Ranking the top NBA Finals performers of all time

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There is no bigger stage in the basketball world than the annual NBA Finals, where legends are made and legacies are etched in stone – or, more appropriately, in hardwood.

Some players have elevated their games in the yearly annual series while others have wilted under the pressure of expectations.

We decided to take a look at the top Finals performers of all time, a ranking that we put together based on the votes of four members of the HoopsHype team.

Let’s take a look at the results below.

Michael Jordan

Finals stats: 33.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 35 games
Finals rank:
4th in points, 6th in steals (62), 8th in assists, 29th in rebounds
Total championships: Six
Finals MVPs: Six

His Airness, Air Jordan or simply The Goat, Michael Jordan went a perfect 6-0 in Finals series, taking home Finals MVP in each appearance and doing so in an era that has now become underrated when it comes to talent.

Just imagine how many rings Charles BarkleyKarl MaloneClyde DrexlerReggie MillerJohn Stockton and Shawn Kemp missed out on due to Jordan’s greatness.

Jordan was a borderline psychopath when it came to competition, a fact that has been glorified a bit but bordered on ugly in his prime, but even so, No. 23 often willed his team to victory, was never afraid of taking the final shot in a close game or pass it to an open teammate when the situation called for it and was an elite player on both ends of the floor, not just offensively.

Jordan ranks second all-time in scoring average in the Finals at 33.6 points per championship game, trailing only Rick Barry, who put up 36.3 points in 25 fewer Finals appearances, and has the fourth-most total points in such series.

A scoring machine who could rebound, pass and defend and had a will to win that matched his unreal physical gifts, Jordan’s legacy has carried on through today, as he is still considered by many to boast the greatest NBA career of all time. And a lot of that has to do with his elite play in the Finals during the six occasions he made it there.

LeBron James

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Finals stats: 28.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists in 55 games
Finals rank:
2nd in points, 2nd in assists, 2nd in steals, 4th in rebounds
Total championships: Four
Finals MVPs: Four

Statistically, you can’t match LeBron James when it comes to Finals performances, as the strong GOAT contender ranks second all-time in Finals points, second in assists, second in steals and fourth in rebounds… and he might not even be done adding to those marks yet.

Whether or not James makes it to another Finals or wins another title, he still makes a strong enough case to finish second on this list, winning four championships, making it to the Finals an astounding 10 times and winning Finals MVP every time his team has made it to the championship series.

One could even argue that James deserved more Finals MVPs despite his team being defeated. We can take the 2015 Finals as an example. James, playing basically by himself due to injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, still took the dynastic Golden State Warriors to six games by averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists, almost unfathomable numbers considering the defense he was facing, which was keyed to stopping him.

That year’s Finals MVP would go to Andre Iguodala, with voters arguing that it was due to Iguodala helping slow down James.

Nevertheless, James has been to a lot of championship series, has four rings to his name and has only had one truly subpar Finals performance, in 2011 against the Dallas Mavericks.

That’s a whole lot of excellence on the biggest stage of the sport, making James an easy choice to be the No. 2 finisher on this list.

Magic Johnson

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Finals stats: 19.4 points, 11.7 assists and 7.9 rebounds in 50 games
Finals rank:
1st in assists, 1st in steals, 9th in rebounds, 10th in points
Total championships: Five
Finals MVPs: Three

Arguably the greatest point guard everMagic Johnson was also an unbridled winner, securing an NCAA championship in college and following that up with five titles in his NBA career, three of which he was named Finals MVP, i.e., the best player in the series.

One of those Finals MVP campaigns came when Johnson was just a rookie no less, in 1979-80 when the then-20-year-old led the Lakers to a championship by averaging 21.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 8.7 assists over a six-game victory for Los Angeles.

Not only that, but in the decisive Game 6, Johnson had to start at center because the player who finished at No. 5 in these rankings sprained his ankle and was forced to miss the contest.

How did Johnson respond?

By exploding for 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists on 14-of-23 shooting. Did we mention he wasn’t even 21 yet at the time?

Johnson would go on to win another four titles in his playing career, all with the Lakers, and despite some low points in Finals series, he still would go on to become one of the best championship-series performers the league has ever seen.

Bill Russell

Bill Russell, Boston Celtics
Bill Russell, Boston Celtics

Walter Iooss Jr. /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Finals stats: 24.5 rebounds and 16.4 points in 70 games
Finals rank:
1st in rebounds, 4th in assists, 6th in points
Total championships: 11

Even despite the era he played in not being the strongest, Bill Russell still finished fourth in our rankings on the basis of winning 11 NBA titles in his career, the most of any player ever. And who knows how many Finals MVPs – an award that is now named after him – he would have won had the award existed during his career.

