Archive | June 2016

Gordie Howe: Mr. Hockey

Hockey is not my favorite sport. I do appreciate how brutal the sport is, how tough the players are, and have excellent experiences involving the sport, including calling the Beanpot, rooting for BU as a fan, and a childhood of Hartford Wolf Pack games. I also appreciate the stories and myths of the ice, like I do for all sports. So when I heard that Gordie Howe died on Friday, I couldn’t help but be sad, as the toughest and most mythical player in hockey’s long history has finally passed on.

Of all the players to play the survival game called hockey, no one captured the balance of physicality and skill the way Gordie Howe did. From 1946 until 1971 with the Detroit Red Wings, and then from 1973 until 1980 in the World Hockey Association, Gordie Howe wrote a story that defied the odds and saw him play a grand total of 32 professional hockey seasons. He set records for scoring and career longevity and become the standard for hockey toughness.

That toughness came from his home town and upbringing. Howe was one of nine children; born in a farm house in Floral, Saskatchewan, a remote part of an obscure state who’s name is the definition of the middle of scenic nowhere to non natives. He moved out to Saskatoon when he was nine days old, and they lived there through the worst of the Great Depression. When he was old enough, he spent his summers working construction with his father. He started playing hockey at 8 years old, and showed a natural talent for the national sport of Canada. He also showed disinterest in school. He quit school at 16 years old and joined his father as a construction worker, while continuing to play hockey in the local leagues. He eventually got a tryout with the New York Rangers, and the Rangers offered him a contract. But Howe would have to go to Notre Dame, a school in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, that was known for churning out good hockey players. Howe did not feel comfortable going there and declined the contract. He returned home to play with his friends and stayed for a year.

In 1944, he was noticed by the Detroit Red Wings organization. He signed on and played with the Red Wings minor league team, and was called up in 1946. He played his first two seasons wearing number 17, and was effective but not great. He did not take his biggest strides towards hockey immortality until 1948, when he changed his number to 9. He gained a reputation as a skilled scorer and a man quick to throw down his gloves and fight. There is an occurrence in hockey known as a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick”, which is when a player scores a goal, records an assist, and gets in a fight. He fought so much his rookie year that his coach, Jack Adams, asked him “I know you can fight. Now can you show me you can play hockey?” Howe showed that he could play better than anyone who had taken the ice to that point. He led the Red Wings to four Stanley Cups in the 50’s and wrote the NHL record book.  He would set a record for scoring 20 or more goals every season from 1949 until 1971, became the first player to score 90 points in a season, and then 100 points in a season. He won the Hart Trophey (League MVP) 6 times, and along with Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, he became the standard bearer for the NHL.

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He retired in 1971 as the leading goal scorer in the history of the NHL, but mostly capable of playing. He had bad wrists and was forced to retire before he was ready to do so. The amazing thing was that he was able to keep playing after he turned 42, when mere hockey mortals would have to retire. Instead, with the help of a wrist surgery and fueled by disputes with the front office of the Red Wings, Howe returned to the ice in 1973, playing in the World Hockey League, a competitor to the National Hockey League. He joined the Houston Aeros, because his sons were playing there. He led the Aeros to consecutive championships in 1974 and 75. After his time in Houston ended, the epilogue arrived. He went with his sons to the New England Whalers, later the Hartford Whalers, and played until he was 51 years old. In his last season in Hartford, he scored 15 goals and collected 26 assists for 41 points in a career high 80 games played that season.

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Gordie Howe did things on the ice with skill and strength that no one else ever could. Wayne Gretzky was not the complete package that Howe was. Bobby Orr was not the physical marvel that Howe was. No one has or will ever match the physical prowess and scoring skills of Gordie Howe, and no one will ever match the influence on the sport that Howe had. Wayne Gretzky has always said that Howe is the greatest hockey player ever, and he is correct. Gretzky holds all of Howe’s former scoring records, and holds scoring records that will never be topped. But Howe did it for much longer and never showed the physical decline that Gretzky showed. They won the same number of Stanley Cups, four each, and they were at least comparable in the influence they could have on the game. I’d give Howe a very slight edge as the greatest total Hockey player ever, and that is only by a tiny, TINY margin.

