His accolades speak for themselves… 4 time MVP, 2 time NBA Champion, 2 time NBA Finals MVP, 2 time All Star Game MVP, NBA Rookie of the Year, etc. Add to that career averages of 27.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 6.9 apg and 1.7 spg (only Larry Bird average 20/6/6/1.5 over a career) and you have the resume of an all time great.
But the 2-4 record in the NBA Finals was something that pretty much everyone was holding against him. He can’t get it done in the big moments, he can’t carry a team to a title… it’s all been said. Now, you can only say he’s a record breaker.
No NBA team had ever come back from a 3-1 hole in the NBA Finals. LeBron now has that achievement.
Only 3 teams had ever won the NBA Finals from being down 2-0. LeBron now joins that group.
Only 2 players had ever had a triple double in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals (Jerry West and James Worthy). LeBron now joins that group.
Only Magic Johnson (8) has had at least 7 triple doubles in NBA Finals history. LeBron now joins Magic with 7.
LeBron is the only player in NBA Finals history to lead all players in points, rebounds and assists per game. He has now done that twice (2015 and 2016).
I may be biased but to those that were hating on LeBron James for years… just sit back and watch. My favourite players of all time are Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, John Stockton and LeBron James. There’s something about the way that these guys play that is almost hypnotic, the way they are able to take over a game by getting their teammates involved, the way they control the game like a classical conductor.
LeBron James is the greatest player of this generation. That includes the likes of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Some may have more titles and scored more points but none of them have the all round game of LeBron. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.
Enjoy the celebration Cleveland, it’s been a LOOOOOOOOONG time coming!
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My first memories of the NBA are from the 1990 NBA Finals when the Detroit Pistons swept the Portland Trailblazers in 4 games to win their second straight NBA title. I then became a very big Isiah Thomas fan, someone who was a guard like myself who could take over a game at any time… unlike myself! I then became fascinated with the great point guards (Thomas, John Stockton etc), but the best of all time and my favourite PG ever was Magic Johnson. To be able to do what he could do at his size was video game like, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I purchased the Johnson video “Always Showtime” on VHS and wore it out, watching it over and over again much to the dismay of my mother! But I then felt I was cheating on Magic… I found a new NBA love.
Larry Bird has been connected to Magic Johnson since their epic NCAA title game in 1979. Since that day they met in the NBA finals 3 times with Magic’s Lakers winning in 1985 and 1987, Bird’s Celtics taking the crown in 1984. Even though “Always Showtime” was a video about Magic, Larry Bird was featured quite prominently. This is when he became my favourite NBA player of all time.
I guess I saw a little of myself in Bird, a kid from the country who became consumed by basketball once it came into his life. Someone who would play on whatever court was free and stay for hours, whether it be with friends or by himself. Someone who wouldn’t care if it was stinking hot or pouring rain, there was always time to take some shots. Of course, I’m sitting here blogging about it while Bird went on to become one of the 10 greatest players in NBA history! But his story captivated me like no other athlete before or since.
I’ve owned 2 Larry Bird jerseys and would love to add either a 1992 Olympic jersey or an Indiana State NCAA jersey to my wardrobe (if my wife read this, she’d get the hint!). I’ve owned the Bird biographical movie “A Basketball Legend” (both on VHS and DVD) and have watched the 1992 game against Portland where he scored 49 points in a double OT classic more times than I can count. There are 2 things that endear me to Larry Bird… his overall story and the way he plays the game of basketball.
You always hear about pro athletes that overcome odds. Family tragedy, poor neighbourhood, trouble with the law etc etc. Larry Bird appeared to be someone who never sought out the spotlight. He was part of a family that battled to make end meet, giving him a work ethic that would help him reach the near immortal status he holds in the NBA community. A glowing testament to his reserved personality was walking away from one of the most prestigious college basketball programs (Indiana) and deciding on a small town college (Indiana State) that prior to Bird’s arrival had NEVER played in the NCAA tournament.
Bird then headed to the Boston Celtics, a franchise that had won 13 of the 30 NBA championships held since the 1949-50 season. So, needless to say, he had a little bit to live up to! So… how did he do?
3 NBA titles
3 consecutive MVP’s (only Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain have ever done that)
2 time NBA Finals MVP (1984, 1986)
9 time All-NBA first team
12 time NBA All Star selection
Only player in NBA history to average at least 24 ppg, 10 rpg and 6 apg over a career
1 of only 8 players to shoot at least 50% FG, 40% 3PT and 90% FT (only Bird and Steve Nash have done it at least twice)
Member of the Gold Medal winning 1992 US Olympic team
Inducted to the NBA Hall of Fame in 1998
Pretty well I’d say!
