We talk about Magic Johnson, Micheal Jordan and Larry Bird playing on the grandest stage in NBA history. But they didn’t play in five consecutive finals. We marvel at the breath taking moves, shots and passes. But how do we measure greatness? We measure it by championships that how we measure it. Can you remember awesome dunks by Shawn Kemp? Dominique Wilkinson or “Did you see that assist?” from John Stockton! No! They didn’t win the big one. Isaiah Thomas didn’t become the leader of the “Bad Boys” until he willed a bunch of NBA journeymen to back-to-back championships. We can talk about NBA Champions and our favorite teams from now to next week. “History repeats itself in every aspect of life”, Bill Russell shares with NBA T.V. “A lot of people including myself are in awe of LeBron, but what about James Jones? He played on those teams too”, Mr. Russell shared.
Yes, only 10 players in NBA history have been to the NBA Finals in five straight seasons. Eight of them played on the Boston Celtics in the 1960s, and of those, seven are in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a player.
The other two players are LeBron James and James Jones. (Jones didn’t play in the 2011 Finals, but he was still on the Miami Heat roster when they made it). We think LeBron is just a little bit more responsible for the success of the Heat and Cavaliers than Jones. Of course, the NBA was a lot different when Russell and company made the Finals every year. There were only nine teams then: five in the Western conference, four in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics only had to be better than three other teams to make the Finals. Now, James’ teams have to be better than 14 opponents to make the Finals. In the 50 years since, nobody has been able to pull it off. Michael Jordan did it three times in a row twice, then retired. Kobe Bryant also made it three times in a row twice. Larry Bird managed to do it four times in a row. None of the greats from a half-century of basketball managed to be this good this consistently.
LeBron has made it to the Finals with good teammates and he’s made it to the Finals with bad teammates. This year, he’s getting to the Finals with his team’s second-best player Kyrie Irving hobbled and his team’s third-best player Kevin Love out for the remainder playoffs. The consolation prize is he has two dynamic players in Iman Shumpert and J. R. Smith. The Cavs won’t miss a beat with these two players filling in the blanks. He’s made it to the Finals in Miami. He’s made it to the Finals in Cleveland. He’s made it to the Finals as the Eastern Conference’s top seed. He’s made it to the Finals as a non-top seed. Sure, LeBron has played in the Eastern Conference, which has been weak. Sure, he has failed to win in the NBA Finals several times. But LeBron James has been so good, so often, that even in his bad years he has been on the NBA’s second-best team. That’s miraculous.
Even if James falls short this postseason against the Golden State Warriors, we should take a moment to praise him. James Jones is a solid player but has to fight for minutes because he’s a team player with a three point shot. Not a high flyer, dime dropper or a thief (steals). He’s a really good player that’s over shadowed by a great one. But does he get the credit he deserves? The answer is No. But he’s on the team too.
Players that has played in 5 consecutive NBA finals:
Bill Russell 1966
Sam Jones 1966
K.C. Jones 1966
Satch Sanders 1966
Tom Heinsohn 1965
Frank Ramsey 1964
Bob Cousy 1963
Bill Sherman 1961
LeBron James 2015
James Jones 2015