Bleacher Report Remembers the Top NBA Finals Moments of the Last 20 Years
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The NBA Finals can produce memorable moments unlike any other event in professional basketball.
These series can leave you feeling thrilled that your favorite player or team produced a highlight or title that will live on forever. They can utterly devastate you as a once-promising dream of a championship turns into nothing more than a nightmare.
Sometimes, the finals can leave you in awe, marveling at the breathtaking athletic accomplishments of the best basketball players in the world, searching for words to describe what you just witnessed or even feeling an overwhelming amount of passion for this wonderful sport.
Try as you might, you can't forget the moments that evoke such feelings. They live on forever, ingrained in our minds somewhere between remembering how to tie your shoes and how to ride a bicycle.
In fact, these moments don't just live on forever. They are forever.
Throughout this article, you'll see the top finals memories for a few members of B/R's NBA team. What do you remember above all else?
Nick Anderson Forgets How to Shoot the Freebies
Nothing meant classic moment more than the distinguished tones of the NBA on NBC theme.
The music plays like a soundtrack to one of my distinct memories as a young sports fan, when Nick Anderson missed four consecutive free throws for the Orlando Magic in the 1995 NBA Finals.
It was wild watching “one of the pros” have a meltdown like that; it was something I had never seen.
He just missed AGAIN!?
Anderson had been a 70.4 percent free-throw shooter that season when he was fouled with 10.5 seconds remaining and the Magic leading 110-107.
He missed both the first two free throws short and hard off the rim, but that helped him earn his own rebound and another pair of free throws.
Then he missed them both—again!
The four misses in the final seconds of what became an overtime loss to the Houston Rockets went against everything my 12-year-old mind could comprehend.
As a young hooper, that type of clutch moment was reserved for the back of my No Fear t-shirt or a video game against my brother. Even then, you made the free throws.
At least one of four of them.
Of course, that was also the first lesson on how such moments of error are met with immediate consequence.
With "Final Countdown" playing in the moment, typical of any great '90s game, Kenny Smith tied the score with a dramatic three-pointer from atop the key with just 1.6 seconds remaining.
Hakeem Olajuwon was my idol, so seeing the Rockets move on to a sweep the Magic certainly made those Anderson misses a lifetime favorite sports memory.
Jimmy Spencer, NBA Lead Writer, @JimmySpencerNBA
The Epic Playoff Intros of the Chicago Bulls
The 1996 to 1998 iteration of the Chicago Bulls is still the most dominant team I have ever seen, and it's not even close.
I rooted against them in every single NBA Finals, if only because I'm a sucker for lost causes and a Western Conference sympathizer. And yet I have that 1996 "Running of the Bulls" championship poster still proudly hanging in my office.
It was not only the peerless product that Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson and the gang produced on the court which left such an indelible mark on my basketball psyche.
No, like many other NBA junkies my age, the Bulls imprinted an aura about themselves, their dominance and everything it means to be champions. And they did it before the games even started.
The "Running of the Bulls" graphics today look laughably outdated (especially since the current iterations basically use the same pixelated, over-chunky robot heifers), but they were cutting edge and one of a kind for their time. The theme music, "Sirius" by the Alan Parsons Project, is still synonymous with not only the Bulls, but basketball introductions overall.
Icing the cake was the most iconic player call of all time.
Public address announcer Ray Clay's cadence, tenor and delivery have been imitated countless times during the ensuing decades, but no one has ever come close to hyping a pregame atmosphere like him. That his PA career ended at basically the same time as the Jordan dynasty is both fitting and equally a travesty.
Even watching on TV, one understood that it was pretty much impossible for Chicago to lose after an intro like that. They were the best in the business (having already completed one three-peat, being loaded with the NBA's best bench and sidekick stars, in addition to possessing the game's best-ever player and coach).
This introduction proved that they knew it.
I have no idea how their opponents even felt like taking the floor with that reality being flung right in their faces.
You can't watch an NBA Finals, much less any regular-season contest whatsoever, without seeing the fingerprints of this entertainment production all over the way games begin now. In a Quixotic attempt to capture this euphoric feeling on a mundane basis, introductions today become ever more bloated with pyrotechnics, over-the-top announcing, dance teams, drum corps and a myriad of other regalia.
It's already been 15-plus years, yet one only need watch the clips to get those chills back which the following moments have only shadowed. This was the Jordan Bulls. This is the NBA Finals. This is anticipation for pro basketball's finest.
