The NBA changed the rules in the late 70s to encourage the league to reach a more level playing field. The idea was to equalize the talent and ability of teams, as well as to grow the game. Sadly, the cream has risen to the top before the rules were updated and the rules were relaxed in the late 90s. Since then, the Eastern Conference has been dominated by the Boston Celtics, the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons. The Western Conference, on the other hand, has been dominated by the Los Angeles Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets.

In the 94 seasons since the NBA was founded in 1946, the league has expanded to 30 teams, and has yet to produce multiple teams that have made a Finals appearance. In the past 20 seasons, only three teams have managed to reach the Finals on their first Finals appearance: the Chicago Bulls (1991), the Los Angeles Lakers (2000), and the San Antonio Spurs (2003). This year, the Boston Celtics will become the first team to make back-to-back Finals appearances.

It’s difficult to believe, but it’s true—there have been two players who have appeared in more NBA games than LeBron James, who played in his current record-setting 13th consecutive NBA Finals. Back in the early 1970s, the Boston Celtics had a core of players who appeared in more games than James has in his career over the span of 23 seasons.

Not every player in the NBA is lucky enough to win a championship. Bill Russell and the Celtics didn’t have many great teams and players doing that in the 1950s and 1960s, nor Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the 1980s, or Michael Jordan in the 1990s, and so on. But there are also those who never had the chance to play in the NBA Finals. And we’re talking about the great men of all time. George Gervin. Bernard King. Artis Gilmore. David Thompson. Dominic Wilkins. Chris Webber. Grant Hill. Steve Nash. Vince Carter. Believe me, I can go on.

And there are those who waited and waited and waited until the dream of playing in the NBA Finals , eventually came true. Look at Chris Paul, who could easily become one of the best point guards of all time. After years of disappointment in the NBA playoffs, he reached his 16th season in the league. The NBA Finals, finally, this season. Take Juwan Howard. It took him 17 years and eight different teams to finally reach the title game with the Miami Heat in 2011.

But there are two players, Kevin Willis and Tri Rollins, who waited even longer, 18 seasons, before they got a chance to play in the NBA Finals. And Rollins didn’t even play a minute when he came in.

Kevin Willis has made it to the Conference finals just once in his first 17 seasons


Before we talk about Willis’ long road to the NBA Finals, let’s get some things straight. Willis was selected in the famed 1984 NBA Draft and technically played 22 seasons in the league. But because he missed the entire 1988-89 season with a knee injury, it was not added to his record as an official season. For example, Vince Carter is the only person to have played 22 seasons in the NBA, while Willis, Robert Parish, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki each played 21 seasons. I just wanted to get the message across.

Regardless, Willis waited a very long time for his first appearance in the NBA Finals and only reached the Conference Finals once in his first 17 seasons. In nine full seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, he reached the Eastern Conference semifinals four times, including just one before Game 7 in 1988 against the Boston Celtics.

Willis missed the postseason with the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors, but returned to the postseason in 1997 with the Houston Rockets, whom he helped reach the Western Conference finals, where they lost to the Utah Jazz in six games. The following year, his second and final season in Houston ended in the first round, also against the Jazz.

In 2000, Willis lost to the Raptors in the first round. He missed the 2001 postseason with the Nuggets and also missed the 2002 postseason with the Rockets. But it finally happened.

Willis, in 2003, in his 18th During the season, he participated in the NBA Finals for the first time and helped the Spurs become champions.

NBA Finals Logo Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

For the 2002-03 season, which was officially his 18th season in the NBA, Willis joined the San Antonio Spurs as a backup attacker for Tim Duncan. He played in 71 games that year, starting six and averaging 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in just under 12 minutes per game.

The Spurs finished the season with a 60-22 record, finished in first place in the Western Conference and then beat the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs. Willis was not on the floor in Game 1 of the Spurs’ NBA Finals game against the New Jersey Nets, but he was on the floor in Game 6. In June 2003, at the age of 40 years and 10 months, he finally played in his first NBA Finals game, which he lost in the second game.

Willis played in each of the next four games and just like in each of the previous three series, the Spurs won the NBA Finals 4-2, which is very gratifying because Willis wore back number 42 for most of his career.

Tri Rollins scored in his 18th The season is also his first NBA Finals, but he did not play a single minute for the Orlando Magic in their loss against the Houston Rockets.


Rollins also took 18 seasons to reach his first NBA Finals.

He was drafted before the 1977-78 season and spent the first 11 seasons of his career with the Hawks and the last four with Willis. Like Willis, he only made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals, but he reached Game 7 twice – in the aforementioned series against the Celtics in 1988 and in 1979 against the then Washington Bullets.

Rollins spent two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he lost to Jordan’s Bulls in the first round in 1989 and to Charles Barkley’s Philadelphia 76ers in the first round in 1990. After winning his second title, he moved to the Detroit Pistons, but lost to Jordan again in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. With the Rockets, he lost to the Seattle Supersonics in the 1993 Western Conference semifinals.

In 1993, for his 17th birthday. In his first season in the league, Rollins joined the Orlando Magic as a backup center for Shaquille O’Neal and also worked as an assistant coach. The Magic were eliminated in the first round of the 1994 playoffs by the Indiana Pacers, but did something back the next year by beating Reggie Miller and Co. in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals to meet the Rockets in the NBA Finals.

After 18 years, Rollins finally reached the NBA Finals, but he didn’t play a single minute in the four games against the Rockets. But since he was on the list, it still technically counts. The last time he played was in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Statistics provided by Basketball Reference

COMPARED TO: The player with the best scoring average in the NBA Finals is not who you thinkEven though Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook, and LeBron James have been playing at the highest level for more than a decade, they are not the only players in history to have played a season and, for the most part, that season ended without ever reaching the NBA Finals. There are 8 other players with more than one season of professional basketball that never made it to the finals though.. Read more about worst nba franchise of all-time and let us know what you think.

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