2021 NBA Finals
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Chris Paul trying to avoid joining ringless ranks of their franchises
Phoenix and Milwaukee have been home to Hall-of-Fame legends who couldn't bring them the ultimate prize.
Chris Paul and Giannis Antetokounmpo are a championship away from fulfilling their destiny, and there’s also the flip side: Whichever of them loses this Finals will add his name to a lengthy list of star players who never won with Phoenix or Milwaukee.
In their combined history which dates back to 1968-69, when both entered the NBA together as expansion teams, there’s only one championship between the franchises (won by the Bucks in 1971). Since then, each team has enjoyed good stretches and deep playoff runs. But with the exception of the Bucks in 1974 and the Suns in 1976 and 1993, they never reached The Finals — much less won a title.
That’s a lot of ground to cover and players to sift through and reasons to explain the dry spell. Much of that had to do with the competition. The Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers all enjoyed dominant runs that stood in the way over the past four decades.
Between Paul and Giannis, the urgency rests with the former to cash in now, if only because he’s 36. Anyway, neither is guaranteed a return trip. Additionally, the Suns and Bucks might not enter 2021-22 as the favorites, given the caliber of competition in Brooklyn, L.A., Utah and a few other places.
So Paul and Giannis don’t want to join the select company below. Here are the top 10 players from each franchise who came and left without rings:
Charles Barkley: “Sir Charles” arrived in the Valley in 1992 and was an instant hit, leading the Suns to the 1993 NBA Finals and winning MVP. But that would be their lone trip, no thanks to Mario Elie’s “Kiss Of Death” shot in 1995 that signaled the arrival of Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets. Curiously, an aging Barkley then joined the Rockets … and failed to win a title there, too.
Kevin Johnson: K.J. came to Phoenix because the Cavaliers, who drafted him, were sold on Mark Price at point guard. It was one of the franchise’s best trades (even though it cost them Larry Nance) as Johnson became the soul of a string of good Suns teams. But he couldn’t cash in on his only Finals trip with Barkley in 1993. He did have an epic dunk over Olajuwon though, so there’s that.
Steve Nash: Imagine being a two-time MVP without a ring. Such is the life for Nash, who thrived in the “Seven Seconds Or Less” system employed by former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni once Nash arrived in a trade from Dallas (which Mavs owner Mark Cuban still says is his biggest regret). Suns fans still rue the day when Robert Horry hip-checked Nash into the scorer’s table during a Spurs-Suns semifinals series which set off costly suspensions for Phoenix and ruined what was Nash’s best chance at reaching The Finals.
Amar’e Stoudemire: A tremendous offensive player, “S.T.A.T.” was on the receiving end of many Nash passes, especially off the pick and roll. He helped Phoenix become one of the more entertaining teams in the NBA during the 2000s. But again, those teams never crossed the finish line.
Paul Westphal: A Hall of Fame combo guard who helped define the position in the 1970s, Westphal led the Suns to the 1976 Finals where they fell to a more experienced Celtics team. He’s one of the most important figures in Suns history: not only did he have his jersey retired, he also coached the Suns during the Barkley era. And who could forget his 1993 guarantee in a first-round scare to the Lakers after the Suns were on the verge of elimination?
Walter Davis: Owner of one of the purest jump shots ever known, Davis was a smooth scorer during the 1970s and ’80s when the team was good yet a level below the Lakers and other Western powerhouses. But the Suns were later doomed by a drug scandal that rocked the league and set the franchise back for years, until they were saved by the arrival of Johnson and Barkley.
Alvan Adams: A classic overachieving big man, Adams was the centerpiece of the Suns in the ’70s. Along with Connie Hawkins and Westphal, Adams became one of the early faces of the franchise. He was blessed with post-up moves, passing and also a nifty mid-range shot.
