Most Undeserving NBA Champs Who Chased Their Rings
Derek Fisher didn't choose to leave the Los Angeles Lakers, but he did make an interesting choice by signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder after the Houston Rockets agreed to buy out his contract.
While the decision may be as much about exacting revenge against his longtime team, it's also about winning another ring.
Of course, Fisher isn't the first NBA veteran to go where the championship winds may take him. Past their primes, these guys wound up contributing more leadership than playing time.
Here are some of the ring-chasers who found what they were looking for even though they might as well have been watching from the cheap seats.
Robert Parish, Chicago Bulls: 1997
The Chief unquestionably deserved his first three titles with the Boston Celtics, but he might as well have been an assistant coach during his 1997 run with the Chicago Bulls.
Parish averaged fewer than 10 minutes in only 43 regular season games with the Bulls and didn't make much of an impact for the well-established dynasty. To say the 43-year-old Celtic great was past his prime would be an understatement.
John Salley, Los Angeles Lakers: 2000
John "Spider" Salley earned his first two rings with the Detroit Pistons, but he went on to become a veritable NBA Finals tourist.
Before claiming his fourth with the Lakers in 2000, Salley had the Toronto Raptors buy out his contract in 1996 in order to pursue a championship with the Bulls. He averaged just 2.1 points and 2.5 rebounds during the regular season and kept the bench warm for Robert Parish's tour of duty a season later.
Salley came out of retirement four years later to contribute 1.6 points and 1.4 rebounds to yet another championship effort.
Mitch Richmond, Los Angeles Lakers: 2002
Richmond can't be blamed for pursuing a late ring via the conventional free agency route—he was traded to the Lakers before the 2001-2002 season and quickly became a sparingly used bench presence for Los Angeles.
On the way to a third straight title, the Lakers only played Richmond for four minutes throughout the entire postseason. Fortunately, even benchwarmers get rings. After six All-Star seasons in Sacramento and a widely respected career, Richmond probably deserved his ring as something of a "lifetime achievement award."
Kevin Willis, San Antonio Spurs: 2003
The 40-year-old Kevin Willis wasn't entirely irrelevant to San Antonio's second championship run, but this was no longer the dominant rebounder who played 10 seasons for the Atlanta Hawks.
Willis brought a veteran presence and defensive intensity to the Spurs bench and got fairly consistent playing time as a role player without a very big role. The 17-year veteran got his first ring and returned to the Hawks a season later.
Gary Payton, Miami Heat: 2006
Two seasons after coming up short in his championship pursuit with the Lakers, one of the game's best point guards finally got his lone title alongside Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal.
It's a bit harsh to suggest Payton didn't carry his weight—he averaged nearly 30 minutes a game while sharing point guard duties with Jason Williams.
However, in comparison to the production he regularly contributed throughout most of his career, Payton didn't look quite the same in his 16th season. He was still good enough to help the Heat win it all after signing a one-year deal with the club.
Peja Stojakovic, Dallas Mavericks: 2011
Like Mitch Richmond, Peja's most deserving years came with the Sacramento Kings. The ring came with someone else—in this case, the Dallas Mavericks.
Like Gary Payton, Stojakovic did far more than occupy bench space. He played nearly 20 minutes a game during Dallas' postseason run and averaged over seven points per playoff contest. Still, his performance paled in comparison to the impressive play for which the sharpshooter was known before his career was derailed by injuries.