But for me, that only tells part of the story. As someone who has never been a one-on-one player I take pride and appreciate good team play. There weren’t many better games than watching Chicago and Utah in consecutive NBA Finals (1997 & 1998) where the ball would move as well as any team has in NBA history. With players like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and John Stockton on the floor you were watching some of the greatest players ever and their ability to get their teammates involved was wonderful. The Golden State Warriors of the past 2 seasons are cut from a similar mould. Even though the individual brilliance of Stephen Curry is almost unparalleled, they rack up assist totals most current teams can’t match.
The best highlights I remember from any Larry Bird game are the terrific passes he would make to the likes of McHale, Parish, Johnson etc. Some have no right to even be tried let alone result in an easy hoop for the Celtics… but it happened time and time again. I like to think that the best part of my game is my passing (not much of a creative scorer!) and I have the great players like Bird to thank for that.
It’s almost sad that the game has become so reliant on the 3 point shot that players like Bird, so dependant on ball handling and fundamentals, are almost a thing of the past. All players want to do these days is to stand 23 feet from the hoop waiting for a pass. This is why I don’t hesitate to play my “A Basketball Legend” DVD whenever I feel a little nostalgic. And that is why Larry Bird is my favourite NBA player of all time.
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Before I proceed, it should be pointed out that I believe Kobe Bryant to be one of the best basketball players ever. His record speaks for itself…
3rd all time leading scorer in NBA history
5 NBA Titles
2 time NBA Finals MVP
2007-08 NBA MVP
18 NBA All Star Games (tied for most all time)
12th all time in games played
Most seasons with 1 franchise (20)
15th all time in steals
3rd all time in field goal attempts
5th all time in free throw attempts
… and they were the stats I had at hand! I will confess to saying Michael Jordan is the greatest player in NBA history but Bryant is certainly in the conversation for one of the greatest of all time.
Having said all of that, the way his final NBA game against the Utah Jazz played out was as farcical as the 2015-16 All Star Game that saw the West score 198 points (!). Many people have differing opinions on the game, but the stats speak for themselves.
60 points (T-5th most in a game in his career)
22 FG made (the fourth time in his career)
50 FG attempts (most ever in his career)
21 3PT attempts (most ever in his career), made 6.
To put into perspective, consider the following…
The 60 points is the most ever by a player aged 37 or older (since 1963-64).
Only 30 players since 1963-64 have made 22 field goals in a game, the oldest being Alex English at age 35 in 1989.
No player since 1983-84 has taken 50 field goal attempts, although Wilt Chamberlain did attempt 63 shots in his historic 100 point game in 1962.
Only J.R. Smith in 2014 with the New York Knicks has attempted more than 21 3 point field goals in a single game (he made 10) and Damon Stoudamire in 2005 with Portland has attempted as many as 21 in a game.
I’ve watched 17 minutes of condensed highlights (thanks to NBA GamePass) and it was nothing more than passing the ball to Bryant and getting out of his way. The biggest thing I was impressed with was that he was able to play 42 minutes at age 37. There were numerous times where a Laker teammate had a relatively open shot, only to pass it up to a closely guarded Bryant. When he went to the basket he was fairly effective, hitting 55.2% of his 2 point field goals. But only 6 of 21 from behind the 3 point line (28.6%) just looks bad. No wonder it took him 50 field goal attempts (and 12 free throw attempts) to get 60 points.
My next opinion probably won’t be very popular, but that’s why this is my blog and my opinions. This game is going to be SOOOOO overrated because it was Bryant’s final game and he ended up scoring 60. You give at least half of the players in the NBA that many shots in a game and they’ll put up at least that many points. Think of the damage Steph Curry or Kevin Durant would do with 50 field goals including 21 3 point attempts and 12 free throws. Based on their season shooting percentages they would end up with 68 and 72 points respectively, so lets calm the farm on how amazing of a game Bryant had simply based on 60 points.
I’ll reiterate that I’m not an anti-Bryant follower of the NBA, he’s mesmerising to watch when he’s in a certain kind of mood. But this was reminiscent of that 100 point game by Wilt Chamberlain where the Knicks did everything they could to carry him to a historic night. And it’s not to say it not a great effort, I think that when the entire team is only looking to give the ball to 1 player… well, you know my thoughts.
