Alright, your team grinds their way to the playoffs and battles 16 game deep to emerge with the purest and sweetest of victories. There’s champagne, the parade, DJ nights at Hakkasan, and all those lame haters stewing in their own shameful rhetoric.
And then we have the rings. You can’t argue with the ring, the physical manifestation of the championship title. But wait, exactly who gets a ring when a team wins an NBA title?
The short answer is that there is no answer, no hard line. It’s entirely up to the organization, mostly the ownership, to decide who gets a title ring. Owners are usually nice about it, but things can get interesting.
Here are a few wild stories that have come up over the years in regards to who gets a championship ring…
The Cavs gave everyone a ring!
When the Cavs won their first title in 2016, owner Dan Gilbert elected to distribute rings to everyone in the organization, stadium crew included.
Of course, the crew got cubic zirconium instead of diamonds, but they still got a ring, and with their last name engraved on it too. You can find these employee rings at auction fairly often. They hover around $2k.
The official rings, distributed to layers and coaches, were some of the heaviest title rings ever designed. these things are crusty, over 400 diamonds worth of crusty.
The Mavs Considered Championship Bracelets
When the Mavs won the title in 2011, Mark Cuban (veritable wellspring of fantastic ideas) suggested he might break from tradition and issue championship bracelets.
The players spoke up. The 2011 Mavs were ultimately issued a championship ring in holding with tradition.
Also notable, long Mavericks time announcer Bob Ortegel got a ring from the 2011 title. Ortegel had parted ways with the Mavericks the season before. Cuban felt he was an important part of the organization and their build to a championship, so he issued him a title ring.
Anderson Varejao was offered 2 rings and accepted 1
In the 2016 finals, the Golden State Warriors were up against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Brazilian big man Anderson Varejao had spent 11 seasons in Cleveland before being traded to Portland earlier in that year. Portland quickly waived Varejao, who was then picked up by Golden State.
It is an accepted custom in the league to offer a ring to players who have been traded during the season leading up to a title, particularly if the traded player has a long history in your organization. So in the 2016 finals we saw this rare situation in which a player could potentially be awarded a ring regardless of who won the game.
The Cavs would win in 2016 and they did offer Varejao a ring. He declined, uncomfortable with accepting a ring from the team he had played against.
The Warriors would go on to win the title in 2017. However, Varejao was waived in February and no longer on the roster for the finals. The Warriors, like the Cavs before them, offered Anderson a ring. This one he accepted.
George Mikan got an extra ring
In 2002 the Los Angeles Lakers under Phil Jackson claimed their second 3-peat title. The first Lakers 3-peat was in the early years of the league when the Lakers were still back in Minnesota. and that 3rd title was taken on the back of superstar center George Mikan.
When Jeanie Buss sent out the championship title rings that season, an extra ring went to Mikan. Mikan passed in 2005, and he ring was ultimately put up for auction. So some collector out there owns George Mikan’s 2002 Lakers championship ring. Kinda fascinating.
Did Bones Hyland get a ring?
When the Clippers visited Denver in November, 2023, Denver Gazette beat writer Vinny Benedetto put the question to Bones himself…
If you check the thread on that Tweet, you’ll see that the decision is contentious. Bones was well-loved. But his behavior was viewed as immature. With the Clippers picking up Harden, Bones is barely seeing court time.
Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland was drafted at #26 to the Nuggets during a fairly healthy run of great picks. And he was looking like another solid hit. Bones was getting some grea minutes with Jamal Murray recovering from a knee injury. He was a fan favorite, even if he had issues with shot selection.
But Murray came back. Bones’s minutes dried up, and he got cranky. Late in a game against Oklahoma City on January 22, 2023, Bones walked off the bench. In response, the Nuggets office asked Hyland to fly commercial to their next game in New Orleans. He was traded to the Clippers pretty quick after that.
The Nuggets would go on to win the 2023 NBA finals, Bonesless. While there’s a tradition of offering a traded player a finals ring, particularly one who played 42 games with the team during their winning season, there’s obviously some bad blood there.
So the line can get awfully blurry. A starting player on a title team is probably getting a ring. The coaching staff will almost invariably get rings as well. And of course, the executives get rings, because why wouldn’t they issue themselves rings? They’re paying for them, right?
Beyond that we see a lot of variance. At times, it builds into a personal decision for both ownership and players. A championship title is a big deal that can take years of trial and error and touch a lot of lives. A gracious ownership crew may feel compelled to show that gratitude to any of those very many contributors.