(Lamar Odom after winning the title. Photo by Chris Graythen, Getty Images)
6/14/1870 - Cincinnati goes extras with Atlantics
The Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professionally organized baseball team to feature paid players, meet up with the Brooklyn Atlantics. The Red Stockings had not lost a single game since they began playing in 1869, and the Atlantics, the most respected team on the east coast, were seen as the best chance anyone had at defeating them. A crowd of nearly twenty thousand people circled the playing field to watch the historic game.
At the end of nine innings, the score was tied at five. The Atlantics were more than content to leave it at that, having gone toe-to-toe with the famous Red Stockings. But Cincinnati owner Harry Wright, who also managed and played for the team, argued vehemently with the umpire. Finally, at his urging, the game went to extra innings. The Red Stockings held a 7-5 lead in the top of the eleventh, but in the end, the Atlantics won in eleven innings: 8-7.
In a telegram to the city of Cincinnati, club president Aaron B. Champion wept as he wrote, "Atlantics, 8; Cincinnatis, 7. The finest game ever played. Our boys did nobly, but fortune was against us. Eleven innings played. Though beaten, not disgraced."
The Red Stockings are considered the first Major League Baseball team. Founded in 1869, Major League Baseball celebrated its centennial on the 100th anniversary of the team's founding. And yet, they could not withstand the bitter disappointment surrounding the loss. Stockholders withdraw their investment from the team and fans stopped going to the ballpark. Only a few years later, the Cincinnati ball club disbanded. Harry Wright, his brother George, and other Red Stockings players traveled to Boston, where they established the Boston Red Stockings -- the best team in the country. The Red Stockings would later become the Altanta Braves.
(Jordan exults after title No. 2. Photo by John Swart, AP Photos)
6/14/1990 - The Microwave sinks finals-winning jay
With only 0.7 seconds left, Vinny Johnson of the Detroit Pistons knocks down a 14-foot jumper to beat the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The victory gave the Pistons' their second straight title, making them just the third franchise to win back-to-back championships. This feat would not be matched until...
6/14/1992 - Bulls come back to win back-to-back
The Trail Blazers were well on their way to forcing a seventh game of the '92 Finals. After three quarters, Portland held a commanding 79-64 lead over the Chicago Bulls, who had a 3-2 series lead. Bulls coach Phil Jackson opted to give his second unit a shot at reducing the lead. Chicago had only one starter, Scottie Pippen, on the floor to begin the quarter. B.J. Armstrong, Stacey King, Scott Williams, and the rarely-used Bob Hansen filled out the lineup.
Jackson's decision worked perfectly. With the help of a raucous crowd at Chicago Stadium, the reserves played fantastic defense and held the Blazers to only 14 points in the period. By the time Michael Jordan re-entered the game with just under nine minutes to go, the Bulls had gone on a 14-2 run and had trimmed the lead to three. The big guys then carried Chicago the rest of the way; Pippen and Jordan scored Chicago's final 19 points and the Bulls were able to ride the momentum to a 97-93 victory. Chicago won their second title in as many years, and their first own their home court.
"No tears this time, just champagne," said Jordan, who wept after the Bulls' championship the year before. "I can't really express the way I feel right now. We withstood the challege of trying to repeat. A lot of teams threw everything they had at us, and it was a long year. We went through a long test of adversity, me as an individual and us as a team. But we stood tall at the end."
The Bulls became just the fourth franchise to win consecutive titles, joining the Boston Celtics, L.A. Lakers, and Detroit Pistons. Their 15-point fourth quarter comeback was the largest in finals history. The following season, the Bulls defeated the Phoenix Suns in six games to three-peat.
6/14/1995 - Houston Rockets sweep Magic
The Houston Rockets beat the Orlando Magic, 113-101, in Game 4 of the NBA Finals -- sweeping the Magic and giving them back-to-back championships. The Rockets had endured a rough regular season and entered the postseason as the No. 6 seed. But thanks to a midseason trade where they acquired Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, the Rockets managed to gel as the playoffs began.
