Who got closest to winning an NBA championship without actually doing it?

A few players came oh-so-very close.

Elgin Baylor (1962, 1969, 1970)

1962 Finals, Celtics vs Lakers came down to a Game 7 in the Finals. In the last 5 seconds, Frank Selvy misses the 12ft jumper from the baseline that would have won LA (and Baylor) a championship. This wouldn’t be the only time. Baylor also lost a close 7 game series against the Celtics in 1969 and a close 7 game series against the Knicks in 1970 as well.

Adrian Dantley (1988)

Dantley was the leading scorer on a Pistons team that went to the Finals against the Lakers in 1988. In a close 7 game series, Bill Laimbeer gets called for a ‘phantom foul’ on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the closing seconds of Game 6. Kareem makes both free throws giving Lakers the lead and they go to a Game 7. Had there been no ‘phantom foul’, Dantley would have had a championship (and Pistons would have a 3-peat).

Patrick Ewing (1994)

Game 6 of the 1994 Finals lost by just 2 points which would have given Ewing a championship. Game 7 John Starks shot 2 for 18 and definitely helped the Rockets get the win.

Tracy McGrady (2013)

Well, this one is interesting. T-mac never had much success as the main franchise player – so much like Pistol Pete before him he decided to try his chances at winning a championship joining a dynasty team coming off the bench instead. T-mac joined the 2013 Spurs. We all know what happened here. Game 6, Ray Allen hits his famous shot to go to overtime and Spurs lose in overtime. If Ray Allen misses the shot.. T-mac would have a ring.

Chris Webber (2002)

C-webb’s Kings came to a 7 game series against the Lakers in 2002 in the WCF. This was the ‘real’ Finals as everyone knew Kidd’s Nets didn’t stand a chance against the Lakers or the Kings in the Finals. In this series, Game 6 especially had very questionable officiating – it’s well documented in fact that referee Tim Donaghey rigged it in favor of the Lakers for the NBA. In any case, the questionable officiating led to a Game 6 win for the Lakers, and C-webb lost his chance at winning a ring.

Chris Paul and James Harden (2018)

CP3 joined the Rockets for the 2018 season, and they immediately improved. They went all the way to the WCF against the Warriors in a close 7 game series. CP3 gets injured in Game 5 and the Rockets lose the next 2 games. What’s astounding is that the Rockets lose Game 7 by 9 points despite missing 27 threes in a row. Had they even made a few more 3s.. CP3 and Harden would have likely been the favorites and able to beat Lebron’s undermanned 2018 Cavs squad.

Demarcus Cousins (2019)

Demarcus Cousins joined the Warriors in 2019 and attempted to ride their dynasty to a championship. He would have succeeded too, had Kevin Durant not been injured and Klay Thompson out for 2 games in the 2019 Finals. Had KD and Klay been fully healthy, it is very likely the Warriors would have beaten Kawhi’s Raptors that series.

As for how I’m determining which players were close or not.. the reason I didn’t mention guys like Reggie Miller, Stockton and Malone, Charles Barkley etc is because I’m not entirely sure that they would have won the championship had they won an extra game vs the Bulls. Whereas for the guys I mentioned, either they were literally one shot away or an injury away from winning a championship in the Finals, or barely missed the chance to go to the Finals against a team that they would have likely beaten.


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