Ring Watch: Best NBA Players to Never Win a Championship Ring

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2014

Ring Watch: Best NBA Players to Never Win a Championship Ring

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    Winning a championship has as much to do with luck as it does greatness. Everything has to go your way.

    Even the best of the best need to find themselves on the right team in the right place at the right time. And even then, sometimes it doesn't work out. 

    Someone gets hurt, or a ball takes a bad bounce, or an opponent hits an impossible shot. So much of winning it all is out of an individual's hands.

    That's why you see so many players deserving of 'ships who don't sport any diamonds from the NBA's jewelry store. 

    Just because a guy hasn't won a ring, it doesn't mean his time as a pro is a letdown or a failure. We have to look at each individual career within the context of when and how it happened. Now, let's take a look at some of the best NBA players ever who never won a ring.

    If you are active, you don't qualify. That means you won't be seeing Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant or Chris Paul on here. Those guys still have a chance. Even Steve Nash won't make his way onto the rankings of top guys without rings. 

    For these 15 retired players, failing to get a ring was merely an asterisk on an otherwise tremendous career. Here's how they rank, from worst to best.

15. Chris Webber (1993-2008)

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    Those 2002 Western Conference Finals ruined everything. 

    The Sacramento Kings led the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers three games to two heading into Game 6 in L.A. The Kings ended up dropping that contest by four and then losing Game 7 at home. 

    Webber, who averaged 24.5 points and 10.1 rebounds in leading that team all season, never neared the Finals again. But coming close and never really getting there was the story of his career.

    He made two Final Fours in his time at Michigan but never won a national championship. He finished his career just short of being a 20-10 guy. He was always a very, very good player who never quite sustained gracing the ceiling of best in the league (though you can argue that from 1999 to 2002, Webber absolutely fit that bill). 

    Now, Webber sits on the Hall of Fame's fence. 

14. Bernard King (1977-1993)

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    After 20 years of waiting, at least we finally got it right, inducting King into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2013.

    The former small forward bounced around the NBA, playing for five teams, but may be best remembered for his five years with the New York Knicks (one of which he didn't play), during which he averaged 26.5 points in the regular season and won his only scoring title in 1984-85. But even with all those points, King was hardly playoff royalty.

    Though it clearly wasn't his fault, King never made it past the second round of the playoffs. 

    Actually, he only won a second-round game one year. That was in 1984, when he took his Knicks to a Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. New York may have fallen short of its goal in '84, but it was hardly the fault of King, who led all playoff performers that season, averaging 34.8 points per game in the postseason.

13. Bob Lanier (1970-1984)

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    Like King, Lanier never really came close to getting a ring, though he did make it to the Eastern Conference Finals in his final two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Lanier's prime came as a member of the Detroit Pistons before he was sent off to Milwaukee for Kent Benson. The former first overall pick averaged 22.7 points and 11.8 rebounds during his time in Detroit but didn't find much postseason success at all.

    In 10 years as a Piston, Lanier made it out of the first round just once. Still, average 20 and 10 for a career, and you'll probably be on your way to Springfield. And Lanier was inducted in 1992.

12. Dikembe Mutombo (1991-2009)

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    It's not like Mutombo didn't have his fair share of big playoff moments.

    After all, Mutombo grasping onto the basketball for dear life after he and his Denver Nuggets clinched a Game 5, first-round upset over the No. 1 seed Seattle Supersonics in 1994 still stands as one of the most memorable playoff moments in recent history.

    That's what the four-time Defensive Player of the Year was like, though. We remember him for his personality.

    Mutombo was about the finger wag. The 3,289 blocked shots, second most all-time. The tremendous interviews. But unfortunately, he never got himself a ring.

11. Walt Bellamy (1961-1975)

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    How do you feel about a rookie averaging 31.6 points and 19.0 rebounds? Well, that was what Bellamy did in the 1961-62 season.

    Oh, basketball in the early '60s. Too bad they didn't keep track of how many possessions were in a game back then. Those numbers are too fun.

    The 6'11" center may have had his best season in his first year in the pros (both his scoring and rebounding averages were career highs), but he tended to rot away on subpar teams for much of his career, spending time with the Chicago Packers/Zephyrs, Knicks, Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Jazz and Detroit Pistons.

    Bellamy did make it to the Western Division Finals twice, once in 1965 and once in 1970. He just barely missed out on a championship with the Knicks, when he was traded for Dave DeBusschere only a season before the blue and orange won its first title in team history. But like everyone else on this list, he finished his career without any jewelry, averaging 20.1 points and 13.7 rebounds over 14 years as a pro.

10. Alex English (1976-1991)

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    English was a perennial presence in the postseason with the Denver Nuggets but never got the chance to win a ring.

