When you think about the NBA’s greatest players, championship rings seem to be a common theme. You have to get into the mid teens and maybe even the 20’s of the all time best players in NBA history before you find a player ringless.
But with that said there are Hall of Fame players who never won a ring, nor competed in a NBA Finals. For this list we are narrowing it down evermore so, focusing on the top 5 duos to never win a ring.
The guidelines for the list are simple: how talented the duo was, success together, and “what if” scenarios sprinkled in.
5. Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming
When we talk about dynamic duos that never reached their full potential because of injuries, it is usually one of the two that is injury ridden. But in the case of T-Mac and Yao, they both spent tons of time on the injured list, killing any chance of reaching championship aspirations.
In their first season together, Yao averaged 18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2 blocks while McGrady averaged 25.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists. They were on their way to becoming one of the greatest inside-out duos the league had ever seen. But injuries got in the way of that.
The two never won a playoff series together, with the only playoff series win during the tenure coming with McGrady missing the series due to injury. Had they both been healthy, who knows what the ceiling would have been for them, and championship winning wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility.
4: Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire
Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, the most dynamic duo of the mid to late 2000’s, are ringless and never came all that close. The duo never made it past the Western Conference Finals, but they did accomplish a lot during their run.
Nash as the offensive maestro, and Stoudemire as the athletic power finisher, perfected the Suns “7 seconds or less” offense system. They perfected it so much that is has shared the current leagues pace and style of play.
In their 6 years together, the Suns went 332-160, winning approximately 67% of their games. Regardless of how you feel about him having one more than both Kobe and Shaq, Steve Nash earned two MVPs averaging 17 points and 10.9 assists per game. Stoudemire averaged a dominant 23.2 points and 9 rebounds per game, completing the scoring part of the pick and roll duo.
There is no single player that held the Suns back from winning the title, but rather a culmination of teams. The Suns could never get past the San Antonio Spurs, and Kobe Bryant gave Steve Nash nightmares his whole career. Honestly it was more so the system not translating in crunch time of the playoffs, and to another degree their best player being a 6’1″ guard. It is hard to go all the way with a short player as the best player on the team.
3. Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway
Of all the duos on this list, Shaq and Penny spent the least amount of time as teammates, but they were very successful. In the three years Shaq and Penny spent together, they grew into superstars. Shaq was quickly becoming the most one of the most dominant players the league had ever seen, while Penny was redefining the point guard position.
They led the Magic to a 167-79 record, an NBA Finals appearance, and took out the Bulls in Jordan’s first year back from baseball.
Had the duo stuck together, and Penny stayed healthy, they are likely multi time champions. But in reality Shaq left for Los Angeles to form the best duo of all time with Kobe Bryant, and Penny’s durability failed him.
2. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant
I hesitated putting these two on the list. It had nothing to do with their talent and success as a duo, but rather everything to do with the way they separated with Durant abandoning Russ. Ultimately their actual dominance was too great to over look.
The two raised a lost franchise out of the cellars of the league and into the spotlight. KD and Russ are one of sixteen duos where both averaged over 25 points per game. They made a NBA Finals well before they were ready for it, just further showcasing their greatness. If the duo could have avoided injuries and ultimately chemistry issues, they are likely multi time champions by now.
While history will always remember the split rather than the 8 years they had together, it is important we recognize them as one of the best duos of all time, with or without a ring together.
1: John Stockton and Karl Malone
“The Last Dance” served as a solid reminder that there were some great teams and players who are ringless because of Michael Jordan. At the top of that list is the Utah Jazz and the dynamic duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone.
Stockton and Malone played together for 18 seasons, made the playoffs eighteen times, never won fewer than 42 games in a season (except for the shortened 1998-99 season where they posted a record of 37-13), and made the Finals twice. Stockton is the all time leader in steals and assists, while Malone is the second on the all time scoring list.
In an alternate universe where Michael Jordan doesn’t exist, these two Hall of Famers certainly have two NBA titles. Unfortunately for UtahJordan does exist and they are on the opposite end of two of the most iconic shots in league history.