By Jason Iannone
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With the NBA playoffs on their way, it’s time to look back on some of the incredible moments that have made playoff hoops worthy of your eyes year in and year out. It’s also time to debate why the hell nobody names the damn finals. Seriously, you’ve got the World Series, the Super Bowl the Stanley Cup and … the NBA Finals. The league has existed for about 60 years now, and nobody can dream up even one decent moniker? We’ll give you one right now — the Holy Dribbler. Name one baller who would be embarrassed to call themselves a Holy Dribbler Champion. You can’t.
Here now are five of the most memorable moments in NBA playoff history…
5. 1994: The No. 8 Denver Nuggets Beat No.1 Seattle Supersonics
Any time the crappiest team in the playoffs manages to conquer the best, it’s newsworthy. This is exactly what happened in 1994, when the Denver Nuggets faced the Seattle Supersonics in the first round of the Holy Dribbler playoffs. Nobody gave the Nuggets even the slightest sliver of a shot — they were two games above .500 for the year, and the Sonics were simply unstoppable. If that’s not enough, Seattle won the first two games of the five-game series, all but punching their ticket to the second round.
So naturally, they choked huge. Denver managed to win the next three games and take the series, becoming the first eight-seeded NBA team to beat a top seed. They followed that up by taking the Utah Jazz to the seven-game limit in the second round after being down 0-3. And they only lost Game 7 by three! They didn’t win it all, but clearly they wanted the Holy Dribbler trophy just as badly as everyone else.
We WILL get that name over, by the way. Don’t fight it.
4. 1980: Magic Johnson Plays Every Position to Win Game 6 of the Finals
Normally, Magic Johnson was a point guard. But as befitting a Hall of Fame legend, he could play just about any position on the court, anywhere, at any time. Rarely did he need to, though he certainly did in 1980. The hoop gods rewarded his versatility with a trophy, too.
Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hurt himself in Game 5 of the Finals, and was not ready for Game 6. Johnson, ever the eager beaver of a rookie, volunteered to play center in his place. Not only did he do that, but he played small forward, power forward, point guard and shooting guard. And he probably would have fired the T-shirt gun if somebody had invented one in time.
Most importantly though, Johnson played all five positions expertly, scoring 42 points and adding 15 rebounds en route to winning the title and being named Finals MVP. Not at all a bad way to start your career.
3. 2005: Robert Horry Wakes Up at the Exact Right Time and Takes Over the Court
Robert Horry is the greatest basketball player of all time who could walk into your local grocery store and not get recognized. He has seven rings, but has never been the superstar player on any team. It’s funny, because there’s almost no way any of those teams win a title without him. There was simply no better clutch player out there, nobody better at realizing he had to go on a game-winning tear and then just doing it.
Perhaps the greatest example of why his peers call him “Big Shot Bob” came in 2005, as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, with his team tied at two games apiece with the Detroit Pistons, Horry came off the bench in the second half to score 21 points. Virtually all of them came in the fourth quarter and in overtime, and since the Spurs only won by one point, it’s safe to say every single thing Horry did that night counted.
2. 1981: Larry Bird Switches Hands Mid-Air Like the World’s Palest Magician
Larry Bird saw what Johnson did and felt compelled to steal the show at the next available opportunity, just so nobody would forget about him. He did just that in 1981, when his Boston Celtics faced the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.
In Game 1, with the Celtics down 87-84, Bird pulled off one of the most amazing plays in basketball history. He launched an 18-foot shot, then after it missed, he immediately grabbed his own rebound, switched the ball from his right hand to his left while in mid-air and managed to make the basket. Even Bill Russell, who was commentating and was presumably paid to talk about things, was rendered absolutely speechless.
It wasn’t the game-winning shot, but it helped wake up the Celtics and drive them to an eventual championship. Facing the eternal embarrassment of losing to a 40-42 team probably didn’t hurt either.
1. 1970: Jerry West Sinks a 63-Foot Clutch Shot
And now we go way back in the past, to a moment that will never be forgotten, even though the ending to the story is not the happiest ever.
Jerry West, a player so good that his silhouette became the logo for the damn league (not that the NBA admits that, since that would mean committing the unfathomable sin of paying the West estate billions of dollars), and his Lakers were in the 1970 NBA Finals against the Knicks. With the Knicks leading by two and three seconds to go, West didn’t have the time to make it all the way to the other end of the court. Instead, he just hurled it up from 63 feet away and hoped for the best.
He got the best. The shot went in and everybody went berserk. Of course, this was 1970 and three-point shots were not yet a thing, so West’s half-court miracle shot only counted for two, good enough to force overtime. Sadly, the Knicks regrouped and went on to win the game by three, eventually taking the series in seven games. Nevertheless, the fact that people are still talking about West’s shot, and not the Knicks’ victory, proves that sometimes an amazing moment is worth more than a title.
Can anyone give Jason Iannone the number of the nearest trademark office? He wants to make a billion bucks off of the Holy Dribbler name before somebody else does. Send him any info you have via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or his website.
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