Joel C. Cordes, NBA Assistant Editor, @bball_joel
The Flu Game
Michael Jordan's flu game has a special place in my memory because of a very personal reason.
Just months before the game, I was diagnosed with a tumor in my right lung. Just a week before the game I had pneumonecty. Just two days before the game was played, I was released from the hospital.
During that time, the help I received from so many friends was remarkable. I learned you sometimes need to learn to lean on others to find strength.
Watching the game I was, needless to say, at a pretty big point in my life. I was still pretty young, just 29 years old, and wondering what direction my life would take and how I would go on. You don’t normally think of your own mortality that young, but you do in that kind of instance.
It’s in that kind of backdrop I saw something that still chokes me up when I recall that game. In part, it was a man literally giving everything he had to give. Sure, it was just for a basketball game, but seeing that kind of fight gave me strength to fight.
But the other thing was when Michael Jordan collapsed into the arms of Scottie Pippen, who helped him off the court. When he gave everything he had. When there was nothing left. There was his teammate and friend to help him.
The wonderful and beautiful thing about that game that doesn’t get the same attention is that even Jordan needed help, and it was forever captured in that image of Pippen helping him when he needed help the most.
Coming at a time in my life when I needed help, it was especially moving.
-Kelly Scaletta, NBA League-Wide FC, @KellyScaletta
The Detroit Pistons Weren't Just Lucky in 2004
Yes, I'm from Detroit. But more than that, I root for the underdog.
The 2004 Detroit Pistons were decided underdogs. Their best player, Ben Wallace, was an offensive liability. The entire starting lineup, including Wallace, was in fact composed of outcasts:
- A castoff (Wallace)
- A draft bust (Chauncey Billups)
- A draft-day pariah (Tayshaun Prince)
- Unwanted trade bait (when Rip Hamilton was traded to the Pistons for Jerry Stackhouse, then-Washington Wizards general manager Michael Jordan said he had "picked [Pistons GM Joe] Dumars' pocket")
- A problem player (Rasheed Wallace)
By contrast, the Los Angeles Lakers team they were facing had been touted as one of the greatest ever to grace the court. Besides Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers also had future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton.
The Pistons led the series 3-1, and were it not for an unwillingness on the part of the Pistons to intentionally foul during a two-point attempt in Game 2—and a resultant Kobe Bryant three-pointer to send the game to overtime—the series would have been over in four.
But here the Pistons were up by 12 in Game 5 but with the game still in doubt. Shortly before the sequence, color commentator Doc Rivers told the national audience, "I get the sense that the Lakers are still in this game." Should the Pistons lose, the final two games would be played on Lakers soil.
I was watching the game at the Royal Oak Music Theatre in Royal Oak, Mich. Despite the lead, the massive crowd was still tense when Billups missed on a drive. But when Ben Wallace stuffed it back home, the crowd went berserk, and I remember thinking palpably, "We're gonna win this."
But it was still the thinking of an underdog. Wishful, hopeful.
Then Kobe drove, and Billups somehow got him to cough up the ball. C-Bill drove again—and this time, he sunk his shot and got fouled. The free throw made it 72-55. And then, on the Lakers' ensuing play, Ben Wallace rejected O'Neal like a flyswatter decimating an insect.
It was goaltending. It didn't matter. What mattered was the message it sent.
To me, and to the berserk crowd in attendance, the star-studded Lakers were suddenly seeing stars. They had suddenly been stopped cold. They could do absolutely nothing against this Pistons team, who now seemed to hold them captive on the court.
It was as if the Pistons had tired of the ESPN commentary wondering how the Lakers were losing, rather than how the Pistons were winning. As if they'd grown weary of the media love their opponents kept getting despite their finals losses.
The Pistons were the better team. And they wanted everyone, everyone, to know it. So it wasn't good enough for Detroit to win. It wanted to humiliate its opponent. The Pistons wanted to stamp them out like a spent cigarette.
And remember, their opponent was supposedly the greatest team ever assembled in the NBA.
This sequence left no doubt the Pistons would win going away, which they did. It also reduced the vaunted, storied Lakers to a helpless, flailing, almost pathetic bunch.
It was breathtaking in the moment, and considering the context. And when we spilled out into the streets for the postgame celebration, this was the moment I remembered: the moment David showed Goliath who was boss.
