Michael Jordan has cemented himself as the greatest of all time. 6 championships, 6 Finals MVP’s, 5 League MVP’s. The man did it all and dominated the league in the process.
He won 6 NBA titles in 8 years. The only reason he didn’t win 8 titles in 8 years was because he took a break from basketball to see if he could dominate another sport.
This got us thinking. Michael Jordan wasn’t the only great basketball player in the 1990’s. He ruined the chance for many great players to win rings. So we put together a list of players who Jordan eliminated from the playoffs and didn’t allow to win an NBA title.
Some of these names are all-time greats and Hall of Famers. Some of these guys are players who were just good for their era. Either way, none of these men ever got to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy as champions because Michael Jordan and his Bulls were running the league.
Take a look and see what you think. For some fans out there you’ll be taken back to heartbreaking moments of “what if” and “what could have been” if not for the dominance of MJ.
Dan Majerle is a name you can’t pronounce unless you know your 90’s NBA history. Unfortunately, when if you google him to learn more about him, it doesn’t say NBA champion next to his name. Instead, it lets you know he was running mates with Charles Barkley the time the Suns lost to Jordan’s Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals.
Majerle was a great shooter and a three-time All-Star with the Suns before moving to the Cavs and the Heat. It didn’t get easier in the Eastern Conference as Jordan knocked his Heat team out of the 1997 Playoffs in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Before Charles Oakley was facing off with Knicks owner James Dolan, he had some memorable battles with Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. What’s often overlooked though is that Oakley’s trophy case could look a lot different.
Oakley started his career with the Bulls and played 3 seasons in Chicago before being traded to the Knicks. Instead, Oakley and his Knicks were eliminated from the playoffs on multiple occasions by his former teammates.
Mark Jackson was knocked out of the playoffs by Jordan’s Bulls as a member of the Knicks and as a member of the Pacers. Try as he might, he couldn’t get his teams past Jordan.
For those only familiar with his work as a broadcaster, Mark Jackson was a solid NBA point guard. He was the 1988 Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in his second. Jackson played all over the league for 7 teams before retiring. He went on to coach the Golden State Warriors before they went on their championship run.
In his day no one stood above Manute Bol. Literally, because at 7’6” he was one of the tallest players in the history of the league. Bol had a reputation as one of the league’s best shot-blockers while he was in the league, something helped by his incredible size and wingspan.
Bol and his 76ers were poised to make a deep run in the ’91 NBA Playoffs. They had one of the league’s best players, in Charles Barkley, and had swept the Bucks in the first round. An Eastern Conference Semifinals match-up with the Bulls didn’t go as well. The Bulls won the series 4-1.
Before LeBron James came along and finally lifted a championship trophy for the city of Cleveland, Mark Price featured in the montage of great Cleveland playoff failures. Price is one of the greatest Cavaliers of all-time and was a great NBA player.
You’ve seen “The Shot”, the famous Jordan buzzer-beater over Craig Ehlo. Well, Price is in the background guarding someone else. Some Cavs fans still talk about whether Price would have been a better choice to defend Jordan on that play.
Most players go their entire careers without making it to an NBA Finals, let alone winning one. Divac was lucky, or so he thought. The Lakers big man made it to an NBA Finals in just his second season. Unfortunately for Divac, it was Jordan’s first NBA Finals too.
Jordan’s Bulls were like a buzz saw cutting through an aging Lakers team that included Magic Johnson and James Worthy in the last Finals of their careers. Unfortunately for them, this signaled the torch passing to a new era of dominance.
Allan Houston finally made it to the NBA Finals in 1999. Like the rest of the Eastern Conference, he was relieved that Jordan had retired so they could have a turn at the Finals. That trip didn’t turn out how he and the Knicks would have wanted it too, but they still managed to get there.
Houston had a good career in the NBA even without a ring. He was a two-time All-Star and won an Olympic gold medal. He is also remembered for his behemoth of a contract that became an anchor around the necks of the franchise.
Larry Johnson is another example of a man who just could not get away from the greatness of Michael Jordan. Johnson spent his entire career in the Eastern Conference, playing with the Hornets and then the Knicks. The former number 1 overall pick was eliminated multiple times with both teams by Jordan’s Bulls.
Johnson was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1992 and was an All-Star selection twice. The former NCAA Champion at UNLV couldn’t get past Jordan and the Bulls to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Tim Hardaway was one of the best point guards of his generation. He was a prolific scorer and assister. He even had a patented “killer crossover” that claimed quite a few victims throughout the league.
Paired with Alonzo Mourning in the late 1990’s, the duo made the Miami Heat quite a formidable opponent. That is until they ran into the Bulls in back-to-back playoffs in 1996 and 1997. Hardaway was good, but Jordan was great.
Like his Pacers running mate, Reggie Miller, Rose wouldn’t make the NBA Finals until Jordan left the league. In his one shot at the Finals trophy, Rose averaged 25 points. He played well but Shaq and Kobe played better.
He and Miller would lead the Pacers to 3 straight Eastern Conference Finals, only making the Finals once. In one of those seasons, they pushed Jordan’s Bulls to a Game 7, but it wasn’t to be.