    His Nugs made it to the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons from 1982 to 1990, a stretch over which English averaged 26.2 points per game.

    But over that time, the Hall of Famer saw five first-round exits, three second-round departures and just one trip to the Western Conference Finals. And that was in 1985, when Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers pulled off a gentleman's sweep of English's Nuggets.

    Though English did also make it into the postseason with the Milwaukee Bucks, the 1982-83 scoring champion never went further than those '85 conference finals. 

9. Dominique Wilkins (1982-1999)

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    So what if the "Human Highlight Film" never made the NBA Finals? We wouldn't remember him for that anyway.

    With Wilkins, do we even remember the 1986 scoring title or the 28.0 points per game he averaged from 1985 to 1994?

    OK, yes we do. Of course we do. But we don't prioritize those, because how can we possibly rank any feat ahead of some of those dunks? Those miraculous dunks.

    He won two Slam Dunk Contests and made nine All-Star teams. He even lost what was arguably the best dunk contest ever, when he and Michael Jordan went toe-to-toe in 1988.

    No one even cares Wilkins lost that dunk contest. We just remember the journey, the incredible highlights from a man named after highlights himself. It was like his career: What we care about most were the unparalleled displays of athleticism that maybe no one since has been able to match.

8. Pete Maravich (1970-1980)

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    Has there ever been a better college scorer than Maravich? And has anyone been more consistent?

    Pistol Pete increased his scoring average in each season at LSU but started at 43.6 points per game as a freshman and finished at 44.5 points per game as a senior.

    Just imagine if he played with a three-point line. At least in his era, no one shot like Maravich, who used to pull up from deep with ease. 

    The scoring translated into the NBA, as Maravich won his first and only scoring title in 1976-77, but a short, 10-year career didn't give him much of a window to get a ring, failing to get to a conference final until his last NBA season with the Celtics.

    That's what happens when you waste away on an expansion Jazz team for six seasons that never manages to finish at .500. And considering Pistol Pete had only four playoff appearances in his career, we shouldn't be shocked that he never ended up with a ring.

7. George Gervin (1972-1986)

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    In 2014, it seems insane that someone could play for the San Antonio Spurs for 12 years and retire ringless, but the NBA was different in the '70s and '80s.

    Gervin had a dominant career, reeling off four scoring titles in five years at one point in the late '70s to early '80s. Still, no ring for "Iceman."

    It's not like Gervin didn't have his chances. The Spurs have always been a perennial playoff mainstay. We're talking about an organization that has only missed the postseason five times in its history.

    Even with three appearances in the NBA's final four, Gervin's Spurs couldn't crack a trip to the Finals, falling in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1979 and the Western Conference Finals in 1982 and 1983. 

6. John Stockton (1984-2003)

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    For some reason, we've forgotten about Stockton in the past 10 years.

    Going back to the 1984 draft, we seem to categorize Hakeem Olajuwon properly. Same goes for Charles Barkley. Clearly, we revere Michael Jordan. But then there's the somewhat forgotten Stockton.

    Nine straight years leading the NBA in assists per game means something. Holding five of the six highest single-season totals in that category is pretty decent, as well. 

    Stockton was made for the pick-and-roll with Karl Malone. There's a reason we commonly refer to that combo as the best 1-4 pick-and-roll tandem of all time. But they were born in the wrong era.

    That darn '84 draft.

    If Jordan wasn't winning titles, it was Hakeem. 

    It wasn't like Stockton and Malone didn't have their chances to get some jewelry. The two of them made the Western Conference Finals five times and the NBA Finals twice, losing to Jordan's Bulls in 1997 and 1998. 

    Ultimately, though, we'd be best off for remembering that Stockton led the league in assist rate 15 times and true shooting thrice. Historically, no one has been able to match the Gonzaga alum's passing numbers. No one's even come close.

5. Allen Iverson (1996-2010)

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    How do you make it to the NBA Finals? Practice.

    Or if you're Allen Iverson, you just show up. 

    Iverson made it to one NBA Finals when he carried the Philadelphia 76ers there in 2001 to take on the defending champion Lakers. The Sixers ended up dropping that series in five but not before Tyronn Lue became collateral damage. 

    Iverson may not have won a ring, but that was hardly his fault. Philadelphia never put much help around him. Even that 2000-01 team gave him no offensive partner in crime.

    Are Eric Snow and Aaron McKie really supposed to get you a championship?

    So, in the 2000-01 season, Iverson averaged 42.0 minutes a game, won the scoring title, led the NBA in steals and took 30 shots a night in the playoffs. Yep, 30.

    He was everything in Philly, and Denver only gave him two opportunities to win in the playoffs. Unfortunately, he just never got quite enough.

