If you ever feel like you can’t get ahead, no matter how hard you try, don’t give up. Even if you don’t get the big prize you’re vying for, such as that long-dreamed-of promotion, you can still be highly successful. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that many superstars in the sports world have done just that.
Learn about some of the most remarkable professional athletes who finished their careers in sports without ever winning a championship.
Ernie Banks was the first African American to play for the Chicago Cubs. He started in September 1953 and retired in 1971. Banks was the Cubs’ all-time leader in numerous aspects, from games played (2,528) to home runs (512) to total bases (4,706). He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1977 and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 as well. However, the man known as “Mr. Cub” never had the chance to play in the World Series.
After attending Auburn University, Charles Barkley was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1984. He went on to play for the Phoenix Suns and the Houston Rockets. His career highlights include NBA MVP, 11-time NBA All-Star and the first player from the state of Alabama to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which occurred in 2006. However, with all of his success, his team never won a championship.
Drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1958, Elgin Baylor was given a $20,000 contract to help get the team back on their proverbial feet. Baylor played for the Lakers, both in Minneapolis and Los Angeles, for 14 years, during which he averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. He made it to 134 playoff games as well, averaging 27.0 points and 12.9 rebounds there. Knee problems caused Baylor to retire early during the 1971-1972 season. The Lakers went on to win the NBA title in ’72, following his retirement.
The son of another major league player, Barry Bonds played college baseball at Arizona State. His team reached the College World Series in 1983 and 1984. He was drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in June 1985. In 1992, he signed with the San Francisco Giants. Bonds was an exceptional hitter, setting records such as most career home runs, most home runs in a single season and most career walks. Although he finished as a seven-time MVP and played in the 2002 World Series, where he hit four of the San Francisco Giants’ record 14 home runs, the team ultimately lost.
ESPN stated that Dick Butkus might have been “the meanest, nastiest, fiercest linebacker to ever put on a helmet.” He played football at the University of Illinois, where he was named All-American twice as both center and linebacker. In 1964, the Chicago Bears drafted Butkus in the first round. He played nine seasons as a middle linebacker for the team with 22 interceptions and 27 recovered fumbles. Butkus retired in 1973, never winning the Super Bowl, although he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility.
After leading his University of Texas team to an undefeated regular season in 1977, Earl Campbell became the first Texas Longhorn to win the Heisman trophy. In the 1978 NFL draft, he was selected number one overall. In eight seasons with the Houston Oilers and the New Orleans Saints, he made 74 touchdowns, with 9,407 yards and five Pro Bowls under his belt. He was even named an Official State Hero Of Texas in 1981, but never played in the Super Bowl.
In 1998, the Golden State Warriors drafted Vince Carter, only to trade him to the Toronto Raptors. He led Toronto to their first-ever playoff appearance in 2000, followed by the team’s first ever playoff series win in 2001. His career included 21 seasons with eight teams and he was named All-Star eight times, but he never won a championship.
Born in 1886, Tyrus Raymond Cobb played for the Detroit Tigers from 1905 to 1928. Cobb’s career records included 3,035 games played, 2,246 runs and 892 stolen bases. Although his team made the world series three consecutive years in a row (in 1907, 1908 and 1909), they never won the championship.
Patrick Ewing came to the U.S. from Jamaica when he was 11 years old and was eventually introduced to basketball. He went on to play for Georgetown University, where his team won the national title in 1984. Professionally, Ewing played for the New York Knicks, Seattle SuperSonics and Orlando Magic, was selected as an NBA all-star 11 times and earned Olympic gold medals in basketball in 1984 and 1992, but he never won the championship title.
Fisk ended his career as a player who spent more games in catcher’s gear than any other in history. Beyond that distinction, he was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, having played 24 seasons with the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox. Although he hit an iconic home run in the 1975 World Series, his team never won the championship.
Ken Griffey Jr.
In 1987, Ken Griffey, Jr., was the first pick of the Seattle Mariners in the MLB draft. He went on to play for the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox before returning to Seattle where he completed his 22-season career. He retired with 13 All-Star Game selections, 10 Gold Glove Awards and seven Silver Slugger Awards. Griffey went on to be inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2016, but he never won the World Series.