Howe also lived for a long time after his playing career ended. He finally retired for good in 1980, and lived a long and fruitful life afterward. He worked for charities to counter degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s after his wife’s death in 2009. He was named to the Order of Canada, and was a living monument to the sport of hockey after his career ended. Unfortunately, he suffered from dementia towards the end of his life and had to live with his children in rotation. He suffered a bad stroke in 2014. He did recover and managed to see some good months with his grand children after. Unfortunately, even the toughest ones must go too. While staying with his son Murray, a radiologist in Toledo, OH, the great Howe couldn’t go any further. He died at his son’s home. No cause has officially been listed for his death, but as of now, what he and his family need are our prayers and respect.

Gordie Howe was the greatest hockey player of all time. Unfortunately his time finally came to an end after 88 years of living here on earth. May God welcome him with open arms.

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Gordie Howe is shown a a recent handout photo from the new book “Mr. Hockey.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Paul Horton/Neue Studios MANDITORY CREDIT: Paul Horton/Neue Studios

Why Pittsburgh Won the Stanley Cup

Well, my prediction for the Stanley Cup finals was wrong. I got the six games part right, but not the team right. The Sharks and Penguins treated the Hockey world to an excellent series and showed the sports world how exciting the sport can be when played at the highest level. Ultimately, Pittsburgh skates away with their fourth Stanley Cup. So what made the difference?

1. Sharks Lack of Bite.

When the San Jose came into the series, they came in on the back of a strong defense and excellent goaltending by Martin Jones. They had a good and effective offense, but did not rely on it. The lack of good offense came back to bite them. The Penguins outshot the Sharks in every game in the series, with Pittsburgh averaging 34.3 shots a game and San Jose only averaging 23.4 shots a game. San Jose lost the only game in which they outshot the Penguins. They got outstanding goaltending from Martin Jones, but could not support their goaltender with a top line performance on the offensive side of the puck.

2. Pittsburgh’s Defensive Forwards.

I predicted that the Sharks would win based on their strong defensemen. They did their jobs rather well, but the surprising performance came from the Pittsburgh forwards. In tonight’s game 6, they blocked 33 shots. Sidney Crosby has a reputation of being a skilled offensive player who doesn’t have much toughness. But he showed that he can play some good defense as well.

3. Matt Murray’s Coming Out Party.

Both goaltenders were unheralded coming into the series. Martin Jones probably did have the better individual series, but Murray walks away with the Stanley Cup in hand. Murray came from obscurity sitting behind Marc-Andre Fleury to winning the Stanley Cup in place of an injured Fleury.

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Ultimately, these are the biggest reasons I can give for Pittsburgh’s victory over San Jose in the Stanley Cup Finals. The NHL now gets to take a nice summer break before coming back in October. Thanks for an awesome season NHL!

 

Muhammad Ali: Truly The Greatest Ever

I woke up very early in the morning to find my television still on and tuned to SportsCenter. I pulled up my iPad sitting on the floor next to my couch and saw the news update that Muhammad Ali had died. I sat up immediately and listened to the reactions and coverage of his passing. I listened for a long time as story after story came in about what Ali had done for the black community, the boxing world, the athletic world at large, and the United States in one of the more tumultuous times in the nation’s history. I heard all these stories and soaked them all in, knowing many of his stories but not knowing the full weight of his time and tales. 

 I knew Ali as one of the most controversial public figures in the middle of the 20th century and as one of the greatest athletes in any sport. Both of those descriptions are true, and ultimately, Ali will mean different things to people of different walks of life. My father was six years old when he upset Sonny Liston in 1964, and my father had met my mother only a few months before Ali fought his last bout in Nassau in the Bahamas in December 1981. I wasn’t alive or fully aware enough to see any of his most famous moments. Yet even I know about the myths and stories of Ali. He must’ve done something incredible for someone who wasn’t born until thirteen years after his last fight to know and respect his accomplishments. 

His life was a result of the racism and poverty he saw and endured in his formative years in Louisville, Kentucky. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay in 1942, he grew up in the Jim Crowe south, facing direct racism and adversity from his youth. One specific incident led him to the sport where he would make his name. At twelve years old, young Cassius Clay’s bike was stolen at the annual convention of the Louisville Service Club. Clay approached Joe Elsby Martin, a police officer and local boxing coach. Clay fumed, saying that he wanted to “whup the thief”. Martin responded by asking “Do you know how to fight?” Clay answered “No, but I’d fight anyway.” Martin responded by saying “Why don’t you learn something about fighting before you go and make any hasty challenges.” Martin was Clay’s first boxing coach, and was with him through his career as an amateur boxer, culminating in his gold medal performance at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He was celebrated as the greatest young boxer of the day in Times Square before returning home to a heroes welcome that masked a still virulently racist culture in Louisville. He was fueled by a desire to make changes to a world he saw as flawed. 