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For anyone to say that they have won 2 majors, been the #1 ranked golfer in the world and accumulated over $23 million USD… you’d be pretty happy with things. And you haven’t even turned 23 yet!
But for Jordan Spieth the time it took to walk from the 9th green to the 13th tee on the final round of the 2016 Masters all that seems a distant memory. After having birdied 4 straight holes and entering the final 9 holes with a 5 stroke lead, most experts (and this apparent novice) had already declared him the first back to back winner of the Master since another rather handy golfer (Tiger Woods in 2001-02). However we had failed to consider what had only seemed mythical up until now… Jordan Spieth IS human.
Anyone who has ever picked up a golf club can attest to some kind of nerves, whether it be getting off the 1st tee in front of a group of friends or trying to sink a 4 footer on the 18th to win a point for your local pennant team. Only a select few can relate to having thousands watching in person as well as millions watching around the world as you attempt to prove yourself as the best golfer on the planet. It’s the only thing that makes sense of what transpired on 10, 11 and 12.
Without going into a blow by blow account it was one of the harder things I’ve witnessed over all my years of watching professional sport. Having to swallow back to back bogies on the 10th and 11th was un-nerving as Spieth’s lead dwindled to 3. The calamity that played out on the relatively short 155 yard par 3 was almost unprecedented in Masters history.
Times have changed in regards to how to play the 12th, the old school method is to play over the front bunker while the new brigade are more aggressive in firing directly at the front right flag. If there would be any criticism regarding Spieth it may be not learning from past mistakes, having hit the same shot in 2014 which ended up in the same watery grave. But even that wasn’t the worst part of the story…
Walking to the drop zone a short wedge of app 80 yards awaiting him, Spieth could still scramble and leave the 12th with a small lead. But instead of dropping his 3rd shot safely on the green he proceeded to hit a shot most weekend golfers would produce, not getting close to clearing Rae’s Creek. The rest as they say is history as Danny Willett took what appeared to be unattainable earlier in the round and left Augusta National with his first major title.
I’m reminded of other situations where defeat was taken from the grasp of victory (one still pains me to this day as a proud Aussie), unfortunately Jordan Spieth now resides on many lists similar to this.
Greg Norman – 1996 US Masters
Norman opened his 1996 Masters campaign with a record tying 9 under 63 and held a 6 shot lead entering the final round. Australians were ready to rejoice in their first Masters victory and only had to wait for 18 inevitable holes… but that didn’t last long. Nick Faldo hardly put a step wrong in shooting a terrific 5 under 67 while Norman couldn’t do a thing right in firing a 6 over 78. Even a chance at eagle on the 15th wasn’t God willing as it would lip out and drop Norman to his knees. Norman had 4 more top 10 finishes in majors but this is the one that would (unfortunately) be his defining moment at the Masters.
Jean Van De Velde – 1999 Open Championship
3 shot lead, 1 hole left. Give any professional golfer this scenario and they would jump at it every day of the week. This is the situation Van De Velde found himself in at Carnoustie in 1999 staring down his first major title. All that stood in between him and the Claret Jug was a 487 yard par 4, doesn’t sound too hard. But he made it seem impossible.
A wild tee shot, a wilder second shot that struck a grandstand, a third shot ending up in the Barry Burn, an invisible fourth shot (drop), a fifth shot into a green side bunker and a sixth shot to within 6 feet… phew! Luckily for Van De Velde he holed the putt to make his way into a 3 way playoff, unfortunately for the Frenchman he would lose to Paul Lawrie in his best ever chance at a major. If only someone he trusted was nearby to let him know a double bogey on the 18th was enough to win… bet you Steve Williams would walk off the course before letting Tiger pull that kind of insanity!
Orlando Magic – 2003 Eastern Conference first round series
Few teams have ever overcome a 3-1 playoff deficit in the 4 major sports, arguably the most famous in NBA history was the 1981 Boston Celtics coming over the top of the Philadelphia 76ers en route to the NBA championship. But one of the more boneheaded displays was provided by the Orlando Magic in their first round series against the No 1 seed Detroit Pistons.
After scoring 145 points in the first 4 games to bring his team within 1 win of the second round, Orlando all-star Tracy McGrady stated that “it feels good to get in the second round”… oops! Detroit would come back to destroy the Magic in 3 straight games to send them packing for the summer, winning by an average of just over 20 ppg. McGrady would always be infamously remembered as one of the greatest players to never reach the second round of the playoffs.
