On Sunday, Father's Day, LeBron James (and Stephen Curry, and some referees) has gifted us a sublime rarity: an NBA Finals Game 7. Thursday night's Game 6 had so much going on -- LeBron being otherworldly! Steph hitting some poor dude with a mouthpiece! The wife of the NBA MVP claiming the league is rigged on Twitter! The best team in NBA regular-season history looking disjointed and terrified! -- that it feels like we haven't had time to move forward yet, but move forward we must. Because there is a Game 7 on Sunday. Like, in 60 hours! Life comes at you fast.
It is possible that 2016 may end up giving us two of the most breathtaking basketball finishes of all time. In case you forgot, let's all take a moment to bask, once again, in what happened in Houston in the NCAA championship game in April.
That was about as exciting as sports is capable of being … and now we've got a chance for that to happen in the NBA. We discussed Thursday how much the way we'll be discussing basketball for the next 20 years will be affected by how this series goes down, and now we have our Game 7, between a 73-win team led by a two-time MVP, in front of perhaps the most insane home crowd in the league, against one of the five greatest NBA players of all time, at his absolute peak, with a chance to bring a championship to the most championship-starved city in the United States. That's all going to be settled in one game. This game could end in a buzzer beater! It's flabbergasting to think about.
And the NBA Finals does not typically get these. There have been 18 in all, bu in the past 32 years -- essentially, the "modern" era, from when Michael Jordan was drafted until now -- the NBA Finals have reached Game 7 only seven times, counting this one.
(For the sake of discussion, here's how many games the NBA Finals have gone since 1984:
• Seven games: 7
• Six games: 14
• Five games: 8
• Four games: 4
Only six times in my arbitrarily chosen "modern era" before this Sunday has the NBA championship come down to one game. And none of them has come close to these stakes. Let's take a look at each.
1984: Boston 4, L.A. Lakers 3
This is probably the best one on this list and the only one that can possibly rival Sunday's game. It was the first Larry Bird-Magic Johnson NBA Finals -- there would be two more, both won by the Lakers -- and the culmination of a storyline put into place in the NCAA title game five years earlier. It was the brightest moment of Bird's career -- though he'd win another title, his final one, in two years -- and a seminal moment in NBA history. The case against it, at least in comparison to Sunday? The Celtics had just won the title three seasons earlier, the Lakers (who had won two years before) would win the next two rematches and everyone's places in history were essentially already assured, no matter what happened in that game. The Cavs -- well, LeBron -- and the Warriors have their whole histories on the line if they lose Sunday. No one thinks worse about Magic because he lost this game. (Even if he did play sort of poorly down the stretch.) Fun dated aspect of the end of this game, as seen in this video: fans at the Boston Garden running on the court to celebrate, even interrupting a Bird free throw. He looks only slightly perturbed. The '70s and '80s were nuts.
1988: L.A. Lakers 4, Detroit 3
This was the era of the video-game bad guy theory of the NBA playoffs: You needed to approach the mountaintop a few times and be smacked away before you learned and evolved and ultimately triumphed. Isiah Thomas' amazing Game 6 performance -- in a loss -- led to this one, where the Lakers took a huge lead and barely hung on for a 108-105 win. This one loses a little mustard because Magic had already won four titles, the teams would play again the next season and, jeez, it's the Lakers, how excited could you get about the Lakers' fifth title in nine years?
1994: Houston 4, New York 3
This one is up there, if just because of what was on the line for the Knicks and Patrick Ewing. This was the first year after Jordan's retirement, which meant the game was widely considered a referendum on his successor: Hakeem Olajuwon, or Ewing? Olajuwon ultimately won this battle, with some help from John Starks, and the Knicks haven't been nearly that close to a championship since. The only reason the stakes here feel a little lower than Sunday's game is that both teams were considered to have multiple opportunities to break through in the years to come, as evidenced by the Rockets winning again in 1995. Sunday's game feels like a whole directional pivot for the league; this game was more about figuring out what a post-Jordan world looked like. (It ultimately looked like More Jordan.)
2005: San Antonio 4, Detroit 3
This Finals is weirdly difficult to remember, for two potential reasons. First, each team had won the two previous titles. Second, neither was that particularly compelling to watch. This was more about a transitional era in the league, pre-LeBron's peak, and while the Spurs had plenty of staying power, this wasn't even one of their more exciting titles.
2010: L.A. Lakers 4, Boston 3
This one had nostalgia on its side, as well as the drama of the Lakers trying to win a second consecutive title as the Celtics tried to squeeze one more out of their Ubuntu crew. This one's stakes were mostly about the Celtics, who tried -- unsuccessfully, as it turned out -- to be something other than a one-off champion. Not only has neither team won a championship since this season, neither one has come particularly close. Also: There are no more unjustly forgotten clutch free throws than the ones Sasha Vujacic hit at the end of this one.
2013: Miami 4, San Antonio 3
This has to be LeBron's career highlight up to this point -- until we see what happens on Sunday -- overcoming a 3-2 series deficit to win his second consecutive title. (This was the final year of the 2-3-2 home-road split.) He was a monster in this game, scoring 37 points -- hitting five 3-pointers! -- and establishing himself as one of the best players of all time, if he hadn't done that already. This is his most recent title; San Antonio has returned and won one since then, against his Heat no less.
There are some incredible games, with incredible stakes, in all those series above. But I still don't think there's anything bigger than Sunday. We'll be dealing with ramifications of that one for decades. This weekend can't get over with fast enough.