With Kevin Durant losing another chance at that elusive first title recently, there has been some murmurings pertaining to if he will ever win a title. So, Chuckie and Mike at My Mind On Sports were thinking about who were the greatest players to never win a title. There is obviously a huge list of people, but there are only a few that really stand out in their eyes. First up is Mike with his selections.
The greatness of players is usually judged by the numbers they put up, their clutch moments and by the titles they achieved over their careers. And it’s because of some of them not winning championships that their greatness has been slighted. But there are two players that seemed to have greatness written all over them but never hoisted a trophy above their heads.
Dan Marino was what they called a gunslinger. After his first three years at the University of Pittsburgh (1979-1981), Marino led the Panthers to a 33-3 record and they were consistently ranked in the Top 5 in the media polls. But after a subpar senior season coupled with rumors of drug usage, Marino’s stock dropped heading into the 1983 NFL Draft. His stock dropped so much, that he ended up being the sixth quarterback drafted in the first round of the NFL draft (Ken O’ Brien, Tony Eason, Todd Blackledge and Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and John Elway were all drafted before him). But in the 27th pick, the Dolphins took a chance on him despite the team’s brass being split on the decision to draft him. Good thing the naysayers did not win out, because Marino ended up being one the greatest statistical quarterbacks of all-time. Marino created many NFL firsts as an NFL quarterback including the first quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in a season and the first quarterback to throw for more than 40 touchdowns in a season (did so in 1984 and 1986). He was the quintessential elite quarterback before the word elite even was mentioned. But unfortunately, he never took home the big prize.
Marino was unfortunately played in an era where there were other great quarterbacks. He made it to the Super Bowl in his second season, only to lose to the San Francisco 49ers 38-16. Marino picked the biggest game to have one of his worst of the 1984 season, throwing for only one touchdown and two interceptions. This pattern of play from Marino in big games was a pattern for Marino unfortunately. In regards to the playoffs, Marino was only 8-10 in the playoffs, including a 1-6 record career on the road. His lack of success in the playoffs culminating in a championship seems to be one of the main reasons that some doubt the greatness that was Dan Marino. He definitely deserves to be in the discussion for the greatest QB of all-time, but without the hardware that others that are considered the greatest of all time have, he gets downgraded from the elite crew everyone praises.
But Marino was not the only player to have a big career and not win the ultimate prize. Charles Barkley is known more for his commentary off the court on TNT these days. But Charles more than earned his stripes as one of the greatest power forwards of all-time. The Round Mound of rebound would go on to lead the SEC in rebounding each of his three years at Auburn and even led the Tigers to the NCAA tournament in 1984. Barkley would go on to become the 5th pick of the 1984 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. Barkley would go on play for the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets on his way to becoming one of only ten players with 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists. He would also go on to make at least one NBA Finals appearance in his career (lost to the Michael Jordan-led Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals). Unfortunately, he never went to another NBA Finals after that last appearance in 1993. His most notable failure to reach the NBA Finals was in 1997 when John Stockton hit a game-winning three-pointer in the Western Conference Finals to send the Rockets home. Barkley would never come as close to the Finals ever again, as injuries began to wear him down.
Barkley was not the biggest reason behind his team’s failing to win the championship. But he did not exactly do all the things necessary to win one either. At one point and time, Rockets teammate Scottie Pippen criticized Barkley for his weight and his commitment to being at his best. Barkley did struggle with his weight over his collegiate and NBA career and at times, that would affect how he played on the court. And it also led to injuries to his back later in his career. And along with his injuries and questionable commitment to staying in shape, Barkley was a very opinionated player. He famously did the “I am not a role model” commercial and he also was known to get in a scrape or two on the court when he felt he was provoked. All in all, if Barkley would have had the same desire to stay in shape like he did the desire to win, then he would have potentially won a championship. But even with those questions, Barkley was a leader, great rounder and infectious talent that always affected those who were around him.
