A Note About How This All Began:
During the heart of the 2019 NBA Summer League, at a long rectangular table in the food court of the Palms Resort and Hotel, 10 people gathered on a whim to fulfill an idea that had been brewing since we had met on the very first day of our program, Larry Coon’s Sports Business Classroom. During the course of a program — where a scary amount of NBA learning takes place the most underrated part of the entire experience is finding people who love and care about the NBA in the same fanatic fashion. After the first class day of inhaling anything and everything we could about the NBA, both myself and my classmate Reed Wallach (another owner in this draft) went out to dinner and began to discuss, what else, the NBA. In some fashion or another, we arrived at a discussion of our all-time favorite plays and greatest moments. What ensued was a conversation about what the criteria should be for both: If it happened in the playoffs, was it significantly more important? Are trades equally as fun in 2019 as some on-court play? How unique does the play have to be for it to matter to us? Only then did it hit us, it was unlikely that we were the only one’s spending dinner talking about this.
The next day, seated around a table in class, eight other members of the 2019 SBC class were recruited to take place in a draft of the “Best Moments Of The Last 20 Years.” We created a group thread where we together tinkered with a draft format and criteria for something that would be both interesting to read and something replicable for other people. Maybe most importantly however, we just wanted to do something incredibly fun with other people who think on the same wave-length about the NBA. Everyone was given that night to research and recommend format ideas. The draft was then scheduled for the following night.
The criteria was something that was incredibly important to us. We wanted to make sure that everyone was on the same page for how they should draft and more importantly, how future readers should evaluate the quality of their lists. We settled on a couple of important measures:
Things Worth Considering:
- Future Ramifications
- Legacy Ramifications
All of these criteria were to be weighted equally. Whether or not something was the “greatest” or the “best” was subjectively up to the drafter and in turn the future reader. We also did not want to penalize for having the same player multiple times; rather, we wanted to single out the moments as standing on their own, regardless of whether or not the players were the same. Lastly, this list was meant to be about the good of the NBA. Thus, we did our best to avoid negative moments such as the Malice in the Palace or the Tim Donaghy refereeing scandal. None of those moments really encapsulate what anyone “loves” about the NBA.
With this in mind, I know that our entire group hopes you pick-apart our teams to death, scoff at the snubs, and maybe run this back with your own crew. I know for certain we had a hell of a time making this happen. Without further ado, your “Best Moments of the Last 20 Years” draft.
“Steph Curry from way downtown…BANG” (Round 1 #1 Overall)
-Cooper Hird (@JoinTheHird)
With the first overall pick…
When I first heard of the idea for this exercise, this play was the first one that popped into my head. All of the explaining I do is simply an attempt to rationalize that fact. At the same time, I do think it’s quite reasonable to do so. CLEARLY, there is a reason that was the first play to pop into my mind. Much of it came from my interpretation of the prompt. In terms of events that impacted the league in a tangible, direct way, there are several much more deserving choices here. Non-Cap Smoothing, The Decision, and several dozen different trades impacted the NBA that league year more than Steph’s game winner. As incredible as the shot was, as good as Golden State and Oklahoma City were at the time, it was still a regular season game. Yes, it was part of a 20-game win streak, during a record-breaking 73-win season, but when I drafted this play, it wasn’t because of the outcome of the shot. Ray Allen from the corner is a legendary play because it sent them to game 7. Kyrie Irving from 3 is the 2nd pick because it won the Cavaliers their first NBA Championship. Hell, I picked The Truth’s “I Called Game” in part because it was in the second round of the playoffs – not the Finals, sure, but even the second round is just a different level of competition. So why in the world would I pick a regular season shot?
Well, a big part of it was the season. Steph Curry won the NBA’s first unanimous MVP award, and for good reason – Curry broke the standing record for three point field goals in a season in ‘14-‘15 (his first MVP season) when he hit 286 (breaking Ray Allen’s record of 269) threes. The Warriors won a title (albeit marked with an asterisk by pundits galore) and looked to be a team in great position to contend for the next few seasons. Curry’s shooting was a revelation, and it was nice to see a player like him win an MVP. Nobody would have predicted the 73 wins they reached the next season, and nobody would have predicted what Steph Curry would do – he once again broke the record for three pointers in a season, this time shattering his own record by hitting an astounding 402 shots. And the best part of it all was the half court shots. It seemed like every other game, Curry was hitting a half court shot at the end of the quarter. Some of them were three quarter court shots – it was utterly ridiculous. This was a guy who just had more touch from more distance than any player we’ve ever seen. He changed the way point guards and ball handlers in general have been viewed – a pull-up 3 is considered mandatory, and elite players have license to shoot from anywhere. (as Damian Lilliard proved in another of our greatest moments) I picked the shot because of what it represented; not just the magnificent individual season of Curry, but the rapid, overwhelming impact it had on the entire NBA.
