Greatest Athletes to Never Win a Championship
The chances of becoming a pro athlete are so slim — so astronomically rare — that the chosen few who make it to the professional ranks have already defied enormous odds. The ones who win championships at that level? They're the rarest of the rare.
But winning a title isn't always what defines a pro athlete's career. In some cases, players make it to the Hall of Fame without ever even playing for a championship. Some of the greatest athletes of all time, actually.
These are the greatest professional athletes who went their whole careers without winning a championship.
30. Adrian Beltre
Career: 21 seasons (1998-2018)
Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (1998-2004), Seattle Mariners (2005-09), Boston Red Sox (2010), Texas Rangers (2011-18)
Career highlights: Four-time MLB All-star (2010-12, 2014), five-time Gold Glove Award winner (2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2016), four-time Silver Slugger Award winner (2004, 2010, 2011, 2014)
Bottom line: The big question for us is if Adrian Beltre will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It seems like he definitely should be.
Beltre was one of the greatest third basemen in MLB history, even though his career was as unheralded as any star in history, and he only made four All-Star teams in 21 seasons.
Beltre is the first player from the baseball-rich Dominican Republic to record 3,000 career hits but never was able to win a World Series.
*Only retired players from the four premier North American pro leagues (NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA) were considered for these rankings.
29. Patrick Ewing
Career: 17 seasons (1985-2002)
Teams: New York Knicks (1985-2000), Seattle SuperSonics (2000-01), Orlando Magic (2001-02)
Career highlights: Seven-time All-NBA Team (1988-93, 1997), 11-time NBA All-Star (1986, 1988-97), three-time NBA All-Defensive Team (1988, 1989, 1992), NBA Rookie of the Year (1986), NBA 50th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: Patrick Ewing was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft and immediately became the focal point of the Knicks' offense for the next 15 years. Which meant taking a lot of shots.
Ewing was an 11-time All-Star but never won an NBA title, coming up short in two trips to the finals in 1994 and 1999. Ewing and the Knicks had just as good a shot in 1993, when they had a 2-0 lead on the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals before melting down.
28. John Hannah
Career: 13 seasons (1973-85)
Teams: New England Patriots
Career highlights: 10-time NFL All-Pro (1976-85), nine-time Pro Bowl (1976, 1978-85), NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, NFL 1980s All-Decade team, NFL 75th Anniversary Team, NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: John Hannah would not be considered a big player in today's NFL, but the 6-foot-2, 265-pound guard was arguably the greatest offensive lineman of his era behind Anthony Munoz.
Hannah played his entire 13-year career for the New England Patriots and was a 10-time NFL All-Pro in that time. He got a shot at winning a championship in his final game, but the Patriots got blown out by the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX.
27. Jarome Iginla
Career: 21 seasons (1995-2004, 2005-17)
Teams: Calgary Flames (1995-2004, 2005-13), Pittsburgh Penguins (2013), Boston Bruins (2013-14), Colorado Avalanche (2014-17), Los Angeles Kings (2017)
Career highlights: Six-time NHL All-Star (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012), Ross Trophy (2002), Hockey Hall of Fame (2020)
Bottom line: Jarome Iginla is one of just 20 players in NHL history to score over 600 goals and is the Calgary Flames' career leader in goals, points and games played. He's also in the top 10 in NHL history with 101 game-winning goals. He played in the Stanley Cup Final just once, in 2004.
Iginla was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2020, his first year of eligibility, becoming just the second Black NHL player to enter the Hall for his on-ice accomplishments following Grant Fuhr.
26. Dick Butkus
Career: 9 seasons (1965-73)
Team: Chicago Bears
Career highlights: Eight-time Pro Bowl (1965-72), eight-time All-Pro (1965-72), two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1969, 1970), NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1983)
Bottom line: Only a handful of players can say they truly defined their positions in NFL history. Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus is one of those.
