When Larry Bird and Magic Johnson took their rivalry from college basketball to the professional ranks some thirty years ago, interest the NBA skyrocketed. Their respective teams met three times in the Finals in the 1980′s and gave casual fans everywhere a number of thrilling moments.
Michael Jordan’s Bulls eventually took the mantle from Bird’s Celtics and Magic’s Lakers and won six titles in the 1990′s against five different opponents. Even though he had no rival like Bird and Magic, Jordan’s Finals appearances were must-see-TV in and of themselves.
Though the Western Conference has dominated the Finals of late (winning nine of the last 12 titles) there have still been some noteworthy Finals performances mixed in there.
Which NBA Finals were the best since Bird and Magic joined the league in 1980? Here we list the best six since their arrival:
6. 1994: Houston Rockets 4, New York Knicks 3; Finals MVP was Hakeem Olajuwon—This series was known as much for the O.J. Simpson chase, which led NBC to give viewers a split screen viewing of the shocking car scene, as it was for the classic Olajuwon/Ewing matchup at center. Both teams were evenly matched and it showed as all seven games were decided by single-digits. What the series also showed was just how good Olajuwon was even at age 31. The seven-footer averaged 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots a game as the Rockets, after trailing three games to two, won the final two games in Houston and “Clutch City” was officially in full gear.
5. 2010: Los Angeles Lakers 4, Boston Celtics 3; Finals MVP was Kobe Bryant—The second Lakers/Celtics series in three seasons proved to be even better than the first one. In 2008 the Celtics routed the Andrew Bynum-less Lakers by 39 points in the decisive Game 6 finale. In 2010, an aging Boston club stunned LeBron James’s Cavaliers as well as Dwight Howard’s Magic to meet the defending-champion Lakers with everything on the line. The series all came down to a winner-take-all Game 7 in Los Angeles, only the Celtics were suddenly without injured center Kendrick Perkins. Undeterred, Boston assumed control in the first quarter and led by as many as 13 points before the Lakers eventually caught up with them in the final minutes to grind out an 83–79 win.
4. 1993: Chicago Bulls 4, Phoenix Suns 2; Finals MVP was Michael Jordan—The deck was stacked against the two-time defending-champion Bulls in ’93 as Phoenix had not only the home-court advantage but was also sporting the League’s MVP that year—Charles Barkley. Michael Jordan and the Bulls quickly took the home-court advantage away from Phoenix though with wins in Games 1 and 2. But the Suns came back with a gutsy triple-overtime win in Game 3 to get back in the series. Sensing a shift in momentum heading into next game, Jordan put up an incredible 55 points to secure victory in Game 4, but the Suns forced the series back to Phoenix with a Game 5 win. But, in the decisive Game 6, with Chicago trailing by two points in the final quarter, it was Bulls guard John Paxson—not Michael Jordan—that nailed the game-winning three-pointer with four seconds remaining to win the game and title.
3. 1984: Boston…