A couple of years ago while one of my daily mindless surfings of the intellectual dark webs I stumbled across an article that reverses the outcomes of all the Super Bowls. Real Alt-Right, Ben Shapiro stuff. This is where I got the idea to do the same for basketball. But I didn’t want to simply reverse the results of every NBA Finals. I wanted to be more esoteric. Reversing the outcomes of every conference finals to see what championship matchups we were robbed of and dive into the runner-ups of each conference of which history has forgotten.
(The winning teams are in CAPITAL letters)
1970: MILWAUKEE vs Atlanta
1971: Lakers vs NEW YORK
1972: BOSTONvs Milwaukee
1973: BOSTON vs Golden State
1974: New York vs CHICAGO
1975: BOSTON vs Chicago
1976: Cleveland vs GOLDEN STATE
1977: HOUSTON vs Lakers
1978: PHILADELPHIA s Denver
1979: San Antonio vs PHOENIX
Team Of The Decade: Boston
First, let me explain the alternate 1970 NBA Finals. No. These aren’t your Pete Maravich’s Atlanta Hawks. He’s still wasting away in New Orleans. Also, while the infant Milwaukee Bucks have the artist formerly known as Lew Alcindor on their team there is no Oscar Robertson. The Big O doesn’t find his way out of Cincinnati until the next season. In this era Atlanta was considered a western conference team, and Milwaukee hadn’t left the east as they would later in the decade.
Atlanta featured All-NBA 2nd teamer small-forward Lou Hudson, who averaged 25.4 points a night in 1969-70. Defensively, the Hawks ranked 8th in points allowed thanks to All-Defensemen Bill Bridges and Joe Cardwell. Atlanta posted a respectable 48-34 record en route to a western division title before bowing out to the rival Los Angeles Lakers in four games.
For Milwaukee, the luck of the draft struck them harder than it ever did. Not only did they win the coin toss securing the number one choice to select UCLA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but they also found four time all-star Bob Dandridge with the 45th Pick. In off-season Milwaukee went from a 27-win expansion team to a 56-win squad with title aspirations. At point guard for Milwaukee was 28-year-old Flynn Robinson who went on to his one and only All-Star game in the 1970 season averaging 21.8 points to go along with 5.5 assists. Flynn spent stints in Cincinnati and Chicago before landing in Milwaukee in the middle of their inaugural season in a trade for future All-Star Bob Love and Bob Weiss.
In real-life the 1970 NBA Finals between Los Angeles and New York served as a watershed moment for the league after the latter team won the championship catapulting the league’s status in the mainstream. Safe to say, that doesn’t happen here with two small-markets butting heads. Kareem is possibly the greatest to ever step on the hardwood, but he lacked the flashy style of play and bubbly personality Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson would have that rescue league from the doldrums it finds itself throughout the 1970’s after cocaine became a prominent substance of use of its players.
Milwaukee probably bags the championship in 5 or 6 games. No team had any clue how to stop Kareem. The Knicks benefited from being the better overall team with tons of playoff exposure, while the Bucks were a team that practically came out of nowhere a lot like the Milwaukee team of 2018-19.
How does this affect Milwaukee? Well, we get to tack on an extra championship to Kareem’s legacy matching him with M.J – which apparently matters a lot in GOAT discussions. Other than that, I guess the boom in interest the NBA enjoyed as a result of the Knicks winning it all just doesn’t happen (not for another year or two anyway). In the context of this list, maybe Milwaukee upgrading from Robinson to Robertson doesn’t happen and the Bucks fail to defend their title? The next season I have the Knicks in the finals, so maybe Milwaukee roles with Robinson for one more season, he declines in production and the trade is done a year later? I don’t know. The problem with alternate history is it creates different scenarios you need to make assumptions to justify its occurrence.
New York beats Los Angeles in the same exact way they did in real-life, only a year later.
In 1972, the Celtics return to the big dance after a three-season absence from the Bill Russell-era and I struggle to come up with a winner here because this is the same Celtics team that eventually would defeat this same Bucks team in ‘74 except the cast is younger. Robertson was on his last legs in ‘74 and that simply isn’t the case in ‘72. So perhaps a younger Big O separates the Bucks from Boston significantly enough capture their second title of the decade. Or, maybe since the Celtics have made the lives of scorers like Robertson a living hell since 1957 the lucky Irish squeak by. People forget Celtics head coach Tom Heinsohn didn’t double-team Kareem until the decisive Game 7. If he donated come to that revaluation more than one man is needed to contain the greatest center of all-time, or even three, then you can say confidently Milwaukee wins this one.
But, since I’m biased, let’s say Heinsohn triple-teams Kareem and the C’s win in seven. This is the first of what would be three titles of the decade for the Celtics adding to the already impressive legacies of Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jo Jo White. Only way the ‘73 Celtics make it to the finals is of Havlicek doesn’t separate his shoulder in the Knicks series. If that doesn’t happen then they go on to face Rick Barry & Nate Thurmond of Golden State, a team they beat three of the four regular season games they played each other that year. A title for the ‘73 team cements the 68-14 squad as perhaps the best in franchise history since this list wiped away the ‘86 squad.
