The Ultimate 'Asterisk Years' in NBA History

Brendan BowersContributor IIMay 15, 2013

The Ultimate 'Asterisk Years' in NBA History

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    The ultimate "asterisk years" in NBA history include seasons that were ultimately determined, in part, by injuries, suspensions and lockouts. 

    Where the 2012-13 campaign, plagued by injuries to All-Star's Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love and most notably Russell Westbrook, will ultimately rank on this list remains to be seen. 

    Much of that will be determined by which team eventually plays for and wins the 2013 NBA championship.

    As with years past, however, we may certainly look back at the 2012-13 campaign and wonder what exactly would have happened had the league's full slate of stars been at full strength. 

    In ranking the ultimate asterisk years in NBA history, this list is measuring those past seasons that crowned a champion surrounded by the biggest questions. 

6) 2001-02: The Lakers, Kings and Tim Donaghy

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    In June of 2008, according to Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com, disgraced ex-referee Tim Donaghy alleged that Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference semifinals between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers was manipulated and ultimately decided by the officials who refereed the game. 

    Allegedly referring to the Lakers as "Team 6" and the Kings as "Team 5", the following was included in a letter submitted by Donaghy's lawyer.

    Referees A and F heavily favored Team 6. Personal fouls [resulting in obviously injured players] were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the referees. Conversely, the referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players. The referees' favoring of Team 6 led to that team's victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series.

    While the Kings led the series 3-2, the Lakers attempted 40 free throws in Game 6 as compared to only 25 for Sacramento. Los Angeles even attempted 27 of those free throws during the fourth quarter specifically. 

    NBA Commissioner David Stern has vehemently denied the allegations made by Donaghy, who is a convicted felon, but questions have lingered ever since.

    After evening the series at 3-3, the Lakers went on to win Game 7 before sweeping the New Jersey Nets in the 2002 NBA Finals.

5) 2011-12: Lockout Shortened Season Without Derrick Rose in Playoffs

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    The 2011-12 campaign included a 66-game regular season that did not begin until December 25 as a result of a lockout.

    The condensed scheduled ended with the league's reigning MVP, Derrick Rose, suffering a season-ending injury during Game 1 of the Chicago Bulls' first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

    The Bulls had previously earned the league's best record at 50-16 and a No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Without Rose, however, Chicago was unable to advance out of the first round.

    The No. 8 seeded Sixers were then eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Celtics would lose in the next round to the Miami Heat, who eventually won the NBA championship.

    During the regular season, the Heat finished four games back of the Bulls at 46-20.

4) 2006-07: Suns Lose Western Conference Semifinals with Stoudemire Suspended

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    After the Phoenix Suns evened the 2007 Western Conference finals at 2-2 against the San Antonio Spurs, the series returned to Phoenix for Game 5.

    As a result of a suspension, however, Suns' forward Amar'e Stoudemire did not participate.

    Along with teammate Boris Diaw, Stoudemire was suspended for leaving the bench area after Robert Horry of the Spurs committed a flagrant foul on Steve Nash in the waning moments of Game 4.  

    Stoudemire had averaged 24.2 points and 13.6 rebounds during the Suns' opening-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers and finished with 26.4 and 10.6 against the Spurs in Round 2.

    Without Amar'e, however, the Spurs won Game 5 by a score of 88-85 before eventually winning the series in six.

    In a matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the '07 NBA Finals, the Spurs eliminated Cleveland in four games to win the championship.

3) 1977-78: Washington Bullets Win After Bill Walton Suffers Foot Injury

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    The 1977-78 Washington Bullets, led by Elvin Hayes at 19.7 points and 13.3 rebounds per game, posted a 44-38 record during the regular season. 

    Despite that near .500 mark, Washington eventually won the NBA championship.

    Their path to the title became increasingly possible, however, after being able to avoid the great Bill Walton and his Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA Finals.

    The '77-78 Trail Blazers, led by Walton, opened the season with a 40-8 record, prompting Sports Illustrated to write that Portland was "mounting an assault on the record books" in a February article by Curry Kirkpatrick.

    Walton would be injured toward the end of the year, however, and the Trail Blazers were eliminated in the the Western Conference finals by the Seattle SuperSonics.

    Those same Sonics would lose 4-2 to the Bullets in the NBA championship.

2) 1998-99: San Antonio Spurs Win While Playing Only 67 Games

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    The lockout preceding the 1998-99 campaign wreaked havoc on the product that ensued.

    The regular season did not begin until February and included only 50 games.

    All-Stars like Shawn Kemp and others returned to their teams extremely out of shape, and the game suffered mightily as a result.

    The San Antonio Spurs, led by second-year player Tim Duncan and an aging David Robinson, posted the league's best record by winning only 37 games.

    While blowing through the Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and New York Knicks, the Spurs posted a 15-2 record on their way to an NBA title.

    In total, they played only 67 games—one more than the lockout-shortened regular season of 2011-12.

1) 1993-94: Houston Rockets Win Title While Jordan Plays Baseball

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    Hakeem Olajuwon led the Houston Rockets to a 58-24 record during the 1993-94 regular season.

    He scored 27.3 points per game while collecting 11.9 rebounds, before averaging 28.9 and 11 during the playoffs.

    Performing as the truly dominant player he was, Olajuwon eventually helped Houston eliminate the New York Knicks 4-3 to win the NBA Finals.

    But while the Rockets beat everyone they needed to that year on their way to securing the NBA championship, they were never forced to play against Michael Jordan. 

    After averaging 32.6 points the season before, Jordan abruptly retired from the NBA to play minor league baseball during the '93-94 campaign.

    Without Jordan, Scottie Pippen led the Bulls to a 55-27 record. With Jordan, while we can never say for certain, chances are good they win 70 before running away with the '94 title.