The NBA’s 13 Most Successful Players of All Time
As we roll through another installment of the NBA season, there’s no better time to look at the most bejeweled players in the NBA; the ones with more than one hand of championship rings; the players, both superstars and role-fillers, who ended up on winning teams most often.
On one end of the spectrum, they’re the anti-Lombardi — NBA athletes who have won more but are clearly not as talented as their less-bejeweled peers. On the other end, they make a strong case for “best of all time full stop forever.” Usually the truth is somewhere in between.
While one of the great fan pastimes is to attempt to measure an athlete’s motor, the fact is that if you’re at the highest level of any given professional sport, you’re at least a little invested in how you play. All that said, let’s look at the most ringed of the be-ringed; the players who’ve spent the most time around the Larry O’Brien Trophy (some even before it was the Larry O’Brien Trophy). Here are the 13 winningest NBA players ever.
Six rings: Bob Cousy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Scottie Pippen, and Michael Jordan
Right off the bat, two of these guys were arguably the best pair of wing players to ever wind up on the same team (that’d be Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen), and although Dwyane Wade and LeBron James come close, they didn’t play together at the peak of their powers (especially Wade). Jordan and Pippen could guard anyone, no matter how good and no matter how tall.
Their tenacious defense was the key to their back-to-back threepeats, and their terrifyingly competitive nature (especially Jordan’s) ensured that every game was personal. It stands to reason that they were the two best players on the best NBA team of all time.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, though. Kareem was a different breed. Along with his skyhook, he was a team unto himself, a designation reflected by his position as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Finishing with 38,387 points over his 20-year Kareer (…sorry), the former Lew Alcindor won one ring with Milwaukee and five more with the Los Angeles Lakers. He grabbed Finals MVP awards decades apart. He was great.
With all due respect to Kareem, though, he wasn’t the revolution that Bob Cousy was. Back in the ’50s, Cooz changed the game. Simple as that. Watch these highlights below and remember that no one was doing anything like that at the time — a time when he led the Celtics to six championships, including five in a row from 1959-63.
Seven rings: Robert Horry, Frank Ramsey, and Jim Loscutoff
Don’t bother to Google, we’ll tell you who Frank Ramsey is. Ramsey, who has more rings than Michael Jordan, is a Hall of Fame basketball player who played on the same teams as Cousy, winning rings in 1957 and 1959-64. He took a year off to join the Navy, because back then the NBA didn’t pay quite the same as it does now. He’s also popularized as the NBA’s first Sixth Man, the guy who didn’t start, but was first off the bench.
And Jim Loscutoff? Same deal; a Celtics great from back in the day (he was drafted in 1955), Loscutoff is notable for refusing to have his number, 18, retired. Instead, the same number was retired for Dave Cowens, and the Celtics raised a jersey inscribed “Loscy” up with the rest of the banners.
Robert Horry is probably more familiar. Big Shot Bob, unlike Ramsey, is well-known for having more rings than Jordan, having lent his talents to the Hakeem-Drexler Rockets, who won back to back championships in ’94 and ’95; the Shaqobe Lakers, who are the last team to threepeat; and two rings with the Spurs, who won in 2005 and 2007. Horry’s the prime example of the uber-role player, since his only elite NBA talent was hitting clutch shots. Seriously. In case you were too young to see Horry contribute, here’s some of his finest moments:
Eight rings: John Havlicek, Satch Sanders, K.C. Jones, and Tommy Heinsohn
It should come as no surprise that there is an army of Boston Celtics legends on this list. That’s what happens when you’re a member of the most successful franchise in NBA history. These four players, John “Hondo” Havlicek, Satch Sanders, K.C. Jones, and Tommy Heinsohn, were essential members of the Celtics dynasty, the team that reeled off 11 championships from 1957 until 1969.
Of those eleven, each of these guys overlap a bit. Heinsohn was the first drafted, in 1957, while Hondo came last in 1963. Tommy, the only person in NBA history to be employed by a franchise in one capacity or another for every single one of the Celtic’s 17 championship seasons, retired after nine seasons, but not before founding the NBA player’s union.
Of the group, Sanders played the longest; a thirteen-year career that spanned from 1960 all the way until 1973. Here are all four of them playing against the San Francisco Warriors in the 1964 NBA Finals (complete with the original broadcast commentary):
10 rings: Sam Jones
11 rings: Bill Russell
Rounding it off, perhaps unsurprisingly, are two more Boston Celtics: Sam Jones and Bill Russell. Russell is the guy who the NBA Finals MVP award is named after, the most successful NBA Champion in the history of the league. Most recently, Russell was spotted being curmudgeonly towards LeBron, who famously left Russ off his personal NBA Mount Rushmore. But who is Jones?
Jones was a wing on all those championship Celtics teams save ’57, because he wasn’t drafted by the Celtics until 1959. Curiously enough, he was actually drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers (later to become the Los Angeles Lakers), but he never played for the team. Tough loss for the Lakers, who could’ve maybe cut into the Celtics’ all-time lead in championships. The Lakers have 16, the Celtics have 17, the next closest team has six (Jordan and Pippen’s Bulls).
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.