No, not every great wins a championship.
We’re nine months removed from Jimmy Butler, averaging 29.0 points, 10.2 assists, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.6 steals per game in the first five games in the finals before the wear and tear caught up to him and the Miami Heat in Game 6. We’re two years removed from the Golden State Warriors losing Kevin Durant (Achilles) and Klay Thompson (ACL) in back-to-back NBA Finals games while losing to the Toronto Raptors. And we’re less than 24 hours removed from Giannis Antetokoumnpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taking down the Phoenix Suns in six to win their first NBA Title in 50 years. It was the Greek Freak’s first championship in his eight-year career … eight years … and people had been suggesting he switch teams in order to win a title following last year’s embarrassing loss to the Heat. And, at the time, could you blame them?
It took LeBron James nine seasons, following a humiliating loss to the Dallas Mavericks, at that, and the infamous decision to leave Cleveland seven years in for the Heat. It took Durant joining Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and the aforementioned Thompson one year after they had won a title without him, and KD finally became a champion in his 10th NBA season. It took Michael Jordan seven, and people questioning his greatness along the way while continually running into the “Bad Boy” Pistons wall.
It also took Hakeem Olajuwon 10 seasons to alter how people feel about him forever, winning two titles in Jordan’s retirement, and following a trade demand just two years before becoming a champion. And Shaquille O’Neal, Giannis’ closest comparison, needed eight seasons, and like James, a move from a smaller market (Orlando Magic) to a glamorous one (Los Angeles Lakers). People seem to also think the Lakers won as soon as O’Neal got there, but they didn’t until his fourth season. A dude named Kobe Bryant had been developing into an All-Star during that time.
Yet, still, there are countless others who’ve never won a ring, not even at the end of their careers as a star turned role player like Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, or Rajon Rondo. And sometimes, that doesn’t even work. Ask Karl Malone, Chris Webber, or Joe Johnson.
On the hierarchy of all-time greats who have never won an NBA title, Chris Paul resides high on that list. But the list itself, beyond Paul, includes Malone, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Elgin Baylor, Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, James Harden, and many, many, many others. If you expand that to other sports, it’s Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Sanders, Tina Charles, Ted Williams, Jarome Iginla, Sam Langford, Barry Bonds, and, again, many others.
After scoring 41 points to close out the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul told us he’d been playing with torn ligaments in his hand. Last night, though? No excuses.
“I ain’t retiring. Back to work,” he said.
The failure to capture a championship isn’t a referendum on him, and people will use it as a black-eye on his resume despite the Suns being an underdog against the Lakers in Round 1, even as a No. 2 seed. In a playoff where he even missed two games due to COVID-19 protocol, and he would’ve missed more if not for a second-round Suns sweep over the Denver Nuggets, he still fared well overall. Paul averaged 19.2 points, 8.6 assists, and 1.2 steals on 50 / 45 / 88 shooting splits. In the NBA Finals, he recorded 21.8 points and 8.2 assists on 55 / 52 / 75 shooting, though he didn’t quite appear to be his true self at every moment, which is difficult when being defended by Jrue Holiday, among other Bucks.
Unfortunately for Paul and the Suns (if he re-signs with them in free agency), another opportunity at this next year will be unprecedented, if the team is again built around a soon-to-be 37-year-old point guard. But, chances are, he gets nine figures in a couple of weeks that will carry him close to turning 40. This may have been his only chance, and definitely his best one.
But anyway, cue the clickbaity analysis, because this will inevitably and unfairly be held against his unquestionable greatness.