Tonight is the first NBA Finals Game 7 in 5 years, 4th in 25 years! That’s big. How big? It is my belief that this game tonight (ABC, 9PM) is the biggest game in NBA history. Am I crazy? Nope. Am I just woefully unaware of the game’s history? Don’t think so. Why do I say this is the biggest? Here’s some history then a few reasons why.
First off if an NBA Finals game 7 between the NBA’s two most storied franchises the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics isn’t the biggest ever, what’s bigger? The nominees are: 1957, the first NBA championship in what was to become the Celtics dynasty. A hard-fought series against the Hawks. Jim Loscutoff won the game for the Celtics in double overtime in Game 7. That’s a good one, but I don’t think so. How about 1966 when Celtics’ coach Red Auerbach lit his “victory cigar” halfway through the 4th quarter of that finals game? Good story. Who cares about the game? To me Red A and all that era is just a lot of grainy, slow-going basketball. So I say: no. Game 7, 1970: The Willis Reed moment. OK, that was huge, but come on it wasn’t out of this world. I think it’s been blown up to be way more than it really was at the time. The 1976 3-overtime game between Boston and Phoenix is considered the “greatest” game ever, but not the biggest. Game 6, 1980: Magic plays center and scores 42 against the Sixers in place of an injured Abdul-Jabbar. Again, not game 7. Here’s a few more. When Michael Jordan beat Magic Johnson's Lakers in ’91, officially taking the torch as the next NBA great. Sure. But then again Jordan did it in 5 games. 1994: Knicks take a 3-2 lead to Houston and lose in game 7, all while the OJ Simpson White Bronco chase is going on. Honestly, I was more interested in Al Cowlings and the Juice. Chicago vs. Utah, because that was the end of Jordan/Pippen/Jackson, the end of Malone/Stockton’s run as well. OK, that was big, no doubt. The Spurs mini-dynasty? Nah. Boring. Nobody cared. The Shaq-Kobe Lakers? All those finals were basically bloodbaths. You knew who was winning before the ball even went up. I say tonight has the potential to be the biggest game ever.
How about the history of this particular series? Of course these two teams (Boston and LA) have played against each other in the Finals many times, with Boston going 9-2 against the Lakers in those series. Most recently Boston defeated LA in six games in 2008. You remember Paul Pierce’s pathetic attempt to recreate the Willis Reed moment. Bird vs. Magic was always big (Magic 2-1 over Bird head-to-head). The running hook shot by Magic. The towel whip by Larry Bird on the Garden sideline. Big socks and insanely-high shorts. All memorable moments of course. Chamberlain vs. Russell. The 1969 Championship, a.k.a. Russell’s last good run in green. I get it, the history is huge, and the rivalry is the greatest in sports. Between Boston and LA they have half of all the championships ever won in league history. Half! Translation: In the NBA, nobody matters except Boston and LA. But again I say tonight’s game is the biggest ever.
Right off the bat you have to realize that tonight, win, lose, or draw (wait, no draw, this isn’t soccer, there will be a winner), Boston's Big 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen will be broken up. That’s just the nature of the game today. In fact, many reputable rumors (if there can be such a thing) place Ray Allen in Miami next year with Dwayne Wade. At season’s end, Pierce can opt out of his contract for more money, and all three of them are heading towards their mid-thirties. That’s old in the NBA. So for them, this is it, the last chance to take their place at history’s main table with 2 championships. Tony Allen, who’s a great Celtic role player, may have options around the league for a bigger role and more money. As for Boston head coach, Doc Rivers, he has made it known that he is leaning towards taking a year or two or three off from coaching to be with his kids. Yep, that old line again. Doc is young and can coach again anytime he wants. Many believe that his time in Bean town is coming to a close, win or lose. So Boston fans beware, your Celtics will look much different in 2011. Maybe even that big, clowny red-haired guy will actually get to suit up next season.
As for the LA Lakers, this could be the end of a 3-year run to the Finals as well. Of course Kobe and Pau Gasol aren’t going anywhere, and Odom is under contract. But the entire bench is at the end of its collective contract(s), Ron Artest is nothing more than a rent-a-player, and it’s not promised that LA will again sign aging point guard Derek Fisher, who has been a key ingredient in LA’s four championships since 2000. But the biggest ????? is head coach Phil Jackson, the most celebrated NBA coach ever (244 playoff wins, 11 championships if he wins tonight), the architect of the triangle offense, and the lord-overseer of Jordan’s 6 rings and Kobe’s 4. His contract is up and there’s no way he’s going to get a new deal at 12 million a year. Translation: He’d have to take a pay cut to stay on LA’s bench. Plus he's mid-sixties with a body that's breaking down. If the Lakers win I say Phil comes back and goes for the 3-peat. If they lose I say there’s a good chance he walks/hobbles away. But who knows. This very well could be the end of Phil Jackson in LA or anywhere. That in itself is gigantic.
And in the middle of all this chaos hangs the legacy of Kobe Bryant. I believe that Kobe is the greatest NBA player ever. That’s right, I said ever. Kobe is 12th on the all-time scoring list right now(26,000 points) and 4th all-time on the playoff scoring list (5,000). In the end, he may not be the all-time leading scorer, but he's going to pass Jordan on both lists, I believe. In the last 14 years Kobe has been to 7 NBA Finals. If your name isn’t Kobe, Shaq, or Tim Duncan, you haven’t mattered in the NBA since 2000. My 20’s are defined by watching Kobe play for a championship. Nothing has been more regular than seeing Kobe kiss his wife and kids in the tunnel after an NBA Finals game. Hell, he was at the top of the mountain when I was failing Statistics I at HVCC. That’s longevity, my friends. But, like I said before, Kobe cannot lose to the same team twice in three years and be considered the greatest ever. Translation: Kobe Bryant must win this game! It’s game 7, it’s in LA. He just has to win, simple as that. If Kobe does win, he will, at age 31, tie Magic with 5 rings as a Laker. He will come within 1 ring of tying Jordan’s 6 rings. He will move past Shaq and Tim Duncan, who each have 4. He will be in the top-top echelon of all-time players, with, I’d say, another six years to play, at least, maybe more. Hell they've been telling me for the last three years that LeBron James was going to pass Kobe as the NBA's #1. Umm . . . I'm still waiting. If Kobe loses this game, I think his legacy takes five steps backwards, fair or unfair, it just does. The naysayers will come out and the questions about his character will reemerge. This is a MUST win, career-defining contest in Bryant's world.
And if that’s not enough to convince you, here’s a few more. It’s BOSTON! It’s LA! It’s Game 7! It’s Kobe, Phil, the Big 3, Jack Nicholson front row! It’s the Mecca of the basketball world! It can’t, it doesn’t, it won’t get bigger than this game tonight! With all that said, I admit the game could be a clunker, of course. But, man oh man, does it have the recipe for one we'll remember forever. I predict LA wins it all. Kobe MVP! MVP! MVP!