What history tells us (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday June 5, 2007 11:07AM; Updated: Tuesday June 5, 2007 3:46PM
Letting in the Air
Jordan had an apprenticeship only slightly less arduous than Robertson's. For all the attention he received, he didn't make it to the Finals until 1991, his seventh season, though when he did it was considered all but a fait accompli that his Bulls would go all the way.
Still, Magic's Lakers, making a final stand as a championship-caliber team, won the first game in Chicago Stadium 93-91, and the Bulls looked nervous. But in a single moment in Game 2, Jordan changed the series. He took off down the lane, apparently bound for a right-handed layup, noticed A.C. Green settling in to block his path, somehow twisted his body in mid-air and put up a left-hander on the other side of the basket. On any one-hour anthology of Jordan moves, that would probably be No. 1.
The Bulls went on to win that game in a rout, took the next three in Los Angeles and Jordan walked off with his first MVP Finals trophy.
Kobe, the Sundance Kid
Bryant's experience is closest to James' -- both made it to the Finals in their fourth season, Kobe's being 1999-2000. Kobe was certainly not a bit player at that time, but, less known than a certain larger and more boisterous teammate, he took a backseat.
However, without Bryant the Lakers might not have won it all against a solid Indiana Pacers team. L.A. won the first two games at home, lost the third in Indy and was struggling to hold a small lead in overtime of Game 4 when Shaq fouled out. But Bryant came to the rescue by scoring six of L.A.'s final eight points for a 120-118 victory. Despite a Game 5 loss, the Lakers then clinched the series at home for the first of three consecutive championships.
Well, that's five superstars and five championships in their first Finals go-round. But all of them were favored going in, and all of them had better supporting casts than LeBron does. And if he can't pull off this upset, he shouldn't feel bad -- several all-time greats (Jerry West and Julius Erving, to name two) took much longer to get there before they won one), and many others (Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd, to name six) took much longer to get there and never won one when they did.
Jack McCallum is the author of "Seven Seconds or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin' and Gunnin' Phoenix Suns," a behind-the-scenes account of the Suns' 2005-06 season. Click here to order a copy.