Clay turned pro after his Olympic victory. He won his first 19 bouts before taking his first shot at the Heavyweight Championship of the World. He met Sonny Liston for the title in the ring in Miami Beach, Fla., and was a heavy underdog to the most intimidating force in the sport back then. Clay fearlessly promoted the fight and his skills. Most boxers would let their managers and crew do the talking for them. And while Clay’s crew could do the talking; Bundini Brown came up with the famous phrase “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, Clay went vocal and talked trash to Liston. He declared himself to the task. He fought Liston boldly, surviving a round where he could hardly see because of irritation in his eye, and won by technical knockout when Liston failed to answer the bell in the seventh round. After the fight, Clay had his famous claim “I shook up the world!!!” This put Clay on the map, and he was just getting started. 

The controversies began for Clay when he announced his conversion to Islam and affiliation with the Nation of Islam. He changed his name from, as he termed it, his “slave name” of Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. After a rematch with Liston in Lewiston, Maine, Ali became more vocal about his opponents, calling Floyd Patterson an “Uncle Tom” before beating him in a twelve round technical knockout. He remained this vocal for the remainder of his career. He then topped himself in terms of controversy when he announced his status as a “Concientious Objector” to the Vietnam War due to his religious convictions. He was convicted as a draft dodger and was suspended from boxing in 1967. This is the point where Ali became a divisive figure in the United States. He was an incredible athlete, but was viewed as unpatriotic by millions of Americans. Ultimately, I understand why he felt that way, but I can’t help but think that there had to have been a better way to express that sentiment. He loudly proclaimed that “The Viet Cong ain’t ever called me no n!*#^~>.” He acted on his experience and refused to fight for a country he viewed as hypocritical and not what he wanted to put his energy towards. I understand his rationale behind his actions, and must respect the reasons he refused to fight. I don’t approve of what he did to express that sentiment, but I will respect his reasons. 

Ali’s boxing suspension was lifted in 1970. Ali won a few fights before signing on to face the most fearsome fighter of the time, Joe Frazier. The fight went the full 15 rounds and generated a buzz in Madison Square Garden that has rarely been felt at a sporting event. The “Fight of the Century” on March 8, 1971 was a unanimous decision that went to Frazier and Ali was viewed as being done. He lost to Ken Norton in 1973, and while recovering from a broken jaw from that fight, he plotted his return to the Heavyweight Championship. Ali got another shot at Frazier and took him down in a twelve round unanimous decision in Madison Square Garden. George Foreman who had also defeated Joe Fraizer, with Howard Cosell along to provide the most famous call in boxing history and maybe the most famous call in all of sports, was the man holding the title that Ali wanted. Ali wanted to fight Foreman, and got his wish. 


The two met in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), for the “Rumble in the Jungle”. Foreman hit Ali with punches that “could bring down the walls of a city.” Ali responded by asking Foreman “Is that all you’ve got George?” George Foreman didn’t have anymore. Ali won, created the Rope-a-Dope, and reclaimed the Heavyweight Championship of the World. There was still one last great triumph in Ali’s boxing career. Ali and Frazier got together for the “Thrilla in Manilla”, the third and final round of the most brutal personal rivalry in the middle of the twentieth century. Ali took every punch, using the “Rope-a-dope” style of fighting utilized against Foreman. He walked away triumphant, winning when Frazier failed to answer the bell in the 15th and final round. It was his final triumph in the ring. Ali had a few misplaced fights at the end of his career, including three losses in his last four fights. After he lost to Trevor Berbick in 1981, he finally retired with a record of 56 wins, 5 losses, 37 wins by knockout, and only one loss by knockout. Ali broke so many standards and normal ideas about how to box, and was the greatest boxer of all time. 

