Since the birth of the NBA in 1950, there have been 67 NBA Finals. Out of those 67 NBA Finals, four teams have won 43 of them. It’s an eye-opening statistic for a sport that has been established for over a half of a century. Let’s just say if you weren’t on one of those teams, your odds of winning an NBA title are pretty slim. These powerhouse franchises of the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs have destroyed the hopes and dreams of many players and teams.
The NBA goes through eras just like any other sport. The Bill Russell era dominated teams in the sixties. The Showtime Lakers versus the Celtics created a resurgence in basketball in the 80s. The Michael Jordan era owned the 90s. You can argue that today, you’re seeing the era of the Golden State Warriors versus the Cleveland Cavilers. The fans of franchises that get dominated by these two teams may have to ride out the wave and wait until LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant retire.
Many great legends have fallen to these eras, but they’re still legends and you should know about them. This list involves players who are retired, otherwise, Vince Carter would be on this list for sure. Whether it was because of certain teams, injuries, or sheer bad luck, these players still deserve our respect.
30 30. Tim Hardaway
Tim Hardaway has been on some excellent teams throughout his career but never got to reach the promise land. After a very successful collegiate career with the University of Texas at El Paso, Hardaway entered the 1989 NBA Draft and was selected by the Golden State Warriors. Hardaway, Chris Mullin, and Mitch Richmond formed an exciting young bunch called Run TMC.
29 29. Walter Davis
The North Carolina Tar Heels already won a gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics before he was selected by the Phoenix Suns in the 1977 NBA Draft. His awesome ability on both ends of the court gave him an advantage as soon as he entered the league, winning the Rookie of the Year award by averaging 24.2 points that season. He would play 11 seasons for the Suns before bouncing around with the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers.
28 28. Chris Mullin
You know why New York Knicks fans should hate Chris Mullin, a New York native and St. Johns legend? The reason is in the 2011 Draft, Mullin (the GM of the Golden State Warriors) selected Steph Curry with the seventh pick in the draft, one pick before the Knicks. Can you imagine Curry in a Knicks uniform?
27 27. Sidney Moncrief
The shooting guard from Little Rock Arkansas made his NBA debut for the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1979-80 season. His 6’3” frame made him a shorter guard for his position, but he still found a way to embarrass defenders. He played ten seasons for the Bucks but finished his career with the Atlanta Hawks in 1991.
26 26. Grant Hill
As we mentioned in the intro, injuries could play a big part in why some of these greats never got a ring. One of the most tragic stories in the history of the NBA is the rise and fall of Grant Hill. The Duke product stormed onto the scene when he was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the 1994 Draft. The trajectory of his career was going through the roof before his first ankle injury.
25 25. Yao Ming
If you're a basketball fan, Yao Ming's story was great to watch as it unfolded. He was hyped up before he made his way to the NBA and many big men were licking their chops to play him. When the Houston Rockets selected him with the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, a lot of analysts thought he would fail as a player. Here’s a guy, from a country (China) which gets no respect for basketball.
24 24. Lenny Wilkens
He may be the only guy inducted into the Hall of Fame three times. Once as a player, once as a coach, and once as a member of the 1992 United States Olympic Dream Team. He was drafted in the 1960 NBA Draft by the St. Louis Hawks and put up a pretty solid career. His numbers may not stand out but he was very consistent, ending his career averaging 16.5 points and 6.7 assists per game.
23 23. Tracy McGrady
One of the possible new additions to the NBA Hall of Fame is Tracy McGrady, a high school kid thrown into a den full of lions and found success. McGrady was one of those basketball talents that never went to college and yet dominated the sport throughout his career. He was drafted by the Toronto Raptors in the 1997 NBA Draft and played three years with the franchise.
22 22. Bernard King
Don’t you just hate when an athlete is great, but injuries ruin their career? One such story is Bernard King's. He was drafted by the New Jersey Nets in the 1977 NBA Draft and quickly contributed to the team by scoring 24.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. His next year would be just as successful, but in year three, he would succumb to his first injury.
