As the NBA Finals
We have seen No. 1 seed to underdogs take the charge to the top. We have seen some of the best players take the next step into stardom, and even young players like Devin Booker show us what they are capable of doing.
Nevertheless, there are some NBA Finals matchups we would have loved to see but never did. Let’s use our imagination to try and wonder what that would have looked like had these 10 Finals matchups happened.
10. Boston Celtics vs. San Antonio Spurs - 2008
In 2008, the Boston Celtics won the NBA championship headlined by a trio of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. Do you know another team that had an outstanding trio? The San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs made the Conference Finals but were taken down by the Lakers. The Spurs had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili during their dynasty years. This would have been a heavy-hitting matchup between two All-Star-packed trios. Not to mention, it would have been a dominant defensive battle between Duncan and Garnett.
9. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Brooklyn Nets - 2021
Had everyone been healthy, this would have been an NBA Finals for the ages. On one side, you would have LeBron James trying to repeat as a champion and chase down title No. 5. He would have to get through his former teammate Kyrie Irving, where both have publicly admitted disdain for each other. On the other side, you would have Kevin Durant, trying to solidify his legacy as a leader and not a follower, as well as James Harden trying to chase down his first ring after years of failed attempts.
This would be the most star-studded NBA Finals. The last time LeBron and Durant faced off was in 2012 when Durant and Harden were young pups in OKC. This time, all parties are in their 30s. The highlights and storylines were there. Too bad that the health of each player was not.
8. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat - 2011
The last time a player pulled off two three-peats was Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Kobe Bryant was one of the last players to pull off a three-peat with the Lakers. With championships in 2009 and 2010, Bryant was ready to copy his mentor in the 2011 playoffs. However, the Lakers faltered in the second round of the playoffs and were swept by the eventual NBA champions Dallas Mavericks.
Had this match happened, it would have been incredible. LeBron was in his first year of being a league villain. It was also the first year of the Big 3 of LeBron, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. With both Bryant and LeBron in their primes, a three-peat on the line, and LeBron’s first opportunity for a ring, this would have had all of America glued to the television.
7. Chicago Bulls vs. Houston Rockets - 1997
The Houston Rockets were glad to see Michael Jordan retired in 1994. That helped the franchise win titles in back-to-back seasons in 1994 and 1995. However, when Jordan returned, it went right back to Chicago being the best in the world. What many don’t realize is that from 1991 to 1998, the second-best overall team was the Rockets.
In 1997, the Rockets had another chance to contend for a title. Most of the title team was still intact. With that said, the real storyline would have been the two crowned jewels from the 1984 NBA Draft. No. 1 overall pick Hakeem Olajuwon battling against No. 3 overall pick Michael Jordan. All we can do is dream about who will win this battle.
6. Los Angeles Lakers vs. New York Knicks - 2000
The Lakers ended up winning their first title of three in the era of Shaq and Kobe in 2000. The Lakers took down the Indiana Pacers and Reggie Miller in the NBA Finals. While this six-game series was entertaining, the New York Knicks and Patrick Ewing would have been matchup paradise.
Imagine all these matchups. You would have Ewing vs. Shaq, Latrell Sprewell vs. Kobe, Allen Houston vs. Glen Rice, Larry Johnson vs. Robert Horry, and Charlie Ward vs. Derek Fisher. You could even throw in superfans Jack Nicholson vs. Spike Lee in there too if you wanted. With the two biggest markets in the world battling, this would have had mega views around the world.
5. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat - 2006
In 2003, the beef between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant was too much, so it led to the trade of Shaq to the Miami Heat. Shaq ultimately got the first laugh in 2006 when he teamed up with Finals MVP Dwyane Wade to win Miami’s first championship and his first without the help of Bryant by his side.
While the run of the Dallas Mavericks was special, it would have been more entertaining if Bryant and the Lakers made the Finals. Bryant and Shaq did not like each other. You know Bryant was furious when Shaq won a title without him first. This would have been the ultimate battle for the “alpha” of the league and the Lakers dynasty.
4. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics - 1986
The 1980s saw the Lakers and Celtics rivalry renewed. That was in part to the rise of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The rivalry dated back to the days when Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans took down Bird’s Indiana State’s Sycamores in the 1979 NCAA Championship.
Bird got the upper hand in 1984 when the two teams met in 1984, but the Lakers got their revenge by beating Boston in six games in 1985. There are not many times that we get to see a trilogy in the NBA. In 1986, Bird had won his third straight MVP. The series was tied one to one. We will never get to know who would have had the upper hand.
3. Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers - 1998
The “last dance” of the Chicago Bulls was a storyline of its own. It was the final year of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. Phil Jackson was as good as gone by the end of the season. The Bulls were trying to capture a three-peat and Jordan was chasing down championship ring number six.
While Jordan ended up being victorious over the Utah Jazz, beating the Lakers would have been more entertaining. While Karl Malone and John Stockton were All-Stars in their own right, we saw that matchup in 1997 with the same result. The Lakers would have had a young Kobe Bryant, Shaq in his prime, and a team that won 61 games in the regular season. We never got to see Jordan vs. Kobe. This would have been too good to miss.
2. Chicago Bulls vs. Houston Rockets - 1994
After the Bulls won their third title in 1993, combined with the tragic loss of Michael Jordan’s father, Jordan retired from the game of basketball. At the time, Jordan, Pippen, and Horace Grant were still in their primes. Making the Finals for a fourth straight year was not out of the realm.
The Rockets, led by Hakeem Olajuwon, were 58-24 on the season. The eventual 1994 NBA champions finally got their first chance in the NBA Finals. While the storyline of top draft picks from 1986 in Jordan and Olajuwon would have gathered headlines, it would have been an even bigger deal had the No. 1 pick (Olajuwon) taken down the No. 3 pick (Jordan). Especially, if it would have stopped Jordan from winning his fourth straight championship.
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers - 2009
The biggest shame in NBA history is not seeing the Bird and Johnson three-peat, nor Jordan vs. Kobe. It is by far that we never got to see Kobe Bryant and LeBron James play in an NBA Finals against each other. While LeBron is seen as the second-best player to ever play the game, there are widespread fans that believe that title belongs to Kobe. In 2009, both players were fighting for something big and we never got to see it.
Bryant was trying to win his first title without Shaq. What better way to do that than against LeBron James, who was the regular-season MVP? As for LeBron, he was trying to bring Cleveland their first NBA championship. This would have felt like a battle between Johnson and Bird, or Jordan and Olajuwon. We will have to just keep imagining how it would have gone down instead.