Tales of Butkus' exploits would make you think he played several decades in the NFL, but his career was just nine seasons. He made the All-Pro team and Pro Bowl in eight of them, with back-to-back NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards in 1969 and 1970.
He was perhaps the most intimidating human being to ever step on a football field. Still, he never won an NFL championship or a Super Bowl.
25. Reggie Miller
Career: 18 seasons (1987-2005)
Teams: Indiana Pacers
Career highlights: Five-time NBA All-Star (1990, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000), three-time All-NBA Team (1995, 1996, 1998), NBA Citizenship Award (2004)
Bottom line: Almost two decades after playing his last game for the Indiana Pacers — the team he spent all 18 NBA seasons with — Reggie Miller's name still sparks emotion.
One emotion it doesn't spark is joy over winning an NBA championship. Because he never did that. Miller played in the NBA Finals just once, in 2000, when the Pacers lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.
24. Randy Moss
Career: 14 seasons (1998-2010, 2012)
Teams: Minnesota Vikings (1998-2004, 2010), Oakland Raiders (2005-06), New England Patriots (2007-10), Tennessee Titans (2010), San Francisco 49ers (2012)
Career highlights: Four-time NFL All-Pro (1998, 2000, 2003, 2007), six-time Pro Bowl (1998-2000, 2002. 2003. 2007), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1998), NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2007), NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
Bottom line: Randy Moss was something to behold in his prime and came as close to winning a Super Bowl as humanly possible with the New England Patriots in 2007, when he helped lead them to an unbeaten regular season with 1,493 receiving yards and an NFL-record 23 receiving touchdowns.
Moss and the Patriots seemed destined for NFL history before they were shocked by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Moss played in another Super Bowl four years later with the San Francisco 49ers and lost again.
23. Pat LaFontaine
Career: 15 seasons (1983-98)
Teams: New York Islanders (1983-91), Buffalo Sabres (1991-97), New York Rangers (1997-98)
Career highlights: Five-time NHL All-Star (1988-91, 1993), Masterson Memorial Trophy (1995)
Bottom line: Pat LaFontaine isn't just one of the greatest American-born hockey players in history. He's one of the greatest hockey players of all time, period.
Not only that but you can make an argument that Pat LaFontaine is the greatest player in NHL history to never win a Stanley Cup. He joined the New York Islanders in 1983-84, which was one year after they won four straight Stanley Cup titles.
22. Barry Sanders
Career: 10 seasons (1989-98)
Teams: Detroit Lions
Career highlights: NFL Most Valuable Player (1997), two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1994, 1997), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1989), 10-time NFL All-Pro (1989-98), 10-time Pro Bowl (1989-98), NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
Bottom line: Barry Sanders never even really came close to playing in the Super Bowl, and the futility of the Detroit Lions contributed at least somewhat to his decision to retire after just 10 seasons and within striking distance of the NFL's career rushing record.
Sanders won just one playoff game in his career, played in only six total playoff games and scored just one postseason touchdown. It's tough to blame him for jumping ship on the Lions. One generation later, another Detroit Hall of Famer, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, took a similar path.
21. Steve Nash
Career: 19 seasons (1996-2015)
Teams: Phoenix Suns (1996-1998, 2004-2012), Dallas Mavericks (1998-2004), Los Angeles Lakers (2012-2015)
Career highlights: Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player (2005, 2006), eight-time NBA All-Star (2002, 2003, 2005-08, 2010, 2012), seven-time All-NBA Team (2002, 2003, 2005-08, 2010)
Bottom line: Steve Nash won two NBA Most Valuable Player awards but never won an NBA championship. In fact, the Canadian-born superstar never even played in the NBA Finals once over his 19-year career.
He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2018. And he still could win a championship one day as a coach. He's currently the head coach of the front-running Brooklyn Nets.
