What-If Their Was No Draft Lottery (2008 Edition)

I’ll be blunt: The NBA Draft Lottery system is idiotic and shouldn’t exist. It’s done more damage to fledgling teams and has only encouraged tanking. But we can’t get rid of it because people like it. It’s become a must-see event. Sort of like when the WWE reshuffles the Smackdown and Raw rosters every year. Only difference is WWE fans know it’s all unnecessary bullshit. NBA fans haven’t gotten the memo the lottery is needless pomp and circumstance.

Take the 2009 draft for instance. The Miami Heat won a mere 15-games after forgoing their pride benching D-Wade for half the season. Entering the lottery, Miami had the best odds to attain the first overall selection and Memphis star Derrick Rose. People salivated at the prospect of a Rose-Wade backcourt. Except, the Chicago Bulls, who were most likely to select at nine jumped eight spots took the hometown hero. 
Did the NBA prioritize sending Rose to Chicago and rig the lottery? Of course! This is sports. Absolutely nothing is on the up and up. It’s the only business you can legally rig something. 
But imagine Rose in Miami. Immediately Rose’s ACL injury in 2012 butterflies away and we’re given more years of his prime and less him being a shell of his former MVP self. 
If the NBA Draft order went by worst record and the order of players taken remained the same, the league is probably in a better place:
First: Miami – Rose  
Second: Seattle – Beasley
Third: Memphis – O.J Mayo
Fourth: Minnesota – Russell Westbrook
Fifth: New York – Kevin Love
Sixth: Los Angeles – Danilo Gallinari
Seventh: Milwaukee – Eric Gordon
Seventeenth: Toronto – Roy Hibbert
Nineteenth: Cleveland – George Hill
Twenty-Third: Utah – Serge Ibaka
Twenty-Fourth: Seattle – DeAndre Jordan
The future OKC Thunder core of Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka turns into KD-Beasley-Harden-DJ real quick. Maybe they’re better off for it long term. Maybe they don’t trade Harden because ownership doesn’t have to worry about paying three stars and Harden is a better running buddy for KD than Westbrook?
Perhaps Westbrook is a rich man’s Stephon Marbury in Minnesota and drags them to 45-wins every year, while getting shellacked in the first round routinely. Russ paired with Big Al is probably a better learning the ropes period for Russ as he’s allowed to toile away with little expectations he’ll often exceed. More fruitful than the Kevin Love era.
Speaking of Kevin Love, how does he fit into D’Antoni’s seven-seconds or less system? Not at all. D’Antoni never had someone like Love before be the vocal point of the offense. Love and Stoudimire aren’t the same by any stretch, beyond the fact they share a position. 
Long story short, Knicks probably trade him like they did Gallo to Denver for Carmelo in ‘11. 
Perhaps Gallo is a better partner than Blake Griffin for Chris Paul? I mean… the entire construction of Lob City was a logistical nightmare. Even before the Pace ‘N Space era, how is one to achieve working space with an old school close to the basket frontcourt? 
George Hill was probably the most ready NBA player in the draft. The most ideal point guard to play alongside LeBron. He doesn’t need the ball. Can camp out in the corner and make spot-up shots. Hill on those ‘09 and 2010 Cavs teams maybe sneak into the finals. Those teams weren’t missing a star. Just another role-player. A modest upgrade from Delonte West. 
Lastly, how many rings does Rose-Wade-Bron-Bosh win together? Over/Under is five. LeBron probably stays a little longer. And don’t tell me it couldn’t have happened. Rose was on his rookie deal when Bron skipped town to South Beach. 
Pat Riley’s greatest mistake upon getting screwed was adhering to the big board for his second pick, rather than entertaining Westbrook, Gallo or Love. 

Rebooking Every WWE Champion from 1990 to 2020



The Ultimate Warrior – 4/1/90 to 3/24/91

First change I’d make if I could alter the booking of all WWE Champions from 1990 to present day is let The Ultimate Warrior retain his title until WrestleMania so he could clash with the Immortal One Hulk Hogan in a rematch for the ages. Taking the belt off Warrior to kick off a U.S.A vs Iraq storyline was tasteless, foolish and cost the company revenue. ‘Till this day, Vince McMahon and the company brass refuse to acknowledge their poor decision making as the cause for WrestleMania VII moving from 93,000 seated L.A Memorial Coliseum and to the 16,000 seated Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Stating threats of a terrorist attack as reason for the venue change. You don’t have to be a scientist to detect the whiff of bullshit there.

Why WWE gleefully shot themselves in the foot for a desperate attempt to drum up controversy is beyond me. But it isn’t uncommon for the wrestling business to flip out when a boon period comes to a close and the brass are trying desperately to keep the boat afloat. 
Hell. If they did Warrior/Hogan 2 they probably run the coliseum. 
WrestleMania VII Card:
Hulk Hogan def. The Ultimate Warrior
Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart def. Randy Savage and Sgt. Slaughter For the tag titles
Hulk Hogan – 3/24/91 to 11/27/91
The matches Hogan had with Undertaker aren’t pretty. ‘Taker is greener than grass and stiff as a board. Hogan wasn’t a good partner for the deadman either. Still, at Survivor Series Hogan was dethroned from his perch thanks to shenanigans from Paul Bearer and Ric Flair. This was the first time the championship was defended at the pay-per-view, as Survivor Series was basically a tag team extravaganza between teams of babyfaces and heels. 
In times of financial downturn, McMahon figured giving the belt back to Hogan would right the ship. It hadn’t. The era of Rock ‘n Roll Wrestling which catapulted the WWE into the stratosphere had ended. Hulkamania had in fact died. Only it’s death was quiet.
The Undertaker – 11/27/91 to 1/16/92
When the time is right Hogan will job. His greatest talent is knowing when the exit stage left so he can come back to the top spot at a later date. Him putting the rookie ‘Taker over and relinquishing the title in the process, isn’t unlike when Bill Goldberg won the title on Nitro in 1998. When it was time to impress the suits in the network offices Hogan knew what to do.
Which isn’t a bad thing. I’m just aware of when someone so paranoid about their spot in the food chain does something wildly out of character in the form of generosity that they’re ulterior motives. 
Hogan would win the title back from “This Tuesday In Texas” a week later. Culminating in a screwy finish that’s genuinely hilarious to look back on. Ric Flair tries to cheat to help ‘Taker, and spite Hogan. His attempt fails. Bearer tried to hit Hogan with the urn, misses and waffles ‘Taker. Hogan takes the ashes from the urn and throws them in ‘Taker’s eyes. Flair revives a knockdown Jack Tunney (Hogan hit Flair with a chair, inadvertently knocking Tunney out) so he could see Hogan cheating. Hogan wins and is later stripped of the title. Setting the stage for the Royal Rumble PPV. The winner being champion.
You get all of that? I know I make it all sound contrived and nonsensical, but this was brilliant work by the WWE. Excellent use of Flair. A wonderful way for Mark Calloway to cut his teeth. Beautifully set up Flair’s historic win at the rumble. Only problem was it didn’t lead to a Hogan-Flair program for WrestleMania. Instead we got Randy Savage vs Flair, and Sid Justice vs Hogan as the main event. 
I’d probably alter the booking a bit because my style of writing is blunt and simple. ‘Taker retains via bullshit. Tunney forces the deadman to defend his belt at the rumble, he’ll come in at whatever number and be eliminated by either Hogan, Flair, or maybe Jake Roberts in the process. ‘Taker feuded with Roberts for WrestleMania VIII anyway. Might as well set the stage for their match. In this era of black and white, cartoony wrestling one of them turns Babyface in the process. Since Roberts is leaving after ‘Mania, ‘Taker turns to the light. 
Ric Flair – 1/16/92 to 11/25/92
Nobody has had the WWE Championship and made such a strong impact while having the title for a short period of time. Flair held the belt until WrestleMania, a little under three months and didn’t defend it after the Royal Rumble. While I move Randy Savage and could see myself yelling at my friends that he was better than Hogan, Savage was a better chaser than a champion. His first stint with the belt gave him a legitimacy the WWE threw away all too quick. Once Hogan knocked off the Macho Man at ‘Mania IV all his power vanished. Forever casted as the second banana. What could have fixed that was letting him retain and holding off the title change until SummerSlam. 
Flair came to the WWE after a contract dispute with WCW (while champion) lead him to walk out with the company’s most prized possession and at the urging of McMahon, the Nature Boy parades the blurred out Big Gold belt, calling himself “The Real Worlds’ Champion.” It as an insanely hot angle that needed to keep going. 
Flair ruling the WWE at this time would have made complete sense. Hogan was gone due to the WWE entering a dark period as the steroid trial was underway. With no big dog in the yard it should have been Flair’s territory until Survivor Series when young Bret Hart shocks the world and restores order in the WWE. 
Imagine how much better Bret’s first reign would have been if the following was done.
  1. Bret defeats Flair on PPV. Not at some House Show in Butt Fuck, Nowhere.
  2. Bret defends his belt versus Jake Roberts and The Ultimate Warrior.
  3. Has the match of the century versus Randy Savage at WrestleMania IX. A show begging for any sort of spark
Bret Hart – 11/25/92 to 8/30/93
Poor Bret. The Daniel Bryan of his day. Always overlooked because he didn’t look like a ‘roided up freak of nature. Hart would have never been given a chance if WWE was so desperate to squash the notion they are a company filled with aforementioned ‘roided up freaks of nature. 
That all being said, he did fine as champion. Having great matches against Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels. He defended his title with pride and honor. People give Bret shit for actually believing there is some legitimacy to wrestling titles, but it’s his conviction which garners a genuine reaction from the fans and their embrace.
Where I won’t side with Bret is him bemoaning the fact he had to lose to Yokozuna at ‘Mania. Would I have booked Yokozuna to win the Royal Rumble in the first place? No. I would have let Savage win. Whomever wins is no skin off my back. They’ll tear the house down one way or another.
I’d give the title to Yokozuna at SummerSlam. Smashing Bret into a zillion pieces.
Yokozuna – 8/30/93 to 3/20/94
Outside of the blatant and shameful bigotry lobbied against Asians, the WWE did a fine job portraying samoan born Yokozuna as an unstoppable monster. 
Aboard the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier, on the date of July 4th. WWE presented fans with the hokey “Bodyslam Challenge.” One by one the Babyfaces came and were sent packing. Rick & Scott Steiner, Crush, and even the Macho Man. Professional athletes weren’t spared either. Paul Taglianetti of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Scott Burrell of the Charlotte Hornets, Keith Sims of the Miami Dolphins, Gary Baldinger of the Buffalo Bills, and Bill Frallic of the Detroit Lions failed to bodyslam the more than 500-pound monster. 
Then came America’s blond savior from the sky in the form of Lex Luger. Gone was “The Narcissist” character he debuted as on WWE television. With the slamming of Yokozuna a new Luger took shape. He was now Mr. American. Driving around the country in a tour dubbed “The Lex Express” as if he was running for president. 
Heading into SummerSlam it was expected the WWE found their next Hulk Hogan in Luger. He was going to restore American pride. The balloons were set in the rafters. The Babyfaces were ready to rush the ring in celebration.
And Lex won!!!!!!
Via count-out.
Yup. They got cold feet. 
Which leads me too…
Lex Luger – 3/20/94 to 8/29/94
It’s jarring when WWE is scared of their own shadow at times they absolutely can not afford to show hesitation. They rode through the many bumps of the Cena-era when they have an embarrassment of riches on the roster. Then when time came to build around Roman Reigns they decided to relegate him as a glorified chaser whose constantly down on his luck. 
What did WWE have to lose with going all-in on Luger? The only other wrestler on the roster that was worthy of the prestigious title was Bret and they made it abundantly clear at WrestleMania IX he was an interim champion and nothing more. Kind of like Kofi Kingston. 
In my head, I’d book 1993 and 1994 like this:
  • Bret wins the title from Ric Flair
  • Bret defends until SummerSlam where Yokozuna absolutely destroys him. Bret is out of commission.
  • When he returns he is plugged into a feud with his brother.
  • Owen beats Bret at ‘Mania.
  • Lex wins the Royal Rumble; no screwy finish involving two winners.
  • Lex defeats Yokozuna at ‘Mania in the show-closer.
  • At SummerSlam, Owen takes down Luger setting up a program between the two brothers that would last until the 1995’s Royal Rumble where Bret would win and the rubber match would take place at ‘Mania, in a triple-threat involving HBK.

