Kevin Durant has a basketball resume fit for the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass, but he seems to find himself finishing in second place at the big moments.
He was the second-rated player coming out of high school behind Greg Oden. His Texas Longhorns lost in the second round of the 2007 NCAA tournament. Three months later, he was the second overall selection in the NBA draft after Oden went first. He finished second to LeBron James’ Miami Heat squad in the 2012 NBA Finals. And three times in six seasons, his Oklahoma City Thunder squad finished second in the Western Conference playoffs.
Durant and the Thunder blew a 3-1 series lead in the 2016 conference finals and fell to the Golden State Warriors in seven games. In the pivotal Game 6 when the Thunder had a chance to close out the Warriors at home, Durant came up small. KD had the ball in his hands with OKC holding a three-point lead with under three minutes to play and he threw the opportunity away.
The playoff failure against Golden State keeps Durant on a list he’d like to remove himself from.
Since 1956 when the first NBA regular season MVP award was handed out, four most valuable players finished their careers without winning the ultimate prize while two are still in pursuit of that elusive chip.
Here are the six NBA MVPs without a championship ring:
Charles Barkley (MVP in 1993)
Sir Charles captured the MVP during the 1992-93 season and led the Phoenix Suns to the best record in the league and a trip to the NBA Finals. But Barkley’s Suns ended up losing to Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the ’93 Finals, and Barkley never got back to The Finals. He did manage to win two Olympic gold medals and his career was validated by being selected to the 1992 Dream Team. The Round Mound of Rebound finished with more than 23,000 points and 12,000 rebounds. He was a unique player who wasn’t defined by one position. Barkley has said many times publicly that not winning a title shouldn’t and didn’t define his basketball career. Hard to argue with Sir Charles.
Karl Malone (MVP in 1997 and 1999)
With the help of his good friend John Stockton, The Mailman delivered two MVPs as a member of the Utah Jazz. Unfortunately, Stockton and Malone couldn’t deliver a title to Utah. Malone led the Jazz to appearances in the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. Both times his teams lost to Jordan’s Bulls (that was a common theme during the Jordan era). In 2003-04 Malone joined Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in L.A., hoping to make one final push for a ring. But it wasn’t meant to be as Malone had an injury-plagued season and the Lakers went down to the Detroit Pistons in five games in The Finals. Malone finished his career as the second-leading scorer in history (36,928), and will go down in history as one of the greatest power forwards.
Allen Iverson (MVP in 2001)
When we’re talking about Iverson, we’re talking about a fearless competitor who played with reckless abandon. A.I. answered the call several times throughout his 13-year career, putting together a MVP season in 2001 and leading the Sixers to the NBA Finals. But Iverson ran into Goliath in the form of Shaq and the Lakers, and the Sixers were defeated in five games. That was the closest A.I. got to playing for a title. After stints in Detroit, Denver and Memphis (extremely short stint there), Iverson rejoined the Sixers but did not finish the season. He took his talents to Turkey, but that lasted about as long as A.I.’s career as a hip-hop artist. Iverson desperately wanted to finish his career in the NBA, but no team took the bait. Iverson will go down in history as a polarizing figure who gave us great highlights and one memorable soundbite. Yes, we’re talking about practice!
Steve Nash (MVP in 2005 and 2006)
Nash is the only two-time MVP winner not to reach The Finals. He captured his first regular season MVP in 2005, leading the Suns to the NBA’s best record, but the San Antonio Spurs bounced Nash and a loaded Suns squad that also featured Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, and Joe Johnson in the Western Conference finals. Then in 2006 Nash won his second MVP award but was eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks led by his buddy Dirk Nowitzki, who removed himself from the ringless fraternity in 2011. Voters made a huge mistake by giving Nash the MVP in 2006. Nash didn’t deserve to win it over Kobe Bryant, who had one of the best statistical seasons and delivered the signature moment of the year when he scored 81 points against Toronto. Nash is hoping for one last hurrah with the Lakers, but time is not on his side.
Derrick Rose (MVP in 2011)
It’s almost unfair to put Rose on this list because he’s only 25 years old. But, the fact of the matter is, D-Rose has an MVP trophy sitting at his home in Chicago but doesn’t own an championship ring nor has he set foot in an NBA Finals game. The Chicago Bulls have a very nice nucleus and Rose is only going to get better. A devastating ACL injury put Rose’s career on hold, but given his age and terrific work ethic, there is no reason why he shouldn’t return to his MVP form in 2011. Head coach Tom Thibodeau, one of best defensive minds in the game, will always keep the Bulls competitive and it’ll only be a matter time when Rose gets an opportunity to play for a championship.
Kevin Durant (MVP in 2014)
KD gave such a moving MVP speech that you end up pulling for him to win that chip. Durant has only been to the NBA Finals once, losing to the Heat in 2012. That was the closest he got to winning a title. His Oklahoma City squad got bounced in the second round in 2013 by Memphis and got bounced in the conference finals in 2014 by San Antonio. Durant says he’s sick and tired of finishing second all the time. He conveyed that to Sports Illustrated. The pressure builds up each year he doesn’t win a championship. Even his hometown newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman, is getting impatient. The paper printed a banner headline that read “Mr. Unreliable” after Durant failed to come through for the Thunder in a playoff game against Memphis. Durant initially said it didn’t bother him, but it did. It definitely got to him.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.