In 1975, I worry whether the Celtics could beat the Bulls led by Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier in the backcourt, and forwards Bob Love and Chet Walker, with Nate Thurmond rounding out the starting rotation. This Bulls team is one of my favorites. None of the characters names jump out at you. All are just collectively solid built to win in the particular generation they blossomed in. It wouldn’t be the 1970’s NBA if we didn’t have an irreplaceable talent or two missing games due to contract disputes. Van Lier missed 11. Love missed 20. It wasn’t until January the Bulls would reach above .500 status eventually finishing 47-35. Anchored by the league’s best defense the Bulls gave up just 95-points a game.
Still, for all the defensive prowess of Love, I can’t see how you corral the scoring of Honda, Jo-Jo at his apex and Paul Westphal coming off the bench.
Don’t feel too bad for the Bulls. I have them beating the aging Knicks the previous year.
With a third championship Boston solidifies themselves as the team of the 1970’s. The Warriors, Rockets, Sixers, and the Suns rounding out the rest of the decade. Rick Barry, Julius Erving, Moses Malone and the ferocious backcourt if Paul Westphal and Walter Davis add to their legacies in this reality. Only reason the ‘76 Warriors didn’t win it all was because Barry had a tantrum in the second-half of Game 7 and didn’t take a shot. For Erving, the Sixers built reliant individual talent and not team-play shake off the bad rap they received from the media. Malone out duels Kareem, and George Gervin finally makes it to the big dance but his Spurs squad simply cannot contend with the stronger Suns.
An NBA Championship series featuring Dr. J and David Thompson is just what the doctor ordered for the league to avoid catastrophe in the ratings. The ‘77 Rockets are a forgotten gem of the decade. Calvin Murphy and Rudy Tomjanovich lead the Rockets in scoring, while Malone posted 13 to go along with the same number of rebounds. It’s kind of insane to think how different the NBA looks without their popularity cratering, and without a Portland Trail Blazers championship David Halberstam doesn’t have a reason to write about them.
1980: BOSTON vs Seattle
1981: PHILADELPHIA vs Kansas City
1982: BOSTON vs San Antonio
1983: Milwaukee vs SAN ANTONIO
1984: Milwaukee vs PHOENIX
1985: PHILADELPHIA vs Denver
1986: Milwaukee vs LAKERS
1987: DETROIT vs Seattle
1988: BOSTON vs Dallas
1989: CHICAGO vs Phoenix
Team Of The Decade: Boston
Rookie Larry Bird leads the Celtics to a championship his very first year defeating the steady SuperSonics who upset the Los Angeles Lakers lead by the ever astonishing Kareem and rookie point guard Erving “Magic” Johnson. Future Hall of Famer Dave Cowens retires on top of the world reaching his fourth ring and while he never won as many titles as his predecessor Bill Russell, there was nobody Boston could’ve imagined to better fill out his shoes. “Pistol” Pete also exits stage left after the 1980 season achieving his career’s dream of winning a title. A perfect end for an imperfect career filled with missed and wasted opportunities.
Dr. J and he 76ers stop Kansas City’s Cinderella run in June securing their second title in four seasons. Putting all doubts aside that Erving somehow didn’t deserve his 1981 MVP.
The Celtics come back to claim their title over Gervin and the Spurs who still search for their first ring. In place of Cowens Red Auerbach snagged Robert Parish from Golden State. In 1982 Parish finished 4 in the MVP vote averaging 19 points to go along with 10 rebounds. This is Boston’s fifth title post-Russell, and their sixteenth overall.
San Antonio makes it back to the dance for a third time in five-years this time with twelve-time All-Star Artis Gilmore. The Spurs overcome Magic and the Lakers for the second consecutive year as questions rise whether the “Showtime” core players can get it done despite making it to the final four three-times in the last four seasons.
San Antonio finally reaches the promise land, defeating Milwaukee with Gilmore securing series MVP honors. Gervin is all too happy to retire not ring-less. The Bucks return for more heartbreak the follow season falling to the 41-41 Phoenix Suns lead by the veteran scoring guard Davis, 24-year-old high flyer Larry Nance, and the reliable big forward Maurice Lucas. The Suns upset Adrian Dantley and the Utah Jazz, and the Los Angeles Lakers before completing their Cinderella run by beating Milwaukee in six-games. Milwaukee goes into the offseason wondering what will it take to get over the hump.
The Sixers reach the finals one more time thanks to Moses Malone and a young Charles Barkley reaching their respective strides in hopes of getting Dr. J one last ring before retirement. They defeat the Denver Nuggets and Dr. J is given his third ring since 1978. Barkley wins his first world title. Malone adds to his already impressive legacy as the best player on two championship teams.
The Lakers FINALLY get over the hump after years of heartbreak and win their only championship of the decade over the always so short Bucks. The next year the Lakers are upset by the 39-43 Seattle SuperSonics led by Tom Chambers and Xavier McDaniels, ending the partnership between Magic and Kareem for good. The Sonics would go on to lose to the Pistons. Detroit would fail to defend their title, falling to the Celtics next year and subsequently the Dallas Mavericks to secure their rightful place as the team of the decade. Bird wins his third and last title tying him with Dr. J and placing himself so far ahead of Magic people forget to even compare the two.