No team in professional sports had gone through a tougher path to the title than the Rockets, whose seeding deprived them of home court advantage in all of their series. Along the way, Houston managed to face the four toughest teams, record-wise, in the NBA: the 60-22 Utah Jazz, the 59-23 Phoenix Suns, the 62-20 San Antonio Spurs, and the 57-25 Orlando Magic. They won a record nine road postseason games (including their last seven), they were the first team to beat four teams with 55 or more wins, and they were the first team to beat four teams without home court advantage in at least one of their series. They had even managed to stave off elimination after trailing 2-1 in their best-of-five first round series and trailing 3-1 in their best-of-seven second round series.
Clearly, they were a team of destiny.
After the game, Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich addressed the hometown fans at The Summit. "Never underestimate the heart of a champion," he said. "I don't have a vocabulary to describe how I feel about this team, about their character, about their guts. No one in the history of the league has done what this team has done. We won more road games than anybody. I don't know if a player has ever played as great as Hakeem Olajuwon did all through this playoff series. I don't know if a team has made a major trade during the course of a year and kept their chemistry together. This is a special team. Everybody we beat during the playoffs could have been a championship team. The lack of respect for this team has to stop. I'm the proudest guy in the world."
Unfortunately for Tomjanovich, many fans would put an asterisk on the Rockets' championships in 1994 and 1995 because they coincided with the years that Michael Jordan was out of the league. When Jordan returned, full-time, with the Bulls in 1996, they won the first of three more championships. Houston failed to meet the Bulls in the finals and were thus unable to prove their mettle against the NBA's best.
6/14/1998 - Jordan hits his final shot
In 2007, the NBA compiled a list of the 60 greatest playoff moments in NBA history. The final Bulls game of Michael Jordan's career was No. 1, and for good reason.
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6/14/2000 - Kobe shines in Shaq's absence
It was Game 4 of the 2000 finals, and the L.A. Lakers had a 2-1 series lead over the Indiana Pacers. It was overtime, and Shaquille O'Neal had just fouled out of the game. In lieu of their leading scorer, 21 year-old Kobe Bryant picked up the slack and hit shot after shot to keep the Lakers ahead.
"When I fouled out, Kobe just looked at me and said, 'Don't worry, I got it," said O'Neal, who led everyone with 36 points and 21 rebounds. "That's what you need when you have a 1-2 punch. When you injure your left hand, you need your right to step up and knock out the opponent."
Kobe scored 28 points and hit several mid-range shots that quieted the Indiana crowd. More importantly, he did it with the poise and composure that Michael Jordan had shown when he was in the league. It was a breakthrough moment for Bryant, who had continually been compared to Jordan since he entered the league out of high school.
But the Pacers continued to stay in it, thanks to the clutch play of Reggie Miller. Reggie scored the majority of his 35 points in the fourth quarter and overtime and missed only two shots between the two periods. With 5.9 seconds left in the OT, the Pacers were trailing, 120-117. Miller was fouled by Rick Fox before the ball was inbounded and went to the line for an automatic technical. Miller hit the free throw and brought it to a score of 120-118.
Still with 5.9 seconds left, Miller curled off a series of back screens and finally caught the ball on the right side of the floor. Getting as good a look as he had gotten all night, Miller launched the crucial three over Robert Horry. Reggie hit six of his nine threes in the game, but this was one of the misses; the shot hit the far iron and sailed away as time expired. Los Angeles escaped with a thrilling win and took a 3-1 lead in the series.
Indiana came back with a vengeance and destroyed the Lakers in Game 5. In Game 6, Indiana stayed with the Lakers until the very end, but it just wasn't enough. Backed by a 41-point game by Shaquille O'Neal, the Lakers vanquished Indiana, 116-111, and won their first title since the Showtime days of the 1980's
After the season, Indiana coach Larry Bird resigned. Mark Jackson signed with the Toronto Raptors, Rik Smits retired, and Dale Davis was traded for Jermaine O'Neal. The Pacers remained a competitive team for several more years, though they were unable to make it back to the finals.
(Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili celebrate. Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld, Getty Images)
6/14/2007 - The Spurs beat the Cavs
With a four-game sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the San Antonio Spurs win their fourth title in nine years. Most declared their period of dominance a dynasty, while others argued that since they hadn't won in consecutive years and since the Lakers were clearly than them for three straight years, "dynasty" was hardly the operative term.
The 2007 Finals came in with absolutely zero momentum: there had been just two overtime playoff games and only a handful of close ones. When the ratings came back for the '07 Finals, it wasn't pretty. It scored a 6.2 in the Nielsen Ratings, making it the least watched Finals of all time. Three of the six lowest-rated Finals had involved the Spurs, including the worst two.
The San Antonio Spurs were a very methodical, slow, half-court team. They were easily the least flashy team in the league. Many analysts thought that people had a natural disposition against the Spurs and that that was why no one watched the Finals.
To me, the Spurs themselves weren't the most exciting team in the world to watch, but the problem wasn't that they were boring -- it was that the games they played tended to be boring. When they played high-paced teams like the Suns and Mavericks, the ratings were fine and the games were great. But when they played a similar half-court team such as the Pistons or Jazz, the games were gruesome to watch.
I never understood why people couldn't wrap their heads around why the '07 Finals got low ratings. The games were awful! It was a four-game sweep and the games weren't interesting! You can't expect to win primetime when the Spurs are leading a Finals game by 20. Same thing for when the Spurs played the Nets and Pistons in the Finals. Those series were ghastly, almost every game was a blowout. Since when do we expect people to watch programs that suck? If the series was great and the ratings were still low, now that'd be something to complain about.
Some expected that LeBron James' presence alone would save the Finals. However, the Spurs did such a stellar job defending him that James never had a breakout game or any particularly memorable plays.
To explain why I was so bothered by the media's lack of understanding of this in 2007 (back when I first wrote this piece), I make note of Tentacoli -- a 1977 Italian film about a killer octopus that ate beach-dwellers. This movie had a hell of a cast: John Huston, Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins, Henry Fonda, and Claude Akins. The movie was utter garbage, and at the end of the day, people weren't asking themselves why the film was so bad. That's because while the cast was good, everyone knew that the film itself had to be awful. Same thing with the 2007 Finals. Yeah, LeBron James draws numbers, but if the game (or movie) he's in is unwatchable, why would people watch it?
Of course, the other source of the dreadful ratings was ABC, whose NBA coverage was the equivalent of a Rabbi eating a pork sandwich next to the Wailing Wall. They half-assed their coverage to the extent that they didn't even bother removing the ESPN logo in the scoreboard bug. If there is a definition for the word laziness, keeping the logo of a different channel on your network has to be it.
(Kobe awaits his first post-Shaq championship. Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant, Getty Images)
6/14/2009 - Lakers beat Magic in Finals
With a 99-86 victory in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Orlando Magic 4-1, winning their first championship in seven years. The win not only made up for their drudging by the Boston Celtics the year before, but it gave Kobe Bryant his fourth career title and his first without Shaquille O'Neal.
Bryant, who was the Finals MVP, described the relief of not having to deal with the can-he-win-without-Shaq talk. "It was like Chinese water torture," he said. "I would cringe every time. I was just like, it's a challenge I'm just going to have to accept because there's no way I'm going to argue it. You can say it until you're blue in the face and rationalize it until you're blue in the face, but it's not going anywhere until you do something about it. ... I think we as a team answered the call because they understood the challenge that I had, and we all embraced it."
On his Twitter page, Shaq wrote, "Congratulations kobe, u deserve it ... You played great. Enjoy it my man enjoy it." The championship was the Lakers' 15th in franchise history, and the tenth championship ring for head coach Phil Jackson. With the win, Jackson moved one title ahead of Red Auerbach for the most all time, leading many to declare him the greatest NBA coach ever.