If you ask most NBA fans about the standard to meet for winning NBA championships, you’ll hear one name more than others: Michael Jordan. He had two separate runs of three championships apiece — an incredible feat.
But if NBA Finals wins weigh so heavily, Jordan is at a disadvantage compared to several NBA Hall of Famers. In fact, he’s well out of the running. Let’s take a close look at the top NBA finals contributors, then get to the main show: Bill Russell, the 11-time NBA Finals king.
The NBA players with the most championships
According to Basketball-Reference, Jordan is in a five-way tie for ninth place on the NBA finals leaderboard. His feat looks better when you consider his role in those games. As great as the ’90s Bulls were, Jordan was the superstar. That he retired, played baseball with the Birmingham Barons, then suddenly returned in top form in 1995 adds more to the legend.
Another famous player with six championships: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The enormous, good-natured center picked up his first Finals ring with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971. He’s most remembered for the other five championship wins, with the Showtime Lakers of the ’80s.
Robert Horry, with seven rings, has a different legacy. He was rarely the most crucial player on the floor, nor was he a superstar associated with one team’s dynasty. Instead, the role player served some of the best teams of the ’90s and early 2000s. The Houston Rockets, LA Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs all got Horry on board for fierce Finals runs.
How Bill Russell amassed more NBA Finals rings than he has fingers
Names will always come up as new players are compared to past greats. Bill Russell nears the top of the list. The domineering center was one of the defining players of the era that began to cement the NBA in the national imagination.
In 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, Russell was key in bringing home Finals rings an incredible 11 times. He could score, but Basketball-Reference reveals his greatest strength involved rebounds.
Russell averaged 22.5 rebounds per game and earned four NBA rebounding titles. His entire style got attention precisely for how little attention he sought. He was the definitive team player of his era.
Is it possible to break Bill Russell’s championship record in the modern NBA?
The level of competition in the modern NBA is different than 10 years ago, never mind the ’60s. It’s difficult to compare eras as the training regimens of today simply didn’t exist in the past. But one thing is for sure: No team matches Jordan’s Bulls, never mind the long-term dominance of Abdul-Jabbar’s Lakers or Russell’s Celtics.
The Golden State Warriors were supposed to be the next team with a shot. But they exist in a league where several superstars with legitimate claims to being the best active players exist, especially in the West. Kevin Durant once bolstered the ranks. Now, however, he’s in the East recovering from an injury and preparing to team up with Kyrie Irving.
And there’s the matter of LeBron James. The aging Lakers star spent most of the season before the COVID-19 outbreak turning in some of the best play of his career. He disrupted a seemingly sure-thing Finals win for the Warriors in a shocking Game 7.
Despite the contemporaneous hand-wringing over the Warriors’ super team spending, James and a mediocre Cavaliers squad took the title. This was the best shot any team had to rack up record-setting rings in the modern NBA. Now, it’s all up in the air. Bill can sleep easy.