wins or more losses as a coach than Lenny Wilkins. Unlike anyone else on this list he did win an NBA Championship as the Head Coach of the Seattle Supersonics in 1979. He was chosen one of the top 50 NBA players of all time, and is certainly one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time.
18. Chris Mullin
Competitor, sharp shooter, are easy descriptions of Chris Mullin. Nearly 18,000 points, and 1,500 steals career was highlighted by two Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1992.
He was a 5-time All-Star as the franchise player of the Golden State Warriors. He is the only Warrior player other than Wilt Chamberlain to average 25 points and 5 or more rebounds per game for five straight seasons. His only NBA Finals appearance came as a member of the Indiana Pacers in 2000 when they lost to the LA Lakers.
17. Artis Gilmore
7 feet 2 inches tall with massive sideburns to go with the Afro, the A-Train could have leaped from the pages of a comic book. Artis Gilmore dominated the court from the start with the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association winning both the Rookie of the Year and MVP in 1972. During 5 ABA seasons he averaged 22ppg, and 17rpg. His 12 seasons NBA career began in 1976 with the Chicago Bulls, and continued with the San Antonio Spurs. He averaged 17ppg and 10rpg. He remains ranked in the top 10 in NBA history for rebounds, blocks, and games / minutes played. We road the A-Train for 17 seasons. Not winning an NBA Championship is heart-breaking enough, but not being elected to the Basketball Hall-of-fame is demoralizing. How do the basketball gods leave the A-Train out of the holy of holies? It's unexplainable. Artis Gilmore has the highest field goal percentage 59.9% than anyone in NBA history. In layman terms, that makes him the most effective scorer ever !
16. Alex English
The Denver Nuggets great Alex English scored at least 2,000 points for eight straight seasons during the 1980's. In 15 seasons he scored more than 25,000 points while averaging 21.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg. Only twelve players in NBA history have scored more points than Alex English. Perhaps there is no one on this list more underrated than English. If he played today he would be one of the premiere top-3 players in the game.
15. Nate Thurmond
Nate Thurmond played from 1963 to 1977 mostly with the Warriors. At first glance, few people would be impressed with a 14 seasons career average of 15 points and 15 rebounds per game average. So why was this 7-time All-Star chosen as one of the top 50 NBA players of all time and inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985? The 6'11 big man with unique skills was a consistent 20 point, 20 rebound player in the 1960's, an era dominated by Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. He amassed more than 14,000 points and 14,000 rebounds. Considered by his peers as a leader and great teammate he lost in two NBA Finals attempts and was traded the year before the Warriors won the Championship in 1975. On October 18, 1974 in his first game with his new team, the Chicago Bulls, he became the first player in NBA history to earn a quadruple-double with
14. Dan Issel
Dan Issel was an icon of the American Basketball Association. During his ABA career, won the MVP, led the league in scoring and won the ABA Championship in 1975 with the Kentucky Colonels. Issel scored more than 27,000 points in his combined ABA and NBA career. When he retired, only Kareem, Dr.J, and Chamberlain had scored more points as a professional basketball player. Today he ranks #8 on the all time combined ABA/NBA scoring list. During his NBA years alone, Issel averaged 20.4 ppg and 7.9 rpg. Few can match his Hall-of-Fame career individual stats.
13. Patrick Ewing
Willis Reed called Ewing the greatest New York Knicks player ever. Michael Jordan described Ewing by saying, "He has a heart of a champion. When you thought about New York, you thought of Patrick Ewing. He came and gave life back into the city." He led his Knicks to two NBA Finals, losing to Hakeem Olajuwan and Clde Drexler's Houston Rockets in 1994 and then losing to David Robinson and Tim Duncan's(notes) San Antonio Spurs in 1999. In 1999, Ewing became the 10th player in NBA history to record 22,000 points and 10,000 rebounds. The 11-time All-Star, Hall-of-famer won two Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1992, and was chosen as one of the 50 greatest players of all-time. When the Knicks retired his number 33 there was no shortage of love in Madison Square Garden for the big man. Nobody on this Top 25 list tried harder to win his city a championship than Ewing. He shot 50% FG, tallied 24,815 points, 2,894 blocks, 11,607 rebounds, and 2,215 assists and a heck of a lot of heart.
12. Dominique Wilkins
Dominique Wilkins the Human Highlight Film was one of the greatest dunkers of all time, winning the dunk contest in 1985 and 1990 and battling Michael Jordan to the finish in 1988 in the greatest dunk contest ever. During his 16 seasons, mostly with the Atlanta Hawks, Dominique averaged 24.8 ppg and 6.7 rpg. He never played in an NBA Finals and that is why he is ranked as low as number 12 on this list. The Hall of Famer's 26,668 points is 10th best all time, and only 781 points shy of 6th best all time making him one of the best scorers in NBA history, an unstoppable force. No one wanted to get in front of Wilkins' two-handed windmill dunk. He was the Lebron James of the 1980's. But like Lebron he never won a ring.
