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.
I was originally going to write about the five best things to come out of E3 2014 in this week’s Friday Five, but neither NBA Live 15 nor NBA 2K15 were on display at the event, so there still isn’t too much to talk about just yet. We do have our first screenshot of NBA Live 15 of course, but I feel that I’ve said just about all that I can say about that in the Forum and in Episode #82 of the NLSC Podcast (which I naturally invite you to check out).
It then occurred to me that today is Friday the 13th, which of course in Western superstition is meant to be the unluckiest of days. I’m not one for superstitions myself – except for yelling at the TV at just the right moment when a player is taking a free throw, because that totally works – but nevertheless, in honour of Friday the 13th, I’m taking a look at five unlucky moments in NBA history.
1. Derrick Rose’s injures one knee, then the other
Yes, we’re actually talking about two moments here, but it’s part of an ongoing saga and in any event, I feel like commiserating. There the Bulls were, with the best record in the league for the second year in a row, about a minute away from wrapping up a Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Derrick Rose has had a fine outing, a rebound and an assist away from a triple double, then boom…freak injury, torn ACL in his left knee. Out of the Playoffs, out for the entire 2013 season.
Rose finally returned to action in the pre-season last year, and things were looking good. He got off to a sluggish start once the regular season began, but appeared to be finding his rhythm again and was looking healthy and explosive. Then boom…another freak injury, torn meniscus in his right knee. Out for the rest of the 2014 season. Suffice to say, Rose has had some terrible luck these past couple of seasons, but I’m still hopeful that he can return to form and stay healthy. The prognosis on his latest injury is promising, but all the same, it’d be for the best if he doesn’t walk under any ladders today.
2. Bill Russell injures his ankle in the 1958 Finals
In basketball terms, Bill Russell generally isn’t thought of as being unlucky, and for good reason. One of the greatest to ever play the game, he was also fortunate enough to have several teammates who have gone down in history as all-time greats in their own right. His 11 titles in 13 seasons – including eight straight from 1959 to 1966 – is a statistic that’s certainly well-known to basketball enthusiasts. However, if not for the severe ankle injury that he suffered in Game 3 of the 1958 Finals, Russell’s Celtics actually could’ve won 10 consecutive championships, for a total of 12 in 13 years.
Now, as with any What-If scenario, nothing is guaranteed. After all, the Boston Celtics and St. Louis Hawks had met in the 1957 NBA Finals as well, a competitive seven game series that was ultimately decided 125-123 in double overtime. The teams had also split the first two games of the 1958 Finals, so the Hawks were hardly outmatched and without a hope. Still, the Celtics remained competitive without Russell, even winning Game 4 to tie the series. The Hawks won Games 5 and 6 to take the title – Russell missed Game 5 and played only 20 minutes in Game 6 – but it’s fair to say that if not for his injury, things might have gone down very differently.
3. The Celtics miss out on the #1 pick in the 1997 Draft Lottery
The topic of teams tanking for the number one pick in the Draft came up quite a bit during the past season. Personally, I feel that the issue of tanking and criticisms of the lottery system are often overblown, but the accusations are definitely nothing new. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets were accused of tanking in the 2003 season, in an effort to snag LeBron James (which the Cavs ultimately did). A few years earlier, the Boston Celtics were supposedly tanking the 1997 season to get Tim Duncan, one of the few quality players in the 1997 Draft Class and easily the best.
Boston had the second worst record in the league that year, but the best odds of winning the lottery by virtue of the stipulation that neither the Toronto Raptors nor the Vancouver Grizzlies (who had the worst record) could receive the top pick during their first three seasons. Winning the lottery and selecting Duncan would’ve given the Celtics a bright future, easing the pain of a tough season filled with bizarre injuries (Dino Radja getting stung on the lip by a bee during a game, anyone?). However, the San Antonio Spurs – whose own injury woes led to them having the third worst record in the league – nabbed the top pick instead. The rest, as they say, is history.
(And yes, that is a much younger Gregg Popovich on the right in that photo.)
4. The Bucks and 76ers miss out on the #1 pick in the 2014 Draft Lottery
Let me just start out by saying that I don’t buy into the NBA conspiracy theories, which all start to contradict each other after a while. Frankly, if the NBA is rigged, then they suck at it. In any event, the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the lottery for the third time in four years certainly raised some eyebrows, being a stroke of incredibly good luck for a team that’s looking to rebuild…especially since they did not make good use of the number one pick in 2013 (or at least, it appears that way for now). The Cavs were lucky, but the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers? Not so much.
Both teams suffered through horrendous seasons this past year. The Bucks had the worst record in the league at 15-67, while the 76ers weren’t far behind at 19-63, at one point losing 26 games in a row to tie the mark set by the Cavs in 2011. Players were injured, rosters were gutted, and aside from the play of Michael Carter-Williams for the 76ers, the only glimmer of hope was the prospect of landing the top pick. It could have been worse for the Bucks and 76ers – they could’ve fallen to the fourth and fifth picks, respectively – but for both teams to lose out on the number pick to a team with only a 1.7% chance of winning the lottery? Yeah, that’s pretty unlucky.
5. The Spurs lose on Derek Fisher’s shot with 0.4 seconds left
There are a couple of other candidates that I considered for this spot: Larry Bird’s missed three in the 1987 Finals that would have negated Magic Johnson’s gamewinning baby hook, and the San Antonio Spurs coming this close to winning the championship in 2013. However, I ultimately decided against both of them, as the players had a good measure of control over the situation; Bird had a decent look but missed, while all the Spurs had to do was make their free throws and grab a defensive rebound.
I’m going with Derek Fisher’s incredible shot because although he made his fair share of clutch baskets during the course of his NBA career, there was a reasonable amount of luck involved with this one. From the Spurs’ point of view, it was truly terrible luck; when you have the lead with 0.4 seconds left, you’re winning that game more often than not, and you certainly don’t expect to lose too many games like that on a desperation fadeaway. Sure, Fisher hit some big shots in his career and yes, the Spurs could’ve got the defensive stop, but still…that’s a very unlucky way to lose a game.
Oh, and just for fun: this one happened on May 13th 2004, which was in fact a Friday the 13th.
So, those are five unlucky moments in NBA history that come to mind for me. What are some other unlucky moments that you can recall? Let me know in the comments below and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! Thanks for checking in, please join me again next Friday for another Five.