New York Yankees – 2004 AL Championship Series
Apart from a couple of occasions in the NHL, no team in major sport playoff history had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. A few teams had overcome a 3-1 hole (see above) but no-one had ever seen a team win 4 straight games to win a deciding game in a 7 game series.
It was one of the most amazing series of events to unfold in MLB history. New York was only 3 outs away on Game 4 from sweeping the series and heading to the World Series. The following then occurred…
Mariano Rivera blows a 1 run lead, Yankees lose Game 4 in the 12th inning 6-4.
Yankees bullpen blow a 2 run lead, Yankees lose Game 5 in the 14th inning 5-4.
37 year old Curt Schilling pitches with a torn tendon in his right ankle, his bloody sock now resides in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His 7 inning gem (4H, 4K, ER) set up a 4-2 win and tied the series at 3-3.
Game 7 was a rout behind 3 home runs, 10-3 being the final. Boston then swept the St Louis Cardinal to secure their first World Series since 1918. There had been a lifetime of bad luck since their last World Series (maybe even 2 lifetimes)… who knew that setting MLB history would break their 86 year drought?!?
Here’s hoping that it takes someone a VERY long time to join this list.
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I know what you’re thinking… how many of these lists can people actually write about? I hear you, I think the same thing. But it doesn’t make reading about them any less incredible. Like thinking about Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, or Nolan Ryan striking out 5,714 batters over his career, or Brett Favre starting 297 consecutive games at quarterback (321 including playoffs). Amazing, right? And these aren’t even on my list!
Some you’ve see before, no doubt. But I’ve tried to come up with a couple not so commonly known. Living in Australia not a lot of people around the world know of some sports native to us, Australian Rules being the most obvious one. Having said that, here is my list of 9 of the most unbreakable records in sport. Also, they have been listed in alphabetical order… there’s no way I’m listing them in order of importance or difficulty!
There have been much better players and players who have played for longer, but none of them managed to survive as many consecutive games as A.C. Green. Consider this… only 43 players in ABA/NBA history have played at least 1,192 games (39 in NBA only). According to basketball-reference.com there have been 4,370 players in ABA/NBA history, which means that just 0.98% of players have actually made it to 1,192 games. Based on 30 current NBA teams and 12 man rosters there are currently 360 players in the league, meaning only 4 active players will play that many games in an entire career (as it turns out there are currently 8… but you get my point!). Now, imagine they don’t miss a game through injury, suspension, trade or being coached by Gregg Popovich. I know… INSANE! Well, that’s what Green did. There’s no way anyone (EVER) will play that many games without sitting for 1 of them, it’s over 14 straight seasons of 82 games. Good luck!
Another ironman, and just as fascinating. Let’s use the same theory as for A.C. Green. Only 35 MLB players have ever played more than 2,632 games. According to Wikipedia there were 17,732 players in MLB history (at the end of the 2011 season), which means that a minuscule 0.20% of MLB players will reach 2,632 games. Using 32 current MLB teams with 25 man active rosters there are 800 active players, with just 2 projected to play this many career games (Alex Rodriguez is at 2,719 with Adrian Beltre at 2,567). Again, imagine playing all 162 games a year with no injuries, suspensions or days off from having played every day for a month. Can’t picture it? Neither can I.
This record is more remarkable then Green’s as it covers over 16 MLB seasons. And Ripken did it at shortstop! Never mind he also amassed 431 HR’s, 1,695 RBI and 2 MVP awards. Footage from Ripken’s record breaking game should be placed in a time capsule and opened 100 years from now… they’ll need proof that it happened as nobody will believe it.
Gone are the days of starting pitchers racking up 45-50 starts and pitching over 400 innings a season, managers would have a heart attack just thinking about it! That was the era where Cy Young carved out one of the most incredible careers in sport. Never mind he won 511 games (as astounding as that is), get a load of these… 906 games played (815 starts) 7,356 innings pitched (that’s 8.11 innings per game!), career 2.63 ERA (only Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright have sub 3 career ERA’s among active players). You see any starting pitcher lasting for 25 years and winning 20 games a season? That’s what they’d have to do to catch Young… and they’d still be 11 wins short! Kershaw has been the most dominant pitcher this century and he’s only averaged 17 wins a season since 2010. There were no middle relievers or closers to help out 120 years ago, you were on your own and Young did it better than anyone… guess that’s why he has a certain award named after him! They say records are meant to be broken, this one has been around since 1911 and isn’t going anywhere for a LONG time.
