LeBron James’ plan to join forces with another superstar to get his championship ring was foiled by an all-time great who decided last summer to stay with the team that drafted him. While the 2008 Boston Celtics continue to be the shining example of a team where three superstars joined forces to win it all, the 2004 Lakers are an example of how a blatant attempt at taking a shortcut to a ring doesn’t guarantee a championship, word to Karl Malone. While Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd succeeded a few days ago in removing themselves, check out the list of some of the best NBA players who had the misfortune of falling short of the NBA mountaintop.
Iverson was the first overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft and revolutionized the NBA. With a killer crossover not seen since Tim Hardaway‘s heyday, A.I. went on to win Rookie of the Year, crossed up Michael Jordan, won four NBA scoring titles, was an 11-time All-Star, and the 2001 NBA MVP. In 2001 Iverson led the Philadelphia 76ers to his only NBA Finals appearance against the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers. In a Game 1 for the ages, Iverson carved up the Shaquille O’Neal-led Lakers for 48 points giving L.A. their only loss of the post season. Iverson is not officially retired, but was unable to land on an NBA roster in 2010-11 after reported reluctance to take on a limited role led to his release from the Memphis Grizzlies and Detroit Pistons.
Patrick Ewing was the number one pick of the 1985 draft, the prize of the first ever Draft Lottery. Ewing led the New York Knicks back to prominence in the late 80’s and made them a perennial contender in the 90’s. He was voted one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all-time, is a two-time Gold medal winner, 11-time All-star, and the owner of one of the sweetest jump shots by a 7-footer. Ewing, who guaranteed an NBA title more than once during his career, fell short to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls three straight seasons in three different rounds of the playoffs (1991 first round, 1992 Eastern Conference Semifinals, 1993 Eastern Conference Finals) and missed a golden opportunity to win the ring in 1994 up 3-2 against the Houston Rockets in the Finals. The rest of Ewing’s Knicks career was filled with heartbreak as they lost the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Indiana Pacers after blowing Game 1 at home and missing a Game 7 finger roll. A brawl (and subsequent suspensions) with Miami in 1997 kept them from a Conference Finals rematch against Jordan’s Bulls, and Ewing watched from the sidelines as the Knicks improbable run to the 1999 NBA Finals ended in five games to Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
“The Human Highlight Film” is a nine-time NBA All-Star who was the face of the Atlanta Hawks in the 1980’s. With a career average just under 25 points per game ‘Nique is one of 12 NBA players to score more than 25,000 points in his career. Wilkins’ only scoring title came in 1986 when he averaged 30.3 points (while Michael Jordan missed more than half the season with a broken foot). Wilkins is best known for his highlight reel dunks that won him two slam dunk titles in 1985 and 1990. Despite being a career 32 point per game scorer in the postseason, Wilkins never reached the NBA Finals or the Conference Finals for that matter, but was part of an epic Game 7 battle in 1988 versus Larry Bird in the Conference Semifinals.
“Pistol” Pete was a college legend (averaged over 40 points a game in all four seasons at LSU) who brought his all-aound game to the NBA in 1970. He was a five-time All-star, four time All-NBA selection, and was voted one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest players. In 10 full seasons playing for the Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Jazz in the NBA, Maravich worked magic with the basketball before, well, Magic. He led the NBA in scoring in 1977 and lit up the court with playground moves, circus passes and shots you would find on the And 1 tour today. Maravich scored a career high 68 points and scored over 40 points in a game numerous times in his career en route to a 24.2 points per game career average. Knee injuries cut his career short in 1980 and he died of a heart attack in 1988 while playing a pick up game.
After seven years in Cleveland, James exercised his right as a free agent and took his talents to Miami to play with his close friend Dwyane Wade. LeBron exceeded the hype surrounding him out of high school winning Rookie of the Year honors and was selected to seven straight All-Star Games in his eight years in the league. He is a two-time NBA MVP and averages 27.7 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for his career! James also smashed many “youngest ever” records including youngest ever to record a triple-double in an NBA game, make the All-NBA team, win MVP of the All-Star game and average 30 points a game (he averaged 31.4 in ’05-’06 season). James carried the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals where he was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. The following season he was outdueled in the Eastern Conference Finals by Paul Pierce and the newly formed Big 3 of the Boston Celtics in Game 7. Influenced by the Celtics blueprint, James along with Chris Bosh took Miami by storm in the 2010-11 season with their own Big 3, fighting off criticism and controversy on the way back to the NBA Finals. James would fall short to the Dallas Mavericks in six games. Not to worry, according to Vegas oddsmakers James should be off this list by the end of next season.
