Winning an NBA Championship is perhaps the toughest milestone to accomplish. It takes a lot of hard work, plenty of talent, good coaching, health, and even luck. That's why we've seen so many legends of the game retire without silverware.
We tend to judge players' greatness solely in terms of rings but that shouldn't be the case. Moreover, we often jump into conclusions and label young players as winners or losers when they still have a lot of time to demonstrate their worth in the league.
In fact, some of the greatest players to ever live had to wait until they were more mature and older before being able to win their first-ever Championship. Today, we're going to let you know about how old some of the biggest legends of the NBA were when they won their first ring.
Magic Johnson: 20 Years And 276 Days
It didn't take long before Magic Johnson proved that he was a legend. Everybody knew that he was going to be special coming off Michigan State as a 6'9'' point guard and he capped his rookie season with the highest honor: Finals MVP.
The Lakers faced the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980 NBA Finals. Magic filled in at center after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar fell with an injury and ended up averaging 21.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 8.7 assists per game as LA beat the Sixers in 6 games.
Kobe Bryant: 21 Years and 301 Days
Kobe Bryant didn't get much playing time during his rookie year but once he established as one of the Lakers' go-to-guys he never looked back. In fact, he wasn't even 22-years old when he led the Lakers to his first-ever ring in 1999-00 vs. the Indiana Pacers.
For years, Bryant's critics claimed Shaquille O'Neal carried him to his first three rings but that's just a blatant lie. Yes, Shaq was the team's star in 2000 when Kobe was still rising but he still averaged a solid 15.6 points with 4.6 boards and 4.2 dimes per game as the Lakers swept Indiana.
John Havlicek: 23 Years and 16 Days
John Havlicek was surrounded by legends since day one. He made it to the league in 1962 and the Boston Celtics were the most dominant force by a long stretch. Even so, his contributions were outstanding for a team that didn't need more help.
Havlicek had the honor of becoming an NBA Champion right out of the gate as a rookie. The Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in 6 games and he averaged 8.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. Obviously, Bill Russell was the star of the series.
Bill Russell: 23 Years And 60 Days
Bill Russell is one of the greatest players of all time. He holds the record for most NBA Championships with 11, winning the ring in all but two of his seasons as a pro. However, most insiders still take his accomplishments with a grain of salt.
GOAT or not, Russell made sure to dominate basketball as no one had ever done it and likely never will. Russell won his first NBA Championship as a rookie in 1957. He averaged 13.3 points, 22.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game and his Celtics beat the St. Louis Hawks in 7 games.
Tim Duncan: 23 Years And 61 Days
It's odd to me how people don't talk about Tim Duncan when discussing the greatest players of all time. He's got the résumé to be a top-5 player and he was the most dominant two-way big man the league had seen since Hakeem Olajuwon, even if his game wasn't flashy at all.
Duncan proved to be the real deal during the 1998-99 Finals. The Spurs beat the New York Knicks in 5 games and the 22-year-old big man got his first Finals MVP by averaging 27.4 points, 14.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 steals, and 2.2 blocks per game on 53.7% shooting.
Kyrie Irving: 23 And 86 Days
It was pretty clear that Kyrie Irving was a special player as soon as he made it to the league as the first overall pick. However, he didn't find much success with the Cleveland Cavaliers until LeBron James came back home for the 2014-15 season.
One year later and fully healthy, Irving knocked down one of the most clutch shots in NBA history. The Cavaliers became the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals and he averaged 27.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.9 assists as LeBron's sidekick.
Kevin McHale: 23 Years And 146 Days
The Boston Celtics have had their fair share of superstars throughout their history. One that's often overlooked is Kevin McHale, one of the greatest Sixth Men ever. He set the standard for having the best footwork in the league and his game could still translate to today's NBA.
McHale didn't have much playing time during his rookie season in 1980-81 but still got the honor of winning an NBA Championship as a rookie. He averaged 4.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 0.8 assists per game in just 83 total minutes and the Celtics beat the Rockets in 6 games.
Kawhi Leonard: 23 Years And 350 Days
No one, not even Gregg Popovich, ever saw Kawhi Leonard becoming so good and impactful, at least not that fast. He introduced himself to the world with his great defense over LeBron James in the 2013-14 Finals when he led the Spurs to their 5th ring.
Kawhi had modest averages of 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game during the series but still led the Spurs with his physical and contagious defense. San Antonio won in five games and got LeBron out of Miami.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 24 Years And 14 Days
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar entered the league as the greatest player in NCAA basketball history. He was already a bonafide star in the nation despite not playing a single minute of professional hoops and he lived up to that hype right away.
Kareem (then known as Lew Alcindor) immediately turned around the Milwaukee Bucks' franchise. He led them to the NBA Finals (and a Championship) on his sophomore season, averaging 27.0 points, 18.5 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game as the Bucks swept the Baltimore Bullets in 1971.
Dwyane Wade: 24 Years And 154 Days
We should talk more often about the fact that Dwyane Wade led the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history in just his third season in the league. Moreover, he got the job done despite being just a 24-year-old. That's impressive.