The NFL has become a pass first league over the last few years, which shows in the stats as 27 of the top 30 all time passing yard seasons have occurred since 2000. So it only makes sense that most (if not all) passing and receiving records will soon fall, right? WRONG! Let’s take Julio Jones as an example. He’s a physical beast, able to sprint past cornerbacks and overpower them in the air. From the 2013 to the 2015 season he averaged 112 receiving yards per game, this works out to a 16 season of 1,797 yards. His career best season was in 2015 where he caught for 1,871 (the 2nd highest single season total in history). Now, imagine his doing that for 12 seasons and 12 games… that’s what it would take to catch Jerry Rice. Now granted, Rice played into his 40’s which is unheard of in the modern day NFL. We just say Calvin Johnson retire at the age of 30. But it wasn’t just longevity that made him great. He owns 6 of the top 50 season in terms of receiving yards. He is the all time leader in receiving and total TD’s. He’s over 6,900 yards and 41 receiving TD’s more than 2nd on the all time list. His 14 seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards is 4 more than Randy Moss who is 2nd all time with 10. Think of how many players actually get through 14 seasons in the NFL these days. Now see them catching over 1,000 in every one of those seasons. Yeah, this Jerry Rice fellow was pretty good. This record is to stay.
Oscar Robertson (NBA) – Average a triple double (at least 10ppg, 10rpg, 10apg) for a season
Plenty has been made about the season Russell Westbrook has been having. Through 76 games he has accumulated 16 triple doubles, something that hasn’t been done since Michael Jordan in 1989. But forget that, there’s a guy who has had more that 16 in a season… 5 different times!
Try and forget about that, how about someone who would average a triple double over an entire 82 game NBA season. Well, a guy named Oscar Robertson did exactly that. It’s a shame that the NBA didn’t record game by game stats on assists and rebounds, that would make for some entertaining reading. During the 1961-62 season Robertson played in 79 games and had a triple double in 41 of them. That’s right, in just under 52% of his games that season he had at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Compare that to Westbrook’s current season where he’s running at a 21% rate. Still impressive, but no Oscar. Even with a spike in triple doubles not seen for 25 years there won’t be anyone who will do it over the course of an entire season.
A final thought… Robertson average 30.8ppg, 12.5rpg and 11.4 apg in his historic season… and cam win 3rd in MVP voting. Bill Russell won with Wilt Chamberlain 2nd, you’ll read why later on.
Here’s the first of 2 obscure records you’ll read. Not everything is NFL, MLB and NBA (although most is), there are other sports in the world that attract quite the following. One (to the chagrin of my wife) is Darts, a sport that is very popular in the UK. And it’s biggest name ever is Phil “The Power” Taylor.
My first exposure to Taylor was the 2002 PDC World Championship and his match with Peter Manley in the final. Having not watched a lot of world class darts I was intrigued and looked forward to a long and entertaining match. I received half of my wish as it was certainly entertaining but hardly long as Taylor swept Manley with a 7-0 demolition. It was then I was hooked on watching Taylor when I could… and it was a pleasure every time.
To put into perspective there aren’t major tournaments like golf and tennis have where you compete in 4 per year. There are other major tournaments on the schedule (World Matchplay and Grand Slam of Darts to name a couple) but the PDC World Championship is the cream of the crop. And to have won it 14 times (and been runner-up 4 times) is unfathomable. There is hardly anything to compare it to in regards to total domination, and this is why it (probably) never be matched.
And now for the 2nd obscure record. Australian Rules Football (or the AFL) is hugely popular in Australia, with all sorts of entertaining and sometimes spiteful conversations occurring in workplaces all across the country on a Monday morning. In this game it’s all about the goals, like anything the more you score the more you win. And like all sports there are those that do it better than the other, and in this case it’s Tony Lockett.
Lockett averaged 4.84 goals per game during his 281 game career. Only Peter Hudson at 5.64 per game can really challenge that average for those who kicked over 600 career goals, although Jason Dunstall at 4.66 comes close. Then consider that Lockett missed 23 games over his career through suspension. If we give 4.84 goals to each of those games his career total comes to 1,471 goals. Second on the all time list is Gordon Coventry with 1,299. The current leader for career goals is Lance Franklin with 710. At his current average per game (3.2) he would need another 203 games to pass Lockett. That would take him to 425 career games, the all time record for games played is 426. The way the current game is played it’s virtually impossible to see anyone get close to Lockett, you can quote me on that!
