By Leo Silbert
Sometimes fate in the sports world can be incredibly cruel. Some of the best talents ever like Ted Williams in the MLB, Dan Marino in the NFL, Peter Stastny and Marcel Dionne in the NHL and most NBA stars of the 90s who weren’t on the Bulls like Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley were never able to ascend to the highest place in their sport because of the team they were on wasn’t very talented after them or because they were blocked from winning because they played during an era of a dynasty. This still holds true today when 3 out of the 4 major sports are going through eras of historic parity (while the NBA finals can already be predicted fairly reliably now in February). So out of all the stars in each of the sports who hasn’t won a title to this point in their careers, who in each of the 4 major sports deserves to win a title the most?
Being split into 2 separate conferences also shows a split in level of parity. Since the year 2000, 12 of the 16 teams in the NFC have made it to the Superbowl with only the Panthers (2 times) and Giants and Seahawks (3 times each) have gone more than once. The only NFC Teams to not make it to the Superbowl since 2000 are the Cowboys, Redskins, Vikings and Lions. The same does not hold true for the AFC. Since the year 2000, there have only been 6 teams to make the Superbowl from the AFC side with the Patriots making it 7 times, the Steelers making it 3 times, the Ravens, Colts and Broncos making it twice (the Colts and Broncos did so with Peyton Manning as their quarterback to lessen the parity even more) and the Raiders made it once in 2002. Still though, the NFC with all the turnover they have shown has the player in the NFL who most deserves to hoist the Lombardi trophy in Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald already has all of the credentials for a wide receiver to make it to the hall of fame. He is 3rd all time in Receptions, he is 9th all time in yards, and 8th all time in touchdowns. He even has a heartbreaking loss in the lone Superbowl he was in where he had a great game catching 7 passes on 8 targets for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns, only to lose on one of the greatest plays in Superbowl history with Ben Roethlisberger throwing his lone touchdown of the night to eventual Superbowl MVP Santonio Holmes in the back corner of the end zone. Fitzgerald’s Cardinals have never made it back to the Superbowl despite making the NFC championship game in 2015 where they lost badly to the Panthers. He is also one of the great men off the football field in the NFL, being the co-winner of the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award this year. Fitzgerald is nearing the end of the line for his hall of fame career and winning a Superbowl would be a great last stop for him before he sets off on his way to Canton.
Philip Rivers is stuck in the AFC with the Patriots and for most of his career Peyton Manning so he hasn’t had much of a chance to make the Superbowl and now his team doesn’t have much talent around him to help him win one in his final few years in the league.
Frank Gore was stuck on bad 49er teams for years and came very close to winning it all in 2012 when his team lost after his team passed the ball 3 times from their own 5 yard line within the game’s final 3 minutes.
Jason Witten and Antonio Gates are both top 5 tight ends of all time, but they have never had a good enough team around them to get over the hump. If Witten returns this year he might have a good shot with the Cowboys but it seems like Gates is stuck in the same boat as Philip Rivers.
Joe Thomas has been on of the best left tackles in the game ever since he stepped on the field. Unfortunately for him, the team he has been doing that for is the Cleveland Browns who are in the middle of their sixth head coach during his tenure trying to rebuild the team.
Julius Peppers just passed Michael Strahan for 5th all time in sacks and he made it to the Superbowl in his 2nd season in the league, but he has never made it back there during his 15 year career.
Major League Baseball:
Throughout the history of baseball, many all time great players have been unable to capture a World Series victory such as Ted Williams, Ernie Banks and Ty Cobb. A lot of this had to do with how baseball didn’t have a lot of year to year turnover for most of its history and only had 2 teams from each league make it to the postseason until the 1995 season. Then from 1996-2000, the Yankees won 4 out of 5 titles which made it even harder for non-Yankee players to win a World Series. After that though, World Series winners became more unpredictable. The unpredictability of the sport has led to many of the contemporary greats to win at least one world series, but there are still some who have yet to reach that plateau, the greatest of which is Adrian Beltre. Beltre has been in the Majors since 1998 and he already has the kind of numbers that can guarantee him a spot in Cooperstown after he retires. Beltre is going to hit his 3000th hit this season, he has a career WAR (wins above replacement level player) pf 90.2 which puts him at 30th all time in major league history. His 1571 RBIs and 445 home runs him at 43rd and 41st all time while he sits at 25th all time in extra base hits. He came very close to winning a World Series in 2011 with the Texas Rangers, but a loss in game 7 was the last time his team made it to the grandest stage in baseball. He still has another season or two left in the tank and the Rangers are a competitive team, so he may get what he deserves if everything breaks just right.
Carlos Beltran: Beltran is another guy who started in 1998 and has put up potentially hall of fame credentials already but the one thing that would push him over the top as a lock would be winning a World Series.