Stade Tata-Raphaël, then Stade du 20 Mai (20 May Stadium) was the place of the “Rumble in the Jungle” between Foreman and Ali


After stepping outside the ropes, Ali hit serious health concerns and transcended the sports world. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1984, and lost his famous ability to talk and proclaim his skill and influence. That’s how I came to know Ali originally, through his words. I know he’s the greatest boxer, but I’ve always loved listening to Muhammad Ali’s quotes and thoughts. Here are a few of his greatest quotes for your appreciation. 

“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I was really the greatest.”

“Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

When talking to the press about the Rumble in the Jungle, Ali said,  “I’ve done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.”

“The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights.” 

His words are touching. And these are only a few of his quotes. I came to know him as a man with a gift of gab, not with a gift of jab. Parkinson’s made his life harder and harder to lead for many years. He continued to make public appearances though. He even had two more famous moments in the spotlight. One was when he lit the torch for the opening of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.


 The second was when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 by George W. Bush, the highest award that can be given to an American citizen. The rest of his life, he was a symbol of his time and a person who many made it a mission to meet, because he had inspired them so much for so many years. 


Muhammad Ali died this morning on the East Coast, last night in Scottsdale, his home for the last years of his life. His legacy is complex, but full and incredible. He was completely human, being married four times, having multiple affairs, putting himself in more dangerous positions to get hurt, and probably being too arrogant at times. But Ali was such a legendary athlete and such an important figure that he almost transcends the notion of being a regular human being. In terms of influential athletes in the twentieth century, Ali is up with Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Michael Jordan as the greatest on that list. His influence will be felt for years after his death. 

May God welcome him with open arms. 

Why Watch the NBA Finals?

Tonight is finally the night!! The NBA Finals get underway! This is the matchup that most of the NBA expected and wanted to see in the finals. Cleveland and Golden State will kick off this series tonight at 9 PM. In case you wanted a few reasons to watch, here are a few things to keep in mind. 

1. Rematch!

These teams met in the finals last year. Last season’s finals were decided in six games with Golden State having too much depth for Cleveland’s depleted roster to contend with. Even with depleted health, Cleveland managed to keep the series close with toughness, good defense, and the great play of Lebron James. Now, the Cavaliers are healthy, they have the players they want, they have the coach they want, and they have a chance to take down the champs. The Warriors also want to see Cleveland because they have drawn criticism that their path to a championship last year was much too easy. Their opponents were injured for every series and the challenge factor was there, but it was not as strong as it was in this playoff run and in this finals. Both sides wanted this rematch and got what they want. 

I also have a historical angle too. Take a look at my list of Top 10 NBA Finals, and you’ll see many series that are rematches. The atmosphere of a rematch is so much more intense because there is a sense of bitterness on one side and that allows for a real dislike of the opposition. The Celtics and Lakers don’t like each other because they have faced each other multiple times and have had years where there are direct rematches. So did the Lakers and Sacramento Kings in the playoffs in the early 2000’s, so did the Spurs and whoever LeBron is playing with. The atmosphere in general for a rematch is heightened and with the specifics of this rematch, it’s made even better and more meaningful. 

2. Paying off the Record?

The Golden State Warriors set the record for the greatest regular season record in NBA history this year at 73-9. They set the standard every step of the way this year and reign supreme as the biggest draw in the NBA. But does their legendary regular season mean anything if they don’t win the championship? Well, yes and no. It’s still a remarkable accomplishment to win that many games and is still an all time mark. But the purpose of playing this game is to try and win a championship and Golden State has put themselves in as good a position as they possibly could. If they don’t win the championship, it will take a huge amount of luster off the Warrior’s season. The players all know that and they want to be known as the best team in NBA history. They will do whatever they need to do to win a title. The Warriors have a ton of pride in their craft and want to win badly.

3. Believeland’s Faith

I watched a documentary in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series called Believeland recently. It highlighted the depths of pain that Cleveland sports fans have hit. It showed how much the Cleveland fans have endured and how they still believe. They still believe in LeBron and his ability to carry the Cavaliers to a championship. It would be the first Cleveland championship since Jim Brown ran over the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL Championship Game. Lebron has said many times over that he feels the pressure to win and knows the pain of northeast Ohio, as he grew up in it. He and the rest of the Cavaliers know exactly what a championship would do for their fan base, and they want to win for their home city. 

