Winning an NBA championship is a daunting task. Some players go their whole career without winning a title. Making the NBA Finals alone is a difficult trial. Making the Finals once in your career is more than what most can say when they exit the NBA. Only a select few players have ever been able to make more than one NBA Finals appearance.
There is a select group of elite that have made many appearances in the Finals. 13 players have made eight appearances in the Finals. Since 2000, only two players have accomplished this feat, showing that getting to the grand stage is incredibly difficult. Heck, Micahel Jordan only did it six times and we use the word only very loosely. When looking at who has made the most appearances, Bill Russell remains in a league of his own.
8T. Michael Cooper - 8 NBA Finals/5 NBA Rings
Playing all of his 12 seasons with the Lakers, Cooper logged over 1,000 games and 9,310 points. Cooper has remained a fan favorite for many years, while some believe that his No. 21 should be retired in the Staples Center. Cooper won five championships playing primarily as a sixth man. In 1987, he became the first player to win Defensive Player of the Year coming off the bench.
While some remember Cooper as being the victim of Julius Erving’s “Cradle Dunk” in the 1983 Finals, Cooper still gets the last laugh as he holds as many rings as fingers. His most crucial moment came in the 1980 Finals in Game 6. Cooper scored 16 points at the shooting guard position as Magic Johnson started at center. Another example would be when he hit the game-winning shot against the Utah Jazz in the second round of the 1988 playoffs.
In the NBA Finals, Cooper played 46 games and averaged 10.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.4 blocks per game. Cooper enjoyed his success playing alongside Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but every set of superstars needs that dependent role player.
8T. Derek Fisher - 8 NBA Finals/5 NBA Rings
Speaking of dependent role players, Fisher knows everything about that. Fisher owns more appearances in the NBA Finals than both his superstar teammates Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. He has just as many rings as Bryant as both were teammates for all five championships won together by the Lakers.
Drafted with the No. 24 overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Fisher spent his first eight seasons with the Lakers. After a brief stint with the Warriors and Jazz, Fisher returned to town in 2007 to help the team make three more appearances in the Finals. One particular moment that stands out for Fisher was his buzzer-beater with 0.4 seconds in Game 4 of the 2005 Western Conference semifinals against the Spurs.
Utilized mostly as a role player, Fisher played in 43 games in the Finals averaging 8.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. His free throw shooting was his best stat, averaging over 81% from the charity stripe.
8T. Frank Ramsey - 8 NBA Finals/7 NBA Rings
Ramsey experienced seven championships in just nine seasons playing with the Boston Celtics, playing along with the likes of Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Bill Russell, Sam Jones, and many more legends. Although Ramsey never accumulated the individual stats in his nine-year career, he finished with solid numbers including 8,378 career points and 3,410 career rebounds.
His best statistical season came in 1957-1958, where he averaged 16.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in 69 games. Interestingly enough, that was the only season that the Celtics didn’t win a championship. In his career, Ramsey averaged 13.4 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Ramsey was known for playing well at the right time. He contributed to several dominant postseason runs that helped the Celtics win multiple titles. From 1957-1961, Ramsey scored over 17 points per game during the playoffs. His best postseason run came in 1958-1959, where he scored 23.2 points per game, grabbed 6.2 rebounds, and helped the Celtics take home a title. Overall, in 47 career games in the NBA Finals, Ramsey averaged 13.5 points and 4.8 rebounds.
8T. K.C. Jones - 8 NBA Finals/8 NBA Rings
Known as a tenacious defender, Jones spent all nine seasons of his professional career with the Celtics, winning eight championships from 1959-1966. The only players to win more championships than Jones from those legendary Celtics teams were Bill Russell and Sam Jones. When Jones came into the league, he won eight straight rings, going a perfect 8-0 in the Finals. After the Celtics lost to the 76ers in the 1967 playoffs, Jones ended his playing career.
If you follow history, it should come as no surprise that Jones averaged just 6.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in the Finals. Jones was always asked to guard the opposing team’s best player. At the time, steals were not a statistic that was counted, but it would have been likely that he would have been a contender to lead the league.
Jones is one of seven players in history to achieve the basketball “Triple Crown,” which is winning an NCAA Championship, an NBA title, and an Olympic Gold Medal. The other six are Russell, Clyde Lovellette, Jerry Lucas, Quinn Buckner, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.