11. Dave Bing
After leading the Syracuse Orangeman in scoring in his final three years, Dave Bing was the second overall pick in the NBA. During his first 10 seasons with the Detroit Pistons he averaged 22 points and 8 assists per game. He led the NBA in scoring his second season with 27 ppg. The 7-time All-Star won the 1976 All-Star Game MVP award. He scored more than 18,000 points on the hardwood. Being enshrined into the HOF and chosen as one of the Top 50 NBA players of all time was just the beginning of his successful post-basketball career. As the Mayor of Detroit, Bing has achieved numerous awards and recognition for his community, business, and political efforts.
10. George Gervin
26,596 total combined points from the ABA and NBA career would place George Gervin at number 6on the NBA's scoring list. However, since 6,000 of those points came in the ABA he is ranked only at the 31st spot for total points scored. The man whose shot was so smooth he became known as The Iceman , won four scoring titles with the San Antonio Spurs, but never made an appearance in an NBA Finals. After he retired in 1986, he made a comeback attempt at the age of 38 in the CBA where he averaged 20+ points per game. During his NBA career he shot 50% from the field. He still signs his name with the inscription "the Iceman." He is a true gentleman of the game.
9. Bob Lanier
Bob Lanier's Hall of Fame career was etched against the greatest Center's of all time Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. His record size 22 sneakers lifted him to 20 points and 10 rebounds average during 14 seasons, with Detroit and Milwaukee. The six-time NBA All-Star is also a member of the Basketball Hall-of-Fame. Since his retirement in 1984 he has become an ambassador for the NBA in numerous charity endeavors. Recently St. Boneventure University honored their Alumnus with a dedication of the Bob Lanier basketball court. A true legend of the game, it's a shame he never won the big one.
8. Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson is still playing professional basketball in Turkey, after a lackluster exit from the NBA. Though he is not retired, he is by all accounts no longer The Answer in the NBA. The little man was as tough as the streets of Philly surrounding the Wachovia Center during his prime. He was brass, never far removed from off-the-court turmoil. He mocked practicing, and drove coaches crazy. Teammates couldn't live with him, and couldn't live without him. He was the Sixers franchise star, the greatest in Philly since the Doctor Julius Erving. In 1983 Dr. J brought Philadelphia an NBA Championship. 18 years later AI led the Sixers to their next NBA Finals appearance in 2001. The LA Lakers were huge favorites to win, riding an undefeated playoff run. Iverson wouldn't go down without a fight, shocking the world with a 48-point performance and a Game 1 Sixers' victory. The next four games were losses, but Iverson etched 23, 35, 35, 37 points respectively. It was the only Sixers NBA Finals appearance in 27 years and counting. Many great players only dream of playing in the Finals, but Iverson made it happen. Therein lies the silver lining, at least he made it to an NBA Finals. The number 1 draft pick and 1996 Rookie of the Year became an eleven time All-Star, won two MVP awards in 2001 and 2005, and will one day be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Iverson averaged 29.7ppg in the Playoffs throughout his career. Only Michael Jordan has a higher Playoff career scoring average. Iverson's 26.7 regular season points per game average is 6th in NBA history. His number deserves to be retired along side #6.
7. Reggie Miller
Reggie Miller's18-year career with the Indiana Pacers was highlighted by the greatest clutch 3-point shooting, the game has ever seen. Reggie Miller has attempted (6,486) and made (2,560) more 3-pointers than anyone in NBA history. Under the Coaching leadership of another long-ball legend Larry Bird, the Indiana Pacers and Reggie Miller made it to the 2000 NBA Finals before losing to the unstoppable force of Kobe Bryant(notes) and Shaquille O'neal(notes) of the LA Lakers. Miller played 47,619 minutes in his career. Only fiver players in NBA history played more minutes than Miller, but none shot the 3-ball as well as he could. Like him or hate him, even Knicks fans gotta respect Reggie. He was one of the most dangerous players with the game on the line. He had a chance to join the Big 3 in Boston when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen(notes) joined the Celtics. Miller chose not to come out of retirement. That decision cost him a championship ring, and thus catapults him to a top spot on this list.
6. Pete Maravich
Pete Maravich is the only person who could have made this list and never played in the NBA, he was that good. From the first time he picked up a basketball as an undersized middle-schooler he was destined for greatness. In his collegiate career at Louisiana State University, he averaged over 40 points per game (with no three-pointers) and he is still the all time NCAA scoring leader. In 10 seasons, the Hall of Famer averaged 24.2 ppg and 5.4 apg. The Pistol's NBA career fizzled due to injury but not before he etched an anthology of creativity on the hardwood. His last ditch effort to win a ring with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics failed. After retirement Maravich re-emerged as a Christian man, giving back through outreach events, basketball camps, and speaking engagements. Sadly he died of a heart-attack while playing pick-up basketball January 5, 1988. The NBA lost a marvelous ambassador of the game, and the world lost a wonderful man. Pistol Pete Maravich was simply one of the greatest ever to play the game at every level.
5. Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley was an undersized power-forward who earned the nickname The Round Mound of Rebound. The MVP, 11-time NBA All-Star, Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist (1992 & 1996), was chosen one of the NBA's Top 50 players of all time, in his Hall-of-Fame career. In 1993 he was awarded the NBA's Most Valuable Player award as he led the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals. The Chicago Bulls defeated Barkley and the Suns in six games. Late in his 16-year career he teamed up with Clyde Drexler, and Hakeem Olajuwan of the Houston Rockets at one final run for and NBA Championship, but to no avail. Had the big 3 teamed up earlier like Bosh, Wade, and James in Miami did in their prime, they may have won multiple championships. The Dream, The Glide, and Sir Charles would have been unstoppable. Barkley was one year too late to Houston, and they never made it to the Finals again. In his career, he averaged 22.1 ppg and 11.7 rpg. He was an amazing competitor who didn't back down from anyone!
4. Walt Bellamy
Walt Bellamy won the Gold Medal in the 1960 Olympic Games. He earned the 1962 NBA Rookie of the Year, was selected four times as an NBA All-Star, and became a Hall of Famer. Walt Bellamy's career was overshadowed by superstars of his era such as Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Willis Reed, and Bob Lanier. His rookie season, he averaged 31.6 ppg and 19.0 rpg, numbers that are staggering compared to NBA rookies today. He played for several teams during his career, but was never able to get past Boston and Philadelphia to the NBA Finals. He is one of only seven players in NBA history to earn more than 20,000 points and 14,000 rebounds. He averaged 20.1 ppg and 13.7 rpg in 13 seasons. There may be more popular or sentimental picks to be this high on the list, but none carry the same merit of statistical accomplishment. He is truelly one of the greatest players to never win a championship and yet most young fans of the game have never heard of him.
3. John Stockton
You can't talk about Karl Malone without talking about John Stockton. The Mailman can't deliver without a sender. John Stockton sent more successful passes turned assists than any player in NBA history. He also had a flair for hitting clutch 3-pointers, and being an assassin on the free-throw line. He earned a reputation among his peers as the dirtiest player on the court, always bumping and hitting through screens and banging in tenacious defense. His intensity on the court was balanced by a quiet personal life. A member of the 1992 Olympic Gold Medal Dream Team, and voted a top 50 NBA player of all time, Stockton accepted his induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame by stating, "I was never the best player on any of my teams from grade-school to the NBA." It was that kind of humility, and hard work that earned Stockton the respect from all basketball fans regardless of your favorite team. Undoubtedly he is a sentimental favorite on this list. To add insult to injury, Stockton and his legendary coach Jerry Sloan had to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame the same year as Michael Jordan. The event was featured as Michael Jordan and some other guys. It was a slap in the face reminder, that Stockton was great but not the greatest. Stockton is still the NBA assists and steals leader.
2. Karl Malone
Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has scored more points than the Mailman in NBA history. The one-two punch of John Stockton and Karl Malone is perhaps the greatest twosome never to win a Championship. Led by legendary Hall-of-Fame coach Jerry Sloan, the two came close to leading the Utah Jazz to the title in 1997 and 1998, but were denied by Hall-of-Fame trio: Coach Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, and Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls both times. Perhaps what makes Karl Malone's story even more disappointing is his final run at a Championship with the LA Lakers. In 2003 the Lakers had assembled the greatest team on paper the NBA had ever had, led by four future Hall-of-Famers, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone. After winning the Western Conference and advancing to the NBA Finals, Karl Malone refused to attend the trophy ceremony stating, there was only one trophy he was interested in, the Larry O'Brien NBA Finals Championship trophy. Malone was hampered by injury, and the LA experiment with the Glove Gary Payton ended in failure with the Detroit Pistons defeating the Lakers in five games. Magic Johnson allowed Malone to wear his retired #32 jersey, and Lakers captain, Derek Fisher(notes) took a backseat role to Payton. But in the end, the LA Experiment failed. The Mailman, is one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. His Hall-of-fame career had all the tics but no dog.
1. Elgin Baylor
The Lakers superstar led them to eight NBA Finals, the most attempts without winning the championship. It began in 1958 when as a rookie he led the Lakers to the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. For three seasons stretching from 1960 to 1963 Baylor averaged 34.8, 38.3 and 34.0 points per game. On November 15, 1961, Baylor scored a new NBA record 71 points in a victory against the New York Knicks along with 25 rebounds. He was the Kobe Bryant of the 1960's, only without the rings. In game 5 of the 1962 NBA Finals he scored a record 61 points. His 1958-1971 career made him one of the 50 Greatest Players of all time. 8 trips to the NBA Finals without success however, lands Baylor on the top of this list.
What will people say about Lebron James if he too looses in 8 NBA Finals attempts and never wins a championship?
Would you rather be a scrub on the bench and win an NBA Championship or never win the big one, but be enshrined into the Hall of Fame? Which is more important, the HOF or the ring?
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