If you’ve been a reader since my first blog you’ll notice that there isn’t much in the way of ice hockey… if fact, there’s nothing about ice hockey! So I’m not going to pretend I’m an authority on all things NHL. But no matter what sport you follow or play, almost everyone knows about the legend that is Wayne Gretzky.
The facts say it all… 10 times leading the NHL is points, 9 time MVP, 5 time NHLPA MVP, 4 Stanley Cups (5 times to the Stanley Cup), 2 time Stanley Cup MVP. And they’re just the awards!
Gretzky is the all time leader in total points (2,857… 970 more than 2nd), goals (894… 93 more than 2nd) and assists (1,963… 714 more than 2nd). He also owns 9 of the top 11 individual seasons for total points, 4 of the top 11 individual seasons for goals and 11 of the top 13 individual seasons for assists. His 1.921 points per game average over his career is more than double all but 78 other players who have ever played in the NHL (10,056 as per hockey-reference.com). We always marvel at the best of the best, but Gretzky was more than that. This is why the simple nickname of “The Great One” couldn’t be mote fitting, not just for the man who dominated the ice but the gentleman he was off it.
And for last we have maybe the most incredible record of them all. The NBA have seen some prolific scorers over the years, but none did it quite like “The Big Dipper”
Chamberlain ended his 14 season NBA career holding numerous records (most points, field goals made and total rebounds among many). But there is one game and one season that sets him apart from any other player in history.
On March 2, 1962 in Hershey, PA the Philadelphia Warriors took on the New York Knicks. There have been many stories told about this game, least of all the number of people that claim they were in attendance (this has been inflated a little over time!). But the show Chamberlain put on for those that actually were there would never be forgotten. 100 points on 36 of 63 from the field and (more amazingly) 28 of 32 from the foul line. For a career 51.1% free throw shooter it was like a perfect storm. He exclaimed to teammate Al Attles after the game that he never thought he’d take 60 shots in a game, but sometimes fate has other plans.
The other half of this record is the face he average 50.4ppg over the entire season. Consider that is that season alone Wilt had 45 games of at least 50 points… there have only been another 328 occasions of 50 point games (from the 1963-64 season accruing to basketball-reference.com) and Wilt had 30 of those! Consider that Wilt hold 5 of the 6 highest point per game averages for a single season, with only Michael Jordan’s 1986-87 season of 37.09ppg the outlier. There have been 33 times where a player has averaged at least 30ppg since 1979-80 and only 3 averaging over 35ppg. The marks that Wilt has set will stand the test of time and nobody will come close to beating them. Oh, and that reference to the 1961-62 MVP? Yeah, Oscar and Wilt had their amazing years in the same season… and still couldn’t win MVP from Russell! Think about that.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of the most incredible sporting achievements we have ever seen. Please leave any feedback you might have about these or any other records that come to mind in the comments section of the blog, at email@example.com or on twitter @usasportblog78.
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The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Golden State Warriors 87-79 to (amazingly) close to within just 3 games of the NBA’s best team. After trying to match the Warriors at their own game back in January (and being blown out by 30 as a result) Gregg Popovich decided to play his way, slow the game down and pound the ball inside where Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge would have the advantage. The end result? Aldridge ends up with 26 and 13, Leonard ends up with 18 and 14… Spurs end up with the W.
So with their record now at 62-7 needing to go 11-2 to surpass the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls as the greatest single season team in NBA history… can they do it? For most teams winning 11 out of 13 is miraculous but almost seems pedestrian for the 2015-16 Warriors. And it looks even more likely when you consider the following…
9 of their remaining 13 games are at home.
6 of their remaining 13 games are against teams with sub .500 records (as at March 19, 2016).
Sounds like nothing more than a formality, right? Here are the cons…
2 of their 4 road games are against San Antonio and Memphis.
They also hame games against the LA Clippers, Boston and Portland (who have already beaten the Warriors this season).
So… maybe not so much a formality. Let’s break down the remaining schedule 1 game at a time.
March 21 – Warriors at Timberwolves
Don’t see any problems here, they have a day to recover from their loss to the Spurs and prepare for the lowly T-Wolves who own the NBA’s 5 worst record. Warriors have already beaten them once this season, prepare for their second. (63-7 record).
March 23 – Clippers at Warriors
There’s some real danger here, the Clippers are playoff bound and have played the Warriors well with losses of 4, 7 and 3 this season. I think they (finally) put it together in a nationally televised and give the Warriors their first home loss since January 27, 2015 against Chicago. (63-8 record).
