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Five Up, Five Down: Ranking Would Be NBA Champions

Sometimes the team that SHOULD have won doesn’t and the one that SHOULDN’T have does. If we could turn back time. If we could find a way. These NBA Finals would be better.

Chris Webber walks with Mike Bibby

Welcome back to Five Up, Five Down. We took last week off but its time to rank things once again.

The NBA Finals begun on Thursday and not only was it a fun game, it gave birth to a meme that may live forever. That’s one of the great things about the championship round of the playoffs. We, collectively, as sports fans are able to sit and focus on one single game at a time. Just because we are all focused on those games, however, does not mean we all get what we want out of them. Even if the team you claim as yours isn’t involved, there is always a tendency to at least lean one way or the other. This is when rooting for the underdog or that player you’ve liked since college comes into play.

The NBA Finals have been played every year since 1947. Nineteen different teams have won at least one championship and 26 have made it that far. That includes the Balimore Bullets, who won it all in 1948 and a pair of teams named the Chicago Stags and Washington Capitols which disbanded in the 50s but appeared in the finals in the late 40s. Along the way, there are certain teams that you wish had been able to win it all and ones that you wish had never claimed a title.

We at Down the Drive are not immune to those desires, so for this weeks Five Up, Five Down, we will be doing something a little different. Instead of the five best and five worst, we will rank the five teams we wished had won a title and the five teams we wish hadn’t. We’ll need some ground rules for this experiment.

  1. We will not be picking specific franchises but, rather, specific years in specific franchise’s histories. For example, you would pick the ‘96 SuperSonics not the Sonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder) in general.
  2. A team must have made at least the conference finals to be considered. That means you can pick the ‘96 Sonics, who lost in the Finals to the Chicago Bulls, but not the ‘95 Sonics who lost in the first round.
  3. If you pick a team you wish won, it does not mean you must pick the corresponding team that won that year as one you wish lost. Sticking with the ‘96 Sonics, perhaps you really loved Shawn Kemp and wanted him to win a ring. That doesn’t mean you necessarily were against the ‘96 Chicago Bulls winning, so you can pick the Sonics and hate on another squad in the other section.

OK. Enough with the rules. Let’s rank these things.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Seven Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Clayton’s Five Up

1. 1967-1970 St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks arrived in Atlanta in 1968 as the defending NBA Western Division champions. They performed like a championship team during their early years in Atlanta, posting consecutive 48-34 records in their first two seasons. The Hawks reached the 1968-1969 and 1969-1970 Western Division finals, losing both times to the Los Angeles Lakers. The franchise failed to make a comparable playoff run for the next 45 years. Despite the loss of team leader Lenny Wilkens just before their Atlanta opener, the core of the latter day St. Louis roster remained in place: quick, physical forwards Bill Bridges, Joe Caldwell and Paul Silas, offensive minded center Zelmo Beaty, and twenty-four-year-old guard “Sweet” Lou Hudson, who was emerging as one of the league’s top scorers. The Hawks wore out opponents with their trademark aggressive, up-tempo style of basketball which carried over from their time in St. Louis. They just could not get past a Lakers team that included three of the greatest players in NBA history: Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlain.

2. 1986-1987 Boston Celtics

Never has a team so thoroughly beaten up ever overcome so much in the NBA Playoffs.

3. 1992-1993 Phoenix Suns

Jerry Colangelo might be the greatest general manager in the history of professional sports. He turned an expansion team in a defuse, decidedly non-basketball market into a consistent winner on-the-court and in-the-stands. This 1992-1993 Barkley-era Suns team was the closest Colangelo ever got to a championship in the NBA. They were the best team in the league for the entire season but they just couldn’t get the job done in the finals. In 2001, Colangelo got a World Series ring as part-owner of the Diamondbacks.

4. 1975-1976 Cleveland Cavaliers

“The Miracle in Richfield” Cavs reached the Eastern Conference Finals, riling up Northeast Ohioans about basketball like nothing until the arrival of LeBron.

5. 2017-2018 Boston Celtics

This year’s Celtics team is the 1986-1987 Celtics. Just with a few more injuries and a few less breaks.

NBA Finals Game 7:  Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Clayton’s Five Down

1. 1995-1998 Chicago Bulls

Looking back at the late 1990s, it is amazing how little legitimate competition these Bulls teams faced on the way to their championships. In 1988, guys like Kevin McHale (Celtics), Vinnie Johnson (Pistons), and Michael Cooper (Lakers) were sixth men on elite NBA franchises. Each one of them would be the best player on at least 20 NBA teams right now. It is hard to overestimate how much the addition of six teams between 1988 and 1995 watered down the league’s competition. Any one of the Lakers, Celtics, or Pistons championship teams of the 1980s would have swept these late 90s Bulls.

