8 NBA Finals Moments That Will Never Happen Again
The NBA Finals is where history is made, and much of it is incredibly unique.
But even against a backdrop of special, unforgettable moments, there are a number of plays, stories and games that will just never happen again. The first time was it, so here's hoping you either caught it live or managed to brush up on your history so that you could feel like you were right there when it happened.
They're the moments that defy logic, especially given the changes that basketball has experienced between then and now.
I'm not talking about silly and obvious things like Michael Jordan winning a title.
Obviously, that will never happen again, seeing as his most recent retirement seems to be quite permanent. Instead, these are moments that defy the odds and, while technically possible, are just way too unlikely to ever bet on.
Let's take a journey back through history.
Getting Shoes from an Opposing Star
Just imagine the scene.
LeBron James has just finished dominating the San Antonio Spurs during Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals, taking advantage of the series' return to South Beach. He records a sensational line, leaving no doubt that he'll be the Finals MVP if he can carry the Miami Heat to a victory.
As he retreats back into the locker room, he's approached by Cory Joseph, who has a simple request for him. All he wants is LeBron's sneakers...after they're autographed, of course.
Can you imagine that happening today? Can you imagine the media frenzy that would ensue?
These teams are supposed to dislike each other! What's happening?!?!?
Well, over a decade ago, stuff like that took place, per Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver:
Former NBA player Eric Snow was a member of the 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics, a team led by Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton that lost to Jordan’s Bulls in six games in the 1996 Finals. Nearly 20 years later, Snow is auctioning off an autographed pair of the black-and-red Air Jordan XI signature sneakers that Jordan wore in Game 4.
It's amazing how much the game—and the way the game is thought about—can change over a relatively short time.
Celebrating an 8-Peat
Miami is currently trying to join the ultra-exclusive club of squads that have successfully completed a three-peat. It's quite the limited fraternity at the moment, despite the number of teams that have won back-to-back titles and come up short when pursuing the third.
George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers were the first to win three championships in a row, and they were followed by Bill Russell's Boston Celtics.
Then there was a massive drought until Michael Jordan came around and engineered three-peats on two separate occasions during the 1990s. After that, it was Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers completing the trifecta.
A three-peat has been achieved only five times, and the Heat are trying to make it six.
But only one group has won at least four in a row, and that was those old-school C's. Russell led the charge on eight consecutive titles, which spanned from 1959 until 1966.
The current construction of the NBA prevents that from ever happening again. Three is hard enough. Four is virtually impossible, given the strength of the league, the depth of quality teams and the rules of the collective bargaining agreement. Plus, Russell had the advantage of competing against a league with single-digit squads, which required him to win fewer games during his championship runs.
There's an ever-so-slight chance that Miami completes the three-peat, stays together and earns a fourth championship in a row for the first time since Russell. But eight?
Forget about it.
And speaking of Russell...
30 Points and 40 Rebounds
During Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals, Russell could not be stopped.
The Boston Celtics were playing the Los Angeles Lakers and seeking their fourth title in a row, but things weren't exactly easy. Foul trouble plagued the team, limiting Tom Heinsohn, Jim Loscutoff, Frank Ramsey and Tom Sanders throughout the contest.
But it didn't matter to Russell.
During the 110-107 victory—which involved a decisive overtime period—the Boston big man lived up to his big-game legend. He scored 30 points and pulled down 40 rebounds, which remains the most boards anyone has ever grabbed during a Finals contest.
Let's put this in perspective.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, whose play finder only goes back to the 1985 NBA Finals, Tim Duncan (twice), Dwight Howard, Shaquille O'Neal (five times), Charles Oakley, Dennis Rodman, Ralph Sampson and Ben Wallace are the only players to grab at least 20 rebounds during the last series of the season.
Shaq set the modern-era record with 24 in the 2000 NBA Finals, which came during his three-peat.
No one has topped 30. No one has even sniffed 40.
In fact, Oakley's 35-rebound masterpiece in April, 1988 is the modern-era record during the regular season, and only 14 times has someone broken past the 30-board barrier.
Forty will never happen in any game, much less during the deciding contest of the NBA Finals.
A Flu Game Like "The Flu Game"
It's one of the most memorable performances of all time, regardless of the stage.
Michael Jordan, suffering from flu symptoms to the point that he was on the verge of collapsing while seated on the bench, still managed to dominate the Utah Jazz from start to finish. Yes, even if that finish led to him needing support from Scottie Pippen as he struggled to leave the court after the final buzzer.
Finishing Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals with 38 points, seven rebounds and five assists, including 15 big points in the fourth quarter, Jordan was absolutely sensational. His coach, Phil Jackson, went as far as calling it the greatest game of his career, via Rick Weinberg on ESPN.com:
Because of the circumstances, with this being a critical game in the Finals, I'd have to say this is the greatest game I've seen Michael play. Just standing up was nauseating for him and caused him dizzy spells. This was a heroic effort, one to add to the collection of efforts that make up his legend.
Nobody will ever match that performance.
Others might have better games, sure. Others still will certainly play while sick, fighting against nausea and exhaustion.
But no one will ever rise above the situation and dominate quite like this.
