Since the beginning of my NBA consciousness (I was lucky enough to move to Chicago the year Michael Jordan did), there have only been three NBA Finals Game 7s. In 1988, Isiah Thomas was knocked to the ground by Magic Johnson, down by three, and the refs didn’t call the foul as time expired (good… fuck Thomas and fuck the Pistons). This win put Magic and Kareem in rare company with five and six championships respectively, and kept the Pistons nascent dynasty at bay (for a year… they swept the Lakers in 1989). In 1994, the Rockets beat the Knicks by six, keeping Pat Riley from having titles with three different teams (good… fuck Riley and fuck the Knicks). This win gives the Rockets both Jordan-sabattical titles, making them much more legitimate than if two teams had split them. It also dramatically changed the legacy of Patrick Ewing into that of someone who couldn’t fulfill his hype, and turned John Starks into an all-time basketball goat with his 2 for 18 performance (0 for 10 in the fourth). In 2005, the Spurs beat the Pistons by 7 (it can’t be said enough… fuck the Pistons). This gives Tim Duncan four titles, putting him in the discussion of best-ever once somebody thinks of his Pete-Sampras-level-boring ass. It kept the Pistons from the repeat… now their title seems more fluky than anything else.
For both the Lakers or the Celtics, tonight’s Game 7 will have permanent consequences to their legacies. Let’s break it down.
Franchises: A win would give the Lakers 16 titles, putting them only one behind Boston. But who really cares?
Coaches: Phil Jackson is already the greatest NBA coach of all time… his ten titles give him one more than Red Auerbach. His .705 winning percentage is the highest for coaches with over 300 games. His .696 playoff winning percentage is fucking unbelievable. So why would this one matter? Because it would give him one more title than the sainted John Wooden, putting one more nail in that overhyped coffin. Also, a loss would mean he’s only won one of his last four trips to the Finals. For the Celtics’ Doc Rivers, more is on the line. He still doesn’t have universal respect as a good coach… once you get that second ring, most of the doubters have to shut up. Just ask Terry Francona.
Cities: This would be Boston’s 7th championship since 2000 (The Dilemma just threw up a little). It would add to their already overbearing sense of entitlement, and make Sully very, very happy (although he may not recall what happened until he reads Shaughnessy in the morning). For L.A., it would mean having to remember that sports exist (maybe).
Superstars: Huge, huge, huge. Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant leapt straight from high school to the NBA within a year of each other. Both have double-digit All-Star appearances, an MVP award and an Olympic gold medal. But both have also been hounded by questions about their ability to lead a team to the promised land. If Kobe wins this game, it gives him five titles; a three-peat with Shaq and a repeat on his own. It moves him into the Top Ten all-time list, no questions asked. It puts all the talk about him not being able to make his teammates better as in the past as the years of the same comments M.J. had to endure. For Garnett, he can explain away all those years of futility with the Timberwolves as being saddled with a hopeless franchise. It would mean that since he’s come to Boston, he hasn’t lost a playoff series in which he’s played. People could still question his durability, but not his mettle.
Head Cases: Both Rasheed Wallace and Ron Artest could kill somebody with their bare hands during Game 7… it’s just hard to say. This would be Rasheed’s second title… he was the biggest “star” on the ’04 Pistons team. It would turn his taking off the 2010 regular season and stealing the Celtics money into a somewhat-defensible preservation plan. It won’t totally erase the sting of the Trailblazers collapse against the Lakers in 2001 (blowing a 13-point 4th quarter lead in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals), but will help. For Artest, it would be a nice postscript to his legacy… but that will always start and end with the Malice at the Palace. Say Queensbridge!
Second Bananas: A Lakers win turns Pau Gasol into Scottie Pippen. If he doesn’t show up in a Game 7 loss, though, he’ll never be able to shake his reputation for being soft. It’s hard to call Pierce a second banana… but Garnett’s still better. A win would put him solidly in the second tier of Celtics stars with people like Tommy Heinsohn and Kevin McHale.
Third Bananas: The best pop culture matchup… Jesus Shuttlesworth vs. the ugly Kardashian’s husband. I remember both of these things at least once a quarter, and it has helped make this series more fun. If only Denzel would come out of the stands for a little warmup.
The Point Guards: All the talk of the Celtics Big Three forgets one thing… Rajon Rondo may be the best player on the team… he definitely will be by next year in any case. He could put himself ahead of Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and all the other young point guards if he takes over tonight. A big shot at the end by Derek Fisher would move him close to Big Shot Rob territory.
The Douchebags: There are some annoying players on the Celtics, no doubt about it. But the Lakers take this one in a route. Adam Morrison, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar… and the King of all Kings, Sasha Vujacic. He’s everything that’s hateful about soccer in one person.
The call: The Lakers. Kobe is without a doubt the closest thing to Jordan since he retired… not only does he have mad skills, but he also has killer instinct at a level that is even more rare (see: LeBron James). But it should be a battle.