Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
The 2015 NBA Finals are tied at two games apiece, after an interesting four games that have seen beastly performances by LeBron James, a couple of stinkers from Stephen Curry, and the first occurrence of Games 1 and 2 both going into overtime. There’s a lot to talk about: who will prevail, now that it’s essentially a best of three? Should LeBron get the Finals MVP award, even if the Cleveland Cavaliers ultimately lose? On the other hand, if he leads them to a title, is it more impressive than anything Michael Jordan ever did? Will the NBA Store be able to keep enough Matthew Dellavedova jerseys in stock?
All interesting questions – well, perhaps not the last one, so much – and I certainly invite you to discuss them. However, I’m going to refrain from making any more predictions for these NBA Finals in the Friday Five, and will reflect upon a couple of the other questions once the series is in the books and can be properly put into perspective. Instead, I’m going to offer up five pieces of trivia – five NBA Finals fun facts – that I hope you’ll enjoy while we all wait for the NBA Finals to resume in a couple of days. Let’s get started.
1. No team with the reigning Slam Dunk champion has won the NBA title
Now, former Slam Dunk champions have gone on to win the NBA championship. Three of them, in fact: Michael Jordan, Isaiah Rider, and Kobe Bryant. For the record, MJ has the most combined Slam Dunk and NBA titles with eight…alright, alright, I’m not going to use all of these fun facts to drone on in admiration of His Airness. Spoiler warning though, his name probably will come up again before the end of this Five. Anyway, while former dunk champs have gone on to win titles – or in the case of Dwight Howard, at least appear in the NBA Finals – no NBA champion (or runner-up) has ever boasted the reigning dunk contest winner. In contrast, five Three-Point champions have won titles the same year, while five more made it to the NBA Finals.
When you take a look at the all-time roster of Slam Dunk contest participants and their respective situations, I guess it’s not altogether surprising. You’ve got some all-time greats, but their teams weren’t bona fide contenders those years. You’ve got players whose careers kind of fizzled, and young players on lottery-bound teams who were looking to make their mark. Additionally, three-point shooting is obviously a more prized skill for a team looking to win it all, compared to the ability to perform spectacular dunks. Still, it’s interesting that it hasn’t happened at least once in the three decades that the NBA’s dunk contest has been around. Howard and Cedric Ceballos have come the closest, making the NBA Finals the year after winning.
2. The East leads the West 37-31 in Championships
For a while now, the Eastern Conference has been the weaker of the two. The Western Conference has produced ten champions since the turn of the century, a season in which all eight Playoff teams won at least 50 games, and on the whole, has been far more competitive. It’s gotten to the point where a lot of people feel the Conference format needs to be scrapped, though I don’t agree. The format doesn’t need to change for the sake of a couple of teams (who aren’t legitimate contenders) missing out on the Playoffs, or a couple of match-ups that arguably are too good for the first round…but that’s a topic for another time. In any event, when it comes to the Conferences, instead of the East and the West, it’s been the Least and the Best.
However, for the NBA’s first 50 years or so, that wasn’t really the case. While there were power shifts, the past fifteen seasons – give or take a couple – have been unusually lopsided. Nevertheless, the East still boasts 37 NBA champions, compared to 31 from the West. Furthermore, up until the end of the 90s, the East was more comfortably in front, 32-21. Sixteen of the Boston Celtics’ seventeen championships obviously helped build that lead, as did five straight titles by Eastern teams with the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls winning titles from 1989 to 1993, along with three more by the Bulls from 1996 to 1998. Today, those teams account for 25 of the East’s 37 championships, in a combined 34 NBA Finals appearances.
3. The Celtics only played two rounds for eight of their titles
Hall of Famers such as Tom Heinsohn have been quite outspoken over the years about how the league is softer and more watered down compared to the good old days, particularly when Ack-Ack himself was winning title after title with Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics. And let’s be fair: there’s merit to those arguments. However, a noteworthy fact about Russell’s Celtics that doesn’t get mentioned a whole lot is that in eight of their eleven championship seasons, they only had to win two series in the postseason – the Eastern Division Finals, and the NBA Finals – to capture the title.
In all fairness, that’s just the way it was. There were fewer teams, so the top seed in the Eastern and Western Division received a bye in the first round, and then had to win eight games to capture the championship…or in the case of the Celtics’ first title in 1957, just seven games, as the Division Finals were still a best of five series that year. Still, it’s a fact worth noting when we examine the dominance of the Celtics in the 60s. In comparison, under the 5-7-7-7 format that the NBA Playoffs had through the 80s and 90s, seven or eight wins wouldn’t get you past the Conference Finals. With the current 7-7-7-7 format, adopted in 2003, eight wins would get you to the Conference Finals, while seven would mean a second round exit. It’s food for thought.
4. There’s only one defunct NBA/BAA Champion
That would be the 1948 BAA champions, the original Baltimore Bullets. Similar to the original Denver Nuggets, who have no official connection to the current Denver Nuggets (who were originally the Denver Rockets in the ABA), they don’t share any lineage with the Baltimore Bullets that came along in 1963, the club that has also been known as the Chicago Packers, Chicago Zephyrs, Capital Bullets, Washington Bullets, and currently, the Washington Wizards. Originally an American Basketball League team, the original Baltimore Bullets won the BAA championship the year they joined the league, then saw limited success over the next six seasons before folding fourteen games into the 1954/55 campaign.
Some fans might be inclined to mention the Seattle SuperSonics here, but technically, they have a shared heritage with the Oklahoma City Thunder. As such, their 1979 championship is still recognised as belonging to a current NBA team…much to the chagrin of Sonics fans everywhere, I’m sure. While not all examples are as controversial as what happened with the Seattle SuperSonics and subsequent formation of the Oklahoma City Thunder, plenty of teams have moved or adopted new monikers over the years; the league has seen a lot of changes. However, it speaks volumes about its stability – even early on, when it was trying to get a foothold as a major sport in North America – that only one former champion is now defunct.
5. Eleven players are undefeated in five or more NBA Finals appearances
Oops, there’s Michael Jordan again. This is an achievement that he shares with Scottie Pippen, as that dynamic duo won six championships in six NBA Finals appearances in the 90s. However, they aren’t the only players to go undefeated in five or more NBA Finals appearances, nor do they have the most championships in that group. A total of eleven players have participated in five or more NBA Finals, and been on the winning side every time. And yes, as you’d expect, a couple of them did play for the Boston Celtics.
The complete list is as follows: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen (six with the Chicago Bulls); Robert Horry (two with the Houston Rockets, three with the Los Angeles Lakers, two with the San Antonio Spurs); Ron Harper (three with the Bulls, two with the Lakers); Steve Kerr (three with the Bulls, two with the Spurs); George Mikan, Jim Pollard (five with the Minneapolis Lakers); John Havlicek, K.C. Jones, Tom “Satch” Sanders (eight with the Boston Celtics); and Larry Siegfried (five with the Celtics). Of course, if not for an injury in the 1958 NBA Finals, Bill Russell could have been an incredible twelve for twelve. And it can’t go unmentioned that only two of those players achieved a repeat threepeat…come on, you knew I had one more in me!
And there you have it. What other NBA Finals fun facts can you think of? Have I made an error or miscount in researching the ones that I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.