An absolutely unbreakable record that hardly anyone knows or talks about is most combined rebounds in Finals games, a mark that Russell owns which we can say with full confidence will never be touched.

Russell currently sits first in that statistic with 1,718 boards in 70 Finals games. The player in second on that list? Wilt Chamberlain… with 862. The closest active player in that regard is James with 561.

No one is catching Russell in Finals rebounds.

All in all, modern basketball fans mock Russell’s era for being made up of mailmen or construction workers, but Russell’s legacy and impact both speak for themselves. He’s one of the best rebounders and defenders the league has ever seen and he brought it every single time he stepped on the floor, especially in the Finals.

No matter the era, 11 championships is 11 championships. And it’s quite unlikely anyone catches him in that statistic either.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Finals stats: 23.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 56 games
Finals rank:
1st in blocks, 3rd in points, 5th in rebounds, 14th in assists
Total championships: Six
Finals MVPs: Two

The leading scorer in NBA history (for now), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ranks third all-time in Finals points, fifth in rebounds and first in blocks while featuring in the third-most Finals games ever (56).

He won two Finals MVPs in his heyday and, interestingly enough, they came 14 seasons apart, first in 1971 and then in 1985, the former coming in his age-23 season and the latter in his age-37 season. Let that sink in for a second: Abdul-Jabbar was the best player in a championship series twice… 14 years apart. Most NBA players’ careers don’t even last five seasons; Abdul-Jabbar was out here dominating the game in his early 20s and mid-30s at the highest level of competition.

In his first Finals MVP series, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 27.0 points and 18.5 rebounds in a dominant four-game sweep for the Milwaukee Bucks over the Baltimore Bullets in which just one victory came by fewer than double-digit points.

Then, in the 1985 Finals, the maser of the skyhook took home MVP honors for averaging 25.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.5 blocks on 60.4 percent shooting over six games against the Celtics, a 4-2 win for the Lakers against their hated rivals.

One of the best centers ever and an underrated GOAT contender, Abdul-Jabbar featured in a whole lot of Finals games and more often than not, was one of the best players on the floor.

Shaquille O'Neal

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Finals stats: 28.8 points, 13.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 30 games
Finals rank:
4th in blocks, 10th in rebounds, 13th in points, 33rd in assists
Total championships: Four
Finals MVPs: Three

An unstoppable force in his heyday, Shaquille O’Neal makes a strong claim to be considered the most dominant center ever, at least in his prime, as opponents were often forced to either triple-team him or foul him once he got the ball down low – his favorite spot on the floor.

During the Lakers’ threepeat from 1999-00 through 2001-02, O’Neal was at his finest, averaging 35.9 points, 15.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 29 blocks over 15 games while shooting 59.5 percent from the floor and getting to the foul line an astonishing 237 times over that span, nearly 16 times per contest.

It’s hard to imagine a player doing that in one playoff series, let alone over three Finals, as O’Neal rightfully took home all three Finals MVP awards in those series.

O’Neal’s play would fall off soon thereafter due to wear and tear and some negligence on his part with regards to staying in shape, and yet he still managed to play part in one more championship run, taking home the fourth ring of his career in 2006 as a member of the Heat, though his numbers in that series (13.7 points and 10.2 rebounds) paled in comparison to his marks during the Lakers’ threepeat.

Nevertheless, O’Neal was legitimately unstoppable in his prime, and if not for the unreal greatness of the players ahead of him on this list as well as his body starting to fail him in his mid-30s, he’d rank even higher.

Tim Duncan

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Finals stats: 20.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 34 games
Finals rank:
2nd in blocks, 7th in rebounds, 19th in points, 38th in assists
Total championships: Five
Finals MVPs: Three

A winning player in every sense of the term, Tim Duncan racked up victories in his unforgettable career, winning five championships during his time in the NBA and being named Finals MVP three different times, in 1999, 2003 and 2005.

The No. 1 pick from 1997, the San Antonio Spurs tanked hard for a shot at Duncan and were ultimately rewarded with the player who became not just their best player ever, but arguably the greatest power forward of all time.

Duncan may not have been the flashiest player, nor were the Spurs he led to such great heights, but his fundamentally-sound play, defensive awareness and face-up prowess made him nearly impossible to guard in his prime while his basketball acumen helped him stay relevant even in the twilight of his playing days.

Even as a 38-year-old in the last Finals appearance of his career, a 4-1 series victory for the Spurs over James and the Heat, Duncan still posted solid numbers – 15.4 points and 10.0 rebounds on 56.9 percent shooting – and was a fantastic piece on the best team in the league that year.

