The Best New York Sports Stars Who Never Won a Championship

Jason Keidel
May 15, 2020 - 4:38 pm

While New Yorkers - like most major American cities - feel like our sports teams are arm-deep into the history of champions, there have been some forlorn pockets for great players playing Big Apple sports and yet never felt a title ring slide onto their fingers. So we make a list of the eight greatest players from most of our nine pro sports teams who never won a world championship. To qualify, the player must have spent at least five years and over half his pro career in the local team uniform. Plus, he cannot have won a title with another team.

Joe Klecko

8. Joe Klecko
While Mark Gastineau got the bold ink, splashy stats and flashy sack dance, Joe Klecko was clearly the most feared player on the Jets' defensive line in the mid-'80s. Famously branded the New York Sack Exchange, Gastineau and Klecko joined Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam on perhaps the most feared foursome in the NFL at the time. But Klecko was the strongest, fiercest, and most malleable. Indeed, Klecko is the only player in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl at three different positions. Yet he's not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is sad, if not stupid. Just ask anyone who played against Joe Klecko, who is an all-time great and never got proper credit, or a Lombardi Trophy. 

David Wright

7. David Wright
It's hard to believe now, but there was a time when the names Wright and Reyes were supposed to beam from the marquee the way Reese and Robinson did one time with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Or perhaps the pair would have the same heft as Trammell and Whitaker; or some other immortal infield duo that played a decade or more together, racked up hits, rings and have their mail forwarded to Cooperstown. 

Didn't work out that way. But still, we sleep on David Wright not just because Jose Reyes fled for Florida, but also because spinal stenosis slashed Wright's resplendent career by at least a few years. The Mets third baseman was an All-Star in seven of his first ten seasons, won two Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards, and clearly was Cooperstown-bound if not for his balky body. Perhaps his most promising season came in 2006 - his first as an All-Star - when he batted .311, blasted 26 home runs, and drove in 111 runs. That season was ended agonizingly by the infamous Yadier Molina homer in Game 7 of the NLCS. That would be the closest Wright would get to a World Series.

Tiki Barber

6. Tiki Barber
With all his public missteps right after his career, it's easy to forget how good Tiki Barber was in a Giants uniform. He rushed for 10,449 yards over ten years (1997-2006) with Big Blue, and you could argue Barber had plenty left in the tank. Indeed, Barber's final three seasons with the G-Men were his best, rushing for 1,518 yards, 1,860 yards, and 1,662 yards, respectively.  In his second-to-last season, Barber was a first-team All-Pro, while leading the NFC in touches (411) and yards from scrimmage (2.390). He also averaged 5.1 yards per carry in his final season, which also ended in a Pro Bowl selection.

Barber played in the playoffs five times, with 2000 the closest he came to a Lombardi Trophy, when the Ravens mauled the Giants in Super Bowl XXXVII. Barber's only glaring problem on the gridiron was fumbling, which new head coach Tom Coughlin fixed. Still, Barber left Big Blue in his prime to pursue a career in media. So, naturally, the Giants win a Super Bowl right after Barber retired. Years ago, 10,000 rushing yards was the benchmark for a Hall of Fame career. Now the number has been diluted. That Super Bowl ring sure would have helped Tiki's chances.

Curtis Martin

5. Curtis Martin
It's tough to think of an NYC athlete who's universally liked, if not loved or revered. Mariano Rivera was one such athlete. Martin is another. The halfback played eight of his 11 seasons for the Jets, leading in yards, in touchdowns, and respect.  His 10,302 yards as a Jet made him a franchise player. His 14,101 yards made him a Hall of Famer. HIs most heartbreaking moment came in his first year as a Jet, when he fumbled the football in the 1998 AFC title game against the Broncos, a game the Jets once led, 10-0. The next year Vinny Testaverde snapped his Achilles tendon, and then Bill Parcells contracted another case of wanderlust.

The Jets had a habit of shoving coaches and quarterbacks through the turnstile, but one constant for those eight years was Martin, who was impossible to dislike or dismiss. Martin was a blue-collar back in a blue-collar town. To speak of his skill and will, Martin's best season came in 2004, when he was 31 years old. He posted career-highs in touches (412) rushes (371), and rushing yards (1,697), all of which led the AFC and led him to the Pro Bowl and the only time Martin was named first-team All-Pro.