Pulling a Willis Reed
Willis Reed wasn't supposed to play in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. He'd sat out Game 6 after suffering a severe thigh injury in the contest just prior, and his status was completely up in the air heading into the season's final game.
But to the shock of nearly everyone in attendance at Madison Square Garden, Reed strolled out of the tunnel for warmups and ended up taking part in the proceedings. It sent the crowd into an unabashed frenzy, even if the big man remained immobile during the opening tip against Wilt Chamberlain and only scored four points.
Nonetheless, Walt Frazier took over the game, finishing with 36 points, 19 assists and seven rebounds in one of the finest performances of all time. It doesn't get enough credit due to Reed's gutsiness, but that's beside the point. I'll avoid getting on my soap box for now.
So, why can't this happen again?
After all, it's entirely conceivable that another star player suffers an injury that leaves him questionable before he ultimately ends up playing. Just think about Serge Ibaka, who was literally ruled out for the Oklahoma City Thunder during this year's Western Conference Finals before making a surprising return.
But his return was trumped—in a temporal sense—by the announcement of the news.
It's the element of surprise that makes Reed stand out.
MSG got so worked up because no one knew what was going to happen. In this day and age, the story would leak on social media before Reed left the locker room, and the buzz would spread through the arena like wildfire.
Sure, it would still be exciting. But it wouldn't be so shocking.
Finals Game Taken over by O.J. Simpson
Game 3 of the 1994 NBA Finals was a fantastic contest.
The Houston Rockets beat the New York Knicks on the road, and the 93-89 victory gave them a 2-1 lead in the series—one that they'd go on to win. And, of course, there were plenty of stars on the court.
Hakeem Olajuwon led the charge for Houston, recording an insane 21 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks. On the other side, Patrick Ewing submitted 18 points, 13 rebounds and another seven rejections for the Knicks.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, there have only been 10 seven-block games in the Finals since 1985, and two of them came in the same game—this one. All of a sudden, the Michael Jordan-less series was finally getting really entertaining.
Then Game 5 rolled around after a less-thrilling Game 4.
Olajuwon and Ewing both played fantastic basketball yet again, asserting themselves as unquestioned superstars for the latest time, but they took a backseat to the plummeting star of another household name in the world of sports: O.J. Simpson.
During the middle of the game, the broadcast actually started showing the infamous chase of the white Bronco. And it wasn't like it was shown in a small section of the screen; the game took a backseat to the police chase of the NFL standout who was later to stand trial for murder.
"Appointment television? More like disappointment television," writes Ken Berger in a fantastic, must-read long-form article on CBS Sports. "Then, just as the series arrived at its tipping point, a white Ford Bronco cruised into America's living rooms and captivated the nation."
Later on in the piece, there's this interesting passage:
[Neil] Best, watching from the press seats in the 200 level, noticed that Bob Costas -- the pregame and halftime host in the arena -- had his back turned to the game and was huddled with his staff watching a TV monitor. Costas had suddenly become the traffic cop for NBC's split coverage of the Finals and the O.J. chase, the middle man between [Marv] Albert, color commentator Matt Guokas and Tom Brokaw at NBC News.
"The most bizarre telecast that I've ever been involved in," Albert said. "It was like early reality TV."
Albert has been a part of quite a few telecasts, so that statement isn't meant lightly. And something tells me that the rest of his career hasn't changed that opinion.
"The only people in the country who were seeing the game," Best said, "were the people in the arena."
Nothing like that will ever happen again. The strange mixture of circumstances is just too much to match.
60-Footer to Force Overtime
Unfortunately, there's not enough video of 1950s NBA basketball to verify this statement, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Jerry West hit the longest game-tying two-pointer in the history of the Association.
There was no three-point arc during the 1970 NBA Finals. Every shot made from the field was worth a pair, whether it was a dunk, a mid-range look or a 60-foot prayer.
West opted for the last route.
After Dave DeBusschere hit a long jumper to put the New York Knicks up by two points with just three ticks left in Game 3, Wilt Chamberlain basically gave up. He did inbound the ball, but he did so before turning to the locker room without even watching what went down on the court.
West didn't give up, though.
He lofted up a desperation heave from well beyond the half-court stripe, and it found the bottom of the net to somehow send the game to overtime. Though the Los Angeles Lakers would still lose the game in the final period, the legend of the shot lives on.
The most difficult two-pointer in NBA history? Doesn't it have to be?
It's highly unlikely that any NBA Finals game is ever sent to overtime on a shot from beyond the midway point of the court. The percentages don't exactly work in favor of successfully converting such an attempt.
But to do so while down just two points is literally impossible.
Ron Artest Takes the Podium
This has to be the absolute greatest press conference in the history of the NBA Finals.
Right after winning the 2010 NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers, Ron Artest (yes, this was prior to the name change), opened his presser by yelling about his Wheaties box. He'd go on to bring his entire family on the stage, thank his psychiatrist and clutch a bottle of champagne.
It was unadulterated joy, and it was unforgettable. The scene held attention better than any presser in the history of sports (for me, at least), simply because you had absolutely no clue what Artest was going to do next.
Oh, and this came after thanking everyone in his "hood" during a postgame interview with Doris Burke.
Good luck matching this one, NBA players.
I hope someone does, but I doubt it ever happens.