NBA superstars are often remembered for one thing after they retire: winning. Stars that don’t win are often criticized or have their greatness diminished because we have already seen the likes of Bill Russell capture 11 rings or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan capture 6 rings. Therefore, NBA Finals wins is one of the most important criteria in determining the best players of all time.
Unfortunately for other superstars, they never quite managed to win a ring or have losing Finals records which hurt their standing among the best players ever. What if we managed to reverse the Finals records of all the 15 all-time greats? Who would be the GOAT? By switching both the wins and losses in every legend’s Finals record, here is the ranking of all the greatest players which will not have Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Bill Russell at the top spot.
15. Michael Jordan 0-6
If the win-loss record of the best players ever were reversed, Michael Jordan would fall from first place to last place. Jordan went undefeated in actuality, dominating 6 Finals series out of 6. MJ is widely considered the best player ever because of his undefeated record, but it is particularly dreadful if MJ managed to go 0-6 in the Finals. For the sake of this list, MJ is last.
Jordan’s Finals averages in actuality are 33.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG with 48.1 FG%, 36.8 3P%, and 80.6 FT%. Throughout 35 total Finals games, Jordan won 24 and managed to capture 6 NBA rings with 6 Finals MVPs. Jordan’s Finals dominance is legendary and he is widely considered the GOAT because of it.
14. Bill Russell 1-11
The great Bill Russell is possibly the greatest winner in the history of team sports, winning 11 titles in 12 Finals appearances. Russell’s incredible Finals record is why many claim that the former Boston Celtic is the greatest center of all time. Russell’s record is horrific if his Finals victories and losses are reversed. 1 win in 12 appearances would be the single worst record ever for a pantheon great if MJ didn’t manage to go winless.
Russell’s Finals stats are astonishing as he averaged 16.4 PPG, 24.5 RPG, and 4.2 APG on 45.6 FG% and 61.4 FT% over 70 Finals games. The fact that Bill Russell played almost an entire season worth of Finals games in his career is simply unfathomable, and he won a whopping 45 games. There will never be another Bill Russell.
13. Tim Duncan 1-5
Tim Duncan is the greatest Spurs player ever and his Finals’ success is probably the main reason why besides his consistent dominance during the regular season. If Duncan’s Finals record was reversed, he would go 1-5 which is not a pretty sight. Duncan’s one victory is actually the same as 3 other all-time great players ranked ahead of him although, in real life, he has one of the best records ever.
Duncan’s Finals averages are 20.8 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, and 2.4 BPG. Timmy shot 48.5 FG%, 0.0 3P%, and 71.6 FT%. Timmy won an incredible 67.6% of his Finals games, meaning he only lost 11 games out of 34. Duncan’s 5 rings and 3 Finals MVPs put him among the 10 greatest ever and he will be very satisfied that his record isn’t reversed.
12. Hakeem Olajuwon 1-2
The great Hakeem Olajuwon went 2-1 in the Finals, famously carrying the Houston Rockets to 2 straight victories in 1994 and 1995. If Hakeem lost those two, his record would stand 1-2. Hakeem’s only Finals loss came in 1986 against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, which would be his only win if things went reversed. Olajuwon would trail only Oscar Robertson as the only pantheon great with one victory.
Hakeem Olajuwon “only” played 17 total Finals games in his career, although he won 10 of them. His Finals averages are 27.5 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.9 SPG, 3.2 BPG, 48.8 FG%, 100.0 3P%, and 74.0 FT%. Hakeem has 2 rings and 2 Finals MVPs in actuality, making him one of the greatest centers ever. With his Finals record reversed, he misses the top ten.
11. Oscar Robertson 1-1
The Big O is the original triple-double king who went 1-1 in actuality. Robertson would still split hairs and go 1-1 if his record was reversed, meaning he had the best record with one win out of every other top-15 great. Robertson is underrated considering how dominant he was on the court, and he would benefit in the all-time rankings if other superstars had their Finals records reversed.