Henrik Lundqvist

4. Henrik Lundqvist 
The New York Rangers missed the NHL playoffs in each of the seven years before Lundqvist joined the team. Then the Rangers reached the playoffs in 10 of the next 11 seasons with King Henrik as their starting goalie. Their apex came in 2014, when they reached the Stanley Cup Finals. But they failed to win their first Cup since 1994 and second since 1945. They reached the Eastern Conference finals the next year, losing to the Lightning, and blowing their iconic goalie's last real shot at a Stanley Cup.

But no player from those teams had a greater impact than Lundqvist, who  became just the third goaltender to play 850 games with one team, and only the second to reach 450 wins with the same franchise. He's played in five All-Star Games and also won the Vezina Award as the league's top goalie, in 2012. Like so many greats, Lundqvist refuses to give up, plowing his way to work this season before this coronavirus rolled across America. Lundqvist will end up in the Hall of Fame, but unlikely to win Lord Stanley's Cup.

Don Mattingly

3. Don Mattingly 
Before the 2010s, the 1980s was the only decade in the last century in which the Yankees did not win a World Series. Despite winning the most regular-season games in the '80s, Don Mattingly was the best player on a club that never won the World Series. Matingly won AL MVP in 1985 with an absurd stat line of 35 homers, 145 RBI, while batting .324. He also scored 107 runs, collected 211 hits, and led the sport with 48 doubles. (He also won a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove.) Mattingly finally pierced the playoff membrane in his final season, 1995, and famously lost to the Mariners on that Ken Griffey Jr slide. And, of course, the Yankees won the World Series right after he retired.

Chronic back issues kept Mattingly from the Hall of Fame and leaves him as the greatest Yankee to never win a Fall Classic. He retired as a six-time All-Star and winner of nine Gloves. And he played the game with the best sobriquet, Donnie Baseball, handed to him by Kirby Puckett, perhaps the only player with the rep and the heft to so brand the former Yankees first baseman.  

Mike Piazza

2. Mike Piazza
Piazza had a career in contrasts. Drafted and developed by the Dodgers, he became a signature member of the Mets. Though he played catcher, a defensive position, Piazza was universally known for his booming bat. Often regarded as a delicate, celebrity-player who dated supermodels, Piazza bashed one of the most important home runs in Big Apple history. Even Yankees fans teared-up on Sept 21, 2001, when Piazza launched a ball into the air, joining the stars, before landing in the stands. It came in the 8th inning of the first game played since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, at old Shea Stadium, when the Mets were trailing, 2-1. Then he won the game, and our hearts.

Piazza barely qualifies for this spot, having played 972 games with the Mets, and 940 games everywhere else. But beyond his games played as a Met, Piazza qualifies for just about any honor you can think of, including the Hall of Fame, which he entered as a New York Met. Piazza's stat line .308 BA / 427 HR / 1,335 RBI places him among - if not above - the greatest hitting catchers of all-time. And while he didn't get a World Series ring, he rang-up the biggest homer in the Big Apple since Bobby Thomson.

Patrick Ewing

1. Patrick Ewing
The former Knicks center has everything - two Final Fours and a national championship, two Olympic gold medals, the first top pick of the NBA Draft lottery, and a place in the Hall of Fame - except an NBA title. Michael Jordan had much to do with that. So when MJ moonwalked from the NBA to play baseball for two years, Ewing led the Knicks to the 1994 NBA Finals, and lost in Game 7 thanks to John Starks shooting 2-of-18 from the field, including 0-for-11 from the three-point line. It was the worst moment in a career of agonizingly close calls.

Ewing was an 11-time All-Star during his 15 seasons in New York, and had a ten-year stretch (1987-'97) during which he averaged 80 games played per season. Ewing led the league in sweat, heart, and hard work. But that darn No. 23 in Chicago killed many an NBA championship dream. And, sadly for Ewing, Jordan's favorite place to play was, of course, Madison Square Garden.

The NBA may not be our nation nor our city's most beloved sport, but no player on this list worked harder or deserved a league title more than Patrick Ewing.