Since basketball is first and foremost a team sport, no individual success can compensate for a lack of rings when it comes to judging the premier players in the league and the totality of their careers. The superstars of the past have set this tone as they, more often than not, added rings to their long list of accolades. As consequence of that expectation, many stars of recent years had to deal with an enormous amount of criticism for not being able to “justify” their regular season success when it matters most in the playoffs. LeBron was already a multiple time MVP in his first 7 years, but was still consistently under heavy fire for his playoffs exits and was not considered the best player in the league until he finally broke through and won his first title in 2012. This made me wonder which NBA players have the most rings?
Which NBA players have the most rings? Bill Russell has won the most NBA rings with a tally of 11 rings, Sam Jones has 10 NBA Rings, Tom Heinsohn, John Havlicek, K.C Jones and Satch Sanders have 8 rings.
Getting an NBA ring is hard, Giannis Antetkounmpo, who is both a reigning MVP and a defensive player of the year, but is on his way to a second consecutive playoff exit with his team being severely outplayed. Many stars learn from the pain of those early losses and eventually break through them, such is the case with LeBron, Jordan and Durant. On the other hand, some never quite manage to combine individual and team success, either because of a lack of talent on their rosters or pieces not fully fitting to complete a championship puzzle. Those players, no matter how great, have a stain on their resume and are, as a result, excluded from many lists and discussions when it comes to the greatest to ever play. Barkley, Malone, Nash and Harden are just some of the players on that long and unfortunate list. On the opposite side of this particular spectrum, there are many cases of role players and complementary pieces with tremendous team resumes, who never shined individually and therefore don’t get half the credit as most of them probably deserve. Dennis Johnson, Steve Kerr and Robert Horry are some of those cases. After all, rings are a function of many variables which are completely out of players’ control, and are therefore just a part of what makes a successful NBA career. Now, after making those important points, let’s jump to a list of players with most champions to their name:
Bill Russell : 11 NBA Rings
Boasting a record amount of 11 rings, Russell was a part of a historically great Boston Celtics team of the 60s. Couched by Red Auerbach, together they led the Celtics to 11 titles in 13 years, and 8 in a row, a most dominant such streak in NBA history. Russell was a central piece of that team, a premier shotblocker and defender who impacted winning like no other at that time. His only equal at the center position was Wilt Chamberlain, a physical specimen who registered record breaking stats throughout his career. However, he did not have quite enough around him to compete with Russell, who got the better of him most of the time. Russell was never a great scorer, averaging around 14 for his career, but was a rebounding machine and averaged more than 20 each season of his 13 year career. Even though he was not flashy and his stats do not pop like those of some other superstars, the unprecedented level of team success has earned him a strong case in the greatest of all time debate. The Finals MVP award, fittingly, has his name attached to it.
Sam Jones: 10 NBA Rings
Also a member of that famous Celtics team, Jones won 10 rings in his 12 years in the league. He averaged 17.7 points a game and was one of the teams leading scorers each year. He was an insanely quick guard with precise shooting and sneaky lay ups and bank shots in his offensive toolbox. Most importantly, he was the closer for this team and is often described as a cool, clutch performer and his numbers were consistently raised in the playoffs. Wilt Chamberlain once called Jones the Celtics’ best player, after seeing him nail a game winning shot over him to win the eastern conference finals series. In 1983, he was elected to the Hall of Fame and is considered one of the 50 best players in league’s history.
Tom Heinsohn, John Havlicek, K.C Jones, Satch Sanders: 8 NBA Rings
Another group of accomplished Celtics, these four each earned 8 rings during their time in the league.
Heinsohn is one of the all-time Celtic legends, having in mind that he continued to be involved with team as a coach and is currently doing a terrific job commentating Celtics games with a unique style and energy. He was a high scoring forward who immediately found his place in a loaded Celtics team upon his arrival. He won rookie of the year averaging almost 17 and 10 and never looked back. He was in double figures for all of his 9 years in the league, with career averages of 18 and 9.
