Even before the 2011 NBA Finals got in to full swing, there was talk of who had the best shot at winning the championship this year. Following his “decision” to leave his hometown of Cleveland to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on Miami’s big stage, LeBron James made sure his name part of the discussion. He’s already considered one of the best players to play the game on a professional level today, but a ring would solidify that point even further—or would it? The world of sports is filled with dominant competitors that never won a title. In fact, BlackEnterprise.com compiled a list of 10 NBA greats that dominated the sport but failed to take home the big prize. A few still have a shot.
Pound for pound, Iverson can be considered one the NBA’s greatest players. Selected as the No. 1 pick in the 1996 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, the prolific guard went on to be named the Rookie of the Year in his inaugural season. During the course of his 15-year career, Iverson has been an 11-time All-Star, four-time scoring champion, and two-time All-Star Game MVP. His playoff scoring average is 29.7 points per game—second only to Michael Jordan) and he took his team all the way to the NBA Finals in 2001 but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers on five games. Despite never winning a championship, Iverson was rated the fifth greatest NBA shooting guard on all time by ESPN in 2008.
Over the course of his 18-year career, Miller played exclusively for the Indiana Pacers. During his time there, the precision shooter turned the troubled franchise around into a perennial contender, leading the team to the Eastern Conference finals six times. A three-point specialist and clutch player, Miller made a remarkable eight points in 8.9 seconds against the New York Knicks during the final seconds of Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, leading the Pacers to a stunning 107–105 victory. With 2,560 career three pointers on his record, Miller is one of only five players to shoot 50% or better from the field, 40% or better from three-point range, and 90% or better from the free throw line in a single season. While his stats sheet is golden, the precision shooting guard retired in 2005 without a ring.
Drafted into the league by the Utah Jazz, Malone was always workhorse in the paint. Throughout his 19-year career, the power forward only missed a handful of regular season games. He worked the boards to the tune of stats that placed him No. 2 all-time in career points and No. 6 in career rebounds, making him the prototype power forward. His longtime teammate John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time assist leader, was none too shabby either. Still, with numerous records, All-Star nods and Olympic gold (twice) as part of the Dream Team, the only thing the Mailman was never able to deliver was a championship.
Known as The Iceman, Gervin started his professional career in the ABA before making the move over to the NBA. During the course of his 14-year career, he averaged at least 14 points per game each season and retired from the NBA with a career average of just a shade over 26 points per game. Despite being widely regarded as one of the best shooting guards in the League (9-time All-Star and 4-time scoring champion), Gervin never made it to the Finals for a shot at solidifying his greatness.
Ewing was a warrior. As the No. 1 pick in the 1985 NBA Draft, he was a franchise player throughout his career—from when the Knicks were in the doldrums to when they became legitimate contenders in the late 90’s. The 11-time All-Star led his team to the playoffs numerous time before making it to the 1994 NBA Finals, where he set the then-record for most blocked shots in a finals series, as well as the then-record for most blocked shots in a finals game (8). Still, that wasn’t enough to secure a championship for New York. That was the closest the 7-footer came to the gold before retiring to become an assistant coach.
From the onset of his career Barkley was surrounded by greatness. Drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1984, he joined a team that includes legends Julius Erving, Moses Malone and Maurice Cheeks. Holding his own, Sir Charles averaged 14 points and 8.6 rebounds per game during his rookie season. A year later, he was the team’s leading rebounder and second scorer before eventually becoming the Sixers’ franchise player until he was traded in 1992 to the Phoenix Suns, where he continued to dominate as a rebounder and team leader. By time he retired in 2000, Barkley became the fourth player in NBA history to achieve 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists. However, the Dream Team gold medalist was never able to win a title to compliment his accolades.
Playing a majority of his career for the Atlanta Hawks, Wilkins was a phenomenal presence on the court. Known as the Human Highlight Film, his flashy moves and tomahawk dunks earned the nine-time All-Star two Slam Dunk Contest wins. Prior to his last three NBA seasons, Wilkins never averaged less than 20 ppg and earned the scoring title in the 1985-86 season thanks to his 30.3 ppg average. Throughout the 80s, the franchise player led the Hawks to four consecutive seasons with 50+ wins. However, his career stats of 26,668 points and 7,169 rebounds never resulted in a successful championship run.
Before ankle injuries stunted his career, Hill—a first round draft pick (No. 3 overall) in 1994—was putting up LeBron James-like numbers. In his first season, the Duke alum averaged 19.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.77 steals per game, and became the first Detroit Pistons rookie to score 1,000 points since Isiah Thomas. His star was so bright in fact that he became the first rookie in NBA history to lead fan votes for an All-Star game with over 1.2 million ballots. An all-around player, Hill went on to lead the league in triple-double in subsequent seasons. Despite his excellent individual performance on the court, though, the Pistons failed to gain much traction in the playoffs. Things began to fall part for the dominant point-forward towards the end of the 1999-2000 season when an ankle injury sidelined him. Prior to that Hill had a total of 9,393 points, 3,417 rebounds and 2,720 assists in his first six seasons. Although he’s still playing with the Phoenix Suns, additional injuries continued to plague the once-elite star and a championship has eluded him as a result.
Jackson may not make a lot of “greatest of all time” player lists, but a look at the Brooklyn, NY native’s stat sheet will confirm that he was an exceptional point guard. The NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1988 averaged 13.6 points and 10.6 assists per game in his first NBA season. By time he retired in 2004, the floor general had dished out enough assists over his 17 seasons to land at No. 3 on the all-time list. Despite his consistency, Jackson’s only NBA Finals appearance came in 2000 as a member of the Indiana Pacers who lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.