21 21. Jack Twyman
The University of Cincinnati shooting guard was a hardnosed worker who did all the little things right. He never led the league in any categories, but his name was always close to the top. His NBA career started during the 1955-56 season when he was drafted by the Rochester Royals with the eighth pick in the second round. After two seasons, Rochester became Cincinnati and Twyman would finish his career with the team.
20 20. Dikembe Mutombo
Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo is his full name and we wouldn’t have it any other way. How can you not love this guy? He came all the way from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and became one of the best centers to ever grace the court. We should also remind you he played during a time when there were a ton of great centers, such as David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Hakeem Olajuwon.
19 19. David Thompson
The North Carolina State University product may have had a very short pro career (nine seasons) but in his time with the NBA, Thompson was a monster. At the age of 21, he would play one year in the ABA for the Denver Nuggets before the franchise merged into the NBA. He would post an outstanding 25.9 points per game in his first season with the NBA and would continue that success for the next four years.
18 18. Alex English
When you think of the greatest player to ever don a Denver Nuggets uniform, you may think of Carmelo Anthony or Dikembe Mutombo. The one man who always gets overlooked is the one who has all the franchise records and that’s Alex English. His career started off slow when he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1976 Draft, but every year he would get better and better.
17 17. Bob Lanier
The Buffalo, New York native would enter the league in as the first pick in the 1970 NBA Draft when he was selected by the Detroit Pistons. The 6’11” center would have a stellar first year in the league, averaging 15.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. He almost doubled his output the next season and by the time his career was over, Lanier would be considered one of the greatest ever.
16 16. Dave Bing
One thing that can be said about the former Mayor of Detroit was that he was a better athlete than a politician. Bing made his debut in the NBA for the Detroit Pistons in the 1966-67 season. Even though he had a 6’3” frame, the guard was more of a scorer than a passer. The Hall of Famer would average 20.3 points and six assists per game before retiring in 1978.
15 15. Adrian Dantley
You may call him The Teacher, but never say he didn’t contribute to the sport. He’s one of those names that gets lost in time. When you debate about the best, he never comes up but he has all the attributes and stats to prove otherwise. Dantley entered the league in the 1976-77 season when he was drafted by the Buffalo Braves.
14 14. Reggie Miller
Everybody loves seeing Steph Curry shoot the three ball, but if you never saw Reggie Miller’s shot, then we highly recommend you check out some of his work. Miller was one of those guys you would love to hate because he was so nasty at scoring with the basketball. Drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 1987, Miller would spend his rookie season as a role player, but became a lethal assassin just one year later.
13 13. Pete Maravich
Pistol Pete was a wizard on the court. If you’re a student of flashy passes, insane dribbling maneuvers, and the ability to make a defender look like a child, please watch Maravich highlight videos. Before Jason 'White Chocolate' Williams, before Magic Johnson, there was Maravich. Arguably the greatest collegiate player ever, Maravich still holds the record for All-Time leading scorer in NCAA Division I (3,667) and averaged 44.2 points per game.
12 12. Chris Webber
When Chris Webber was with the Sacramento Kings was an awesome time to watch him play, as he would achieve career highs in basically every category, but he didn’t get his start there. The Fab Five player was drafted by the Orlando Magic with the first overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, but would get traded that same night to the Golden State Warriors.
11 11. Walt Bellamy
Everyone loves to talk about Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain as the most dominant centers of their era, however, Walt Bellamy deserves to be in the same discussion. An indestructible force down low, Bellamy would get drafted by the Chicago Packers in 1961. He arguably had the greatest first season ever known to mankind when he averaged an outstanding 31.6 points and 19.0 rebounds per game, winning the Rookie of the Year award.
