Here's an easy call, such a slam-dunk in the opinion-mongering business that it's almost silly to debate it. If the Pistons beat the Lakers, it will
be by a country mile the biggest upset in the history of the NBA Finals. Save for yet another miracle shot by Kobe Bryant in Game 2, the upset of the
ages would be all but in the books. As it is, after just two games, we've got a hellacious finals on our hands, one of the few the NBA has provided in
which you know which team is more talented but aren't sure it will win.
In none of the three major professional sports are upsets as much an anathema as they are in the NBA. Sometimes, in fact, it seems that upsets are
more the rule in the other sports than the exception. You don't have to look any further back in history than Marlins over the Yankees and Buccaneers
over the Raiders to find one of dozens of examples.
But the NBA Finals are as predictable as a six-year-old's reaction to getting a puppy. You don't watch the finals so much to see who wins as to see
how they're going to do it. Unlike every other major sport, basketball runs to the chalk; the better team going into the championship round almost
invariably comes out hugging David Stern's big gold basketball. That's why when there is an upset, it's remembered and celebrated forever. And so far,
the biggest of them all remains the 1970 finals, when Willis Reed limped onto the court in Game 7 against the Lakers, played just long enough to
ignite god's own adrenaline surge in the Knicks, and propelled them to an upset of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor.
That was 34 years ago, plenty of time for at least one other team to have done something to challenge the memory of that year. But no one has done it.
There was one in 1975, when the 48-win Golden State Warriors led by Rick Barry beat the 60-win Washington Bullets led by Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld.
By rights, the '75 Warriors were a bigger upset than the '70 Knicks, who may have been the underdog but still put a team on the floor that included
Clyde Frazier, Dollar Bill Bradley, Dave Debusschere, and Reed. But we remember the Knicks because of Reed's courage and inspiration. We forget the
Warriors because, well, they're the Warriors.
The last real upset we've seen was the 1995 Rockets, who finished third in the Midwest with 47 wins and took on the Orlando Magic, led by a pretty
good center named Shaquille O'Neal. The Magic won 57 games that year and also had Anfernee Hardaway before his knees went bad and Horace Grant. They
were supposed to win. But that upset fails to qualify as truly overwhelming because the Rockets were still, despite their record, the defending NBA
champs. And the Rockets had Hakeem Olajuwon at center, perhaps the only center who's ever been a real match for Shaq, along with Clyde Drexler and Sam
Our other upset and you can argue in retrospect that this wasn't an upset at all was the 1991 finals, when the Bulls, led by Michael Jordan, beat the
Lakers of Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Byron Scott. The Bulls actually had two more wins that season than the Lakers, but you have to remember
that the Lakers were a veteran, championship team and the Bulls and Jordan were playing in their first final. Later, we would come to learn that every
final that Jordan had anything to do with was over before it started. But we didn't know it then. The Bulls winning was a good upset at the time.
But that's about it for the past 34 years Knicks over the Lakers, Warriors over the Bullets, Bulls over the Lakers and Rockets over the Magic. It's
not a great legacy of upsets. To be sure, the NBA has had its share of finals that were as exciting as championships get, when two evenly matched
great teams fought it out without either really being a favorite. Refer back to the glory days of the Magic-Bird rivalry for those.
But it's the true, earth shattering upset, the Jets over the Colts kind of upset, that the NBA is missing. And now, finally, we have an actual chance
of seeing it. The Pistons are a terrific team. We know that. But no one starts a story about them by referring to their four future hall of famers,
because they don't have them. They don't even have one offensive player who is the best in the league.
Rip Hamilton is a heckuva a shooter, but he's young and anyway Kobe is better so far. Chauncy Billups is a good point guard, but he's hardly Isiah
Thomas or Joe Dumars, for that matter. Rasheed Wallace is also a good player, but he's not James Worthy. And Ben Wallace may be the latest incarnation
of a Dennis Rodman style defender and rebounder, but he can't play both ends of the court. There's really no NBA champion to compare the Pistons to.
To strike an analogy, you have to think of the Patriots in the NFL or the Devils in the NHL teams that win by total teamwork, unstinting effort,
defensive brilliance, and an unselfish offense that does just enough to get the job done.
There hasn't been a champ like that because basketball, more than any sport, can be bent to the will of one or two uncannily talented players. The
Lakers have those two player in Shaq and Kobe. They won Game 2 pretty much by themselves, the only two players on the Lakers to score in double
figures as opposed to four Pistons to do it. The chalk still says the two great players will win it, because that's what always happens. But the eyes
tell you that the Pistons have a very real chance. Not just to win, but to pull off the greatest finals upset in the history of the game.
My opinion is I hadn't thought about it much since till I saw this article but out of what I've seen this is the greatest upset in NBA Finals history.
I didn't stuff in the 1970's and before though. But with the hype of the 4 future Hall of Famers and the dominance of the Western Conference since MJ
retired (the 2nd time with the Bulls), I think for at least the last 20 years this is the greatest upset.
[Edited on 15/6/04 by TRD]