LeBron James has reached his eighth overall and seventh consecutive NBA Finals, a feat unheard of outside members of the 1950s-60s Boston Celtics dynasty. Not Jordan, not Magic, not Bird, not Duncan: none were able to put together a comparable string of success, though James has work to do to catch those greats in the Championship department. Like any winning player, he’s had help along the way from many great teammates like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Ever the consummate teammate, James has always found a way to make room for other big egos, allowing his fellow stars to share the spotlight despite being just about always the best player on the floor.
However, he’s also shared the floor with his fair share of scrubs. In fact, the accomplishment that many point to as one of his greatest is still the time he led quite possibly the worst championship-contending team ever all the way to the 2007 NBA Finals. His Cavaliers would subsequently get swept by the dynastic and heavily favored Spurs, but for James, it was still a victory. The 22-year-old demonstrated for the first time not only the considerable depth of his talent, but also his unmatched ability to maximize the potential of his teammates.
Since then, many other players have ridden James’ coattails to the Finals, some by accident, others with the explicit goal of chasing rings. Many of them owe the best moments of their professional careers to James, and playing in the Finals with one of the greatest players of all time is sure to have left an impression on all of them. Some of them seem to have taken this experience and used it to inspire them to great heights. Others now live a futile existence attempting to live up to their past glory. Who are these historical footnotes, and where are they now? Some of the answers may surprise you.
16 15. Jordan McRae
McRae is a classic example of being in the right place at the right time, getting traded to Cleveland in the middle of last season just in time to get a front row seat to the Cavaliers’ run to the Finals and winning a ring despite playing just four total playoff minutes. The 25 year old managed to stick on the Cavs’ roster this year, but was waived just before final playoff rosters were set. He’s currently biding his time until another opportunity presents itself, and his youth and scoring acumen should get him some looks from NBA teams.
As a rookie last year, I’m giving McRae the benefit of the doubt by putting him low on the list, but don’t be surprised if his championship won while riding the pine proves to be the pinnacle of his basketball career.
15 14. Kendrick Perkins
James was not the only high schooler to be drafted in 2003: bruising big man Perkins was taken 27th overall straight out Clifton J. Ozen High School and with a little seasoning became the starting center for the Boston Celtics. The championship pedigree he acquired during his time with the Celtics increased his stock, and Cleveland took a flyer on him to shore up their front court depth for their 2015 run to the Finals. Unfortunately, the talent he was surrounded by in Boston masked the fact that he actually kind of sucks, and he was basically useless in eight playoff appearances.
Though he’s been out of the league for the past year it sounds like Perkins wants to make a comeback, and when he’s not joining TNT’s Area 21 team for a Celtics reunion, he’s been working out and fielding offers from potential suitors, including the Thunder.
13 13. Daniel Gibson
Gibson’s future looked bright when, as a 21-year-old rookie, he played a major role in helping the Cavaliers get to the 2007 Finals. As a three-point assassin off the bench, Gibson saved his best for the big moments, netting a game-high 31 points in Cleveland’s series-clinching game six over Detroit to send them to the Finals. While he would indeed see an expanded role for himself the following season, it soon became apparent that Gibson would never turn into anything more than a spot-up shooter, lacking the size to be an effective defender and the point guard skills to run an offense.
He played a total of seven seasons before teams lost interest in him, last playing in 2013. Or perhaps he just lost interest in basketball; two years after he played his final game he announced he was leaving basketball behind to pursue a career as a rapper. Recent reports indicate he’s still chasing that dream today, mostly ghostwriting for other artists. I hope for his sake he’s a better rapper than baller!
12 12. Joel Anthony
I hate to do a fellow Canadian dirty like this, but Joel “bricks for hands” Anthony had no business manning the middle for Miami’s “Big Three”. An undersized shot-blocking specialist, rode the LeBron James express to three straight Finals, seeing significant time on the first occasion before Miami realized just how horrible he is and cut him almost entirely out of the rotation. While Anthony can hold his own on defense, he’s practically allergic to scoring, averaging an impossibly low 2.2 points per game over his 10 year career.
