A Stroll Down Memory Lane
It’s not always the incredible plays that make the Finals unforgettable. For some, it’s the meal after or the championship parade that brings back the fondest memories.
The NBA Finals have certainly provided their share of indelible moments over the years. For Sam Perkins, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 Finals against the Chicago Bulls, one such moment could also be classified as inedible.
The 1991 Finals represented a changing of the guard in the NBA as Michael Jordan and the Bulls captured the first of six championships. But before Jordan was to wear the crown shared by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas in previous years, he would have to get by Johnson, who brought the Lakers into Chicago Stadium for Game 1 eyeing an upset.
With Chicago nursing a two-point edge late, Perkins nailed a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to give the Lakers a one-point lead. Byron Scott then added a free throw to give the Lakers a hard-fought 93-91 victory. At the time, it appeared to be the defining moment in Perkins’ career. What Perkins strangely remembers most about Game 1, however, is what transpired a few hours later when he and a group of friends walked into a Chicago restaurant hoping to enjoy a postgame meal.
While Perkins waited for what he was told would be approximately 10 minutes, an employee at the restaurant recognized him as the guy who had just hit the game-winning shot a few hours earlier. Mysteriously, the wait for the table began to grow.
“One of the guys who worked at the restaurant saw who I was,” recalled Perkins. “I heard him saying to some of the other people who worked there, ‘Hey that’s the kid who hit the shot, that’s the guy.’ And suddenly the wait went from 10 minutes to almost an hour.”
He was eventually given a table and went on to enjoy what, at the time, had to be an extremely satisfying meal. Perkins’ digestion would soon worsen as the Bulls regrouped and posted four straight victories to earn their first NBA title. Afterward, reservations were made for many more Finals appearances by Jordan and Co.
Here are a few fond memories from those who watched and played in the Finals.
Rick Fox (watching the Bulls vs. Lakers in 1991): “I went to Game 1 in Chicago, when I was at pre-draft camp (Fox was drafted by Boston in 1991), and the Bulls lost that first game, but they won the championship. But I remember being behind the basket and watching Michael score 36 points. Being a North Carolina guy, I ran into him after the game, and I remember thinking he’d be so dejected at the fact that they lost the first game. Instead he had nothing but confidence. They went on to win the next four, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
John Salley (a member of the Detroit Pistons when they won in 1989 and 1990): “My favorite part of the Finals is finally winning it. This is probably the craziest comment you’re going to get, but the best part of the NBA Finals is the next morning after you’ve won. Because you don’t remember you won the night before. I literally woke up and thought I was late for practice. I forgot it was all over. And in 1989, when we won, I remember I took a shower and put on a clean shirt – one of our championship shirts – and went downstairs and danced with Downtown Julie Brown at the postgame party. That was important.”
Julius Erving (on winning in both the NBA and the ABA): “I think the two Finals that I would recall as being the most significant to me were the second one in the ABA and the first one in the NBA. In the first two games against the Nuggets, I opened up with 48 and 45 points on back-to-back nights, but we split the games. And both of those teams (New Jersey and Denver) went into the NBA, of course ours was intact, and proved to be worthy competition for a long time. And then in 1983, sweeping L.A., sweeping with Andrew Toney and Mo Cheeks and Moses Malone on the team. That was interesting because our team was very dominant, but because we had gone to the Finals three times previously and not winning, there was nothing that could be taken for granted or left open to chance. And I really didn’t until there was no time on the clock. That was big because there’s a very thin line between success and failure. So for me, I think the ’83 championship, going 12-1, collectively reaching our goal, was the most memorable.”
Larry Bird (on defeating the Lakers in the 1984 Finals): “I’d have to say in 1984 beating the Lakers and Magic, sort of getting a little revenge on him after what happened in college in 1979. The one thing that sticks in my mind is when we got beat by 32 out in L.A. in Game 3 and then in Game 4 when Kevin McHale, while he was coming back on defense, clotheslined Kurt Rambis. That play seemed to turn the whole series around.”
Robert Horry (a member of the Houston Rockets when they beat the Orlando Magic in 1995): “I think setting the record for steals (seven on June 9, 1995) for me personally, was my most memorable Finals moment. That was something I was happy about. I know one game Scottie Pippen was getting close to (breaking) it, and I was saying, ‘Don’t throw it toward Scottie, don’t throw it toward Scottie.’ But the record wouldn’t have meant anything if we hadn’t won the series. Winning the series and getting that record is what sticks out in my mind.”
Don Chaney (on the 1969 Finals, won in seven games by the Boston Celtics over the Los Angeles Lakers. Bill Russell and Sam Jones retired after this series, and Chaney was in his rookie season): “The Celtics had finished really low (fourth place in the Eastern Division) in the standings but ended up in the Finals against the Lakers. It’s the seventh game, the game would be over and they would win the championship. They had balloons in the ceiling, they had the champagne in the locker room. They were celebrating a victory before the end of the game. We won that game. It was one of the greatest disappointments for one team that I had ever witnessed before. The odds were against us, finishing where we did and going up against one of the better teams in the league and with them being at home in the seventh game. And we took it away from them. You could just see the disappointment in their faces, not just the players but the fans as well. It was a great competitive series. But that one was special, because the odds were against us and we walked away with the ring.”
Bill Walton (on the Finals in general): “In basketball, there are two moments where everything is different and that’s at the championship parade and at the Hall of Fame. The relationship with your coach is different that day. The whole world is different on those days and if you can capture one day in your life, it would be at the championship parade because of that incredible sense of achieving your goal. It’s your whole life coming together in one day.”
Michael Jordan (on the 1998 Finals): “The last championship was the hardest because everyone expected us to win, and then when everyone expects it, that makes it harder. The best game was the last game because Scottie Pippen didn’t play much and we had to win it or go to a Game 7 in Utah. I will obviously always remember the last shot, but that was just the end of it. The whole game is something I will never forget because it was a very hard game to win.”
Marv Albert (on Jordan against the Portland Trail Blazers in 1992): “I remember him looking over – it was myself, Mike Fratello and Magic Johnson doing the game – and we had talked to him before the game about shooting threes. Michael’s one of these guys who would say, ‘Today I’m going to be an assist guy,’ ‘Today I’m going to do this’ – you know, control the game. I guess Bird could do that also. And he said he felt he had to shoot threes. And then he comes out and hits six, and he gave that expression when he looked over to the table, he shrugged, like, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ That was a major moment.”
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