Longevity in the NBA postseason is something of an art and a benefit of timing and placement — it skews heavily towards modern players, since they play more games in a series than their predecessors, and it helps guys who are on teams that make deep runs in the playoffs — but when you get to the very top of the list, you’re looking at players who have developed a knack for not being sent home early. All of these guys are players you’d recognize, and most of them have the careers that will safely place them in the Naismith Hall of Fame once they retire. The active ones, that is — some of these guys are already safely enshrined in Springfield.
Regardless, all of these names are sure to dredge up memories of playoffs past, for better or for worse. These NBA fixtures have a combined forty-five championship rings, innumerable All-Star appearances, and enough sold jerseys to cover a stadium floor. They are, broadly speaking, some of the first choices for any respectable best of any era squad from the league’s history.
And some of them are still playing in the league. In fact, some of them are guaranteed to tack on a couple extra games before this postseasons is over. So, without further ado, here are the ten players who have logged the most playoff games in the NBA.
10, 9 and 8. Karl Malone, Manu Ginobili & Danny Ainge — 193 games
We have a proposal. We would like the NBA and basketball fans to take it seriously. The world needs a Twins remake with Karl Malone and Danny Ainge. Everyone would love it. Anyway, this is another case of fuzzy numbers, because while Malone played before the seven game opening round, Ainge’s career stretched from 1981 all the way until 1995, when he retired after playing with the Boston Celtics, the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Phoenix Suns (in that order). He made the Finals with both Boston and Phoenix, and won a pair of rings with the Celtics.
Karl Malone spent his entire meaningful career with the Utah Jazz. Are we giving him an out for his ring chasing with the Lakers in 2004? Absolutely — by that time the Mailman was 40 years old, had racked up the second-most points scored in NBA history, held the record for most free throws attempted (over 13,000) and made (over 9,700), and had spent seventeen seasons running that same pick and roll with John Stockton in Utah. Plus, his well-documented disdain for anything flashy made his brief tenure in LA all the funnier. And, at the end of the day, his ring chasing didn’t work, so all is right with the world.
As for Manu, he’ll claim the eight spot all for himself if he can see the floor in one more NBA playoff game, and with the Spurs-Thunder series set to go to at least five games, it’s entirely likely that he’ll get that by the end of the week.
7. Scottie Pippen – 208 games
While Scottie Pippen may be considered Jordan’s also-ran for the majority of NBA fans, those in the know are aware of just how good Pippen was: an all time all defense first team member, and not just one of the guys who was lucky enough to play with Michael, à la Steve Kerr. Pippen would lead a series of increasingly dysfunctional teams to the postseason, famously pushing the Los Angeles Lakers to 7 games back in 2000. That 2000 Lakers-Blazers series that features the next player on our list, and luckily for us, some of the games are on YouTube. Check it out:
6. Shaq — 216 games
And then consider the fact that Shaq, in his runs with the Lakers, the Magic, and the Heat, is directly responsible for keeping guys like Scottie Pippen as low on the list as they are. The 2001 Lakers may be the most dominant NBA team to win a championship in the last decade and change — something to be said for a time that covered the Tim Duncan Spurs, the Kevin Garnett Celtics, and the Jason Kidd Nets (that’s a joke). Shaq remains the single most physically intimidating player of the NBA’s modern age, and if Wilt was the NBA’s nuclear option, then the Big Artistotle was the rest of the armory. He finished with four rings, three in LA and one in Miami.
5. Kobe Bryant — 220 games
Since Kobe’s public persona has been built around his comparisons, successful or otherwise, to other NBA players from LeBron to any of the Lakers greats, it’s got to be gratifying to Kobe, the public figure, that he logged over fifty more playoff games than Michael Jordan. However, tying His Airness in total rings would prove to be elusive asthe Lakers sank into the depths of the Western Conference for Bryant’s last seasons in the league.
While Kobe may never have been the best player on any of his championship teams (there’s a case to be made for Pau Gasol, and if you think Bryant was anything other than second fiddle to Shaq, you’re suffering from selective memory), he has been a fixture in the post-season for almost his entire career. While he was never be the same Kobe he was before his Achilles’ tear (and never made it back to the playoffs), Bryant’s legacy among the game’s greats is secured.
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — 237 games
Kareem, formerly Lew Alcindor, is the most prolific scorer in NBA history, and was a fixture in the league from the moment he entered it until the moment he left. He has the distinction of being, at worst, the second best player on one of the premiere franchises (depending on how you feel about Magic), and over twenty years of playoff appearances (from 1969 until 1989), Kareem was contributing to wins and championships even after the age of 40.
3. Robert Horry — 244 games
But Kareem might be less tied to the playoffs than Big Shot Rob. Horry was, by all accounts, a relatively middling NBA player, which puts him somewhere around the 99th percentile for basketball players around the globe, who’s one defining skill was his ability to hit important shots. All of them. He hit all of the important shots, possibly ever. Horry played for four teams over sixteen seasons, winning rings with Houston, Los Angeles, and San Antonio (he played a half-season in Phoenix between H-town and LA). He was utterly unafraid of the moment and was never all that high on the other team’s scouting report. Go watch that video above if you need a refresher on why Robert Horry was just OK for the first 43 minutes of the game and scarier than anyone else in the last five.
2. Tim Duncan — 247 games
The Big Fundamental has more 50-win seasons than many NBA franchises — that’s the kind of thing you associate with a guy who’s this far up on the playoff game list and has four championship rings to his credit. Duncan is the model superstar, as far as the organizations around the league are concerned, and with the Spurs running rampant over the Oklahoma City Thunder (and the Western Conference) so far, it’s conceivable that Duncan might move up at least one more spot by the time he retires.
1. Derek Fisher — 259 games
Last but not least, we’ve got Derek Fisher — the guy who went out of his way to only play for good teams and bails on teams he doesn’t think are going to make it very far once the regular season starts (go google ‘Derek Fisher Utah’ and ‘Derek Fisher Dallas’, we’ll wait) — has played in more playoff games than anyone else, ever, in the history of the NBA. At the age of 39, Fisher seemed to have spent the last few years chasing this record at the expense of anything else, other than maybe angling for the coaching gig the New York Knicks were waiting to offer him (spoiler alert: it didn’t end well). Fisher last saw postseason action with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.