No matter what the era, the NBA is always loaded with talented superstars worthy of individual accolades. Many of the players in this gallery never won the MVP because they played during an era in which one or two all-time greats dominated the award. For every Michael Jordan and LeBron James who wins MVP year after year, there’s a guy like Jerry West or Jason Kidd who finds himself overshadowed and falling just short time and again. These guys who miss out are often Hall of Famers with double-digit All-Star and All-NBA appearances.
What follows are the 10 greatest NBA players who have never won an NBA MVP award.
10. Dominique Wilkins
Wilkins was one of the most exciting players and unstoppable scorers in the game’s history. He entered the league as the Human Highlight Film. His inability to win an NBA MVP has everything to do with his career coinciding with Magic Johnson’s and Larry Bird’s prime years in the 1980s and Michael Jordan’s prime years in the 1990s. A nine-time All-Star in consecutive seasons from 1985-86 through 1993-94, Wilkins was always among the scoring leaders, taking home the title in the 1985-86 season by averaging 30.3 points per game. It was following that season that ‘Nique came closest to winning the MVP, finishing second to Larry Bird as the only other player to receive first-place votes
9. John Stockton
Stockton played 19 seasons in the NBA. He came into the league when Larry Bird, Moses Malone, and Magic Johnson were the league’s top players. One of the game’s greatest passers, Stockton is still the all-time leader in assists and steals, with 15,806 assists and 3,265 steals collected over a 19-year NBA career. He led the league in assists for nine consecutive seasons from 1987-88 to 1995-96, and his career average of 10.5 remains second all-time behind only Magic Johnson’s mark of 11.2. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive Team five times and earned a spot on the All-NBA Team in 11 seasons, but he never finished better than seventh in the MVP voting throughout the entirety of his career.
8. Clyde Drexler
In the early 1990s, Drexler was considered by some to be the second-best player behind Michael Jordan. Drexler’s lack of MVP hardware is mostly a product of the era in which he played. The 10-time All-Star and member of the Dream Team starred for the Portland Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets, winning an NBA championship in 1995 and finishing a 15-year NBA career with averages of 20.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. Despite being one of the best players of his generation, Drexler missed out on winning the MVP, finishing second in the voting in 1992 to Michael Jordan. That season Drexler had averaged 25 points, 6.7 assists and 6.6 rebounds for a 57-win Portland team that made it all the way to the NBA Finals, only to lose, perhaps fittingly, to Jordan’s Bulls.
7. Jason Kidd
One of the best all-around players to ever play in the NBA, Jason Kidd was a triple-double machine and a consistently outstanding distributor throughout his 19 years in the NBA. The closest Kidd ever came to winning the award was in 2002, following a season in which he transformed a moribund New Jersey Nets franchise into a legitimate title contender. The Nets improved by 26 wins after Kidd’s arrival in New Jersey, winning 52 games and making it all the way to the NBA Finals.
6. Patrick Ewing
NBA was just loaded with talent throughout Ewing’s best years, as the 11-time All-Star and the all-time scoring leader for the New York Knicks enjoyed his prime years during the same years as many of his teammates on the 1992 Dream Team. Ewing averaged a double-double for nine consecutive seasons during his most productive years and is New York’s career leader in points, rebounds, blocked shots, and steals. As for the MVP Award, Ewing was in the top-five of the voting on six different occasions, but he was never able to finish higher than fourth.
5. Isiah Thomas
A dynamic scorer, Thomas led the Pistons to back-to-back championships at a time when Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan were each at their apex as all-time great players. Like so many others appearing on this list, Thomas’ best years were in the 1980s and early 1990s, a time when Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan had a stranglehold on the MVP award. The 12-time NBA All-Star never fared very well in the MVP voting, and his best finish was when he finished fifth in the 1984 vote. In his best statistical season (1984-85), Thomas averaged 21.2 points and led the league in assists per game at 13.9, but he still finished just ninth in the MVP voting.
4. Elgin Baylor
Baylor is one of the game’s greatest players, and he played all of his 14 seasons with a Lakers franchise. n 11-time NBA All-Star, Baylor came to the Lakers as something of a savior, as the Lakers had gone 19-53 in the season before Baylor arrived but were able to make the NBA Finals on the strength of Baylor’s Rookie of the Year campaign in the 1958-59 season. For his career, Baylor averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists, and he was a First-Team All-NBA selection in each of his first 10 seasons in the league. Elgin Baylor had his best years when Bill Russell (five MVPs) and Wilt Chamberlain (four) were vying for league supremacy.
3. Elvin Hayes
One of the most consistent power forwards to ever play, the Big E’s turnaround jump shot — often launched from the baseline — stands behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook among the most unblockable shots in the history of the game. Hayes had one of the most impressive debut seasons ever, as he led the league in scoring (28.4 points per game) and was sixth in rebounding (17.1 rebounds per game) as a rookie in the 1968-69 season. Hayes falls short in the MVP voting on several occasions despite having MVP-worthy seasons. The 12-time All-Star led the league in rebounding twice, despite a playing career that coincided with the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, and Bill Walton. Though he was named one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players, Hayes never finished better than third in the MVP balloting.
2. John Havlicek
One of the most versatile and fit players ever, Havlicek could do it all — score, defend, pass, rebound — and do it tirelessly. One of the greatest scorers to ever play for the Boston Celtics, “Hondo” averaged 26.1 points, 8 rebounds, and 7.1 assists over a stretch of four seasons from 1969-70 to 1972-73. He won eight NBA championships with Boston and was named the NBA Finals MVP in 1974. Havlicek never won an MVP award, partially due to the fact that he played alongside so many legendary players, including five-time MVP Bill Russell. Hondo’s best finish came in 1972 voting when he placed fourth behind Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlain.
1. Jerry West
The man who is so synonymous with the NBA that his silhouette serves as the league’s logo is also one of the greatest players to have never won the MVP award. Like Havlicek, West played alongside some of the game’s greatest players and also had his prime coincide with those of some of the most legendary players in the history of the NBA. West finished second in the MVP voting four different times. Perhaps no player in NBA history had more near-misses than Jerry West. Not only did he finish second in the MVP voting an astonishing four times, but he also lost in the Finals eight times before finally breaking through on his ninth try in 1972. Among his achievements, ‘Mr. Clutch’ won a title in ’72, made 14 All-Star appearances, and is also the only player to have been named the NBA Finals MVP despite playing on the losing team in ’69.