Every year around this time, for as much as we are reminded that legendary careers are validated with a championship, we also are reminded that greatness isn't solely defined by success in the Finals. Players such as Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley,whose statistics and playoff appearances and All-Star votes leave little doubt as to their places in history, are often remembered in June for the honor they didn't achieve, as if their careers are not complete without the hardware that places a stamp on their greatness.
Deep down, though, those men are wise enough to know that championships, while wonderful, are also a byproduct of fortuitous timing and circumstance.
There are plenty of players over the last 30 years who happen to have a championship rings who are slightly less deserving of the honor then Ewing or Barkley, and I'm quite certain that the Hall of Famers would not trade their careers for those of:
Fennis Dembo, Detroit Pistons, 1989: The former University of Wyoming star, who once appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, played only one season in the NBA, averaging 1.2 points and 0.7 rebounds in 31 games for Chuck Daly. Dembo had a surreal basketball career. He was not recruited to college until a coach from Wyoming who knew him from his San Antonio neighborhood offered him a scholarship. He helped lead Wyoming to a Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tournament. He was drafted by Detroit in the second round. And then his career flamed out. But he has a ring.
David Thirdkill, Boston Celtics, 1986: The former Bradley star, picked 15th in the 1982 draft by the Phoenix Suns, played in just 179 games over five NBA seasons, averaging 2.8 points, 0.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists and 0.1 blocks. One Internet post lists Thirdkill's career highlights and awards as: N/A. But he has a ring.
Mengke Bateer, San Antonio Spurs, 2003: The first Chinese player to start in an NBA game, Bateer averaged 3.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 46 career games. On China's international team, he, along with Wang Zhizhi and Yao Ming, were known as the Walking Great Wall. But with the Spurs, he was simply too big and too slow to make any significant contribution. Somewhere in China, though, he has a ring.
Mike Penberthy, Los Angeles Lakers, 2002: Penberthy played at college powerhouse The Master's College, located in Santa Clarita, Calif., where he set the school's scoring record. He played in just 56 NBA games over two seasons, and only three of those in 2001-02, when he scored a grand total of five points. But he has a ring.
Richard Petruska, Houston Rockets, 1994: Petruska is a Slovakian-born center who played at both Loyola Marymount and UCLA. He was drafted 46th overall by the Rockets in '93, played in 22 games, scoring 53 points, made his way to the Finals alongside Olajuwon and Kenny Smith, fell out of the league and made his way back to Europe. But for all his efforts, he has a ring.
Carlos Clark, Boston Celtics, 1984: You remember the Big Three of the Celtics? Clark was just behind them. After playing at the University of Mississippi, Clark stormed the Celtics with 54 points in 31 games with Boston. He even played one more season for the Celtics before falling out of the league altogether. He totaled 223 points in his career. But he has a ring.
Wayne Kreklow, Boston Celtics, 1981: A 6-4 guard from Drake, Kreklow averaged 1.2 points in the 25 games that his NBA career lasted with Boston. Drafted in the third round, he is currently the women's volleyball coach at the University of Missouri, where he assuredly shows off his ring.
Larry Spriggs, Los Angeles Lakers, 1985: The Howard University star worked his way up from the CBA's Rochester Zeniths, with whom he won the league's Rookie of the Year, to the Lakers. Spriggs actually made something of a contribution to the '85 championship team, averaging 6.7 points. Overall, he averaged 5.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 169 career games. His career at Howard ended months before Ewing's began at Georgetown. Who knew he would have a ring and Ewing would not?
Isaiah Rider, Los Angeles Lakers, 2001: Rider was actually a pretty decent player in his day, but if there is anybody who NBA commissioner David Stern wanted less to be part of a championship run than Rider, they would be difficult to find. The former UNLV star is known more for his troubles than for his on-court play. He once threatened the life of a reporter who covered him in Minnesota. He has had numerous run-ins with the law, including most recently allegedly assaulting his fiancé in Arizona and jumping out of a cab without paying a $150 fare. But he has a ring.
Jack Haley, Chicago Bulls, 1996: Haley is a pretty fun-loving guy who did media work in Los Angeles. But he could not play a lick, getting in only one regular-season game during the Bulls' record-setting 72-win season. More important for that Bulls team, Haley just happened to be running buddies with Dennis Rodman, who was at the height of his popularity and needed a babysitter. But he has a ring.