The Flash had Shaquille O'Neal's help but took it to himself to take down the Dallas Mavericks in 6 games. Wade averaged a whopping 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.7 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game on 46.8% from the floor.
Larry Bird: 24 Years And 158 Days
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were going back-and-forth for years. However, it was Johnson the one who won an NBA Championship first when they faced off in the NBA Finals. Needless to say, Larry Legend had to get one of his own as soon as he could.
Bird took it into his own hands in 1981. The Celtics beat the Rockets in 6 games in the Finals as Larry Legend averaged 15.3 points, 15.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 2.3 steals per game on 41.9% from the floor. Cedric Maxwell was named Finals MVP, though.
George Mikan: 24 Years And 299 Days
There are players that are just poised for greatness from the very second they make it to the Association, like George Mikan. Mikan was a dominant force at DePaul University before arriving to the NBA, where he kept the feet on the gas and continued his success.
Mikan led the Minneapolis Lakers to the 1948-49 NBA Finals. His team faced the Washington Capitols and beat them in just 6 games. Mikan averaged a whopping 27.5 points per game, and while there's no official record, some claim he averaged over 20 boards per game as well.
Bob Pettit: 25 Years And 121 Days
People don't often talk about Bob Pettit but he was one of the guys that completely changed the way the game was played. He was the only big man on earth that had a reliable mid-range game on a league that was mostly focused on attacking the rim.
Bob Pettit led the St. Louis Hawks to the NBA Finals in his fourth season (1957-58). Notably, the Hawks beat the Boston Celtics in 6 games thanks to Pettit's impressive averages of 29.3 points, 17.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game.
Scottie Pippen: 25 Years And 206 Days
People talk about how Michael Jordan dominated the league and rightfully so but it would have never been possible if he didn't have Scottie Pippen by his side. He was arguably the greatest defensive small forward ever and his offensive contributions were also quite notable.
Pippen and the Bulls strengthened up ahead of the 1990-91 season and it surely paid off. The Bulls were finally able to get past the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons and beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the Finals. Pippen 20.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 2.4 steals per game.
Steph Curry: 27 Years And 94 Days
People slept on Stephen Curry for most of his life. He was overlooked as a high school prospect, didn't attend a well-known college program, and even slipped all the way to the seventh spot in the NBA Draft. Now, he's one of the greatest to ever do it.
It took him a while, though, but his time eventually came. Curry led the Warriors to the Finals vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers as a 27-year-old and even though didn't win the Finals MVP, still delivered with 26.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.8 steals per game as the Warriors won in 6 games.
LeBron James: 27 Years And 174 Days
LeBron James made it to the league straight out of high school. He dominated right away and it was clear that he was poised for greatness but it took him a lot of hard effort and heartbreak to finally silence his critics and win his first ring after two failures in the Finals.
The Miami Heat were coming off a tough loss vs. the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and LeBron made sure that didn't happen again when they faced the Oklahoma City Thunder. Miami won in 5 games as The King averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, and 1.6 steals on 47.2% shooting.
Isiah Thomas: 28 Years And 44 Days
Isiah Thomas is perhaps the greatest player that's often overlooked when talking about NBA history. He's the only one to beat Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan in their prime, yet people simply dislike him for his 'villain' role with the Pistons.
Zeke was the ultimate two-way point guard. He proved it in the 1988-89 Finals when his Bad Boys swept the Los Angeles Lakers. Joe Dumars was named Finals MVP but Thomas was impressive with averages of 21.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.
Moses Malone: 28 Years And 69 Days
Moses Malone was as dominant as they come. He could torch the best lockdown defenders in the league and then lock them up on the other rim. He was stronger, faster, more athletic, and savvier than the average big man and he could still dominate today.
Malone predicted the Sixers would win all their series in 5 games back in 1983. He missed by one game but they still managed to sweep the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals thanks to his 25.8 points, 18.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game.
Shaquille O’Neal: 28 Years And 105 Days
Shaquille O'Neal is one of the most dominant players of all time but not even him could win alone in the NBA. He and Penny Hardaway led the Orlando Magic to the Finals but couldn't handle Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets. Luckily for him, he'd have another shot.
O'Neal led the Los Angeles Lakers to an outstanding season in 1999-00. He put the cherry on top of the sundae by sweeping Reggie Miller and the Pacers in the Finals, earning the MVP honors after averaging 38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, and 2.7 blocks per game on 61.1% from the floor.
Michael Jordan: 28 Years And 115 Days
Crazy as it may seem, even Michael Jordan, the greatest player of all time, struggled to win his first NBA Championship. He didn't make it to the league right away as he spent some years at UNC, and then had a reputation of choking in the playoffs because of his struggles vs. the Pistons.
The GOAT was finally able to shake off those woes when the Bulls made the Finals for the first time. They beat Magic and the Lakers in 5 games as Jordan averaged 31.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 11.4 assists, 2.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks on 55.8% shooting, and the rest, as you know, is history.
