In the NBA, the players play for the love of the game, for money, for fame, and plenty of other reasons. But many players, especially players looking to cement their legacies among the game’s all-time greats, play to win. And although winning an individual game is satisfying, nothing tastes sweeter than a championship. Each year, only one team out of thirty wins the championship, and given that some teams are far more likely to win than others, it’s not surprising that many players–even great players–never win it all. The lack of a championship is obviously a hole in a franchise’s history, as each franchise has the goal of a) winning and b) making money. Stacking up the greatest franchises is more or less ranking them by their championship titles (though finals appearances, regular season records, and other metrics obviously play a role).
In debates among NBA fans, the lack of a championship is equally as big of a hole in the resume of a player. I have never bought into the “rings trumps all” argument, because basketball is a team sport. Neither John Stockton, Karl Malone, nor Charles Barkley ever won a championship, but these guys are three of the best players of their generation and of all-time, without a doubt. Unfortunately, their collective total of zero championships will always taint their careers in the eyes of many fans and analysts.
What other players are in danger of falling into this dreaded group of greats without a championship? Do these players deserve a championship? Let’s take a look at who may qualify.
Steve Nash (36 years old)
Why he deserves one: Nash is arguably the greatest PG of his generation, rivaling Jason Kidd and Chauncy Billups. He revolutionized the game with his style and the 7-seconds or less Phoenix Suns. His shooting efficiency is virtually unrivaled throughout NBA history and he was a part of several of the greatest offenses this league has ever seen. He was a winner, frequently making it deep into the playoffs despite the depth of the Western Conference throughout his career. He was unselfish on the court and off the court and is one of the NBA’s best ambassadors to the world.
Why he doesn’t deserve one: Not too much of an argument here, but one can nitpick his defensive deficiencies. And if defense really does win championships, maybe Nash isn’t so deserving, after all.
Jason Kidd (Turning 37 in March)
Why he deserves one: Kidd, like Nash, is one of the poster PGs of his generation. Known for his staunch defense, rebounding prowess, and his unique passing ability, Kidd has made it to the NBA finals twice and has no doubt proved his worth as a basketball player. He has always been a competitor and got a taste of winning it all during the 2008 Summer Olympics. Veterans routinely praised Kidd for his leadership and work ethic.
Why he doesn’t deserve one: Like with Nash, I don’t have a great argument. Kidd was arrested and pleaded guilty to domestic abuse. While I don’t condone wife-beating, especially when Kidd allegedly “broke [his wife’s] rib and damaged her hearing by smashing her head into the console of a car,” I won’t be the one using this argument in May when the Mavericks are contending for a ‘ship.
Marcus Camby (Turning 36 in March)
Why he deserves one: Defense and rebounding are underrated by most writers, GMs, fans, and just about everyone else. Consequently, Camby’s contributions have often gone unheralded. Defense and rebounding require talent/skill, but they are mainly about effort. Dirty work. Camby put in the work, and deserves a ring for all his overlooked hard-nosed play. Also, the man has suffered some unfortunate injuries. He also won DPOY in 06-07.
Why he doesn’t deserve one: Camby may have not been the potent offensive weapon, and this is normally forgivable, but not in Camby’s case. “Why?” you might you ask. Well, he never bothered to correct his hideous shooting form. He is probably responsible for several of his former coaches’ heart-attacks because of that god-awfulness.
Allen Iverson (Turning 35 in June)
Why he deserves one: AI was the face of a generation. Nothing reminds me more of the early 2000’s than Iverson jerseys and cornrows. His crossover was lighting quick and he had enormous swagger. He played hard most games, and definitely wanted to win. He was a prolific scorer and all of this is amazing when considering he is 5’10” and 165 pounds. Although he alienated some fans who couldn’t relate to his tattoos and cornrows, Iverson was the most popular player in the league for years.
Why he doesn’t deserve one: I’m going to try and refrain from bashing the guy too much, so I’ll just list a few starting points. He was a ball-stopper, he gambled on defense, he was low-efficiency, suffered alcohol/gambling/legal problems, and he quit on several teams because he wasn’t a starter. Okay, so maybe that was more than a few, but I had to get it out there. My real regret about Iverson though is that, in my opinion, he could have been a much better player. What if he had channeled his skills and speed into becoming an efficient PG?