Prediction

This is a hard finals to call. The teams are well matched and both ready to go toe to toe. They have strong shooters on Curry and Thompson for Golden State and Love, Irving, Frye, and Smith for Cleveland. They play very similar styles of basketball, being the first and second ranked teams in making three pointers this postseason. They can also get inside. Draymond Green and Lebron James can facilitate their team’s offense from the inside, and they both have good post offenses to help their teams. These teams are very evenly matched up and down. Ultimately, it will comedown to who can control some momentum and who plays with more energy. Both teams have reason to be energetic and play hard, but I’ll ultimately have to pick Golden State for that. They have the momentum off a big victory in the conference finals over OKC, and have a little more depth than Cleveland. Not much, but just enough to eek out what will be an amazing seven game series. 

Top 10 NBA Finals

The NBA is lined up to get a rematch in this year’s finals that could go down as one of the greatest matchups of all time in the Finals. Cleveland and Golden State combined for an excellent Finals series last year, and the second round promises to be just as good, if not better. Before we dive into the next series, let’s take a look back at prior NBA Finals matchups and appreciate the legendary duels of Finals past. I did a list like this for the Stanley Cup Finals earlier this week, and I’m keeping the same criteria. The order of this list is comprised of what series featured the best competition between the two teams. The games should be consistently competitive, with both teams standing a chance of winning the series. This also isn’t going to be a collection of the greatest moments in the history of the NBA Finals. Michael Jordan’s “Switching Hands” layup against the Lakers in 1991 is one of the great plays, but that doesn’t make a 5 game series where it was clear who was better by the middle of the fourth game an all time series. The whole series had to have been a good battle and both teams need to have had a chance to win. I’m also not including the 2015 Finals on this list because we still need a little more time to process where that finals fits in the pecking order. With all that said, let’s get started.

  1. 1978, Bullets vs SuperSonics: Bullets in 7

The late 1970’s were the dark ages for the NBA. The teams were losing money, the quality of play had declined, and the League was in trouble. There was still great basketball to be found in the dark ages though. The Washington Bullets (now called the Wizards) met the Sonics in 1978, and the teams played in the most forgotten Finals series ever played. Dennis Johnson, the most underrated player in NBA history, let his defense against the Bullet backcourt do the talking, but the forces inside for the Bullets named Wide Wes Unseld and Elvin Hays were too much for the Sonics to handle. Game seven saw the Sonics cut the Bullets lead down late despite their best player, Dennis Johnson, missing every shot he took in the game. Ultimately, the Sonics could not stop Hays and Bob Dandridge inside. It was an excellent matchup, but the timing of the series in the middle of the NBA’s dark ages, lack of influence on the league, and the simple fact of no one ever remembering it prevent me from putting it higher than #10.

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  1. 1974, Celtics vs Bucks: Celtics in 7

The Bucks used to be great. They won a championship in their third season in 1971 and remained a dominant team throughout the early 1970’s behind the dominant duo of Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They had a team that made it back to the NBA Finals in 1974 and ran into a revamped Celtics team featuring a few holdovers from the Russell dynasty, John Havlicek and Don Nelson, and new stars, including JoJo White and Dave Cowens. The ensuing battle became a quickly forgotten classic. Without Lucius Allen, an old Oscar Robertson got pushed around in game one, with the Celtics going ahead. The teams then traded wins for the rest of the series. The teams didn’t have many close games in the series, but game six makes up for all that. This classic game produced two all time NBA moments. First, Dave Cowens dove for a loose ball at the end of the fourth quarter, showing his determination. Then in double overtime, the great Kareem Abdul Jabbar sank a sky-hook to put the Bucks ahead and make game seven in Milwaukee a reality. The Celtics responded with pride and enthusiasm, and went to Milwaukee and won their 13th NBA Championship. The Bucks never rebounded, as Oscar Robertson retired after the 74 Finals and Kareem was traded to the Lakers in the fall of that year. The rematch never happened, but the one duel was outstanding. It is an underrated series, but its still a great matchup. But I can’t put it higher than ninth because it had only one legendary game.

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  1. 1994, Knicks vs Rockets: Rockets in 7

Breaking up the running of the Bulls that the 1990’s turned into, the Knicks and Rockets provided the NBA with a beautiful mix of throwback and new school basketball. Its a throwback because the focus was on the duel of centers Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon. The physical grit and toughness of the Knicks also added to the old school feel of the series. The play of Hakeem and shooting skill of the Rockets, meanwhile, added a new school flavor to the series that fitted the 90’s perfectly. The teams traded games at the Summit and Madison Square Garden, with New York taking a three games to two lead to game six in Houston. John Starks had a shot late in the game that could’ve won it. Instead, Hakeem blocked the shot on the outside and forced a game seven. Hakeem was too much for the Knicks in the end, and the Rockets won this underrated classic.

