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Wednesday, May 29, 2002
Readers: NBA Finals performances

From the Page 2 mailbag

Earlier this week, Page 2 presented our list of the 10 best performances in NBA Finals history, and we asked you to send us your choices.

After going through more than 300 e-mails, here is how Page 2 readers ranked their picks. Be sure to vote in the poll at right to crown the No. 1 performance in an NBA Finals series.

1. Michael Jordan, 1998 (42 letters)
Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson was named Finals MVP three times, but he made his biggest impact as a rookie in 1980.
Michael Jordan is the best Finals performer of all time. How many times have we seen it -- the clock racing to zeros, his Airness elevated with that deadly shooter's hand raised and pointed as if ordering the basketball to the net, the defender falling after a futile attempt to thwart greatness, while opposing players and fortunate teammates watch the inevitable.

We have all grown accustomed to Jordan's game-saving plays, so what better way to sum up his career than that parting shot from the '98 Finals? Absolutely incredible.
Eugene Coln
Atlanta

How can it not be him? Hitting the championship-winning shot after stealing the ball.

And the only reason his team was still in that game was him. He won the game by himself; with Pippen hurt, Jordan picked up the slack and a little bit more, as he made the final three plays that made his career end picture perfectly, until he came back and ruined the legend that is Mike.
Mark Guest
St. Albert, Alberta

Hands down, Michael. The last 30 seconds of the 1998 Finals will go down as the greatest single string of plays by any athlete. Who else would have the guts to go for a steal, risking a foul, down by one with less than a minute to go? And to hit that shot, like it was any other along his magical career. Amazing, simply amazing!
Jase
Surrey, British Columbia

2. Michael Jordan, 1997 (40 letters)
The '98 performance by Jordan was spectacular, but I will have to go with the '97 performance against the Jazz. Every time I hear the phrase "38 points with the flu," I get chills. Michael was so weakened by food poisoning that he had to lean on Scottie Pippen for support during time-outs. But he still managed to shred Utah in the crucial game of the series.
Lance Milner
Chandler, Ariz.

That was the year in which Michael Jordan showed pure magnificence. Malone won the MVP, true, but he sucked it all up in the Finals. Dennis Rodman did his job, and he let Michael do the rest.

Game 1 -- Great game by both teams. However, at the end, Michael sealed the victory by making the game-winning 3.

Let's skip to Game 5 -- Michael's sick, really sick. He played amazingly in Utah!, scoring 38, including a game-clinching 3. After he made the shot, he collapsed into Scottie's hands, and showed that even gods can get sick.

Game 6 -- Michael ended the Finals with another amazing show. And then, when everyone thought he was going to shoot the ball, he gives it to Steve Kerr, to win the Finals!

What a guy! Why can't he play for the Bulls again?
Vivek U.
Chicago

3. Isiah Thomas 1988 (34 letters)
Isiah Thomas? Anyone? Anyone?

It's often been said that you can't consider an NBA player "great" unless he leads his team to a title. Isiah's Game 6 performance on a sprained ankle proved that one could be "great" even in defeat. That game defined his career for me more than the two titles that followed.
Rich Lyga
New York

How about Isiah Thomas dumping in 21 points in a quarter against the Lakers in '88? All the while, he was playing with a severely sprained ankle. Had the officials not had it out for Bill Laimbeer (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar knows he didn't get fouled), that series would have marked the first of three straight championships for the Pistons. At least give Isiah's performance a mention! I realize they were not popular with many people, but it should not take away from their achievements.
Jeff Akin
Bay City, Texas

4. Magic Johnson, 1980 (32 letters)
Allen Iverson
Even in a losing effort, Allen Iverson makes the list for his 2001 performance.
With all due respect to MJ and his six rings and six Finals MVP awards, there has never been a better performance than the one turned in by Magic Johnson in Game 6 of the 1980 series vs. the Sixers.

With Kareem injured, Magic was asked to do it all for the Lakers, and he responded with a game for the ages. He ran the offense, he rebounded, he even jumped center on tipoffs that day. He scored 42 points. And he was just 20 years old! He should have been a junior at Michigan State! He was too young to realize that he had absolutely no business having a game like that with the kind of pressure that a Game 6 in the Finals would bring.