Owen Hart – 8/29/94 to 1/22/95
The little brother takes him big gold. With that tennis racket holding doofus Jim Cornett in his corner, Owen wins the championship at SummerSlam. 
I always liked Owen a lot more than Bret. Owen could tell the difference between himself and his character. He knew nothing in this business was worth dying over. 
He’s one of the many stars never given a fair shake in the WWE. Often overlook, sometimes with malice. 
Bret Hart – 1/22/95 to 4/2/95
It was before my time, but I’m willing to bet the 1995 Royal Rumble will be the worst one I ever watched. An absolute shit show of a roster. The best heels (Bob Backlund and the aforementioned Owen) are beaten to a pulp by Bret before they could even make their way into the ring. Forcing us to watch HBK and British Bulldog fend off Crush, Fatu, Dick Murdoch and Steven Dunn. Those names ring any bells? Well they shouldn’t. 
Having Michaels win the rumble as the wild card between two warring brothers is dynamite. Imagine if Diesel remained HBK’s bodyguard/partner and was his enforcer at ringside next to Cornett during the main event at ‘Mania. Be better than Diesel trying to make a babyface comeback against Michaels.
Shawn Michaels – 4/2/95 to 3/31/96
HBK as a bad ass heel in this era reigning as champion works ten times better than pigeonholing him as a champion as a babyface. 
It’s perplexing WWE made a big deal of Michaels going the distance in the rumble when it wasn’t even 40-minutes and he was a bad guy at the time. Bulldog went exactly the same amount of time and didn’t get anything for his troubles. 
You can have Michaels turn babyface by having Diesel turn on him at some point. Begin a feud with them for a year and never have Michaels relinquish the strap in the process. 
I’m torn between whether to make the Bret vs Owen vs HBK triple-threat a ladder match or not? Michaels and Bret didn’t hate each other yet. Either Bret or Owen would have a problem doing the job. Just don’t expect The Heart Break Kid to return the favor. 
WrestleMania XII Card:
HBK def. Bret Hart
The Undertaker def. Diesel
Sid Justice def. King Kong Bundy
Big Van Vader – 3/31/96 to 8/18/96
It’s baffling the WWE didn’t push Vader. From 1992 to until Hogan showed up at World Championship Wrestling. WCW and New Japan Pro Wrestling knew how to bill Vader. As the unstoppable, 440 pound monster. Managed by Harley Race for a time, the legend did so well in the role I’m surprised WWE didn’t try to sign Race when they signed Vader just to have a certified talker. 
After abruptly leaving WCW in 1995 when the  parties involved in a Vader vs Hogan program couldn’t come to terms over a clear finish, WWE swooped in and snagged the competitions strongest heel. His debut at the Royal Rumble was electric. In his eleven-minutes Vader eliminated four combatants before the eventual winner, Shawn Michaels, threw him over the top rope.
In my opinion, they should have shoved the rocket up Vader’s ass and light it up. Have him win the rumble, destroy Michaels on the main event and go on a tear at least until SummerSlam. 
It’s borderline injustice how the WWE gleefully squandered Vader’s potential. They chose to not have him in the title picture until SummerSlam. Michaels threw a fit backstage when he found out he’s jobbing and Vader eats shit for the rest of his tenure. He went from a bad ass monster to calling himself a “Fat Piece of Shit” real quick. That’s what the WWE will do to you. Sometimes purposefully they’ll sabotage you for whatever idiotic reason. 
The WrestleMania XII Card:
Big Van Vader def. HBK 
The Undertaker def. Bret Hart 
The Ultimate Warrior def. Diesel
Triple H def. Steve Austin (w/ Ted DiBiase)
Shawn Michaels – 8/18/96 to 3/23/97
Just like Bret Hart with Yokozuna, the beaten down bastardized former champion reclaims his crown from the Goliath who knocked him off his perch. Michaels is a full fledged babyface now. As Diesel and Razor Ramon have skipped town, The Kliq is no more. HBK is a clean cut white hat. Defending his championship from off the wall challengers like Mankind, Sycho Sid, and Steve Austin. 
If I had the ability of 20/20 hindsight, fully aware HBK would blow a gasket if he had to job to Bret I’d either never give him back the title in the first place or simply never float out the possibility of those two ever squaring off. 
What’s curious is Michaels likely didn’t even balk at the idea of dropping the title to Bret. Vince was convinced the main event needed to be The Undertaker vs Sycho Sid. The HBK vs Bret match was going to be non-title. So Michaels just didn’t want to put over Bret. 
So if HBK never loses his smile – and Bret isn’t slotted to face him at ‘Mania then who is The Showstopper facing? 
The Undertaker… Twelve years before they actually lock up on the grandest stage of them all. (Personally, I’d just have Austin vs Michaels at ‘Mania a year sooner. Their match at King of the Ring, before Michaels’ back injury, was far superior to their showing at ‘Mania XIV.) 
Would Michaels flip-out if he had to drop the title to Undertaker, or did he have respect for Mark Calloway? The two didn’t like each other very much back then. Prior to ‘Mania 14 Michaels threw another fit about having to lose to Austin. Calloway taped his hands and threatened to beat him to a pulp if he didn’t do what was right for business. Sounds like a friend to me!
The Undertaker – 3/23/97 to 6/8/97
It isn’t talked about enough how nice it was to see ‘Taker win the title after years of poor booking, main eventing WrestleMania in his old grey and tattered mortician getup. 
While lost in the shuffle of a drama filled ‘Mania, ‘Taker vs Sid was serviceable as the show closer. 
That all being said, imagine how electric the reception would have been if it was ‘Taker vs Michaels. Or Bret. Or Austin….
You might be wondering why I have Undertaker’s title reign ending well before SummerSlam. Reason being, I don’t see him as a long term champion at this time. I also didn’t care for Michaels turning heel because perhaps he meant to deck ‘Taker with a chair during his match against Bret. 
  1. Why would HBK care about ‘Taker. His beef is with Bret.
  2. This was a clear misunderstanding that could have been cleared up with Michaels explaining himself the next night on Raw, and ‘Taker choke-slamming him through a table.
  3. I would have preferred it if it was Hart Foundation feuding with ‘Taker, and Owen interfering on Bret’s behalf every single time. Either leading to Bret retaining via D.Q or dirty pin-falls.
Bret Hart – 6/8/97 to 3/29/98
So here I am butterflying the formation of D-Generation X and altering the Montreal Screwjob to be a purposeful act done by WWE creative as a way to debut the Mr. McMahon heel persona. Instead of Bret getting screwed, it’s the babyface HBK. 
Bret’s longest title reign coincides with Owen winning the Intercontinental Championship, Bulldog holding the European championship,  and Jim Niedhart and Owen sharing the Tag Titles. Along the way, the Hart Foundation feuds with ‘Taker, Steve Austin, and Ken Shamrock. Austin and HBK form an unlikely alliance and feud with the Hart Foundation for months. Their alliance ending when Austin stuns HBK at the Royal Rumble; of which Austin wins – like in our timeline.
So the ‘Mania XIV card looks like this:
Shawn Michaels and Triple H vs The British Bulldog and Jim Niedhart (c), for the Tag Titles
Owen Hart (c) vs The Rock vs Ken Shamrock, for the Intercontinental Championship 
Bret Hart (c) vs Steve Austin, for the WWF Championship 
HBK, Triple H, Chyna and Rick Rude aren’t known as DX. They are merely the second generation of The Kliq. 
Hart’s nearly 300 day reign as the champion, sowing chaos and division in the WWE finally comes to an end when the Rattlesnake stuns the motherfucker out of the WWE. 
The New Generation is dead. Long live The Attitude Era!!!
Steve Austin – 3/29/98 to 5/31/98
The night after his victory over The Hitman, Austin is wearing a suit on Raw. This is a clear reference to how in the past the WWE would take a character fans rallied around because of their edge, give them the title and drain them of what made them so beloved.
Diesel initially got over as a bad ass bodyguard for Shawn Michaels. He beat Bob Backlund for the belt in ten-seconds. Not a moment after thoroughly demolishing the hall of famer, Diesel is shooting commercials with kids, and singing Christmas Carols on Raw. 
Same goes for HBK. Once on top of the wrestling world, WWE saddled him with his mentor José Lothario every single match – including PPV. It was vexing and contradictory to have someone so provocative and promiscuous as Michaels (he plays a male-stripper!) to have such a wholesome partnership with his real life mentor. It makes absolutely zero sense.
But Austin made it clear that night “that this was going to be the last time you see Stone Cold wearing a suit” until his Hall of Fame induction.
Only difference here is, I’d have Austin lose to Dude Love via shenanigans from Mr. McMahon and his cronies. I really enjoyed Mick as the hippie spinoff of the Heartbreak Kid. 
In reality, Austin foiled McMahon’s plot and retained. Losing to Kane at the King of the Ring PPV in a first blood match. I have no problems with this. I love Kane. I think he’s cool. I’m just altering the booking because I feel like it. Austin wins the strap back the next night on Raw.
Dude Love – 5/31/98 to 6/1/98
Mick climbs the mountain, even if it’s for little under a whole day. 
Steve Austin – 6/1/98 to 11/15/98
Austin beats the hell out of Dude Love, Kane, Undertaker, and whoever else Mr. McMahon has to throw at him en route to Survivor Series. 
In this scenario, the world title isn’t stripped from Austin due to a screwy finish during the Austin vs Undertaker vs Kane triple-threat that basically was a handicap match as the only way someone could win the title was pinning Austin. 
We enter Survivor Series in November. McMahon is beaten down and reluctantly accepts Austin as the champion. Even going as far to take himself off TV. The Raw before the PPV, Mr. McMahon announces his intentions to vacate his position as chairman of the WWE and taps his underling, Jack Briscoe, as his successor. 
The Rock defeats Ken Shamrock for a number one contenders spot for the PPV against Austin. The two babyfaces are set to do battle. Rock has come into his own since joining The Nation of Domination, and his stock increased once he turned on them. 
Rock and Austin main event the show, with the two going back-and-forth. Austin gaining the upper-hand. The audiences eyeballs are turned to the ramp way as Mr. McMahon makes his way down and tosses Rock a chair, after blindsiding Austin. McMahon props Austin up so Rock can ram the cold steel into the Rattlesnakes skull. Austin still kicks out. Angered, Rock buries the hilt of the chair into Austin’s gut not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven, not eight, not nine, not ten, but ELEVEN times to secure the pin-fall, the win and the world title.
“The Rock has sold his soul to the corporation! My god what the hell is this?!” A distraught J.R calls the action, while his partner Jerry Lawler is elated. 
“You don’t get anywhere in this world by playing nice. Austin of all people should know.”
The Rock – 11/15/98 to 3/28/99
Yes. In my infinite well of original content, I have Vince reduplicating the Montreal Screwjob – for the third time in a year. Simply astonishing. 
Why aren’t I have The Rock and Mankind playing tug-a-war with the title from Survivor Series until the week before WrestleMania? It was a classic feud, excellently booked and shot both combatants into the stratosphere. Well, because I don’t feel like it. Let The Rock turn away babyface challengers while Austin makes his climb up the mountain. 
During the Royal Rumble, Mr. McMahon saddles Austin with the misfortune as entering the event at number one. For sixty-minutes, Austin throws challengers over the top rope until it is just him and McMahon’s crony Mankind. Back and forth they go, Austin nearly eliminated the overweight masked man numerous times. McMahon strolls down the ramp way goading Austin into chasing after him. The Rock shows up too. Both of them barking at Steve causing him to lose his concentration. Mankind throws him over the top rope and secured the win. As McMahon comes in the ring to celebrate, Mankind applies there mandible-claw on the chairman. 
The next night on Raw, Austin earns his way into the main event by defeating The Rock and Mr. McMahon in a handicap match. 
The main event of ‘Mania XV is a ladder match between the corporations puppet,The Rock, the ultimate rebel, Austin, and recently turned babyface Mankind. 
Mankind – 3/28/99 to 4/25/99
It’s a bit of a gamble not giving the title to the most over wrestler in the history of sports entertainment, but fuck it. This is my universe. I can do what I want! Mankind was supposed to main event WrestleMania XV with Austin and Rock. Unfortunately, for him, Michaels convinced McMahon the main event had to be a singles.
Not only did this screw over Mick Foley. This ruined WrestleMania 2000. The main event of a babyface Rock vs the fully realized heel Triple H would have been sufficient enough. Except McMahon was convinced people tuned into to watch Raw because of the family dynamic and there wasn’t enough fan interest in either of the wrestlers. So that’s how Big Show and Mick Foley were inserted into the main event.
Having Mick win here basically butterflies his participation in WrestleMania 2000 as the only reason he came back was to main event the biggest PPV in wrestling history. Since Austin was out with a neck injury, McMahon inserted the fan favorite as a way to drum up more interest. This could have been iconic if Vince simply let Foley win the title and retire the next night.
But as we learned, when The Game is involved, chances are The Game is going over. Hard. 
Steve Austin – 4/25/99 to 8/22/99
In a fatal-four-way elimination featuring Rock, Mankind, and Ken Shamrock, Austin eliminates all combatants and wins the title despite interference from McMahon’s newest crony “Big Show” (I’d rather bill him as Paul Wright). 
Big Show debuts as “Paul Wright” and since I like that name better, I’ll be referring to him by his real name from now on.
Wright debuts on Raw the night after Backlash. We only see him on TV as McMahon’s muscle. He never speaks. Rarely gets physical with anybody. So we’re basically casting him as 1994 Diesel.  
The night after Austin reclaims the title, McMahon strolls out to interrupt a defiant Austin. “You are one tough son of a bitch, I’ll admit!” McMahon says. “I’ve done everything to get you out of my life. I’ve been the guest referee. I’ve enlisted the best wrestlers in the world. Yet, here you are with my belt.” He stares at his most prized possession which Austin had just flung to the side of the ring. 
“But Stone Cold, people like me don’t give up easily. I have all the money in the world. I can do this until we’re both in the ground. You think you’ve won? Let me introduce you to my gigantic ace in the hole!”
Wright lays absolute waste to the competition. Every week on Raw he’s winning matches in under a minute. When Austin and him connect, Wright no sells everything. Austin retains. Barley. Only through D.Q. Their final match is in a steel cage. Austin winning via escaping the cage, after delivering two consecutive stunners to Wright.
Then, came SummerSlam…
Triple H – 8/22/99 to 4/1/00 
The reign of Triple H begins. His relationship with the chairman’s daughter is in full effect. At SummerSlam, in a triple-threat featuring Wright, Triple H pedigrees Austin to win his first world title. Less than three months later, Triple H runs Austin over with a car – because I said so. 
(I’m well aware I probably would have booked Austin into the ground. You don’t have to remind me of my ineptitude)
To be honest, I liked the McMahon-Helmsley alliance between Trips and Stephenie. It gave us a chance to see Vince casted unnaturally as a babyface. It was unique and he did a convincing job. On the Raw prior to WrestleMania 2000, Show and Shane are absolutely fucking the Rock over during the main event. If Rock loses he’ll not only not go to ‘Mania – he’ll have to retire. Out comes Vince and the crowd absolutely goes ballistic. Knocks his son out, dawns the referee stripped shirt and evens the playing field for Rock. The Great One pins Show and punches his ticket to ‘Mania. 
Of course Vince fucks this up by helping Triple H retain his title versus Rock by joining the McMahon-Helmsley stable. Dirty secret about Vince, he loves being on TV. Only justification of his presence on the screen beyond ‘Mania was him turning back to the dark side.
As for Triple H. It’s a sign of how Vince really did have the midas touch around this time. Crowd absolutely wasn’t digging HHH as a heel. This despite Hunter escaping the shadow as being just HBK’s goon. D-Generation X turned babyface shortly after ‘Mania XIV and rounded into form as a chaotic good the night of January 4th, 1999 by helping Mankind capture his first WWE Championship by beating back The Corporation lead by McMahon and Ken Shamrock. 
Trips succumbed to the hate, turning on Chyna and X-Pac, and drugging Stephenie to kidnap her (DIFFERENT TIME). Later revealing the the world the two share mutual affection and are an item. The most powerful item in wrestling pushed Vince out of his company and fired Mick Foley. 
His reign of terror was no joke. But it should have ended at ‘Mania. This was the perfect time to cement Rock as the top babyface until Stone Cold returned. For all his accolades, the WWE didn’t give Rock the one thing that alluded him: his WrestleMania moment. Unlike Austin, HBK, ‘Taker, Hogan, Savage, Bret, Rock never won the title at WrestleMania. This was the perfect time to pull the trigger. 
Damn shame…
Needless change: The Big Show wins the tag titles by himself. His gimmick for the next few months is he’ll defend his titles by plucking a random audience member every week as a makeshift partner. 
The Rock – 4/1/00 to 5/21/00
The Rock loses the title in an iron man match against HHH, 6 falls to 5. Michaels is the guest referee and superkicks Rock just as he’s about to capture the critical final fall with a People’s Elbow. 
HHH crawls for the cover, HBK performs a fast count for the victory as the clock hits double zero. Biker ‘Taker debuts and wrecks havoc on Triple H and Michaels, setting the stage for the next big show down.
Triple H – 5/21/00 to 8/27/00
Triple H manages to beat ‘Taker, and turn away The Rock one more time. Entering SummerSlam, the unchallenged Triple H sees a potential usurper not to his champion but to his seat next to Stephenie. 
Kurt Angle inadvertently elbows his way into the title picture by getting friendly with Stephenie. Steph and Hunter have hit the skids as of late, despite having the title on all the power. Vince put all his eggs in the Biker ‘Taker basket winning the strap at King of the Ring and when that didn’t pan out, McMahon was taken off of TV and knocked off his perch as Chairman of the WWE. His daughter taking over. 
Looking to add insult to injury, Triple H orders his wife to handover his sledgehammer so he can pummel an already beaten Chris Jericho. But Y2J isn’t down and out, making a last ditch charge at The Game. The champ sidesteps, but Jericho rams his shoulder into Stephenie knocking her off the apron. 
Angle runs out and picks up McMahon like a bride and rushes to the backstage, laying her gently on a couch. The two share a tender moment in front of the audience while Triple H is busy brawling with Jericho. Thus kicking off a love triangle angle between The Cerebral Assassin and an oaf.
Kurt Angle – 8/27/00 to 9/24/00
Angle vanquishes Triple H and wins the heart of Stephenie, altering the balance of power. The Game is fired and isn’t seen for a month. For as long as Angle is champion, Triple H is out of a job. Just like when we saw Austin raising hell in the corporate boardroom when he was CEO, Angle is seated at the head of the table. Except he’s an overmatched dimwit. 
“You can’t tell me what to do!” He would occasionally bark at someone mildly critiquing him. “I won a gold medal!” 
The Rock – 9/24/00 to 4/1/01
The Rock is back on top. Like in our timeline he loses the belt at WrestleMania, but in this timeline he holds it for longer than just little over a month. Killing time until then, he feuds with X-Pac, Paul Wright, Undertaker, Kane, and despite taking the belt from him, Angle persists he is the champion so Rock also battles the corporate heads of WWE – minus Vince. 
Steve Austin – 4/1/01 to 6/24/01
Ah, the end of the Attitude Era. Nobody what people want to say about the ill-fated Austin heel turn, the end of the golden era in wrestling was coming after WrestleMania X-7. The Rock was departing to film movies, the purchase of WCW meant the end of the era where WWE felt they had to push themselves to create greater content. As a result, things became stale real fast. 
Perhaps Austin knew this and this served as the reason he pestered Vince about turning heel. The original plans for WrestleMania were for Austin to go over The Rock clean, and for Triple H to defeat the Undertaker, and start a feud with Austin. This makes sense considering Triple H was the one who hit Austin with a car way back in November of 2000 and defeated him in a three-stages of hell match at No Mercy. 
When the plan shifted for Austin to turn heel, WWE decided to try and make Hunter a babyface and challenge Austin by losing to The Undertaker. Both Austin and Hunter decided they wanted to work together as opposed to feud so the “Two-Man Power Trip” stable was formed. 
It was all Austin’s idea. All of it. He even could have called an audible in that very moment he is shaking hands with Mr. McMahon, delivered a stunner and remained a face. Nobody in the company – not even Vince – would have minded the abrupt change. The crowd in Houston had no clue and didn’t give a fuck when McMahon started helping Austin. Austin could have killed a dog in the center of the ring that night and the rabid fans would still hoot and holler for their hometown hero. 
If the turn happened in Rock’s hometown of Miami, you likely get the desired outcome.
With nobody credible for Austin to feud with, the WWE was forced to give undercard talents like the Hardy’s and the tag team of Chris Benoit and Y2J shots are the brass ring. While Jeff Hardy got royally fucked by Hunter during their feud, Benoit and Jericho benefited greatly from their program with Austin and laid the groundwork for their runs as champion in the near future. 
Chris Jericho – 6/24/01 to 11/3/01
And here we go. The invasion angle. God how it sucked. But what-if… what-if the invading WCW faction wasn’t booked to look like some overpaid jobbers? 
Simple: have Jericho win the title, make him and his partner Benoit the leaders of the invading force. This makes sense considering they began their professional careers in WCW. You can say the same for Austin, except that was stupid. Since April of 2001, Austin’s psyche deteriorated to the point where it didn’t matter which side he was on. He could have been anywhere. 
The underlying subplot of the triple-threat at King of the Ring, was it was rumored Benoit was a turncoat for WCW and was going to defect from the WWE the next night. This is a better way to kick off the invasion angle, and set the tone that anyone in the WWE locker room could be a turncoat.
Inadvertently, this time Vince face, and more importantly Austin. Perhaps this’ll butterfly Hunter tearing his squads as this raps up the Power Trips’ feud with Jericho and Benoit. 
Benoit and Jericho hold on to the tag titles until Survivor Series. Booker T holds on to the WCW Championship. Diamond Dallas Page captures the Intercontinental Championship from Triple H – if we could convince him to job. 
All roads point to a payoff at Survivor Series…
Benoit & Jericho def. The Rock & Jeff Hardy (Tag Titles)
Edge def. DDP (I.C Title)
Booker T def. Steve Austin via DQ (WCW Title)
The Rock def. Chris Jericho (WWE Title)
The Rock def. Booker T (Title Unification)
The Rock – 11/3/01 to 3/17/02
The Rock and Austin save the WWE’s bacon, a program takes place a month later where the two face off where the two titles will be merged into the Undisputed Championship. 
At Vengeance, Austin repays Rock for putting him over at ‘Manias fifteen and seventeen by putting the People’s Champ over clean as whistle.
On the next month’s PPV, Rock defends his title versus Jericho and out comes the New World Order and proceed to lay waste to everyone. Spraying NwO on their unconscious backs, and on the WWE Title. 
Which leads us too…
Hollywood Hulk Hogan – 3/17/02 to 3/30/03
Kevin Nash and Scott Hall (or X-Pac if Hall still relapses), rule the tag title scene, as Hogan defeats The Rock thanks to interference from former NwO members Paul Wright, Curt Hennig, and their newest toy Brock Lesnar. 
There’s no reason why Hogan shouldn’t have won at ‘Mania and gone on one last run as heel. The NwO grew stale in WCW, but in the WWE it was the freshest coat of paint giving them more avenues to go down and people to plug into programs.
Like how Batista turned on Triple H and destroyed Evolution, Brock does the same to Hogan and buries the NwO at WrestleMania XIX.
WrestleMania XIX Card:
Brock Lesnar def. Hulk Hogan
The Undertaker def. Kurt Angle
The Rock def. Steve Austin
Triple H vs Kevin Nash
Eddie Guerrero def. Chris Jericho, Shawn Michaels (I.C Title)
Brock Lesnar – 3/30/03 to 8/24/03
The Next Big Thing arrives on the scene dispatching Hogan in his WrestleMania swan song. 
Only difference here is Lesnar is still a Paul Heyman client. The injury he suffered a Survivor Series doesn’t lead to a brief run as a babyface as he isn’t champion. Lesnar shreds through the NwO starting in January making his way to Hollywood Hogan in the main event of ‘Mania. 
Kurt Angle – 8/24/03 to 1/25/04
After suffering a neck injury where his career was in jeopardy, it seemed the seeds were planted for Angle to hang it up. But Angle not only keeps his wrestling career alive, he maintains main event status and defeats Brock Lesnar in the process. 
Angle drops the belt to Guerrero at No Way Out, and wrestles Undertaker at WrestleMania (bumping out Kane) and Lesnar, in his last match in the WWE until 2013 puts Latino Heat over. 
Eddie Guerrero – 1/25/04 to 8/15/04
Why couldn’t Triple H just go to Smackdown? “Didn’t want to work Tuesdays!” Heyman responds. Right. But you think how WWE maneuvered the chess pieces the night after WrestleMania XXI, moving Cena to Raw and Batista to Smackdown, elevating one of their new stars and devaluing the other. They knew where their bread was buttered.
Why couldn’t Hunter go and feud with Eddie when Smackdown was clearly bleeding for top heels? Raw could perfectly set up Randy Orton to become World Heavyweight Champion, have him and Batista main event back when neither of them main eventing ‘Mania made everyone wanted to howl in frustration. 
I would have rather had Guerrero have a two month feud with Undertaker than John Layfield.
Fantasy ‘Mania XX card:
The Undertaker def John Cena (W/ Nas)
Eddie Guerrero def. Brock Lesnar
Kurt Angle def. Goldberg
Chris Benoit def. HBK, HHH
The Undertaker – 8/15/04 to 1/30/05

Do yourself a favor, go watch The Undertaker vs Kurt Angle at 2006 No Way Out. Easily one of the best matches I’ve ever seen. It makes me lust for a collision at WrestleMania. ‘Taker was in the sweet spot of his career where he knew his way around the ring and his body hadn’t yet betrayed him. 

Kurt was at his apex. A complete badass. So much so, he didn’t want a count out victory over ‘Taker in their matchup. He rather face the deadman and take his chances.

Kurt Angle 1/30/05 to 4/3/05

Angle keeps the strap warm for Cena at WrestleMania. Which leaves us with the question, who does Shawn Michaels wrestle? Either Shelton Benjamin if WWE felt daring. Or Eddie Guerrero. Man… I would have loved it if Eddie and HBK locked up.

Put Rey in the Money in the Bank ladder match or put him versus Flair. They only met once in the ring in 1999 while at WCW.

WrestleMania XXI Card:
The Undertaker def. Randy Orton
John Cena def. Kurt Angle
Shelton Benjamin def. Shawn Michaels
Chris Benoit wins MITB, cashes in on Batista in June at Vengeance 


John Cena – 4/3/05 to 4/2/06

Ah, we made it to the Cena era. Damnit. Imma bout to give this dude the belt so many times it’ll seem redundant.

While the Cena feud vs JBL was excellent; all the grief I’ll give JBL for being an asshole in real life and being the beneficiary of WWE taking the belt off a charismatic champion for no reason other than they were bored, he did his job well. It was a bummer to see Cena lose his rebellious rapper gimmick which suited the nature of the feud better than Cena being a cooker cutter babyface.

I just wish Angle christened him as the champion. I want a five-star classic in my ‘Mania matches. I want Cena put through the ringer and to come out bruised on the opposite side.

A fun change I’d make is book Rickey Steamboat vs Ric Flair. A much Steamboat lobbied to Vince to have. But McMahon believed nobody cared about those old farts so he turned it down.

Triple H – 4/2/06 to 6/11/06

Yeah, Triple H defeats Cena at ‘Mania 22. The Chicago crowd wanted the champs blood that night (a running theme). So much they begged Triple H to end his reign. Amazing. 

And you know what else, they should have pulled the trigger. One loss on the big stage would have made the fans happy. Either versus Triple H, HBK, Undertaker, ANYONE could beat Cena and take a huge weight off his shoulders. Fans probably calm down and are happy Cena isn’t an indestructible, bland babyface champion. It’s the same problem with Roman Reigns. Actually, there’s a lot of problems with Reigns…

So Triple H takes him down and drops the belt to RVD at One Night Stand. You may disagree with me saying Triple H needed to go over at ‘Mania, but there’s no way you can tell me having Van Dam beat Triple H isn’t now satisfying than him beating Cena.

Rob Van Dam – 6/11/06 to 8/20/06

RVD cashes in his MITB briefcase for a match versus the champion Triple H at One Night Stand, in the grand Hammerstein Ballroom. My favorite venue for wrestling.

I say the word “poor” a lot referring to someone I believe wasn’t given a proper shake. That applies to RVD too. He was caught smoking weed by the police during his title run and vacated the strap soon after. Never getting close to another run.
Edge – 8/20/06 to 1/7/07
Edge is more than ready for a long title reign. He battled through countless injuries and returned to form every time. WWE never took him seriously. Sure, he’d cash-in on Cena, but in two-weeks that belt was returned to its rightful owner. You can do more when your champion is a heel and have the babyfaces chase him, as opposed to the other way around.

John Cena – 1/7/07 to 4/1/07

Cena reclaims the strap after being without it for seven-months. For the third straight WrestleMania he is entering the champion.

Minor change: Shawn Michaels wins the Royal Rumble, last eliminating Undertaker. The winner of the Royal Rumble should always main event WrestleMania no matter how stale and cold.

I wouldn’t have minded ‘Taker main eventing with Batista. That was probably ‘Taker’s best match up until that point. Very underrated.

Shawn Michaels – 4/1/07 to 4/22/07

Michaels connects with Sweet Chin Music on a distracted Cena and clinches his fifth WWE Championship (counting his lone World Heavyweight Championship win in 2002).

“Way to build up your new star. Every year you have him job to legends on the biggest stage.” You say. I mean, yeah. But why not? It be fun to see Michaels get one more WrestleMania moment. Where’s the harm in that in regards to Cena? He’ll reclaim the belt in three weeks.

John Cena – 4/22/07 to 3/30/08

In the sixty-minute classic in London, Cena reclaims the strap from HBK on an episode of Raw to set up a four-way bout between himself, Michaels, Edge and Orton (honestly, should have been the ‘Mania main event) – which Cena will retain.

Cena vs Michaels at WrestleMania 23, and their marathon showing on Raw are one of my favorite matches. It’s the perfect blend of new blood and old. It’s a formula I wish current day WWE could utilize, but all the legends are now all gone.

WrestleMania XXIV Card:

Ric Flair def. John Cena
Batista def. Edge for World Heavyweight Championship
The Undertaker def. Rey Mysterio
Floyd Mayweather, Big Show and Randy Orton def. HBK and Triple H

Ric Flair – 3/30/08 to 3/31/08

A retiring Ric Flair asks for one more shot the gold. While Cena is all for giving the Nature Boy his match at WrestleMania, Vince McMahon tells Flair he’ll have to win it at the Royal Rumble as the number one entrant.
Pushing sixty-years old, Flair survives a grueling royal rumble and earns himself the sendoff he’s lusted after.

I prefer this booking because Flair never wrestled Cena. I figure it be another excellent clashing of young and old. Who better to face than the face of the company?

The main event is a ten-minute affair, solid in its own right ending in Flair getting Cena to fall unconscious in the figure-four leglock (like how Flair beat Savage for the title in ‘92).