A footnote: I do a lot of business in the L.A. area. That summer, I must have told 40 strangers in L.A. that I was from Detroit. To a man, every fan I met said some version of "Detroit was the better team. You deserved to win. Hats off to the Pistons." I will never forget their graciousness and humility in calling it like it was.
I say it was this sequence, more than any other, that contributed to the overwhelming—and accurate—public perception that the underdog Pistons were a better team than Shaq, Kobe, Malone and Payton.
Marshall Zweig, NBA League-Wide FC, @IHaveTheWrite
Tony Parker Is a Cheat Code
Gregg Popovich had to be playing a video game against his little brother. The point guard he created called “Tony Parker” was the result of a cheat code.
This, I concluded, was the only rational explanation. There is no way one person could do so much damage in an NBA Finals otherwise.
On his way to earning MVP honors in 2007 against my hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, however, Tony Parker really did happen.
He was the most unstoppable force I had ever seen in a finals series.
Maybe that was because I wanted to believe the Cavs were a team of destiny. LeBron James, of course, had just done the unthinkable.
His upstart Cavaliers had sent Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace and the Detroit Pistons on a fishing trip that nobody expected they’d make.
Or maybe all that came to a screeching halt for Cleveland because Parker was just that good.
He attacked the basket on loop as the unfounded dreams of a Cavs championship came crashing down with every layup.
In Game 1, Parker scored 27 points. In Game 2, he scored 30.
If Pop wanted him to score 60, he would have. Instead, he finished the four-game sweep averaging 24.5 points on 56.8 percent shooting.
He was simply unguardable.
After arriving as a 19-year-old point guard from France that his coach screamed at more than the Miami Heat publicly scold Mario Chalmers, Parker had officially etched his name in NBA history forever.
He was among the very best in the game without question. Six seasons later, he still is.
Brendan Bowers, NBA League-Wide FC, @BowersCLE
Ray Allen Dances for All the Marbles in Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals
Every second in every NBA Finals game is consequential. Every play serves as a tiny puzzle piece, insignificant by itself, but grand and momentous when combined with all its siblings. Every contested jumper, hard screen and battle for a ricocheting rebound. Every pocket pass, contest at the rim and corner three.
But because sports live on the periphery of most people's lives—with few having the time to actually go back, sit down and put the puzzle together—only a few moments are rich enough to float to the surface.
When Ray Allen blew past Sasha Vujacic on his way to hitting a layup that would essentially win the NBA Finals, it happened in a special way, embodying so much of that series and all its participants.
Both on individual levels and as a collective unit, the Boston Celtics were the best basketball team in the world that season. The Los Angeles Lakers were merely a collection of really fun talent that was then filled with yet-to-be-fulfilled potential. That single play wrapped the difference between the two teams up nicely in a pretty box with a pretty bow. It put Boston up three games to one in one of the most devastating ways imaginable.
Quickly rewind to 6:04 left in the third quarter. The Lakers led by 20 points. When the fourth quarter started, they led by two.
Allen's layup was two parts iconic with a splash of symbolism. It showed the Lakers not knowing how to rotate on the biggest defensive possession of their season. The play was no more important than any one of Eddie House's three-point bombs, except it broke them.
That's what the best moments from championship series give us. Every backdoor cut or weak-side steal thanks to two blitzing pick-and-roll defenders is important. But to so many of us who have way more important things to worry about in our day-to-day lives, nearly all of them are eventually forgotten.
In this case, Ray Allen's layup will always live on. It'll always help us remember.
Michael Pina, NBA League-Wide FC, @MichaelVPina
Anything Is Possible
If you go to the TD Garden and listen carefully, you can still hear Kevin Garnett's screams echoing up in the rafters. At least I think you can.
Seeing pure, unadulterated joy is not a common sight, and it's easy to recognize when it finally appears. In the world of basketball, few accomplishments bring about such expressions of emotion more effectively than the NBA Finals. We've seen Michael Jordan brought to tears as he clutched the Larry O'Brien Trophy, Tim Duncan and David Robinson embracing at midcourt in a passing-of-the-torch moment and so much more.
All of those celebrations pale in comparison to the ever-passionate Garnett's exaltations after winning the first championship of his career.
When he began his interview, he couldn't stop swaying back and forth. Nor could he speak. The emotions were just too much to bottle up in a 6'11" body that stood rooted to the floor. And it quickly became increasingly clear that they wouldn't stay contained for long.
