Whether it’s receiving a championship ring, holding the Larry O’Brien championship trophy, or hugging your teammates after the final game, winning an NBA championship is difficult and can leave emptiness in a career if not achieved. Winning the NBA Finals requires health, team chemistry, talent and luck. Even with all of these in place the ultimate ending can be elusive for a superstar, even a Hall of Fame caliber superstar.
There are many factors that can get in the way of winning a championship. Most importantly, the surrounding team needs secondary and third options, complimenting role players and must be well coached. Injuries that cause significant missed time or a shortened career reduces the championship window as well. Sometimes, everything is in place, but another team is just better. Or if you played for the Utah Jazz in the nineties, Michael Jordan was in the way. Call it what you want, but luck was not on the side of the Jazz during this period.
A couple honorable mentions before we get to our list of twelve. First, Kevin Durant should be mentioned. Durant is now in his prime and has made it to the NBA Finals (losing to Miami Heat); however, with the San Antonio Spurs in the same conference and injuries starting to take effect due to the wear and tear of long NBA seasons, Durant’s door may be closing. Could Durant become the Dan Marino of the NBA – a star that makes it to the big game early in his career, but never makes it back? Another, Dominique Wilkins, averaged 28 points per game from 1985 to 1994 (won the scoring title in 1986), appeared in 9 All-Star games and was one of the greatest dunkers of all-time. He never won a title.
This list covers mostly Hall of Fame caliber players and a couple on-the-fence future candidates. All were superstars in the league with awards, scoring titles and countless All-Star appearances to show for it. None won an NBA Championship. Here are the 12 greatest NBA players to never win a championship.
12. Chris Webber
Webber never made it to the NBA Finals, his closest opportunity came in 2002 when his team, the Sacramento Kings, played the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals in 2002 and got screwed by the referees. From 1999 to 2002 Chris Webber was one of the best players in the NBA, peaking with averages over 24 points and 10 rebounds a game in 2002. Unfortunately the Lakers were in the middle of their Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O’Neal “dynasty” and the Kings never got another opportunity after 2002. Prior to 1999 and after the infamous Western Conference Finals, Webber was inconsistent and battled injuries. Webber may not make the Hall of Fame based on numbers alone and not having a title isn’t going to help his case.
11. Allen Iverson
Iverson played for four teams, but he was at his best during his prime years with the Philadelphia 76ers. Playing both point guard and shooting guard, Iverson made 11 All-Star appearances and won the MVP award in 2001 and 2005. He also won 4 scoring titles and averaged over 29 points in the playoffs for his career (second to Michael Jordan). Iverson made it to the NBA Finals once, against the Los Angeles Lakers, but the 76ers only won one game in the series. Iverson never had a “number two” guy to defer to; instead, he was surrounded by defensive oriented role players. Had Iverson had a version of Scottie Pippen his career may have included a title or at least more opportunities.
10. Reggie Miller
Miller spent 18 years in the NBA, all with the Indiana Pacers. As one of the greatest shooters to ever play the game, Miller led his team deep into the playoffs, often with late-game heroics, heckling court-side celebrities and precision three-point shooting. Other than Miller, the team didn’t have a lot of star talent, relying on role players and team chemistry. Despite not having that second option, the Pacers were a good enough team to compete for a title had it not been for Michael Jordan and the Bulls blocking their way each season. Miller would play in the Finals once, but would be denied a championship. He retired with the record for most three-point baskets (since broken by Ray Allen), was a five-time All-Star and led the league in free throw accuracy five times.
9. Pete Maravich
If having a great nickname guaranteed a championship then “Pistol Pete” Maravich would have won 10 championships. That of course is not the case, retiring with zero NBA titles. Maravich was one of the offensive greats, a precision shooter and dynamic ball handler – even John Havlicek (known as the greatest ball handler of all time) said Maravich was the best of all time. Injuries and wrong team/wrong time played a role into an early retirement in 1980. He was youngest player ever inducted to the NBA Hall of Fame and named (by the Hall) “perhaps the greatest creative offensive talent in history.”
8. Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady went straight from high school to the NBA, appearing in seven All-Star games, winning two scoring titles and being a seven-time All-NBA team selection. McGrady was a rare talent that excelled on both ends of the floor. Initially drafted by the Toronto Raptors he would go on to play for several other teams including the San Antonio Spurs, but wasn’t part of one of their championships. Early in his career (with Toronto) McGrady was dominant, but his Raptor teams were young and inexperienced while injuries would slow him later in his career before he eventually announced his retirement in 2013.
7. Dikembe Mutombo
Mutombo was known for his finger waving after blocking shots, holding the basketball after a first round upset against Seattle Supersonics in 1994 and being part of the elite Georgetown centers club. Shockingly, he was never part of an NBA Championship team. Dikembe never found himself part of a “top 3” team in position to compete for a title. His teams, largely due to his play, were always good enough to make the playoffs, just not advance to the finals. Mutumbo was a mammoth defensive presence in the middle that blocked over 3,000 shots and was named Defensive Player of the Year four times. Despite having several great playoff highlights he never reached the NBA Finals and never got a ring to put on his waving finger.
6. Steve Nash
The two-time MVP Steve Nash was just never quite in the right place at the right time. With Dallas, Nash led a one-two punch with Dirk Nowitzki to build a team that would eventually win a championship, unfortunately it was after he was traded back to the Phoenix Suns, the team that originally drafted him. There he led the Suns to the Western Conference Finals (also won his two MVP awards in Phoenix), but didn’t advance to the Finals. Nash is now with Los Angeles Lakers, a team with a championship-littered past but also a variety of problems preventing the team from competing for the foreseeable future.
5. Bernard King
King was part of a lot of terrible teams. During his run as a New York Knick, King averaged over 26 points and even won the scoring title in 1984-85. King’s offensive game wasn’t enough to win a title by itself. In fact, King’s teams rarely advanced in the playoffs. His best chance was in 1984 when the Knicks played the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. King averaged over 34 points per game during the playoffs that year, but the team still fell short with no one to help him. King would never make it past the second round of the playoffs.
4. Patrick Ewing
There is actually a “Patrick Ewing Theory” invented by Bill Simmons (ESPN) with the notion that sometimes subtracting the focal point can have positive effects and a team will succeed more without it. Some of this is also based on bad luck. Ewing never even made it to the Finals; however, the year after he left New York, the Knicks would go to the Finals. Ewing was a dominant center that averaged over 20 points and over 10 rebounds his whole career. He was an annual All-Star, the core of the New York Knicks during the ’90s. Why didn’t Ewing make it to the finals? You can always blame Michael Jordan. It was difficult to succeed in the East during the ’90s.
3. Charles Barkley
Barkley is one of the greatest power forwards to ever play in the NBA. He was an All-NBA first team selection five times and played in 11 All-Star games. He won the MVP award in 1993 and was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. Barkley dominated on both sides of the ball and was nicknamed the “Round Mound of Rebound” early in his career. Barkley played most of his career with the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns, but never won an NBA championship. With Philadelphia, Barkley was part of a younger team and with Phoenix never played with the right players. He did win two gold medals as part of the 1992 and 1996 Olympic teams, but continues to be brought up as an example of one of the greats to never win an NBA title.
2. John Stockton/Karl Malone
The legacy of Stockton and Malone is like peanut butter and jelly and need to be discussed together. Both players were all-time greats at their position. Stockton played point guard and holds the record for most assists and steals. He was a ten-time NBA All-Star and the engine that ran the Jazz. Malone, a power forward, spent 18 seasons with Utah, won two MVP awards, was a 14-time All-Star and was voted All-NBA first team 11 times. Stockton and Malone led the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals twice, losing to Michael Jordan and the Bulls each time, resulting in Chicago’s fifth and sixth NBA Championships.
1. Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor led the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers to 8 NBA Final appearances. Baylor’s teams won zero of those finals matchups. Baylor averaged over 27 points and 13 rebounds during his career. He played in 11 All-Star games and was an All-NBA first team selection 10 times. What was unfortunate for Baylor was that he played during Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring reign (no scoring titles) and the Boston Celtics’ title reign. No other player did more for their team and got less in return. In 1963 he finished the season as the first NBA player to finish in the top five in scoring, rebounding, assists and free-throw percentage. Had Baylor played during any other time he would have won at least a couple of rings.