Jerry West

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Finals stats: 30.5 points, 5.6 assists and 5.0 rebounds in 55 games
Finals rank:
1st in points, 3rd in assists, 18th in rebounds
Total championships: One
Finals MVPs: One

Besides his teammate coming up later in these rankings, no one has fewer titles and Finals MVP to their name on this list than Jerry West, and yet he still comfortably found a spot on this prestigious list.

How?

Because in his Finals appearances, even despite winning just one championship, he was often either the best or second-best player on the floor, behind Russell.

In an astounding 55 Finals games (tied for the fourth-most ever with James), West put up a 30/5/5 stat line. His most impressive performance may have come in Game 1 of the 1969 Finals when The Logo went off for 53 points and 10 assists while shooting 51.2 percent from the floor in what was a two-point victory for the Lakers over the Celtics, 120-118.

Los Angeles would go on to lose that series in seven games despite West averaging 37.9 points and 7.4 assists, leading to the legendary ball-handler being named Finals MVP anyway, the only player in league history to win the accolade despite not winning a championship that year.

Thankfully for fans of the sport, West did end up winning at least one championship, as it would have been unfortunate for the all-time great to not take home at least one ring in his fantastic career.

Larry Bird

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Finals stats: 23.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 31 games
Finals rank:
5th in steals, 11th in rebounds, 12th in assists, 16th in points
Total championships: Three
Finals MVPs: Two

A player perhaps underappreciated in the current era but one that any NBA legend from the 1980s will tell you was a bad man, Larry Bird always showed up at the highest level when the Celtics needed him most.

Bird won Finals MVP honors for two of the three Celtics’ championship series wins, with the first of his tenure in 1981 going to Cedric Maxwell, current media foe to Draymond Green and a former great player in his own right.

In the first Finals MVP run of Bird’s career in 1984, the Hall-of-Fame forward put up 27.4 points, 14.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.1 steals over a seven-game, hotly-contested showdown with the Lakers. In the second in 1986 against the Houston Rockets, Bird was equally impressive, averaging 24.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.5 assists and 2.7 steals over six games.

Bird would talk trash, nail shots from any spot on the floor and had instincts and IQ that very few players historically can claim to match. His place among all-time performers in the Finals is without question.

Kevin Durant

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Finals stats: 30.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 15 games
Finals rank:
30th in blocks, 34th in points, 74th in rebounds
Total championships: Two
Finals MVPs: Two

Kevin Durant may not have appeared in as many Finals as his legendary counterparts on this list, but his numbers in those championship series speak for themselves and make it clear why we voted for him as highly as we did.

Durant has averaged over 30 points in his 15 Finals appearances so far in his career to go with nearly eight rebounds and over four assists per contest. And those numbers would be even higher if he didn’t get injured in Game 5 of the 2019 Finals against the Toronto Raptors before hitting 12 minutes of game time with 11 points in the scoring column.

In three of his four championship-series appearances, Durant has also had to face James, the No. 2 player on this ranking, showing that his path to the two rings he has earned in his career were far from a cakewalk, with James and Durant often guarding one another in those memorable contests.

And because Durant’s fourth Finals appearance was unfortunately cut short due to injury, we were robbed of a chance to see him matched up against another all-time great in championship series, Kawhi Leonard, who went on to win Finals MVP that year in 2019.

Durant does get knocked historically by other NBA legends due to his winning two titles alongside Stephen Curry, as Charles Barkley alluded to recently, and not having won one “on his own” – whatever that means – so he could rank higher on this list if he is able to win a championship in his current Brooklyn Nets tenure.

But even if he doesn’t, we still believe the Slim Reaper to be one of the best Finals performers ever.

Hakeem Olajuwon

Allsport

Finals stats: 27.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 17 games
Finals rank:
4th in blocks, 33rd in points, 39th in rebounds, 62nd in assists
Total championships: Two
Finals MVPs: Two

The player who was able to cover himself in the most glory during Jordan’s absence in 1993-94 and subsequent premature return in 1994-95, Hakeem Olajuwon took home both championships, winning Finals MVP honors both times in the process for his illustrious play.

Olajuwon may be remembered most fondly for the 1993-94 run where he went through Clyde DrexlerCharles Barkley and Karl Malone in the playoffs before helping lead the Rockets to a 4-3 series win over Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks in the ’94 Finals, but it was the year after that was even more impressive.

We actually did a research project on the topic a couple of years ago and found that the 1995 championship run by Olajuwon and the Rockets was statistically the most difficult ever.

Not only did Houston’s opponents in that postseason run have the highest opponent combined winning percentage of any team to win a championship (72.6 percent combined opponent winning percentage, as the Utah Jazz won 60 games that regular season, the Spurs 62 games, the Phoenix Suns 59 games and the Orlando Magic 57 games), but the Rockets had to win every series without home-court advantage as they themselves went just 47-35 before the playoffs.

