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.
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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.
He would play six seasons with the Warriors before making his home with the Miami Heat. For his career, he averaged 17.7 points and 8.2 assists per game, making him one of the better point guards of his era. Although he’s not a Hall of Famer, Hardaway earned five All-NBA honors and five All-Star appearances before hanging up the jersey. It’s possible he can still get into the Hall of Fame, so we will have to wait and see.
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.
Sweet D would earn two All-NBA honors and six All-Star appearances in his career. Why he’s not in the NBA Hall of Fame is beyond us, but how about we get on the Davis boat ride for a 2018 nomination? His number is retired by the Suns, he averaged 18.9 points per game for his career, and won a gold medal. What’s not to like?
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?
With that said, Mullin is a basketball genius and was one hell of a player for the Warriors. He was selected in the 1985 NBA Draft by the Warriors and played 13 out of 16 seasons for the franchise. The Hall of Famer has four All-NBA honors and five All-Star appearances on his resume. He finished his career with 18.2 points per game and is one of the best Warriors in franchise history.
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.
A consistent scorer on the offensive end, Moncrief was known as a defensive guru on the other end. He would earn two Defensive Player awards, five All-Defensive honors, five All-Star appearances, and five All-NBA honors. That’s a pretty prestigious career without winning a title. Moncrief had no shot to win a ring while on the Bucks in an era that saw the Celtics, Lakers, Pistons, and 76ers all dominate.
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.
After six seasons he had 9,393 points, 3,417 rebounds, and 2,720 assists. Only Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, and LeBron James had better numbers through their first six seasons. Hill was literally being compared to Michael Jordan and then he got hit with the injury bug, ending his highlight reel career. The Rookie of the Year would become a seven-time All-Star and earn five All-NBA honors before retiring in 2013 without a championship.
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.
The pressure that was on Yao to succeed and not embarrass his home country must have been incredible. The 7’6” center proved everyone wrong and had an outstanding career. His larger body limited his career, but he left his mark on the sport. The Hall of Famer would earn five All-NBA honors, eight All-Star appearances, and became the greatest Chinese basketball player ever.
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.
He would earn nine All-Star appearances as a player and four as a coach. Wilkens also holds the record for most wins by a head coach in the NBA and was Coach of the Year in 1993. Now some might complain because Wilkens did win a ring as a head coach for the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979, however, this list is about players and not coaches.
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.
It’s incredible McGrady and his cousin Vince Carter didn’t stay on the same team, otherwise, he might not even be on this list. Seven All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA honors, and a two-time scoring champion, makes McGrady one special player. His career would severely decline towards the end, however, he managed to average 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game for his career.
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.
King would bounce around from the Utah Jazz to the Golden State Warriors before settling down with the New York Knicks in 1982. His best year came in the 1984-85 season when he averaged a league-high 32.9 points per game. In the following year, King would get hurt again, missing the entire season. Talk about bad luck. The Hall of Famer would finish with four All-NBA honors and four All-Star appearances.
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.
In 11 seasons, Twyman would post 19.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game for his career. He would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983, earning two All-NBA honors and six All-Star appearances. After his basketball career was over, he would become a sportscaster and called the classic Game Seven of the 1970 NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers
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.
When Mutombo was selected by the Denver Nuggets in the 1991 NBA Draft, everyone knew he wasn’t an offensive machine, but rather a defensive nightmare. The center would routinely lead the league in blocked shots and rebounds during his career and become a critical component of the success of any team he played for. He would end his career with a Hall of Fame honor, six All-Defensive honors, three All-NBA honors, eight All-Star appearances and four Defensive Player of the Year awards.
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.
He would finish his career with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1984, but injuries would derail him from being the explosive player he once was. When all was said and done, Thompson earned two All-NBA honors, five All-Star appearances and was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1996.
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.
By the time, he became a Nugget in the 1979-80 season, English was a scoring machine. He would become the 1982-83 scoring champion with 28.4 points per game, earn three All-NBA honors, and participate in eight All-Star games. The small forward was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
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.
After 14 seasons, Lanier averaged 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for his career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992 and earned eight All-Star appearances. His offense was just as deadly as his defense, but injuries undoubtedly took a toll on his large body. His jersey hangs up in both the Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks rafters today.
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.
During his time with the league, Bing would earn three All-NBA honors, seven All-Star appearances, and become Rookie of the Year. Another trait about Bing was the workhorse attitude he displayed on the court. At least four times in his career he would average over 40 minutes a game. His durability and cardio are reasons why the guy was such a beast during his time.
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.
