Who Played the Most NBA Seasons Without Ever Playing in the NBA Finals?

Over the past 75 years, just eight NBA players have been fortunate enough to remain in the league for 20 or more seasons. Of those eight, six were lucky enough to win at least one NBA championship and we’ll hit up those six at the end. As for the other two, those being Vince Carter and Jamal Crawford (more on the rest in a moment), not only did they never win a championship, they never even reached the NBA Finals.

Vince Carter played 22 seasons and never reached the NBA Finals

Not only did Vince Carter play the most seasons without reaching the NBA Finals, but he also played the most seasons in NBA history with 22.

Taken with the fifth overall pick in the first round of the 1998 NBA draft, Carter played his first six full seasons with the Toronto Raptors and reached the postseason three times, losing twice in the first round and once in the Eastern Conference semis.

Twenty games into the 2004-05 season, he was traded to the New Jersey Nets, who just a few years earlier had made back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals, losing both. But in three playoff appearances with the Nets in five seasons, Carter lost once in the first round and twice in the East semis.

In the summer of 2009, Carter was sent to the Orlando Magic, who had just lost to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. But they couldn’t get back in 2010 as they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics. Less than two months into the 2010-11 campaign, Carter was sent to the Phoenix Suns, who had lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals the season before. But the Suns finished just 40-42 and began a decade-long run of missing the postseason.

Ahead of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Carter signed with the Dallas Mavericks, who were coming off an NBA Finals victory over the Miami Heat. Unfortunately for Carter, the Mavs never made it beyond the first round in his three seasons with the team, once even missing the playoffs altogether. He then spent the next three years with the Memphis Grizzlies, losing in the Western Conference semis to the Golden State Warriors in his first year and losing in the first round to the Spurs the next two.

Carter played the 2017-18 season with the Sacramento Kings and then spent his 21st and 22nd seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, missing the postseason all three years.

Jamal Crawford played 20 seasons without reaching the NBA Finals

Crawford was taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers but was immediately traded to the Chicago Bulls, with whom he spent the first four seasons of his career, missing out on the postseason every year. He then spent the next four years with the New York Knicks, again missing out on the playoffs during his run in the Big Apple.

During the 2008-09 campaign, Crawford was traded to the Warriors and once again sat out the postseason. The following year, he joined the Hawks and was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year for the first time, averaging 18 points on the way to his first appearance in the playoffs, where Atlanta defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round before losing to Vince Carter and the Magic in the Eastern Conference semis. Crawford and the Hawks defeated Orlando in the first round the following season but then lost to the Bulls in the second round.

Crawford spent the lockout-shortened season with the Portland Trail Blazers, again missing the postseason, and then joined the Los Angeles Clippers ahead of the 2012-13 season. He spent five seasons in LA, picking up two more Sixth Man of the Year trophies, and appeared in the playoffs every year, never making it past the Western Conference semis.

Crawford played the 2017-18 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were the No. 8 seed in the West and lost to the Houston Rockets in the first round. He spent the following year with the Suns, who missed the postseason, and then played one game for the Brooklyn Nets in the Orlando bubble in 2020. So not only did Crawford never reach the NBA Finals, he never even made an appearance in the conference finals.

The other six who played at least 20 seasons won a combined

NBA Finals logo
NBA Finals logo | David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

As promised, here’s a quick look at the other six players who played at least 20 NBA seasons, a group who combined to win 18 titles in 28 NBA Finals appearances.

  • Robert Parish: 21 seasons, four titles, six NBA Finals appearances
  • Kevin Willis: 21 seasons, one title, one NBA Finals appearance
  • Kevin Garnett: 21 seasons, one title, two NBA Finals appearances
  • Dirk Nowitzki: 21 seasons, one title, two NBA Finals appearances
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 20 seasons, six titles, 10 NBA Finals appearances
  • Kobe Bryant: 20 seasons, five titles, seven NBA Finals appearances

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference

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