Monday, July 7

Point: The Legacies of the 2008 NBA Finals

The 2008 NBA Finals had the most significant positive impact on individual legacies since Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson won their first title in 1991. That championship was instrumental in propelling Jordan from a great player to the greatest of all-time. Similarly, Phil went from “a” coach to beginning his ascent to Zen Master and being mentioned in the same breath with Red Auerbach. None of the legacies from this year’s championship are as significant, but collectively they’re close.

For Paul Pierce, a star largely neglected, even by his own league for the past several years, grew from potential tradebait (who easily could have played the role of KG on a new team), to a certified superstar. Instead of shopping for a new home in a new city, Pierce is now assured of a place in the rafters of the Banknorth Garden. His determination and defense were exactly what Laker fans were hoping for (and did not get) from Kobe. From likely-traded to MVP and probably the Hall of Fame, Pierce’s performance has cemented his place in Boston lore and NBA history.

Kevin Garnett arrived in Boston as the largest piece of a team designed to return Boston to prominence. A former MVP, KG was regarded as one of the most versatile players in the history of the league, but without being battle-tested in an NBA Finals. Skeptics pointed to KG’s failures in crunch time, but his 26 points and 14 rebounds in the deciding game serve to overshadow this criticism. He may not be the guy fans want shooting the ball in the final seconds, but the win forever takes him out of the Karl Malone, Elvin Hayes class and grants him at least cursory mention in the discussion amongst the great power forwards of all time.

Ray Allen has had the purest shot in the NBA for years, but with his Finals performance he’s elevated himself from being a barber shop mention to potentially a HOFer. Reggie Miller is likely a HOFer primarily on the strength of his 3-point shot, and his clutch performances, and his performance in the Finals pales in comparison to Allen’s, in both regards. Allen’s case would be greatly enhanced with another great Celtics run, but his name belongs on the ballot, even after only one championship.

Doc Rivers personified maligned, considered clueless and overmatched by the Celtic faithful. After winning, he’s not only out-coached the Zen Master, but rallied the troops and delivered them to the promised land. Rivers long held the ire of the fans, but was a revered leader to the people who mattered most, his players. Now he’s coached a team to a championship, and accomplished something that great coaches, such as Don Nelson, Jerry Sloan and Rick Adelman never have. One championship does not guarantee him a lifetime contract, but does command the respect of those who doubted him.

In addition to the positive impact on legacies, two were wounded. Kobe Bryant, who only weeks earlier was being compared to Jordan’s greatness, has proven he doesn’t belong in the same breath. His quest for a championship without Shaq, continues to elude him. Phil Jackson, who is still chasing Red Auerbach as the greatest of all time, has now lost his last two trips to the Finals. His team was dominated in the ’04 Finals by Detroit, and game 6 of this year was perhaps the worst performance by a team in Finals history.

With the vindication of a coach, the validation of one consensus Hall of Famer, the propelling of two stars into another echelon, as well the tarnishing of two legacies, this Finals stands as the most important in nearly twenty years. The Celtics may go on to win another, but it will pale in significance to their victory in the 2008 NBA Finals.

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