His career was a remarkable one as he would become scoring champion twice, averaging 30.7 points per game in 1980-81 and 30.6 in 1983-84. Four years in a row he would average an impressive 30 points per game. In 15 seasons, Dantley earned Rookie of the Year, two All-NBA honors, and six All-Star appearances. The Hall of Famer is easily one of the best scorers of his era, but the basketball Gods had other plans for him than winning a title.
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.
He spent all 18 years of his career with the Pacers, which is rare these days, and made the NBA finals in the 1999-00 season. His Pacers were no match for the Los Angeles Lakers, but Miller did leave his mark on the sport. The Hall of Famer earned three All-NBA honors, five All-Star appearances, and finished with a .395 three-PT shooting percentage.
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.
This was without a three-point line and Maravich was held his freshman year by LSU. He would be drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1970 NBA Draft. His best year came in 1976-77 when he became the scoring champion with 31.1 points per game. The Hall of Famer would achieve four All-NBA honors and five All-Star appearances before his retirement in 1980. Sadly, injuries and health issues would derail his career and he would pass away at the young age of 40.
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.
After one year, the forward would once again be traded, this time to the Washington Bullets. In 1998, he would make his home in Sacramento and would be a part of some incredible playoff runs. He was the Rookie of the Year, earned five All-NBA honors, and five All-Star appearances to end his career. Webber would finish with a career average of 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, and he's arguably one of the best from his era.
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.
It doesn’t matter what era of basketball you are from, if you put up those numbers in your rookie year, you should be honored. Bellamy would never have a better season than his first year in the league, however, he went on to earn four All-Star appearances and would be inducted into Hall of Fame in 1993.
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.
Wilkins was an absolute monster when he slashed to the hoop. With seven All-NBA honors, nine All-Star appearances, and two Slam Dunk Competition wins, Wilkins may be the greatest Hawk ever. He would finish his career averaging 24.8 points per game and would become a Hall of Famer in 2006. Like so many others on this list, Wilkins is a victim of the Jordan Era.
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.
His scoring was on another level, as he would become the scoring champion in four out of five years with 33.1 points per game being his highest in the 1979-80 season. The Hall of Famer earned seven All-NBA honors, 12 All-Star appearances, and finished his career averaging 25.1 points. It’s truly amazing this legend couldn’t win a ring, but he'll go down as having one of the sweetest finger rolls ever in the game.
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.
Pretty much every basketball category would increase in numbers and Nash would become one of the purest passing point guards in the league. He was on some great teams throughout his career but he would never win the big one. When it was all said and done, Nash would earn seven All-NBA honors, eight All-Star appearances, and become a two-time MVP.
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.
The Hall of Famer would earn seven All-Star appearances and five All-Defensive honors. As of now, Thurmond ranks tenth on the NBA All-Time Rebounds list with 14,464. We can’t imagine anyone averaging over 20 rebounds per game today, but if an athlete does, no doubt they would be considered a true great.
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.
Drafted in the 1985 NBA Draft, Ewing would earn seven All-NBA honors, eleven All-Star appearances, and the Rookie of the Year award. The Hall of Famer had several chances to earn a championship ring, but fell short against the Houston Rockets in 1994 and an injury derailed his chance to help the Knicks against the San Antonio Spurs in 1999.
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.
The Hall of Famer was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1984 and also played for both the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets before retiring in 2000. He racked up eleven All-NBA honors, eleven All-Star appearances, and was the MVP of the 1990-91 season. Barkley would average a double-double for his career, posting 22.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game in his tenure. Barkley would reach the Finals with both the Suns and Rockets, but never would win the elusive title.
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.
To get an understanding of how great the achievement is, Chris Paul is the next closest active player with 8,012 assists as of January 9th, 2017. Stockton’s career would consist of eleven All-NBA honors, ten All-Star appearances, and five All-Defensive honors. His abilities in passing the ball should be watched by every aspiring point guard if they really want to know what greatness is.
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.
In his tenure with the league, Iverson earned seven All-NBA honors, eleven All-Star appearances, and was recently nominated into the NBA Hall of Fame. He had one opportunity to win the title during the 2000-01 season, but fell short due to an inadequate surrounding cast. His starting teammates included an aging Dikembe Mutombo, Aaron McKie, Tyrone Hill and Jumaine Jones. Not exactly the best squad to go up against a blazing hot Los Angeles Lakers team.
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.
Balor would be considered the catalyst that started the greatest rivalry in the NBA between the Lakers and Boston Celtics. He would reach the NBA Finals seven more times, but would fail to win a championship. The tragic part of his stellar career is he retired in the 1972 season, the same year the Lakers won the NBA Championship against the New York Knicks.
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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