Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford made waves this week by becoming the first player in NBA history to win the Sixth Man of the Year award three separate times. That put him in the conversation as one of the most effective bench players of all-time, and even if there are those who disagree, there’s no contesting the fact that there is no more decorated bench player in the history of the game.
All of the major NBA awards feature their own titans, those men who owned certain awards the way Crawford has owned Sixth Man of the Year. Here’s a look at the most decorated players in each of the NBA’s most prestigious honors:
Most MVP trophies – 6, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers
All of the greatest NBA players dominate at least a handful of statistical categories, but Abdul-Jabbar’s list is an especially impressive one. He’s the all-time leader in career wins, a 10-time All-NBA First Team selection, five-time All-Defensive Team selection, two-time scoring champ and a former Rookie of the Year. He also holds the record for most MVP trophies. In 1971-72, just one of his six MVP seasons, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 34.8 PPG and 16.6 RPG, which is by any measure one of the most impressive statistical seasons of all-time. Michael Jordan won five MVP trophies, by comparison, and topping that guy in anything is worth noting.
Most championship rings – 11, Bill Russell, Boston Celtics
There was an eight-year stretch in which Bill Russell never lost an NBA championship, and that run between the years of 1959 and 1966 still holds up as the most dominant stretch in the history of American team sports. Russell actually only played 13 seasons in the NBA, meaning there were only two times in his career that he didn’t win a ring. If Wilt Chamberlain hadn’t ever existed, Russell and the Celtics may have run off 13 in a row. Think about that for a moment.
Most Finals appearances – 12, Bill Russell, Boston Celtics
Obviously. But right behind him is Jerry West, who played in nine NBA Finals during the same era as Russell, meaning that despite playing in 55 NBA Finals games, he only came out of it with a single championship ring for his troubles.
Most Finals MVP trophies – 6, Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Only Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal have ever been named the NBA Finals MVP three times in a row, and His Airness did it twice. Jordan played in exactly six Finals, and he won the Finals MVP each and every time he showed up to the dance. Only a handful of other players can say the same, but even then it’s only because they played in significantly fewer Finals than MJ. His final shot over Byron Russell, his shrug-worthy six three-pointers in a ’92 Finals game against Portland, or “The Move” against the Lakers in 1991 all played at least minor roles in his stacking up all those awards. He may be the most clutch NBA Finals legend in history.
Most scoring titles – 10, Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Of those 10 scoring titles, eight of them came with over 30 points per game for the season, including a seven-year stretch where he failed to fall below that mark. His first scoring title came in his third season in the league, where he scored a career-high 37.1 PPG. In today’s NBA, it’s a big DraftKings night when a player drops that many points, but in 1986-87, that was just another day at the office for Jordan.
Most All-NBA First Team honors – 11, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers; Karl Malone, Utah Jazz
One of the things that Kobe Bryant walks away with in terms of his legacy is the fact that he is tied for the lead for most All-NBA First Team honors (11) and most total All-NBA team selections (15). The former he shares with Karl Malone, while the latter he shares with Abdul-Jabbar and Tim Duncan. Both marks are impressive, though they may not stand for long, as LeBron James already has nine First-Team selections and 11 overall.
Most All-Star appearances – 19, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers
Only a handful of players in the history of basketball have played more seasons in the NBA than Abdul-Jabbar, but his string of 19 All-Star appearances in 20 seasons is something that will probably never happen again. Consider that Kevin Garnett (21 NBA seasons) and Tim Duncan (19 NBA seasons) both “only” have appeared in 15 All-Star games, and you start to get a picture of how incredible this particular record really is. It’s hard to stay that good and that healthy for that long.
Most All-Star MVP trophies – 4, Bob Pettit, St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks; Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Before Russell Westbrook did it this past year, Pettit had been the only player to earn the All-Star MVP award in two consecutive years, and three of those came in an impressive four-year span for the Hall of Famer. He scored 20 points and hauled in 24 rebounds for his first MVP, and his other games were similarly impressive. Bryant, meanwhile, is fresher in our minds, but he’s an All-Star legend too. As the all-time leader in All-Star starts (15), steals (38), shots made (119) and among the top two in points (280), games (15), threes (22) and minutes (414), it was inevitable that he’d win an MVP trophy or four as well. Interestingly, both Pettit and Bryant were named co-MVPs at one point, not that that has anything to do with how much they deserved their myriad awards.
Most Defensive Player of the Year trophies – 4, Dikembe Mutombo, Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers; Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons
Easily the most dominant defensive presences of their respective eras, Mutombo and Wallace more than earned their record four Defensive Player of the Year awards, though they earned them in rather different ways. All four of Wallace’s came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, and they were awarded in a rather unbelievable five-year span for The Fro. Mutombo, meanwhile, won his for three different teams over the span of seven seasons, not that one road to immortality was any more or less effective than another.
Most All-Defensive Team honors – 15, Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Despite the fact that he’s never actually won Defensive Player of the Year, Duncan has proven himself one of the best defenders of all-time thanks to his record 15 All-Defensive team selections – eight of which were All-Defensive First Team honors. That second number puts him in a tie for second place, by the way, behind Bryant, Garnett, Jordan and Gary Payton, and he still could add more numbers to that total. To give a sense of how commanding that lead is, nobody has been named to 14 or even 13 All-Defensive teams. Duncan stands comfortably alone on this one.
Only a couple of these records are anywhere close to being contested by current NBA players, but to join the ranks of the most decorated players in NBA history is something that takes a full career of prolonged dominance, which as we’ve all seen time and again is far from easy. That just puts into perspective how special Crawford’s third Sixth Man of the Year award really is.
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