10 10. Dominique Wilkins
There were only a few players that could match Michael Jordan’s jaw-dropping slam dunks in the NBA. One of them was The Human Highlight Reel, Dominique Wilkins. Drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 1982, Wilkins quickly became a stud and would lead the league in scoring (30.3 points per game) by his fourth year in the league. It was Wilkins, Jordan and guys like Julius Erving that made the Slam Dunk Competition so special.
9 9. George Gervin
Before Tim Duncan, before David Robinson, the San Antonio fans had George 'The Iceman' Gervin. He is one of the few basketball players that came over from the ABA and absolutely destroyed the competition. The forward was on the San Antonio Spurs when the franchise made the jump to the NBA in the 1976-77 season.
8 8. Steve Nash
Growing up in Canada, you would think Steve Nash would take on hockey, however, that wasn’t the case. After finishing his collegiate career at Santa Clara University, Nash would be drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 1996. After two seasons riding the bench, Nash was traded to the Dallas Mavericks and his career would slowly but surely take off. After a few injuries, the 2000-01 season was Nash’s coming out party.
7 7. Nate Thurmond
Basketball historian junkies and those old enough to watch Nate Thurmond play know how special of an athlete he was. The towering center was drafted in 1963 by the San Francisco Warriors (Golden State Warriors) and quickly became a force on the boards. He wasn’t the best offensive player, but Thurmond could grab rebounds and play defense at an excellent level. For his career, Thurmond averaged an incredible 15 rebounds per game. Just to get a small scope of his ferocity in the interior, Thurmond averaged 21.3 and 22.0 rebounds per game in back-to-back seasons.
6 6. Patrick Ewing
There are a few athletes that receive the love and admiration of a city without ever winning the big one. Don’t get us wrong, Patrick Ewing would also receive a lot of criticism from the New York fans during his time with the New York Knicks, however, the Georgetown Hoya is still one of the most beloved athletes in NYC. In 17 seasons in the NBA, Ewing averaged 21 points and 9.8 rebounds per game for his career.
5 5. Charles Barkley
Sir Charles, The Round Mound of Rebound, The Chuckster, The Chuck Wagon, The Prince of Pizza, Charles Barkley may have more nicknames than any other athlete to walk the Earth, but what he doesn’t have is a championship ring. The undersized power forward was an absolute beast down in the paint when it came to rebounds, low-post offense, and, most notably, trash talking.
4 4. John Stockton
He was neither a trash talker nor a highlight reel monster, however, Stockton quietly became the greatest point guard in the history of the league. The Hall of Famer was drafted in 1984, but took three years before he really became one of the greatest. In his 19 seasons with the NBA, Stockton would become the all-time leading assists leader with 15,806 dimes.
3 3. Allen Iverson
"Practice? We talking about practice?"
When Allen Iverson delivered those words during a press conference, the NBA went into chaos in 2002. At this time, The Answer already earned an MVP award in the 2000-01 season and had three of his four scoring champion titles locked up. Iverson may be the purest scorer on this list as he finished his career with 26.7 points per game over 14 seasons.
2 2. Elgin Baylor
When you think of the Los Angeles Lakers, you think of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant. This prestigious club must include one more player and he was the first Lakers great, Elgin Baylor. Entering the league in 1958 as the number one overall pick, the small forward quickly helped the Lakers by posting 24.9 points and 15.0 rebounds per game, leading his team to the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.
1 1. Karl Malone
The Mailman was an absolute stud in the low-post during his NBA career. Karl Malone took advantage of having John Stockton feed him the ball in the interior during most of his time in the NBA, becoming second on the all-time scoring list with 36,928 points. Selected by the Utah Jazz in the 1985 NBA Draft, Malone would dominate the league, earning 14 All-NBA honors, 14 All-Star appearances, and becoming a two-time MVP.
Not bad for someone who was drafted with the 13th overall pick. Although he played 18 seasons with the Jazz, his best shot at an NBA Championship was with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2003-04. That year, the Detroit Pistons shocked the world when they defeated the powerhouse Lakers. Malone was a victim of the Jordan Era and he's the greatest NBA player to never win a championship.
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