4. Charles Barkley (1984-2000)

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    Barkley may be the only Hall of Fame athlete ever who has ended up having an even better career as a broadcaster than as a player.

    There's a whole generation of kids who think Chuck is just a successful television personality. Somehow, the words have managed to mask the on-court performance. But man, could that guy play.

    After pulling down 8.6 boards a night as a rookie, he spent 15 straight years averaging double-digit rebounding totals. There's a reason they call him the "Round Mound of Rebound."

    But even with all the boards and the 11 straight years of 20 points per game or better, Chuck couldn't get a ring.

    He found himself in a similar predicament to Stockton: That 1984 draft class just wasn't lucky. That's what happens when you're part of one of the two or three best groups of incoming rookies ever.

    So, Barkley carried the Phoenix Suns to the Finals in 1993 but lost to Jordan's Bulls in six. Then, he went to the two-time champion Houston Rockets during the summer of 1996 only to drop to Malone and Stockton's Jazz in his first couple of years there.

    The timing was off, and Barkley didn't get his ring. But it seems like he's doing just fine without it.

3. Patrick Ewing (1985-2002)

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    We've gotten to the Space Jam section. First is Barkley. Now, Ewing. And the famous Knicks center going championship-less was just another product of his generation.

    The Knicks selected Ewing with the first overall pick in 1985, and we all know the story behind that. You know, that dirty, rigged lottery that David Stern so scandalously fixed. Or not.

    Either way, New York ended up with the No. 1 selection, which would clearly be Ewing, and all of a sudden, basketball in the NBA's top media market was saved. 

    The Knicks won just 24 games before earning the first pick in the draft and worked their way to a playoff appearance by 1987-88. By the following year, they had a 52-win season under their belt, the start of a streak that would see them make the postseason for 14 consecutive years.

    But those playoff runs always ended in a loss, the most painful of all coming in 1994 when New York led Houston 3-2 in the Finals, only to drop Games 6 and 7 to lose the series.

    That was the closest Ewing ever came to a title, dropping another Finals in five games to the Spurs in 1999.

2. Karl Malone (1985-2004)

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    Who's the best power forward of all time? Is it Tim Duncan? Or is it Malone? 

    Actually, that question may answer itself. After all, Duncan hasn't really been a power forward since the mid-2000s when the Spurs slid him over to center. Malone, meanwhile, sits second on the all-time scoring list behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 

    For the Jazz power forward, it was all about consistency. 

    He only averaged above 30 points per game once. He got to the free-throw line at least eight times a game for 15 straight years. The remarkably efficient Malone actually attempted 20 shots a game only once in his whole career.

    The guy just found ways to score, and pairing him with one of the best pick-and-roll point guards ever in Stockton certainly helped. But even though Malone could never get himself a ring, he sure did try.

    He lost to the Bulls twice in the Finals with Utah. Then, after Stockton retired, he and Gary Payton signed with the Lakers in 2003-04, trying to create some sort of super team with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. That team also went to the Finals but fell to the Pistons.

    Going 0-of-3 in the Finals has to be discouraging. So, at age 40, Malone retired with the bad taste of a Pistons loss.

    Now, he just hopes Damian Lillard doesn't end up like him. The burgers are ready, by the way.

1. Elgin Baylor (1958-1972)

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    Elgin Baylor was jinxed. I'm convinced. 

    The 1977 Hall of Fame inductee played 14 years for, of all teams, the Lakers and retired ringless. Who could possibly have guessed that?

    Seriously, Baylor had to be cursed. That's the only way to explain his career.

    In his rookie season, when he averaged 24.9 points and 15.0 rebounds, Baylor took a 33-39 Lakers team all the way to the Finals, only to get swept by the Celtics. And those sorts of things just kept happening.

    Baylor made the playoffs in every year of his career and made it to the Finals eight times. Eight! But he didn't win one of those series. 

    I told you. He's completely and utterly jinxed. 

    But wait, it gets worse.

    Baylor retired on November 5, 1971, nine games into the regular season. And what'd the Lakers go on to do after he left the team? Go 69-13 under coach Bill Sharman and win their first NBA title since 1954. 

    Baylor went on to coach the Jazz for three years in the mid-70s and didn't have a winning record. He followed that up with a 22-year run as general manager...of the Los Angeles Clippers.

    He's one of the best to have ever played the game, but at some point as a child, Baylor must've walked under a ladder or broken a mirror or crossed paths with a black cat. Maybe he spent too much time with Goody Proctor as a kid. Because Elgin Baylor is absolutely, positively cursed.


    All statistics current as of June 1 and from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

    Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains his per-36-minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at WashingtonPost.com, RotoWire.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.