Ichiro: Ichiro is one of the greatest hitters of all time and is returning to the Marlins in 2017. He has over 3000 hits since debuting in the majors in 2001 and if you include his numbers from Japan, he has the most hits in professional baseball history. He is already a lock for Cooperstown but a ring would be a great way to end a great career.
Felix Hernandez: It is hard to imagine that King Felix is only going to be 31 this April since he debuted all the way back in 2005. It is also hard to imagine that in his 12 seasons in the major he has never even made it to the playoffs. The Mariners are once again a popular preseason pick to make the postseason and once there anything can happen, but it is time for the Mariners to help their king finally get his ring.
Clayton Kershaw: Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in baseball history already at the age of 28 and he is still improving. He has the chance to be in consideration for the best starting pitcher of all time if he continues his career trajectory, but what would be the best thing for him to be able to lay a claim to that is a World Series ring.
Mike Trout: Yes, he is only 25 and has many, many more years to eventually win his first world series but he has a few things putting him here. First off, his historical comparisons aren’t guys like Ken Griffey Jr. or another one of the 50 best players of all time, but instead he gets compared to Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, who are all top 10 players of all time. After only 5 full seasons and 40 games in 2011, his WAR is 48.5 which is more than half way to Beltre’s in one-third of the amount of seasons. He is also stuck on one of the worst teams in baseball with a contract that has him signed through his age 31 season.
The NHL is the most unpredictable of the major sports leagues in America. Sure, recently the Blackhawks and Kings have won 5 out of the last 7 Stanley Cups, but they haven’t been able to go back to back and it isn’t uncommon for low seeds to upset higher seeds in the playoffs. The Eastern Conference has produced 6 different conference champions in the past 7 years with only the Bruins repeating an appearance. One of the teams who has made it but wasn’t able to get over the top was the New York Rangers in 2014 led by all world goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has been one of the best goalies in the NHL since his debut in October of 2005. Since his debut, he has only missed the playoffs one time, he became the fastest ever goaltender to reach the 400 win milestone with getting his 400th win in his 727th game, and he is one of 2 people in the top 5 of all time save percentage in the NHL who has started 400 games. Now Lundqvist throughout the early part of his career was carrying the Rangers to the playoffs year in and year out with little help. He has finished in the top 3 for voting on the Venzia trophy (best goaltender award) 5 times, with winning the awards in the 2011/2012 season and he has only not been given votes for the award last season where he had a relatively pedestrian .920 save percentage. He has also finished with at least 30 wins in every season he has played that wasn’t shortened by a lockout. Even when he missed an extra 20 games more than his average due to a bruised vein in his neck in 2014/2015 he was able to get 30 wins in only 46 games played. The Rangers are once again contenders for the Cup this season and Lundqvist is starting his normal late season heat up so he can win one this year, as long as his team is able to meet him half way.
Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin is one of the great goal scorers of all time, and he falls to second on this list to fellow 2005/2006 rookie classmate Lundqvist because Ovechkin hasn’t been able to lead his team to the playoffs as often, but now the Capitals are the team with the best record in the league so if they can get over the hump in the playoffs, he may win his first title.
The Sedin Twins: Henrik and Daniel Sedin have been tied to together since birth and both were drafted to the Vancouver Canucks with the 2nd and 3rd overall picks in 1999. They are both within 31 points of each other with Henrik at 1004 and Daniel at 973. They were able to reach the finals in 2011 but they ended up falling to the Bruins in 7 games. Now, the Canucks are 10th in the western conference and don’t seem to be threats at bringing home Lord Stanley’s Cup anytime soon so if they want to win their first cup, they will need to orchestrate moves out of Vancouver.
Jarome Ignila: He has played the most games of anyone in the league currently to have not won a Stanley Cup. He also happens to play for the worst team in the NHL. He made the finals in 2003/2004 but his team couldn’t help him pull out the win before the lockout lost season of 2004/2005. He signed with the Avalanche trying to capture a late career cup, but the Avalanche have regressed in each of his seasons there.
The San Jose Sharks Duo of Joe Thorton Patrick Marleau: They along with now former Shark Dainius Zubrus were all so close to winning their first championship together. Zubrus has since retired and now it is only Thorton and Marleau and they are trying to get back to the finals for the second year in a row. Thorton leads all NHL players in assists since he entered the league in 1997 while Marleau has over 500 goals and assists since 1997. They are first in their division and 3rd overall in the west so they may very well have another shot this year.
Shane Doan: Being the last first round pick of a franchise that is forced to move due to financial reasons can be tough, but Doan was able to do that and stayed with the team after the move and is still there today. During his tenure, the Coyotes haven’t been a consistent contending team, but Doan has been able to survive the rebuilds and the near contentions and he is still sticking with them to this date, which is unfortunate as he once again finds himself on one of the worst teams in the league.
