When it comes to NBA championship-winning teams, most fans know all the big stars on the team, people like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, etc. Key role players — guys like Andrew Bogut, Udonis Haslem, J.R. Smith, etc. — could also be memorable in their own way. But there are players whom many people, especially casual fans, would never guess played for an NBA champion. Either their role in the regular season and/or playoffs was too inconsequential, or they had blink-and-you-miss-it stints for that championship team. The reasons may vary, but when you hear their names, you might not be aware that they once played for, or still play for the cream of the NBA's crop.
Who are those players whose membership on NBA championship teams may not be common knowledge to everyone? We shall take a look at 15 of them, though in the sake of keeping things brief, we shall only be sticking to current players.
To be eligible for this list as "current," a player has to have played at least one game in the 2016-17 season, or if unsigned or yet-to-be-signed for the current season, have last played in 2015-16 and not have officially announced his retirement. Those who haven't played in the NBA this season but have played in the D-League are also eligible.
15 TONY ALLEN (2007-08 CELTICS)
At the age of 35, Tony Allen still holds an NBA starting job on account of that one thing he does better than almost any other shooting guard in the league — defense. He's been a five-time All-Defensive player and a key player on several competitive Memphis Grizzlies teams. But nine years ago, he was a hardly-used reserve on the last championship-winning Boston Celtics team, providing defensive sock in relief of Ray Allen, and mostly watching as Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce led the C's to a league-record 17th championship in 2008.
Unlike most of the players in this list, he's well-known to casual fans. But with the Celtics so far removed from their NBA Finals glory, and Allen having played such a small role in the 2008 playoffs, you might have forgotten he did win a championship way back in the day.
14 JUSTIN HOLIDAY (2014-15 WARRIORS)
Jrue Holiday's less-talented, taller older brother has done his fair share of bouncing around in the league. In four NBA seasons (not counting 2013-14, when he was playing in Europe), he's played for five teams, and since he's now getting some nice backup minutes for the Knicks, he just might want to leave his suitcase unpacked for the first time in his NBA career. But are you aware that in one of his many stopovers, Holiday had won an NBA championship?
That stopover was with the Golden State Warriors, as Holiday was third on the depth chart behind Klay Thompson and Leandro Barbosa at shooting guard. Of course, the Warriors had little need for him in the 2015 playoffs, but he did see action in a few of those postseason games, and he did show enough potential for the Atlanta Hawks to sign him to a multi-year deal the next season. (That didn't stop him from bouncing around via trade, though.)
13 JORDAN MCRAE (2015-16 CAVALIERS)
As one of the younger and newer players in this list, Jordan McRae may still be someone whose name doesn't ring much of a bell. But he's been getting more playing time in 2016-17 as a reserve guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers. And you can't ignore his catchy nickname either — as a former Tennessee Volunteer with remarkable athleticism and scoring ability, he's known as "The Orange Mamba."
Originally drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, McRae debuted for the Phoenix Suns in January 2016, but had joined the Cavs soon after, buried deep in the bench, but nonetheless playing a couple games (and a couple minutes) in Cleveland's remarkable 2016 playoffs run. Yes, the Orange Mamba has a championship ring, and he just might have two if the Cavs repeat in 2017.
12 TYSON CHANDLER (2010-11 MAVERICKS)
Now here's someone who differs from most of the players in this list, not only because of his long, successful NBA career — one All-Star appearance, multiple All-Defensive Team spots, and a reputation as a tough rebounder and defender who's still doing those things well for the Phoenix Suns. But Tyson Chandler was also a starter, and at the peak of his career, when he played for the Dallas Mavericks in the 2010-11 season, manning the middle as Dirk Nowitzki and company won their first NBA championship.
So why include Chandler in this list, given his success and name recall, and his important role in the Mavs' 2010-11 title run? Consider the fact that he only spent one season in Dallas, before getting traded to the New York Knicks right ahead of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. As mentioned above, Chandler is still starting, and even in his 15th NBA season, he's holding off the young and erstwhile-disappointing Alex Len as the Suns' first-string center.