And, well, just watch it.
Kyrie’s Step-Back Three (Round 1, #2 Overall)
When I realized I was picking second, I figured I would take whatever is left between Kyrie’s game winner in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals and Ray Allen’s buzzer beater in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. When my guy Cooper inexplicably went with a regular season shot with the first pick in the draft, I had to scramble to figure out which of those moments I would take. Ultimately I took Kyrie’s shot, as it was the final field-goal of Game 7 in one of the highest-stake finals in league history.
On one side you had the Golden State Warriors – reigning league champions fresh off the highest win total in NBA regular season history. You had Steph Curry, back-to-back and first ever unanimous league MVP coming off one of the greatest seasons in NBA history (more to come on that later). You had a roster with two other All-NBA players (including runner up for Defensive Player of the Year) and the Coach of the Year in Steve Kerr. There is a very strong case to be made that had Golden State won this game, they would have rightly been considered the greatest team of all-time.
Then you had LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. James came home prior to the ’14-15 season and his Cavaliers would go on to win the East but lose in the 2015 Finals to this same Golden State team in six games. Back in the Finals for his sixth-straight season and with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (a luxury he did not have in 2015), James found himself a heavy underdog against the 73-win Warriors. When Cleveland went down 3-1 in the series, it seemed that the series was over – no team in NBA history had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit. But two straight 41-point games from James (and a notorious suspension of Draymond Green) set up one of the greatest single-game matchups in league history.
All of these storylines culminated in Irving’s shot. With one step-back three, James’ legacy as one of the greatest of all-time was cemented, the team that appeared to be the greatest ever assembled was knocked off, the city of Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought ended and the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history was completed.
Ray Allen From The Corner (Round 1 #3 Overall)
-Lance Smith (@LanceSmithTPC)
Number one on my big board was, well, the most clutch shot of all time. Yeah, there have been other shots, such as Kyrie’s, or a number of Michael Jordan’s, that were perhaps more iconic than Ray Allen’s coldblooded game-tying corner three in Game Six of the 2013 NBA Finals.
But what happens if Kyrie Irving misses his three-point dagger over Steph Curry, or Michael Jordan can’t knock down the mid-range J after shaking free of Byron Russell? The games probably go to overtime.
However, if Ray Allen misses that three, backpedaling with Tony Parker up in his grill, there’s almost no chance that in five seconds, the Heat grab another offensive rebound and knock down a three. If Allen misses the three, the Heat are over after just one title. And Allen’s unpopular decision to join Miami the summer prior is for nothing. He had literally everything on the line, and he rose up and knocked that trey down like it was nothing–like he had been doing his whole life.
So yeah, I went with the most clutch shot in NBA history.
The Block (Round 1 #4 Overall)
-Mike Bossetti (@Mikebosports)
“Iguodala to Curry, back to Iguodala, up for the layup! Oh! Blocked by James!” – with under two minutes remaining in a tied Game 7, LeBron James came out of nowhere to erase what seemed like a guaranteed two points from the Golden State Warriors.
The defining movement of the greatest player post-Jordan (arguably the greatest pre-Jordan as well), it’s hard to overstate just how important “The Block” was. Without it, LeBron has just two titles, and zero without the “Big Three.” Because of it, James ended a 52-year sports drought, ended one version of the Golden State Warriors dynasty, and now has a reasonable case for the greatest of all-time.
The Decision (Round 1 #5 Overall)
-Reed Wallach (@ReedWallach)
Arguably the most important event in the modern NBA. Lebron James, the biggest star since Jordan, able to choose his destiny and alter the NBA landscape with his spoken word of where he will be playing next, all while being on live television, was as riveting as it gets. This was before Twitter became as prevalent as it is today and there was no true Woj bomb that leaked out before the announcement (besides a few reporters here and there). Everyone was just living in that very moment, with LeBron on stage telling the world where he was going to take his talents.
Of course, we all know what happened that night, LeBron chose Miami and joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a super team in South Beach that went to four consecutive Finals’, winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. Yet,it is what has transpired since ‘The Decision’ that is so crucial about the event. Players began to carve out their own destiny with players they have grown up with on the AAU circuit, or played beside in the Olympics. Sometimes, the plotting is months or even years in advance of their free agency to best position themselves to win a title. This night ushered in a new era of the NBA, the Player Empowerment Era, which led to more players changing teams (occasionally in shocking fashion). No one team was safe with their stars after this night.