20. Tony Gwynn
Career: 20 seasons (1982-2001)
Team: San Diego Padres
Career highlights: Fifteen-time MLB All-Star (1984-1987, 1989-1999), five-time Gold Glove Award winner (1986-1987, 1989-1991), seven-time Silver Slugger Award winner (1984, 1986-87,1989, 1994-95, 1997)
Bottom line: Tony Gwynn won eight National League batting titles, tied for the most in history, never hit below .309 in a single season during his 20-year career and was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility with a whopping 97.6 percent of the vote.
He's also considered one of the game's greatest statesmen. But for all of his accomplishment, he never won a World Series, losing twice in 1984 and 1998.
Gwynn died of salivary gland cancer in 2014, at 54 years old.
19. Allen Iverson
Career: 14 seasons (1996-2010)
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers (1996-2006, 2009-10), Denver Nuggets (2006-08), Detroit Pistons (2008-09), Memphis Grizzlies (2009)
Career highlights: NBA Most Valuable Player (2001), 11-time NBA All-Star (2000-10), two-time NBA All-Star Game MVP (2001, 2005), seven-time All-NBA Team (1999-2003, 2005), NBA Rookie of the Year (1997)
Bottom line: Listed at just 6-foot tall, Allen Iverson was the shortest No. 1 overall pick in NBA history in 1996 and went on to make 11 All-Star teams and was a two-time All-Star Game Most Valuable Player.
Iverson's playing style, which could be best described as reckless abandon, endeared him to generations of fans. But it still wasn't enough to get a ring.
The closest Iverson ever got was in 2001, when he led the 76ers to the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. Philadelphia lost the series in five games, but Iverson was named NBA Most Valuable Player for the season.
18. Ernie Banks
Career: 19 seasons (1953-71)
Teams: Chicago Cubs
Career highlights: Two-time National League Most Valuable Player (1958, 1959), 14-time MLB All-Star (1955-60, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1969), MLB All-Century Team
Bottom line: Ernie Banks isn't the greatest MLB player to never win a World Series. But he's probably the most famous for not winning one. A good part of his legacy was built on spending his entire career with the long-suffering Chicago Cubs.
Banks was a power-hitting shortstop who racked up a whopping 512 career home runs.
He also was the first Cub in history to have his number retired.
17. John Stockton
Career: 19 seasons (1984-2003)
Teams: Utah Jazz
Career highlights: 10-time NBA All-Star (1989-97, 2000), NBA All-Star Game MVP (1993), 11-time All-NBA (1988-97, 1999), five-time All-NBA Defensive Team (1989, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1997), NBA 50th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: John Stockton played his entire NBA career with the Utah Jazz, teaming up with power forward Karl Malone to lead the Jazz to the only two NBA Finals appearances in franchise history. They lost both times to the Chicago Bulls.
Stockton still owns two NBA records by large margins that could never be broken — career assists and steals. He was also a member of the famed 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team alongside Malone.
16. Bruce Smith
Career: 19 seasons (1985-2003)
Teams: Buffalo Bills (1985-1999), Washington Redskins (2000-2003)
Career highlights: Two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1990, 1996), four-time AFC Defensive Player of the Year (1987, 1988, 1990, 1996), 10-time NFL All-Pro (1987-90, 1993-98), 11-time Pro Bowl (1987-90, 1992-98), NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: Bruce Smith's 200 career sacks are still the most in NFL history. That's fitting for the No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 NFL draft.
Smith, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was the star on defense for the Buffalo Bills and the leader for a team that lost in four consecutive Super Bowls. His best shot was in Super Bowl XXV when Bills lost to the Giants 20-19 after Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal in the closing seconds. It's still the only game in Super Bowl history decided by one point.
Smith was stunningly consistent. He had at least 10 sacks in 13 out of 19 seasons while playing in a 3-4 defensive scheme that's not designed for defensive ends to generate sacks but to keep containment.
