As the adage goes, superstars are born in the playoffs. Over the years, we’ve seen breakout performances in the postseason from various players, which sets them up for a hefty contract or the road to superstardom. Interestingly, several players have never missed the playoffs, establishing their names as foremost legends in the game. So let’s identify and discuss some of them.
John Stockton & Karl Malone
Mentioning the two legendary players together sounds just about right because they were teammates for a good chunk of their careers. John Stockton entered the league in 1984, and Karl Malone followed in 1985. From 1985 to 2003, the duo ensured the Utah Jazz were always in the playoffs. Perhaps their most significant success came in 1997 and 1998 when they made the NBA Finals two consecutive times. Unfortunately, they were stonewalled by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
When Stockton retired in 2003, Malone took his talents to the Los Angeles Lakers. At that point, he was old and bald, yet he still proved to be a pivotal piece in the Lakers’ quest for another title. Malone continued his personal playoff streak. But once again, he failed to capture that elusive Larry O’Brien trophy.
Poke fun at Stockton and Malone is all you want. But real fans recognize their greatness. Yes, they never won a title. But their impact on the game goes beyond the hardware.
With 11 championship rings on your finger, you’d have to qualify for the playoffs at least 11 times. In his illustrious 13-year career, Bill Russell made it to the playoffs every year. In other words, he only experienced defeat twice in his career. In 1958, Rusell’s Celtics were defeated in the finals by the St. Louis Hawks. In 1967, they fell out in the Division Finals against Wilt Chamberlain’s Philadelphia 76ers.
The number of titles in his resume and the fact that he never missed the playoffs are good enough proof that Russell is a legend. Adam Silver made the right decision to retire his legendary no. 6 jersey league-wide. The man was an absolute winner.
Haters would say that Robert Horry doesn’t deserve to be on this list. He’s an outlier in the sense that he was never the franchise guy of the teams he’s been with. There’s a lot of truth in this. However, there’s also a lot of truth when you say that in the closing seconds of a tied game, franchise stars would gladly give Big Shot Bob the ball. Simply because it’s been proven time and time again that he’s the ultimate clutch player.
He made the playoffs 16 times and walked away with seven rings. He won two with the Houston Rockets, three with the Los Angeles Lakers, and two with the San Antonio Spurs. It was not by accident that Horry ended up in contending teams. They all craved him because of his experience, skill, basketball IQ, and ability to knock down shots in tense situations.
Right from the get-go, Magic Johnson showed off his basketball talents to the world. He shot to fame as the Lakers rookie who guided the team to an NBA title in 1980. For his efforts, he was crowned NBA Finals MVP — the only first-year player to do so.
Magic proved that it wasn’t just luck. In his 13-year career, he never missed the playoffs. He guided the team to nine NBA Finals appearances and walked away with five rings. Even in the 1995-96 NBA season, Magic’s comeback year, he was able to sneak into the postseason. He started out as a winner and tried everything he could to end it the way he started it.
Perhaps the interesting thing about Johnson’s career is that he crossed paths with prime Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. He faced Bird in the NBA Finals thrice, winning twice. Meanwhile, Jordan won his first title at Magic’s expense. And so, not even the haters could criticize that Magic played in a weak era or ducked his opponents. The man literally went to combat against legends his entire career.
Clyde Drexler doesn’t get the respect he deserves. When players, analysts, or fans name their all-time starting five, Drexler’s name almost never gets mentioned. There’s a good reason behind this. There are too many legendary shooting guards who have graced the NBA. Michael Jordan — Drexler’s contemporary — is considered the greatest of them all. Behind him is Kobe Bryant. Following the Black Mamba, depending on your preference, could be either Dwyane Wade or Allen Iverson.
However, the plethora of great shooting guards shouldn’t diminish Drexler’s impact and success. Like the names above, Drexler is a winner. He never missed the playoffs in his 15-year NBA career. He made the NBA Finals three times and managed to win one ring while donning the Rockets jersey.