A Brief History
On April 25, 2019, the National Basketball League and basketball fans everywhere, especially in Boston, were saddened by the death of legendary Boston Celtic John Havlicek. An inducted member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Havlicek played on 8 NBA Championship Boston Celtics teams, one of 4 NBA players that played on that many Championship teams, along with the 2 players that played on even more top teams. Guess who is not on the list? Michael Jordan! While His Airness was certainly one of the greatest players of all time, worthy of consideration as the Greatest of All Time (GOAT), he won a comparatively paltry 6 NBA Championships, all with the Chicago Bulls.
Not surprisingly, considering the dominance of the Celtics, especially during the 1960’s, the top NBA Championship Ring wearers are also former Celtics, namely, center Bill Russell with a record 11 Championship teams played for and teammate Sam Jones, boasting 10 NBA Championships to his credit. The other players with 8 Championship seasons are all players that played with the Celtics, Tom “Satch” Sanders, Tom Heinsohn and KC Jones.
An additional 3 players check in with 7 Championship rings apiece, 2 of which were Celtics. Matching Michael Jordan’s 6 Championships are Scottie Pippen, who was Jordan’s teammate on all 6 Bull’s Championship teams and NBA all-time leading scorer Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who won a single title with the Milwaukee Bucks and then 5 more with the Los Angeles Lakers. The other NBA star with 6 Championships is Bob Cousy, another Celtic.
Things start to get more crowded when we get to filling a single hand with Championship rings, with 13 players laying claim to playing on 5 Championship teams apiece. Coming in with 4 Championships are another 13 NBA players. LeBron James, candidate for the Greatest of All Time (GOAT), can only boast of 3 NBA Championships, although he earned the MVP award for all 3 of those Championships. His Los Angeles Lakers team of 2019-2020 was a favorite to win the 2020 NBA Championship until coronavirus curtailed the current season. Whether or not some sort of resolution to the 2019-2020 season can be accomplished remains to be seen.
Part of winning a major sports league championship while a player is partly ability and partly luck. All the other players on the team have to be good players and remain in good health to pull off a championship, and of course the other teams in the league have something to say about the process as well. Personal ability and performance do matter, though except in the case of an MVP it is harder to gauge. Many great players in many sports never won a championship. A couple that come to mind include Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs and Don Mattingly who turned a stellar 14 year career with the New York Yankees and a trip to the Hall of Fame, only to never play for a World Series Championship team. Despite the incredible odds of playing for the Yankees during such a long stretch without a World Series win, Mattingly is the only Yankee to have his number (8) retired that did not play on a World Series Champion team. As for basketball players with no Championship on their resume, it is hard to top Karl Malone, 2 time NBA MVP, 14 time NBA All-Star and owner of over 36,000 career points, the #2 scorer in NBA history. Malone came close to his much sought after Championship in his final year (2003-2004) as a 40 year old playing with the Lakers, but his team let him down in the playoffs and he never did make it to the golden ring.
How much of winning championships is a mark of the greatness of the player and how much of that success is a factor of luck and the other players? You tell us!
Question for students (and subscribers): Who do you consider the greatest NBA player to never win a championship? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Peters, Mark. The Ultimate John Havlicek Fun Fact And Trivia Book. Perfect World Marketing. 2014.
Zarum, Dave. NBA 75: The Definitive History. Firefly Books, 2020.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Jekelfoster23 showing Frank Truitt (seated) with John Havlicek (right) and Bob Knight (left) at the 50th anniversary celebration of the 1960 Ohio State Men’s Basketball Team winning the NCAA Championship taken January 30, 2010 at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.