Throughout NBA history, the Finals have witnessed iconic series and player matchups that are etched into the collective memory of basketball enthusiasts. From the historic duels between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan’s unparalleled dominance, to the recent epic battles featuring LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the Finals have produced an abundance of unforgettable moments that define the sport. However, the pinnacle of basketball doesn’t always guarantee a captivating matchup in June.
Occasionally, circumstances align, leading to a forgettable Finals series that runs the risk of fading away from the consciousness of future NBA fans. Although the NBA Finals spotlight some of the most memorable championships and moments of NBA glory, these five particular NBA Finals lacked sufficient star power, ratings, and historical significance to make a lasting impact. These overlooked encounters failed to leave a lasting imprint on the collective imagination and face the possibility of being overlooked by future generations of NBA fans.
The 2003 Finals matchup of the San Antonio Spurs vs. the New Jersey Nets lacked star power with each team only having one All-Star from that year; the Spurs with Tim Duncan and the Nets with Jason Kidd. The Spurs had a 37-year-old David Robinson in the last year of his career and a 21-year-old Tony Parker in just his second year in the league. The Nets had solid role players alongside Kidd like Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin, but no other All-Star.
The TV ratings from this series were also poor, with an average of just 9.86 million viewers, making it the fourth lowest-rated NBA Finals series in history. The series went six games and gave Tim Duncan his second ring and Finals MVP.
4. Lakers vs Heat 2020
The 2020 “Bubble” Finals stand out as the most peculiar series on this list. Played in October amidst a global pandemic, this series took place in an empty arena, without any fans. While the bubble provided us with remarkable moments, such as the Suns going 8-0 but still missing the playoffs, or Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell trading 50-point games in the first round, the Finals itself proved to be underwhelming. It’s important to note that neither team was at fault; it’s just difficult to create a championship atmosphere without the presence of fans.
Moreover, the NBA faced tough competition in terms of viewership, as it coincided with the NFL, NHL, and MLB seasons. Because of this, the series garnered the lowest TV rating in Finals history, and game 3 became the least-watched Finals game ever due to its clash with Sunday Night Football. Despite its status as the most unique Finals series to date, it ultimately failed to captivate and entertain NBA fans.
When reflecting on LeBron James’ legacy, most people often recall his remarkable eight consecutive finals appearances from 2011 to 2018, along with his championship victory in 2020. However, it’s unfortunate that many tend to overlook his tremendous accomplishment of leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007. At the young age of 22, LeBron shouldered the weight of the entire team, as no other player on the Cavs that season averaged 15 points per game. LeBron averaged an impressive 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists in the playoffs, propelling the Cavs to an impressive 12-4 record leading up to the Finals.
Although the narrative of LeBron single-handedly carrying a team of role players to the Finals was undeniably impressive, the actual championship series itself proved to be underwhelming. The seasoned Spurs proved to be too much for just a young LeBron to handle, and they convincingly won the series in four games. The games themselves lacked excitement, with only one game in the series witnessing either team surpassing the 90-point mark. These factors contributed to the 2007 Finals receiving the third-lowest rating in NBA history for a championship series.
2. Trail Blazers vs. 76ers 1977
The last two series on our list are from one of the low points in NBA history. In the late 70s, the NBA was dying and fan interest was at an all-time low. They were still a few years away from the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird rivalry that many say saved the NBA, and they were barely scraping by. The 1977 NBA Finals proved that this era of basketball is often regarded as one of the most forgettable chapters in NBA history.
The series, contested between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Philadelphia 76ers, failed to leave a lasting impact on NBA fans. Several factors contributed to its lack of memorability. Firstly, the winning team, the Trail Blazers, lacked star power beyond Bill Walton, which dampened the overall excitement surrounding the Finals. It’s challenging to recall many notable players from that Blazers team besides Walton. Furthermore, despite the series extending to six games, most of them were unexciting blowouts, with only one game decided by fewer than five points.
Continuing the trend of the late 70s having forgettable Finals series, the 1979 Finals between the Seattle Super Sonics and the Washington Bullets comes in at number one on our list. This series was a rematch of the previous year, but far less entertaining than the year prior. The ‘78 series went seven games with the Bullets winning it all, but in ‘79 the Sonics won in just five games. The Sonics didn’t have a single player on their roster to average 20 points per game, and only had one All-Star, Dennis Johnson, who only scored 15.9 points per game and shot 43% from the field.
Most of the games in the series were boring and slow and led fans to be uninterested. The lack of closely contested matchups and iconic moments further contributed to the 1979 NBA Finals being regarded as forgettable. It failed to create the excitement and lasting memories that other Finals have produced. Many fans have been joking that this upcoming Nuggets-Heat Finals is only for true die-hard fans because of how boring the series will be. The lopsided championship odds back that up right now, but the Heat have been defying their odds since the postseason started. Back during the second round of the playoffs, we ranked this matchup last in our potential NBA Finals matchups rankings. While this matchup might not be as exciting to the average viewer as some of the prime Cavs/Warriors matchups, true NBA fans will be able to appreciate it. Two superstars, Jimmy Butler, and Nikola Jokic, are chasing their first ring while playing high-level basketball.
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