I love history. Almost as much as I love sports. This week, the passions collide and
the end result is some historical perspective on the eight teams still vying
for the 2007 NBA championship. Among the most inspiring aspects of history is
witnessing it unfold right before our eyes. And on a basketball court, no less.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS -- Three championships since 1999. One of only three franchises to reel off eight consecutive 50-win seasons. (The Spurs' current streak would
actually stand at 10 were it not for the strike-shortened 1998-99 season.) With
two-time MVP Tim Duncan as their centerpiece, the Spurs are the closest thing
to an active dynasty in American pro sports. And to think they have a David
Robinson knee injury to thank. San Antonio was a legitimate contender in the
early Nineties when Robinson was their franchise player (62 wins in 1994-95, 59
the next year). But when the Admiral missed the 1996-97 campaign, the team
plummeted into the draft lottery and won the privilege of drafting Duncan. San
Antonio is the only former ABA franchise to win an NBA title.
DETROIT PISTONS -- One of only two original NBA franchises still alive (along with the Warriors), the Pistons -- like the Spurs -- are trying to become the
fourth team to win four NBA crowns. The closest thing to a lunch-pail bunch
these playoffs can claim, Detroit seeks its third trip to the Finals in four
years with point guard (and free-agent-to-be, Grizzlies fans) Chauncey Billups
their biggest star. With Michigan native Chris Webber now in the mix, the
Pistons may have the offensive strength to challenge the Western Conference
champ, but this team hasn't yet approached the celebrity status of the
back-to-back "Bad Boys" champions of 1989 and 1990. No fewer than four players
from that team have had their numbers retired (Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill
Laimbeer, and Vinnie Johnson).
PHOENIX SUNS -- Yes, there actually was basketball in Arizona before Steve Nash arrived. Phoenix lost one of the greatest Finals in history, bowing to Dave Cowens
and the Celtics in 1976. Boston needed three overtimes to win Game 5 of that
series before clinching the championship in Game 6. The Suns made eight
consecutive playoff appearances under coach John MacLeod, but didn't reach the
Finals again until Charles Barkley was on board in 1993 (Phoenix fell to
Michael Jordan's Bulls in six games). For a franchise that's only been around
since 1968 -- and has never won a title -- the Suns have retired a ridiculous
nine numbers. Alvan Adams anyone? Tom Chambers? (Chambers played five years in
Phoenix, nine elsewhere.) Barkley's number is retired, though he only played
four of his sixteen seasons in a Suns uniform. Someday soon, the club will name
their arena after Nash.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS -- The closest thing to a golden era in Cavs history is the 11-year period from 1987-88 to 1997-98, when Cleveland reached the playoffs
nine times. Sadly for Cleveland fans, this run coincided with, first, the
Pistons' three-year run to the Finals, then Jordan's prime in Chicago. The only
time Cleveland got beyond the first round was 1991-92, when they dropped a
six-game series to Chicago in the Eastern Conference finals. That team, coached
by Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens, featured point guard Mark Price, center Brad
Daugherty, and former slam-dunk champ Larry Nance. All names that will soon be
footnotes in the history book titled, "LeBron and Everyone Else." For the
record, no Cleveland team has won a major championship since the Browns won the
1964 NFL crown.
UTAH JAZZ -- Absolutely the most misplaced nickname in American team sports (even worse than Los Angeles Lakers). If I were commissioner David Stern for a day, Utah and New Orleans would switch names. (The Salt Lake Bees play in the
Pacific Coast League, so Hornets would be a natural fit, no?) The Jazz
franchise originated, of course, in New Orleans where even Pete Maravich and
Truck Robinson couldn't get the team into the playoffs. The club moved to Utah
in 1979, drafted John Stockton in 1984, and Karl Malone in 1985. The Jazz
reached the playoffs an astounding 20 straight years (thanks largely to the
aforementioned draftees), and fell twice in the Finals to Jordan's Bulls. They
had missed the postseason the last three years before winning the Northwest
Division this season. Utah coach Jerry Sloan has been calling the shots since
1988, the longest active tenure of any coach in American pro sports.
CHICAGO BULLS -- If a pre-Nash Suns team is hard to imagine, the Bulls before Jordan seem to be little more than a quaint notion. Nonetheless, Chicago did
have an NBA team for 18 seasons before Jordan was drafted in 1984. They reached
the conference finals in 1974 and '75 with Bob Love and Chet Walker leading the
way, but never cracked the Finals until 1991, when Jordan and friends beat the
Lakers for the championship. Jordan's Bulls won all six Finals he appeared in
and were never so much as forced to a seventh game.
NEWJERSEY NETS -- The franchise that gave us Dr. J has enjoyed a rebirth since the arrival of another transcendent "J" in 2001 (Jason Kidd). With Kidd breaking
triple-double records, the Nets reached the Finals in 2002 and 2003, only to
fall to the Lakers and Spurs. A pair of Eastern Conference championships,
though, were major achievements, as the Nets won a total of nine playoff games
between 1976 (when they joined the NBA from the old ABA) and Kidd's arrival.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS -- For its first 16 years, this franchise was the
Philadelphia Warriors. (The Warriors won the very first NBA title in 1947, and another
in 1956.) They moved to San Francisco in 1962, played there for nine years,
then became the Golden State Warriors when they moved across the bay to Oakland
in 1972. Led by Hall of Famer Rick Barry, the Warriors swept Washington in the
1975 Finals. Between the players' shorts, owner Franklin Mieuli's checkered
pants, and coach Al Attles' prodigious collar, that 1975 team photo may be the
best in NBA history.