Championships. Earned, never given. They’re cited in countless debates. Images of the league’s premier players cozying up with the Larry O’Brien Trophy become cemented in time. When it’s all said and done, championships define your legacy. But they’re hard to come by. Players like Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron make it look easy. Most only see one or two shots at a championship, if they’re lucky. Does not having a ring change your legacy? Perhaps a debate for another day. For now, here are the ten – well, eleven actually – best NBA players who never won a ring.
Like many NBA stars from the ’90s featured on this list, Reggie Miller had the misfortune of playing in the same era as Michael Jordan amidst the Chicago Bulls dynasty. Prior to the rise of Stephen Curry, Miller was regarded by many as the greatest shooter in NBA history. The former Indiana Pacer netted 2,560 threes at a time when the league was still very much enthralled with “higher-efficiency” offense emphasizing the paint and mid-range. Reggie Miller is also one of the snarkiest trash-talkers in NBA history, famously partaking in a feud with Spike Lee during the 1994 NBA Playoffs against the Knicks.
9. Russell Westbrook
Don’t let the 2021-22 season fool you. Russell Westbrook is still a surefire, first-ballot Hall of Fame player. The Brodie boasts a resume that includes nine All-Star selections, two All-Star MVPs, two scoring titles, nine All-NBA nods, four seasons averaging a triple-double, and a league MVP in 2017. His lone appearance in the NBA Finals came as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Now teammates with Bron, Russ has a fighting chance to remove his name from this list. However, his game isn’t as explosive as it was ten years ago. He’ll have to adapt his playstyle, develop a more consistent outside shot, and cut down on the turnovers to continue succeeding in the league.
8. James Harden
Again, don’t let last season fool you. Much like his childhood friend Russ, James Harden is a future Hall of Famer with an extensive resume. The 10-time All-Star and 2018 MVP led the league in scoring three consecutive seasons, peaking with 36.1 PPG in 2018-19. Harden changed the game with his signature step-back three-pointer, a move that we’ve seen younger players like Luka Doncic add to their arsenal. Harden’s best shot at a title came as teammates with Westbrook on the aforementioned Oklahoma City team. Throughout his eight-year stint with the Houston Rockets, Harden reached the Conference Finals twice, both times losing to the Golden State Warriors. Now having teamed up with Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, Harden certainly isn’t cemented on this list either.
Steve Nash was arguably the best point guard of the 2000s. An elite, pass-first point guard, Nash lead the league in assists five times. His immaculate shooting touch made him a pick-and-roll nightmare, though he never average twenty points in a season. He was also an 8-time All-star and 2-time league MVP – whether you think he deserved them or not. Steve Nash never played in an NBA Finals, but he did chase a ring when he joined Dwight Howard in a move to the Lakers for his last two seasons. As we all know, that didn’t work out too well. Nash did, however, finally get a ring as a consultant with the Warriors in 2017. That, unfortunately, doesn’t count for this ranking.
6. Chris Paul
If Chris Paul doesn’t win an NBA title, it isn’t for lack of trying or opportunity. As a member of the New Orleans Hornets early on in his career, he ran into a buzzsaw nearly every season in Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. A vetoed trade prevented Paul from joining Kobe in LA and instead sent him across the hallway to the Clippers. Those Lob City Clippers teams with Paul, Blake Griffin, and Deandre Jordan were damn good, they simply couldn’t break through to the Conference Finals. A failed stint alongside James Harden in Houston and a wasted year in OKC led the “Point God” to Phoenix. We might’ve witnessed CP3’s best shot at a title come and go two years ago when his Phoenix Suns lost to the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s still an elite floor general with a silky mid-range game, though his days of being a defensive menace and keen-eyed passer may be in the rear view. Something tells me when it’s all said and done, Chris Paul might be on this list permanently.
5. Patrick Ewing
Former first overall draft pick Patrick Ewing was one of the most well-rounded centers in NBA history. With an elite post-up game, aggressive rebounding and shot-blocking, and a smooth outside shot, Ewing led the Knicks to two NBA Finals appearances in his eighteen-year career. More importantly, Ewing always played with an intense demeanor that would’ve left you thinking every matchup was Game 7 of the Finals. His relentless play is often the standard by which today’s centers are judged. Ewing wanted to win for New York, bad. But as we all know, playing in the 90s meant you more than likely had to go through Jordan’s Bulls, which never ended well for anyone.
Arguably the most influential player in NBA history, Allen Iverson aka Bubba Chuck aka The Answer was an elite scoring guard in the late 90s and 2000s. Iverson was an 11-time All-Star, 4-time scoring leader, 3-time steals leader, 1997 Rookie of the Year, and 2001 MVP. Simply put, nobody other than MJ played basketball with as much passion or effort as Allen Iverson. A.I.’s lone Finals appearance came with the 76ers in 2001, only to be destroyed by prime Shaq and Kobe. However, Iverson managed to spoil the Lakers’ perfect playoff run with a 48-point Game 1 win and the forever iconic Tyron Lue step over.
The greatest duo to never win a ring is without a doubt Karl Malone and John Stockton. For eighteen years, the duo suited up together for the Utah Jazz. Malone was a large power forward, immovable in the post with a knack for pulling down boards. He was a physically imposing brute with agility and a deadly face-up jumper. The two-time league MVP was an All-NBA and All-Defensive talent, with a trophy case that unfortunately only lacks one prestigious honor. Malone’s running mate John Stockton was an All-NBA and All-Defensive talent as well. Moreover, there is arguably no player as perfect for the point guard position as John Stockton. Historians say he saw plays before they developed, an unselfish superstar always looking for the open man. That’s how he became the league’s all-time assist leader. Further, Stockton was one of the greatest defensive guards ever and the all-time steals leader as well. The pick-and-roll attack of Stockton and Malone was nearly impossible to stop. That is, until they ran into the Chicago Bulls in back-to-back Finals appearances, losing both times in six games. Stockton and Malone are two of many NBA Hall of Fame players without rings.
2. Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor was an elite scoring forward throughout the 1960s, earning 11 All-Star appearances and 10-time All-NBA Honors. Basketball historians say Baylor assaulted opposing defenses like Mike years before Jordan ever put on an NBA jersey. However, Elgin Baylor is also one of the few NBA legends to wear the Laker uniform and not win a ring. The reason? See above. Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics won eight consecutive championships starting in Baylor’s rookie season – 1959. The Celtics won ten titles over the course of Baylor’s fourteen-year career, defeating the Lakers seven times. After Baylor retired nine games into the 1971-72 season due to nagging injuries, the Lakers won 69 games en route to their first championship in Los Angeles. The Lakers awarded Baylor an honorary ring for the nine games played, which I commend. However, you’ve got to actually win the ring to win the ring.
Before Charles Barkley was an iconic analyst alongside Shaquille O’Neal on TNT’s Inside the NBA, Sir Charles was a Hall of Fame talent on the court. At 6’4, Barkley wasn’t very tall to play the power forward position, but you couldn’t tell him that. Chuck asserted himself with tremendous effort plays and essentially redefined the position. He ran the floor like a guard, owning the half-court game like a seven-foot center. Affectionately dubbed “The Round Mound of Rebound,” Barkley’s will to win made him a giant on the floor. He was an 11-time All-Star and All-NBA player who never averaged less than 14 PPG over sixteen seasons. Barkley took home the league MVP in 1993, though his Phoenix Suns lost in the Finals to, you guessed it, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
We hope you enjoyed our ranking of the greatest NBA players who never won a championship. As always, be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section below! For more sports editorials, check out our updated list of Nike’s MLB City Connect Jerseys, Ranked.
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