There are lots of milestones for an NBA great to achieve. There are individual accolades like Most Valuable Player awards, achieving All Star status, and winning scoring titles to pursue. Additionally, the past thirty years have seen a proliferation of endorsement opportunities, as Michael Jordan in particular led the way for top athletes to earn even more money off the court than they ever did on it.
For many top level players, though, winning a championship remains the ultimate goal. It’s why LeBron James infamously jumped to the Miami Heat to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and it’s why Kevin Durant made the jump to an already great Golden State Warriors squad. While fans of a certain era will always remember Shaquille O’Neal’s original run with the Orlando Magic fondly, it’s playing and winning championships with the Lakers that shored up his all time great status.
Still, there are those legends of the game who never won their rings. In some cases, they loyally stood by a single team for most, if not all of their careers, but never got the right supporting cast to get the job done. In others, they actively moved around to find the right teammates, but it never did pay off.
On the flip side of the coin, there are those less talented players who found themselves in the right place at the right time, or in the right role to stumble into multiple championships, almost in spite of their limitations as players. This article takes a look at fifteen less talented NBA players with multiple championship rings, and fifteen legends who never won the big one.
30 Multiple Rings: Luke Walton
Today’s fans may recognize Luke Walton first and foremost as a coach who has guided middling Lakers squads the past two seasons, after a stint on staff with the Golden State Warriors. Before that, though, he was a second generation player with a lot of potential, following in the footsteps of his legendary father Bill Walton.
Luke never did match his father’s ferocious play. Indeed, he was a largely forgettable forward who spent most of his career in a supporting role for the Lakers.
Fortunately for Walton, being a role player in LA in the late 2000s and early 2010s was exactly the right place to start collecting rings, as he won two playing alongside Kobe Bryant during the best stretch of his career.
29 No Ring: Karl Malone
Karl Malone is an NBA legend. He’s second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most points scored in his career, he was a fourteen time All Star, and two time MVP. He won his way to three Finals, too, but was never secured a championship.
Malone’s Jazz twice took Michael Jordan’s Bulls to the limit in the 1997 and 1998 Finals, but lost in six competitive games both times. The 2003-04 season, which turned out to be Malone’s last, saw him leave the Jazz for the first time to pursue a ring with a stacked Lakers lineup. Malone underwent knee issues that saw him miss nearly half of the season. While he had his moments in the playoffs, Malone’s knees would come back to haunt him, particularly in the Finals, where the Lakers ultimately fell to the surging Detroit Pistons.
28 Multiple Rings: Bill Wennington
When people think of the Chicago Bulls from 1995 to 1998, they remember a super team. The roster featured all time greats Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, plus a truly sensational cast of role players.
And then there was Bill Wennington. The seven footer wasn’t imposing on defense and averaged only about five points per game during the Bulls’ iconic three year run. Moreover, he had his oddball blunders, like rolling the ball backwards on a save, only to have it awkwardly roll the full distance of the court out of bounds.
27 No Ring: Patrick Ewing
Patrick Ewing entered the NBA a sensation. Fresh off of leading Georgetown to an NCAA Championship, he was the number one pick. With its new star, many prophesized that Ewing would lead the Knicks to championship glory in the years to follow.
That outcome wasn’t in the cards.
Most of Ewing’s career overlapped with Michael Jordan, and the Knicks couldn’t beat the Bulls to reach the Finals for most of his prime.
Ewing had a shot in 1994 during Jordan’s first retirement, when his team made the Finals and took the Rockets to seven games before losing. Ewing had one more shot in 1999. He missed most of a lockout-shortened season, but was back to join an overachieving team that had gelled for the playoffs. However, their Cinderella story came to an abrupt end in the Finals, where the dominant Spurs were too much for them.
26 Multiple Rings: Carl Herrera
During Michael Jordan’s first retirement from basketball, the Rockets were the biggest beneficiaries. They won championships from the 1993-94 season Jordan missed entirely, as well as the 1994-95 season which Jordan returned in the late stages of, but hadn’t quite re-gelled with the Bulls in time for a championship run.
Hakeem Olajuwon was the anchor of these Rockets squads, proving himself as the greatest center of his day in outdueling top challengers like David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and Shaquille O’Neal. Clyde Drexler signed on to make Houston unstoppable in their 1995 Playoff run.
And Carl Herrera? The power forward was largely just along for the ride, never averaging more than seven points or five rebounds per game.
25 No Ring: Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley generally best remembered for leading the Phoenix Suns, and going so far as to take them to the NBA Finals against Michael Jordan in 1993—the same season when Barkley won the league MVP award.
