Regarded as the greatest NBA player of all time, Michael Jordan climbed his way to the top of the sporting world by stepping over many great obstacles. Winning six championships will lead to having quite the hit list of great teams and players one has defeated and the case is stronger for Jordan than any other athlete. For most of the 90s, Jordan had a stranglehold on the NBA Championship and it led to an abundance of superb talent being left out in the cold without a ring. Hall of Famers, All Stars or team leaders, they were all stopped short by one man’s quest for excellence.
The Chicago Bulls were arguably the most fascinating dynasty in sports history with two separate three-peat championship runs, book-ending Jordan’s short lived baseball career. First was the 1991-1993 three-peat that saw Jordan finally get past the Detroit Pistons to get his first taste of being on the throne as king of basketball. Chicago would defeat the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns in three consecutive Finals to start their dominant run as NBA royalty before Jordan retired to try his hand at baseball, another athletic passion.
Baseball obviously didn’t work out and Jordan returned to the Bulls in 1995 towards the latter half of the season. The lack of on-court time showed as Chicago suffered Jordan’s final playoff elimination of his career to the Orlando Magic. Following that loss, the Bulls would start their second dynasty and it was even more dominant. Chicago set the NBA milestone for the best record in a single season at 72-10 in 1996. From ’96-’98, the Bulls defeated the Seattle SuperSonics and Utah Jazz twice to secure their second three-peat. The 15 best players unable to win a championship because of Michael Jordan will be highlighted as being stranded in the shadow of history.
15 Sam Perkins
A teammate of Michael Jordan’s in college at the University of North Carolina, Sam Perkins unfortunately didn’t get to experience winning with him in the NBA. In fact, it was quite the opposite as Jordan prevented Perkins from experiencing an NBA Championship twice in his career. With the Los Angeles Lakers, Perkins hit a clutch game-winning shot in the first game of the 1991 Finals vs. Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Jordan would respond with four killer games and four wins to secure his first title. Jordan’s historically great 1996 Chicago squad would stop Perkins once again, this time against the Seattle Supersonics in the Finals.
14 John Starks
One of Michael Jordan’s biggest rivalries was with New York Knicks guard John Starks. In the 1993 Playoffs, Starks was ejected for getting into it with Jordan. Bickering back and forth was common nature between the two but Jordan loved defeating Starks and the Knicks because of it. New York’s 90s core always had the chemistry and talent to win a championship but they would continuously fall just short. The main reason for that was Michael Jordan. “Air” Jordan’s Chicago Bulls eliminated the Knicks from the postseason in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1996.
13 Detlef Schrempf
Following his playing career, Detlef Schrempf has become a cult favorite with television appearances on the NBC sitcom “Parks & Recreation” and having a popular song named after him by Band of Horses. Part of the reason he’s become so popular is because Schrempf was an extremely underrated basketball player. The German was a big reason for the success of the 1996 Seattle Supersonics, who fell to the Chicago Bulls 4-2 in the Finals. Seattle was the only team to win more than a game vs. Chicago in the 1996 postseason.
12 Brad Daugherty
A name many modern fans may not be familiar with because his career was cut short after just eight seasons by back injuries, but Brad Daugherty was an exceptional talent for the early 90s Cleveland Cavaliers. Daugherty was a five time all-star with a career average of 19 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game, but most importantly was the leader of a very dangerous Cavs squad. Unfortunately, they were among the first teams to feel the heartbreak of having Michael Jordan in your conference. The Chicago Bulls eliminated Cleveland in both the 1992 Eastern Conference Finals and the 1993 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Daugherty’s last realistic chances at a title before he retired.
11 Kevin Johnson
One of the most synonymous names with Phoenix sports, Kevin Johnson was perhaps the most loved athlete in Phoenix Suns history. Johnson was a great point guard with a career average of 17.9 points per game and 9.1 assists per game. While Charles Barkley was the star of the early 90s Suns team, Johnson was the heart. In the 1993 Finals, Phoenix may have had the better overall team, but, of course, Michael Jordan was the best overall player with an absurd 41 points per game in a 4-2 series win.
10 Shawn Kemp
Shawn Kemp was one of the most exciting and explosive talents the NBA had ever seen, with an athleticism that was new to the league in the 90s. Sadly, Kemp’s career didn’t end the way it could have due to personal issues with alcohol, drugs and his weight. Before facing those struggles, Kemp and Gary Payton led the Seattle Supersonics to the 1996 NBA Finals. Kemp averaged 23.3 points per game, 10.0 rebounds per game and 2.0 blocks per game in the series but the Chicago Bulls eliminated them in six games. If Michael Jordan was successful at baseball and didn’t return to the Bulls, no East team could have prevented Seattle from the title.
