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NBA AM: Top 10 Ring Chasers

Dwyane Wade is too to Cleveland to chase another ring, but he is by no means the first.

Joel Brigham profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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There are eight million reasons why Dwyane Wade pushed so hard for his release from the Chicago Bulls this past week, and each of them rhymes with “championship swing.” Wade already has three titles on his resume from his time with the Miami HEAT, but with his productivity clearly waning, he wanted to make the most of his time left in the league and compete for a championship.

Nobody blames the guy. He went from the Eastern Conference’s worst team to its best team in 48 hours and gets to reunite with his BFF LeBron James for at least one more go at a championship together. It’s a Hallmark movie, but everybody understands what’s going on because this whole song-and-dance has been done before. Players chase rings, and the following is a look at the 10 most notable ring chasers in recent NBA history:

Clyde Drexler, Houston Rockets

For his entire career leading up to the 1994-1995 season, Clyde Drexler had been one of the league’s most intriguing “what-if” stories. His mere existence, after all, is the singular reason that Portland drafted Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan in 1984—something that would come back to haunt Drexler and the Blazers in 1992 when Jordan’s Bulls would eliminate them from the NBA Finals en route to MJ’s second championship.

By 1994, Drexler was unhappy playing for a team that clearly wasn’t going to be competitive in the postseason, even with Jordan out of the league, so he asked to be traded to a contender. That swap happened in February of 1995, to the Houston Rockets of all teams, to be reunited with his former University of Houston “Phi Slamma Jamma” counterpart Hakeem Olajuwon.

After 11 seasons in Portland, Drexler pushed for a way out with a chance to win a ring. And he did, toppling the Orlando Magic in four games for his first title.

Charles Barkley, Houston Rockets

After getting a taste of the NBA Finals in 1993 (which also resulted in a loss to Michael Jordan), Barkley let the Phoenix Suns know a couple of years later that he was fed up with the organization and wanted to be traded to a contender. He reportedly told the team that he’d retire if they didn’t trade him somewhere, so trade him they did, to Houston, for a haul that included Sam Cassell and Robert Horry.

Barkley was thrilled, letting the media at the time know that Houston had been his desired landing spot all along, but despite putting three Hall of Fame players on the same team, the Rockets looked slower and older in a season that also just so happened to be Jordan’s first full one upon return from retirement. Houston never even got a chance to face the Bulls in the playoffs that year, however. Drexler got his ring in 1995, but Barkley never did make it back to another NBA Finals.

Karl Malone & Gary Payton, Los Angeles Lakers

In 2003, both Karl Malone and Gary Payton were free agents, which sounds awesome but came at a time when neither player was quite what they used to be. Malone, at age 40, was entering his 19th season, while Payton was heading into his 13th. Hoping for enough gas left in the tank to make a serious run at an elusive NBA championship (Jordan, once again, had thwarted both players in turn from 1996 to 1998), the two signed for peanuts to team up with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in L.A.

Despite O’Neal calling it “the most talented team [he’s] ever played on,” those Lakers were upset by the more team-oriented Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals. Malone never got his ring, but Payton chased rings in Boston and Miami over the next couple of seasons and finally won one with O’Neal and Dwyane Wade as a member of the Miami HEAT in 2006.

LeBron James & Chris Bosh, Miami HEAT

Perhaps nobody has made so stunning a grab at an easy NBA ring than LeBron James, who “took his talents to South Beach” in 2010 along with Toronto Raptors star Chris Bosh to join Wade in Miami. The introduction of “The Big Three” remains arguably the most gaudy display of bravado in league history, but it’s impossible to deny the effectiveness of those three teaming up. James, Wade and Bosh made the NBA Finals all four years they played together, winning two of them. And, as soon as he had come, James blustered out of town, back to Cleveland for three more Finals appearances and one more ring. So far.

Ray Allen, Miami HEAT

It still chaps Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce that Allen ditched the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2012 to pursue an easy ring with the aforementioned HEAT superstars in Miami, and in a lot of ways Allen set the tone for modern-day ring-chasing by taking significantly less than market value to play for a contender. Before him, players almost always took the money. Allen took the opportunity instead, signing for the midlevel exception (about $3.09 million per season) on a three-year deal with the HEAT.

Allen was 37 when he signed the deal, but the HEAT didn’t need him to play big minutes to be effective. He ended up being the team’s savior in the 2013 NBA Finals, knocking down a three-pointer in the waning seconds of Game 6 to keep the series alive. Miami would go onto win the series, and Allen would in fact get another ring.

Steve Nash & Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe remained a significant draw for potential free agents for another decade, drawing both Nash and Howard to Los Angeles in the summer of 2012. Nash, after winning a couple of MVP awards in Phoenix, could not get to the NBA Finals as a member of the Suns, so he orchestrated a sign-and-trade to the Lakers that he thought would bring him the glory he deserved. With Bryant and Pau Gasol already there and Dwight Howard on the way, the team looked pretty darn good. On paper.

In reality, though, the team was a mess. Howard, who took on the opportunity with L.A. after an attempted forced trade to Brooklyn fell through, was especially bad, while Nash flat-out couldn’t stay healthy. The current Lakers rebuild started in some ways with that dismal season, and they’re only just now starting to crawl back out of the hole left behind by those two stars.

Kevin Durant & David West, Golden State Warriors

Like Ray Allen, West signed for peanuts to be part of a team that could win him his first title, but unlike Allen, he didn’t really burn any bridges in doing so.

Durant, however, burned just about every bridge imaginable on his way out of Oklahoma City, whether he meant to or not, and serves as the poster child for ring chasing in today’s NBA. To be paid as well as he’s paid and to be able to compete at the level at which the Warriors compete are two great gifts, but they came at the expense at possibly seeing that success in Oklahoma City.

The Thunder were an elite team with him, but when Golden State knocked them out of the postseason in 2015, Durant joined with the team that beat him and got himself a Finals MVP award and, of course, a championship ring. We all should be paid so heftily to be so successful.

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Now it’s Wade’s turn to chase a ring. He won’t be the last, either. As long as there are juggernauts to win all the championships, there will be stars from lesser teams dying for the opportunity to join them. One can only imagine who will join to create mega-teams next.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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