Barkley never brought a championship to Phoenix. Interestingly, his career was otherwise bookended by somewhat similar scenarios of playing for a super team widely pegged as a threat to win a championship. First he joined legends Julius Erving and Moses Malone who had won a championship the season before Barkley joined them, but would never win another. To close out his career, Barkley joined Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in Houston to go ring hunting, but the trio never made it past the Conference Finals.
24 Multiple Rings: Will Perdue
Will Perdue was a 7’1” center who was there for the Chicago Bulls’ first three Championships. He was easy to miss during that time, outshone by megastars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and playing backup to veteran Bill Cartwright.
Perdue was lucky to win those three rings, which he made only modest contributions toward.
It looked as though his luck had run out when the Bulls traded him to the Spurs, and he missed their second title trilogy. However, the big man would be in luck again when Tim Duncan hit his stride shortly after Jordan had retired again, and the Spurs, too, won it all, gifting Perdue his fourth ring.
23 No Ring: Penny Hardaway
Penny Hardaway was a blue chip prospect in the early days of his NBA career. His offensive prowess in particular drew comparisons Michael Jordan. Particularly with Jordan’s temporary retirement, and Hardaway’s pairing with Shaquille O’Neal in Orlando, the Magic started looking like the team of the future.
Sadly, greatness was not in the cards for Orlando in that era. They got all the way to the NBA Finals in 1995, but couldn’t compete with defending champions the Houston Rockets. After O’Neal left for LA, the Magic weren’t really in the title hunt. Hardaway would transition to Phoenix, where he caught the injury bug and was never a truly elite star, nor real threat for a championship again.
22 Multiple Rings: Adam Morrison
The promising prospect out of Gonzaga’s game never translated fully to the pros, and he only played three seasons in the NBA.
Fortunately for Morrison, two out of those three season came with the Los Angeles Lakers during championship years, when Kobe Bryant was at full force. Morrison was traded to LA mid-way through the 2008-09 season, in time to win his first ring there, then hang around for a second before spending the rest of his career playing in other leagues and trying to sign with another NBA squad, but never getting to play another regular season game.
21 No Ring: Steve Nash
After coming up as Jason Kidd’s backup, Steve Nash arrived as the man with the Phoenix Suns, earning Most Valuable Player awards twice for his uniquely fast paced playmaking style.
Under Nash’s leadership on the court, and coach Mike D’Antoni’s fresh approach to offense from the sidelines, the Suns enjoyed a stretch as perennial playoff threats.
Unfortunately, Nash never could overcome fellow Western Conference powerhouses the San Antonio Spurs and his former team, the Dallas Mavericks, who year after year blocked his way to an NBA Finals berth. A move to the Lakers had some promise for finally getting Nash over the hump, but things didn’t come together.
20 Multiple Rings: Udonis Haslem
Udonis Haslem went undrafted, but wound up signed to the Miami Heat, and played his entire career with them. While he wasn’t actively bad at any point, even notably started during the 2006 championship run, he also never averaged more than ten points a game and is far from the first name any fan would think of when considering three-time NBA Champions.
Haslem directly benefited from playing a role for a good team that squeaked out one ring, and then also being on the roster when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh converged on South Beach to wrangle two championships.
19 No Ring: Vince Carter
Vince Carter’s first year in the NBA saw him rise from promising young talent to superstar, based on his scoring ability and, in particular, his sensational dunking skills. He won the Slam Dunk Contest over All Star Weekend, and in the 2000 Olympics performed an iconic dunk that involved leaping straight over 7’2 French center Frederic Weis.
Carter has enjoyed longevity, now a twenty year veteran of the NBA. He’s we’ll past his prime, though, and signed with a rebuilding Atlanta Hawks team this summer. The ship has likely sailed on him ever winning a ring.
18 Multiple Rings: Mario Chalmers
After coming out of the unlikely basketball scene in Anchorage, Alaska, Mario Chalmers went on to a reasonably decorated college career with Kansas that led him to the NBA.
He had the good fortune of playing for the Miami Heat from 2008 to 2015—a stretch that gifted him two championship rings.
Chalmers played a fairly forgettable background role with his two championship teams, never averaging more than ten points and only playing about half of the minutes of most games. Like a number of others, he was largely filling a spot on the roster while Miami’s Big Three dominated the court.
17 No Ring: Allen Iverson
As the 2018 NBA Playoffs drew on, the joke gathered steam that LeBron was singlehandedly carrying his team through ever step of the bracket. Clearly, he was the best and most essential player on his team, but he’s not the first superstar to face this sort of plight. Among others, Allen Iverson shouldered the burden for his team. The Answer’s Herculean efforts, particularly on the offensive end earned him an MVP award and took the 76ers all the way to the NBA Finals in 2001.
At just six feet tall, Iverson is the NBA’s 25th leading all time scorer, and a Basketball Hall of Famer. For all of these successes, he never came closer than to winning a championship than losing four games to one to the Lakers in the 2001 Finals.