Oscar’s incredibly regular statistics didn’t quite translate in the Finals, as he averaged 16.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 8.7 APG, 0.3 SPG, and 0.0 BPG while having a 47.3 FG%, and 83.7 FT%. Robertson won 7 out of 11 total appearances, leading to one NBA ring. He just misses the top-10 spot behind the great Kobe Bryant if his record was reversed.
10. Kobe Bryant 2-5
Kobe Bean Bryant, the Black Mamba, has a sensational Finals career after going 5-2 and winning 2 Finals MVPs. His killer instinct and unstoppable offensive skill set made him a winner of the highest order, although this wouldn’t be the case if his great Finals record was reversed. Kobe would go 2-5 which is a far cry from his actual record.
In actuality, Kobe Bryant performed admirably in the Finals. Bryant averaged 25.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.8 SPG, and 0.9 BPG at 41.2 FG%, 31.4 3P%, and 84.8 FT%. Bryant won a whopping 62.2% of his Finals games, going 23-14 in total games. It is also very fitting that Kobe’s 23-14 is awfully close to Michael Jordan’s 24-11 record.
9. Shaquille O’Neal 2-4
The great Shaquille O’Neal is easily one of the 10 greatest players ever and also one of the most iconic global stars in sports. O’Neal’s charismatic personality makes him one of the most beloved players ever, although his on-court dominance is what NBA fans remember most. If O’Neal’s Finals record is reversed, he won’t be a 3-time Finals MVP and he would have a losing record in the Finals.
O’Neal has always been recognized as one of the greatest Finals performers ever, posting 28.8 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.5 SPG, and 2.1 BPG. O’Neal shot a whopping 60.2% from the field and only 48.4 FT%, as expected. In his 19 NBA seasons, Shaq made the Finals 6 times and won 17 out of 30 total games. He ranks 9th all-time among the best players ever if his record gets reversed.
8. Larry Bird 2-3
The legendary Larry Bird had a winning Finals record, going 3-2. If only Bird played more years and took better care of himself, he would be just as great as any of the top players. If Bird’s Finals record was reversed, he would be 2-3 which isn’t that impressive for a player as skilled as Bird. This would rank Bird 8th all-time, which is about where he would normally rank anyways.
Larry Bird put up monster statistics in his Finals career, averaging 23.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 6.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, and 0.8 BPG. Bird has always been a marksman as well, with Finals shooting statistics at 45.8 FG%, 42.2 3P%, 87.2 FT%. As one of the greatest clutch players in history, it is no surprise Bird won 16 out of 31 Finals games over his career.
7. Kevin Durant 2-2
Kevin Durant most recently won his first 2 NBA rings, although he lost in 2012 to the Miami Heat and also in 2018 to the Toronto Raptors (although he was injured for most of the series). KD’s Finals record would be the same if it was reversed, and he would place 7th among the best players ever. KD’s unstoppable scoring ability makes him a top-15 talent, and his record doesn’t harm him when considering that fact.
Durant’s scoring prowess has always been prevalent in the Finals, as he is truly one of the 5 greatest scoring talents ever. Durant dropped 30.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 1.5 BPG, on 54.6 FG%, 44.8 3P%, and 91.1 FT%. KD has been lucky to play alongside other star players such as Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, and James Harden which clearly helped his Finals resume.
6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 4-6
The center that is mostly claimed to be the greatest player ever is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He made 10 NBA Finals over his career and won a whopping 6 of them. There is just no way a player as great as Kareem would have a losing record. But if his wins and losses were reversed, he would be 4-6 which would rank him 6th all-time behind a Lakers legendary point guard and former teammate of his.
Kareem averaged 23.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 3.2 APG, 0.9 SPG, and 2.2 BPG during his 56 total Finals appearances. He shot 52.3% from the floor and 70.0% from the line, which helped him win 29 total games out of 56. Kareem’s win-loss record stands just above 50%, a much better percentage than a losing one for sure.