Kevin Durant: 28 Years And 256 Days
Kevin Durant got a lot of hate for jumping ships and joining the Golden State Warriors after their 73-9 season. In fact, some fans still joke and claim that KD is yet to win a ring because the Dubs won it for him. That couldn't be farther from the truth.
Durant joined a great team, yes, but made them even better. He averaged 35.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game on 55.6/47.4/92.7 shooting splits. That's historically great. Golden State won in 5 games and he got a well-deserved Finals MVP.
Paul Pierce: 30 Years And 243 Days
Like him or not, nobody can deny the fact that Paul Pierce is one of the best small forwards to ever do it. He was a walking bucket for his entire career and just had a feel for knocking down huge shots when his team needed him the most, especially in the playoffs.
Pierce was at his best during his age-30 season. He led the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals and they took down Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in 6 games. The Truth averaged 21.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game and was named Finals MVP.
Wilt Chamberlain: 30 Years And 246 Days
Wilt Chamberlain is by all means one of the greatest athletes ever. He dominated his opposition thanks to his athletic traits and could put up videogame kind of numbers no other player will be ever to match. But he had quite a tough time winning a ring.
It was until his 8th season when he was able to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Championship vs. the San Francisco Warriors, beating them in 6 games. Wilt averaged 17.7 points, 28.5 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game in that series.
Hakeem Olajuwon: 31 Years And 152 Days
Hakeem Olajuwon made sure to make the most of Michael Jordan's first retirement. He stepped forward as the best player in the world during Jordan's two-year hiatus and led the Houston Rockets to back-to-back Championships in 1994 and 1995.
The Dream had two of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history. He averaged 26.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 4.9 blocks per game on 50.0% from the floor to lead the Rockets to a 4-3 Finals win over Patrick Ewing and the Knicks.
Dirk Nowitzki: 31 Years And 314 Days
Dirk Nowitzki is one of the greatest scorers of all time. He changed the way the power forward spot was played and set the standard for those who came after but it was a time when most people thought that he'd be yet another ringless legend.
Nowitzki lost to the Heat in 2006 and made sure to get back at Dwyane Wade and them in 2011. The Mavericks were huge underdogs but still beat LeBron and the Big 3 in six games behind Dirk's averages of 26.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game.
Kevin Garnett: 32 Years And 29 Days
For years, we saw Kevin Garnett putting the Minnesota Timberwolves on his back and single-handedly leading them to the playoffs. For years, he failed to lead them to the NBA Finals on his own. Luckily for him, he finally had a shot at the ultimate prize with the Boston Celtics.
Despite nearing the sunset of his career, Garnett found a second-youth and continued to dominate in the defensive end. He won the ring in 2008 vs. the Lakers and averaged 18.2 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game in the Finals.
Oscar Robertson: 32 Years And 157 Days
Oscar Robertson was Russell Westbrook before Russell Westbrook. He was a gifted athlete that could fill the stat sheet on a nightly basis and was even the first guy to average a triple-double for a whole season. However, that didn't translate to much success.
Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put together an incredibly dominant duo and lead the Milwaukee Bucks to the 1970-71 NBA Finals. They swept the Baltimore Bullets and Robertson averaged 23.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game in that series.
Julius Erving: 33 Years And 98 Days
Julius Erving A.K.A 'Dr. J' was the most influential basketball player of his generation. He was a walking highlight film, a guy that could make something extraordinary out of every play and that inspired countless legends with his crafty moves.
He had a tough time winning an NBA Championship until the 1982-83 season. Next to the aforementioned Moses Malone, Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76ers swept the Lakers. He averaged 19.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.8 blocks per game.
David Robinson: 33 Years And 323 Days
David Robinson had the tough luck to coexist with some of the greatest teams in the history of the game. When it seemed like he was finally ready to win a ring, Hakeem Olajuwon dominated the Jordan-less NBA and it looked like he was going to retire without a ring.
Then, Tim Duncan happened. The Spurs' twin towers made it to the NBA Finals for the first time in 1999 and beat the New York Knicks in 5 games. Even though Duncan was the Finals MVP, The Admiral still shined with 16.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 steals, and 3.0 blocks per game.
Jerry West: 33 Years And 345 Days
Jerry West was taken with the 2nd overall pick of the NBA Draft and he was getting used to being 2nd throughout his entire career. In fact, he holds the record for most lost Finals (9) and is even the only Finals MVP winner to be on the losing side of the matchup.
The only title of his legendary career finally came at the end of the 1971-72 season. The Lakers were heavily favored vs. the New York Knicks and beat them in 5 games. West averaged 19.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game on 32.5% shooting.
Jason Kidd: 38 Years And 81 Days
Jason Kidd is, hands down, one of the greatest basketball masterminds of all time. He dominated the league for nearly two decades and was the cornerstone of some of the most exciting teams in the history of basketball. However, he couldn't win a ring until he was 38.
The aging veteran lived up to his name by knocking down 12 three-pointers in the Finals vs. the Heat and played some impressive defense for a guy his age. He averaged 7.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game in over 37 minutes a night.