16 Multiple Rings: Mark Madsen
Mark Madsen played power forward and center for the Lakers during their 2001 and 2002 championship campaigns. On a deep team that featured Shaq as its top big man, Madsen didn’t exactly light the world on fire, never averaging more than four points per game during the regular season, and not averaging more than a single point in the playoffs either year the Lakers went all the way.
Madsen did make two memorable contributions to his Lakers champion teams. First of all, O’Neal has frequently cited Madsen beating him during practice scrimmages, by way of getting him ready for physical gameplay. Additionally, Madsen was notorious for goofily dancing during championship parades in LA.
15 No Ring: Chris Webber
Perhaps the best celebrated of the University of Michigan’s Fab Five, and the alum of that elite unit to play best in the NBA, Chris Webber had a very respectable pro run. Starting out as a young force with the Golden State Warriors, the general consensus is that he arrived at his very best when leading the Sacramento Kings toward the middle of his career.
Webber never won a championship, though, and in truth never came all that close.
His best efforts made the Kings competitive with the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, but they never got over the hump to reach the last round of the Playoffs. Webber had one last shot in a late career deal with the Detroit Pistons, but they, too, couldn’t move past the Conference Finals round.
14 Multiple Rings: D.J. Mbenga
After a successful run playing professional basketball in Belgium, DJ Mbenga made the unlikely jump to the NBA. After humble beginnings with the Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors, he’d land with the L.A. Lakers just in time to win back to back championships with them in 2009 and 2010.
Though he was popular with the Los Angeles fans, the seven foot tall Mbenga never averaged more than two points or two rebounds for his team, typically only playing about eight minutes per game.
13 No Ring: George Gervin
George Gervin started playing professional basketball not with the NBA, but rather the rival ABA, before the two leagues merged, taking Gervin’s San Antonio Spurs into the former league as part of the process. Along the way, Gervin cultivated his reputation as one of basketball’s best shooting guards, best known for his signature finger roll.
Gervin was not, however, known as a champion as the Spurs never won the big one in the ABA or NBA during Gervin’s time with them. As a forgotten footnote, Gervin’s final NBA season came with the Chicago Bulls, where he still played well, but was overshadowed by newer superstar Michael Jordan.
12 Multiple Rings: James Jones
James Jones had a respectable enough NBA career. But with a record that includes three NBA Championships and only missing the playoffs once in 14 years, you’d expect him to be some kind superstar. On the contrary, he was a good player with the better fortune to wind up playing with LeBron James for most of his tenure in the league.
Indeed, with James, Jones made it to the NBA Finals for seven consecutive years.
He was a worthy enough role player, but you have to imagine his NBA resume would look very, very different if he hadn’t played with the top player of his generation
11 No Ring: Reggie Miller
There are clutch players, and then there’s Reggie Miller. Among other exploits, he infamously lit up the New York Knicks for eight points in nine seconds during a pivotal 1995 Playoff game. For performances like that, he was known as one of the most feared shooters in NBA history.
Miller played his entire career with the Indiana Pacers, and amassed a fine record as a five time All Star and led the team to the Finals once, in 2000. That series even saw the Pacers push the eventual champion Lakers to six games, but actually winning a ring as never in the cards for Miller or his team.
10 Multiple Rings: John Salley
Rare are those players who can transition between two teams and win championships with both of them. Think LeBron James with Heat and Cavaliers, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with The Bucks and Lakers. Even rarer are those guys who have done it with three different franchises, and there’d be a temptation to automatically assume they’re pretty great.
While John Salley was a reasonable big man role player, he was hardly an NBA legend. Early in his career, he won two championships with the Detroit Pistons, and was later on the 1996 Bulls and the 2000 Lakers. In none of these situations was he a featured player, nor did he average more than eight points or four rebounds per game.
9 No Ring: Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor was truly one of the greats from an early era of NBA basketball. He was the number one draft pick in the 1958 draft and went on to win Rookie of the Year honors, appear in eleven All Star games, and even make it to eight NBA Finals. For all of this success, however, he never actually won a championship.
Baylor had career averages of 27.4 points per game and 13.5 rebounds per game, not to mention shooting at 78% from the free throw line.
These are impressive stats from any era. Baylor seems to have particularly bad luck for having spent his entire career from 1958 to 1971, which just happened to be encompassed with the longest stretch the Lakers have ever gone without a Championship. The franchise is otherwise second only to the Celtics for most championships won.
8 Multiple Rings: Kenny Smith
Contemporary fans may know Kenny Smith best as a TV pundit who does pre-game, half-time, and post-game analysis on TNT. He earned the basketball credibility and name recognition to fill that role based on a decade playing in the NBA, and in particular two championship runs with the Houston Rockets in the mid-90s.