15. Charles Barkley
Career: 16 seasons (1984-2000)
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers (1984-92), Phoenix Suns (1992-96), Houston Rockets (1996-2000)
Career highlights: NBA Most Valuable Player (1993), 11-time NBA All-Star (1987-97), NBA All-Star Game MVP (1991), 11-time All-NBA Team (1986-96), NBA 50th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: Charles Barkley needed every advantage he could throughout his career. Consistently listed at 6-foot-6, it's widely known that Barkley was a 6-4 power forward, so the fact he averaged 11.7 rebounds for his career is amazing.
What Barkley could never do was win an NBA title. Although he chased it hard at the two final stops of his career, he only played in the NBA Finals once, losing to the Chicago Bulls in 1993.
That was the same year he won his lone NBA Most Valuable Player award.
14. Anthony Munoz
Career: 13 seasons (1980-92)
Teams: Cincinnati Bengals
Career highlights: 11-time NFL All-Pro (1981-91), 11-time Pro Bowl (1981-91), NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary Team, NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: Anthony Munoz is thought by many to be the greatest offensive lineman of all time. He played 13 seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals, was an 11-time NFL All-Pro and made 11 Pro Bowls.
Munoz, 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, was a two-sport star in baseball and football at USC before making the leap to the NFL, where he was the No. 3 overall pick in 1980.
Munoz never won a championship but played in the Super Bowl twice, losing narrowly to the San Francisco 49ers each time.
13. Harmon Killebrew
Career: 22 seasons (1954-75)
Teams: Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins (1954-74), Kansas City Royals (1975)
Career highlights: American League MVP (1969), 13-time MLB All-Star (1959, 1961, 1963-71)
Bottom line: Harmon Killebrew led the American League in home runs six times in 22 seasons, spending all but one of them with the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins.
Killebrew was an understated, quiet star who played in the World Series just once, in 1965, when the Twins lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He hit at least 40 home runs in a season eight times and had his greatest season in 1969, when he racked up 49 home runs and 140 RBI on the way to winning American League MVP honors.
12. Jim Kelly
Career: 11 seasons (1986-1996)
Teams: Buffalo Bills
Career highlights: Five-time Pro Bowl (1987, 1988. 1990-92), Three-time NFL All-Pro (1990-92), Pro Football Hall of Fame (2002)
Bottom line: Just one victory in the four consecutive Super Bowls that the Buffalo Bills played in with Jim Kelly at quarterback would have changed the conversation about his career for good.
Unfortunately for Kelly, every time the Bills made it back to the Super Bowl, they seemed to get further away from holding up the Lombardi Trophy.
It probably wouldn't have mattered if Kelly had gone straight to the NFL out of college. He played his first two seasons with the Houston Gamblers in the USFL and was named USFL Most Valuable Player in 1984.
11. Ichiro Suzuki
Career: 19 seasons (2001-19)
Teams: Seattle Mariners (2001-12, 2018-19), New York Yankees (2012-14), Miami Marlins (2015-17)
Career highlights: American League MVP (2001), 10-time MLB All-Star (2001-10), American League Rookie of the Year (2001), 10-time Gold Glove Award winner (2001-10), three-time Silver Slugger Award winner (2001, 2007, 2009)
Bottom line: Ichiro Suzuki played professionally in Japan for a decade before finally coming to the majors in 2001, where he won American League MVP and Rookie of the Year honors in his first season.
Ichiro set the single-season MLB record with 262 hits in 2004 and is the only player in MLB history with 10 consecutive seasons of 200-plus hits.
In 19 seasons in the majors, Ichiro only played in the postseason twice, in 2001 and 2012, and never in the World Series.
10. Tony Gonzalez
Career: 17 seasons (1997-2013)
Teams: Kansas City Chiefs (1997-2008), Atlanta Falcons (2009-13)
Career highlights: 10-time NFL All-Pro (1999-2004, 2006-08, 2012), 14-time Pro Bowl (1999-2008, 2010-13), NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
Bottom line: Tony Gonzalez left little doubt about who was the greatest tight end of all time over his 17-year career. He's the only player who's not a wide receiver or running back in the NFL's top 30 for career all-purpose yards.