8T. Tom Sanders - 8 NBA Finals/8 NBA Rings
“Satch” Sanders played all 13 seasons with the Celtics and was also a perfect 8-0 in his eight Finals appearances. His No. 16 is retired by the Celtics and he was a 2011 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. After playing college basketball at New York University, he was a hot commodity in the 1960 NBA Draft after averaging 16.8 points and 13.0 rebounds. Drafted at No. 8 overall, the Celtics felt they landed the steal of the draft at the time.
The Celtics continued their legendary success with Sanders contributing for eight more appearances. When Sanders joined the Celtics, the team had won the league’s two previous championships. They would go on to win six more with him on board. Sanders played alongside Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, and Bob Cousy. His role was to play shutdown defense and rebound.
Sanders accepted this role and slowed down stars such as Willis Reed, Jerry Lucas, and Elgin Baylor along the way. Without his defense and strong rebounding, the Celtics might not have recorded so many wins. In 43 career Finals games, Sanders averaged 10.5 points and 6.4 rebounds. Blocks were not a stat that was taken back then.
8T. John Havlicek - 8 NBA Finals/8 NBA Rings
A key piece of the Celtics dynasty, Havlicek was known for clutch performances in big games. In his 16-year career, Havlicek finished as the Celtics’ all-time leading scorer. He also grabbed over 8,000 career rebounds and 6,000 assists. He made 13 straight All-Star Games, 11 All-NBA nods, and eight selections to the All-Defensive Team.
When Havlicek started, he was considered the team’s “supersub.” He didn’t mind being the team’s sixth man and grew into a prominent scorer. In the 1968 Conference Finals against the 76ers, Havlicek helped Boston make the NBA Finals by scoring 50 points. Another legendary feat was in the 1976 NBA Finals, he sank a miraculous game-saving basket against the Suns in the closing seconds of the second overtime to force a third OT. The Celtics went on to win the game 128-126 and won the championship.
The wear and tear of Havlicek are also impressive. In 47 games, Havlicek played on average 39.8 minutes per game, averaging 21.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.2 steals. He is truly a Celtics icon.
7. Tom Heinsohn - 9 NBA Finals/8 NBA Rings
The problem with playing with the likes of Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, and Bill Russell is that you often get overshadowed. Heinsohn averaged 18.6 points per game in 654 regular-season games. He was a versatile scorer that eventually was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986.
When he first entered the league, Heinsohn, a slender and undersized forward, proved his doubters wrong and made the team. In his rookie season, he averaged 16.2 points per game and averaged over 30 minutes per game. When Russell was away from the Celtics, playing in the Olympics, he missed the first 24 games of the 1956-1957 season. It was Heinsohn that ultimately won Rookie of the Year.
The highlight of his basketball career might have been when he won his first championship. Playing against Bob Pettit and the St. Louis Hawks, Heinsohn scored 37 points in a Game 7, 125-123 victory that featured two overtimes. In 52 career games in the Finals, Heinsohn averaged 19.9 points and 9.1 rebounds.
6. Jerry West - 9 NBA Finals/1 NBA Ring
Is Jerry West one of the greatest guards in NBA history? Combine his deadly jump shot, tenacious defender, undeniable swagger, and his competitiveness to win, you get the man who is on the logo. Fans in New York still feel the pain of a Game 3 1970 NBA Finals loss, which featured a 60-foot switch by West at the buzzer.
With that said, West was typically on the side of heartbreak most years. In nine trips to the Finals, West only had one ring. Most of those losses came at the hands of the Celtics powerhouse. One loss, in particular, came in the 1962 Finals. After taking a series lead on Elgin Baylor’s 61-point performance in Game 5, the Lakers dropped the next two games. In Game 7, a 15-foot shot by Frank Selvy at the buzzer would have won the game in regulation, but the Celtics stormed back in overtime to win 110-107.
To this day, West ranks second all-time in NBA Finals history with 30.5 points per game average. West trails the great Michael Jordan; however, West played exactly 20 more games. West also averaged 5.0 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 55 career trips to the Finals.
5. Magic Johnson - 9 NBA Finals/5 NBA Rings
Magic Johnson was in the 1980s. He was what Bob Cousy was to the 50s, and what Oscar Robertson was to the 1960s. A five-time champion in the decade makes Johnson a prime candidate for being the greatest point guard of all time. When talking about Mt. Rushmore of all of basketball, Johnson’s name is a frequent contender in making that list.
In the 1980s Finals, Johnson, a rookie at the time, put on a memorable performance in a series-clinching Game 6. With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sidelined with a sprained ankle, Johnson assumed the position and scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, and dished out seven assists. After winning another title two years later, Johnson refined his outside shooting and honed his playmaking abilities. The Lakers would win three championships over the next four years starting in 1985.
