While top NBA Draft picks are often seen as vital for a team to become NBA champions, there are countless examples of undrafted players making a difference. While the odds are stacked against them coming into the league, some find a way to experience the ultimate dream.
Reaching the big time is challenging enough, but individual success and becoming an NBA champion is even more difficult. Amazingly, the history books show that undrafted rookies have achieved major honors.
Here are 15 undrafted NBA players who became NBA champions.
Carl Braun: 1947
Coming out of Colgate University, Braun made his NBA debut with the New York Knicks. He spent 12 seasons in New York and achieved incredible success. Braun made five All-Star appearances and two All-NBA selections. He also led the Knicks to three NBA Finals but was unsuccessful in each attempt.
After falling short of a title, Braun’s NBA career ended on the perfect note with the Boston Celtics. He became an NBA champion with the Celtics, beating the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games. Braun was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2019.
Scott Brooks: 1987
Before he was an NBA coach, Brooks came into the league as a player. An undrafted free agent in 1987, he signed with the Philadelphia 76ers. After time in Philadelphia and with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he was traded to the Houston Rockets in 1992.
When the Rockets became NBA champions in 1994, Brooks was there. He could have won consecutive titles with Houston, but he was traded. He now serves as the head coach of the Washington Wizards.
Avery Johnson: 1988
Avery Johnson played his first professional season in the now-defunct United States Basketball League (USBL), before joining the Seattle Supersonics in 1988. In his first six NBA seasons, Johnson also played with the Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.
He spent the next seven years with the Spurs, leading the team at point guard. In the 1998-’99 lockout season, Johnson became an NBA champion and sunk the pivotal shot in Game 5 to help clinch the win.
Bruce Bowen: 1993
Bowen’s professional career began in France, where he played for two seasons before coming back to the United States. After a year in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA), he returned to play in France for one more season.
In 1997, Bowen finally made his NBA debut with the Miami Heat. Bowen played with the Heat and Celtics for five seasons, before joining the Spurs in 2001. He spent the rest of his career in San Antonio. Across eight seasons with the Spurs, Bowen won three NBA championships and earned seven All-Defensive team honors.
Ben Wallace: 1996
Wallace is arguably the most successful undrafted player in NBA history. Across 16 seasons, he won four Defensive Player of the Year awards (tied with Dikembe Mutombo for most all-time), was selected to four All-Star teams, five All-NBA teams and six All-Defensive teams.
He won an NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons, a team that many consider the greatest defensive team in NBA history. Wallace would appear in the NBA Finals with the Pistons in the following season, but they lost to the Spurs in seven games.
Mike James: 1998
James also won an NBA championship as a member of the Detroit Pistons. James began his NBA career with the Heat in 2001 and later joined the Celtics in 2003. It was a trade that would propel him to an unforgettable moment, getting dealt to the Pistons and later becoming an NBA champion. He also holds the distinction of being the only undrafted player to average 20 points per game in a season, doing so in the 2005-’06 season with the Toronto Raptors.
Chris Andersen: 1999
Chris Andersen, a.k.a. Birdman, turned pro out of Blinn College in 1999. However, he didn’t make his NBA debut until 2001. He played two stints with the Denver Nuggets from 2001-’04 and 2008-’12 and saw time with the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) from 2004-’08.
Andersen was suspended from the NBA from January 2006 to March 2008 for violating the NBA’s Anti-Drug Policy. In 2013, following his second stint with the Nuggets, Andersen joined the Heat and they became NBA champions. During that championship run, he shot 80% from the field in the playoffs.
Udonis Haslem: 2002
Haslem is the longest-tenured active player on this list, returning for his 18th season after re-signing with Miami. To date, he is the team’s all-time leader in total rebounds and has played the second-most games with the franchise.
In his time with the Heat, he has made six NBA Finals appearances and won three NBA championships (2006, ’12 and ’13). Haslem is the only person to be on Miami’s roster during each of the franchise’s six NBA Finals appearances.
J.J. Barea: 2006
Barea has played all but three of his 14 NBA seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, with a short tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2011-2014. In 2011, Barea won an NBA championship with the Mavericks. He played a huge role in the title-clinching Game 6, finishing with 15 points.
Timofey Mozgov: 2008
Most people know Mozgov as the man that got posterized by Blake Griffin. Mozgov’s pro career began as an 18-year-old in Russia, where he played for six years and then came to the United States to play for the Knicks.
He was part of the blockbuster Carmelo Anthony trade. sending Mozgov to the Denver Nuggets. After four years in Denver, he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was in Cleveland where he would win the NBA championship as his team beat the 73-9 Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.
Aron Baynes: 2009
Making his way to the NBA out of Washington State, by way of New Zealand, Baynes joined the Spurs in 2013. In each of his first two seasons with San Antonio, Baynes and the Spurs became NBA champions in 2014.
He played minimal minutes in both of the team’s NBA Finals trips, averaging fewer than 10 minutes in each playoff run. As Baynes has continued to move around the NBA, his minutes have steadily increased. This past season with the Phoenix Suns, he set career-highs with 11.5 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game.
Ian Clark: 2013
Ian Clark is the only player in NBA history that played college ball at Belmont University. He started his NBA career with the Utah Jazz in 2013. After being waived, he was claimed off waivers by the Denver Nuggets. That following season, Clark joined the Golden State Warriors, where he made two NBA Finals appearances.
After an unsuccessful Finals run in 2016, Clark and the Warriors became NBA champions in 2017. He signed with the Pelicans the following season, most recently playing in the 2018-2019 season.
Matthew Dellavedova: 2013
Dellavedova is the only undrafted Australian to win an NBA title. He began his career with the Cavaliers in 2013. With LeBron James returning, Cleveland instantly became a championship contender. The Cavaliers made the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons with LeBron.
Like Mozgov, Dellavedova also won his first and only NBA championship in 2016. The following season, Dellavedova joined the Milwaukee Bucks, spending three seasons before returning to Cleveland in the 2018-’19 season, where he remains.
James Michael McAdoo: 2014
Of the players on this list, James Michael McAdoo has had the shortest NBA career as he has played just four seasons in the NBA from 2014-2018. Three of his NBA seasons were played with the Golden State Warriors where he made the NBA Finals each season winning two championships.
He received minimal playing time in his time in the NBA averaging less than 10 minutes per game in each season. Since 2018, James had been playing professionally in Europe before signing with the B. League in Japan in July.
Fred VanVleet: 2016
The most recent undrafted NBA champion on this list, VanVleet began his NBA journey by way of Wichita State signing with the Toronto Raptors in 2016. In his rookie season, he spent most of his time G-League and averaged 16.9 points and 7.6 assists in 16 games. His minutes increased in his second season allowing him to finish third in Sixth Man of the Year voting.
It was in his third season in which he won the NBA championship on a team that featured Kawhi Leonard. With Leonard and other championship pieces gone, VanVleet was able to show more improvement and took on a starting role with the team.
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Author: Jarrett Hoffman