Chuckie had other ideas on who were the greatest to never win a title. Here is are his selections.
The most electrifying running back in NFL history may also be the greatest football player never to win a championship. Lions legend Barry Sanders had all the tools necessary to be a Hall of Fame running back: speed, quickness, agility, some underrated power and excellent hands as well. He totaled 15,269 rushing yards and 2,921 yards receiving in his illustrious NFL career. Those numbers not only made him a Hall of Famer and MVP, they made him a hero in the city of Detroit forever.
But they didn’t make him a champion. In Sanders’ 10 NFL seasons, all with the Lions, they made it to the NFC Championship Game once but didn’t make it to the Super Bowl. Detroit wasn’t an elite team, even with their elite tailback.
The retirement of Sanders at the age of 30 was a shocking one to most people who followed the National Football League. After all, this was a superstar walking away at the top of his game. He was in his prime, but he decided to leave on his own terms. It raised controversy (the Lions sued Sanders over $5.5 million of the signing bonus in his new contract), but he had to do what was right for him. Sanders explained his retirement years later by saying his team’s continuous losing took the joy of the game and his competitive spirit away from him. His reasons were sincere, and he was welcomed back to the city with open arms as an ambassador of sorts for the team.
Had Sanders not retired so early, would he have won a ring later on? It’s not likely, but he had three or four good years left in him to find out. The team he was on and career he cut short gave the Lions’ #20 the unfortunate moniker of greatest NFL player to never win a championship.
When it comes to the greatest basketball player to never win a ring, the Mailman reigns supreme. Karl Malone achieved everything there was to achieve on a basketball court except a championship, which Michael Jordan denied him of every chance they could get.
Malone’s numbers back him up. He ranks second all-time in points (36,928), sixth in rebounds (14,968) and tenth in steals (2,085). In addition, he is one of only three players in the history of the game to have at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 5,000 assists in their careers. The other two? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Garnett. That’s rarefied air. That added up to fourteen NBA All-Star appearances, two MVPs and a Hall of Fame induction. The only other MVP’s to never win a championship are Steve Nash, Charles Barkley, Derrick Rose, Allen Iverson and Kevin Durant.
You can’t say the Mailman failed to deliver in the two NBA Finals losses to the Bulls in 1997 and 1998. Malone averaged 23.8 points and 10.3 boards in ‘97, 25 and 10 in ‘98. His running mates, fellow Hall of Famer John Stockton and shooting guard Jeff Hornacek, also performed well. Utah just had the unfortunate luck of running into the greatest player ever in his prime. What other player could have overcome a flu that had him in the fetal position the night before and drop 38 points the next day to lead his team to victory on the road? Only MJ. Malone and Stockton were an incredible duo, but they were no match for number 23’s heroics. Against any other team, Utah would have won at least one title.
When analyzing the best player to never win a championship, it’s important to look at the “what-ifs.” If the Jazz had won both of the Finals they lost against Chicago, and had the Lakers not embarrassed themselves against Detroit in the 2004 Finals (Malone played for LA in his final season in hopes to finally win a ring), would he be in consideration for greatest player ever? He’s one of the most prolific scorers and rebounders ever. Add three rings in there (or even one or two), and his resume is bolstered significantly. Many people discredit him among the greats because of his empty fingers, which is a shame because of how dominant a big man he really was.
When it’s all said and done, Karl Malone, “the Mailman,” is the best player in NBA history without a championship to his name. He had the ultimate misfortune of playing in the same era as the best to ever do it, and in the end his team didn’t have the juice to beat the dynasty. Regardless of his playoff losses, he was still one of the top post players in the history of the NBA, and no one can deny his place as one of the 50 greatest players ever. Offensively and defensively, Malone was king of the big men in an era where combo-guards were taking center stage. He was second to MJ in his era, but he’s first in the list of the best ringless players.
Two men with two different views on the greatest to never win a ring. But one thing is for certain: all four of these athletes mentioned certainly made a huge impact on their chosen sports.