Klay Thompson Game 6 @ Oklahoma City 2016 WCF (Round 1 #6 Overall)
-Brett Kornfeld (@KornHoops)
The easy choice for sixth overall. Klay Thompson’s Game 6 performance in Oklahoma City lands on the short list of one of the most important single games ever played by one player. Without it, the 73-win Warriors fall short of the NBA Finals, which in turn eliminates two of the other top 10 picks on this list (“The Block” and “Kyrie’s Shot” in game 7) and arguably the greatest series comeback in NBA history. The legacy of maybe eight Hall of Fame players –Steph, Draymond, Westbrook, Durant, LeBron, Kyrie, Love, and of course Klay — would remain forever altered by Klay draining bomb after bomb to keep the Warriors season alive.
There was a lot to unpack from this game. It is impossible to get the sheer awe of the broadcast team as Klay hit some of the toughest shots imaginable from all over the court. Furthermore, that Oklahoma City team had in some fashion or another really figured out how to stifle and overwhelm the best offense the NBA had ever seen. Yet, there was legitimately no answer for Klay’s playoff record 11 long-distance calls. By the time the man hit the transition take-the-lead right-wing three to make it 104-101, there might not have been a fan on Earth who thought that was rimming out.
Maybe more importantly, the game 6 Klay performance largely acted as one of, if not the, final nails in the coffin for Kevin Durant’s time in Oklahoma City. Despite the fact that the Thunder still in theory had a chance to win the series in an Oracle Game 7, the damage of getting so close, only to have Klay snatch victory from the jaws of defeat was the effective end of the series and the Thunder’s run as a legitimate title contender. I felt strongly about drafting this so high because Klay is a player with some of the most iconic games in NBA history; and yet, this is far and away the most memorable and unique game of his outstanding career.
2003 NBA Draft (Round 1 #7 overall)
-Matt Cooper (@macoop2)
The ‘03 draft set the NBA landscape for the next decade. The combination of elite talent and rare depth put this draft in an echelon of its own. Headlined by LeBron, Melo, D-Wade and Bosh, the ’03 draft also included second-rounders and All-Stars Kyle Korver and Mo Williams. Top to bottom, this was arguably the best draft in NBA history. What’s more, the friendships formed by these guys through Team USA would go on to usher in a new-type of Player Movement Era in basketball that fundamentally changed the landscape of the sport.
Klay Scores 37 Points In One Quarter (Round 1 #8 Overall)
-Rob Antle (@RobertAntle)
If you’ve ever played basketball and have a decent shot, you’ve likely had that “I can’t miss right now” feeling for some small stretch of time, but it likely lasted maybe two or three shots, then things went back to normal.. On January 23, 2015, during the 3rd quarter of a random regular season game against the Kings, Klay Thompson did that for an entire quarter. Yes, I realize this was a bit of a reach for my top NBA moment pick, but I was lucky enough to be at this game in person, and it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed. You could feel the buzz of the crowd steadily growing throughout the quarter, and every time the Warriors got the ball back, everyone immediately was looking for Klay, knowing whatever shot he threw up was going in.
Klay has always been one of the best “heat check” guys in the league, but what he did in this game was something that took that term to an entirely unprecedented level: 37 points, 13/13 shooting, including 9/9 from three, and that doesn’t even include another 3 he made right after a whistle that negated the shot. It was the real life version of “I’m about to play this game of 2k and only score with one player.” And the team did that for the entire 3rd quarter. Klay personally won the quarter by 15 and cemented himself as one of the best “heat check” players of all time.
Shaq to Miami (Round 1 #9 Overall)
-Stevie Cozens (@StevieCozens)
Shaquille O’Neal being traded by the Los Angeles Lakers to the Miami Heat sent reverberations around the NBA world. Although the Lakers had made four straight NBA Finals, winning three of them, Kobe Bryant and Shaq weren’t happy campers. Both alpha males, Shaq was the number one option on three title teams, while Kobe was the young stud auditioning for greatness. Shaq requested a trade citing differences with the team, but everyone knew it was about his feud with Kobe. Phil Jackson was gone and with that, there was virtually zero chance that Kobe and Shaq would ever share an NBA court again.