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  1. 2005, Pistons vs Spurs: Spurs in 7

This series is criminally underrated. I think that’s because the Detroit Pistons are the only modern team to win a championship without a clear Hall of Fame player on their roster. Outside of that, the series was a dream matchup. The last two NBA champs, the two best teams in the league led by two legendary coaches with attitudes fit of being champions. The buildup to the series was outstanding and the payoff was even better. The teams split the first four games and most of them were not close by the end, especially games three and four in Detroit. The Pistons won by 31 in game four and ran the Spurs off the floor early in game five. Luckily for NBA fans outside of Michigan, the rest of game five was a classic game worthy of archive in NBA lore. The Spurs escaped Detroit with a victory on a great late game performance by Robert Horry, with him making a last second three pointer to cap a 21 point performance. The Pistons won game six and forced the first game seven in the Finals in eleven years. The final game was a defensive war, a reflection of the way both teams played the game. Ultimately, Finals MVP Time Duncan was too much for the Pistons and the Spurs claimed their third championship since 1999. Both teams proved to be worthy competitors, and the series proved a classic.

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  1. 1997 and 1998, Bulls vs Jazz: Bulls in 6 both times

Ok, this is completely cheating. I can’t just leave the best player in the history of the NBA off this list. But I can’t figure out which series belongs here. He never played in a seven game NBA Finals, only in the Eastern Conference Finals and Semi-Finals. He did play in six NBA Finals. But which one is deserving of being here? Well not 91, that was only a five game series. 92 and 93 were good series, but watching the tape makes me think that neither the Trail Blazers or the Suns could mount a major challenge to Air Jordan. 96 was a good series, but the Sonics didn’t feel like they could mount a big enough threat after falling behind three games to none. Then we get to 97 and 98 and for the life of me, I cannot separate these two series. They both felt like close series, both saw the participants execute their game plan to high levels, and showed how good they were. So I’m going to combine these two series into one listing.

So what happened in these matchups? Well in 97, the Jazz finally broke through the Conference Finals and went to the NBA Finals. They met the greatest dynasty of the age and played well to open the series. But Karl Malone missing free throws, Michael Jordan making a game winning shot at the buzzer of game 1, and defensive lapses in game two resulted in a 2-0 series lead. Utah tied it up after a dominant game 3 win and an overtime win on a long pass from Stockton to Malone. This set up a great matchup in game five. With momentum hanging in the balance, Michael Jordan got sick. The Jazz capitalized and took a big lead early. Jordan responded with the heart of a champion and scored 39 points to lead the Bulls to victory. Back in Chicago, game six was a hard battle that went right down to the wire. A last second shot by Steve Kerr and a late steal by Scottie Pippen ultimately ended the duel.

The next year was a chance at revenge. The Jazz now had home court advantage and won game one in overtime. The Bulls responded with three consecutive victories. The wins included a messy win in Utah, the worst performance by one team in Finals history when the Bulls won game three 96-54, and a tight win in game four. The Bulls lost a chance to close out the series at home and Utah could force a game 7 back in Salt Lake City. The teams engaged in a legendary duel in game six with their stars carrying them down the stretch. When down three in the final minute of play, Jordan single handedly won the game with a layup, a steal from Karl Malone, and the famous “Hold the pose” shot over Bryon Russell to seal the win for the Bulls. Both series were epic, both teams were essentially the same in both series, and both deserve recognition. Because of that, both series are being listed together and here in the middle of this list. I can’t put them higher because the series never went the full seven. These series did push the great Michael Jordan to his limit and that merits the 97 and 98 finals landing on this list.

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  1. 1969, Celtics vs Lakers: Celtics in 7

The oldest series on this list and quite possibly the one with the most interesting backstory. The Celtics had won ten championships since Bill Russell arrived in 1956, beating the Lakers six times in the finals in that time. The Lakers needed to add a center to the formula that already included Hall of Famers Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. They traded for Wilt Chamberlain, and were favored to beat the aging Celtics. Through the first six games, the home team defended their home court. Game seven was in LA, and the owner of the Lakers, Jack Kent Cooke, was so confident his team would win that he printed the celebration plans on papers that were taped to the seats. Bill Russell found a sheet before the game, read it to his players, and used it for motivation in one last duel. The Celtics jumped out to a lead early, then held on for dear life as Jerry West launched a personal assault on the Celtics. Don Nelson’s miracle shot at the end helped the Celtics down the Lakers one more time with Bill Russell at the helm.