The NBA has the highest number of all time greats who have never been able to win a ring. During the 1960s, the Celtics dynasty blocked out pretty much everyone else, with only the 76ers winning a single championship in the decade to prevent the Celtics sweeping the decade. The 1970s was probably the most competitive decade for the NBA with 8 different teams winning championships in the 10 year span, with only the Knicks and Celtics winning more than one championship within the decade. The 1980s was dominated by the Lakers and Celtics, with only the 76ers and Pistons winning a single championship each besides the Celtics and Lakers during the decade. The 1990s had 4 different teams winning championships, and that number may be as high as it is because Michael Jordan retired for a year and a half and wasn’t in shape for the 1995 championship, and then he retired again before the 1998-1999 season. The 2000s was the Lakers and Spurs winning 5 and 3 championships each and so far the 2010 seem like they will be dominated by LeBron James and the Warriors. Some of the all time greats to never win a title are Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Allen Iverson and Elgin Baylor (who retired early in the 1972 season before the Lakers went on to win the championship). Today, there are plenty of players who are near the best to ever play their position but have yet to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy, none of them have been better than Chris Paul. Paul may be short and slim for the NBA but in his now 12 seasons he has shown that not only could he make it work, he could be dominant. Chris Paul was so good that the NBA blocked a trade that would have sent him to the Lakers with Kobe and Dwight Howard because that would have made the Lakers too good for the good of the NBA so instead, he was traded from the Hornets where he was consistently the best of 2 good players on the Hornets, the other being David West to the Clippers to team up with a young Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan to make lob city. He’s been good for 18.7 points per game, 9.9 assists per game, and 2.3 steals per game throughout his career while only averaging 2.4 turnovers per game. And possibly the most important stat working for Chris Paul is that he is first in NBA history in win shares per 48 minutes, beating out even the GOAT Michael Jordan. Now Paul’s career is getting closer to its twilight and he is stuck on a very good Clippers team in the era of super teams like the Warriors and Cavaliers dominating the league. He definitely has the talent to be the best player on a NBA championship team, but it seems like for him to have a chance, he needs at least one more star player on his team with an improved bench to even have a shot any time soon.
Carmelo Anthony: Anthony was probably hurt just as much by the Pistons drafting Darko Milicic as the Pistons were by drafting Darko Milicic. Anthony instead went to the Nuggets who were the worst team in basketball the year before he was drafted and were turned into a playoff team his rookie season behind 21 points per game by Anthony. The Nuggets eventually proceeded to trade for a past his prime Allen Iverson to put next to Anthony in a move that they thought would put them over the top, but it never led to any more playoff success. In 2008/2009 he finally got a playoff series win in his final full season in Denver. The next season he was traded to the Knicks near the trade deadline when Anthony was set to be a free agent the following summer, ruining the Knicks bench for no reason (not Anthony’s fault, this was because of terrible Knicks management). Anthony is now suiting up for a bad Knicks team that makes more headlines for PR disasters than for wins and the team may be looking to trade him to a contender, which if that happens would finally give Anthony a team behind him that he can win with.
Vince Carter: Carter is still going strong for the Memphis Grizzlies, but at 40 years old you would have to think this will be his final season and it seems inevitable that Vinsaity will be another great and exciting basketball player to retire without a championship. He arrived in Dallas 1 year too late as they won the year before he arrived and he got close with the Magic in 2010, falling to the Celtics in the finals.
Russell Westbrook: The angriest man in the NBA is doing everything in his power to make sure his Oklahoma City Thunder can be competitive but since now he is the only star on the team in the era of 3 star super teams, he is fighting a losing battle. Westbrook is channeling his inner Oscar Robertson in averaging a triple double this season and night in and night out you know that Westbrook is the player who played harder than anyone else that game. He deserves to win a title for his attitude alone, but unless the Thunder can start luring in fellow stars quickly, it seems Westbrook is doomed to anger his way to one 7 seed worthy season for the Thunder after another, but if he weren’t there today the Thunder would most likely be challenging the Nets for the worst record in the NBA.
James Harden: Another player drafted by the Thunder franchise, Harden was traded away to the Houston Rockets and he has developed into one of the 5 best players on the planet there. Now with Mike D’Antoni as his head coach he has evolved even further into a Steve Nash on steroids type of player who seems like he was created by some kid on NBA 2k to fit exactly what D’Antoni wants to do on offense. Harden’s Rockets are currently the third best team in the West and they are the best non-super team in the league, which shows that the Rockets are so so so close to being championship worthy, but they are being held back by 3 of the greatest collections of talent in NBA history.
Kevin Durant: A third player drafted by the Sonics/Thunder, Durant is one of the best pure scorers of all time and he just joined the Warriors’ super team. He probably won’t be on this list long.