2014 NBA Finals has historic implications
One team will begin cementing its resume as the greatest post-Michael Jordan NBA franchise tonight when the Miami Heat face off against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Jordan won the NBA title as a member of the Chicago Bulls in six games over the Utah Jazz in 1998 to claim his sixth and final championship. For the purpose of this article, Jordan’s career ended here, because his time on the Washington Wizards was nearly irrelevant when it comes to NBA history.
There are only three franchises that can claim this imaginary title: the Heat, the Spurs, and the Los Angeles Lakers. This year, a 16th champion in the post-Jordan era will be crowned, and 13 of those 16 were one of these three teams. In fact, there has not been a single year since Jordan concluded his career that one of these three teams has not been featured in the finals. The only three years where this trio didn’t win a title were 2004 (Detroit Pistons over Lakers), 2008 (Boston Celtics over Lakers) and 2011 (Dallas Mavericks over Heat).
Each franchise has a legitimate case, and so let’s discuss this team by team.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have won five titles in this span and have been to the finals seven times. The pairing of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal brought them three straight championships, but fell apart after being eliminated once by San Antonio and then by the Detroit Pistons in the finals matchup that’s now referred to as the “five game sweep.” Bryant and O’Neal just couldn’t get along anymore, so O’Neal went elsewhere (and won a title with the Heat). Imagine if they could have resolved their differences.
Bryant would lead the franchise to two more titles in 2009 and 2010. Since then, Bryant has fought injury woes and the roster went from aging to decrepit. This season was the culmination of the Lakers downfall, finishing 27-55. Bryant sat on the bench injured, and the Lakers covered the floor for the most part with roster fillers and no-names. The once proud franchise has a long way to go if it wants to win a championship before Bryant retires.
San Antonio Spurs
The pillar of continued excellence, the Spurs have not missed the playoffs or had a season of less than 50 wins since 2000. The owners of four titles in this span, the Spurs will go for their fifth this year. Their only finals loss came at the hands of Lebron James and the Heat last spring.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are both foreign players and late round picks. As an organization, the Spurs have stayed afloat in a smaller money market by making savvy draft picks and luring aging roll players to San Antonio. The recent picks of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have brought the Spurs back into dominance after not making the finals before last season since 2007. Most importantly, San Antonio could always rest its hat on Tim Duncan, who is probably the best power forward in the history of basketball and has been with the team through the entire run.
The Heat are in this discussion purely because of the last four seasons. A three-peat this year would brand them one of the greatest teams of all-time, right along with the three-peats accomplished by the Lakers and the Chicago Bulls. James and company are also the only bunch to make the finals four straight times since Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics did from 1984-87.
Miami is going for its fourth title, with the first coming in 2006 courtesy of Dwayne Wade and O’Neal. However, success has not always been commonplace for this franchise. The Heat has experienced three sub .500 seasons since 1999.
My pick is for San Antonio, especially if they win this year’s championship, which is exactly what I expect them to do. Prolonged and continuous success while not having the money Los Angeles and Miami has to spend has been fascinating to watch. Both of the other franchises have had drama and down years, while the Spurs are the continuous blueprint for how to run a team and an organization. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili want one more title, and I don’t believe Miami has enough to stop them.
There will be plenty of debate in the coming weeks about where these teams rank in the annals of greatest teams of all time, but the debate won’t stop either of them from attempting to state their claim.
Allyus Fritz is the sports editor for The Fairfield Ledger.