The “Iceman” had a decorated ABA and NBA career in which he amassed 26,595 total points. Gervin won four scoring titles (only Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan have more), played in nine straight NBA All-Star games (12 straight if you add his three from the ABA), and finished second twice behind Bill Walton and Moses Malone respectively for NBA MVP honors. Known for his rain-making finger roll, effortlessly launched from his fingertips while gliding through the lane, Gervin averaged 26.2 points in his NBA career and made it to three conference finals before losing to the eventual NBA champion Washington Bullets in 1979 Eastern Conference Finals, and the Lakers in 1982 and ’83 Western Conference Finals.
“The Round Mound of Rebound” was voted one of the 50 greatest players, is an 11-time All-star, a two-time Olympic Gold medal winner, a five-time All NBA team selection, and the 1993 NBA MVP. No one his size (listed as 6’6″, but more like 6’4″), calling themselves a power forward, played harder in the paint. Barkley regularly outrebounded taller opponents and was a double-double machine pulling down a league-leading and career high 14.6 boards per game in 1987. His ferocious dunks were a signature of his game in Philadelphia and Phoenix. Barkley fell short to Jordan’s Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals and missed out on his chance for a rematch as a member of the Houston Rockets in 1997 when the Rockets lost in the Western Conference Finals because of a game winning three pointer by…
One of the 50 greatest players, Stockton is the NBA all-time assists and steals leader with over 15,000 dimes and 3200 thefts. He led the NBA in assists in nine consecutive seasons. Stockton is a 10-time All-star and 11-time All NBA selection. Regarded as one of the best pure point guards in the league, Stockton led the Utah Jazz to the postseason in 18 consecutive seasons. Stockton made the pick and roll play a household name (and favorite Hip Hop simile) with teammate Karl Malone. Stockton made the Western Conference Finals three times and the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons losing both times to Jordan’s Bulls (see a theme here?).
Widely regarded as the best power forward of all-time, Malone was voted one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, is a 14-time All-star, a 14-time All NBA selection (11-time First Team selection), and a two-time NBA MVP (one of nine players to win MVP of the league more than once). The Mailman is a career 25 points per game scorer who regularly finished top 5 in the league every year. He is the NBA’s second all-time leading scorer with 36,374 points. Malone fell short of an NBA title twice with the Utah Jazz, but while Stockton retired after the 2002-2003 season, Malone took a last ditch shot at a ring joining the three-time champion Los Angeles Lakers. With an All-star starting lineup that included O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Malone the Lakers fell short in the 2004 Finals to Detroit.
Drafted first overall in 1958 by the Minneapolis Lakers, Elgin Baylor was one of the best players in the league for over 10 years. With a career average of 27.4 points per game, Baylor averaged 38.3 in 1961-1962 season (which would have led the league in any other year if Wilt Chamberlain didn’t average 50.4!). He was Rookie of the Year, an 11-time All-Star, and made the All-NBA First Team 11 consecutive seasons from 1959 to 1969. Baylor had the misfortune of running into the Boston Celtics (in the midst of their insane run of eight straight championships) seven times in the NBA Finals and the miracle ’69-’70 New York Knicks of Willis Reed once (that’s 0-8 in the Finals). Injuries cut short Baylor’s stellar career and he retired in 1972, the year the Lakers finally won the title (Smh).
Arguably the greatest shooter of all time and one of the greatest clutch players in NBA history, Reggie Miller spent his entire 18-year NBA career with the Indiana Pacers. Once the all-time leader in three point field goals made (before Ray Allen passed him this past season) Miller led the Pacers to the 2000 NBA Finals against the Lakers. Miller was routinely ousted in the playoffs by Ewing’s Knicks losing in the conference finals in ’94 and ’99. Reggie was rumored to come out of retirement to join the Big 3 in Boston three years ago, but stayed in the broadcast booth.