The decade closes with the new blood crashing the NBA Finals. Michael Jordan of Chicago getting the best of Kevin Johnson and the Suns. Jordan puts the league on notice that he has arrived.
1990: CHICAGO vs Phoenix
1991: Detroit vs PORTLAND
1992: Cleveland vs UTAH
1993: New York vs SEATTLE
1994: Indiana vs UTAH
1995: Indiana vs SAN ANTONIO
1996: ORLANDO vs Utah
1997: Miami vs HOUSTON
1998: Indiana vs LAKERS
1999: Indiana vs PORTLAND
Team Of The Decade: Portland/Utah
The Bulls open up the decade the same way they ended the last one, by beating back the Phoenix Suns. It would be their last world title as Jordan proves too much of a divisive figure in the locker room for Chicago to build a contender around for the rest of his career. The aging Pistons battle back to the finals and lose to Portland lead by the younger, fresher Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey and Terry Porter. The next year, Utah gets the best of Cleveland, their first of two titles of the decade. The Seattle SuperSonics secure their first championship in 1993 upsetting the heavily favored New York Knicks in six-games. Indiana reaches four NBA Finals only to come up short every time. First to Karl Malone and the Jazz. Then to David Robinson and the Spurs. Then to Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers. Before finally, to Arvydas Sabonis and the Trail Blazers.
Perhaps the greatest team of the decade, the 1996-97 Houston Rockets lead by Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler nearing the end of their respective primes capture one last title before winding down their careers defeating Alonzo Mourning and the Miami Heat in the process.
Since Portland and Utah each brought home the same number of championships I have them splitting the Team Of The Decade honors.
2000: New York vs PORTLAND
2001: Milwaukee vs SAN ANTONIO
2002: Boston vs SACRAMENTO
2003: Detroit vs DALLAS
2004: Indiana vs MINNESOTA
2005 MIAMI vs Dallas
2006 DETROIT vs Phoenix
2007: DETROIT vs Utah
2008: DETROIT vs San Antonio
2009: Cleveland vs DENVER
Scottie Pippen may have lost three-rings in this alternate universe, but he proves he doesn’t need M.J to win by himself. Something tells me Pip would rather have it that way. Meanwhile, the Pistons complete the league’s first three-peat since Russell’s Celtics did it in the sixties. Indiana reaches the finals one more time for Reggie Miller only to achieve more heartbreak and pave the way for Kevin Garnett to cap off a memorable MVP season with the Timberwolves. Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash get the job done in Dallas in 2003. But it is Rasheed Wallace standing by himself against his peers with four championships under his belt to Garnett, Dirk, and Chris Webber’s lone title.
The Celtics make it back to the dance after a 14-year absence falling short of banner 18 to the Sacramento Kings. The Celtics in a couple of years would build a super team unable to take down Detroit and wouldn’t reach the finals until 2012. By then, the core of Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen are in their late-30’s
LeBron and Carmelo Anthony duel to close out the decade, with ‘Melo’s Nuggets getting the better of King James. LeBron never again reaches the finals and meanders after 2009. Carmelo is considered a one-hit wonder who plateaued all too soon.
Team Of The Decade: Detroit
2010: ORLANDO vs Phoenix
2011: CHICAGO vs Oklahoma City
2012: Boston vs SAN ANTONIO
2013: INDIANA vs Memphis
2014: Indiana vs OKLAHOMA CITY
2015: Atlanta vs HOUSTON
2016: Toronto vs OKLAHOMA CITY
2017: Boston vs SAN ANTONIO
2018: Boston vs HOUSTON
2019: MILWAUKEE vs Portland
Speaking of one-hit wonders, how differently are we viewing Dwight Howard now that he’s a world champion? Or D-Rose for that matter? The Celtics come up short against San Antonio and a year later blow up the Big 3 ending one of the most disappointing teams of the era. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook snag two rings even after losing James Harden to a trade. The west dominates the 2010s with the Spurs, Rockets and Thunder winning two titles apiece.
The Celtics of 2018 shock the world defeating Giannis and the Bucks, Embiid and the Sixers, and LeBron and the Cavaliers without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward. Ultimately, their Cinderella run ends at the hands of Houston who even without Chris Paul manage to win a hard fought series against the scrappy Celtics. Things fall apart the year after and Irving is in Brooklyn by the summer of 2019. Indiana, meanwhile, builds a contender around Paul George and wins their first world championship over the Memphis Grizzlies in a battle of the rigid and rough. Milwaukee finally returns to the promise land and wins the championship over Portland thanks to MVP Giannis
Team Of The Decade: San Antonio/Houston/OKC
So why write all of this? Because I’m bored. It’s the middle of August and I’m starting to question whether I like basketball or not. I think last year’s Celtics murdered my love for the game.
But I also love the history of the NBA and frequently would deep dive into the teams who came oh so short becoming the forgotten gems of their respective eras.