He’s since bounced around a bit, but amazingly is still cashing a NBA cheque. Anthony is currently hidden deep on the Spurs bench, presumably as a secret weapon they can bring out for those special occasions when coach Popovich needs someone to drop a pass or airball a layup.
11 11. Scot Pollard
A career backup center, Pollard was perhaps better known for his extravagant hairstyles than style of play. Pollard was a member of that infamously terrible 2007 Finals Cavaliers squad, but only managed to suit up for a single minute of action in the championship round. A ring would elude Pollard that year, but he seemed poised for redemption the following season when he landed with the Celtics and their newly formed “Big Three”. The Celtics would win 66 games and fight their way to the 2008 Finals, in which they vanquished Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Redemption complete.
There was just one problem: Pollard didn’t play a single minute of playoff basketball, meaning his name won’t be in the history books as a champion, though he did receive a ring. He then decided to call it quits on his NBA career, moving on to broadcasting and acting, including a recent stint on Survivor. He most recently made headlines after Rajon Rondo forgot to invite him to the Celtics 10 year championship reunion. Ouch.
10 10. Dahntay Jones
Jones and James are both wing players who were taken in the first round of the 2003 NBA Draft, but from that point on their paths diverged wildly. Jones is easily the worst of the eleven players remaining from that draft holding onto a roster spot with an NBA team. The former Duke Blue Devil is a career backup whose only real value lies with his defensive potential thanks to his physical tools. Jones has now entered into a particularly bizarre and unproductive phase in his career. He’s played exactly one regular season game in each of the last two seasons, both with the Cavaliers.
But come playoff time, Cleveland dusts him off as a human victory cigar, bringing him off the bench to soak up minutes during blowouts. He made 15 such appearances during last season’s championship run, and has seen the floor on several occasions through this year’s playoffs.
9 9. Eric Snow
You might best remember Snow as Allen Iverson’s backcourt mate during his glory days with the 76ers. Snow was Iverson’s perfect foil, a stocky, slow, offensively challenged point guard whose sole purpose was seemingly to defend on one end, and bring the ball up the floor and hand it to A.I. on the other. When he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he was therefore thrust into a very familiar role alongside their blossoming young star, LeBron James. Like Iverson before him, James would carry Snow and a host of other lesser talents to the Finals only to be demolished by a superior Western Conference opponent.
Snow would play just one more season before calling it a career, and seems to be trying to get into the coaching game after stints with Southern Methodist University and Florida Atlantic University, though he doesn’t appear to have a position anywhere at the moment.
8 8. Damon Jones
In his 11 year NBA career, Jones played for an incredible 10 different teams. In fact, before landing in Cleveland towards the end of his career, in 2005-06, he had never spent consecutive seasons with the same team. Jones became one of the Cavaliers’ designated shooter off the bench, and hit some big shots en route to the 2007 Finals. Though his playing days would end just a couple years later, Jones maintained a close personal connection with James, one that paid off when he got offered a job as James’ “shooting coach” upon his return to Cleveland.
He’s managed to parlay that into an assistant coaching position, so—just like 10 years ago—you can find him sitting on the bench as James takes him to the Finals.
7 7. James Jones
Like the previous Jones on this list, James Jones has managed to milk a good relationship with James into sweet, sweet success. He’s probably the most unabashed ring-chaser of the group, having followed James from Miami to Cleveland and receiving three rings for his loyalty. Like so many other players on this list, Jones is out there for basically just one reason: he can flat out shoot the rock, and, in his prime, could hold his own on defense. Those days are long gone though, and at 36, he’s basically just a good cheerleader and “locker room guy”, whatever that means. He’s barely played this postseason, but thanks to James he’s likely to get a shot at his seventh straight Finals, and possibly a fourth ring.
6 6. Michael Beasley
After one of the best freshman seasons in NCAA history, Beasley was looking like a surefire superstar, and debates raged over who should be the number one pick between him and Derrick Rose. Those days seem long gone, and while Beasley has proven he can score with the best of them, he never quite figured out how to do anything else even passably well. His lone Finals experience came during his second stint with the Miami Heat, the team that drafted him. Unfortunately, he came onboard a year too late to taste victory, as the Heat fell to the Spurs in five games.
