Every year, only one team can be crowned the champion of the National Basketball Association. For much of the past decade, the league has been dominated by a small handful of teams. Now more than ever, this leaves high-caliber players and future Hall of Fame players with less chances to earn a championship ring.
Some of the best players of all-time have suffered this fate, including Steve Nash, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton. Likewise, there are players in the league today whose names will still be remembered in 20 years, but with no NBA titles on their resume.
This isn’t a list of players that currently have the most talent but no rings: Giannis Antetokounmpo would easily earn that distinction. Rather, I’m trying to pinpoint which players have had the most illustrious careers without the luxury of winning an NBA Championship.
- Jamal Crawford: Entering his 19th NBA season Brooklyn Nets guard Jamal Crawford is among the longest-tenured players in the league without an NBA Championship. With 19,491 career points, Crawford ranks 58th all-time and fifth among active players without rings in the NBA. He has taken home the Sixth Man of the Year Award on three occasions; a testament to how well he fits his role. However, with no All-Star appearances and just one season over 20 points per game, there are more deserving active players.
- LaMarcus Aldridge: The former Portland Trail Blazers, current San Antonio Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t among the first names that came to my mind. However, with 19,635 points (53rd all-time), 8,373 rebounds (72nd all-time), and seven All-Star appearances, Aldridge has had quite the decorated career. Unfortunately, he joined the Spurs too late to enjoy their championship window, and enters his 15th season without a ring.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo: Didn’t I just say Antetokounmpo doesn’t belong on this list? While the players ahead of him have far more experience under their belts, Antetokounmpo is in his eighth season in the NBA, with two MVP awards and four All-Star appearances. Not every player on this list has even won an MVP award, but still, Antetokounmpo has a couple more years to play before we consider him overdue for a championship. Antetokounmpo is not yet in the Top 250 of all-time scoring leaders in NBA history.
5. Damian Lillard
Heading into his ninth season, Damian Lillard hasn’t been going at it much longer than Antetokounmpo. However, while the Milwaukee Bucks forward took a few years to evolve into the player he is today, Lillard has been an All-Star caliber since his second year in the league, with five All-Star appearances in total (and a couple snubs: 27.0 points and 5.9 assists per game didn’t earn him a spot in 2017).
Lillard has been the Portland Trail Blazers undisputed leader for eight seasons now, and over time he has earned recognition as one of the best guards and overall players in the NBA. Lillard willed Portland as far as the Western Conference Finals, but has yet to reach the NBA Finals.
The Trail Blazers guard ranks 148th in NBA history in points (15,013) and 119th in assists (4,042) and could be just halfway through his career. Lillard already deserves a ring, and he never gets one, it would be a shame.
4. Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook has been a polarizing player for many fans, but at the end of the day, the Washington Wizards guard’s numbers speak for themselves. Westbrook is a rare and unique talent, and pulled off an uncanny three-year stretch where he averaged a triple-double. Westbrook has led the NBA in scoring twice, with a career-high 31.6 points per game in 2016-17; his MVP season. He also led the league in assists twice, peaking at 10.7 per game in 2018-19. That same year, he averaged 11.1 rebounds per game, an incredible mark for a guard.
Westbrook is entering his 11th season in the NBA, now with his third team in three years. He has been named an All-Star nine times, and has averaged over 20 points per game for ten consecutive seasons. His efforts already have him 47th on the all-time scoring list (third among active players without rings) with 20,491 points, and plenty of room to climb up the rankings in the future. Westbrook also ranks 14th in NBA history in assists with 7,347.
With a series of perennial playoff appearances throughout his career, reaching the NBA Finals once with the Oklahoma City Thunder alongside Kevin Durant and James Harden.
3. James Harden
Deciding between Westbrook and James Harden was tough, as the two players have had similar career stories, stemming from that NBA Finals appearance with the Oklahoma City Thunder and eventually reuniting on the Houston Rockets last season. In eight years with Houston, the Rockets haven’t missed the playoffs yet, and have earned a top four seed in six of those eight years. In other words, Harden has routinely contributed to a winning culture in Houston, at least in the regular season. Harden and the Rockets have had their playoff woes, including blowing the chance to knock the Golden State Warriors out of the playoffs and reach the NBA Finals.
Speaking of consistency, Harden has appeared in eight straight All-Star games, hitting minimum marks of 25.4 points, 5.8 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game each season. However, he has improved his passing numbers drastically, even leading the league in assists 2016-17 with 11.2 per game. The following season was Harden’s MVP campaign, where he led the league with 30.4 points per game. Since then, he has put up 36.1 and 34.3 points per game the last two seasons, and shows no signs of slowing his unprecedented scoring pace. Harden slots in at 41st on the all-time scoring list; second among active players without a ring.
2. Carmelo Anthony
While Lillard, Harden, and Westbrook all still have years left to try and win an NBA title, the clock is ticking for the final two players on this list. With 26,499 points in his career, the prolific scorer ranks 17th in NBA history, easily first in players without rings, and second among all active players to only LeBron James. While Anthony has taken on a more limited role in the twilight of his career, he was a dominant player for nearly a decade. Anthony entered the league immediately averaging over 20 points per game, and ensued to do it for 14 straight seasons.
Anthony has been named an All-Star on 10 occasions, all from his tenures with the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks as the first option. He led the league in scoring in 2011-12 with 28.7 points per game, and even got the Knicks to the playoffs three times: That alone is worthy of praise. Anthony will go down as one of the best scorers in league history and a sure lock for the Hall of Fame. Unless he wins a championship in the next couple seasons, he will likely retire without one.
1. Chris Paul
There wasn’t an easier pick in this list than deciding to put Chris Paul at the top. In his 16th season and with his fifth team, Paul has routinely held offenses together and put his team in playoff position. Considered one of the last remaining true point guards, Paul has led the league in assists four times, in steals six teams, has been named to nine All-Defensive teams and 10 All-Star teams. Paul can score when needed, with an effective 47% field goal rate over his career, but instead he mainly filled his role as facilitator and defensive stopper.
Paul never enjoyed an NBA Finals run with the New Orleans Hornets, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, or Oklahoma City Thunder. He did lead the Thunder to a somewhat surprising playoff berth, proving he still has it late in his career. Still, even with an exciting Phoenix Suns team he recently joined, it’s hard to see Paul winning a championship in his current situation.
With that, Paul could eventually retire as one of the best players to play the game and not win an NBA Championship. He currently ranks seventh all-time in assists, and could retire within the top five with a couple more seasons of play. Paul will likely prove his worth again with the Suns, but again, without a drastic change of scenery, it’s hard to see him winning a championship before his career comes to an end.