During the 62 year history of the NBA finals there have been many championships crowned and many match ups seen by fans across the world. However, there are a select few series that fans have entrenched in their memory due to historic team rivalries or the players competing. These series have given life to the NBA finals as fans of all ages can remember a few series they could not stop watching because of the drama taking place before their very eyes.
1969: Celtics – Lakers
In 1969, the Boston Celtics dynasty was coming to an end as many superstar players approached retirement. The Celtics would meet the Los Angeles Lakers at the end of the year for the championship. The Lakers were unsuccessful in previous years against the Boston Celtics, however with the acquisition of superstar center Wilt Chamberlain, the team felt poised to finally beat the Celtics and take a championship back to Los Angeles. This particular series was known for the head-to head match ups of centers Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, as well as guards Jerry West and John Havlicek.
The series would go the full seven games, shifting the series from coast to coast numerous times. Though the Lakers would come up short in Game 7, this series marked the end of the Celtics dynasty. The Celtics would lose many of their players the following season. However, the Celtics had just finished a span of 11 championships in 13 years and this series put the exclamation point on their dominance.
1970: Lakers – Knicks
In 1970, the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks would prepare for battle in the championship series. The highly anticipated series was between two of the largest cities in the country and it would not disappoint. It would also provide NBA fans with one of the greatest moments in the history of professional basketball. The series was very tight through the first four games and the advantage looked to be in the New York Knicks favor. However in Game 5, disaster struck the Knicks when star center Willis Reed went out with an injury and would miss the rest of Game 5 and Game 6.
The Knicks were able to pull out Game 5; however, in Game 6, without Reed, the team was dismantled and were handed a 22 point loss. The Knicks chances of pulling out a win in Game 7 were slim. Just a few minutes before game time, an injured Willis Reed limped out of the locker room and provided the fans and his team with a charge of emotion. Even though Reed was not his normal offensive self, his defense forced Chamberlain into many bad shots and the Knicks were able to jump out to a large halftime lead. They held on to that lead and captured their first NBA championship.
1984: Celtics – Lakers
In 1984, the NBA finals played host to the renewed rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. This rivalry played a big part in the NBA’s rise in popularity in the mid 1980’s. The Lakers were led by Magic Johnson, while the Celtics were led by Larry Bird. This series was highly anticipated because it renewed the rivalry between Bird and Magic, who played each other in the 1979 NCAA Championship. At the time that game was the most viewed NCAA championship game in history. Bird and Magic repeated their rating success, making these finals the most watched to that point in the history of the league.
There were a total of seven future hall-of-famers playing in this series, including Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Kevin Mchale, Bob McAdoo, Robert Parish, and James Worthy, along with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. To say the least, this series definitely had star power and the country took notice. The first four games in the series were played as expected, and the series was tied at 2 a piece heading into Game 5. Game 5 was played in Boston Garden and is known for the sweltering temperatures inside during the game. The Garden did not have any air conditioning, so the temperature inside would reach 97 degrees during an especially hot June in New England. The heat could not affect Larry Bird as he led the Celtics to a Game 5 win, putting them one victory away from another Celtics championship.
Game 6 would return to Los Angeles and the Lakers would protect their home court and force a Game 7 back in the Boston Garden, which was a little cooler this time around. The Celtics would go on to win Game 7 and Larry Bird was victorious in this championship match up, redeeming his NCAA Championship game loss to Johnson 5 years earlier. He was also awarded MVP of the series, averaging over 27 points and 14 rebounds. The current success of the National Basketball Association owes a great deal to this series from a quarter century ago.
1994: Rockets – Knicks
In 1994, the league was still reeling from the loss of Michael Jordan to retirement. Many teams felt this as an opportunity to try to win a championship of their own as 3 years of Bulls dominance under Jordan came to a close. The Houston Rockets and New York Knicks would do battle in the NBA finals that year. The teams were evenly matched including the high profile center match up between Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. The two had met 10 years earlier in the NCAA championship between Georgetown and Houston, and that became the backdrop of the series. The teams engaged in a very physical seven game series seeing the power and momentum shift from each side numerous times. The series also made the nation take notice of Hakeem Olajuwon, who established himself as one of the best players in the league by outplaying Patrick Ewing and all of the New York defenders.
This NBA Finals series is remembered for more than just the on-court action. During Game 5 of the series, NBC dropped coverage in order to track the “low speed” chase of former pro football player O.J. Simpson. Many fans missed most of the game as stations turned coverage to the surreal event taking place on the Los Angeles highways. The Knicks would go on to win Game 5, however, that was lost in the media circus that surrounded O.J Simpson during and following the game.
The Knicks would return to Houston with a 3-2 series lead, in hopes of bringing an NBA championship back to New York for the first time since 1973. However, the Knicks lost a very close Game 6 and the NBA finals went to a Game 7 for the first time since 1988. In Game 7, the Knicks would turn in one of the worst shooting performances in NBA finals history. Knicks guard John Starks would shoot 2 of 18 in the game and would dig a hole for the Knicks from which they could not recover. The Houston Rockets would win their first NBA championship and would go on to repeat the following season.
1998: Bulls – Jazz
In 1998, the Chicago Bulls battled the Utah Jazz in a rematch of the previous year’s finals in which the Bulls reigned victorious. The series was highly anticipated due to the excitement generated by the rematch. A subplot of the series was the anticipated retirement of Michael Jordan following the end of the Bulls’ season. The series would be the last chance for many fans to get a chance to see arguably the best player in the history of the NBA. Many experts thought the Utah Jazz would have the advantage on their home court this time around.
The series did not meet expectations at first as the Bulls dominated the series 3-1 and looked to finish without having to return to Utah. However, the Jazz regrouped, won Game 5, and set up a memorable Game 6 in Utah. The game was a back and forth contest and, in the final minutes, it appeared the Jazz would force a deciding Game 7. However, with the ball in Michael Jordan’s hands, fans around the world knew that something special was about to happen. Jordan was able to make space and hit the game winning shot with just few seconds remaining on the clock. That shot is one of the most memorable in NBA history. Jordan would go on to retire and many consider it a fitting end to an amazing career.