It's really unfortunate the greatest tight end in NFL history never even played in a Super Bowl. Gonzalez holds the NFL record for total receiving yards for a tight end and is third all-time for receptions behind Jerry Rice and Larry Fitzgerald.
In 17 seasons, that included 1,327 touches, and Gonzalez only lost two fumbles.
9. Henrik Lundqvist
Career: 16 seasons (2005-21)
Teams: New York Rangers
Career highlights: Five-time NHL All-Star (2009, 2011, 2012, 2018, 2019), Vezina Trophy (2012), NHL All-Rookie Team (2006), NHL 2010s All-Decade team
Bottom line: Henrik Lundqvist was one of the most physically and mentally tough NHL players of all time. You can't find an NHL circle where Lundqvist's name doesn't draw a certain amount of respect.
The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner was named the New York Rangers team MVP a franchise-record nine times. "King Henrik" also led Sweden to a gold medal at the 2006 Olympics, but never won a Stanley Cup in 16 seasons.
He retired in 2021.
8. Ty Cobb
Career: 27 seasons (1902-28)
Teams: Detroit Tigers (1902-26), Philadelphia Athletics (1927-28)
Career highlights: American League MVP (1911), Triple Crown (1909), MLB All-Century Team
Bottom line: Ty Cobb is one of the legendary figures in all of sports history. A 12-time American League batting champion, Cobb also led the AL in stolen bases six times, RBI four times and still holds the MLB record for career batting average at .366.
What Cobb's legacy doesn't include is a World Series championship. He led the Tigers to the World Series three times but lost each time.
7. Elgin Baylor
Career: 13 seasons (1958-1971)
Teams: Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers
Career highlights: Eleven-time NBA All-Star (1959-65, 1967-70), NBA All-Star Game MVP (1959), 10-time All-NBA Team (1959-65, 1967-69), NBA Rookie of the Year (1959), NBA 50th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: Few players can claim they truly saved a franchise, but if Elgin Baylor had not skipped his senior season at Seattle University to sign with the Minneapolis Lakers in 1958, the team would have declared bankruptcy and folded entirely.
As a rookie, Baylor finished second in the NBA in scoring and led the Lakers from last place all the way to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics. It was the first of eight trips to the NBA Finals for Baylor.
He walked away without a ring each time, with seven of the series losses coming at the hands of the Celtics.
6. Ken Griffey Jr.
Career: 22 seasons (1989-2010)
Teams: Seattle Mariners (1989-99, 2009-10), Cincinnati Reds (2000-08), Chicago White Sox (2008)
Career highlights: American League MVP (1997), 13-time MLB All-Star (1990-2000, 2004, 2007), 10-time Gold Glove Award winner (1990-99), seven-time Silver Slugger Award winner (1991, 1993, 1994, 1996-99), NL Comeback Player of the Year (2005), MLB All-Century Team
Bottom line: Ken Griffey Jr. was one of the more popular, electric players to ever step on a baseball diamond. But the second half of his career got overshadowed by baseball's steroids era, something Griffey never took part in.
The appreciation of his accomplishments was never more evident than when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016 with a record 99.32 percent vote.
What's missing? Griffey never even played in the World Series.
5. Marcel Dionne
Career: 18 seasons (1971-89)
Teams: Detroit Red Wings (1971-75), Los Angeles Kings (1975-87), New York Rangers (1987-89)
Career highlights: Two-time Lady Byng Trophy winner (1975, 1977), Art Ross Trophy (1980), eight-time NHL All-Star (1975-78, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1985)
Bottom line: Marcel Dionne is one of just seven players in NHL history to score 700 goals and is widely thought of as the greatest NHL player to never win a Stanley Cup.