Although the return for the Lakers looked good on paper, the Heat were shrewd in their negotiations. They only had to give up an aging Brian Grant, pre-peak Caron Butler and Lamar Odom. A first and second round pick were also given up, but they ended up being pretty low value slots. Meanwhile, the Heat went on to win their first NBA title while the Lakers had to wait a few years just to return to competitive levels and ultimately a Finals-worthy roster.
2016 Game 7 WCF (Round 1 #10 Overall)
-Sam Johnson (@SamJ015)
My top pick (10th overall) was the game that caused an unprecedented seismic shift in the NBA,directly altering the next two, or possibly three, championships. On the heels of Klay Thompson’s astonishing performance to will the Warriors to victory (also on this list), the Warriors returned to Oracle to finish the deed. Riding Steph’s 36 points and an electric home crowd, Golden State clinched the West Finals, 96-88. For myself, as well as the fate of the NBA’s future, the bigger story was the impact it had on KD’s future.
Perhaps reminiscent of LeBron’s fateful walk out of the Boston Garden, Durant’s Conference Finals near-miss would be the final time we would see him sport the Thunder blue. After being up 3-1 in the series on the 73-win juggernaut, and on the cusp of the Finals once again, OKC’s ultimate demise came harshly and it came swiftly after this Game 7 elimination. Durant would go on to do the unthinkable just five weeks later – join forces with the Golden State Warriors. People would argue they became the greatest team ever assembled as they romped through 2017 with a 16-1 playoff record. After a scare against Houston in the West Finals, they would sweep through the 2018 Finals as well. If the Thunder had been able to snag this fateful Game 7, they may just go on to win the title against Cleveland. They may have been able to say that they beat the greatest regular season team ever, as well as LeBron at the peak of his powers. At the very least, we very likely would have seen Durant stay in Oklahoma City and run it back one more year, after which GS would not have had the stars align to be able to sign Durant. As it played out, OKC would not even go as far as the second round of the playoffs again with any of the original members of its Finals run (Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka) on the team. It’s crazy to look back at the snapshot in time before this Game 7. The Thunder, despite dropping games five and six, still had the 73-9 defending champions on the brink of defeat with a chance to go to the Finals, with two young superstars in their prime, and just 48 (NBA) minutes later, it’s all gone. The one thing this Warrior victory did do though was set up arguably the most memorable finals this century, which featured multiple other submissions on this list.
Dallas Comeback G2 of 11 Finals (Round 2 #11 Overall)
The Heat were just minutes away. Six to be exact. Wade’s three-pointer extended the lead to 15 with just six minutes to play. As Dallas called timeout and the broadcast prepared to cut to commercial, you could see LeBron and Dwayne doing a little strutting around as they were on the brink of a commanding 2-0 finals lead in just their first “Heatles” season. It wasn’t supposed to be this easy. Following the timeout, they quickly realized that nope, it wasn’t going to be that easy. Dallas regrouped itself and came back out fighting for their lives. The Miami offense bogged down and the Mavs whittled away at the large lead. A little bit of Jason Terry here, Jason Kidd there, and a whole lot of Dirk changed the complexion of the game. After a Dirk three was matched by Chalmers in the final minute, the stage was set for the last shot with the score knotted at 93. Nowitzki caught the ball above the three point line and faced up against Bosh. A beautiful spin followed by a drop step past Bosh gave him a seam to gracefully kiss a left handed running layup off the glass to give them the deciding basket with just 3.6 seconds remaining. Wade’s desperation three clanged off the back iron and Dallas had done it. They improbably flipped the game two script and suddenly had stolen home-court advantage in the Finals.
The lasting ramifications of this game are plentiful. As for the series, although it wasn’t the clinching game by any means, it really felt like in the moment Miami had lost its firm grip on the series and Dallas had gained some real swagger. They had stared the Big 3 in the face on their home floor, with defeat just moments away, and overcame it. By series end, LeBron would be stifled yet again on his quest to become champion. After reaching the 2007 Finals at just 22 years old, and rising so quickly to the best player in the league status, falling short of becoming a champion was beginning to take its toll on the King. He would go on to say losing to Dallas gave him the jolt he needed to get back on track and embrace his love for the game again.
Without this loss, maybe Miami goes for a three-peat. More likely though, I believe without this loss, LeBron and company don’t maximize their next three seasons together, which ultimately produced two titles. Many years later, he would actually give an interview saying that overcoming the 2011 Finals loss was his greatest achievement. He had to take a hard look at himself and reevaluate his game after this crushing blow. He actually credited the loss for helping him become a better and more determined basketball player. Oh and there’s Dirk. He was able to excise the demons from his first round exit in his MVP year as well as cement his legacy by completing a masterful playoff run en route to a Finals MVP. The Finals victory would put a bow on a 28 points per game playoff surge on 49/46/94 splits (61 TS%). Dirk etched four rounds of legendary performances into the history books, where he was able to elevate a good, but not great team to a championship. He would go on to play out the rest of his career in a Dallas uniform and become possibly the most popular Dallas athlete of all time.
