The Rundown: The Best Athletes To Never Win A Championship

Above (top): Ken Griffey Jr. and Ted Williams/ Above (bottom): Dan Marino and Elgin Baylor
Above (top): Ken Griffey Jr. and Ted Williams/ Above (bottom): Dan Marino and Elgin Baylor

Last weekend at UFC 199, Michael Bisping, one of the longest tenured fighters on the UFC roster, stepped into the Octagon and stunned the MMA world by earning a first-round knockout win over Luke Rockhold to claim the middleweight title.

Nearing his 10-year anniversary with the UFC, Bisping had never fought for a title at that point, yet alone won one, and only garnered this opportunity when former champ Chris Weidman was forced out of his rematch with Rockhold due to a neck injury. But “The Count” made the most of his shot, tying Georges St-Pierre for the most wins in UFC history with the victory and taking himself off two lists no athlete wants to be on: the best to never play/fight for a title and the best to never win a title.

Even though I’m from the camp that thinks we put too much emphasis on championships, to the point that it clouds our judgment of great talent, it’s still something a lot of sports fans discuss and with Bisping getting himself off this list, What better time than now to look at the top athletes to never win a championship?

Mike Gartner

Some may think this is an odd guy to start with because few would consider him an all-time great, but Gartner played 19 NHL seasons and only scored fewer than 32 goals twice – once in the lockout shortened 1994-95 season and in his final year with the Phoenix Coyotes, when he still tallied 12 markers.

You would think a sniper of his caliber would have found his way to a contender at the deadline and ended up with a ring, but that was never the case. In fact, Gartner never skated in a single Stanely Cup Finals game over his outstanding career.

Alexander Ovechkin

The one guy on this list that still has a chance to extricate himself from this group, “The Great 8” has yet to hoist hockey’s Holy Grail and with each passing year and every playoff disappointment, it’s becoming less likely.

It’s not entirely his fault, mind you – he’s been a quality playoff performer his entire career, but the Capitals have always found a way to come up short. Could Ovechkin require a change of scenery and a move to a secondary role in order to win the Cup?

Ken Griffey Jr.

Owner of arguably the most beautiful swing in baseball history, “Junior” was undeniably one of the greatest players of his generation, but he and the Seattle Mariners could never make it to the World Series, yet alone win one.

Injuries and underwhelming teams were the story of his post-Seattle career, as Griffey’s skills started to fade and his window for winning closed before he could take part in the October Classic.

Barry Bonds

Some may say this is karmic justice – that Bonds never winning a World Series was retribution for his steroid-era exploits and the fact that he now holds the single-season and all-time home run records, though he did come close, when the San Francisco Giants lost to the Anaheim Angels in seven games in 2002.

Love him or hate him, Bonds was a phenomenal baseball player even before BALCO and his numbers are as gaudy as they come. Of course, all of his individual success with zero rings also shows just how much championships are about teams, not single players.

Ted Williams

Arguably the best hitter ever (though I don’t think there is an argument), “Teddy Baseball” played in just one World Series, with the Red Sox losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1946, Williams’ first season back after the war and his first MVP season.

As a sidenote: for all the folks that like arguing MVP awards these days and why Steph Curry was the first unanimous NBA MVP, Williams hit .406 with 37 HR and trumped Joe DiMaggio in all but one statistical category in 1941, yet he finished second to “Joltin’ Joe” in the MVP race.

Dan Marino

The long-time Miami Dolphins quarterback talks about it a lot and is usually at or near the top of lists like this, but it has got to be so frustrating to have made the Super Bowl in your second year – and first as the full-time starter – only to come up short and then never gotten back there again. Poor Dan.

Miami made the playoffs 10 times in Marino’s 17-year career and he is easily one of the top 10 quarterbacks of all time, but he walked away before the 2000 season having never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

1990-1993 Buffalo Bills

This is going to hurt my buddy John, a Buffalo native and diehard Bills fan, but you have to feel for the collection of elite players that made four consecutive Super Bowl appearances and came away empty handed. It’s unfathomable. LeBron James would have to lose this year to the Golden State Warriors and make it back and lose again next year to equal Buffalo’s misery, but he’s done it with two different teams.

This was the same core group every year and despite being the best team in the AFC season-after-season, a combination of bad luck (Super Bowl XXV: Wide Left) and bad timing (Dallas Triplets) kept Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith & Co. from collecting a title.

Randy Moss

One of the best receivers to ever hit the field, Moss is the kind of guy you just figured would have won a couple rings, almost by default. Like he was so good, it would elevate the entire team and they’d manage to get one, but it never happened.

He came close a couple times, falling in the NFC Championship Game with the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings in the 1998 season (Damn!) and then losing in two Super Bowl appearances, one with New England and again in his final year with the San Francisco 49ers.

Elgin Baylor

One of the best small forwards of all-time, Baylor always makes these lists not just because he was a phenomenal basketball player and remains one of the most forgotten superstars in NBA history, but because he had multiple kicks at the can and still never managed to win a ring.

Baylor played in eight NBA Finals. Eight. He only played 14 seasons for his career and he made it to eight NBA Finals, but always came away empty handed. The real kick in the ass? Baylor retired nine games into the 1971-72 NBA season. Guess who won the title that year? Yep, his Los Angeles Lakers.

John Stockton & Karl Malone

These two have to be here as a tandem because that’s how they’ll always be remembered, as the pick-and-roll, one-two punch of the Utah Jazz and two of the best to never win a championship.

It was just a matter of bad timing really, as Utah’s best years ran parallel with some great teams – Michael’s Bulls, Hakeem’s Rockets, Chuck’s Suns – and they could never quite get passed them. Malone had one more chance in 2003-04 when he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers along with Gary Payton, joining Kobe and Shaq on what everyone thought would be a championship squad, but that didn’t work out either as the Detroit Pistons pulled off the upset.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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