6 NBA Players Who Were a Lucky Break Away from Winning a Title
Most NBA Analysts will assert that in order to win a title, a player needs to be on a team with the perfect balance of offense and defense, superstar quality talent, good role players who can make critical plays at key junctures of a series and a little bit of luck.
That last trait of a championship team may be the most difficult to replicate, because it's something that players and teams cannot plan for.
Players can become victims of the "bad break bug" as Robert Horry ironically put it in 1999.
It can be all the more difficult when a player is literally at the doorstep of immortality and is turned away by a single bad break or twist of fate that alters the trajectory of their title aspirations. These are the players that would have been NBA Champions if one play, executive decision, or referee's call had gone a different way.
6. Chris Webber
Although he did not originally want to be traded to the Sacramento Kings from the Washington Bullets in 1998, Chris Webber quickly became the face of the franchise.
During his stellar seven year run with the Kings, he helped change the culture of the team. What was once a perennial loser and league-wide laughing stock became a force to be reckoned with by the early 2000s. The young nucleus of Webber, Doug Christie and Vlade Divac had catapulted the Kings to their best record ever in 2002, and the team sought to beat the repeat champion Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
But what looked like a series that the Kings were destined to win, was decided by three major bad breaks for Webber and his team. The first was when his team, up 2-1 and holding a commanding 24-point lead over the Lakers in Game 4. The Lakers of course rallied and got the score back to within two in the final seconds. The Kings came up short offensively and the Lakers looked to tie the game in the closing moments. The Kings were one stop away from taking a 3-1 lead in the series.
One. Stop. Away.
It didn't happen. On the Kobe miss, the Kings, who probably should have just rebounded the ball rather than kicking it out, tapped it right to Robert Horry who calmly sank the game winning three-pointer at the buzzer for a one point Laker win.
After winning the fifth game in the series, and taking a 3-2 series lead, Webber was once again given the shaft by lady luck. In one of the worst displays of officiating ever seen in the NBA, the Lakers were granted 27 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter of a tight game. That mockery prevented the Kings from closing out the series. In Game 7, in Sacramento, the Kings were once again hounded by the free throw line. But this time, it was their own inability to make free throws that sealed their fate in a close overtime loss.
Most people believe that the Kings would have beaten the New Jersey Nets easily if the Kings had advanced to the finals. But losing that Game 7 basically sealed Webber's fate, and he was never this close to winning a title again.
Some cite the Game 6 debacle, but it was not getting that final stop in Game 4 that I believe cost Webber a title.
5. Karl Malone
Karl Malone is one of the greatest power forwards of All-Time. "The Mailman" played 18 years with the Utah Jazz, all of it with John Stockton, one of the greatest point guards of all time. And in that time, he racked up many accolades including 2 MVPs, 11 All-NBA First Team selections, and 14 All-Star Game appearances. He also appeared on the 1992 Dream Team, still heralded as the greatest team ever assembled.
However, he couldn't win a ring. Even when he joined the Lakers in 2004, he came up short in the finals.
Although his Utah Jazz team fell to the Chicago Bulls in 1997, the Jazz had a legitimate chance to beat the Bulls in 1998. But their fate was sealed with two plays that may have turned the series.
The first was Game 2 of the NBA Finals. The Jazz were up 1-0 in the series and looking to go up 2-0. Michael Jordan and his team came out with reckless abandon and took a nine point lead in the fourth quarter despite Malone's terrible shooting game. However, Malone had a chance to be the hero. On one play, when the Jazz had cut the lead to one, the Jazz needed a defensive stop. Jordan missed a jumper and Malone (one of the game's great rebounders) lost that critical board to Steve Kerr. It lead to a three point play for Jordan and basically the end of the game.
The Bulls would go on to take a 3-2 series lead going back to Utah. Despite Jordan's amazing 43-point effort to that point, the Jazz still held a one-point lead in the final seconds. If the Jazz could just take care of the ball and dribble out the clock, there would have been a Game 7, a position that would have favored them since it would have been in Utah.
But every bad break in the book came down on Malone's team.
First, Malone turned the ball over to Jordan. That's a no-no in the final seconds of a one-point game. Then the Jazz let Jordan isolate on the final play. Sure they were burned by a pass out by Jordan for Steve Kerr's game winner the previous year, but I still would rather anyone else beat me in that situation. Then there was a no-call on the Jordan push on Bryon Russell for the game/series/title winning shot.
If Malone had not turned the ball over, if the referees had called Jordan for an offensive foul, or if Jordan was called for fouling Malone instead of stealing the ball cleanly, there might have been a Game 7 in the series, where the home team wins nearly every time in the finals, and Malone might have a ring.
That turnover (an Jordan's brilliance) cost Malone a title.
4. Walt Bellamy
Walt Bellamy may not be as well known as some of the other greats from the 1960s like Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson, but his resume is pretty spectacular.