Smith had been a solid enough point guard, but if you look at his stat line, it’s interesting to note that he was actually on the downward slide in a period coinciding with when Houston won its championships. It’s clear that stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler had a lot more to do with the Rockets’ rings than Smith did, and even young Houston upstart Sam Cassell outperformed the veteran at point guard, particularly in both Finals series.
7 No Ring: John Stockton
John Stockton has gone down in NBA history as the ultimate playmaker. He made more assists than anyone else over the course of his career—to this day, and years after retirement, 3,000 assists ahead of the closest runner up Jason Kidd, and 5,000 ahead of the next in line, Steve Nash. Alongside Karl Malone, Stockton formed one of the league’s most iconic duos and brought the Jazz to consecutive finals in 1997 and 1998.
Unfortunately, Stockton and Malone just never had the fire power or support necessary to eclipse the Bulls at their peak. The Jazz could only emerge from a largely stacked Western Conference to vie for a championship those two years, and thus Stockton never did get his hands on a ring.
6 Multiple Rings: Devean George
Devean George kicked off his 11 year run in the NBA playing for the Lakers. He was ultimate right place, right time guy in this instance as, despite only averaging about 10 minutes and three points per game those first two seasons he was playing alongside Kobe and Shaq as they made a historic run to pick up back to back to back rings.
By George’s third season, he was playing a more significant role on the team.
On the court for nearly half of regulation during the regular season, he upped his production to 7.1 points per game. Moreover, from a number of accounts, he actually was a valuable part of the roster when it came to being a well-liked player who contributed to the team behind the scenes.
5 No Ring: Pete Maravich
Pete Maravich is a legend of 1970s basketball. There’s an argument to be made that he showed up in the wrong era. Were he around in the past decade, his wild creativity when it came to ball handling, passing, and more generally creating offense probably would have made him the subject of some spectacular viral videos. As it stands, he went down as spectacular innovator of the hardwood.
For all of Maravich’s successes, which included making the All Star team for five out of his eleven seasons, and even emerging as the league’s leading scorer in 1976-77, he never did win a championship. His best chance may have been his very last season, when he joined the Boston Celtics and made it as far as the Eastern Conference Finals, but couldn’t overcome Julius Erving’s 76ers.
4 Multiple Rings: Kurt Rambis
Kurt Rambis is a relatively familiar face to even casual basketball fans from the 1980s for being a staple member of the Showtime Lakers spent most of the decade dueling the Celtics, 76ers, and Pistons for NBA Championships. Out of this run, Rambis emerged with no fewer than four rings.
If you look at Rambis’s stat line, you can see that he never averaged more than six points per game for any of these championship teams. He was always a supporting player behind stars like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy. An argument can be made that he’s best remembered not for his play, but rather for standing out as a scruffy looking white guy with glasses—quite distinctive from his more famous teammates.
3 No Ring: Larry Johnson
As a number one draft pick and Rookie of the Year, Larry Johnson looked to have a bright future ahead of him in the NBA. While he did have a very respectable decade in the league, split between the Charlotte Hornets and the New York Knicks, one feat he never accomplished was winning a championship.
The closest Johnson came was with the 1999 Knicks.
He helped the team win a series of upsets en route to the NBA Finals, most memorably completing a rare four-point play (getting fouled on but still making a three-point shot, then draining the subsequent free throw) in a clutch moment opposite the Indiana Pacers. Despite successfully evolving from star to over-qualified role player, and remaining an asset to his teams, Johnson never could collect any rings.
2 Multiple Rings: Dickey Simpkins
There are a lot of iconic names from the '90s Bulls that enjoyed two separate threepeats. There’s Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, of course, as well original power forward Horace Grant, and successor Dennis Rodman. There are a host of memorable role players associated with the franchise, too, like Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, B.J. Armstrong, and Ron Harper.
But Dickey Simpkins? If you don’t remember him, you’re not alone. However, he did ride the Chicago bench to back to back championships in 1996 and 1997. The latter three-peat team was notorious for being soft at the center position—essentially the team’s only persistent weakness, and Simpkins embodied that shortcoming. He actually holds the dubious distinction of not playing a single playoff minute in either of those title runs.
1 No Ring: Dominique Wilkins
When you think of NBA players who fit the old saying, “always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” Dominique Wilkins comes to mind as an outstanding talent, but also a perennial also-ran. He was a sensational scorer and particularly outstanding dunker. However, his prime very much overlapped with that of Michael Jordan, and he spent his best decade with the Atlanta Hawks where he had limited support. So it was that Wilkins never quite emerged as the icon he might have been had he come along in other eras, and never got to play in, let alone win, an NBA Finals.
There may be some solace for Wilkins in having shifted to play European professional basketball for two seasons in the twilight of his career, during which time he won a championship in Greece and a EuroLeague Championship.