Additionally, in the Finals that year against O’Neal and the Magic, Olajuwon was illustrious, putting 32.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.0 blocks.

That’s why Olajuwon, despite just making it to three Finals in his career, was able to finish this ranking where he did despite not having the sample size of some of the other players on this list.

Stephen Curry

Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Finals stats: 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.8 rebounds in 34 games
Finals rank:
9th in steals, 10th in assists, 12th in points, 36th in rebounds
Total championships: Four
Finals MVPs: One

The one thing that was missing from Stephen Curry’s nearly-immaculate legacy prior to this season was a Finals MVP.

But with the 2022 Finals in the books, that is no longer the case, as the two-time league MVP earned the award after averaging 31.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 rebounds while shooting a ridiculous 52.2 percent from beyond the arc in a six-game victory for the Warriors over Boston and its elite defense.

Now, Curry’s legacy is truly beyond reproach (not that it shouldn’t have been before this), as he now has a championship run in which no one can say he wasn’t the best player on the floor.

Curry changed the game with his shooting but continued to adapt, becoming a better playmaker and a passable defender, and now, with his fourth title and first Finals MVP, the last thing the former Davidson standout had left to accomplish in the NBA is his.

That leaves us to wonder: What’s next for the best shooter in league history?

Because it feels like this story hasn’t finished writing itself.

Kobe Bryant

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Finals stats: 25.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 37 games
Finals rank:
4th in steals, 11th in points, 12th in assists, 29th in rebounds (211)
Total championships: Five
Finals MVPs: Two

Now, we know this may seem a bit low of a ranking for a player of Kobe Bryant’s stature and for someone with his list of accolades, but a few things held the unforgettable 2-guard back with our voters.

For starters, he was only the best player on two of his five championship teams, with O’Neal being an absolutely unstoppable force during the Lakers’ early-2000s threepeat. During those three championship wins for Los Angeles, Bryant averaged just 22.0 points in 14 games and put up 17.5 shots nightly to get to that mark.

In addition, Bryant was never at his most efficient in the Finals, as he shot 41.2 percent from the floor and 31.4 percent from three over 37 career Finals games. In Bryant’s final championship series performance, a Game 7 victory over the Celtics, the guard from Lower Merion High School shot 6-for-24 from the floor and 0-of-6 from beyond the arc.

On top of that, Bryant only ranks in the Top 10 all-time in overall steals in Finals games, sitting 11th in points, tied for 12th in assists and tied for 29th in rebounds, despite appearing in 37 Finals games.

An all-time great player in the regular season, playoffs and the Finals? Without a doubt.

We just don’t rate him as highly as fans might in terms of greatness among Finals performers.

Elgin Baylor

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Finals stats: 26.4 points and 13.5 rebounds in 44 games
Finals rank:
3rd in rebounds, 5th in points, 17th in assists
Total championships: Zero
Finals MVPs: Zero

The only player on our list with zero championships and zero Finals MVPs, Elgin Baylor found his way onto our rankings anyway thanks to his greatness over a multitude of Finals appearances, putting up over 26 points and 13 boards in 44 championship-series contests.

Baylor was also somewhat robbed of winning at least one ring in his illustrious career, as in 1971-72, the year that West and the Lakers were finally able to break through for a championship, was the same season in which Baylor retired nine games into the campaign due to lingering health issues following an Achilles tear the campaign prior.

Even so, Baylor made it to the Finals an impressive eight times, even coming with one victory of winning a title in 1969. Plus, ranking in the Top 5 in both scoring and rebounding in Finals history is an insane accomplishment, making the legendary swingman a more-than-worthy player for a spot in these rankings.

Dwyane Wade

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Finals stats: 23.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 29 games
Finals rank:
9th in steals, 20th in points, 25th in assists, 49th in rebounds
Total championships: Three
Finals MVPs: One

A tight race for the final spot in our rankings came down to Dwyane Wade and George Mikan, but the 2006 Finals performance by the former, as well as the era he played in, wound up granting the result to the Heat legend.

In the 2006 Finals, Wade exploded onto the all-time-great scene by averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists over six games against the Dallas Mavericks in what wound up being a 4-2 series win, and the championship, for Miami.

What’s more, with the Heat staring down a 2-0 series hole, Wade took his game to another level, putting up 42 points, 36 points, 43 points and 36 points over the subsequent four contests to complete the comeback for Miami and to secure the first championship in the franchise’s history.

Wade would then go on to contribute to two more championships in his career, although a mixture of injuries and having to share the load with James meant he was never able to put up another Finals performance quite like his first.

Still, his one Finals MVP showing in 2006 and being the second-best player on two other championship teams were just enough for Wade to earn the last spot in these rankings.

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