9 Tim Hardaway
The Miami Heat were one of the constant sources of competition in the Eastern Conference when Pat Riley became the head coach after dumping the New York Knicks. Part of the reason for their rise was the tandem of Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. With their new point guard, Miami’s best chance at competing for a title came in 1997 after getting past the Knicks in a grueling seven game series. Much like every other contender in the East before them, they fell to Michael Jordan’s wrath losing the Eastern Conference Finals in five games to the Chicago Bulls.
8 Dikembe Mutombo
Unlike the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat, the Atlanta Hawks are never remembered among the better teams in the late 90s Eastern Conference stopped by the Chicago Bulls. However, with a defense led by Dikembe Mutombo, they had their best chance in 1997 if they could somehow get past the Bulls. As expected, Chicago would erase Atlanta’s dreams in five games. One funny anecdote from the series is Mutombo would block all NBA stars coming his way in attempts of dunking on him and follow it up with a signature “no no no” finger wag. In Game 5, Jordan finally got the better of Mutombo, dunking on him and giving the finger wag right back.
7 Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway
The only team to eliminate Michael Jordan from the playoffs after 1990 was the Orlando Magic during the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Of course, this was partly due to Jordan not being in peak basketball shape, as he was returning late in the season from retirement but it showed Orlando should have been the East's next great team. The Magic were led by Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Before injuries got the best of him, Hardaway was an elite guard that Orlando fans felt would take them to the promise land. Jordan got his revenge the next year, as Chicago swept the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals in what was Penny's last chance of getting to the Finals again.
6 Chris Mullin
Inducted into the 2011 Hall of Fame, there’s no doubt that Chris Mullin was a great basketball player. As a five-time All-Star, Mullin was celebrated most for his days with the Golden State Warriors but they would never emerge as a serious playoff threat. It wasn’t until Mullin joined the Indiana Pacers towards the end of his career that he had his best chance at a title. In the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, Indiana pushed the Chicago Bulls harder than any team during the second three-peat. Sadly for Mullin, his greatest opportunity fell at the hands of Michael Jordan in a Game 7 win for Chicago.
5 Reggie Miller
As mentioned in the last entry, the Indiana Pacers pushed the Chicago Bulls to their limit with a classic seven game series in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. The main contributor for Indiana was their leader and franchise icon Reggie Miller. An obvious Hall of Famer, Miller is regarded by most as one of the greatest three point shooters and clutch shot makers in league history. Indiana won Game 4 over Chicago due to a memorable Miller three pointer over Michael Jordan. While Miller would make the Finals once more and have a few more chances after Jordan retired, this was his best team and they fell just short due to the greatness of the Bulls.
4 Patrick Ewing
The team to truly feel the wrath of the Michael Jordan era during both of the Chicago Bulls three-peats was the New York Knicks. Always a hard fought series between the two teams, Chicago’s four separate playoff eliminations of the Knicks in both dynasties was the main factor in the Ewing never getting the champions parade Knicks fans craved. Even though Ewing is respected as a HOF legend, he would have been remembered as a God in New York sports if he were able to win a championship for the Knicks. At least Jordan repaid Ewing by getting him a role in Space Jam and an assistant coaching gig on the Charlotte Hornets.
3 John Stockton
In the post Magic Johnson era of the NBA, John Stockton is at the top of the list of great point guards the league has seen. One of the greatest duos in NBA history, Stockton and Karl Malone carried the Utah Jazz into relevance. It was rare to see two first ballot Hall of Fame stars spend most of their careers together. Utah would have two cracks at the Chicago Bulls in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals and both series were spectacular, but they could never close the deal as Michael Jordan was just too much. The best memory Jazz fans can take away from those losses was a beloved star like Stockton leaving it all on the court.
2 Charles Barkley
If you watch the NBA on TNT or read any lists about the best players to never win a championship, Charles Barkley lack of a ring is always discussed. Barkley is in the debate for the best power forward in NBA history and changed the climate of the league when he was traded to the Phoenix Suns from the Philadelphia 76ers. Barkley led the Suns to the Finals in his first season with the team and had the home court advantage vs. the Chicago Bulls in 1993. Phoenix would lose in six games but most disappointing, they lost all three home games. As promising as his Suns tenure started, Barkley would never make the Finals again in his illustrious career.
1 Karl Malone
Rightfully celebrated for having one of the best careers in the history of the NBA, Karl Malone was a 14 time all-star, a two-time MVP and is second overall on the all-time NBA scoring list. Not among those accomplishments is a NBA Championship and it's because of Michael Jordan. During both of the Utah Jazz vs. Chicago Bulls Finals meetings, Malone came close to getting his ring but never succeeded. The first game, Game 1 of the 1997 Finals, ended with Malone missing free throws and Jordan hitting a buzzer beater to win. The final game, Game 6 of the 1998 Finals, ended with Jordan hitting “the shot” to secure his six championship and preventing Malone’s best chance at one.
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