5. Magic Johnson 4-5
The legendary Magic Johnson made a whopping 9 Finals appearances in his career, a testament to his greatness as a leader and true point guard. Magic had a winning record, of course, going 5-4. But if his record was reversed, Magic would only be 4-5 which just doesn’t look as good. A losing Finals record will always be a losing record, no matter how great a player is and critics will hold that against him.
Magic averaged 19.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 11.7 APG, 2.0 SPG, and 0.3 BPG over his career when playing in the Finals. One thing about Magic, he always performed up to his level and even beyond that when he made the Finals because very few players were as great of a leader as the legendary point guard. He would still rank in the top five if his Finals record was ever reversed.
4. Wilt Chamberlain 4-2
Wilt Chamberlain is one of the best centers of all time, yet he only managed to win 2 rings out of 6 total appearances. Wilt was more athletic and more skilled than any other player in the league during his time, which gave him a huge advantage in dominating the game. If his record was reversed, Wilt would be the greatest center of all time and no one would question that.
Wilt’s battles with the great Bill Russell were iconic, and that is what NBA historians remember most of Wilt’s championship aspirations. Even though Wilt came up short against Russell on many occasions, he always performed in every Finals series he was in. Chamberlain averaged 18.6 PPG, 24.6 RPG, and 3.8 APG while shooting 55.9% from the field over his 35 Finals games where he won 16 of them.
3. LeBron James 6-4
The King LeBron James has always had critics throughout his career, but by far the biggest criticism has been his losing Finals record. If LeBron James had the opportunity to switch the wins and losses, you might very well be looking at the greatest player of all time. LeBron James has played 17 seasons at a Hall of Fame level, and the only knock over his career has been the amount of Finals losses on his resume.
LeBron’s Finals statistics over his career are truly sensational, as he averaged 28.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 7.8 APG, 1.7 SPG, and 0.8 BPG on shooting percentages of 48.4 FG%, 35.2 3P%, and 73.1 FT%. James has always been the best player in every Finals series, except the 2011 Finals against Dirk Nowitzki and the Finals, which is truly amazing for a man who made 10 total appearances. LeBron also won 22 out of 55 total appearances.
2. Jerry West 8-1
Jerry West, the NBA logo, famously went 1-8 over his Finals career. West always brushed off his poor Finals record throughout his career as a player and later as an owner, but it certainly took him down the rankings of all-time greats. If his record was reversed, you are looking at a top-3 player of all time. The goal of playing is to win, and West would have won 8 rings if things were reversed. If that were the case, he might be recognized as the greatest perimeter player who ever lived.
West was still one of the greatest Finals performers ever, averaging 30.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 5.6 APG on 45.9 FG% and 82.1 FT%. West’s ability as a scorer and playmaker was always evident, and to be fair, bad luck and some all-time great opponents are the reason Jerry West doesn’t have more Finals wins. He won 22 out of a total of 55 Finals appearances which is the same amount as LeBron James.
1. Elgin Baylor 8-0
Astonishingly, a player as dominant as Elgin Baylor went winless in his Finals career. Baylor is one of the all-time great scorers and rebounders who famously never won an NBA ring in actuality, which is the only reason Baylor isn’t mentioned among the top-10 players ever more often. If his Finals record was reversed, Baylor would probably be the best player ever. He had the talent and accolades to back it up, but an 8-0 undefeated Finals streak is unbelievable.
Typical of the great Elgin Baylor, his statistics were extraordinary. He averaged 26.4 PPG, 13.5 RPG, and 3.6 APG on 43.2 FG% and 74.9 FT%. It’s amazing how a player as great as Baylor only managed to win 36.3% of his Finals appearances, which means he won 16 out of a total 44 appearances. Baylor will go down as probably the greatest NBA player of all time to have never won an NBA title and the number one ranked player of all-time if he could reverse his Finals record.
Credit for the idea: Slam Studios