On the Raw after ‘Mania, Flair relinquished his title and gave a proud, tearful goodbye address to the faithful not wanting to let him go off into that night. A battle royal is announced to take place that night, and to everyone’s chagrin, Randy Orton is the winner. Triple H comes down to the ring and tells Flair not to give the title to Orton, knowing The Viper will gladly beat the old man to a pulp. But Flair isn’t scared and hands Orton his belt. Orton RKO’s Flair on the belt and the “Age of Orton” has begun.

Randy Orton – 3/31/08 to 4/5/09

The Age of Orton, as it should have been. A year long running through it the roster. A decimation of faces and heels alike. Triple H, Shawn Michaels, JBL, Cena, Jericho, all turned away by The Viper.

The most crucial years of Orton that shaped his legacy are 2005, 2008 and 2009. Three years where he was shafted by Triple H and screwed out of a spot at the main event of WrestleMania. Orton was a transition champ from fan-favorite Benoit and treated as such. In ‘08, despite winning the title from Trips, Orton would lose the title to him the next month at Backlash, rendering the whole Age of Orton storyline mute. In ‘09, when a psychotic valve in Orton’s mind had been released, again Triple H was their to put him down like a sick puppy.

Orton was on a tear despite the horrid booking. He demolished the McMahon family, attacked an elder Vince, his son Shane, and made out with an unconscious Stephenie in front of a handcuffed Triple H. In retaliation, Hunter broke into Orton’s home and almost killed him. The feud between the two was hot. The finishes were not. WrestleMania 25’s main event will go down as the blandest, if not the worst in WWE’s history. The crowd was so dead and apathetic towards both combatants because they knew Orton was basically neutered. A no d.q match to end a feud that’s supposed to be this confrontational made no sense.

While I believe 2005 Orton wasn’t ready for the task of carrying the company, the Orton of 2008-9 certainly was. This was supposed to be his banner year.

WrestleMania XXV Card:
HBK def. Ricky Steamboat
The Undertaker def. John Cena
C.M Punk def. Jeff Hardy, and Matt Hardy in Triple-threat for The World Heavyweight Championship
Edge def. Triple H
Big Show def. JBL for I.C Title

So who beats Orton?…

Rey Mysterio – 4/5/09 to 11/22/09

Yup. I’m picking ole, Rey-Rey.

The little engine that could musters up enough gumption to bring the curtain down on the Age of Orton and bring the WWE Universe back from the darkness.

Shawn Michaels – 11/22/09 to 3/28/10

One last run for the Heartbreak Kid. As it should have always been. Why Vince treats the title like a piece of tin on a regular basis, but doesn’t allow wrestlers to go on a farewell tour as champion is beyond me.

Michaels captures the title at Survivor Series, defends for a month or two before he goads Undertaker into a match at ‘Mania. Initially pitching it as a title unification. When the deadman declines, HBK doesn’t want to relinquish his title so he can enter the Royal Rumble as Undertaker is the Heavyweight Champion. Instead, Michaels crashes ‘Taker’s Elimination Chamber match and superkicks him, inadvertently delivering his nemesis Jericho the win and title. The next night, Michaels offers Undertaker his chance at revenge and the gold in a winner-takes-all proposition. ‘Taker accepts, only if it’ll mean if Michaels loses his career is over. HBK agrees.

It’s so easy… so why didn’t WWE do it?!

The Undertaker – 3/28/10 to 4/25/10

You’re probably wondering, if HBK vs ‘Taker is the championship match, then what’s Cena vs Batista? WrestleMania 26 was sort of a goodbye to The Animal also. One last run before he transitioned to part-time status shortly after ‘Mania. The match in this timeline still happens, except it’s a number one contenders’ stipulation for the next PPV.

Undertaker’s body is betraying him. He isn’t a long term champion anymore. This is his send off just as much as it is Michaels’. ‘Taker falling pray to his rival Batista less than a mont after capturing the WWE Championship.

Batista – 4/25/10 to 5/23/10

One last cheap run for Batista. Eventually, Cena knocks him off and walks off into the sunset… crying like a little bitch in an “I Quit” match.

John Cena – 5/23/10 to 8/15/10

A brief two-in-half month reign for Cena in the doldrums of WWE. The legends are gone or on part-time schedules.

Randy Orton – 8/15/10 to 10/24/10

Orton wins the title from Cena at SummerSlam. The Nexus invades and lays waste to the WWE roster. Leader Wade Barrett defeats Cena to forcibly enlist him into the Nexus ranks and referees a title bout versus Orton to his favor to win the title, granting Cena his freedom.

Wade Barrett – 10/24/10 to 2/20/11

King Barrett rules Monday Night Raw with an iron fist. A depleted WWE roster searches high and low for a hero and find him… from the commentary desk.

Jerry Lawler – 2/20/11 to 4/3/11

The King dethrones King Barrett and secures himself a place at WrestleMania against John Cena.

There wasn’t a reason to try out Lawler as champion. Is a Lawler vs Cena main event worse than Miz vs Cena???

Punk was ready for a run, but they WWE had their heads in the sand.

John Cena – 4/3/11 to 5/22/11

Cena defeats Lawler for the title, they shake hands and go on their separate ways.

The Miz – 4/11/11 to 6/19/11

The Miz cashes in his Money In The Bank briefcase and goes on a two-month reign alongside his running buddy Alex Riley.

Miz was a fine champion. When booked seriously, Miz was a formidable talent.

R-Truth – 6/19/11 to 7/3/11

R-Truth’s “Little Jimmy” gimmick wins him a chance at the gold. Truth becomes WWE’s fourth weird, out of place champion since October.

John Cena – 7/3/11 to 7/11/11

Cena recaptures the title solely to lose it to C.M Punk.

C.M Punk – 7/11/11 to 7/12/11

Why did WWE bring Punk back so soon? Of course you could expect they had nothing to fill in the time he was gone. As I’ve said before, their roster was so underwhelming. But to have Punk return just eight days after his monumental and historic win over John Cena at Money In The Bank significantly deflates the impact of his accomplishment.

It’s even worse when you realize the initial plan for Punk upon his return was for Triple H to deck Punk out cold and Alberto Del Rio to cash-in his MITB contract and main event SummerSlam vs Cena in a one-on-one.

The WWE should have scrubbed Punk’s name from the record books and scarcely mention his name on commentary. The very utterance of his name causing the nearest WWE authority figure to spazz out.

But we will soon learn WWE cannot move on. Even if it’s for the sake of a storyline and if the separation isn’t forever.

Rey Mysterio – 7/18/11 to 8/14/11

Why… oh why, couldn’t WWE let Rey main event SummerSlam and be the champion – let alone let him keep the title for more than an hour. Cena is a real douche bag for taking advantage of Mysterio who came off a grueling tournament, culminating in a victory of The Miz, forcing the crowd favorited to defend his newly won title that very night.

It’s idiotic WWE did this from a money perspective also. Rey and Cena only locked up once way back in 2003. Eight-years prior to their most recent and final clash. Why give away this sneaky seldom seen match on free TV and not hype and use it for PPV? Because we have to rush Punk back so we can crown Del Rio. Ugh.

John Cena – 8/14/11 to 8/14/1

Anyways, Cena is your champion… again. Del Rio cashes in on a vulnerable Cena after Triple H pedigrees him.

Alberto Del Rio – 8/14/11 to 11/20/11

Del Rio sucks. Hard. I hate him.
C.M Punk – (7/11/11) 11/20/11 to 4/7/13
Punk comes back to reclaim the throne he’s never lost, on the same night Rock wrestles since 2004. How poetic. Survivor Series sets off story WWE would be telling for nearly two-years. 
It’s a bummer Cena’s “worst year” wasn’t even close to being as described. It was his best year. He main events PPVs despite not having the gold, won the Royal Rumble and rarely losing. The story began promising enough. The night after losing to The Rock at ‘Mania, a good sportsman, Cena offered Rock to come out and shake his hand. What he receives is Brock Lesnar making his eagerly awaited return and emasculating an already downtrodden Cena. What should have followed is Lesnar beating Cena within an inch of his life. We shouldn’t see Cena for months when Brock is done with him.
What we got is Cena winning and cutting a promo in the ring shortly after. This began the clunky, of not vindictive booking if Lesnar. Smitten by the fact Brock spurred him in 2004, Vince wanted to add a couple of loses to Lesnar’s record. His first match back, he jobs to Cena. Second loss coming at the hands of Triple H at WrestleMania. 
In my eyes, Lesnar should have beaten Cena. Retired Triple H at SummerSlam and be well on his way to elbowing his way back into the title picture. 
In the Royal Rumble, Lesnar is laying waste to all entrants, showing little signs of letting you. Nobody can stop him. Then “IF YOU SMELL WHAT THE ROCK IS COOKING” and out comes the Brahma Bull. Rock and Lesnar go back-and-forth, The Rock ultimately eliminating Lesnar. 
But that’s not the only curveball… Cena is back. Him and Rock are the only ones still standing in the ring. Cena performed an Attitude Adjustment and paralyzed The Rock long enough to throw him over the top rope. Cena is going to WrestleMania. 
Meanwhile, Punk retains his title versus Randy Orton and is on his way to entering WrestleMania the champion for the second straight year. 
At Elimination Chamber, The Rock enters versus Orton, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Lesnar and Rey Mysterio. 
Rock pins Lesnar last and wins a title shot at ‘Mania, making the main event a triple-threat. 
Furious, Lesnar demands a title shot versus Punk on the go-home edition of Raw. Ever the more arrogant, Punk agrees to a match. But not to a title, but for spot at WrestleMania. Punk’s cornerman Paul Heyman betrays him and assists his former client in securing the win. 
WrestleMania XXIX Card:
C.M Punk vs Brock Lesnar (w/ Paul Heyman) vs John Cena vs The Rock
The Undertaker def. Ryback
Daniel Bryan def. Chris Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship
Brock Lesnar – 4/7/13 to 4/6/14
In the fatale-four elimination match the casualty goes as the following…
The Rock eliminates C.M Punk
John Cena eliminates The Rock
Brock Lesnar eliminates John Cena
Lesnar’s reign of terror commences…
Daniel Bryan – 4/6/14 to 6/9/14
Everything remains the same, except Orton is bumped out of the main event. The title match  is still a triple-threat with Batista. Only with Lesnar involved. Bryan wins by making Lesnar submit to the “Yes Lock” and transitions to a feud with Batista, until he has to relinquish the title due to a legit neck injury. 
Who wrestles The Undertaker? Roman Reigns. Does he conquer The Steak? 
Yes.
The WWE insisted on shoving Roman down our throats, but whenever they get to the finish line there’s some bullshit preventing them from going all-in. Whether it’s pulling the parachute at WrestleMania 31, or the maligned Shaemus successfully cashing on him, or his long, uninspiring feud with Lesnar. WWE wasn’t gonna turn themselves off to Roman, but they were never gonna get the whole thing over with.
They turned what should have been their next John Cena into Mike Conley. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Except Conley is cool because what he does is real. His shortcomings are more understandable. 
Lastly, I believe it’s appropriate to have a three-man tag match with Kane and The New Aged Outlaws vs Rollins, Ambrose, Orton.
Roman Reigns – 6/29/14 to 2/22/15
Why not go the unorthodox route and anoint Reigns the leader of the next generation by christening him at Money in the Bank in a ladder match featuring the face of the outgoing generation?
Daniel Bryan – 2/22/15 to 3/31/15
Upon his return Bryan was giving voice to the fact he never lost his championship, giving fans ideas of a possible triple-threat between Reigns and Bryan challenging for Lesnar’s title. Except sadly, Roman beat Bryan fairly and ended any dreams of redemption. Bryan was shoehorned into the intercontinental championship ladder match as a consolation prize. 
Why so much apathy towards Bryan and the fans he brings in? Is it that Vince can’t see himself as a thin, liberal vegan? Probably. Vince’s decision making process is insanely simplistic and superficial. You can’t put it past him to think this way. He and Donald Trump are cut from the cloth in many ways. 
Bryan versus Brock Lesnar in a rematch of last year’s main event. Roman Reigns is facing Triple H in the penultimate event, once victorious, The Authority is done with for good. 
Lesnar comes out and demolishes Bryan to start. A team of medics rush down the alleyway with a stretcher, but Bryan was waves them off. At some point, the champion reverses the momentum and proceeds to deconstruct the behemoth and compromise his balance. Lesnar’s right leg crumbling like a tower of cards. Just as Bryan is about to put the finishing touches on his masterpiece, “Burn it Down!” blares over the loudspeakers and Seth Rollins, holding a stainless silver Money in the Bank briefcase rushes down the ramp way as if trying to save a small child. 
Lesnar takes advantage of the momentary confusion and hits Bryan with an F-5. It cost Lesnar his balance, as he doubled over making him perfect prey for Rollins’ curbstomp on the back of The Beasts’ neck. One. Two. No! Lesnar kicks out. Panicking. Rollins is worried Lesnar will get up. Hastily, he hooks Bryan’s legs, Rollins using his feet for leverage on the ropes. One. Two. Three. 
“Seth Rollins has stolen the WWE Championship!”
Seth Rollins – 3/31/15 to 10/25/15
Rollins defends versus Bryan, Lesnar, Wyatt, and even Cena. 
The only person who could have stopped Rollins is the stupidest person imaginable…
Kane – 10/25/15 to 11/22/15
Don’t judge me…
Roman Reigns – 11/22/15 to 1/24/16
“All right, lets get this over with.” Roman punches Mayor Kane in the face. He went “ow.”
Chris Jericho – 1/24/16 to 4/3/16
Triple H doesn’t win the Royal Rumble. Which is a shame. His frantic crotch-chops after eliminating Reigns is worthy of Hall of Fame status when you see it in a gif. 
Jericho makes stars and was constantly overlooked in WWE. Triple H puts down his opponents to the point where it doesn’t matter even if he puts them over. 
Dean Ambrose wins a number one contenders match versus Lesnar, and Reigns is challenged by The Undertaker in a rematch of WrestleMania XXX. 
WrestleMania 32 Card:
Chris Jericho vs Dean Ambrose
Brock Lesnar def. Bray Wyatt
The Rock and John Cena def. Erick Rowan and Braun Strowman
A.J Styles def. Kevin Owens for I.C Title
The Undertaker def. Roman Reigns
Shane McMahon def. Kane (For Control of Raw; Shane debuts the Universal Championship the next night)
Sasha Banks def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch for the Inaugural Women’s Title
Brock vs Bray. Monster vs Beast. Sure to be a Dave Meltzer one-star match. But fun nonetheless. It’s one of those matches you are sure will be ugly upon viewing. Nonetheless, you have to see it. 
A.J Styles was about to challenge Reigns OTL. Having him lose to Jericho before his title match made no sense. Here, he wins the I.C belt and chases Ambrose. 
Shane should have won control of Raw. It would have made more sense because the brands would be split once again shortly after ‘Mania. Either the brand re-split was haphazard or planned ahead of time. If the latter, WWE’s booking makes zero sense to have Shane lose. Just goes to show you, Vince really hates his actual son. Hey, I’d hate Shane too if I was him.
Undertaker gets his revenge on Roman. Setting up the rubber match for WrestleMania XXXIII…
It’s a damn shame Sasha didn’t go over in her ‘Mania match. The women’s triple-threat was the second best match on the card (first being Styles-Jericho). Flair was already a star. Not saying she could have jobbed every now and then. But tonight was the night to capitalize on the skyrocketing popularity of a new talent. The night was set beautifully for Banks. Snoop Dogg is in her corner. The fans love her. Banks is paying tribute to Eddie Guerrero wearing Latino Heat tights and performing the FrogSplash. Having Flair retain/win the new title made zero sense. Let Sasha go on a six-month run, then rip her heart out in her hometown of Boston at Hell in a Cell. 
Dean Ambrose – 4/3/16 to 2/12/17
All three members of The Shield have carried WWE gold around their waist and enjoyed long, heavily consequential reigns. 
Why WWE never believed Ambrose was worthy a main event push is, once again, beyond me. Fans responded the best to him out of all Shield members. He was the one most prepared to be pushed as a babyface. Ambrose is basically a more athletic Mick Foley. 
Roman Reigns – 2/12/17 to 5/21/17
And he gets his ass kicked by Roman Reigns. I mean.. we gotta set up that rubber match between him and ‘Taker. Makes sense in my opinion. 
The Undertaker wins the Royal Rumble and while the match isn’t pretty, ‘Taker is given one last shot at the gold in his WrestleMania swan song. 
A.J Styles – 5/21/17 to 4/8/18
A.J wins the title on the same day he did OTL. Only it’s over Reigns and not Jinder Mahal. 
Shinsuke Nakamura – 4/8/18 to 4/7/19
With Roman moving to Raw and now chasing the Universal Championship, Nakamura is the number one contender for the WWE Championship after winning the Royal Rumble like in OTL.
The more you think about how Styles’ reign abruptly ends on the go-home edition of Smackdown before Survivor Series, you understand how WWE simply pulled the trigger out of random impulse. “He has to lose because he’s been champ for too long, dammit!” 
Nakamura had heat. Was making a big impact and fans wanted him to win the title. Nakamura should have won. 
Kofi Kingston – 4/7/19 to 11/24/19
Kofi wins the Royal Rumble, and Kurt challenges Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship as his own swan song. Daniel Bryan puts Bobby Lashley over in his match for the Intercontinental Championship and Finn Balor is shoved into the Battle Royal. 
It’s a bummer Kofi’s reign couldn’t have ended on PPV. Even at this past rumble he received the biggest pop. But to WWE, Kingston is a big nerd and tells us repeatedly to not take him seriously. Just like with Bryan. 
Brock Lesnar – 11/24/19 to 4/3/20
Brock decimates Kofi. 
I wouldn’t have minded giving Rey one more title program except they didn’t have him go over. If you’re not going to have Rey go over, what’s the point of giving him a shot at the gold? 
Drew McIntyre – 4/4-5/20 to present day…
Ironic. McIntyre and Dean Ambrose (now Jon Moxley) are in the midst of their most important pushes of their respected career in a time where there is no fan participation. And these are two guys worth their salt.
Imagine what wrestling could have gotten away with having no fans ever? Hulk Hogan never turns heel because nobody would be able to show how disgusted they were with the same act. Certainly his ill-fated face turn in ‘99 goes on unabated if no one is around to boo him out the building. 
How much does Shawn Michaels, The Rock, Undertaker, Steve Austin, and all the other greats suffer without a crowd to play to? For wrestlers, playing to them is almost second nature. Talent still can’t help themselves but to play to people who aren’t in attendance. It’s ingrained in their psyches to milk the cheers, maximize the impact of high spots and hot tags. 
That all being said, give me an empty arena over NXT people (who aren’t allowed to wear masks because Vince McMahon is the devil) following the orders given to them, cheering the good guys, booing the bad ones,  because if they don’t, they’ll get fired. 
Don’t you just love wrestling, kids??

Three Rule Changes That’ll Fix NBA Free Agency

A lot of things are wrong with the NBA – and professional sports in general. The seasons are too long. The owners are obscenely wealthy and yet hold cities hostage for new stadiums. College players are used in what basically is legalized slavery. 

A lighter issue with the NBA is the topic of superstars changing teams every year. A trend kicked off with LeBron in 2010. He set the precedent that a player of his status could leave a team without giving them any form of compensation. Kicking off the era we are in now, which has been defined as “Player Empowerment” which is pretty appropriate. 
First it was Bron. Then Kevin Durant in 2016 – and again in 2019. Players of a lesser status followed suit. What he did was justified and ought to have been done decades ago. While I wish to have lived in an era where superstars resides on one team for their entire careers, absorbing the city and its culture I understand I view this time with rose pedal glasses. Perhaps Magic Johnson and Larry Bird would have left their teams if they felt they had the power to pull the strings. We know Magic wanted to be traded as soon as 1982. 
Kobe Bryant is Mr. Laker, but he demanded trades lots of times and nearly left Los Angeles in free agency too. 
Free agency has become an annual holiday for fans. Due to the the length of contracts only being four to five years, this gives players and teams windows of opportunity to strategize for the faithful date of July 1st. 
Like the NBA lottery, it is somewhat idiotic to have something people in high positions constantly wring their hands out and do nothing to fix the situation. The league enjoys owning a significant chunk of the summer calendar. It’s a drug they cannot kick. Oh, sure. There were outcries when the Clippers brass took DeAndre Jordan as a willing hostage in 2015. And again when the Warriors formed their super team in 2016. But nothing was done to prevent this from happening again. These events create narratives and sensually drive interest in the product up. If the ratings took an actual dip that hurt the league’s overall wallet, then you’d see even the NBA Players Association help the league reform the system because their money is tied into this also. 
But LeBron and Durant weren’t the first big time superstars to take full advantage free agency. Bill Walton signed with the Clippers (then of San Diego) and the Trail Blazers were given starters Kevin Kunnert, Kermit Washington and the first round pick as compensation. To use an example for modern times: this is like when the Celtics signed Kemba Walker, and had to give the Charlotte Hornets Daniel Theis, Bradley Wanamaker and a 2020 first round pick. Suddenly losing a Star wasn’t such a big deal. Walton was always injured to begin with. But at the time of the signing people believed he was going to turn the franchise around.
How would this work today? When Durant signed with Golden State does that mean they throw Draymond Green to the Thunder? (Oh, the irony!) 
Perhaps. Would it beat the current system we have where it’s winner-take-all? Yeah. 
The NBA needs to establish rules for free agency. Here are some I have come up with.
  1. The team signing the star must provide the team losing the star with adequate compensation of at least one quality player and a first (or if possible, two second) round picks.
The NBA will have to define the worth of their players into categories. LeBron and Durant are five stars, so when team A loses them is given a little more compensation. But if the star spent only four years on their team, then they get no compensation. 
If a player is a four star talent (Al Horford, Kemba Walker), Team A is given one quality player and a pick whenever Team A decided to; if they wish to use Team B’s pick near or on draft day they will have to swapped picks. 
If a player is a three star quality or lower (Joe Ingles, Kyle Korver, Derrick Favors) then Team B isn’t required to give Team A any compensation. It isn’t the end of the world if the Thunder lose Steven Adams. 