With Kareem out, and the 1980 Lakers not yet having James Worthy, Byron Scott or any of the other great players on the roster that would help them to four more titles in the decade, the burden fell on his young shoulders. Did Jordan ever have to play a Finals game without Pippen? No. MJ probably would have scored more than 42 points without Scottie in the lineup, but would he have bettered Magic's totals in rebounds or assists? No way.

It took MJ eight years to reach the Finals. It took Magic eight months. 'Nuff said.
David Burton
Fresno, Calif.

5. Allen Iverson, 2001 (26 letters)
Larry Bird
Larry Bird makes the readers' top 10 list twice.
Alan Iverson played his heart out every second of the playoffs, often playing through pain and without any reliable support. The only reason they lost the series was because the Lakers are the best team in the NBA. Period.

His bench sucked and the other starters weren't worth their weight in dog crap when the going got tough. Iverson likes it when the going gets tough; that's why in the playoffs last year he turned in one of the best performances in NBA history. Not because he scored about 40 points a game or dominated the boards like Shaq, but because he played with his heart and soul.

He tried harder than all the other players on the team combined. He's a small guy, but he makes up for his lack of size with all his heart and desire. There is no question in my mind that he deserves a spot on this list.
Mark Thomas
Oak Hill, Va.

Allen Iverson 2001. Down three, under two minutes in the NBA Finals, in OT against the mighty Lakers, and AI hits two free throws, a 3-pointer in transition, and buries a jumper from the corner in Ty Lue's face! What a game, what a series. The Sixers ended up losing in five, but AI averaged nearly 36 a game, and had the Sixers supporting cast hit some shots at the end of Games 2 and 3, the parade is going down Broad Street instead.
Andrew McGoldrick
Philadelphia

6. Bill Russell, 1962 (15 letters)
I cannot believe that Page 2, one of the best sports publications in the country, would leave Bill Russell off of the list of Top 10 NBA Finals performances. Elgin Baylor is listed for his performance in the 1962 NBA Finals, which the Lakers lost to the Celtics, but in that same series Bill Russell had 40 rebounds in one game. 40 Rebounds!

Is it because Russell won 11 championships out of 13 seasons in the league,and Page 2 could not decide which one was the most impressive. Is that why Joe Fulks!? made the Top 10 list over Bill Russell. Joe Freakin' Fulks!? Who the hell is Joe Fulks?
Matt Tierney
Boston

7 (tie). Larry Bird, 1984 (11 letters)
Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem Olajuwon, right, dusted Shaquille O'Neal's butt in 1995.
Larry Bird's performance in 1984 was the stuff of legends. Down 2-1 it looked all but over losing, by I believe 33, in Game 3 at the Forum. Bird's leadership and drive willed them to victory in seven hard-fought games.

Not to mention his performance in Game 5: 34 points, 17 rebounds on 15 of 20 shooting.
Rob Pasqualetti
Putnam, Conn.

7 (tie). Michael Jordan, 1993 (11 letters)
There can be an argument made for all six championships, but I think Michael Jordan's 1993 championship performance was his best. He was absolutely dominant during those six games, averaging more than 40 points throughout the series. He also shut down Dan Majerle. After one of the games, even Suns coach Paul Westphal acknowledged that no one could stop Jordan.
Bill Edwards
St. James, N.Y.

9. Hakeem Olajuwon, 1995 (10 letters)
Hakeem Olajuwon dominated Shaquille O'Neal and the Orlando Magic in the Rockets' four-game sweep in 1995.

The whipping seems to have stuck with O'Neal, who had this to say in response to complaints made by the Portland Trailblazers about officiating in last year's playoffs:

"If I can't beat you, I'll be a man and say I can't beat you. I'm not going to [cry about it] ... I'm the first guy to say that somebody is better than me. I was the first guy to say Hakeem Olajuwon beat me in the [1995] NBA finals. He killed me. He dominated me. I didn't go, 'Oh, he's traveling. They had experience. Wah-wah-wah.' I'm a man. Hakeem Olajuwon dusted my butt."
Nicholas Yeager
Portland, Ore.

10. Larry Bird, 1986 (six letters)
Hey. Larry Bird, Game 6, 1986 finals. I'm pretty sure he touched the ball every time Boston or Houston had possession. Completely controlled the game on defense and offense. Was like Shaq going back to play in a high school game.
Jim McCarthy
Boston

Honorable mention
  • Moses Malone, 1983
  • Joe Dumars, 1989