2. Houston Rockets, 1994-1996

The NBA equivalent of Jimmy Ellis.

3. Any of the Miami Heat Championship Teams

In 1971, The World Hockey Association awarded its first southern franchise to Miami on the assumption that its large population of elderly snowbirds from the Northeast and Canada would support the team. This proved to be the first of numerous failed attempts by investors to establish the sport in Florida. Many fortunes have been lost in the Sunshine State based on the belief that a rabid core of seasonally-residing hockey aficionados wants to spend their discretionary income on sitting inside a cold arena. Professional hockey’s first pass in Florida did not even get to the cold arena part. The fundamental problem faced by the Miami WHA franchise was their lack of a playing facility. Unable to win local approval for a privately financed arena project, the Miami WHA franchise relocated to Philadelphia in 1972 before ever playing a game. All professional sports in Miami have always been like this. Nothing ever changes. Nothing ever happens.

4. 2001-2002 Los Angeles Lakers

My interests in the winter of 2001-2002 were primarily Russian Literature, the Frankfurt School, Post-Structuralism, and Giambattista Vico. I had little time for Kobe and Shaq’s hokum.

5. 2009-2010 Los Angeles Lakers

This puddle of mediocrity got lucky that Kendrick Perkins blew out his knee in Game 6. Otherwise, the Celtics would have made this their 18th title banner.

NBA Finals X Iverson

Phil’s Five Up

1. ‘10 Boston Celtics

Clayton is right. The ‘10 Celtics were a team of destiny. Paul Pierce hit a magical game-winner against the Heat, then they made LeBron go to Miami, embarrassed Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo magic and old-man-gamed there way to within one game of an NBA title. They led the series with the Lakers in the finals 3-2 and then scored 67 and 79 points in the last two games, respectively, to let it slip away. Having Perkins would have helped a ton in a game they lost by four points and were out-rebounded 53-40. I’m still not over this and I may never be.

2. ‘02 Sacramento Kings

I am a big Chris Webber guy and this was when he was at the peak of his powers. He had finished off his eighth season averaging at least 20 points per game and fourth in five years with at least 10 boards a night. He led the Kings to a near win over the Shaq and Kobe Lakers but got jobbed in the Western Conference Finals.

3. ‘99 New York Knicks

Larry Johnson and Marcus Camby were the players who ushered me into the post-Michael Jordan NBA. Johnson’s swagger and clutch shots and Camby’s defense were exceptional during a strike-shortened season when the underdog Knicks made it to the NBA Finals where they lost to a budding dynasty in the San Antonio Spurs.

4. ‘01 Philadelphia 76ers

Allen Iverson should have won a title. This was the closest he came. His iconic step over Tyronn Lue is the lasting image of the ‘01 Finals but that doesn’t get him a trophy.

5. ‘03 Brooklyn Nets

Kenyon Martin also should have won a title. We are a Cincinnati Bearcats blog after all. The Nets also made the finals in 2002, but K-Mart was better this season and the Nets ... came up short once again.

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat

Phil’s Five Down

In descending order as always.

5. ‘12 Miami Heat

I have had a roller coaster fan relationship with LeBron James. I really liked him when he was with Cleveland, but then, as a stupid college kid, I soured on him following his move to Miami. I have since matured and the relationship has matured with me and I am now very much in LeBron’s camp. I’m sure that he is thrilled.

But damn if I didn’t want the Heat to lose every finals appearance they had during the Big Three era.

4. ‘17 Golden State Warriors

I’m just tired. I don’t think the Warriors are ruining the NBA. They are amazing to watch, but I’d just like to see some variety.

3. ‘09 Los Angeles Lakers

This was a pretty boring finals. The Magic were severely outmatched. Could I at least get some competitive basketball?

2. ‘07 San Antonio Spurs

I’ve had Spurs fatigue for a while. Respect the heck out of them, but respect doesn’t make me want to watch. Kawhi Leonard brought me back, but if he’s not going to be in San Antonio next year, then that’s over as well. Also, who knows, if the Spurs lose to the Cavaliers that year, maybe LeBron never leaves. I was glad Michael Finley got a ring, though.

1. ‘02 Los Angeles Lakers


Disagree with us? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or via a FanPost. Also, if you want us to rank something specific next week, let us know.