2. Lengthen the years a contract can be signed too and also incentivize signing longer term… with cash if you’re not catching my drift.

You can’t incentivize players to stay with their original teams with the super max the NBA concocted in the wake of Durant’s departure from OKC. Superstars are extremely rich and if healthy do not need the financial security. Players who have signed the contract (Russell Westbrook and John Wall) either ended up traded within three-years or proved to be damage goods, thereby becoming albatrosses around the teams’ necks. 
In order to access this compensation system, your superstar must’ve spent at least five years with you. LeBron spent four years in Miami and his second stint in Cleveland, respectively. So they won’t access any compensation. 
  1. Move free agency to before the draft.
This’ll give teams – and players a better idea of what the landscape for the next season will be and perhaps play a role in who they’ll sign with. And if a team is anticipating a rebuild they can better plan for the new era. 
So that’s it. If you’re still reading let me know what think you of this.

 

What-If The Celtics Won The 2010 NBA Finals?

You’ll never find a more pessimistic person than 2010 me. I’ve been labeled a “doomer” more than once in the recent weeks. But I’ll tell you now, I was a grade A quitter entering my teenage years. 

When the Red Sox fell down by one run at any point of the game I’d turn the TV off and assume they lost. Whenever I watched the Celtics, I knew the Big Three was on borrowed time. And by “knew” I mean, believed. I thought 2010 was their final stand. Little did I know they’d stick around and nearly crash the finals in 2012 against even higher odds. 
I never knew how injured Garnett was until later one. I wasn’t connected to the endless sports news cycle like I am today. To the average twelve-year old, Garnett hurt his knee, missed the entire 2009 playoffs and came back. If he looked a step slower, I attributed it to age. Sure, that also plays a role. But suffering physical setback like he did drastically reduced his statistical output. For nearly 19 points a game to a hair above 14 per night. 2010 was the beginning of Garnett entering a phase of his career where he couldn’t rely on his athleticism and needed to shift gears to a savvier kind of player. 
In 2008, the Celtics formed their super team at the right time. LeBron was a mere Youngling. Dwight Howard was just a really good center in Orlando. The Pistons struggled to fill the void Ben Wallace left for a second straight season. Even though the Lakers had Pau Gasol, he wasn’t ready for the intensity a deep playoff run would bring. 
In 2010, the landscape of the league changed on the now graying Celtics. Rajon Rondo elbowed his way into the groups core after a breakout series vs Chicago in the 2009 playoffs and capitalizing on that to make the Big Three into the Big Four. For Rondo, his ascension came in the waning days in the era when it didn’t matter your point guard couldn’t shoot. Rondo blossomed into poor man’s Derrick Rose. Playing with equal reckless abandon. 
2010 is the Celtics masterpiece. LeBron is entering his apex. Howard is off a shocking finals run the previous season – plus he’s beaten this team in the past. Down 2-1 to the vaunted Cavaliers, having been routed by them in game 3 the Celtics responded and survived an abysmal Paul Pierce game thanks to Rondo exploding for 29 and added 18 boards and 13 assists. Playing like a little kid on a sugar high, Rondo’s powers were at their peak in 2010 as the Celtics core could still bring their A-games more than half the time. 
Pushed to the brink, the Celtics ran the Cavaliers off the floor and LeBron out of Cleveland. The next series, they dominated Orlando on their home floor en route to a six-game series win for a date with the Lakers. They denied Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard of what many believed to be rightfully there’s. Now it was time to do the same to Kobe Bryant. 
But, of course they didn’t. The series was back and forth and the Celtics didn’t have rebounding big man Kendrick Perkins for game seven and rode Rasheed Wallace into the ground. The Celtics lost by four. Kobe got his revenge. 
But what-if the final sequence of game seven went like this?
Pau Gasol tips in a contested lay-up with Garnett and Wallace draping him. Lakers lead by six. C’s come down on the other end, Lamar Odom ditches Wallace who floats out to the corner for the three-pointer to cut the deficit in half. Instead of Paul Pierce daring Metta World Peace to take the three (which was the correct call), he Ds up and pressures him. Disrupting the rhythm and it misses right, Garnett gets the board. C’s come down again and Allen gets free because either Kobe tripped or Wallace set a hard pick (biases aside, I cannot tell what the fuck happened) and knots the contest up at 76 a piece. Fifty-one seconds remain. 
Electing to let the game play out, Phil Jackson in his last game coaching watches Kobe heave a hopeless three in attempt to answer the Celtics recent barrage of bombs. No dice. But as luck would have it, Pau gets the board and dishes it back to the Black Mamba and drives to the basket, draws contact on Sheed for the two shots at the charity stripe. Wallace bows out and Glen Davis relieves him. 
Kobe goes two for two at the line. It’ll be the last of his twenty-four points of the night. Lakers up, 78-76 with 25 ticks left in regulation. Looking for thunder to strike twice, Allen’s three front rims, but Rondo charges head first into the purple and gold occupying the paint and dribbles to the corner for the turnaround three. Swish. Celtics lead! Timeout Lakers. 
Jackson looks at his players. The last time he’ll be in the huddle drawing up plays. Looking directly at Kobe he gives him one order. “Give it to D-Fish.” He came up big numerous times in the past for L.A during the last ten-years. “They’re expecting you to shoot it. Fisher will be open.” Phil promises. 
How could he say something like this during the biggest game of Kobe’s life? The play is drawn like a typical isolation. Kobe accepts the inbounds from the half court mark. Ray is giving Kobe the respect he deserves. One dribble. Two dribbles. Three dribbles. His eyes quickly dart to Fisher. Tony Allen who checked in for Davis is hugging Fisher, but he wrestlers himself free for a mere moment. The clock is dwindling and Kobe didn’t come this far to watch somebody else control his destiny. He steps back and launches a nineteen-footer. CLANK. Celtics win, 79-78. 
Ah. That was fun. 
So who’s the MVP? It’s between Rondo and Pierce to be honest. Rondo made the game-winning shot. But Pierce chipped a more than solid 18 points in an epic rock fight. Unlike Rondo, Pierce played defense. Good defense. 
If Pierce received the honors, Celtics great Bill Russell would hand the trophy bearing his namesake to The Captain. 18 points, five rebounds, three assists. It’s his second Finals MVP. The last true forward to win two Finals MVPs before 2012: Larry Bird.
How would history treat the Big 3 Celtics vs the Big 3 Heat? Well, the Celtics as overachievers and the Heat as underachievers. Miami had three stars in their primes. Boston got theirs at the tail end when injures would become a recurring issue.
As for Kobe. Game seven was his worst characteristics coming to light. He was selfish and couldn’t learn to make that extra pass. When it really mattered, how Kobe was wired was his ultimate downfall. In the infancy of internet memes, there’s still bold texts captions on Kobe pictures where he’s bricking Ill-advised shots. 
Perhaps the internet would give the Celtics the respect they deserve for battling and squeaking TWO championships out of an aging core with Wade, LeBron, Howard, and Kobe in their primes. Effectively, the Big Three era Celtics will have been responsible for sending three franchises to the dark ages in one playoffs’. Only Cleveland escaping thanks to a returning King. Everyone expects the 66-win Celtics to win it all. Nobody thought – or even wanted the 50-win squad to do it.

Everyone now think of Pierce as a hot take artist. From all sides of the political spectrum they come together to shit on him because they love taking the bait of a skilled troll. Maybe they’ll shut up since two rings are louder than one?

Nah! The median age of basketball Twitter is twenty-one. They only seen Pierce play five or six games, and they all involved their god leader LeBron. 

What-If Ray Allen Missed?

Nobody was as anti-LeBron than I was in the year 2013. Thank God I wasn’t on Twitter. I already have tons of opinions I’m sure I’ll be ashamed of once somebody reminds me of what I said. 

“How dare LeBron leave the poor people of Cleveland behind?” spurns my unbridled hatred for an athlete with little to no control over why the world is shit. I felt I’ve reached the mountain top when Dirk Nowitzki overcame the odds and the Mavericks topped the stacked Miami Heat in 2011. I wanted the Durant-led Thunder to do the same. For a while, it looked like they would. The young Thunder charged back from down 13 in the fourth to cut the deficit to four with little over five-minutes left. James Harden nailed a critical three, only for Miami to answer with veteran guard Shane Battier to come right back with a long distance drain of his own. 
While there was a lot of time left in the contest, I knew that was the end of the Thunder right then and there. Outside of Wade, LeBron and Bosh, Miami couldn’t count on production. Them being unable to keep Battier in check gave Miami enough to escape Oklahoma City with the win and avoid a 2-0 series deficit. Also, it put the young Thunder on their heels. Games 3 and 4 played out the same way. The extremely feisty Thunder falling short because of poor late game execution. LeBron’s history of shortcomings in these situations made him a better player in the long run. Durant and his trio had a lot to learn. 
So, here we are in 2013. My hate still strong for LeBron, and my love for the San Antonio Spurs growing since the Boston Celtics are no longer serious contenders. In my mind, the Spurs are the Celtics of the East. Tim Duncan is their grizzled Kevin Garnett. Manu Ginobili is Paul Pierce. And Kawhi Leonard is the bridge to the next generation, which was in my mind Rajon Rondo.
Heading into 2013, this was the first championship series San Antonio was involved in that wasn’t expected to be a dud. Nobody liked the ‘99 series versus the Knicks. Or the ‘03 series vs New Jersey. Though the Pistons series in ‘05 went seven-games, nobody liked either of those teams and the games often ended in epic rock fights. Had San Antonio not dropped four straight versus Oklahoma City in 2012, they’d meet the Heat as the likely favorites. Having perfected team basketball right before the three-point revolution. Late career stage Duncan was still a top guy. Manu still had his fast ball. Tony Parker was one of, if not the best floor general on the league despite being thirty. 
The league in 2013 found the perfect balance between prioritizing size, pace and pace before ultimately jettisoning size entirely. Castoffs like Boris Diaw found new life in a spurs uniform, as did DeJuan Blair, each averaging five points and three rebounds in their bit roles backing up Duncan and Tiago Splitter. 28-year old Gary Neal became a sharp shooter from three-point distance. Neal came alive in San Antonio’s game three 36-point demolishing of Miami, where Neal torched them for 24. Neal went undrafted and debuted in the NBA at 26. Only San Antonio can find talent in the scrap heap. 
Heading into game six, up 3-2 all the talk focused on LeBron. “What does it mean for his legacy if he blows it?” nobody cared about Duncan on the cusp of his fifth title and doing it against the second greatest player ever having the greatest individual season since Shaq in 2001 or M.J in ‘96. The only question making the rounds on the hot take circuits was a tongue and cheek “should Popovich rest his starters for game seven?” an obviously reference to when Pop rested a prime time game in Miami back in November. Duncan, Parker, Manu and Danny Green were DNP’d, which made David Stern publicly shame Popovich in interviews a day or so after. 
The Spurs that day became rebels. Successors to the legacy of Allen Iverson. In Stern’s last season as the commissioner, I wanted to see his disgruntled body hand Popovich the trophy as the last thing he’ll ever do as head of the NBA. 
For a while, it looked to be an all certainty the Spurs were about to complete my wet dream. They lead by thirteen in the third, but even i knew you can’t count the great players out. LeBron tossed away his headband and I knew what we were about to see was an aggressiveness never before unleashed by him. Damn it all to Hell, he bombed off shots and some actually went in. The bricks were hard ones off the backboard. But the Spurs fumbled rebounds and allowed Miami shooters to leak out and recover. Miami struck back hard. But dispute Manu and Kawhi missing two of their four late situation free throws, all the Spurs needed for the biggest win in their franchise history was one rebound.
Duncan was hot as fire. 13-21, 30 points and sixteen boards. The “Big Fundamental” wanted to kill the LeBron vs Jordan discussion that night in the American Airlines Arena. Like like an old gunslinger going against the new hot shot in town, Timmy had nothing left but his stubborn bravery in the face of uncertainty. Up 95-92, Mike Miller just fouled Kawhi who would go one of two from the charity stripe. Popovich subbed out his would be Finals MVP for Diaw in a brain cramp for the ages. This is like when Bill Belichick benched Malcolm Butler for the Super Bowl. Except, Belichick was right to take such a hasty gamble whereas Popovich was dead wrong.
A desperate LeBron fires a furious off a three that misses. All his anger amounts to nothing. He is at the end of his line. The ball is in the air, all the Spurs need to do to subject LeBron to another summer of people calling him “LeChoke” is grab the ball. Except, their best rebounder wasn’t in the game. Diaw didn’t get it either. Chris Bosh, the unheralded member of the “Heatles” snags it, kicks it to Ray Allen in the corner for a shot I knew was going in the moment it left his fingertips. “BANG!” Mike Breen says. 

Bosh blocks Danny Green to force overtime and the trophy is rushed back to the locker room. The champagne and plastic covers are taken from the Spurs locker room.

From that point on, I knew Karma wasn’t real. Fans of the Heat who prematurely left rather than serenade their amazing squad with vocals ‘till the bitter end, rushed back to the arena. Some not gaining re-entry because they walked out the doors. This was to be the perfect encapsulation of everything wrong with Miami’s big 3. All flash. No substance. No heart. Only entitlement (I was fifteen, give me a break). 
Instead, the Basketball Gods rewarded them and from that point on, I knew Miami was winning. I didn’t watch the overtime. I didn’t watch game 7. I knew what was going to happen. LeBron was going to win. Those poor people in Cleveland were about to get hurt again. Duncan’s miraculous turn back the clock performance was to be swept under the rug. The NBA was now LeBron’s domain. Hell, if Covid doesn’t cancel the 2020 postseason, it might very well still be his. 
Allen’s three didn’t hurt me as a Celtics fan. It hurt me as a nihilist. I knew when he left Boston he was going to make a big shot like that. For some reason, I fixated on the fact Allen was wearing thirty four. No. Not Paul Pierce’s number. David Ortiz’! How dare he?! And to help our number one enemy to boot. I felt sick. This is before I knew sports is a cold, idiotic business. A complex ballet where destiny is in the hands of those in the field, court or ice. Not quite cinema, but close as you’re going to get. 
So what if Duncan wasn’t subbed out? No way in God’s green earth was Allen missing that corner shot. It was his sweet spot. 
Simple: Duncan wins Finals MVP, gets a week of publicity out of his triumph before ESPN shifts focus to the Little League World Series or something irrelevant. But NBA Heads know what Timmy accomplished. He beat the greatest team of the last decade. LeBron’s best squad. In six! Pure dominance and bravery. He didn’t quiver.

They steamroll Miami the next season for Duncan’s sixth title and the Spurs do something they’ve never done: repeat. To this day, I say Duncan is superior to LeBron because of rings and the fact TD got the best of Bron in their three finals matchup. Six versus two. 
But this wasn’t the series Duncan even met his greatest match. The Pistons with Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace taking full advantage of the laxer defensive rules, beat Duncan senseless. His counting stats look amazing, but you could tell by watching him Duncan wasn’t in his zone. The Pistons should have won. But Sheed had a brain cramp of his own. 
What’s lost in why San Antonio couldn’t close the deal is how errant Manu was. Everyone spent the summer giving 21-year old Kawhi shit for missing his free throws when Manu wasn’t any better at the line and turned the ball over a bunch (22 times!). Kawhi played lock down defense on the league’s best player and nobody gave a damn until after the fact. Just goes to show you, the NBA media is incredibly stupid and narrow minded. 
Kawhi would have defeated LeBron twice on the grandest stage and brought a title to a place dubbed “LeBronto” when the King emasculated an entire country on national television the year before. Hell. Maybe I’d be saying he’s the GOAT. 
How is LeBron’s legacy affected? Well, a reasonable person would tell you there’s no difference between losing six finals versus seven. Internet culture will have you believe loses in non-championship rounds don’t count as much against someone’s legacy. If Tom Brady loss the AFC Championship Game in 2007, 2011 and 2017 he’d be a perfect 6-0 in the big game. Just like Jordan. This is of course a loser mentality. 
In the eyes of people like Skip Bayless, this solidifies LeBron as a frontrunner. A pretender to M.J’s crown. He needs to bow at the feet of Kobe and now Duncan. The real winners of the league. Perhaps we could rule him out as he GOAT since this would be the second time he had the better team in the finals and came up short. Add this to the list of LeBron failures of the 2010s. The Celtics running him out in Cleveland. J.J Barea giving him the business. Duncan emasculating him on his home floor, then Kawhi doing the same the next year until he is “forced” to run back to Cleveland. Failure. Failure. Failure. 
Bron needed that ring to set him apart from the Kevin Garnett’s and Moses Malone’s of the world. Winners only after they flamed out of their original destination. Game six, 2013 was LeBron’s masterpiece under supreme unrest. Game seven was another classic from the standpoint of the outcome being a foregone conclusion. Unlike the Celtics of 2012, the Spurs had the stamina to hang with Bron in contested games six and seven. They gave him everything, but he and Miami hung tough to squeaked out a nail biter for the ages. Capping off a landmark season for LeBron. Every superstar needs a season where they owned the narrative, bagged the MVP and subsequently the championship. M.J had ‘96. Shaq had 2000. Bird had ‘86. And so on.
In 2013, the wrong team won. And just like the Lakers stealing a title from the Pistons in ‘88, the next year would prove to rectify the mistake as the defending champions were curb-stomped into oblivion. 
The wrong team won. But the wrong decision was made. This was a LeBron haters worst day. At least the Spurs got revenge by turning off the air conditioning in game one making him cramp up. That was hilarious.

[Simulator] What-If Reggie Lewis Didn’t Die

The Celtics were the class of the NBA for thirty-years. Going to the NBA Finals nineteen times between 1956-1957 and 1986-1987, winning sixteen titles. To quote Michael Rappaport “They [the Celtics] were the NBA!”

In 1984, coming off their historic championship run in 1984, general manager Red Auerbach was offered a insane, outright damning trade from the middling Seattle SuperSonics. Bench scoring guard Gerald Henderson for an unprotected first round pick in the 1986 draft. Seattle believed they’d be a good team by then, so the consequences would be minor. Needless to say, they were mistaken. 
The Sonics finished 31-51. Fifth worse in the NBA for the ‘85-86 season. Typically, this would mean the lottery pick would land somewhere near the end. Perhaps outside of the top-10. Except in this era, the lottery odds were more egalitarian and showed little favoritism to teams who lost more games. If you just missed making the playoffs, you’re chances of landing the number one choice was almost as good as a team who didn’t even come close.
Good fortune smiled upon the Celtics as they landed the second pick in a stacked draft class featuring Brad Daughtery, Chuck Persons and Ron Harper. But another star ripe for the picking. Len Bias was a superstar forward from the University of Maryland. Upon his selection, Larry Bird was so excited he expressed a desire to attend rookie camp to work with Bias. A day after his ascension to the pros, Bias died of a cocaine overdose and the Celtics franchise was forever altered. 
The battered and bruised 1986-87 Celtics heroically defended their crown until the bitter end. Falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in six-games that could have easily gone seven if either Bill Walton, Jerry Sitching were healthy, or if Kevin McHale hadn’t broken his left foot earlier in the season. A healthy McHale is blocking Magic Johnson’s baby skyhook and winning game four for the Celts. 
Back to the drawing board, the Celtics found a diamond in the rough. Stuck with the 23rd pick, perhaps as a way to make it up for the tragedy of losing Bias, Reggie Lewis fell in Boston’s lap and while veteran reliant head coach K.C Jones played Lewis under five-minutes per game, the guard-forward hybrid would grow into a stable of the last few Bird seasons in the early-nineties. When “The Legend” retired Lewis was expected to take the reins and carry Boston into the next generation. 
Coming off his first all-star season in ‘92, the Celtics still had McHale and Robert Parish together for one more season. Athletic dunker Dee Brown, and young Rick Fox rounding out the bench, the Celts balancing youth and experience won 48-games. And while his points, rebounds and assist per game numbers were nearly identical to his all-star campaign, he was snubbed probably due to the high expectations fans and media placed on him prior to the season. 
Perhaps Lewis wasn’t a leading man and couldn’t be expected to act as the savior. You never find players like that picking 23rd in the draft. But underneath Lewis’ soft-spoken composure was a vicious dog waiting to be unleashed. Thirteen-minutes into game one versus the Charlotte Hornets, Lewis came out with his hair on fire. Hitting seven of his eleven shots, notching 17 points before collapsing to the floor and having to leave the game. The energy was unnaturally high for a middling Celtics team entering the first round of the playoffs. But Lewis looked like the worthy successor to Bird in that brief stint.
Lewis died on July 27, 1993. His premature death attributed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a structural heart defect that is most common cause of death in young athletes. 
Lewis’ death was sudden and confusing to many. Far be it for me to play armchair doctor to diagnose what the hell really happened. Growing up, far removed from the tragedies of Bias and Lewis, they came across to me as characters out of Greek mythology. Destined for greatness, only for the cruel nature of the world to strike them down before they can achieve it. The Kingdom of the Celtics crumbled soon after Lewis was put to rest. Red was getting old and losing his fastball. The Celtics were no longer a prime destination for veterans looking for a ring; because there were no stars to suggest they had a chance of winning anything. By 1997, the franchise and its fans are clinging on to rattling ping pong balls like a high school dropout would a lottery ticket. 
So what-if Lewis didn’t die in the summer of 1993? I ran a simulation to watch his career unfold. On the website I used, however, I had to start at 1992-93 because that’s the last season Lewis was alive and still active. The 1993 campaign was a disastrous one for the C’s. Going 29-53 and kicking out with the forth pick on the draft. Picking Kentucky big forward Jamal Mashburn. 
In 1994, the Celtics say goodbye to either the second of third greatest power forward ever in Kevin McHale, and cling on to Parish for one more run. Newcomers Mashburn and Allan Houston stroll into town. Mashburn instantly becoming the next big thing, and Houston fitting in as the seventh man on a loaded C’s team. 
1993-1994:
Reggie Lewis – Jamal Mashburn (R) – Kevin Gamble – Robert Parish – Rick Fox – Xavier McDaniel – Sherman Douglas – Allan Houston (R) – Ed Pinckney (42-40)
Beat Chicago (3-2)
Beat Atlanta (4-3)
Lost Indiana (4-1)

‘94-95 Lewis: 37.1 mpg – 21.6 pts – 4.9 trb – 2.4 ast – 22.4 per (All-Star – 3rd)
Playoffs: 21-5-2 (3rd Team All-League)
Mashburn takes home Rookie of the year. Lewis improves and helps the Celtics squeak into the playoffs and upset Michael Jordan and the Bulls (for some reason), then ‘Nique and the Hawks before falling to Reggie Miller and the Pacers. Indiana would then go on to beat Vlade Divac and Nick Van Exel of the Lakers in seven-games. 
The simulator is quite random, if you can’t tell. 
Lewis is able to notch his first All-NBA birth, beating out Gary Payton and Mark Price – who were the guards on the third team in our timeline. 
Payton: 16.5 pts – 3.3 trb – 6.0 ast – 2.3 stl – 14.1 FGA – 50.4 fg% – 3.4 FTA – 59.5 ft% – 9.3 wins shares – 17.8 per  

Price: 17.3 pts – 3 trb – 7.8 ast – 1.4 stl – 13.2 FGA – 47.8 fg% – 3.5 FTA – 88.8 ft% – 10 WS , 22.7 per

Lewis: 21.6 pts – 4.9 trb – 2.4 ast – 1.7 stl – 15.6 FGA – 52 fg% – 5.2 FTA – 89.3 ft% – 11 WS – 22.4 per

Lewis’ sixty-percent true shooting is also a noticeable mark. And with free agency looming, and the Celtics have money to spend the franchise is ready to capitalize on a surprise deep playoff run.