March 25 – Mavericks at Warriors
Warriors won in Dallas just 7 days prior, no reason to think they won’t win again at home. And coming off a (predicted!) loss they’ll be hungry to beat someone up. Warriors in a blowout. (64-8 record).
March 27 – 76ers at Warriors
Best team against the worst… Warriors win (65-8 record).
March 29 – Wizards at Warriors
The last of their 4 game home stand gives them another win, Wizards will be fighting for a playoff spot but totally outmatched here. (66-8 record).
March 30 – Warriors at Jazz
Utah played them close in their home game but were blown out in 2 Warriors home games. Might be close again but another Warriors win (67-8 record).
April 1 – Celtics at Warriors
It took 2 OT’s in Boston for the Warriors to eventually get the win but the safe confines of Oracle Arena will see them home. Also Boston will have played in Portland the night before, tough game on the end of a back to back on the road. (68-8 record).
April 3 – Trailblazers at Warriors
The Warriors have already returned the favour from their February 19 blowout loss at Portland and they’ll do the same again this time around, Golden State win (69-8 record).
April 5 – Timberwolves at Warriors
Nothing to see here, big win at home to give the stars some 4th quarter rest. The only celebration will be to crown the 2nd team in NBA history to win 70 games in a season (70-8 record).
April 7 – Spurs at Warriors
With a 1-1 regular season tie between these teams there’ll be a lot of juice in their remaining 2 games. Warriors have been unbeatable at home (until their loss against the Clippers, see March 23) so this will be another win, albeit a hard fought one (71-8 record).
April 9 – Warriors at Grizzlies
Even without Marc Gasol, Memphis is still within reach of a top 4 seed in the West which is remarkable. They have terrific perimeter defenders that can cause problem for the 3 point shooters but the class of the Warriors will win out, Golden State in a close one (72-8 record).
April 10 – Warriors at Spurs
The final regular season meeting between Ali and Frazier and it promises to be a beauty. Based on the above games the Warriors will have a chance to win their record 73rd game… but my money is on Popovich to have his guys ruin the party and send them packing. Warriors also playing in Memphis the night before will prove taxing. Spurs hold home court (72-9 record).
April 13 – Grizzlies at Warriors
So… it all comes down to the 82nd and final regular season game. They’ve had 3 days to rest and prepare and won’t want to leave the home fans wanting. Maybe Michael Jordan should plan a west coast visit, he can watch in person the team that will have removed his 1995-96 Bulls from the top of the list. Warriors win and secure their historic 73rd regular season victory (73-9 record).
I’m glad this is only one persons opinion… much more excited to see it unfold!
Keep your eyes on the NBA over the next 3 weeks, it’s going to be FANtastic (throwback to an old NBA promo for those that are old enough!).
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Se we left off with the San Antonio Spurs having won their first NBA Title in the lockout shortened season of 1998-99. They had arguably the best big man in the game in Tim Duncan and an ageing veteran star in David Robinson surrounded by a bunch of discards and role players. Now they were going to show off their prowess in the front office…
Manu Ginobili was a star in multiple European leagues, winning MVP’s and championships of his own. The Spurs saw greatness in him by snaring him in the 1999 NBA Draft… with the 57th (and second last) pick! Clearly the rest of the NBA hadn’t caught up with the immense ability players possessed overseas, it was either someone from the NCAA or free agency. After the Spurs waved their magic wand on numbers occasions, the rest of the league began to take notice.
Ginobili stayed in Europe for 3 seasons after being drafted and carved out quite the short career, averaging 17.3 ppg, 4 rpg, 2.4 apg and 3.2 spg… give any college player those numbers at shooting guard and they are (most likely) a lottery pick. When you come from the other side a very large ocean it’s a bit of a different story. Even after playing as a rookie in the 2002-03 season he only played 20.7 mpg and average just 7.6 ppg, hardly eye popping. But by that point the Spurs had pulled the wool over the rest of the NBA with another cagey draft pick that would set up their continuing quest of championships.
