The NBA Finals are nearly upon us, promising a month of basketball action that’s going to have us on the edge of our seats. The top 8 teams from the Eastern and Western conference go head-to-head to reach the best of seven game series final and earn the right to be crowned 2021 NBA champions.
History of the NBA Finals
Originating back in 1947, the series was first called the BAA final (Basketball Association of America) before they merged with the NBL (National Basketball League) to form the NBA in 1950.
Since its inception 19 franchises have won the NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics holding the record for the most victories with 17 each. Now one of the greatest sporting occasions of the year, betting on the NBA Finals is as much part of the enjoyment for basketball fans as the games themselves.
Over the years the finals have been graced by some of the greatest basketball players of all time, but who brings it on the biggest occasion? Who steps up for team? Who is the greatest NBA Finals player?
The greatest NBA Finals players
So how do you judge the greatest player? Is it whoever has the most championship rings, or the most Finals MVP’s or the best win ratio? Well, we’ve taken a little bit of everything and come up with our greatest NBA Finals players.
Team: Boston Celtics
Titles: 1981, 1984, 1986
Final Record: 3 – 2
NBA Finals MVP Awards: 2 – 1984, 1986
This Hall of Famer would surely have won more titles if it wasn’t for Magic Johnson, so the fact Bird claimed three championships and two Finals MVP awards is mightily impressive.
Larry averaged 23.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 31 games in the NBA Finals in his career.
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Titles: 5 – 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988
Final Record: 5 – 4
NBA Finals MVP Awards: 3 – 1980, 1982, 1987
What a career Magic Johnson had, but just imagine what he could have achieved if HIV hadn’t intervened and robbed him of his best basketball years.
Johnson was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player on three occasions (1987, ‘89, ‘90), NBA Finals MVP three times (1980, ‘82, ‘87), and earned All-NBA First Team honors nine times.
In an astonishing run, Johnson appeared in 9 Finals between 1980 and 1991, winning five titles.
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Titles: 5 – 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010
Final Record: 5 – 2
NBA Finals MVP Awards: 2 – 2009, 2010
Bryant’s career stats are incredible. Not only did he win five NBA championships, but he was an 18-time All-Star, a 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, a 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team, the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player.
He may have lost two finals, but beading the Lakers to consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010 and claiming the NBA Finals MVP both times gets him on this list.
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat
Titles: 4 – 2012, 2013, 2016, 2020
Final record: 4 – 6
NBA Finals MVP Awards: 4 – 2012, 2013, 2016, 2020
Unlike many other players on this list, LeBron finds himself with the worst Finals win ratio of 4 to 6. But we’re talking about a guy that has made ten Finals. That’s more than Bryant and Johnson.
James was also named the NBA Finals MVP in all four of those championship victories and helped the Cavs beat the Warriors after trailing 3-1 in the series, becoming the first team in Finals history to do so.
Team: Chicago Bulls
Titles: 4 – 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998
Final record: 6 – 0
NBA Finals MVP Awards: 6 – 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998
Where do you start with this guy? Six finals appearances and no defeats including twice winning the championship 3 years in a row. Add to that an all-time record of six Finals MVP’s and there’s no argument when it comes to Jordan being on this list.
He also boasts the all-time Finals record of 35 points in a half and holds the all-time Finals record of 14 field goals in a half, plus he tied an all-time Finals record of six threes in a half. You want more?
Jordan has the all-time Finals record for free throws in a quarter with 9, and holds the highest ever scoring average in a Finals series with 41.0 ppg in 1993. He also has the all-time Finals six game record of 246 points and 101 field goals. But perhaps the most impressive statistic is that not only did he never lose a final, but he never had a Finals series go to seven games.
All that despite never making it to the Eastern Conference Finals until he was 25 years old, which is why he only makes number 2 on our list.
Team: Boston Celtics
Titles: 11 – 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969
Final record: 11 – 1
NBA Finals MVP Awards: 0 – The award only originated in 1969.
With 11 championship titles, Russell is the winner of more rings than any other player in NBA history. All of those victories came in a staggering 13-year spell that saw Russell and the Celtics dominate basketball.
Playing a grand total of 70 NBA Finals games, Bill Russell averaged 24.5 rebounds and 16.4 points and he still holds the NBA record for rebounds in one half with 32.
His remarkable achievements prompted then NBA commissioner David Stern to rename the NBA MVP Finals award, the ‘Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award’, in honour of the Hall of Famer.
It’s difficult to compare different era’s but there’s no doubting Bill Russell was one of the greatest players ever to grace a court. He changed the way basketball was played and has won more titles than anybody before or since. This Celtics legend fully deserves to be regarded as the greatest NBA Finals player ever.