1994-95:
Same exact roster, except I drafted guards Tony Dumas and Howard Eisley (45-37)
Lost 1st round to Washington (3-1)
Lewis: 35 mpg – 22.1 pts – 5.7 trb – 2.2 ast – 25.3 per (All-Star 4th) 2nd Team All-Defensive  and first team All-League
Playoffs: 23.8 pts – 5.3 trb – 2 ast 
Transactions: Traded forward Xavier McDaniels for guard Scott Skiles; traded Kevin Gamble and Ed Pinckney for Sam Perkins 
A career year for Reginald! Sadly, they didn’t fare better in the playoffs falling to Chris Webber and Juwan Howard and the Wizards in five-games. 
It’s weird Lewis made first team here, as his statistical output matches Reggie Miller, who made the third team. Penny Hardaway made the first team averaging 21 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists for a Magic team that ended up conference champions. So take this with a grain of salt. 
Also, the Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers for some reason. 
1995-1996: 
Off-Season: drafted Arvydas Sabonis (31) and Travis Best
Signed Hakeem Olajuwon and Dana Baros in free agency

Lewis – Hakeem – Dee – Mashburn – Baros —- S. Perkins – Sabonis – Fox – Douglas – Parish – T. Best (49-33)

Beat Orlando (3-0)
Beat Milwaukee (4-3)
Beat Philadelphia (4-1)
Beat Minnesota (4-2)

WOLRD CHAMPIONS (Mashburn FMVP: 27.8 pts – 7.3 trb – 4.5 ast

Transaction: Traded Dee Brown to Philly for Derrick McKey and a ‘96 1st from Milwaukee 
Lewis: 36.8 mpg – 19.8 pts – 4.5 trb – 4 ast -24.7 per (All-Star 5th) 2nd Team All-League; 3rd team all defensive 
Playoffs: 20 pts – 4 trb – 3.8 ast 

Mashburn: 25.8 pts/7.4 trb/5.2 ast/30.1 per
Lewis: 19.8 pts/4.5 trb/ 4 ast/24.7 per
McKey: 11.9 pts/3.9 trb/1.8 ast/18.9 per
Olajuwon: 13 pts/3.9 trb/1.8 ast/18.9 per
Baros: 11 pts/1.6 trb/4 ast/14.5 per
Fox: 6.0 pts/2.7 trb/1.2 ast/10.1 per
Sabonis: 9.9 pts/8.1 trb/0.8 ast/15.3 per
Perkins: 4.2 pts/2.5 trb/0.6 ast/9.4 per
Dumas: 6.2 pts/1.8 trb/0.7 ast/4.3 per
Lewis is showing some signs of age, as his points per game dips a shade below 20. The C’s land Hakeem in free agency. In this reality, Houston never gets over the hump and “The Dream” grows dissatisfied in Houston and teams up with Lewis in Beantown. Ironically, in 1992 a rumor swirled around of a swap between the two. 

The season started off slow. I was fortunate to be able to swing Brown for McKey and a pick  that (which became Steve Nash). I took the thirty-one year old Arvydas Sabonis who helped probably would have been the best backup big in the league despite his advanced age. Hell, he killed in OTL. Becoming the best player on the Trail Blazers from the jump. For some reason, the simulator doesn’t like him very much. He’s barely averaging 10 points and eight rebounds.

96-97
Draft: Steve Nash, Ben Wallace, Bruce Bowen
Mashburn – Hakeem – Lewis – McKey – Baros (Fox, Nash, Sabonis, Wallace, Perkins, Best, Bowen) (59-23)
Beat PHI (3-0)
Beat ORL (4-1)
Lost to MIL (4-3)
Milwaukee beat Utah for the championship 
Lewis: 31.7 mpg – 14.8 ppg – 3.6 trb – 2.2 ast – 19.3 per
Reggie Lewis tore his ACL, will miss 153 games
The defending champions were poised to repeat, but in the last game of the season Lewis tore his ACL and would miss the following season. Boston’s valiant bunch would fall to the eventual champion Bucks in seven in the East Finals. Lewis would never be the same again. Calling it a career in 1999. Just for fun, I simulated two more seasons to see if he could have recovered from his traumatic injury. 
97-98
Drafted Austin Croshere, Kevin Ollie; Signed Jalen Rose in free agency 
Mashburn – Hakeem- Nash – Fox – Baros (same team minus Perk, Douglas and Best) 37-45)
Sabonis retired after the season (7-6-1) best season, rookie was a 10 and 8
98-99:
Drafted Dirk Nowitzki 10th; signed KG in free agency (48-34)
Lose to New Orleans (3-1)
Kind of sad to leave this team behind. Dirk and Garnett on the same team! How? 
Anyways, here’s Lewis’ career summary:

  • Eleven seasons
  • Six All-Star appearances (1991 thru 1996)
  • Third Team All-NBA (1994)
  • First Team All-NBA (1995)
  • Second Team All-NBA (1996)
  • Two 2nd All-Team Defense (‘95 & ‘96)
  • NBA Champion (1996)

Averages pre-1992:
16.9 points – 4.3 rebounds – 2.3 assists – 3.8 fta – 81.3 ft% – 13.9 FGA – 49.3 ft% – 0.2 3PA – 17.3 3P% – 23.2 USG% – 30.6 WS – 112 ORtg –
17.1 per

Averages post-1992:
19.8 points – 4.7 rebounds – 2.6 assists – 4.4 FTA – 91.1 ft% – 14.7 FGA – 50.7 fg% – 2.7 3PA – 37.5 3P% – 22.7 USG% – 63.8 WS – 118.8 ORtg – 20.8 per

1987-88 to 1998-99
879 Games (80 per season) – 18.3 points – 4.5 rebounds – 2.4 assists – 94.4 WS

Trying to find a career comp for Lewis, I looked no further than the ghosts of Celtics past and brought up Sam Jones. Played the same position. Went to one fewer All-Star games than Lewis. Made the same amount of All-NBA teams. Only logged one more season than Lewis and averaged nearly 18 points, 5 rebounds and almost 3 assists a a game. He averaged 15.8 attempts to Lewis 14.3. His wins shares mark of 87.4 pales to Lewis’ 94.4.

In this reality, Lewis took the torch from Bird, proceeded to carry his team to deep playoff runs and ultimately had his career cut short before he was about to lead them to becoming a dynasty.

So yes, he’s probably a Hall of Famer.

Lewis and Bias are two people who have never met and are forever linked for their connections to the Celtics, what they represented and what their deaths meant to the franchise and basketball in general.

At least Bias served as a cautionary tale and potentially scared off many impressionable people from trying cocaine. But what did Lewis’ passing do? What’s his silver lining? There isn’t one. Life is unfair. The people you love the most are likely to die young and the people you despise are likelier to outlive you and your loved ones. That’s how it is.

What if Ralph Sampson Accepted Red Auerbach’s Offer?

It is the summer of 1980. The Celtics have risen from the ashes of mediocrity, with their new star small-forward Larry Bird. They’ve won 61 games and fell short in the East finals vs Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76ers. But Red Auerbach isn’t worried. Thanks to most of the NBA teams during the era being run by complete schmucks, he was able to flip the disgruntled, overpaid and underperforming Bob McAdoo for two 1st round draft choices in the 1980 draft. One of those picks turned up out to be the first selection overall. 

If I was alive during this time, I’d probably spend the summer handwringing over whether Jeff Judkins was coming back, or if Rick Robey could succeed the aging, but still productive Dave Cowens at center should he retire. Hearing Boston owning the number one pick and having a name attached to that pick be Joe Barry Carroll, I assumed the Celtics answered were to be found by simply  applying Occam’s razor. “We need a center. We need depth. Take Barry Carroll.” 
Did I know Carroll lacked “spirit” and “aggressiveness” as Purdue Boilermakers head coach Lee Rose was told when he recruited the seven-foot, then 195 pound dynamo from East High School, Denver? Of course not. And even if I had all the benefits of modern technology to do half-assed scouting, I probably wouldn’t even lend the criticism credence. “If the Celtics are picking him, then he has no flaws. Fuck you for saying otherwise.” 
Red wasn’t content having the number one pick. He wasn’t high on Barry Carroll. Even in his last days, Red wasn’t fond of him. In his biography “Let Me Tell You A Story: A Lifetime In The Gme,” Auerbach and co-author John Feinstein wrote that Carroll “went on to have a mediocre NBA career” and the narrative stuck with him that he never lived up to snuff. Red eyed Minnesota Gopher low post scorer Kevin McHale. But he couldn’t take McHale number one. Nobody had him that high on their boards. So he decided to trade down. 
The Celtics and the Golden State Warriors worked out a deal. McHale would be selected number three, shipped up to Boston along with 27-year-old Center Robert Parish and the thirteenth overall pick in exchange for the number one overall choice, the aforementioned Carroll. 
The Utah Jazz stood pact, sandwiched between the teams at number two and took guard-forward hybrid scorer Darrell Griffith. 
The rest is history. 
But there’s a wrinkle to this story. High schooler Ralph Sampson was invited into the Celtics general managers home and offered $1 million to declare for the draft and not attend Virginia after completing his freshman season. Sampson turned the deal down, leaving Red befuddled and amazed. “Maybe Ralph and his parents will come to their senses.” Red fumed. 
But he never did. Sampson spent four years dominating the collegiate level and was taken number one by the Houston Rockets in 1983. The next year, they would win the first pick again and select Hakeem Olajuwon, form the Twin Towers, crash the 1986 NBA Finals and fall of the face of the earth less than a year later after cocaine destroyed the team, and wear and tear ate Sampson’s legs. 
In many ways, Sampson landing in Houston was a form of basketball injustice. Sampson was 7 foot, 4 inches, could dribble the ball between his legs, run the floor in a fast break and shoot from 25 feet. When the three-point line was introduced in 1979-80 it was 22 feet from the basket. It isn’t far fetched to suggest if Sampson came along twenty-five years later he’d be gold standard of stretch bigs. 
Micromanaging head coach Bill Fitch wasn’t about to let Sampson bring up the floor. The Rockets management had their own plans. The Twin Towers concept fit the philosophy of the NBA perfectly, up until 2015. Trying to score in the lane with Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson in the way is like driving through Boston during “The Big Dig.” You cant and you’re better off not even trying. 
Once Robert Reid was guarding future Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson. D.J brings the ball up the floor and Reid “opens up the gate.” D.J looks at Reid. “What are you doing? You ain’t going to play no defense!” Reid looks at Johnson, probably with a satisfied grin. “Look down there. Do you feel lucky?” Dennis promptly cursed Reid out. 
And they weren’t one dimensional either. Olajuwon and Sampson averaged 23 and 18 points between them, respectively. 
Fitch is a fine head coach, likely a top-10 all-time steward during his long career, leading every team he helmed to the playoffs at least once. But Fitch wasn’t a good hand with the sensitive Sampson. “All you did was write about how much Coach Fitch hates Ralph.” He told off Sports Illustrated columnist Jack McCallum. Fitch’s most inflammatory quote from the now lost article “Ralph has never raised his voice at me, because if he did, he knows I’d knock him on his butt.” 
If Fitch was around today, pulling this kind of shit. He’s shamed, canceled and relieved of his duties. And you know what else, he’d deserve to lose his job. 
Ironically, if Sampson did accept Red’s $1 million offer Fitch be his head coach up until 1983 when “Captain Video” was booted out the door after an troublesome season plagued by too much talent resulted an early exit at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks… Oh, the irony! 
So what if Sampson declared for the draft? Well, there is no Bird, McHale and Parish Big 3 to speak of. Parish is likely languishing in Golden State, doomed to a career of journeying the NBA never finding a home. Or, McHale is take third by Golden State meaning we get the famous pairing only on the opposite side of the country. Giving the Warriors a starting lineup of Parish – Kevin McHale – Bernard King – Purvis Short – John Lucas; and World B. Free as the sixth man.
Not bad. Except King has a cocaine problem (ditto Lucas). Parish is enigma. And McHale has nobody to help him grow beyond being just a scorer. People forget, he wasn’t an integral part to those early Celtics teams before 1984. Prior to that, he was considered a black hole. You pass it to him, the ball is going up. Knowing Golden State around this era, they’re likely trading him for pennies on the dollar to a rival. 
As for the Celtics, they’re looking at Sampson as the starting center; perhaps Cowens sticks around for one more run feeling the need to tutor the next generation in Sampson. Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell as the forwards. Chris Ford and Nate “Tiny” Archibald rounding out the backcourt. M.L Carr, Gerald Henderson, Rick Robey making up the bench. 
I still see the Celtics winning 60 games and the title here. Sampson is young, even himself doubts his body was ready for the pro-game. But the Celtics would have conditioned him and shielded him behind Cowens and Robey. Sampson was 228 pounds in college. Daryl Dawkins was 251, but Parish did just fine and he’s only two-pounds heavier than Sampson. 
In the ensuing 1981-82 and 1982-83 campaigns, I don’t see a different outcome. In ‘82 the season fell apart when Tiny separates his shoulder. Ainge wasn’t near ready to takeover, and the Celtics went from averaging 111 points per game to 106.4 in the final two months of action preceding the playoffs. 1982 was Parish’s best season. In ‘83, Nate was done. The guard spot was Boston’s weakest links for those two seasons. 
1984, 1985 and 1986 is probably where we feel Sampson’s impact the most. His wars with Kareem, ultimately ending with the C’s coming out on top make the Celtics the team of the 1980s. Parish and McHale weren’t slouches and did their best to guard Kareem. His skyhook was the greatest shot in history for it’s difficultly to block and sureness to go in the hole. In the ‘86 West Finals, Sampson made Kareem look human in ways nobody could ever have dreamed. 
In 1987, Sampson’s knees begin to give out and compound that with the tragic death of Len Bias the day after Boston selected him second overall in the 1986 draft, the dynasty suddenly ends. But Sampson has four championships and a special place in Springfield, Massachusetts waiting for him. Yes, Sampson made it 2012. He’d make it sooner if he was on those Celtics teams and nobody would have doubted if he deserved the honor. 
A happier end for one of the nicest, most soft spoken players in league history. 

Alternate NBA Finals (1970-2019)

You can usually predict who’ll win the NBA championship with pinpoint accuracy. The destination is predictable, the journey is not. That’s the NBA. Not parity like football. But what-if the conference runner-ups managed to make it to the finals? 
I simulated all NBA Finals from 1970 to 2019. Let’s see who wins: 

1970: Atlanta Hawks (48-34) vs Milwaukee Bucks (56-26)