In the Finals alone, Johnson is the greatest point guard to ever play. In 50 career games, Johnson averaged 19.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 11.7 assists, and 2.0 steals in 40.9 minutes per game. Johnson is the only player in NBA history to average double-digit assists among players that qualify in the Finals.
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 10 NBA Finals/6 NBA Rings
Before the arrival of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks went 50 years without a title. The first title came in 1971 when MVP Kareem Adbul-Jabbar led the team all the way. After a successful stint in Milwaukee, Kareem pursued bigger endeavors in Los Angeles, where he helped the Lakers reach the Finals eight times in 10 seasons between 1980 and 1989.
The 1985 series might have been the most satisfying for Kareem. At age 38, many observers believed that he was washed up. In Game 2, he recorded 30 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocked shots in a 109-102 win over the Celtics. Eventually, the Lakers defeated the Celtics on the floor of the Boston Garden, which wiped away nightmares of Laker teams losing to the Celtics countless times back in the day.
In the Finals, Kareem has played the third-most Finals game in NBA history, while he ranks second among all-time leaders with 2.2 blacks per game. In 56 appearances, he averaged 23.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.9 steals, and 2.2 blocks.
3. LeBron James - 10 NBA Finals/4 NBA Rings
LeBron takes a lot of flack for not having more championships, but he is just one of four players to ever make the NBA Finals 10 times or more. LeBron started his career trying to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Finals, which he did one time in 2007 before falling to the Spurs. After failing to take the Cavs back. LeBron joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, where he made the Finals four consecutive years, winning two titles in 2012 and 2013.
LeBron then went back to Cleveland, where he recorded four more straight appearances to the NBA Finals. In 2016, he accomplished the long waiting goal of winning a championship in Ohio; however, it came at the cost of losing to the Golden State Warriors three times. One of those years, LeBron was called to win Finals MVP despite losing the title. In 2017, LeBron became the first player to average a triple-double in the FInals, averaging 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 10.0 assists, but the award went to Kevin Durant.
In 55 career appearances, LeBron averaged 28.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.8 assists. His mark in assists ranks third all-time with just Bob Cousy and Magic Johnson ahead of him. Reminder, LeBron is not even a point guard, which makes this even more impressive. The Lakers are pegged to be a title contender this year. If he can make his 11th appearance in the Finals, he will be joining some legendary company.
2. Sam Jones - 11 NBA Finals/10 NBA Rings
In his heyday, Jones was known as “Mr. Clutch by many of his peers. Jones was one of the core pieces of the Celtics dynasty of the 1950s and 1960s. Jones helped the Celtics win 10 championships in 12 years when he played with the team. During his career, Jones averaged 17.7 points per game, shot 80.3% from the free throw lines, and made the All-Star team five times.
In the 1960 playoffs, Jones displayed a clutch moment against Wilt Chamberlain and the Warriors. After Jones hit a game-winning shot over the outstretched arms of Chamberlain with two seconds left in regulation, Chamberlain hailed Jones as the team’s most clutch player. Then, in the Finals against the Lakers, Jones scored five of the team’s 10 overtime points in Game 7 to propel Boston to a fourth straight championship.
Jones ranks second all-time with 64 appearances in the Finals. In 29.2 minutes per game, Jones averaged 17.9 points and 4.9 rebounds. You can think of Jones as “Robin” because the true “Batman” of the NBA Finals is in a league of his own.
1. Bill Russell - 12 NBA Finals/11 NBA Rings
Russell is the king of championships. After all, it was Russell that stands at the top of the list of players with 12 appearances in the NBA Finals and 70 games total. He led the Celtics to eight consecutive titles from 1959-1966. His rebounding mark will never be broken. On his way to winning 11 titles, Russell averaged 16.4 points and 24.5 rebounds per game.
The Celtics are the New York Yankees of basketball. With that said, that never happens without Russell leading the way. In 1959, Russell set a record with 29.5 rebounds per game, a record that still stands today. There are very few people that went toe to toe with the great Wilt Chamberlain and succeeded. Russell is in a league of his own when it comes to ousting one of the greatest to play the game.
Just to put it into perspective, Russell set an NBA Finals record with 40 rebounds in a game, which has since been broken by Chamberlain’s 41 in 1967. However, Russell has one of the greatest stat lines from a Game 7 in Finals history, finishing with 22 points and 35 rebounds in Game 7 in 1960. We may never see this type of production ever again given how modern basketball is today and how tough it is to win multiple titles. When it comes to winning, Russell is the greatest.
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