After doing some soul-searching which has included stints in China and rehab for the drug-related issues that have plagued him his entire career, Beasley seems to have settled into a role as a bench scorer, currently with the Bucks.
5 5. Shannon Brown
An explosive leaper, Brown rose to prominence during his time as an energetic reserve for the back-to-back champion Los Angeles Lakers—and fell just as quickly after one of the most disappointing dunk contest performances ever (and Lord knows there’s been a lot of them…). However, Brown’s first taste of the Finals actually came two years prior to his first ring, when he was a rookie in Cleveland and played one minute of garbage time against San Antonio. Unfortunately for Brown, athleticism can only get you so far when you’re an undersized shooting guard who can only kind of shoot. He hasn’t been in an NBA uniform for two years, but is evidently trying to get back there and spent the past season in the D-League.
4 4. Greg Oden
I hate to beat a man while he’s already down but...I couldn’t just leave out one of the biggest busts in NBA history now could I? His NBA career looked done for good after the endless knee surgeries he endured with Portland, but in 2013-14, four years after he saw his last NBA minutes, the Miami Heat decided to take a chance on him. He had generated some buzz after a few dominant performances in China, but coming back to the big leagues was a big reality check. Oden was a shell of his former self, but at least he got to experience the NBA Finals before giving up on his NBA dreams.
It’s too bad James and the rest of the Heat couldn’t deliver him a ring that year as well, but in a career full of disappointments, it seems almost fitting that it ended with another. Now he’s back at Ohio State to finish his studies and move his life in another direction.
3 3. Ira Newble
Unless you’re a really dedicated NBA fan, you might not even remember Ira Newble’s name or face. After going undrafted, Newble worked hard to turn himself into an NBA prospect, and finally got his chance at the age of 25. His work ethic and defensive abilities kept him in the league for eight years, but injuries were a frequent issue, and he was an offensive liability, as evidenced by his career scoring average of 5.1 points. Nevertheless, he wound up becoming James’ wingman in Cleveland for a brief time, even starting 69 games for the Cavaliers in the 2004-’05 season. Injuries kept him out of the lineup for much of the next two seasons, but he did manage to sneak in a few playoff games during Cleveland’s 2007 playoff run, including one Finals game.
After a couple years of playing overseas, Newble has turned to coaching, most recently as an assistant in the D-League. He also remains outspoken as an activist, particularly on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur. He might have been a terrible basketball player, but at least he’s a good guy!
2 2. Larry Hughes
In one of the first of many misguided attempts to land James some help, the Cavaliers signed Hughes, a long and lean combo guard who was coming off a career year with the Washington Wizards. The fact that his career-high numbers in points, rebounds, assists, and steals (a league-best 2.9 per game) came during a contract year should have been a huge red flag for Cleveland, but they were desperate to give James something, anything, that resembled legitimate talent. Predictably, the experiment was a failure. The man billed as the Robin to James’ Batman averaged 11.3 points on 34.7 percent shooting and had almost as many turnovers as assists during their run to the Finals in 2007. Read those numbers again, and let it sink in that they belonged to the (supposedly) second-best player of a team that made the NBA Finals. That should give you some idea of how much heavy lifting James had to do.
Hughes is now gearing up to play in BIG3, a new three-on-three league featuring many ex-NBAers who feel like they still have some game left in them.
1 1. Sasha Pavlovic
A fellow 2003 draftee, Pavlovic was around for most of the first LeBron James era in Cleveland after being traded there from the Jazz following his rookie season. The native of Montenegro quickly went about smashing stereotypes about European players, like that they can all shoot and play smart, team basketball. Pavlovic could hit an open three, but didn’t really offer anything else on the offensive end. He was an atrocious defender as well, who accomplished the incredible feat of racking up more career fouls than rebounds. Amazingly, the Cavaliers found him good enough to start all 20 games of their 2007 postseason. He rewarded them by hitting less than 40 of his field goals, just over 50 percent of his free throws, racking up more fouls than rebounds, and more turnovers than assists. You probably couldn’t make a worse NBA player if you tried.
The NBA seemed to agree, and Pavlovic was out of the league before his 30th birthday. He’s been playing back in Europe ever since, last playing in the 2015-16 season for Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos Athens.
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