Best Player (by Wins Shares): Lou Hudson (11.1) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (13.8)
G1: MIL 123-107
G2: ATL 133-129 (OT)
G3: MIL 138-134 (OT)
G4: ATL 119-104
G5: MIL 132-121
G6: MIL 118-109 (F. Robinson 11/17, 32 pts)
Fun fact: This is before Kareem’s conversion to Islam. He is still going by his birth name, Lew Alcindor. A future convert to the religion is Atlanta’s point guard Walt Hazzard. By 1972 he’ll change his name to Mahdi Abdul-Rahman. The name change presented much controversy and likely resulted in the end of his career. Many often refusing to acknowledge him by his name. Even while coaching UCLA in 1984 they referred to him by his birth name. 
Another fact, this is pre-Oscar Robertson trade. The point guard for the 56-win Bucks is journeyman Flynn Robinson. In real-life he’ll win a championship as a reserve on the ‘72 Lakers, his career preceding 1970 wasn’t very impressive. He scored many points for the lottery bound Bucks in 1969 and the subsequent arrival of Kareem earned Flynn his lone All-Star appearance. After this season he’d be traded to the Cincinnati Royals for Big O. Ironically, Flynn began his career as Robertson’s backup. 
1971: New York Knicks (52-30) vs Los Angeles Lakers (48-34)
Best Players: Walt Frazier (15.6) and Jerry West (12.8)
G1: LAL 116-103
G2: LAL 113-106
G3: LAL 131-121
G4: LAL 131-114 (Wilt 14-25-5-8)
The Lakers give birth to the Elgin Theory by overcoming the odds and winning it all despite surefire Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor missing the season due to a knee injury that’ll eventually lead to his real-life retirement nine-games into the 1971-72 season. At least Elgin gets a ring delivered to him because he was on the active roster the time the Lakers won. In our timeline, he received the ‘72 ring as a form of charity. 
26-year-old third round pick Keith Erickson steps into Baylor’s shoes and fills them admirably next to Happy Hairston, who moonlighted at the three despite being a four.
I hate New York (not as much as L.A), I feel bad taking a title away from them. But it is sweeter for Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and the then perpetual second place Lakers to achieve the pinnacle in this fashion. 
Perhaps New York losing means the NBA doesn’t experience the boon like it did in OTL. The NBA needed a big market like New York to win. Maybe the boon still happens, but is attributed to L.A? The problem with that is, the Lakers got their asses kicked every year by the Celtics, so maybe the county just views them as second placers? I mean, the Dodgers didn’t stay in Brooklyn because they won the World Series two seasons before leaving town. 
The Knicks will get another crack at the big one in 1974.
1972: Milwaukee Bucks (63-19) vs Boston Celtics (56-26)
Best Player: Kareem Abdul-Jabber (25.4) and John Havlicek (12.4)
G1: BOS 118-116
G2: MIL 108-92
G3: MIL 118-85
G4: BOS 120-114
G5: MIL 116-106
G6: BOS 116-108
G7: BOS 122-120 (Cowens 30-21-2-4)
The Celtics win their first title without Bill Russell a year sooner than in OTL, upsetting the favorite Bucks in seven hard fought games. 
Returning to the postseason in 1971, the Celtics began the post-Russell era by drafting Jo Jo White in 1969, ninth overall. Red Auerbach hired Tom Heinsohn and it seemed the Celtics decided to make a conscious effort to try small-ball in a big man dominated NBA. 
Their center, Dave Cowens was only 6-9, and their small-forward was the 6-5 Havlicek. The Celtics in the 70s resembled NBA teams today. Even in the sixties, the Celtics style resembled the modern pace and space. 
This series honestly could go in Milwaukee’s favor. Boston held on to Satch Sanders until after this season and his age showed. The year after, they upgraded to Paul Silas and became the NBA’s best rebounding team. Boston faces a significant disadvantage on the boards. Perhaps this’ll be a redux of the real life 1974 finals, except the main culprit for Milwaukee laying an egg in game 7 is Robertson wore down. Having him two years younger suggests he could take more punishment. 
If you have the Bucks win, that essentially etches Kareem into the top-2 all time conversation because in this universe LeBron and Jordan don’t make it to the finals as often. Kareem makes it three times in the 1970s, once in the 80s. 
1973: Golden State Warriors (47-35) vs Boston Celtics (68-14)
Best Players: Rick Barry (10.2) and John Havlicek (12.1)
G1: BOS 99-85
G2: BOS 110-101
G3: GSW 114-102
G4: BOS 106-102
G5: BOS 115-98 (Havlicek 35-10-5)
Well, they’re a dynasty – again. Cowens puts the finishing touches on a landmark year, stealing the MVP from Kareem, and by substituting the aging Sanders for Silas, the Celtics win total skyrockets to 68; a franchise best that’s yet to be bested. 
Havlicek’s never been better, putting on his typical iron man performance. The foursome of under-thirty stars Don Chaney, Silas, Cowens and White are at their respective physical apex’s. 
These Warriors of this particular era, despite the limited information I have of them due to a lot of this time in the NBA archives being lost is more fascinating than the Steph/Klay/KD era. Maybe its Rick Barry being an underrated as hell top-30 all-timer, or the fact he shot his free throws underhanded; or him wearing a whig for the entirety of the 1975-76 season…
But Golden State always ran into behemoths when they reached the final round. In 1967 they received a good, ole fashion curbstomping at the hands of Wilt and the Sixers. In ‘73 the story is no different. They will have one more shot against the Cinderella Cleveland Cavaliers, however. 
Back to Boston for a moment, if they manage to beat Chicago in 1975 we probably give this era of Boston basketball more love, the same kind we give the Bird-era Celtics. For some reason, despite being one of the two teams to win multiple champions in the parity heavy 1970s this part of Celtics history is often glossed over. They beat Kareem in ‘74 and won the greatest game ever versus the Phoenix Suns. The ‘73 team is probably more talented than the ‘86 team, only difference is they never won the title, so they’re tossed into the pile of “forgettable great teams.”
1974: New York Knicks (49-33) vs Chicago Bulls (54-28)
Best Players: Walt Frazier (10.9) and Chet Walker (10.6)
G1: CHI 110-100
G2: NYK 102-101
G3: NYK 107-87
G4: NYK 106-91
G5: CHI 116-97
G6: NYK 101-80 (W. Frazier 19-8-5)
Poor Chicago. One of the forgotten great teams of the 70s. Surrounded by failure, they remind me a lot of the Toronto Raptors pre-Kawhi. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. In ‘71 Chicago fell to the Baylor-less Lakers in 7-games in the semifinals in OTL, and again in 1973. Pre-Jordan Chicago was known for blowing leads and heartbreaking defeats. Game 7 versus L.A in ‘73 Chicago saw themselves out by a mere 3 points. A victim of Jerry and Wilt’s last stand. A one-point game one loss in L.A in ‘71 sent the Bulls reeling and never recovered. 
The coup de grace came in 1975, the Bulls traded big man Clifford Ray to the Warriors for Nate Thurmond, who coincidentally always found himself on second-placers as well. The Bulls took a 3-2 Series lead on the Warriors heading back home, only to fall in decisive fashion. Despite going into halftime of game 7 up 11, Rick Barry and Jamaal Wilkes proved to much for the steady Bulls squad and they squeaked by en route to an NBA Championship. This would prove to be Chicago’s last chance at the brass ring as they’d sink into mediocrity until Jordan’s arrival in ‘84. 
Up one game, the Bulls looked to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. They’re up three after Tom Boerwinkle splits his two free throw attempts, and only a minute and 29 seconds remain. Bill Bradley is fouled by by Jerry Sloan, and makes his two from the charity stripe. After Bob Love misses from the elbow, the Knicks run a down the floor. earl Monroe passes to Dave Debusschere, his open jumper from the baseline front rims, but Willis Reed gives the Knickerbockers a second chance, and Debusschere fires again this time converting to give the Knicks a one point lead with 35 ticks remaining.
But Chicago remains steadfast, collecting themselves in fifteen-seconds for Norm Van Lier to feed Love for the jumper from the free throw line to give the Bulls back the lead. However, Walt Frazier and the Knicks have the last laugh. From the same place Love hit his go-ahead score, the Knicks point guard snags victory from the jaws of defeat and New York wins the contest by the score of 102 to 101. The Bulls never would have another chance to take control of the series. Losing three of the subsequent four.
Chicago will have one more chance against the all mighty Boston Celtics, who hope to solidify themselves as a dynasty by winning their third title in four years. 
1975: Boston Celtics (60-22) vs Chicago Bulls (47-35)
Best Players: John Havlicek (9.7) and Chet Walker (10.5)
G1: BOS 102-93
G2: CHI 89-88
G3: CHI 120-88
G4: CHI 98-94
G5: BOS 91-87
G6: BOS 88-85
G7: BOS 99-87 (Jo. White 25-6-4)
Oh, big surprise. The Celtics fan gives his team three of the first six championships. Well, Boston isn’t winning much beyond the 1980s. The Spurs of 2012 and 2017 will surely curbstomp them, unless Whatifsports.com says differently. 
My defense for this is the Celtics were insanely good and arguably underachieved in the 1970s. Some of it was their own fault, most of it was falling victim to circumstances. In ‘73 Havlicek separated his shoulder during the Knicks series. In game four, the Celtics lead late even without Hondo, only for the referees to gift the ballgame to New York. Cowens, White and Chaney all fouled out in the double overtime classic, Don Nelson teetered on the line of ejection as well ending the game with five. The Knicks lost only two players to fouling out, Willis Reed and the all mighty Dean Meminger. 
Havlicek’s heroics in the game 5 nail-bitter, followed by Boston battling the Knicks in MSG in game 6 should have been enough to punch Boston’s ticket to the finals. Alas, it wasn’t so. 
In the first half of the 1970s in TL, it seems Boston has better luck. They win a thriller of a series to upset the favored Bucks in ‘72, go back-to-back against a carbon copy of themselves in Golden State, and complete the dynasty by overcoming a 3-1 deficit against Chicago. 
Did I mention how much I love this timeline?
1976: Cleveland Cavaliers (49-33) vs Golden State Warriors (59-23)
Best Players: Rick Barry (9.6) and Jim Brewer (7.9)
G1: GSW 114-88
G2: CLE 109-108
G3: CLE 120-107
G4: GSW 93-88
G5: GSW 111-95
G6: GSW 103-95 (R. Barry 20-11-8)
In this timeline, Barry doesn’t purposely go AWOL in game 7 of the conference finals because his teammates let him get beat up during a brief scuffle. Nope. All Barry wants to do is cap off his amazing ‘76 campaign with a title. In the last season Barry is a first-team All-NBA/ABAer, the Warriors break through and grab that brass ring that’s alluded them for nearly a whole decade. 
The Cinderella story Cavaliers lead by the most 1950s set of names you can imagine, Jim Chones, Campy Russell, Bingo (BINGO!) Smith and Dick Snider (You thought he was the center fielder for the Dodgers too, don’t lie), the Cavaliers upset Wes Unseld and the Bullets in 7 games, and do the same to the defending champion Celtics. The luck of the leprechaun runs out, the clock strikes twelve on their reign of dominance. 
The Cavaliers take a 2-1 Series lead and it is looking like they’re a team of destiny. Of course, destiny is no match for crushing reality. The Warriors go supernova and eek out game 4, before putting pedal to the metal in games 5 and 6 to close them out. The horse drawn carriage reverts to a pumpkin and the lovely Cinderella goes back to living with her unruly step-sisters and abusive mother. Oh, the agony! Oh the shame!
1977: Houston Rockets (49-33) vs Los Angeles Lakers (53-29) 
Best Players: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (17.8) and Rudy Tomjanovich (10.4)
G1: LAL 117-107
G2: LAL 121-98
G3: LAL 119-96
G4: LAL 118-110 (Kareem 27-12-4-3)
Kareem earns his second title (or third, if you believe the ‘72 Bucks overtake the Celtics – again, that probably happens.), this time for the Lakers. I would have picked Houston to win this series as the Lakers roster is pretty much helter skelter. Old man Cazzie Russell, cast-off Lucias Allen, and this is the season before Kermit Washington nearly killed Rudy Tomjanovich.
Washington was a top pick entering the professional league, struggling to find his niche. The arrival of Kareem lead him to improve to nearly a 10/10 stat-line. However, during a game against Denver the tendinitis in his knee acted up, finally he tore his patella tendon. “I could feel it tearing inside.” Said Washington. “I looked down, and my kneecap was hanging on the side on the side of my leg.” Doctors later told Washington his playing days was most likely over. 
If Washington doesn’t suffer the horrific injury, maybe L.A gets past the Trail Blazers?
What’s surprising is Moses Malone didn’t lead the team in wins shares, but Tomjanovich lead the squad. Rudy shot 51 percent from the floor, Calvin Murphy was the Isaiah Thomas of his time, and Malone administered punishment as well as points and rebounds. 
But, the simulator says they‘d get swept. 
1978: Denver Nuggets (48-34) vs Philadelphia 76ers (55-27)
Best Players: Julius Erving (9.1) and David Thompson (12.7)
G1: PHI 142-141
G2: PHI 115-102
G3: PHI 123-111
G4: PHI 130-128 (G. McGinnis 35-14-4)
Jesus! Nobody apparently plays defense on either of these teams. 
Regardless of the outcome, the NBA needed David Thompson and Dr. J, their most marketable stars, to clash. David Stern was the NBA’s General Counselor under commissioner Larry O’Brien around this time, I don’t doubt the idea of rigging playoff matchups to get the sexist championship series stems from the fact the aforementioned Thompson and Dr. J, and George Gervin never broke through and the games reputation and appeal greatly suffered. This is the era of NBA playoff game airing on tape delay. Since there was no Twitter, there’s no way to have learned of the outcomes beforehand – unless someone you knew happened to have tickets to the game and call you afterwards. 
I’m picturing Thompson’s “Skywalker” nickname inspiring the new fandom of Star Wars geeks to descend into Denver and ravenously cheer him on. In 1978, Star Wars was hot shit and more than made its cultural impact. 
A title for Philadelphia here, and the butterflying of the loss in ‘77, means Erving is the best player on a championship team. A claim he can not make in OTL. George McGinnis and Daryl Dawkins of the famed ABA reach the top of the NBA mountain. And the fathers of Mike Bibby and Kobe Bryant will a championship to show to the younglings. Future coaches Doug Collins and Mike Dunleavy have one ring to place on their fingers to celebrate a life spent in the NBA. 
1979: San Antonio Spurs (48-34) vs Phoenix Suns (50-32)
Best Players: Paul Westphal (10.4) and George Gervin (11.4)
G1: PHX 118-117
G2: SAS 137-125
G3: PHX 127-113
G4: SAS 135-112
G5: PHX 125-96
G6: PHX 117-89 (34-7-4)
We close the decade out with the former Celtic, point guard Paul Westphal scoring 34 to secure Phoenix their first world championship. Perhaps Red Auerbach’s greatest mistake is trading Westphal for the aging, shoot first guard Charlie Scott in 1975. Red decided to ride with Jo Jo White and soon the three time champion (in TL) found himself burned out and out of Boston. Suffice to say, in any reality, this’ll go down as a mistake. Luckily for Red, nobody really remembers it. 
Phoenix played fast and scored a ton, despite this being the last year without a three-point line. Averaging 115.4 points a game at a 108.5 pace. That’s not much slower than the Warriors pace of 109.5 in 2018-19. Their center, Alvin Adams, resembled Cowens as he too was 6-9 and didn’t let that deter him from averaging nearly double digit boards, to go along with 17 points. 
The 1979 Suns are lost to history. Playing in a time of severe boredom, they fell to the Seattle SuperSonics in seven, losing the deciding contest on their home floor (how embarrassing!). At least in this reality, they can call themselves champions. And even though I love Dennis Johnson, Gus Williams and the entire Sonics franchise, I’d prefer this team winning it all. 
1980: Boston Celtics (61-21) vs Seattle SuperSonics (56-26)
Best Players: Gus Williams (11.6) and Cedric Maxwell (12.2)
G1: BOS 104-95
G2: BOS 101-84
G3: BOS 120-111
G4: SEA 104-103
G5: BOS 115-95 (C. Maxwell 16-10-6)
We made it to the three-point line era! Bird chips in 19 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists en route to Boston’s fifteenth championship. Bird’s first; Cowens fourth – and last of his illustrious career. “Pistol” Pete Maravich retires with a ring to cap off his tumultuous NBA journey. 
“I want to contribute to a championship as it would culminate my whole basketball life.” Maravich said upon joining the Celtics. Poor bastard never reached the top of the mountain. At least here we can pretend he did. 
There’s a wonderful writer on Celticsblog.com, Professor Parquet. He accounts Maravich’s time in Boston so eloquently, I cannot put it into words. By the end of it you wish Maravich had a better shake in life. Parquet chronicles an alternate reality NBA Finals between the Celtics and Lakers, both lead by rookies who just battled each other in the highest profile collegiate game ever. 
Culminating in a chilling game 7, the score tied at 107, Celtics coach Bill Fitch draws a play for the red hot Maravich to shoot – with the option to pass to Bird. At this time, Pistol has 30 points and leads the Celtics in scoring. 
Maravich instantly commands a double team 22 feet away from the basket and passes to the open Bird, who quietly slipped to the near corner. “It was a pass a less mature Maravich might not have made, trying to win it himself” Parquet writes. 
Instead, Maravich rises to shoot at the top of the key and uses his god given abilities to fool the defense and hit the open Bird. The Hick from French Lick drains the game-winner from 20-feet sending the Boston Garden crowd into a frenzy. The subsequent quotes are chilling. 
Once safely inside the locker room, Maravich, overcome with emotion is interviewed. “I can’t to Boston to help win them a championship, and I feel blessed to have been able to finally win a title and help the Celtics hang another banner,” Parquet adds Maravich nearly signed with Philadelphia in the ‘79 off-season, seeing more of a role for himself in Boston.
Parquet continues. “Coming from Utah where I was benched and wasting away after my knee injury, I can barley believe my good fortune.”
A storybook ending for Pete, learning from his past failures and passing the baton over to the more than ready Bird, winning the title that alluded him with his old summer camp buddy Cowens as he too rides off into the sunset. 
1981: Kansas City Kings (40-42) vs Philadelphia 76ers (62-20)
Best Players: Reggie King (8.3) and Julius Erving (13.8)
G1: PHI 118-97
G2: PHI 126-89
G3: PHI 119-76
G4: PHI 112-97 (J. Erving 22-5-4)
Earning his second championship, the 76ers overcame the defending champion Celtics and easily beat the below .500 Kings lead by Reggie King, Scott Wedman and Otis Birdsong. In OTL, the 40-42 Rockets at least hung tough against the Celtics. Kansas City never proved they belong after unceremoniously crashing the finals.
A second championship for Dr. J likely kicks him up from top-25 all-time to top-15. The knock on Erving is was he lacked the clutch gene his rivals and successors possessed. Like David Robinson, Erving was too nice and rarely wanted to assert himself with a cutthroat mentality. 
In that sense, he’s a lot like Kevin Durant – only without the jump shot. Comparing Dr. J to KD – and just for fun, I threw in LeBron, at their respective 10 year marks gave me pause. (I’ll throw in Erving’s fake championships, because I can.)
LeBron: 49%, 8.6 FTA, 27.6 pts, 7.3 trb, 6.9 ast, 2 championships, 4 MVPs, 9 time All-Star, 9 time All-NBA

KD: 48.8%, 8 FTA, 27.2 pts, 7.2 trb, 3.8 ast, 1 championship, 7 time All-NBA, 8 time All-Star, 1 MVP 

Dr. J: 50.5%, 6.9 FTA, 26.1 pts, 9.9 trb, 4.5 ast, 2 (fake) championships, 10 time All-Star, 9 time All-NBA/ABA, 4 MVPs (3 in the ABA)
What Erving has going against him in OTL is he never broke through as a number one on his own team, always falling short. It’s nice to see him rise to the occasion in this reality, even if it is at the expense of my Celtics. 
1982: Boston Celtics (62-20) vs San Antonio Spurs (48-34)
Best Players: Larry Bird (12.5) and George Gervin (10.7)
G1: BOS 127-121 (OT)
G2 BOS 112-103
G3: BOS 106-105 (Bird GW)
G4: SAS 124-100
G5: SAS 112-103
G6: SAS 110-109
G7: BOS 104-102 (Bird 21-17-4, GW dunk)
In a thrilling series that sees the Spurs battle back from 3 games down, the Celtics win a nail bitter of a game 7 that’ll live in infamy. Mark Olberding lost Bird on a backdoor cut in the waning seconds of the final period and series MVP jammed it home for his second title since entering the league in 1979. 
Gervin’s 35 points was enough to give San Antonio a two-point lead with 1:28 remaining, but back to back dishes to Robert Parish shifted the momentum and the Spurs found themselves squandering another opportunity at winning the big one. 
This is Boston’s sixteenth championship. They will not appear in the NBA Finals until 1988. 
1983: San Antonio Spurs (53-29) vs Milwaukee Bucks (51-31)
Best Players: Sidney Moncrief (13.2) and Artis Gilmore (11)
G1: MIL 112-107
G2: SAS 127-112
G3: SAS 123-116
G4: SAS 116-106
G5: SAS 122-98 (Gervin 24 pts, 7 rebounds)
Gervin finally breaks through! With the off-season addition of All-Star Artis Gilmore, the Spurs overcome a 3-1 deficit against the  Lakers and defeat the favored Bucks in five-games.
Since this is Gervin’s last appearance in this article, I like to highlight the fact he referred to himself as “Iceman,” and this is a while away from “Top Gun” hitting theaters. “Ice’s game is to put it in the hole.” (Phrasing!) “The Bullets know they can’t stop Ice. Ice knows he’s got them on the run.” 
Gervin literally said this during the East Finals in ‘79 when the Spurs held a 3-1 lead over the Bullets. If you ever wondered why Gervin never won it all, him referring to himself in third person is likely it the cause. Yes, a lot of selfish, self absorbed people have been successful. Gervin, however, wasn’t one of those people. 
By the time the Spurs gave him an adequate number two, the Lakers were far ahead of the west and nobody could have done anything to stop them. That’s not to say San Antonio gave Gervin a pile of crap to play with. James Silas and Larry Kenon are two guys LeBron would give his left nut to have during his first stint in Cleveland. But Gilmore gave the Spurs the needed boost in star power. Sadly, his arrival was a few years too late. 
Don’t feel too badly for the Bucks, by the way. They’ll appear on this list a few more times. 
1984: Phoenix Suns (41-41) vs Milwaukee Bucks (50-32)
Best Players: Sidney Moncrief (12.7) and Larry Nance (9.8)
G1: MIL 113-98
G2: MIL 115-101
G3: MIL 134-98
G4: MIL 111-97 (Moncrief 17-11-7)
The Phoenix Suns pay the price for trading All-Star point guard Dennis Johnson for chump change by… making it to the finals? Yes! Apparently. 
From a fast pace offense resembling the modern age, to a prehistoric style lead by bruisers like James Edwards. 
Moncrief recently was inducted into the Hall of Fame after many years getting inexplicably  spurned. In ‘83 he earned 2nd Team All-NBA, first team defense, and Defensive Player of the Year. A banner year for the second best two-guard of the eighties. A possible ripple effect of the Bucks winning it all is Moncrief doesn’t have to wait nearly two whole decades to be inducted into Springfield. 
1985: Denver Nuggets (52-30) vs Philadelphia 76ers (58-24)
Best Players: Moses Malone (11.9) and Calvin Natt (10.2)
G1: PHI 112-101
G2: PHI 129-102
G3: DEN 125-115
G4: PHI 131-110
G5: DEN 105-103
G6: PHI 114-104 (Malone 28 pts, 17 trb)
The Sixers reign of dominance comes to an end here, Erving winning one more for the heck of it, giving Moses Malone his lone championship, and youngster Charles Barkley gets his taste of glory. 
As for Denver, once again they prove unable to defend only this time defense was something coach Doug Moe openly discarded, opting to simply outscore their opponent. It won them two games in the NBA Finals and got them past the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals. This is their last appearance on this list until 2009. 
The Nuggets have a decent case to make for being a snake bit franchise. Their superstar Thompson falls victim to cocaine and his career is cut short. Their ascension in the eighties coincides with the Lakers reign of supreme dominance. Their best chance to break through is 1994 and 2009. The Jazz nearly became the first team in NBA history to blew a 3 games to none series lead, Mutumbo was looking unstoppable and the Nuggets fresh off their upset of the first seed SuperSonics made them look like the ultimate “wonk” team. Alas, the Jazz hung on. 
In ‘09, the series is tied two all and the score in game five is knotted at 76 and Carmelo’s squad goes AWOL in the fourth quarter. Only he and Linas Kiezia score and the Nuggets fall in six games to the eventual champions. 
In TL, they very nearly push the Sixers to seven. Alex English and Fat Lever clicking on all cylinders, and the Sixers unleash Moses and parts the sea with his fat ass to toss Denver aside. 
The narrative isn’t “Dr. J needed Moses to win.” It shifts to “Moses needed Dr. J.” And that’s quite a divergence when it comes to tanking the two against the greats.
1986: Los Angeles Lakers (62-20) vs Milwaukee Bucks (57-25)
Best Players: Magic Johnson (12.1) and Sidney Moncrief (11.7)
G1: LAL 105-100
G2: LAL 130-110
G3: MIL 127-116
G4: LAL 142-136 (OT)
G5: MIL 113-92
G6: MIL 131-128 (OT)
G7: MIL 117-108 (T. Cummings 49 pts, 22/32)
I love this timeline. 
Up three games to one, the Bucks send the series back to Los Angeles and unleash Terry Cummings for seventy-five points in the final two games en route to a Finals MVP. Down two in the last seconds of game six, the Larry O’Brien trophy is wheeled out in anticipation of the Lakers capturing their first title with star point guard Magic Johnson. Cummings has other ideas, nailing a turnaround back shot from the top of the key to send it into overtime, where the Bucks narrowly escape victorious. 
In game seven, the Lake Show has no answers for Cummings, who’ll forever be known as the “Los Angeles Strangler.” This is the Lakers last chance to win a title until 1998, as the following seasons are abruptly halted by the underdog SuperSonics in 1987, and the Dallas Mavericks in 1988. 
If you’re keeping score at home, the East has won all but one championship series this decade. The Celtics, Sixers and Bucks are tied at two, with the Pistons ready to emerge as a feisty competitor to the established pecking order in the conference. 

