There are two questions I ask myself quite often. They are:
Is it necessary that I put pants on to answer whoever is ringing my doorbell?
Who are the greatest NBA players that never won a ring?
Let’s focus on the second question for now and leave the first as a surprise for my unwanted visitors. There are some pundits who claim that, in any professional sport, that a player cannot cement any stature of greatness if he fails to win a league title. I beg to differ on this matter. Yes, I’ll admit that men such as Kareem, Bill Russell and MJ are in mainstays in basketball’s cultural penthouse because they were winners of multiple championships – however, that doesn’t devalue some guys who never got there, for whatever reason. With this in mind, I’ve compiled my own top ten list (eat your heart out, Letterman) of the greatest ballers who never won it all.
I had an epiphany while writing this article. In trying to deconstruct why some of the players on this list never raised the Larry O’Brien trophy, I came to the following conclusion: sometimes it was injury-related, other times it was the team they played for in the prime of their respective careers, but in doing my research, I realized that it was mostly “bad luck”, meaning that there’s was usually a very fine line between these players coming away with the ring or not. A more favorable bounce here or there, and we might be talking about some of these guys in another light as far as league history is concerned. Regardless, here’s the first part of my list of the greatest NBA players that never won a championship (check back soon for Part 2):
10. Steve Nash (2x MVP; 8x NBA All-Star; 5th all-time in assists)
One of most successful non-American players ever to hit the NBA hardwood, Nash was arguably the most dominant point guard of the 2000s. Playing with reckless abandon and undeniable flair, his skills as a passer were never in doubt, but his well-rounded offensive still makes him a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. An excellent shooter, he has recorded more 50-40-90 seasons (making at least 50% from the field, 40% from 3-point territory, and 90% from the foul line) than any other player in NBA history.
9. Pete Maravich (5x NBA All-Star)
A staggering offensive talent, “Pistol” Pete Maravich was able to parlay a wildly successful collegiate career at LSU into life as an NBA mainstay. Still the holder of NCAA Division I records for career scoring (3,667) and average scoring (a remarkable 44.2), Maravich may have benefited from either the three-point line being introduced sooner or playing his NBA career during its reign. He played only one season with it, in 1980, which perhaps not-so-coincidentally was his most winning season, eventually losing to the Moses Malone-led 76ers as a member of the Boston Celtics. While his life was tragically cut short at age 40, Maravich is still remembered as a phenomenal ball handler and one of the purest shooters ever to hit the court. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.
8. George Gervin (9x NBA All-Star; 3x ABA All-Star; 14th all-time in points)
One of the smoothest finishers who ever laced up a pair of high-tops, Gervin is one of those superstars who may not have gotten the recognition he deserved because he played on the (then) small-market San Antonio Spurs. In fact, “The Iceman” led the NBA in scoring on four separate occasions (1978, 1979, 1980, 1982) without ever being named the league’s MVP (although he finished in the top three in voting three separate times). His scoring artistry from the small forward position was one of the great joys of basketball circa the 1970s. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.
7. Dominique Wilkins (9x NBA All-Star; 2-time Slam Dunk Contest champion)
Living up to his nickname as “The Human Highlight Film”, Dominique Wilkins was one of the most exciting players the NBA has ever witnessed. His gravity-defying dunks and aerial maneuvers made him a mainstay in the hearts of Atlanta Hawks fans during the 1980s, where he helped guide the team to four consecutive 50-win seasons from 1985 to 1989. Wilkins was also the 1985-1986 NBA scoring champion, averaging an incredible 30.3 points-per-game. After his stay with the Hawks ended in 1994, he eventually took his talents overseas, helping the Greek club Panathinaikos win a Euroleague title in 1996. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
6. Reggie Miller (5x NBA All-Star;17th all-time in points)
Be it his fan altercations with famous New York Knicks fans or his clutch performances in big games, Reggie Miller had the swagger of a legendary player. His mercurial scoring ability, especially from behind the three-point line, helped win over fans in Indiana (they initially booed his 11th overall selection by the Pacers in 1987) and elevate the Pacers to perennial contenders in the Eastern Conference, missing the postseason only once between 1990 and 2005. Though his lone Finals appearance ended in disappointment in 2000 (losing to the Shaq and Kobe-led Lakers), Miller is still a champion of sorts, helping the United States capture a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.
Stay tuned next week as we count down the top five players to never win an NBA championship!