11 SASHA VUJACIC (2008-09, 2009-10 LAKERS)
He's a bit of a reach because of his colorful nickname ("The Machine") and the key role he played off the bench in the 2010 NBA Finals. Let's also not forget that he was once engaged to Maria Sharapova, and that's got to account for a lot of name recall. But let's take stock of the fact that he's been in and out of the NBA since achieving championship glory, alternating stints in Europe with returns to America, sometimes for just a couple of games (e.g. 2013-14 L.A. Clippers), sometimes on a longer-term basis (e.g. his current stint with the New York Knicks).
Today's Lakers are so far removed from the Phil Jackson-coached teams that dominated the NBA when they had the right mix of players supporting or complementing Kobe Bryant. And if you consider their current state, and Vujacic's on-and-off NBA stints, it's probably fair to include him as someone whose two NBA championship rings may come as a surprise to some.
10 IAN MAHINMI (2010-11 MAVERICKS)
You probably remember him for last season's near-breakthrough year with the Indiana Pacers, where he was merely serving a transitional role as Myles Turner went through his rookie growing pains. But Ian Mahinmi was first known in the NBA (beyond the, well, non-traditional pronunciation of his first name) as a backup center on some good San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks teams. And it was with the Mavs where he won his only NBA championship so far, as he and Brendan Haywood shared backup minutes behind Tyson Chandler in the 2010-11 season.
Following his career year in 2015-16, Mahinmi joined the Washington Wizards in 2016-17 after signing a lucrative four-year free agent deal, but injuries have limited him to only one game in the current season as of this writing.
9 JAMES MICHAEL MCADOO (2014-15 WARRIORS)
Once thought of as a future lottery pick, James Michael McAdoo wasn't exactly "McAdoo about nothing" in three years with the North Carolina Tar Heels. But he nonetheless went undrafted in 2014, ending up on a deep Golden State Warriors team that had Draymond Green, David Lee, and Marreese Speights ahead of him on the power forward depth chart. As such, he was limited to cameo appearances in the 2015 playoffs.
That didn't stop McAdoo from getting a championship ring, and he nearly got himself a second one, if only the Warriors didn't blow a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals. Suffice to say, he's now gunning for a second one once again, as he remains on the Warriors' bench in his third NBA season.
8 CORY JOSEPH (2013-14 SPURS)
Since returning back home and joining the Toronto Raptors for the 2015-16 season, Cory Joseph has been playing some of the best basketball of his NBA career, as he's oftentimes the first guard off the bench, and a solid contributor on both ends of the floor. But he first developed his reputation as a tough off-the-bench defender as a deeper reserve for the San Antonio Spurs. And he'd often be starting during those times Tony Parker or Danny Green would be injured or "Popped" — that's Yahoo Fantasy NBA slang for Gregg Popovich's act of benching top players, usually against weaker teams, in the regular season.
As he'd often get most of his exposure when Spurs stars would be resting, Joseph got far less playing time in the playoffs. That's why you might not be aware of that championship ring he wears, for having being part of the 2013-14 Spurs.
7 BRANDON RUSH (2014-15 WARRIORS)
Here's a question you might want to ask your "bandwagoner" friends who only started liking the Warriors when they started winning — who was their sixth man in their last losing season? If your friend says Brandon Rush, then you can quit it with the "bandwagoner" teasing. Rush was getting borderline starter's minutes for the Warriors in 2011-12, a solid threes-and-D guy who provided relief at both small forward and shooting guard positions. But a torn ACL took him out of all but two games in the 2012-13 season, and his career hasn't been the same since then.
Rush spent the next season as a deep reserve on the Utah Jazz, but was back to Golden State in 2014-15, right on time for him to be part of their NBA championship-winning team. He's currently playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves, again buried deep in the bench — one has to wonder if he would have eventually lived up to his billing as the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft had he not torn his ACL.
6 JEFF AYRES (2013-14 SPURS)
Jeff who? There may be a lot of you who remember the reserve power forward named Jeff Pendergraph, so if the name Jeff Ayres is throwing you off a bit, let it be known that they're one and the same — he changed his surname legally in the summer of 2013 from that of his stepfather to that of his biological dad. That came one month after Ayres signed with the San Antonio Spurs to become the guy in the starting lineup whenever Tim Duncan would get "Popped" (see the Cory Joseph entry for its definition), especially when the Spurs would be playing back-to-back games.