He won Rookie of the Year in 1962, was named to four All-Star teams and averaged 20.1 PPG and 13.7 RPG for his career. He never made an All-NBA Team, although that could have been because he played in the era with Bill Russell, Wilt and Willis Reed. It's like picking the All-NBA point guards in today's NBA. Yet he didn't win a ring, in part because he was traded away from a team at the precipice of title contention.
After playing three years with the New York Knicks (1965-1968), Bellamy was sent to the Detroit Pistons for Dave DeBusschere. That move came a mere two years before the Knicks won the first title in franchise history.
Now some could argue that DeBusschere was a better player and fit the Knicks system better than Bellamy, but I still believe a front court of Bellamy and Reed would have been incredibly formidable and certainly good enough to win a title had Bellamy remained with the team for another two seasons.
3. Antonio McDyess
Antonio McDyess has always managed to be on the right teams at the wrong time.
In 2005, he was added to the roster of the Detroit Pistons team that had just won an NBA title.
He was a valuable part of the Pistons playoff run in 2005 when the team won a hard fought playoff series against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals and was in a 2-2 finals against the San Antonio Spurs for the championship.
But a Robert Horry dagger three-pointer in overtime of Game 5, and a disappointing Game 7 loss in San Antonio extinguished his opportunity to win a title as a Piston. In 2009, he joined the team that prevented him from taking the 2005 title. The Spurs were only two years removed from their last championship and were still among the best teams in the NBA.
But the Spurs fell to the L.A. Lakers in 2009 and the Phoenix Suns in 2010. In 2011, the Spurs became less of a defensive oriented team and more of a run and gun offensive squad. The Spurs secured the second best record in the NBA and were largely considered heavy favorites to challenge for the title. But the combination of an injury to Manu Ginobili and getting a bad matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies led to the Spurs loosing in round one of the playoffs.
McDyess was waived by the Spurs following the season and unless he joins a contender for the minimum, it looks like he will probably never win a title.
2. Adrian Dantley
How close was Adrian Dantley to winning a ring?
One year he made it to the point where the championship trophy was being wheeled into his locker room and the champagne was being chilled in the fourth quarter of the title clinching game...and yet he somehow did not win the title.
A year later, he managed to play on a team that won a championship, the same year it won, and still came up short of winning the title he coveted.
For those who don't remember Adrian Dantley, he had a sensational career. He won Rookie of the Year in 1977, was a two-time scoring champion, played in six All-Star Games and was selected to two All-NBA Second teams.
However, despite all of his accomplishments and career 24.5 PPG scoring average, he never played on a championship team.
Then his luck appeared to change in 1986 when he was traded to the Detriot Pistons with a young, up-and-coming nucleus of Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Bill Laimbeer. After a few unsuccessful clashes with the Boston Celtics, the Pistons finally advanced to the finals in 1988 and secured a 3-2 series lead over the Lakers.
Despite Isiah Thomas' heralded Game 6 performance when he scored 25 points in the third quarter to give the Pistons a late fourth quarter lead, the Lakers rallied to send the series to a Game 7 and L.A. eventually won the championship.
The next season would be the Pistons' year. Unfortunately for Dantley, management felt that with Thomas, Dumars and Vinnie Johnson, there just weren't enough shots to go around, and traded Dantley to the Dallas Mavericks at mid-season.
It was mere months before the Pistons won the franchise's first title.
1. Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor is one of the all-time great forwards. He was the 1959 Rookie of the Year, made the All-NBA First Team 10 times and scored 61 points in a playoff game, but no player in NBA History suffered more from the wrath of Lady Luck than him.
Most of the players on the list lost their chance at a title based on one play or one business decision that didn't go their way. Baylor was just always on the wrong side of luck when it came to winning a title. The ball just never seemed to bounce his way.
In Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics, his Los Angeles Lakers trailed most of the contest before rallying to tie the game up seconds before regulation expired. Then guard Frank Selvy, who had been on fire in the fourth quarter, took the game winning shot. The shot that would have netted Baylor his first title bounced off the front rim, leading to overtime and an eventual loss for the Lakers.
-n Game 7 of the 1966 Finals (what would be the Celtics' eighth straight title) Elgin Baylor's jumpers just were not falling. He shot just 1-10 in the first half of the game for only two points. The Lakers cut a big lead to two in the final seconds, but the Lakers couldn't get over the hump.
In Game 7 of the 1969 Finals (Russell's final title run), the Lakers were in the position to win on their home court. Then Jack Kent Cooke went and angered the Celtics by leaking L.A.s championship celebration plans. Like the previous Game 7s for Baylor, this one would be decided in the final seconds: The classic Don Nelson shot that bounced 10 feet in the air and still swished through the net.
All totaled, Baylor lost in the finals eight times. Eight. Just think about how difficult it is to get to the finals that many times, but to get there that much and never win (many of the losses in Game 7) is the worst display of playoff misfortune ever seen.