Lost in all the excitement of the Toronto Raptors first-ever NBA Championship was the fact that Jeremy Lin, once the face of one of the most storied rags-to-riches stories in NBA history, was there at the end of the bench cheering his teammates on after signing there at the trade deadline. While some may crack jokes about the merits of the ring, there is something to be said about the once big names who put their egos aside to offer a different kind of role on their team. These NBA players had solid playing careers, but they earned their championship rings from the bench.
Lin’s story has been told time and time again, but it’s worth telling again because it’s one of the most unique among NBA players. A relatively unknown player out of high school out of the Bay Area, he headed to the Ivy League schools with the hopes of getting a guaranteed playing spot. Harvard offered him a scholarship and a role, and despite a decent college career, Lin went undrafted in the 2010 NBA draft.
Never one to give up, Lin worked his way from the bottom up, starting with the Warriors in the summer league until eventually finding his way onto a Knicks roster that needed him to play just hours before they intended to cut him. The rest is storied history, and Linsanity, including an infamous game-winner in Toronto that was met with cheers by the home team, will be part of NBA lore for decades to come.
Despite never reaching the heights he set with Linsanity, Lin turned into a reliable NBA player when healthy, although injuries have limited him on numerous occasions. His stint with the Raptors was short, but while Lin certainly may have wanted a bigger role, his ring came as part of a run that would have seen him out of the league before he started years ago.
Like a player we’ll meet in a minute, Mo Williams was once a standout among NBA players and the No. 2 option behind LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers. But by the time that he returned to the Cavaliers in 2016, he was on his last legs as a player.
However, despite playing just five minutes a game in the playoffs, most of them in garbage time situations, Williams finished his career with a ring. Not only that, but he was a member of a team that won one of the most memorable NBA Finals ever.
Juwan Howard’s last few years in the NBA were largely spent at the end of the bench for a variety of different teams, but the twilight was mostly spent with the Miami Heat. Once a star in both college and the NBA, Howard become something of an unofficial player-coach for the Miami Heat, with many players appreciating his presence in their locker room and crediting his leadership. That made his pivot to assistant coach and now college coach a natural one.
Caron Butler’s inclusion on this list comes with a caveat. Butler was not a last minute addition to the Mavericks, nor a player that they wanted to have on the end of the bench, but an unfortunate victim of the injury bug. Near the end of his prime, Butler still had a lot to offer when he suited up for the Mavericks, and their ring was not so much a knock on his value, but a testament to the Mavericks ability to play through his injury.
Mitch Richmond is synonymous with his star years on two different California teams, the Sacramento Kings and the Golden State Warriors. He was one of the best NBA players of his era, but he didn’t achieve ultimate success until the very end of his career.
It wasn’t until he played his final year in the league with the Los Angeles Lakers that he won the ring. He’d been on the other end of it with the Kings, only making the playoffs once despite a superstar tenure, and ironically saw his Lakers defeat the Kings in the storied Western Conference Finals on the way.