Ayres went on to see the most playing time (13 minutes per game, which isn't saying much) of his NBA career, and when the 2013-14 season was over, he got his first and only championship ring so far. He last played for the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2015-16 season, and while he's yet to play an NBA game this season, he's included here as he now plays for the Lakers' D-League affiliate, the L.A. Defenders.
5 DAHNTAY JONES (2015-16 CAVALIERS)
We're considering him current because he hasn't officially retired from the NBA, and is currently unsigned. But you may even have been surprised last season to find out that Dahntay Jones was still in the NBA. He was signed by Cleveland toward the end of the regular season, and averaged 13 points and 42 minutes per game — easily career highs, till you realize that he was only in one regular season game for the Cavs.
The 6'6" journeyman was hardly utilized during the Cavaliers' playoff run, averaging just a shade over three minutes per game, but it didn't matter, as he did get some quality playing time in Game 6 of the 2016 Finals, and won his first NBA championship in 12 pro seasons as Cleveland made that improbable rally from a 3-1 deficit. Again, he's presently a free agent, but there's always a possibility someone may take a chance on this veteran defensive specialist while he's still active.
4 COREY BREWER (2010-11 MAVERICKS)
For someone who was once picked seventh overall due to his length, athleticism, and upside (aren't a lot of them?), Corey Brewer has had a rather disappointing career. To be fair, however, he's lasted exactly a decade in the NBA, busted loose with a flukey (though still impressive) 51-point game toward the end of the 2013-14 NBA season, and frustrated opposing guards due to his height advantage and defensive ability. And he's also played for an NBA championship-winning team — the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks.
Brewer was a deep benchwarmer on that title-winning Mavericks team, but he followed up that brief stint with some productive seasons for the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves. At the present, he's playing a less significant role off the bench, as he now plays for the James Harden-led Houston Rockets.
3 BENO UDRIH (2004-05, 2006-07 SPURS)
Beno Udrih is rather unusual for this list, given the fact that he's got two championship rings, and not just one. But those championships happened so long ago and he's still riding somebody's bench in the NBA, so there's a good chance some of you may have forgotten he did backup duty for a then-youthful Tony Parker in San Antonio, winning titles in 2005 and 2007.
While Udrih didn't play a really big role for the Spurs in his first three NBA seasons, he emerged as a starter for the Sacramento Kings — a decent one, at the very least, but not good enough for him to start when he left the Kings and began bouncing around the league. In 13 NBA seasons, he's played for eight teams, and is currently third on the point guard depth chart behind Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith, with the DNP-CDs having added up since Jackson returned from injury.
2 JORDAN FARMAR (2008-09 LAKERS)
This writer remembers his shock upon checking a list of fantasy basketball free agents and finding out that Jordan Farmar was still in the NBA for the 2016-17 season. Yes indeed, he's still in the NBA, having played two games for the Sacramento Kings before getting cut, and the year before that, he joined the Memphis Grizzlies late in the season, as the Grizz desperately searched for someone to replace an injured Mike Conley. But way before that, he was Derek Fisher's backup on the championship-winning 2008-09 L.A. Lakers.
The 2009 Lakers are almost a case study on "this guy has a championship ring"? Just look at that lineup — Vladimir Radmanovic, Chris Mihm, Adam Morrison, and other fine gentlemen whom you wouldn't guess have championship experience. Then you've got guys like Farmar, whose NBA employment as recently as 2016-17 just may surprise you.
1 TREVOR ARIZA (2008-09 LAKERS)
Nowadays, most fans think "rebuilding" when they think Los Angeles Lakers, but years before the D12/old Steve Nash/Mike D'Antoni debacle, before Chris Paul and Blake Griffin made "Lob City" a thing in L.A., the Lakers were the Los Angeles team that mattered in the NBA. And they were NBA champions in 2009, with Phil Jackson still in charge, Kobe Bryant still in his prime, and Trevor Ariza having just taken over as the team's starting small forward.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, Ariza wasn't long for L.A., as he signed with the Houston Rockets as a free agent for the 2009-10 season, and rewarded them with a career year. He's bounced around a couple times since then, but he's now back in Houston for the 2016-17 season, still starting at small forward, and providing a healthy dose of "3D" (threes and defense) as he has been since splitting from the Lakers.
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