The 75-year history of the NBA has leant itself well to some amazing Finals series. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
After a year of incredible basketball, the NBA Finals have finally begun. The Boston Celtics are taking on the Golden State Warriors and it promises to be a truly awesome battle between two teams, both of whom have gone through hell and back this season. On one end, you have the Warriors who started out strong before faltering in the middle of the season, only to get back on track as soon as the playoffs started. Meanwhile, there are the Boston Celtics who were off to a bad start but finished strong with the best record of 2022.
No matter how this series go, there is no doubt that fans have been treated to some truly incredible series throughout the history of the NBA. Considering this is the league’s 75th anniversary, we believe it would be appropriate to count down some of the best Finals series of all time. From the 80s to the present, is is impossible to deny that generations of basketball have given us something to think about.
10. Bulls Defeat Jazz (1997)
To kick this list off, we had to go with a series that involves none other than Michael Jordan. In 1997, he claimed his fifth title by going up against the Karl Malone and John Stockton-led Jazz. This was a dope back and forth series that was won in six games. Of course, the one game everyone remembers is Game 5 when Jordan took on the flu and still put up huge numbers to lead his team to victory. Everyone remembers the visual of Jordan being carried out by Scottie Pippen and there is no doubt that this is a scene that is embedded into the eyes of Bulls fans. Aside from the “Flu Game,” this was an epic series and it created a nice little late 90s rivalry.
9. Rockets Defeat Knicks (1994)
While Michael Jordan was away from basketball, he was able to open the doors for teams like the Houston Rockets and the New York Knicks. The Knicks were waiting for a clear path in the Eastern Conference and the Rockets were on the cusp of the Finals. This series was great as both teams continued to go back and forth. It felt like there was no clear cut winner but in Game 7, Hakeem Olajuwon and company showed everyone why they would eventually become two-time consecutive champs. Not to mention, the epic collapse in Game 7 from John Starks proved to be a massive factor. One team cemented its legacy while the other helped contribute to a curse that is still ongoing.
8. Lakers Defeat Sixers (1980)
This was an amazing series thanks to the fact that it was a coming-out party of sorts for Magic Johnson. This was his first season in the league and he managed to outshine Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Finals. In six games, Johnson showed himself to be a superstar and he even got Finals MVP. This was his first of five NBA titles and if you’re a Lakers super fan, this series is probably one of your favorites.
7. Bulls Defeat Suns (1993)
MJ is a frequent guest on this list but for good reason. His Bulls were on the verge of a three-peat in 1993 and this was the series in which he got to go up against his friend at the time, Charles Barkley. In the eyes of some historians, this was Jordan’s hardest Finals victory. It was his first three-peat and at the time, he was dealing with the fallout from his late nights of gambling. This was yet another series that went back and forth, with Barkley’s Suns showing numerous signs of life. It was a huge test for the Bulls, however, MJ, Pippen, and the rest of that Bulls team was more than ready for the challenge at hand.
6. Lakers Defeat Pistons (1988)
The “Bad Boy” Pistons vs. the “Showtime” Lakers was an amazing series. This turned out to be the last championship won by the Lakers in that Magic era, all while the Pistons would go on to repeat as champions in 1989 and 1990. In this series, the Pistons forced the Lakers to seven games although they were eventually bested by Magic, Kareem, and some of the best role players in the history of the game. This was flashy yet defensive basketball at its finest and these two truly gave us a clinic on how basketball in the 80s was so superior to what we have now.
5. Lakers Defeat Celtics (2010)
What more can be said than Kobe standing on the scorer’s table after winning his fifth title. This was a very special moment in the history of the Lakers, and it was that much more special because Kobe did against the team that beat him back in 2008. Kobe exacted his revenge and he did so in an epic seven-game showdown that saw him deliver an amazing performance in the fourth quarter of the final game. The Lakers always seem to produce a great series, and this is especially true when they go up against the Boston Celtics. Regardless, Kobe’s involvement here is what puts this series securely in the Top 5.
4. Heat Defeat Spurs (2013)
In 2013, LeBron James was still trying to show people that he could repeat as champion. Sure, he beat the young Thunder squad in 2012, but could he beat a group of legends in the San Antonio Spurs. At first, the answer to that question seemed to be “no.” The Spurs were the better team for much of the series and by Game 6, the Spurs were just a few seconds from winning the title. That’s when Ray Allen changed everything with a corner three that sent the game to overtime, which allowed LeBron to take over and win the game. Once Game 7 came around, the Heat were in control and LeBron cruised to his second-career title. It was an amazing series and one that highlights the 2010s.
3. Celtics Defeat Lakers (1984)
This was a huge series for the Celtics as their 80s rivalry with the Lakers was still in its infancy. Bird and Magic were the two biggest players in the NBA and they both represented very different things. They helped save the NBA with their superstardom and there was a ton of debate as to who would get the job done. In the end, the Celtics won the series in seven games, and while the Lakers made it a good series, their performance was marred by Magic Johnson’s horrific play on the court. He was nicknamed “Tragic Johnson” following this series and it had people believing Bird was the better player. No one could have seen Johnson’s poor play coming and that is precisely why this series was so captivating. Of course, the Celtics playing great basketball didn’t hurt either.
2. Bulls Defeat Jazz (1998)
Michael Jordan’s final championship with the Chicago Bulls came against the Utah Jazz, whom the Bulls had defeated in the Finals just a year prior. This was a back and forth series and heading into the decisive Game 6, there was this feeling that the Jazz could get over the hump and pit the Bulls against the wall, especially with Scottie Pippen dealing with back issues. In typical MJ fashion, he put the team on his back and showed out in the Final game, capping it off with a walk-off final shot that will forever go down in history. The Bulls and Jazz gave us some incredible basketball in that series and the history behind it all just makes it that much more special.
1. Cavaliers Defeat Warriors (2016)
This has to be first on the list and you should know exactly why. In the eyes of LeBron James, this is the series that made him the greatest player of all time. Down 3-1 against the 73-9 Warriors, LeBron led his Cavaliers all the way back to a Game 7 stunner that featured heroics from himself and Kyrie Irving. It is a series that will forever live in infamy as the moment that LeBron brought a championship to Cleveland, which was a goal of his ever since he got drafted by the team in 2003. He needed this series for his legacy and he was able to snatch it epic fashion. If you’re an NBA fan, you definitely shed a tear when you saw him win.
Let us know your favorite series, in the comments below.