Celtics all time leading scorer, Havlicek was a key cog in two Celtics generations. Playing both forward and guard, Havlicek’s versatility made him perhaps the greatest all-around player in the league. During the dynasty years, Havlicek provided the spark off the bench and then emerged as a leader of the 70s team, which he lead to 2 championships in ‘74 and ‘76. His steal which clinched the series against the 76ers in the eastern conference finals is one of the greatest and most replayed moments in NBA history.
K.C Jones was the glue and energy guy for that team. His averages were never impressive, 7.4 points per game on below 40% efficiency from the floor and a dismal 637% from the line. At the beginning, he was a backup point guard and an understudy to Bob Cousy, but later took his place once he
retired. He won 8 rings in first 8 out of total 9 nine seasons, doing his job as an organizer on offense and a pit bull on defence, where he always took the task of stopping opposing star guards. A legend says the “C” in his name stands for championships.
Satch Sanders was a role player who spent 13 years with the Celtics, mainly taking the task of rebounding and defending, which he did gracefully and effectively. A perfect example of the coach’s trust in him is the fact that he guarded Willis Reed and Elgin Baylor in the most important games. He retired with modest career stats of 9 and 6, but fans in Boston recognize that those are not an indication of his importance.
Robert Horry, Frank Ramsey, Jim Loscutoff: 7 NBA Rings
Robert Horry was a perfect example of guy always being in the right place at the right time. He was a member of the 94 and 95 Houston team which capitalized on the fact that Jordan took a break from basketball and captured 2 championships on the back of their talisman in Hakeem Olajuwon. Later, Horry found himself a member of a Lakers dynasty in the early 2000s. Led by their legendary Shaq and Kobe duo, Lakers 3-peated in dominant fashion and are still the last team to accomplish that feat. That was, however, not the end for Horry who went on to perform for another 2000s dynasty in San Antonio, where he got himself 2 more rings to cap off one of the strangest and most impressive resumes. Although never a star, he did his part in each of those championships, as he was one of the deadliest shooters and playoff performers of his generation. Whenever he was on the court with game on the line, you could always count on him to deliver.
Jim Loscutoff was Boston’s top pick in the 1955 NBA Draft, a decent scorer and a terrific rebounder. In his best season for the team, he averaged a double-double– 10.6 points and 10 rebounds per game. He went on to help the Celtics to seven championship titles in his nine-year career, throughout which he was a proven role player.
Frank Ramsey was the Celtics’ fifth overall selection in the 1953 draft. He was a scorer of the bench who thrived in big playoff moments. He averaged 13 and 5 for his career, and having in mind the amount of stars he played with, that is highly impressive.
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bob Cousy: 6 NBA Rings
Jordan and Pippen are probably the greatest duo in basketball history. Together they won 6 titles in 8 years and would have probably added 2 more if Michael didn’t take two years off. Their combination of length, size and strength coupled with diverse offensive skill set made them a force
on both ends of the floor. Michael was no doubt the best player of his era and arguably all time, while Scottie was probably good enough to win as the number one option himself. In all of their 6 titles, no finals series even went to a game 7, which shows just how dominant that Bulls team was.
Kareem retired with most points all time, most block shots, MVPs and All-Star selections. His college career is also arguably the best out of any NBA superstar. The main reason behind his insane resume was his durability. He played 20 full seasons in the league and retired at age 42, having won titles both the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. One more reason why his legacy is hard to much is his perfection of the sky-hook shot, probably the most unguardable move in basketball history, which enabled him to compete at the highest in his 40s and rack up all the records he did. Having won in the early 70s with the Bucks and also being a part of the legendary showtime Lakers roster of the 80s, Kareem truly dominated two completely different eras.
Cousy was the heart and soul of the Boston Celtics roster of late 50s and 60s. He completely revolutionized basketball with his ball handling and passing. One of the greatest playmakers in NBA history, Cousy made all the other Celtics on this list tick. Besides his 6 championships, he managed to lead the league in assists in 8 consecutive seasons while being near the top in scoring and free throw percentage. After he retired, Celtics owner Walter Brown told the Boston papers: “The Celtics wouldn’t be here without him. If he had played in New York, he would have been as big as Babe Ruth. I think he is anyway.”