By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) In 1993, after his ninth season in the league, Michael Jordan had won three NBA Championship rings and three NBA Finals MVPs.
Here in 2012, with just a handful of games left in his ninth NBA season, LeBron James has been to three Finals – but, as we all know, he hasn’t won any rings.
Not yet, at least.
And if the Oklahoma City Thunder have their say, not at all.
At just 27 years old, LeBron still has plenty of time to win a title. Perhaps even multiple ones, and perhaps even this very month. But if LBJ never does win a ring – not now and not ever – what exactly will his legacy be?
Here in Chicago, we know plenty about watching stars retire without championships. After all, it’s been 27 years since the Bears won a Super Bowl. The Blackhawks went 49 years between Stanley Cup victories and on the White Sox endured an 86-year span between World Series rings.
And then there are the Cubs …
But beyond Chicago’s city limits, there’s been plenty of championship frustration among other great sports stars of LeBron’s ilk – or at least close to it.
In football, Barry Sanders never won a title (or came close), and Dan Marino didn’t either. In baseball, Carl Yastrzemski never captured a World Series crown, nor did Ted Williams (remember, Boston was once “cursed.”) And in hockey, Cam Neely never hoisted a Cup and neither did Marcel Dionne.
And in the NBA, there have been many greats such as LeBron who have desperately sought rings, but never found them. Here are my Top 5 players to never win a championship, each of them from among the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players of All-Time …
5. Charles Barkley
Despite now being known for talking about basketball on TV as much as he was ever known for playing it, “The Round Mound of Rebound” did rack up a stellar resume on the court that includes Hall of Famer and league MVP in 1993.
But he never could call himself NBA champion, too.
In ’93, Barkley made the NBA Finals for the only time in his career. Alas, his Phoenix Suns ran into Michael Jordan and the Bulls once Barkley got there. They lost. And he never got another shot at championship glory.
4. Patrick Ewing
One of the most celebrated college players ever, in 1985 Ewing was the prize of the NBA’s first-ever Draft Lottery and was supposed to bring the New York Knicks’ their first championship since 1973.
Ewing did lead the Knicks back to prominence in the late 1980s and made them a perennial contender during the ’90s. But he could never quite get New York over the title hump – thanks largely to Michael Jordan.
In the early ’90s, the Bulls ousted Ewing in three straight seasons in three different rounds of the playoffs (1991 first round, 1992 Eastern Conference Semifinals, 1993 Eastern Conference Finals). In 1994, during his best shot to win, the Knicks blew a 3-2 lead against the Houston Rockets in the Finals.
3. John Stockton
In addition to being rated among the NBA’s all-time greatest, Stockton’s credentials also included the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals.
For nine consecutive seasons, the unassuming point guard led the NBA in assists. And for 18 consecutive seasons, he helped lead the Utah Jazz to the postseason. But he never once led them to a championship.
Again, Stockton’s championship dreams fell prey to Michael Jordan’s will, as the Jazz made the Finals in both 1997 and ’98 only to fall to the Bulls both times.
2. Karl Malone
In 19 years in the NBA – most of them in Utah alongside his pick-and-roll running mate John Stockton – “The Mailman” was a model of excellence and consistency.
But when it came to winning titles, he also consistently fell short.
Behind Malone’s leadership, the Jazz became a perennial Western Conference contender throughout the 1990s, but fell in both Finals appearances to Jordan and the Bulls. In his 19th season, Malone left Utah for the Lakers in the hopes of capturing that elusive ring, but fell short again when L.A. fell to the Detroit Pistons in the Finals.
1. Elgin Baylor
The only player on this list whose championship dreams weren’t dashed by Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor averaged 27.4 points per game – third best all-time – during his 13-season NBA career.
In 1958, Baylor was the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and helped save the struggling Minneapolis Lakers franchise by leading the team to the NBA Finals after it had finished with the NBA’s worst record in the previous season.
The Lakers didn’t win the title that year, however. And Baylor never did, as his team made eight Finals appearances in the next 12 seasons, only to painfully lose each time. Seven of those series came at the hands of the Boston Celtics – who were to Baylor what Jordan was to Barkley, Ewing, Stockton and Malone.k
In a sad twist of irony, Baylor retired nine games into the 1971-72 season – and the Lakers went on to finally win a championship.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.