Jason Kidd: He was hailed as a savior when he arrived from the Mavericks in a 1996 trade and finally blossomed into a franchise centerpiece. Kidd’s stay in Phoenix was short because of a domestic incident that forced GM Jerry Colangelo to trade him to the then-New Jersey Nets … where Kidd made two trips to the Finals. He was later traded back to Dallas and won at title with the Mavs in 2011.
Connie Hawkins: One of the influential pioneers of modern basketball, “The Hawk” helped launch the franchise and make it popular in town. He had flair and big hands and was an All-Star … yet the Suns were in their infancy and, therefore, Phoenix never did surround him with enough help to make any title inroads.
Shawn Marion: Along with Nash and Stoudemire, Marion fueled those run-and-stun-and-fun Suns teams and did so with one of the weirdest jump shots in creation. Marion flourished on the fast break and also was a solid wing defender. Problem was, Phoenix didn’t have enough good defenders then. He later joined Kidd to win a title in Dallas.
Ray Allen: Here’s a question: Which team did Allen identify with most? Was it the Bucks, who drafted him? Or the Celtics, where he won a title? Or the Heat, where he won another title and swished one of the biggest shots in NBA history? Well, he had some stellar years in Milwaukee and the Bucks reached the 2001 East finals where they were beaten by Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers. That’s as close to a title as Allen ever got in Milwaukee.
Sidney Moncrief: Until Giannis came along, an argument could be made that Moncrief was the most important post-Kareem player in Bucks history. He was such a great defender and also a dependable first option on offense for several years while keying those innovative Don Nelson teams. Moncrief soon developed bad knees that sapped his quickness.
Marques Johnson: He was a smooth finisher and shooter who brought flair to the Midwest and became a popular All-Star. Johnson and the Bucks could always manage to win 45-60 games but had the misfortune of playing in the East during the Larry Bird era in Boston and the Julius Erving era in Philly.
Vin Baker: He was a very solid low-post player for the Bucks in the ‘90s and delivered on a nightly basis. Baker also dealt with alcohol issues that followed him for much of his career and helped derail it. But Baker bounced back from those demons to become a big part of the current Bucks’ coaching staff, where he could win a ring.
Michael Redd: One of the finest shooters of his day, Redd had a string of solid seasons in the 2000s with the Bucks, and at one point became the highest-paid player in franchise history. Again, though, the Bucks were average at best during his time and failed to capitalize on his talent.
Junior Bridgeman: He helped the Bucks win five division titles during the ‘80s but no NBA titles because the that decade was so loaded. Bridgeman was a solid contributor and complimentary player who still owns the record for most games played by a Buck. Bridgeman later became a brilliant businessman and amassed a fortune after his playing career, mainly with fast-food restaurants.
Jack Sikma: Ironically, Sikma won a title with the Seattle SuperSonics prior to joining the Bucks, so at least he had that going for him. He flourished in Milwaukee in Nelson’s system as a pick-and-pop center who loved to shoot from the baseline with a slingshot-like shooting motion. Like many of his teammates on those Nelson teams, Sikma was good, just not enough to beat the Celtics or Sixers when it truly counted.
Ricky Pierce: Nicknamed “Deuces,” Pierce was a master at shooting from 15-20 feet off the dribble. Because of that, he was a two-time Sixth Man award winner and All-Star in Milwaukee. Very underrated career, but no title.
Terry Cummings: He arrived from the Clippers and found a home in Milwaukee, where “The Reverend” became an All-Star twice and fit the job description of a traditional power forward. Cummings outscored Michael Jordan (29.5 to 29.3) in the 1985 playoffs and it would be the only time Jordan would not be the leading scorer in a postseason series for his career.
Glenn Robinson: “Big Dog” was the grand prize resulting from the 1994 No. 1 overall pick and instantly created a stir when he demanded a $100 million contract (but settled for $68 million) straight out of college. That helped cause the NBA to implement a rookie scale. Robinson was the second-leading scorer in Bucks’ history after Kareem until he was moved down a peg by Giannis on the list.
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