In 1996, Allen Iverson was the first pick in the first round of the NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. He was named NBA Rookie of the Year with an average of 23.5 points and more than two steals per game. In the 2000-2001 season, he was named the league’s MVP. He retired in October 2013 without winning a championship.
In 1983, the Buffalo Bills drafted quarterback Jim Kelly in the first round, but Kelly opted to play with the Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League instead. In 1986, he signed with the Bills and stayed with the team until 1996. Kelly led the Bills to the playoffs eight times, but they never won the Super Bowl.
The Utah Jazz signed Karl Malone in 1985. Malone played 18 seasons for Utah and one for the Lakers. He made NBA MVP, was a 14-time All-Star and won two Olympic gold medals. Although his team played in the finals in 1997, they never won.
Dan Marino joined the Miami Dolphins in 1983 and remained with them until he retired in 1999. During his career, he passed for 3,000 yards or more 13 times; passed for 300 yards in a game 63 times and threw for 400 or more yards in a game 13 times. Although he was named first- or second-team All-Pro eight times, earned All-AFC honors six times and played in the Super Bowl once, his team did not win.
From 1987-2005, Reggie Miller played basketball for the Indiana Pacers. He ranks in the top 25 in all-time scoring in the NBA. He made it to six Eastern Conference finals series and to the NBA Finals once, but he never won an NBA title.
Warren Moon began his 23-year professional football career with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League in 1978. In 1984, he returned to the states, at which point he joined the Houston Oilers. He might not have won a Super Bowl, but Moon had nearly 50,000 passing yards in 17 NFL seasons. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
From 1998 to 2012, Randy Moss played for the Minnesota Vikings, the Oakland Raiders, the New England Patriots, the Tennessee Titans and the San Francisco 49ers. Over 14 seasons, Moss went to six Pro Bowls and made 15,292 receiving yards as well as 156 touchdowns. Although the Patriots made it to Super Bowl XLII in 2008, and the 49ers made it to Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, Moss and his teammates lost the championship games both times.
Steve Nash was born in South Africa, raised in Canada and grew up to play 18 seasons in the NBA between 1996 and 2014. Nash played for the Phoenix Suns as well as the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers. He was the NBA’s MVP twice and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, but never won a championship.
Australian professional golfer Greg Norman was ranked number one in the world of golf during the 1980s and ’90s. He has won 91 professional events around the world, including two British Open Championships and 20 PGA Tour events. With all that said, Norman has never won the U.S. Masters, one of the major championships in professional golf.
In 1981, Ryne Sandberg joined the Philadelphia Phillies. His Major League Baseball career continued with the Chicago Cubs, a team he joined in 1982 and retired from in 1997. Sandberg won the Gold Glove nine times, seven Silver Sluggers and the NL MVP award. Although he never reached the World Series, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Beginning his career in 1989, Barry Sanders spent 10 seasons playing for the Detroit Lions. Sanders was selected as All-Pro 10 times, had 10 1,000-yard seasons and made 109 total touchdowns. However, the Pro Football Hall of Famer never made it to the Super Bowl.
In 2001, LaDainian Tomlinson was drafted by the Chargers in the first round of the NFL Draft, as the fifth overall pick. For 11 seasons, Tomlinson played for San Diego and the New York Jets. He went to five Pro Bowls and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2006 when he made 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns. Although he was quite successful, he never went to the Super Bowl.
In 1939, Ted Williams joined the Boston Red Sox. He stayed with the team until 1960, except for several years in the 1940s and ’50s, when he served in the United States military. The left-fielder never won the World Series, although he owns the record for career on-base percentage at .482 and finished in the top 10 of MVP voting a dozen times, more than any other player in American League history.
Jason Witten was drafted by the Cowboys in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft. In his 15-season career with the NFL team, Witten was an 11-time Pro Bowler, earned the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2012, and was the Cowboys’ all-time leader in receptions (fourth in NFL history) with 1,152 receptions. He retired in 2018 without a Super Bowl win to his name.