As Garnett repeated his statement that "anything is possible" by removing his hat, pointing his chin at the sky and just screaming, I couldn't help but get chills. This, more than anything I'd seen in my basketball-watching career, was the personification of passion.
I hate to break it to KG, but not everything is possible. Certain things are just impossibilities; it's an inevitability of life, and one that isn't meant to be depressing. That's just a fact.
But if anyone had tried to tell that to Garnett, the man who'd struggled through so many seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves and finally got to experience that euphoric feeling that comes hand in hand with being on top of the world, he would have laughed in their face.
At that moment, Garnett truly believed that anything was possible. Perhaps more importantly, with one simple scream, he made us believe the very same.
Adam Fromal, NBA League-Wide FC, @Fromal09
Derek Fisher's And-1 in 2010
In all honesty, Michael Jordan's shot over Bryon Russell was my first real basketball memory. I'd rooted so hard for the underdog Utah Jazz in 1998, only to see the greatest player of all time have his last "One Shining Moment" at their expense.
But if that shot gave me an appreciation for greatness, then Derek Fisher's coast-to-coast layup against the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the 2010 NBA Finals reaffirmed my love of the proverbial little guy.
Granted, anyone who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers is going to have trouble passing for the little guy. But in sharing a team with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and even Andrew Bynum, Fisher was still just that.
His jersey was and still is the only jersey I own, a keepsake from my first live Lakers game in 2002, when Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers came to town. I wore that jersey to school the day after "Point Four" with a hipster-like "before it was cool" pride and saw its usage skyrocket after Fish returned from his sojourn to Oakland and Salt Lake City, the latter of which had first engendered within me an understanding of the underdog.
And when I saw Fish dribble across that parquet floor in Boston, put that shot up in traffic and get crushed by multiple green-clad antagonists, I was reminded that David still fells Goliath from time to time.
And that there's no shame in him standing on the shoulders of giants to do so.
Josh Martin, NBA Lead Writer, @JoshMartinNBA
Ron Artest with the Best Post-Finals Interview of All Time
When the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, everyone was thankful for Ron Artest. Seriously.
In a season—and a series—that had been defined by defining moments, Artest's ability to step up in Game 7 and revert to the player he was in Sacramento and Houston is what won the Lakers the title.
Playing nearly the entire game, Artest poured in 20 points to go along with five boards and five steals. His defense really disrupted what the Celtics tried to do all night, and it's arguably the best we've ever seen from Artest in a Lakers uniform.
The Lakers shot just 32.5 percent and won Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and my favorite finals moment belongs to Ron Artest for his classic postgame celebration of his contributions to a title team.
Ethan Norof, NBA Assistant Editor, @Mr_Norof
Tony Parker Channels His Inner Curly Neal
I remember it like it was yesterday—mostly because it was when I wrote this.
As LeBron James said after the game, via ESPN's Tom Haberstroh, "Tony did everything wrong and did everything right in the same possession. That was the longest 24 seconds that I’ve been a part of."
And LeBron isn't even a Spurs fan, at least not yet.
For those of us who long ago swore our allegiances to the Silver and Black, our lives flashed before our eyes. Even as history has yet to rank Parker's enigmatic possession in the pantheon of NBA Finals craziness, there's no exaggerating what it meant at that place and time.
In a series that's divided experts and confused us as to who the real underdog is, Game 1 of the 2013 NBA Finals was the most essential in a series where every game is a "must-win."
Despite securing a seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter, the Spurs looked one step closer to their postseason's sixth overtime session with each Miami basket (and Ray Allen's three free throws). With a two-point lead and one final opportunity to make Game 1 a two-possession game, Parker appeared determined to dribble away San Antonio's lead—assuming he could maintain that dribble.
By the time Parker fell to one knee with the shot clock nearing midnight, OT actually sounded pretty good. Surely Allen had one more game-winning three-pointer in him. Surely LeBron's legacy was due yet another iconic act of heroism.
Surely it's never too soon to declare one dynasty extinguished and the next officially in session.
If we hoops fans have learned one thing, it's to never be too sure.
It may not be enough to change the point guard-ranking minds of those infatuated with Chris Paul's (mostly) regular-season exploits. It may not qualify Parker for inclusion among the all-time great stat-sheet stuffers.
But it will most definitely leave an indelible mark on Spurs fans old and new, a memory of the good and baffling times alike—all 24 seconds of them.
Stephen Babb, NBA Assistant Editor, @StephenBabb