Tony Parker was taken with the very last pick of the first round (28th pick overall) in the 2001 NBA Draft. He was a (very) fresh faced 19 year old from France who had played just 8 professional games, granted he did average 22 ppg, 6.1 apg and 1.6 spg but still! Now, for those that are familiar with the ring leader of their ‘dynasty’ (Gregg Popovich) you’ll know he’s not the first guy out there shoving his rookies into the spotlight. But in the case of Parker he started 72 of the 77 games he played and even though his numbers weren’t that of a superstar (9.2 ppg and 4.3 apg) the savvy Popovich knew he had something special in his young point
So, enter the 2002-03 season and you have 2
guys from Europe who many people would never have considered NBA quality playing integral parts in a team with their sights on another NBA title. Even players like Stephen Jackson (drafted 42nd overall in 1997 and started 58 games), Bruce Bowen
(undrafted but started all 82 games) and Malik Rose (drafted 44th overall in 1996 and averaged a career high 10.4 ppg) had all been bounced around the NBA prior to their stops in San Antonio but were vital to the team’s success.
The end result was a 60-22 record (ties for best in the NBA) and a 2nd NBA title for the Spurs in the last 5 seasons. Of course leading the way was Duncan and Robinson but their role players were as responsible for the championship as the stars. It was also a perfectly fitting farewell for Robinson who announced his retirement at season’s end. The keys to the team now belonged to Tim Duncan… and he knew just how to drive!
Led by Duncan with very able support from Parker and Ginobili the San Antonio Spurs won 2 more NBA titles in 2004-05 and 2006-07. The supporting cast had changed with former No 1 overall pick Glenn Robinson, “Big Shot” Robert Horry and Michael Finley among the ageing stars to jump onto the Spurs wagon. At the end of the 2006-07 season the Spurs had won 4 championships (from 4 tries) and Duncan had cemented himself as one of the very best to every play the game. Shaquille O’Neal aptly nicknamed Duncan “The Big Fundamental”… and he couldn’t have been more accurate! Talk about consistent, Duncan’s PPG average for his first 10 seasons ranged between 18.6 and 25.5, his RPG between 10.6 and 12.9 and his BPG between 2.0 and 2.9. He was a reliable as anyone in NBA history and his 4 rings (to that point) only backed that argument up.
But this group wasn’t quite done. The following 6 seasons all produced at least 50 wins, 2 trips to the Western Conference Finals and an NBA Finals but a 5th title was kept from their grasp. As the 2013-14 season approached not even the most optimistic of Spurs fans would think that they had any chance of another ring prior to Duncan retiring. Not that there was any sign that his leaving the game was close but with Indiana and Miami in the East and Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers in the West, it was always going to be tough.
Guess someone forgot to tell Pop, Duncan and the Spurs! They rolled through the regular season with a 62-20 record, best record in all the NBA and guaranteed home court throughout the playoffs. The Spurs “Big 3” of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker were 37, 36 and 31 years old respectively with a LOT of miles behind them. Luckily for them they had support from yet 2 other sterling moves on draft day. With taking Danny Green (46th overall in 2009) and up and coming superstar Kawhi Leonard (15th overall in 2011) they had arguably their most rounded team since Duncan was drafted. Even guys like Boris Diaw (3 previous teams) and Patty Mills (55th overall in 2009 and average 10.2 ppg off the bench) were vitally important when the stars needed a break.
The end results was a playoff run that was almost executed in the first round when the Dallas Mavericks pushed them to 7 games. The Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder was then shoved aside to set up the dream return matchup from the 2013 NBA Finals… LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Only problem was… they ran into Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs…
HUH?!?!? Did you say Kawhi Leonard? Yep, you read me correctly. I don’t think the NBA viewing audience took the skills of Leonard seriously (he was good, don’t get me wrong) but he was trusted with the seemingly impossible task of trying to defend LeBron James… on his own… by himself… 1 on 1! No problem, says Leonard. Now people are going to look at LeBron’s numbers (28.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 57.1 FG%, 51.9 3PT%) and say “what are you talking about, LeBron killed it”! On the surface, that may be true. But Leonard being able to at least stay with LeBron meant that nobody else was free to do what they would normally do when LeBron gets double and triple teamed. As a result, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh both had sub par Finals performances and weren’t able to damage the Spurs the way they would’ve liked. Oh, Leonard also averaged 17.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 1.6 spg to win the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.
So, there you have it. A (more drawn out that first planned) breakdown of the San Antonio Spurs and their rather extraordinary success over the last 19 seasons. If it is that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili depart the NBA at the end of this season, they will have left behind a legacy few will be able to match. Undoubtably Hall of Fame bound they showed the NBA and the world what great team play and smart coaching can lead to, something a lot of people overlook for the search of the next Sportscenter Top 10 play.
In conclusion, all I have to say is… you will be missed.
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