Outside of the NHL, Dionne may have been part of the two greatest lines of all time at the 1976 Canada Cup, alongside Bobby Hull and Phil Esposito, and at the 1981 Canada Cup alongside Wayne Gretzky and Guy LaFleur.
In a weird twist, Marcel Dionne's much younger brother, Gilbert Dionne, won a Stanley Cup with the Canadiens.
4. Karl Malone
Career: 19 seasons (1985-2004)
Teams: Utah Jazz (1985-2003), Los Angeles Lakers (2003-04)
Career highlights: Two-time NBA MVP (1997, 1999), 14-time NBA All-Star (1988-98, 2000-02), two-time NBA All-Star Game MVP (1989, 1993), 14-time All-NBA (1988-2001), four-time All-NBA Defensive Team (1988, 1997-99), NBA All-Rookie Team (1986)
Bottom line: Karl Malone had the great luck of spending almost his entire career playing alongside point guard John Stockton, a player who could create offense for other players in a variety of ways.
Stockton, the NBA's career assists leader, is also the career steals leader, and was a perfect complement to the hard-running Malone, who was almost impossible to stop with a head of steam.
He also never won an NBA title, losing to the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan in back-to-back seasons in 1997 and 1998.
3. Barry Bonds
Career: 22 seasons (1986-2007)
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates (1986-92), San Francisco Giants (1993-2007)
Career highlights: Seven-time National League MVP (1990, 1992, 1993, 2001-04), 14-time MLB All-Star (1990, 1992-98, 2000-04, 2007), 12-time Silver Slugger Award winner (1990-94, 1996, 1997, 2000-04), eight-time Gold Glove Award winner (1990-94, 1996-98)
Bottom line: Barry Bonds didn't need to use performance-enhancing drugs to become one of the greatest baseball players of all time, but he did it anyway.
Bonds was the central figure in baseball's steroids scandal, becoming the game's career home runs leader along the way and set the MLB single-season record with 73 home runs in 2001. He also won seven National League MVP awards.
What Bonds never did was win a World Series. He only played in the Fall Classic once, losing to the Anaheim Angels in seven games in 2002.
2. Ted Williams
Career: 19 seasons (1939-42, 1946-60)
Teams: Boston Red Sox
Career highlights: Two-time American League MVP (1946, 1949), two-time Triple Crown winner (1942, 1947), 19-time MLB ALl-STar (1940-42, 1946-51, 1953-60), MLB All-Century Team
Bottom line: "The Splendid Splinter" was the greatest hitter in baseball history. Only Pete Rose could see pitches like Ted Williams did.
The last player to hit over .400, Williams won the American League Triple Crown in 1942 before taking three years off to fight for the U.S. in World War II. Then he won the Triple Crown again in 1947.
Williams played in the World Series just once, in 1946, when the Red Sox and a hobbled Williams lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Later in life, Williams said his play in the 1946 World Series was his biggest regret.
1. Dan Marino
Career: 17 seasons (1983-99)
Teams: Miami Dolphins
Career highlights: NFL Most Valuable Player (1994), Eight-time NFL All-Pro (1983-86, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1995), Nine-time Pro Bowl (1983-87, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995), NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1994), Pro Football Hall of Fame (2005)
Bottom line: The quarterback with the quickest release and best arm in football history retired with 40 NFL single-season and career passing records but no Super Bowl wins.
Dan Marino's 155 career wins are the most for any quarterback who never won a Super Bowl, which Marino thought would come his way at some point after he led the Dolphins to a Super Bowl loss in just his second season. He never even made it back.
One of the lead roles in Oliver Stone's 1999 pro football opus about the fictional Miami Sharks, "Any Given Sunday" had a character largely based on Marino, played by Dennis Quaid, and Marino allowed Stone to use his house as a stand-in for Quaid's character's house in the film.
Marino still would have preferred a ring.