Muggsy Bogues is a 90’s NBA icon, and not just for his performance in Space Jam. The diminutive guard was a sensation for the Charlotte Hornets and not just because at 5 foot 3 inches he is the shortest player to ever play in the NBA.
His Hornets became a perennial playoff contender but never made the Finals thanks to the Chicago Bulls. No, Jordan wasn’t on the 1995 Bulls team that knocked them out of the playoffs, but if you can’t beat a Jordan-less Bulls team you sure can’t beat them with him in the team.
Shawn Kemp had given everything he could to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1996. The Sonics were 64-18 in the regular season and Kemp had picked up an All-NBA selection for his work. Unfortunately, they ran into a hungry Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
The 1996 NBA season was the first one Jordan played in after returning to basketball. For two years he had watched someone else lift the trophy he had won 3 times in a row. That didn’t sit right with Jordan and he took it out on Kemp and the Sonics. Kemp never made it back to a Finals.
Before Chris Webber went west to revitalize the Sacramento Kings, he was an important part of the Washington Bullets franchise. In 1997, Webber was named to his first All-Star team and helped get the Wizards into the playoffs for the first time in 9 years.
Unfortunately, the upstart Bullets were swept in the first round of the playoffs. Webber would leave Washington shortly after that and would make the playoffs again but he’d never be able to lift that championship trophy.
Dikembe Mutombo is one of the greatest centers and players from Africa of all-time. He is also one of the humanitarians in all of sports. Unfortunately, he couldn’t win an NBA Finals though.
Like so many players on this list, Mutombo didn’t make an NBA Finals until after Jordan had left the league. Jordan personally eliminated Mutombo and his Atlanta Hawks in 1997 with a 4-1 Eastern Conference Semifinals defeat.
Few players are more associated with the NBA in the 1990’s than Reggie Miller. Like so many other great players of the Eastern Conference during the 1990’s, Miller didn’t make it to the NBA Finals until after Jordan left the league.
Miller finally made the Finals in 2000, only to be denied by the next generation’s MJ, Kobe Bryant. While Miller is most famously remembered for his playoff duels against the Knicks, he was knocked out of the playoffs one game from the Finals in 1998.
Penny made it to an NBA Finals. He and Shaq even beat the Chicago Bulls on the way to those Finals. But, it was a Jordan-less Bulls team, so does it really even count? Well, it would have if they had won, but instead, they ran into Olajuwon and Drexler’s Rockets team.
Had Penny not struggled with injuries so much he may have made it back to an NBA Finals, and maybe even lifted the trophy. Unfortunately, Penny just couldn’t stay healthy and never regained that scoring touch that made him such a phenomenon early in his career.
Two years in a row John Stockton took the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals only to meet defeat at the hands of the Jordan-led Bulls. The 1997 Finals featured two teams with a combined 133 regular-season wins. That’s the second-most in NBA Finals history, so you know these two teams were no slouches.
Stockton did his best in the ’97 series but it wasn’t to be. The Jazz lost 4-2 in 6 games. The Jazz returned to the Finals the next year to once again face off against the Bulls, but to the same result, a 4-2 series win for the Bulls. Stockton would not get another shot at a Finals trophy.
Forgetting about those last couple of seasons in Seattle and Orlando, Patrick Ewing is a New York Knick. Unfortunately for Ewing that meant he was in the Eastern Conference, with Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls.
In fact, the only seasons Ewing made the NBA Finals was during seasons Jordan wasn’t in the league. ’94 and ’99. Jordan’s Bulls knocked the Knicks out of the playoffs in 5 of their 6 NBA Finals winning seasons. Ewing will have to settle for being one of the greatest centers of all-time.
Karl Malone is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time and ranked by some as the greatest power forward of all-time. Unfortunately for Malone, his career began the year after Jordan’s began.
Malone came up short twice against Jordan in the Finals in 1997 and 1998, but he wouldn’t give up on his quest for a ring. In his final season, Malone did the unthinkable. He joined the Jazz’s Western Conference rival the Los Angeles Lakers. It almost worked as the Lakers made it to the 2004 NBA Finals, but lost in 5 games to the Ben Wallace-led Pistons.
Charles Barkley has an NBA MVP Award, an Olympic gold medal, and is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. But, the one thing Sir Charles doesn’t have is a championship ring. He came close with a few different teams.
Barkley was knocked out of the playoffs by Jordan and the Bulls as a member of the 76ers and was defeated in the Finals as a member of the Suns. Barkley even moved to the Houston Rockets, who won back-to-back titles in the years Jordan was playing baseball, but he moved too late. Jordan had returned and the Rockets’ dominance was over.
Honorable Mention: Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon
Drexler and Olajuwon make our list for a different reason; because they actually won a championship. As you remember, Michael Jordan left basketball after the first 3-peat and gave baseball a shot. Who stepped into the void? The Houston Rockets led by those two men.
The Rockets created their mini-dynasty in the two seasons Jordan was gone, winning back-to-back NBA titles. Olajuwon was named Finals MVP in both seasons, and both men are now in the Basketball Hall of Fame.