What history tells us
How five 'LeBron-like' players fared in first NBA Finals
Posted: Tuesday June 5, 2007 11:07AM; Updated: Tuesday June 5, 2007 3:46PM
If the odds out of Las Vegas are to be believed -- gaming site Bodog.com puts the San Antonio Spurs at 2-1 to win in five games, 7-2 in six and 3-1 in seven while the Cleveland Cavaliers are, at best, 15-2 to win in seven -- LeBron James' first Finals will be a learning experience but not a victory. Of course, very few observers (including this one) believed that he would make it this far.
Still, there's nothing wrong with a learning experience.
That got me thinking about five "LeBron-type" players -- multitalented, out-on-the-floor stars -- and how they fared in their first championship series. I picked two point guards (Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson), two shooting guards (Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant) and one small forward (Larry Bird). The last is James' putative position, although he's all over the floor, just as Bird was.
The Big O
Few superstars in history were more frustrated than Robertson early in his career. He played for 10 full seasons with the Cincinnati Royals (1960-61 to '69-70) without ever making it to the Finals. Most of that time only four teams from each conference qualified for the playoffs, and, for all his brilliance, Robertson just couldn't get by the Boston Celtics.
The Royals finally just about gave him to the Milwaukee Bucks in 1970, receiving in return Flynn Robinson and Charlie Paulk. Oscar joined with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the Bucks won a league-best 66 games and tore through two rounds of the playoffs with only two losses before meeting the Baltimore Bullets in the Finals.
That was the easy part. Robertson, who had become almost pure playmaker by that time, led the dominant Bucks to a four-game sweep. But remember this: He was 32 by then, 10 years older than LeBron.
The Magic man
You already know this story. Magic lost out on 1980 Rookie of the Year honors to Bird, but his Lakers made it to the Finals and Bird's Celtics did not, losing to the 76ers in five games in the Eastern Conference finals. Then Magic went out and won a decisive Game 6 against Philadelphia almost by himself. With Abdul-Jabbar injured and out of the lineup, Johnson switched to center and scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and handed out 12 dimes as the Lakers eliminated the Sixers in Philly. It is still considered the best one-game performance in Finals history.
And remember this: Magic was only 20, two years younger than LeBron.
Bird's the word
Only late in his career did Bird get talkative and let it be known how much it ate at him that Magic won both an NCAA title and an NBA championship before he did. But it only took him one more year than Magic to get to the Finals, and, when he did, he made the most of it.
Remember the Bird play you always see, the one where he misses a shot, runs instinctively toward the rebound, catches it with his right hand and puts it back in the basket with his left? That happened in Game 1 of the 1981 Finals against the Houston Rockets. Red Auerbach always called it "the greatest play I ever saw." It inspired the Celtics to a 98-95 victory in that game and they went on to win in six.
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