Tracy McGrady (Turning 31 in May)
Why he deserves one: T-Mac was once the best player in the league. Maybe only for a season, but for that one season he was as good as anyone–hands down. In the early 2000’s the only players as good were Shaq, Duncan, Garnett, and Kobe. McGrady was right there in the conversation–if you don’t remember, just trust me. This dude rebounded, passed, and scored like a maniac. His height, length, and athleticism were comparable to Josh Smith, except McGrady could do just about anything on offense because of superior coordination and handle. He had terrible teammates in Orlando, and then injuries derailed his career in Houston…you can’t help but feel for the guy. Best of luck T-Mac, you still got time!
Why he doesn’t deserve one: McGrady was never an all-world defender and he reportedly quit on the Rockets once or twice. His failure to move past the first round is well-documented, but in Orlando he was a one-man team and in Houston he dealt with injuries and the stacked Western Conference. His shot-selection could use some work as well, now that he doesn’t have the same lift he used to have. I always liked the guy though, but without a ring, he may never be given the appreciation he deserves.
Vince Carter (33)
Why he deserves one: Like AI, Vince was one of the league’s most popular players in the early 2000’s. Everyone remembers his playoff duel with Iverson as the Sixers and Raptors went head to head. Vince is the best dunker the NBA has ever seen (sorry Nique, Jordan, and Dr. J, but this one goes to Vince). Vince was a great scorer and a decent rebounder and passer as well. He can stroke it from just about anywhere on the court.
Why he doesn’t deserve one: Like with AI and McGrady, Vince has quit on his teams one or two times. He settled too often for jumpers as his career went on. He’s an OK defender. But to me, Vince has always seemed like a great guy and he’s played well enough and garnered enough publicity for the NBA to be ‘ship-worthy.
Shawn Marion (Turning 32 in May)
Why he deserves one: One of the most underrated players of his generation, because like with Camby, defense and rebounding are often underrated/under-celebrated. Marion made one of my All-Decade Teams and has always played efficient basketball. He made it deep into the playoffs with the Suns and has a good shot at winning it all with the Mavericks.
Why he doesn’t deserve one: Marion sometimes complained that he was underrated and was a problem in the locker room before he was shipped out of Phoenix. He also sports bizarre shooting form, and he even shoots threes!
Dirk Nowitzki (Turning 32 in June)
Why he deserves one: After Duncan and Garnett, Dirk was his generation’s finest forward. Some would argue he’s the best of the bunch. Dirk is a great international ambassador for the League and has given the Mavericks reasons to smile for years. While he hasn’t won a championship, the Mavericks have made it to the Finals once, won 67 games with Dirk running the show, and have enjoyed lots of post-season success. We may never again see a seven-footer shoot and put it in the floor the way Dirk does. He’s one smooth cat.
Why he doesn’t deserve one: He’s an above-average defender at this point in his career, but used to lack on that end of the court. Despite being a great post-season and clutch performer by the numbers, many will point to how he got booted in the 2006 Finals by Miami after being up 2-0 and with a commanding 4th quarter lead in game 3. Then, he and the Mavs failed to show up against the red hot Warriors in the first round after finishing 67-15 in the regular season. Other than that, I have no complaints about the guy.
Antawn Jamison (turns 34 in June)
Why he deserves one: Antawn is a class act. Loyal to his fans and to his teams, he is a professional who shows up to work every day with his hard hat on ready to play. He once had back to back 50 point games as a Warrior and won the 6th Man award while taking a backseat as a Maverick. He is a good rebounder for his size and relative lack of hops. He has a unique playing style in the post that has evolved around his feel for the hoop and lack of size/athleticism. He has an excellent chance at winning it all alongside LeBron as a Cleveland Cavalier.
Why he doesn’t deserve one: Jamison has never been a great defender and although he is a good shooter for his size, his ability has never translated to outstanding shooting percentages.
Of course there are other deserving players, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment on the article or e-mail us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and to like us on Facebook.