National Basketball Association

Chris Paul, James Harden and the greatest players to never win an NBA championship

April 28

Becoming an all-time great in the NBA is hard. Winning a championship might be even harder.

Case in point is Chris Paul, the legendary "Point God" with the Midas touch, who bolsters the success of every franchise he touches.

At 35, Paul is producing like always.

In his first year in Phoenix – after he helped carry a rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder squad to the fifth seed in the West last season – Paul is averaging 16.1 points and 8.7 assists in 31.8 minutes per game, and he has missed only a single game this season.

Most important is the fact that with 11 games to go, the Suns have the second-best record in the NBA (43-18) and are one game behind Utah for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, with the two teams set to face off Friday in Phoenix.

That's a far cry from last year's Suns team, which finished 10th in the West.

But despite Paul's everlasting success – he has finished below .500 only three times in his 16-year career – CP3 has yet to reach the ultimate high and win an NBA title. 

With guys such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant monopolizing the NBA Finals over the past decade, there has been little room for some of the game's greatest current players to snag a championship, and that has been the case for Paul, who might have his last best chance this season.

But CP3 isn't the first all-time great to never find championship success. In fact, he's just the latest in a long line. 

Let's take a look at a few current or future Hall of Famers who have been denied the Larry O'Brien Trophy over the course of their legendary careers.

CHRIS PAUL

Résumé: 11-time All-Star, nine-time All-NBA selection, nine-time All-Defensive selection, four-time assists leader, six-time steals leader, two-time Olympic gold medalist

Near-ring experience: The 2017-18 Houston Rockets finished the regular season 65-17, equaling the best record in franchise history, and that was in large part due to the brilliance of Paul. The Rockets were able to take a 3-2 series lead against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals before Paul missed the final two games of the series because of a hamstring injury, and the Rockets fell in seven games.

Despite making the playoffs 12 times in his 16-year career, that was the only Western Conference finals appearance of Paul's career to date. 

ALLEN IVERSON

Résumé: 11-time All-Star, two-time All-Star Game MVP, seven-time All-NBA selection, four-time scoring champion, three-time steals leader, 2001 MVP

Near-ring experience: During his MVP season in 2001, Iverson led the Philadelphia 76ers to the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 56-26. They went on to reach the NBA Finals, where they fell in five games to the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. It was the only time Iverson reached the Finals.

KARL MALONE

Résumé: 14-time All-Star, 14-time All-NBA selection, member of the 1992 Dream Team, NBA's second all-time leading scorer, two-time MVP

Near-ring experience: Malone's great Utah Jazz teams were unfortunate enough to run into Jordan's Bulls in consecutive NBA Finals in 1997 and '98, falling in six games both times. What made those defeats even crueler for Jazz fans was that Malone was paired with the NBA's all-time assist and steals leader, John Stockton, from 1986 to 2003, yet while the two Hall of Famers formed one of the greatest tandems in NBA history, they never won a championship together.

Malone reached the NBA Finals for the final time as a member of the 2004 Lakers but was unable to play due to injury. The Lakers lost in five games to the Detroit Pistons.

CHARLES BARKLEY

Résumé: 11-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA selection, 1987 rebounding leader, member of the 1992 Dream Team, 1993 MVP

Near-ring experience: Barkley, like Malone, is another one of the great players from the '90s who was denied a championship by Jordan and the Bulls. Barkley's MVP season in 1992-93 came on the heels of his dominant run as the leading scorer of the Dream Team in the Olympics. He carried that momentum into the season and into the Finals, but his Suns lost in six games to Chicago.

It was the only Finals appearance of Barkley's career.

TRACY McGRADY

Résumé: Seven-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA selection, two-time scoring champion

Near-ring experience: The closest McGrady got to a championship was as a member of the 2012-13 San Antonio Spurs, a team that lost to the Miami Heat in seven games in the NBA Finals. That came well after his prime. At McGrady's peak, he was one of the NBA's most dominant scorers, but in his eight playoff appearances before the 2013 playoffs, he never made it out of the first round.

STEVE NASH

Résumé: Eight-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA selection, five-time assists leader, two-time MVP

Near-ring experience: Nash played in four Western Conference finals in his career, the first with the Dallas Mavericks in 2003 and the final three with the Suns in 2005, 2006 and 2010. In 2003 and 2005, Nash fell to the eventual champion Spurs, and in 2010, the Suns lost to the eventual champion Lakers.

JAMES HARDEN

Résumé: Nine-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA selection, three-time scoring champion, 2012 Olympic gold medalist, 2017 assists leader, 2018 MVP

Near-ring experienceHarden has been to the Western Conference finals three times and to the 2012 NBA Finals as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, which resulted in a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Heat. Although his Rockets teams fell to the Warriors in the conference finals in 2015 and 2018, Harden has a chance to break through and win a championship alongside Durant and Kyrie Irving with the Brooklyn Nets this season.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK

Résumé: Nine-time All-Star, two-time All-Star Game MVP, nine-time All-NBA selection, two-time scoring champion, two-time assists leader, 2012 Olympic gold medalist, 2017 MVP

Near-ring experience: Alongside Harden, Westbrook was a member of the Thunder team that lost the 2012 Finals to the Heat. He played in three other Western Conference finals as a member of the Thunder in 2011, 2014 and 2016. Although it doesn't appear likely that he and Bradley Beal can carry the Washington Wizards to a ring this postseason, Westbrook is on pace to average a triple-double for the fourth time in the past five seasons, proving that he is still one of the NBA's elite players.

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