NBA

Only 11% of NBA Players Have Ever Won a Championship

In the end, the season comes down to two teams. The NBA championship is a best-of-seven series between the two rosters. It’s more than just a battle; it’s a drawn-out war, and there can be only one winner. 

He did the math

Members of the Spurs raise the NBA championship trophy
The San Antonio Spurs raising the the NBA Championship trophy | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Recently, Reddit user u/babyyodavan embarked on an intricate, mathematical quest: he set about figuring what percentage of total NBA players in the league’s 74-year history have actually won an NBA championship.

After some fierce calculations, and maybe a little bit of mental gymnastics, he came up with an answer. According to him, about every one-in-10 players, or roughly 11.36%, have won an NBA title.

He then combed through every roster (yes, every single one!) and fact-checked it against Basketball Reference to make sure that he’d accounted for every player that had legitimately gotten a championship ring at some point in the league’s history. 

U/babyyodavan even went so far as to make a spreadsheet of every player to ever win a championship. For those who are interested, you can find that download here.

That’s an impressive amount of work for one person. It involves an eye for detail and a mind for statistics that I can’t even comprehend. But how accurate are u/babyyodavan’s numbers, really?

Accurate numbers?

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Let’s start with the total number of players in the NBA. Currently, there are 32 teams, each with a total possible roster of 15 players, 13 of which can be active at any given time. 32×15=480 players in the league. Times that by 74, the amount of years that the league has been around, in order to get the total number of players, right? 

That calculation isn’t quite that simple though. Roster numbers have fluctuated throughout the years. For example, in 1947, the league’s first year, the roster size was approximately 10 players, enough for one substitution for every man on the court. There also weren’t 32 teams; that numbers has steadily risen over the years. For the first few seasons, the league only had 11 teams. 

Fortunately, u/babyyodavan took all that into account. He figured the upper limit for us, listing 4,905 players in the NBA’s history. He then took every winning NBA team, plugged the members of their roster into his spreadsheet, figuring the number of different winning players at 512.

To finish off, he divided the percentage of winners by the total amount of players in the NBA’s entire history. The result was 11.36%. But is his math actually correct?

Some interesting comments

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Reddit can be a battle ground when it comes to opinions. Scrolling through the top comments beneath u/babyyodavan’s post reveals some strong reactions to his mathematical maneuvering.

As of this writing, the original post has garnered 360 comments in response. The top comments point out that u/babyyodavan’s math is wrong: the statistics are closer to every one-in-eight, or even one-in-nine players that have won a championship. There’s a little disagreement even on the thread about the actual number. As u/briancaos replied, “It’s 8.8 to be exact.”

So where did the original poster go wrong? It’s not in the number of players that won, nor is it in the calculation’s upper limit. The error occurred in his translation of the decimal into a fraction. As u/allsheneededwassum pointed out, .11 is actually one-in-nine odds, not one-in-ten. 

As far as the rest of the thread, once the deep math was out of the way, the conversation quickly devolved into trash-talking some of the game’s most legendary players. U/steamyray_vaughn suggested that the 8.8 figure be rounded up because “What is four-fifths of a player?” U/sharpstud replied, “Isiah Thomas.”