(Lakers-Celtics doesn’t energize the nba )
1987: Detroit Pistons (52-30) vs Seattle SuperSonics (39-43)
Best Players: Bill Laimbeer (10.5) and Dale Ellis (9.3)
G1: DET 128-121
G2: DET 120-98
G3: DET 104-95
G4: DET 107-106 (A. Dantley 19 pts, 7 trb)
Adrian Dantley joins the “ring less no more” club and perhaps isn’t traded for Mark Aguirre in the ensuing ‘88 campaign because he’s a black hole on offense and a sieve on defense. In this universe, he’s a Finals MVP. Stop this world, I want to get off!
The Pistons built their foundation on defense, Dantley never fit into that culture. When he was moved to make room for Dennis Rodman, the offense didn’t suffer a bit and the defense went up a couple of notches. It was the last piece of the puzzle for the Pistons to unseat the Celtics as royalty in the East. 
Curious Laimbeer and Ellis lead their respective teams in wins shares, when Isiah Thomas, Tom Chambers and Xavier McDaniels are undoubtedly viewed as far superior.
1988: Boston Celtics (57-25) vs Dallas Mavericks (53-29)
Best Players: Larry Bird (15) vs Derek Harper (9.1)
G1: BOS 109-86
G2: DAL 121-115
G3: BOS 121-109
G4: BOS 113-104 (OT)
G5: DAL 118-109
G6: BOS 120-103 (Bird 28-10-8)
For the third time in the decade the Celtics are the world champions and have solidified themselves as the team of the 1980s, just as they have in the 1970s. From Russell to Cowens and from Cowens to Bird, the mystic of such an organization is unparalleled in the game of basketball. Seventeen banners hanger in the Boston Garden as a testimony to the greatness of the Celtics organization. 
Ah. Beautiful. Another ring. I was negative nine-years old and it still tastes so sweet.
The Mavericks were the first non-Celtics team in history I’ve found myself attached too. Could be the green uniforms and the fact they took the Lakers to the brink in ‘88. Or, me just loving a good underdog. 
Bird leaves us with the same amount of rings he has in real life, except his rivals are Dr. J, Sidney Moncrief and the Pistons, not Magic Johnson. The Lakers-Celtics rivalry remains doormat. A vestige of a by a bygone age bearing little relevance to today. The decade is defined by the battles in the eastern conference, the finals viewed as little more than an add-on. Only one western conference team managed a championship so far, and it was at Milwaukee’s expense costing them a chance at becoming the team of the eighties. 
1989: Chicago Bulls (47-35) vs Phoenix Suns (55-27)
Best Players: Michael Jordan (19.8) and Kevin Johnson (12.2)
G1: PHX 123-106
G2: PHX 110-91
G3: CHI 118-104
G4: PHX 108-98
G5: CHI 113-110
G6: CHI 110-102
G7: PHX 108-98 (KJ 23-12-5)
The ultimate irony with Kevin Johnson is from 1988-89 to 1989-90, the pre-Charles Barkley era when the Suns didn’t have title aspirations, he rose to the occasion and took them further than anyone expected. 1989 playoffs, 49.5 percent field goal, 23 points and 12 assists. 1990, 47.9 percent from the field, 21 points and 10 rebounds en route to back-to-back conference finals appearances. In ‘91 and ‘92 he shoots 30 percent against Utah and lose in the first round. The next season, Tom Chambers got old and couldn’t perform as that third man anymore and they fall to Portland in five. 
Then came the 1993 playoffs, perhaps the best team assembled of the decade and Johnson shit the bed on almost every occasion. Absolutely abandoning Barkley in the ‘93 Finals versus M.J. Phil Jackson simply double teamed him and KJ and he never passed out of it, not because he’s a ball hog, but because he couldn’t figure out how to do it. 
It’s surreal to give Jordan a loss in the finals. He’s entering his apex, and 1989 was a banner season for him. First team All-NBA, first team defense, Scoring Champion, should have won the MVP over Magic. It’s insane to look back how much unearned praised for leading the Lakers to 63-wins in their first year without Kareem. In ‘89, Kareem was a withered corpse ready to be thrown into the casket. Combining Mychal Thompson and Vlade Divac statistical output, what they put on the table was superior than Kareem’s final season. 
‘88-89 Kareem: 10.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 47.5 percent field goal. 
That’s an insane dip from ‘87-88 when he was still a dependable 14 and 8 guy shooting over 50 percent. 
Divac/Thompson: 18.6 points, 13 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 49.5 percent from the field.
Divac and Thompson also hung with Hakeem in a playoff series. The next series versus Phoenix, Pat Riley diminishes their roles and they get bounced in five. 
The three headed monster of K.J, Chambers and Jeff Hornacek will return the next season in a rematch against Jordan’s Bulls. 
1990: Chicago Bulls (55-27) vs Phoenix Suns (54-28)
Best Players: Michael Jordan (19) and Kevin Johnson (11.6)
G1: PHX 118-105
G2: PHX 103-100
G3: PHX 122-112
G4: PHX 105-96 (Chambers 8/18, 23-14)
Big winner in this alternate reality, Tom Chambers! Beats down the ‘87 Lakers, wins two championships by outplaying Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and bagging a Finals MVP in ‘90. 
I remember when the Celtics signed Hayward the same summer they traded for Kyrie, and my immediate thought of their pairing was KJ and Chambers as for how they’d play together. Neither are really a number one option, it’s debatable who’ll get the ball in crunch time. 
In ‘88-89 and ‘89-90 Chambers was the the best small forward in the conference. Averaging 26 points, missing only two games, back to back All-NBA 2nd teams, top-10 in MVP voting each of those seasons. The only reason he’ll never make it into the Hall of Fame is because he was an asshole to people. He’ll make it in once he’s dead. 
Another thing to consider, this is the final time we’ll see Michael Jordan in the finals. Loses in 7 games in ‘89, is swept the following series. 
1991: Portland Trail Blazers (63-19) vs Detroit Pistons (50-32)
Best Players: Terry Porter (13) and Joe Dumars (9.9)
G1: POR 101-86
G2: POR 119-86
G3: POR 106-97 (Ainge 19 points)
G4: POR 125-121 (OT) (Drexler 36-5-6)
The Blazers soundly beat a Detroit team that handily defeated them in five-games in OTL. The possible differences between these realities are, Danny Ainge as a scorer off the bench. Something the ‘90 team lacked. In game 3 Ainge rattles off 19 to help fend off a Pistons rally. 
Another reason could be the core of the Pistons by ‘91 are on the back nine of their careers and the bully-ball style they relied on faltering against a seasoned, veteran heavy roster like Portland. 
The book on the ‘90 finals can be described simply as, the Blazers lacked someone like Vinnie Johnson to act as their scorer in close games late, leading to 4th quarter implosions. And the fact the Blazers weren’t ready for bright lights, like how OKC in 2012 wasn’t. By contrast, the Pistons are at the tail-end of their peak. Perhaps if they met one year later in the championship the script would have been flipped. 
Drexler joins the “ring less no more” club, dropping 36 in the decisive game 4 for his first title. The Blazers in this time period get forgotten because they’re sandwiched between the Lakers dominance in the west, and the time Michael Jordan began to dominate the league. But Portland was an excellent roster, featuring All-Stars like Drexler, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey and even center Kevin Duckworth had his moments. Young Clifford Robinson, veteran Buck Williams as backup big forwards. 
An underrated what-if for Portland is what-if they kept Dražen Petrović and not move him for the 36-year-old Walter Davis? Petrović blossomed into a three-point marksman, scoring 20-points a game for New Jersey. This is the same guy Rick Aldeman shelved in the Pistons series as his team imploded like clockwork. While the Bulls had old man Bob Hansen to shift the tides of game 6 in ‘92 with a crucial three-pointer, the Blazers sunk and added another chapter in their “close but no cigar” era. 
1992: Utah Jazz (55-27) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)
Best Players: Larry Nance (12.2) and Karl Malone (15.2)
G1: UTA 107-104
G2: CLE 122-108
G3: CLE 105-97
G4: UTA 106-105
G5: CLE 114-105
G6: CLE 110-99 (L. Nance 21-7-6-6)
I ran this through the simulator dozens of times. Only once or twice did it have the Jazz coming out on top. Which is surprising. This is Stockton and Malone, 30 and 29, respectively, grizzled veterans having battled the Lakers in ‘88, hire Jerry Sloan the next year and cobble together a roster capable of running through teams with just two surefire guys. Their third guy was Jeff Malone who scored 20 in ‘92, and Mark Eaton was a perfect hulking night to put next to Malone. 
How did they lose? Well, in the critical game 5 matchup versus Portland Stockton suffered an eye injury and Utah fell in overtime before losing the next game to go with the series. If Stockton didn’t get hurt, Utah probably wins and we get the Bulls vs Jazz six years sooner than we did.
Cleveland in 1992 is the first team to have a complete roster that complemented their best player perfectly and not win, simply because they had the misfortune of sharing a conference with Jordan.  
1993: Seattle SuperSonics (55-27) vs New York Knicks (60-22)
Best Players: Patrick Ewing (10.6) and Shawn Kemp (9.1)
G1: NYK 93-90
G2: NYK 104-97
G3: SEA 103-83
G4: SEA 102-92
G5: NYK 113-103
G6: NYK 102-92 (Ewing 26 pts, 13 reb)
New York wins their second title in franchise history, and Patrick Ewing is on top of the world that doesn’t feature Michel Jordan as the unstoppable force. If I’m a Knicks fan, I’m absolutely trading one of the titles won in the 1970s for the missed opportunities in 1993, 1994, 1999 or even 2000. A title with Ewing is more impactful than an extra chip in 1973. We don’t regard Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Jerry Lucas, or Earl Monroe any better because of the ‘73 championship. If a title ever was a net-zero for legacies, it be that Knicks team.
The ‘93 Sonics are an underrated squad, undeservingly forgotten. Likely due to their infamous early playoff exits in 1994 and 1995, despite their top seeded status. By the time they reached the finals, the 72-win Bulls waiting in the wings, the Sonics had the burden of three straight heartbreaking ends to their season placed on their shoulders. Though they put up a valiant effort and kept M.J in check, they had no answer for Dennis Rodman and fell in six.
In ‘93, Payton and Kemp were freer, more raw and their energy reminded me more of Russ and KD in 2010. Their wide-eyed innocence, pure unadulterated love for the game at an all time high before the pressure of expectations would weigh them down. Their athleticism overwhelmed Malone and Stockton, and the future world champion Rockets, and took the Barkley-led Suns to a 7th game. 
Across the country, in the Big Apple, expectations are always on the Knicks. This is before they became deformed goblins living in the NBA basement. The Knicks remained relevant even after the championship core aged out in the late-1970s. Bernard King took the eventual champion Celtics to 7 in 1984. They tried to snag MVPs Kareem and Bob McAdoo in free agency. Won the Ewing lottery in ‘84. In ‘88 they returned to the playoffs after a three season hiatus, slowly climbing up the totem pole. When the Rick Pitino era fizzled out, the Knicks turned to The Godfather to reinvent the team into a squad of bullies that fit New York’s hard nosed attitude.  39-wins turned to 51. 51 turned to 60. All that was needed was to overcome the greatest player God ever created. 
Up 2-0 it looked like that would happen. The Knicks beat the Bulls behind the hot hands of John Starks and Charles Smith. They lay an egg in game 3, and in game 4 they clicked on all cylinders on offense. Ewing, Starks, Smith and Anthony Mason scored 79 points, Oakley chopped in 11. Turns out, the weakest link was Doc Rivers. Thanks to M.J’s 54 point explosion, Chicago won by 10. Doc shot 1 of 6, didn’t get to the free throw line and the Knicks A-plus game wasn’t enough.
At the end of the day, the Knicks had all it took to be champions. The Knicks are Floyd Patterson. The NBA is chalk full of Floyd Patterson’s. They had the misfortune of fighting Muhammad Ali. 
The narratives were ready for the Knicks should they reach the top of the mountain. Ewing was the reincarnation of Willis Reed. Starks rags to riches story, coming from bagging groceries to playing in the NBA Finals after cutting his teeth in semi-pro leagues. His passion was his best friend and worst enemy. Through all of the muck and filth that comes with everyone expecting big things from you, Starks was poised to reach the opposite side as a battle tested champion. He averaged 19 and 6 in the Houston series, notching 27 in game 6. 
Two seconds left, down 2 Starks was asked to take the Knicks home. He’s made 5 threes, if he makes one more they’re champions. If Olajuwon hadn’t blocked the red hot Starks attempt, perhaps it goes in and the Knicks have that one title to keep them warm in these times of endless despair. 
1994: Indiana Pacers (47-35) vs Utah Jazz (53-29)
Best Player: Karl Malone (13.4) and Reggie Miller (11.7)
G1: IND 102-99
G2: UTA 115-106
G3: UTA 112-105
G4: UTA 94-88
G5: UTA 94-92 (Stockton 19-8-5)
Stockton and Malone finally achieve the pinnacle. The ups and downs of the Jazz ‘94 campaign involved nearly losing a three games to none lead to Denver. Karl Malone battled future Hall of Famers David Robinson, Dikembe Mutumbo and Hakeem Olajuwon in the ‘94 postseason. While many expected the Jazz to meet the defending champion Knicks in June, they settled for the scrappy underdog Pacers in a battle of the small-markets.
What does a ring mean for Stockton? I’m not sure. Malone is etched in history as a top-5 all-time power forward and it almost doesn’t matter he never won. His lack of mental toughness is glaring and it’s debatable if having a ring makes him stronger or not. A simple “Just remember, the mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays, Karl.” heckle from Scottie Pippen is enough to rattle his concentration. 
Stockton is usually forgotten, or casted as only a passing point guard. But he is basically Chris Paul, only better. Seriously. They’re carbon copies of one another. Except Paul had more tricks around the basket and Stockton was more of a cutter. 
It’s nice to see Stockton and Malone finally overcome the odds and win the chip. I don’t think they needed it though. Nobody sits around and talks shit about either for failing to win it all.
1995: Indiana Pacers (52-30) vs San Antonio Spurs (62-20)
Best Players: Reggie Miller (11.4) and David Robinson (17.5)
G1: SAS 103-94
G2: SAS 93-88
G3: SAS 109-99
G4: IND 108-99
G5: SAS 92-76 (D. Robinson 22 pts, 11 trb)
David Robinson goes down as the most athletically gifted man to play the game of basketball in the 20th century. Too nice to win by himself. Given below-average guards for the majority of his career. His most notable moment was Olajuwon embarrassing him on national tv during the ‘95 conference finals the night he was presented the MVP award. 
Yet, he’s a top-30 all timer and doesn’t have a signature moment prior to Tim Duncan’s arrival in ‘97. 
1996: Orlando Magic (60-22) vs Utah Jazz (55-27)
Best Players: Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway (14.4) and Karl Malone (15.1)
G1: ORL 101-85
G2: ORL 104-80
G3: UTA 113-101
G4: UTA 105-93
G5: ORL 114-105
G6: ORL 112-106 (Shaq 28-13; Penny 28-8-5)
Shaq is absolutely leaving Orlando regardless if they win the title or not. He made it known he wanted to play in Los Angeles. So them winning it all changes nothing, but maybe makes the pain of losing a great player like Penny so young to injury less bitter because at least he gets a ring. 
1997: Miami Heat (61-21) vs Houston Rockets (57-25)
Best Players: Charles Barkley (9.4) and Tim Hardaway (12.9)
G1: HOU 101-91
G2: MIA 100-92
G3: HOU 97-76
G4: HOU 101-85
G5: HOU 108-106 (Olajuwon 33 pts, 8 reb)
Champions Barkley and Drexler team up together in Houston to help Olajuwon win the big one… basically the inverse of what happened in real life where they came to him because he won before. 
Is Miami the most overrated team of the mid-90s? Only relevant playoff series they won was against New York in ‘97 when the league suspended Ewing, Larry Johnson and Allan Houston for game 7 for leaving the bench during an in-game scuffle. Heat in the late-90s had tons of great players, a high profile coach and played a style that made them unique. Basically, a faster, more exciting Riley-era Knicks. 
They didn’t win shit and I’m happy the simulator didn’t fall head over heels for them. 
1998: Los Angeles Lakers (61-21) vs Indiana Pacers (58-24)
Best Players: Shaquille O’Neal (10.2) and Reggie Miller (12)
G1: LAL 117-103
G2: LAL 97-95
G3: LAL 103-89
G4: LAL 109-89 (N. Exel 17 pts, 12 ast)
Shaq wins his first in Los Angeles, two years after winning first title overall with the Orlando Magic. I’m surprised the simulator was so unkind to the Pacers. Indiana in 2000 gave the Lakers their greatest test in the finals, nearly winning games 4 and 6 that would have won them the series. 
Will O’Neal be the first to win the championship as the best player on three different teams? We’ll see in 2005. 
1999: Indiana Pacers (33-17) vs Portland Trail Blazers (35-15)
Best Players: Brian Grant (5.9) and Reggie Miller (6.4)
G1: IND 87-76
G2: POR 102-101
G3: IND 102-93
G4: POR 103-96
G5: POR 99-90
G6: POR 101-92 (A. Sabonis 13-7-5)
And there goes Reggie Miller’s best chance at a ring. In game 2, down two the Pacers had the chance to go up 2-0 heading home for a three game stretch. Chris Mullin’s pulls in a rebound after Walt Williams whiffs on a drive to the basket, outlets to Mark Jackson and hits Miller who nails a straight away three to give his team the one point lead with 11 ticks left. Isaiah Rider drives it to the paint on the next possession, and scores on a turnaround back shot to save the Blazers’ hides. 
Sabonis earns Finals MVP honors and he’s an interesting story. Began playing professional ball in the Soviet Union, demolished the ‘88 USA team that had David Robinson on the other side (that U.S tam was poorly coached and the roster was mismanaged. Yes, I’m bitter). He had to wait until he was 31 to play in the NBA and had a couple good years until Father Time took care of him. 
2000: Portland Trail Blazers (59-23) vs New York (50-32)
Best Player: Steve Smith (10.4) and Allan Houston (8.6)
G1: POR 112-93
G2: POR 88-76
G3: POR 111-77
G4: POR 94-84 (Sheed 16-11)
Only three teams have gone back-to-back in this alternate reality: the 1970s Celtics. 1989 and 1990 Suns. And now, the ‘98-99, ‘99-00 Blazers. Kind of amazing the Blazers go from road bump to champions. Portland acted as the speed bump for Detroit and Chicago during the Drexler-era, then as the team Shaq-Kobe finally got it together against in ‘00. Oh! And they also christened the Duncan Spurs in ‘99! 
Pip gets his first ring, after leaving M.J. How much would have a Pippen championship without Jordan mean to his legacy? Probably a shit-ton. Poor Pip was reduced to a bit player in the bigger Shaq-Kobe epic comeback in game 7 of the west finals. There’s no doubt Sabonis and Rasheed Wallace were the best player on the Blazers. Pip played a huge role for them on defense and had some big moments in that Lakers series. 
Another odd thing to notice, Rasheed has won two titles and we’ll see him a lot more in the finals as a Piston. 2006, 2007 and 2008. Could he have five at the end of this?
2001: Milwaukee Bucks (52-30) vs San Antonio Spurs (58-24)
Best Players: Ray Allen (13.7) and Tim Duncan (13.2)
G1: MIL 117-112 (OT)
G2: SAS 112-86
G3: MIL 102-93
G4: SAS 97-91
G5: SAS 113-88
G6: MIL 108-95
G7: SAS 89-88 (Duncan 18-12-3, GW lay-up)
Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and Glenn Robinson nearly pulp off the upset against the vaunted Spurs. Down 17 entering the 2nd half, Robinson scores 18 to help lead the furious comeback charge. His fade-away jumper that would have sealed the contest for Milwaukee is rejected by the savvy veteran Robinson. Taking the ball at halfcourt, George Karl has no idea who to double-team between Robinson and Duncan, and makes the correct decision in sending Robinson to help Jason Caffey defend Duncan. Except it doesn’t matter, a little old school fundamentals is all that is needed to create daylight and he lays it up and in for the narrowest win in Finals history. 
David Stern isn’t at the trophy presentation. He’s busy writing death threats to the each of the teams rosters for giving him the lowest rated finals in history of Nielsen ratings.
2002 Sacramento Kings (61-21) vs Boston Celtics (49-33)
Best Players: Paul Pierce (12.9) and Peja Stojaković (9.9)
G1: SAC 119-102
G2: BOS 102-96
G3: BOS 113-105
G4: SAC 101-90
G5: SAC 111-107
G6: SAC 114-94 (Peja 21-5-5)
Argh! I wanted to give this to the Celtics so bad. Ah, well. At least C-Webb and Vlade win a title. Pierce and Walker resurrecting the Celtics from the ashes after an abysmal 1990s is enough to satisfy Celtics fans longing for the glory days. They’ll get a few cracks at it in the 2010s. 
2003: Dallas Mavericks (60-22) vs Detroit Pistons (50-32)
Best Players: Dirk Nowitzki (16.1) and Ben Wallace (10.6)
G1: DAL 102-99
G2: DAL 103-84
G3: DAL 96-78
G4: DAL 106-105 (Dirk 26-11; Raef GW)
Dirk and Nash win the big one before anyone could even ask the question. 
Initially, I believed this matchup to be a clashing of styles. The Mavericks run a Star Wars futuristic offense, and the Pistons offense is similar to a caveman beating you over the head with a giant stick. 
But the Pistons are helmed by Rick Carlisle, a new-age coach in a prehistoric NBA. The team averaged 18.1 attempts beyond the arc, good for sixth in the league, and took the third fewest two-point attempts with 58.4. Backup big Mehmet Okur took nearly two 3s a night. Ben Wallace does what Draymond did for the Warriors. 
When Carlisle was booted in favor of Larry Brown is when the Pistons adopted a more brute force style. Ironically, one of the core members of the Pistons contingent was Rasheed Wallace. Someone who’d probably be a ten-time All-Star in this era. 
Rare mistake by “The Legend” to not tap Carlisle as his successor, opting for rival Isiah Thomas. The Pacers could have snuck into the third round in 2001 if they weren’t so poorly coached. 
2004: Indiana Pacers (61-21) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (58-24)
Best Players: Jermaine O’Neal (9) and Kevin Garnett (18.3)
G1: IND 89-80
G2: IND 96-89 
G3: MIN 91-82
G4: MIN 104-85
G5: MIN 101-92 (KG 35-19-6-3)
G6: MIN 102-93 (KG 27-16-4)
Garnett caps off an amazing ‘03-04 MVP season winning the title, scoring 63 points in the final two games. Since 1999, we’ve been in the era of the power forwards bulldozing their way to titles. Rasheed twice. Dirk once. And just now, Garnett. 
Garnett bringing a title to Minnesota instantly gives him more credit than resurrecting basketball in Boston. Minnesota is viewed more than a state that’s debatable whether they deserve a team after this. 
As for Indiana, this is Miller’s fifth and final time in the finals as he goes 0-for-5 in his journey. 
2005: Phoenix Suns (62-20) vs Miami Heat (59-23)
Best Players: Amar’e Stoudemire (14.6) and Shaq and Wade (11)
G1: PHX 95-94
G2: PHX 114-98
G3: MIA 121-109
G4: MIA 115-114
G5: MIA 127-123 (Wade 45-10)
G6: PHX 119-106
G7: PHX 108-103 (Amar’e 23-11)
Back to back high schoolers win Finals MVP. The Suns withstand Shaq and Wade to win an epic 7-game series. Nash’s stock is rapidly rising in this alternate reality. 
Probably the best NBA Finals we didn’t get. O’Neal should’ve won the MVP over Nash in ‘05. Was his last great season. Transformed the Heat overnight and threw Wade into the fire which ultimately made him the battle tested veteran superstar at a young age. Miami goes from a quirky 42-40 team to a 59-win title contending squad and very nearly beat Nash and Amar’e. 
The Mavericks look like damned fools letting Nash walk in free agency. Nash and Amar’e will do what many believed  what he and Dirk would have accomplished if they weren’t prematurely split.
2006: Phoenix Suns (54-28) vs Detroit Pistons (64-18) 
Best Players: Chauncey Billups (15.5) and Shawn Marion (14.6)
G1: PHX 108-87
G2: DET 86-77
G3: PHX 97-92
G4: PHX 85-77
G5: PHX 104-98 (S. Marion 32 pts, 13 trb)
Nash and the Suns go back to back, without Amar’e! Shawn Marion is turned into a star overnight and Nash will likely find himself pigeonholed into the top-10 all-time conversation after this run. 
This is Ben Wallace’s last season as a Piston. He’ll go down as the best player on two runner-ups and is important will be downplayed. Detroit replaces him with Nazr Mohammad and make it to the finals in 2007 and 2008. 
2007: Detroit Pistons (53-29) vs Utah Jazz (51-31)
Best Players: Chauncey Billups (11.4) and Carlos Boozer (9.9)
G1: DET 103-61
G2: UTA 103-99
G3: UTA 89-88 (Boozer GW)
G4: DET 99-83
G5: DET 110-92
G6: DET 105-81 (RIP 25 pts, 9 reb)
Despite the best efforts of Boozer, D-Will, Okur, D-Fish, and AK-47 the Jazz fall to the Pistons. Detroit climbs the mountain and achieves the pinnacle. Bittersweet given it’s done without their heart and soul, Big Ben. The catalyst on two runner-ups, the Pistons replace him with Mohammad, Antonio McDyess and old man C-Webb. 
2008: San Antonio Spurs (56-26) vs Detroit Pistons (59-23)
Best Players: Chauncey Billups (13.5) and Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili (11.1)
G1: SAS 86-76
G2: DET 101-76
G3: DET 91-76
G4: DET 89-70
G5: SAS 105-82
G6: DET 94-79 (Sheed 16 pts, 9 reb)
In this alternate universe, Rasheed Wallace has more titles than Shaq, Garnett, Duncan, and Dirk… and he’s the worst of all four! 
In 2005 the Pistons should have beaten San Antonio if not for Sheed choosing to double Manu and leave Big Shot Rob open time swing game 5. The sports Gods blessed the Spurs, just as they’ll curse them eight-years later. Funny how that works. 
Only four teams have gone back-to-back in this timeline. Celtics, Phoenix (twice) and now the Pistons. 
Next finals is LeBron (with former Piston Ben Wallace) vs Carmelo (with Billups)! 
2009: Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16) vs Denver Nuggets (54-28)
Best Players: LeBron James (20.3) and Chauncey Billups (9.9)
G1: CLE 100-97
G2: CLE 107-75
G3: DEN 107-104
G4: DEN 90-79
G5: CLE 107-89
G6: CLE 92-86 (LeBron 37-7-6)
LeBron wins in Cleveland! Does he stay? Of course not. Winning is secondary to stars. Always has been. If Shaq won in Orlando in ‘96 or L.A in ‘04 he still skips town. Same for K.D in 2016. Only possible way LeBron stays in Miami after 2014 is if they won it all and he was defending his three-peat. Only thing M.J never did was four-peat. That definitely matters to LeBron. 
But in this reality, Jordan is just an awesome player who never broke through. Who are we comparing LeBron too? Is he the greatest of all-time despite having one ring? Kareem has two. Bill Russell has 11. Dr. J and Bird have 3. The whole debate is different. Bron is no doubt in the conversation and his career accomplishments could put him over the top, whether rings is used as a plural or singular with him. 
2010: Phoenix Suns (54-28) vs Orlando Magic (59-23)
Best Players: Dwight Howard (13.2) and Amar’e Stoudemire (10.7)
G1: ORL 106-99
G2: PHX 110-107
G3: PHX 111-110 (Amar’e GW FTs)
G4: ORL 106-89
G5: PHX 111-102
G6: ORL 114-92
G7: PHX 111-107 (Amar’e 17 pts, 9 reb)
Steve Nash puts the finishing touches on his amazing run by winning his fourth championship in a miraculous seven-game set vs Dwight Howard and the Magic. 
In real-life, the Suns were a Metta World Peace tip-in from going up 3-2 on the Lakers in the conference finals. It’s as close Nash will ever get to a ring. Ironically, it’s here when we simply reverse the outcomes he is perhaps the greatest point guard in league history. More titles than Dr. J, Bird, Magic, Kareem, Jo Jo, K.J, Stockton and Duncan. A weird world. One that gives Nash his proper due, however. 
2011: Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) vs Chicago Bulls (62-20)
Best Players: Derrick Rose (13.1) and Kevin Durant (12)
G1: OKC 99-97
G2: OKC 93-84
G3: OKC 79-78 (Russ GW)
G4: OKC 100-91 (K.D 35 pts, 9 reb; Rose 42)
K.D, Russ and Harden win it all together… and in a year they’ll be split up and each win an MVP within five-years. K.D in 2014. Russ in ‘17. Harden in ‘18. 
The Thunder had the misfortune of running into Dirk’s last stand with the Mavs. Two 40-point outings, 32.2 per game in a gentleman’s sweep. OKC didn’t have a prayer in figuring him out. Recently acquired center Kendrick Perkins was a negative during his time in OKC. Ibaka was too young and couldn’t keep up with the experienced Dirk. 
We’re likely entering the K.D/Russ – OKC era here. They’ll bag three titles in the decade. 
2012: Boston Celtics (39-27) vs San Antonio Spurs (50-16)
Best Players: Tony Parker (7.1) and Paul Pierce (7)
G1: SAS 93-90
G2: SAS 111-94
G3: BOS 100-91
G4: BOS 111-92
G5: SAS 113-95
G6: SAS 105-100 (T. Parker 21 pts, 7 ast)
The Spurs finally win without David Robinson and Duncan captures his third ring. Parker bags the Finals MVP. The Spurs in 2012, before they were tossed out for Durant in the WCF, were getting all-time buzz. I don’t doubt the Heat would’ve been underdogs if San Antonio met them in June. They perfected the game and closed the season on a win streak that ran into the playoffs, ending at 20 before they dropped 4 straight. 
2013: Indiana Pacers (49-32) vs Memphis Grizzlies (56-26)
Best Players: Marc Gasol (11.5) and George Hill (9.7)
G1: MEM 110-86
G2: MEM 82-79
G3: IND 97-92
G4: MEM 85-92
G5: IND 89-80
G6: IND 84-83 (Lance tip-in GW)
G7: MEM 95-92 (M. Gasol 21-10-3)
In a series that only could be described as a love letter to ugly ball. Watching Roy Hibbert battle Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is oddly captivating. Indiana battles from 3-1 down to push the Grizzlies to 7 and fall oh, so short! 
Memphis caps off one of the most unlikely runs in NBA history. Defeating former champions Oklahoma and San Antonio in back to back series and overcome the gritty Pacers who emulate their Grit ‘n Grind style to a T. 
This is also one of the lowest rated NBA Finals in history. 
2014: Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23) vs Indiana Pacers (56-26)
Best Players: Kevin Durant (19.2) and Paul George (10.8)
G1: IND 87-82
G2: IND 113-98
G3: OKC 103-77
G4: OKC 99-86
G5: IND 99-89
G6: OKC 99-90
G7: OKC 103-94 (K.D 27 pts, 5 reb)
The Thunder win their second championship in four seasons. In a wild NBA Finals that featured the road team winning every game up until the decisive game seven. Paul George went toe-to-toe with Durant and lost in a valiant effort. But back to back heartbreaks for Indiana stings no matter how many times they’ve gotten to the dance, they can taste success. George is walking down the same path of pain as his predecessor Reggie. 
Durant is probably leaving this article the best player ever by the way. And the Thunder have won the title after giving up James Harden, who’ll make the NBA Finals with Houston next season. 
2015: Atlanta Hawks (60-22) vs Houston Rockets (56-26)
Best Players: Al Horford (8.7) and James Harden (16.4)
G1: HOU 116-101
G2: ATL 103-98
G3: ATL 122-109
G4: HOU 83-73
G5: ATL 105-92
G6: HOU 97-84
G7: ATL 103-98 (Millsap 30 pts, 15 reb)
If a starless team like Atlanta won the title, we would have retroactively put either Al Horford or Paul Millsap into the superstar column like we did with Ben Wallace when the Pistons won. You can chalk it up to perception, but stars always win in this league. Sometimes we simply overlook players because they play in smaller markets or move around from team to team and fly under our radar. 
Does Atlanta winning change the NBA? Probably not. Like I said, Horford and Millsap in 2015 were stars. Nobody respected them, which was the problem. 
2016: Toronto Raptors (56-26) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)
Best Players: Kevin Durant (14.5) and Kyle Lowry (11.6)
G1: OKC 106-97
G2: OKC 95-86
G3: OKC 118-115 (OT)
G4: OKC 104-81 (Russ 19-11-5)
Three titles in six seasons for Durant, right as he’s ready to skip town to Golden State. 
Durant and Russ are the Shaq and Kobe of this universe. Tons of internal turmoil, causes the premature end to the dynasty. 
2017: San Antonio Spurs (61-21) vs Boston Celtics (53-29) 
Best Players: Kawhi Leonard (13.6) and Isaiah Thomas (12.5)
G1: SAS 107-95
G2: SAS 110-96
G3: BOS 110-102
G4: SAS 121-114
G5: SAS 114-105 (Kawhi 26-9-5)
Kawhi was my 2017 MVP. Isaiah finished 3rd in my rankings behind Harden. 
2019: Boston Celtics (55-27) vs Houston Rockets (65-17)
Best Players: James Harden (15.4) and Al Horford (7.8)
G1: HOU 99-97
G2: BOS 88-86
G3: BOS 111-107
G4: HOU 108-98
G5: HOU 114-105
G6: BOS 113-92
G7: BOS 101-95 (Horford 20-9-5)
In an improbable turn of events, through all the injuries the Celtics overcome Giannis, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, LeBron, ultimately James Harden en route to their eighteenth banner. 
Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin all lost to freak injury. Many didn’t have Jaylen Brown at three on their draft boards where the Celtics took him. People doubted Danny Ainge when he traded down to take Jayson Tatum third. Almost everyone panned the Terry Rozier pick. The Celtics title, like Atlanta’s in 2015, didn’t prove superstars aren’t needed to win a championship, but that well run front offices that develop players like Marcus Smart are crucial to winning a title just as much as having LeBron. 
2019: Milwaukee Bucks (60-22) vs Portland Trail Blazers (53-29)
Best Players: Giannis Antetokoukpo (14.4) and Damian Lillard (12.1)
G1: MIL 109-80
G2: MIL 127-102
G3: POR 125-105
G4: MIL 112-105
G5: MIL 121-95 (Giannis 31-16-9)
Ironic. We start this journey with the Bucks winning it all with Kareem and end it with Giannis doing the same. This is also the last NBA Finals ever. Which is… startling. 
Recap:
Ring-less No More: Elgin Baylor, George Gervin, Pete Maravich, Sidney Moncrief, Artis Gilmore, Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Penny Hardaway, Arvdas Sabonis, Chris Webber, Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Russell Westbrook, Giannis
Biggest Winners: Phoenix Suns (5 titles), Boston Celtics (7 titles), Philadelphia 76ers (3 titles), Milwaukee Bucks (3 titles), Utah Jazz (1 title), Orlando Magic (1 Title), Atlanta Hawks (1 title), Oklahoma City Thunder (3 titles)
Biggest Losers: Los Angeles Lakers (Lose 9 titles), Chicago Bulls (Lose 6 titles), Golden State Warriors (Lose 3 titles), Miami Heat (Lose 3 titles).
Wash: New York Knicks, Seattle SuperSonics, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets
Player who gains the most: Steve Nash
Player who loses the most: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson

What If Matt Geiger Waived His Trade-Kicker?

If there was ever one individual that embodied the anti-authority swagger like a “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, only real, it be Allen Iverson. The literal embodiment of the rebel without a cause, all Iverson cared about was playing ball and being the best. Conversely, all David Stern cared about was making the NBA marketable and inoffensive. It is because of Iverson the NBA instituted a dress code that’s since been relaxed under Adam Silver. It is because of Iverson the NBA and hip-hop blended together like peanut butter and jelly. 

Sadly, unlike the “Texas Rattlesnake,” Iverson never delivered a stunner to the commissioner, or win a championship. 
Throughout his career, “The Answer” struggled to fit in even with his own team. Often clashing with Sixers head coach Larry Brown. Even in his landmark season in 2001, the Sixers crashed the NBA Finals and Iverson won the MVP over Shaquille O’Neal, he nearly was traded to the lowly Pistons. Only to be saved by an unlikely face. Backup center Matt Geiger was on a hefty six-year, $47 million contract that also came with a 15 percent trade kicker worth approximately $3.3 million. If traded, Grieger would have to waive his trade-kicker or else the figures deal wouldn’t work. Of course, Geiger refused and Iverson remained in Philadelphia.
This happened at the halfway point of the 2000-01 season. Right when the Sixers are making a push for the number one seed. The Iverson trade that essentially would have jumpstarted a reboot involved four teams, themselves, the Pistons, Lakers and Hornets. 
Philadelphia: Eddie Jones, Glen Rice, Jerome Williams, and Dale Ellis 
Detroit: Allen Iverson and Matt Geiger
Charlotte: Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner, and Travis Knight
Lakers: Anthony Mason, Toni Kukoc, and Todd Fuller
For Philadelphia, they likely find themselves in the lottery, meandering in the mediocrity that makes that’ll make Sam Hinkie cry. Jones was one of the NBA’s premier scoring wings. However, he’s no Iverson, and Jones didn’t exactly bring wins whenever he went. Famously going AWOL in the ‘98 WCF with the Lakers. 
Charlotte went 46-36 in 2000-01, with David Wesley playing shooting guard, averaging 17 points a game. Stackhouse averaged nearly 22 points, but for the lottery bound Pistons. He’d likely come off the bench for Wesley, the thinking in Charlotte being “he scored a lot of points for those bottom feeders, he’ll have to produce for us!” Stackhouse was an excellent reserve for the Mavericks in the mid-2000s. 
Laettner would have been thrown into the meat grinder, fighting for playing time against veteran power forwards Elden Campbell, Derrick Coleman and Otis Thorpe. With scorers Baron Davis and the aforementioned Wesley, the Hornets likely defeat the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2nd round with Laettner and Stackhouse as sixth and seventh men. 
In our timeline, Philadelphia was taken to the brink by the 41-41 Pacers, Vince Carter’s Raptors, and Ray Allen’s Bucks. While the Lakers cruised behind Kobe and Shaq, the East was a bloodbath and a handful of teams potentially could have crashed the finals that year. The Hornets could have been one of them. 
If Indiana returned to the dance, despite the ineptitude of Isiah Thomas at the helm. I see the series going six in favor of Los Angeles. If Vinsanity continued into June, the Raptors put up a valiant effort, ultimately falling short in six. The Ray Allen, Sam Caswell and Glen Robinson Bucks fall in the same amount of games. Now, if the Hornets made it…
They still lose. C’mon. It’s Shaq and Kobe. 
For the Pistons, they hardly are a super team and likely lose the ability to trade for Rasheed Wallace, thereby relinquishing their 2004 championship. In 2002, the Pistons are plugging in A.I into the Michael Curry role at the two-guard next to Chucky Atkins. In ‘02 they still fall to Boston, and in 2004 lose to New Jersey in six, as opposed to a sweep in OTL. The Pistons in the early-2000s with Iverson is a poor man’s attempt to remake the “Bad Boy” era teams. The guards handling all the scoring load, while the forwards and center provide the defense and muscle. Except Atkins is no Joe Dumars, and I doubt the Pistons can afford to sign Billups and keep Iverson. 
In 2004, the Pacers or Nets make it back to the finals to get squashed by the Lakers and Shaq still skips town that summer to play for Miami. The Heat likely make the finals and takedown San Antonio in the process, meaning Shaq wins two without Kobe; each of them tying Jordan with six total championships. No Detroit in the way, means LeBron makes it to the East Finals in 2006, losing to Miami; and again in 2007, falling short to Ben Gordon and the Chicago Bulls. 
Yup. The Bulls make it to the finals for the first time without Jordan. Jerry Krause completes his rebuild and while Chicago falls short against the Spurs, it’s not a bad feather to be put in your cap. 
So to recap:
  • No championships for Detroit
  • Bucks/Pacers/Raptors/Hornets vs Lakers in 2001
  • Pacers/Nets vs L.A in 2004
  • Lakers win in 2004
  • Heat win in 2005 and 2006
  • Bulls make it to the finals in 2007
  • NBA is robbed of one of their greatest stars and most iconic moments in its history.

Biazzaro 2010 Finals, Suns vs Magic

Basketball is a game of constant momentum shifts and easily bursts bubbles. The playoffs are akin to a roller coaster ride, filled with ups, downs, wins, losses, and unless you’re the 2017 Golden State Warriors, 2001 Los Angeles Lakers, or the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers, your team will experience these hysterical peaks and valleys. The decade of 2010 is defined by LeBron James rising to the occasion and assuming the mantle as best player in the world. Finally vanquishing the hated Celtics and silencing all of his critics. 

But all things are fickle and if one or two things went differently, LeBron easily becomes this generations Julius Erving. An awe inspiring talent who never figures out how to win as the best player on his team. This comparison works just for the two players in a vacuum. Until 2012, LeBron didn’t develop a jump shot, have sufficient post moves and was sketchy at the free throw line. Way back in 1983, a scout for the 76ers was explaining to Dr. J how good Michael Jordan was, describing him as “You [Dr.J], but with a jump shot.”
In 2010, Brian Windhorst went on an “emergency” podcast of the B.S Report to discuss the Cavaliers collapse against the underdog Celtics. It quickly sunk into conspiratorial territory. LeBron was dealing with an elbow injury and the pills he was taking to deal with the pain simultaneously was giving him depression. Out of all the crazy theories out there, this one is rarely talked about, I think there’s some truth to this. I mean, it makes sense right? Biggest series of his life, LeBron looks so passive. Yeah, he had one foot out the door, but Kevin Durant showed more fight in his final Thunder series than LeBron did. 
The Celtics soldiered on, catching fire winning three straight over the 66-win Cavaliers, then stealing the first two from Dwight Howard and the Magic on the road en route to an improbable run to the finals nearly culminating in a championship. 
Howard was the last great true center the league will ever see. His limited move set didn’t stop him from scoring nearly twenty a night, and playing other worldly lockdown defense. In his previous campaign, Howard transcended the Magic lackluster roster, combined with Stan Van Gundy reaching the apex of his coaching career, Orlando ran LeBron out of the building, robbing fans of their dream Kobe-Bron Finals.
The 2009-10 Magic reloaded by trading for Vince Carter and many pegged them to come out of the East. Absolutely nobody had the Celtics squeaking by Cleveland and Orlando. You’d be insane to believe otherwise. 
So why didn’t Magic win? Boston sucker punched a complacent Magic squad in game one. Vince Carter missed two free throws down 3 with 31 seconds left and squandering a crucial two-for-one opportunity that hold have saved their season. The Celtics took advantage of two franchises in the middle of imploding. The Magic have never made a serious playoff run since, making it back only once and Howard never coming closer to capturing a championship – not that I think he cares. 
Steve Nash vs Jameer Nelson
Jason Richardson vs Vince Carter
Grant Hill vs Matt Barnes
Channing Frye vs Rashad Lewis 
Amar’e Stoudemire vs Dwight Howard
No better collection of talent in the history of basketball has been squandered because their owner was a cheap bastard who should have never owned a team. Despite wasting Steve Nash’s prime, the Suns had one more run left in them. Bowing out to Los Angeles in six. One play that sticks out is Ron Artest jumping over Jason Richardson for a putback off of a Kobe miss to win the game in its final seconds. That doesn’t happen, maybe the Suns Cinderella run doesn’t come to a screeching halt.
If the Magic won, it drastically alter Howard’s legacy from a unlikable, disingenuous, insecure individual to an unlikable, disingenuous, insecure individual with a ring. I can’t imagine someone of his caliber more undeserving of a championship.
If Phoenix won, Steve Nash will have finally climbed the mountain top, proving good guys don’t always finish last. 
Personally, I think the Magic didn’t have it in them. Suns in 5.