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  1. 2010, Celtics vs Lakers: Lakers in 7

I am a massive Celtics fan. They are my second favorite team in professional sports and Paul Pierce is my favorite athlete of all time. This only makes the 2010 matchup against the Lakers more soul crushing. Like other series on this list, its a rematch series, and was a rekindling of the greatest rivalry in the sport. The teams met in 2008, and Boston walked away with a massive victory in game 6. The rematch was a duel that the NBA had to wait two years for, but it was worth the wait.

The Celtics and Lakers battled through Ray Allen’s record setting game two, Derek Fisher’s heroics in game four, the Boston bench winning game four by themselves, the Celtics grinding out game five, and Kendrick Perkins tearing his ACL in a game six blowout. This set up a game seven, and the final game was a brutal war. The Lakers came back late in the game, capping the first Celtics loss in a game seven in the NBA Finals with Ron Artest’s three pointer and Sasha Vujicic’s free throws. The Lakers won the rematch and the Celtics have still not recovered from the loss.

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  1. 2013, Spurs vs Heat: Heat in 7

The most recent series on this list will be talked about for years to come. It deserves it, the Spurs and Heat have been the two best organizations in basketball for the first half of the 2010’s. They finally met in the 2013 Finals, and the teams combined for a duel for the ages. Tony Parker won game one with a soft kiss off the beackboard. The teams then traded victories until the most famous game in the series, game six. The Spurs were one game away from winning the championship, and held a lead late into game six. However, when the final seconds arrived, the Heat refused to die. Ray Allen’s famous three pointer in the corner tied the game and forced overtime, which the Heat won, and then game seven was just as good and tense. Tim Duncan missed a bunny in the lane that would’ve tied the game late, and LeBron James closed the series for his second championship.

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  1. 1988, Pistons vs Lakers: Lakers in 7

If you’re from Boston, this series was a moment you looked at and said, “Who do I hate more?” The Lakers were the main rivals of the Celtics in the 1980’s and could run anyone off the floor, but the Pistons were much more physical and more difficult to play as a purely physical and mental matchup. This clash in basketball styles, and the friendship between the two point guards, made the matchup compelling and interesting. The Lakers were favored, but the Pistons did not yield ground. The teams split the first four games of the series, and traded blows in the middle of it. When the series shifted to LA for game six, Isiah Thomas wanted the win and had a quarter for the ages in the third. He rolled his ankle badly, and in the same quarter, scored 25 of his 43 points. Isiah’s performance kept the Pistons close, but it could not seal a win. Kareem hit two late free throws to win game six, then James Worthy won game seven almost by himself as the Pistons were denied a championship for one more year. The war was brutal but beautiful and memorable for all basketball fans, even in Boston.

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  1. 1984, Celtics vs Lakers: Celtics in 7

The greatest rivalry in all of basketball, the greatest players of the day, and the renaissance of the NBA all were on full display in this matchup for the ages. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird has won three of the first four championships contested in the 1980’s. But they hadn’t met for the championship since the 1979 NCAA Championship game. In June of 1984, they led their squads into the NBA finals for a renewal of basketball’s greatest rivalry. LA opened with a big win in game one, then choked away game two when Gerald Henderson stole James Worthy’s pass and Magic Johnson dribbling out the clock in regulation of a tie game. After that, the Lakers ran away with game three in LA. Boston countered with Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis and winning game four in overtime. Boston sweated out game five in a hot Boston Garden, and LA won game six in the Forum. Game seven proved to be the matchup the NBA wanted to cement their place as a seminal sports league, with the highest ratings for any show for CBS that year. Cedric Maxwell led the way in scoring and assists for the Celtics, and the Lakers were finally downed. It had close games, important historical impact, and a legendary cast of characters. Nine players in this series are in the Hall of Fame and both coaches are in the Hall too. For the level of competition and for historical impact on the NBA, the 1984 NBA Finals take the top spot on this list.

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