Iverson G1 vs. Lakers (Round 2 #12 Overall)
Allen Iverson’s coup de jour was the 2001 season. An MVP trophy, and a legendary playoff run dragging a ragged Philadelphia 76ers team to the NBA Finals. Famous battles against contemporaries Vince Carter and Ray Allen preceded the finals, but it was on the biggest stage where Iverson showed the basketball world that he was one of the greatest to ever lace them up. Against the might of one of the most dominant teams in history, Iverson did it all. In 52 minutes of greatness, Iverson gave the Lakers their only postseason loss. His stat line of 48 points, five rebounds, six assists and five steals punctuated one of the greatest performances in Finals history. Most memorably, who could forget Iverson iconically stepping over a prone Ty Lue after another incredible pull-back jumper? Though they didn’t win the NBA championship, Iverson had his moment in the sun on the biggest stage of all.
Kobe Scores 81 (Round 2 #13 Overall)
When Jordan left the league, fans of the NBA were left with a void that they were desperate to fill. With a three-peat under his belt already, Kobe had made himself the heir apparent. But after a break-up with Shaq and then missing the playoffs for the first time in his career the following season, things were starting to look a little more bleak in Laker-land. But on January 22, 2006, Kobe Bryant reminded the NBA world why he was their biggest star.
Going into a game that would become the most iconic moment of Kobe’s career, there seemed to be very little that was intriguing. It was a Sunday night with a Lakers team trying to bounce back from a disappointing season playing one of the bottom feeders of the Eastern Conference. Even through the first half, it was a struggle to watch for any Lakers fans. Kobe had 26 at the half, but the team was still down 14, sent to the locker room by a chorus of boos from their own fans. Kobe Bean Bryant wouldn’t go quietly. He came out and had the most incredible second half performance of all time, scoring 55 points on 18-28 shooting. He single-handedly turned an 18-point deficit into a 6-point lead in the 3rd quarter. That game was the epitome of the Kobe experience and rightfully cemented his legacy as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Kawhi’s G7 Shot vs. Philly (Round 2 #14 Overall)
Kawhi’s game-winner to advance the Raptors to the ECF was the most incredible shot of the 18/19 season. A mercenary franchise player, Kawhi etched his legacy as a Raptor by making one of the most difficult game-ending, SERIES-ending shots in NBA history. Taking 4 bounces around the rim before dropping, this shot deflated the Sixers, and propelled the Raptors to what would be an eventual Finals victory. This shot had proceeded an otherwise impeccable series from the former Spur and now only adds to what became of Kawhi’s heroic playoff run. This shot over the outstretched arms of a soon-to-be tearful Joel Embiid will go down as one of, if not the greatest in the last 20 years.
LeBron Game 6 @ Boston 2012 ECF (Round 2 #15 Overall)
Quite possibly the most important pressure game of arguably the greatest player of all-time’s career. LeBron’s Game 6 in the Boston Garden was an alleviation of so many playoff demons it is hard to name them all seven years later. With that, I’ll try. LeBron had consistently fallen short over the course of his career as a top seed in the Eastern Conference, often when the series favorite heading into the Finals. The Celtics had largely owned him for the majority of his career and in 2012, it looked as if we were headed toward another long off-season of psychoanalyzing every move the man had made following “The Decision.” It also meant another summer of pundits screaming about how LeBron was small in the games that mattered most (coming off of a brutal Finals the prior year against Dallas).
So much for any of that. LeBron absolutely eviscerated the Celtics in a Boston Garden that opened the night with as much energy as any crowd in a decade and had been silenced almost completely by midway through the third quarter. Whenever this particular game gets brought up, the first or second comment is usually about how completely different The King’s demeanor looked and felt that night. It was a type of focus, concentration, and basketball menace that few that have ever lived could get to.
LeBron did it from every single spot on the court against virtually every matchup the Celtics could throw at him and then some. A cool 40-15 clinic later and the entire LeBron narrative was well on its way to flipping for the next seven years to come. LeBron’s “I’ve arrived” moment in the Palace and the Game 7 against the Warriors might trump this one in “Coolness” or “Memorable” for our criteria, but this is the game that I’ll always remember as the most essential to arguably the greatest player ever.
Lebron Game 5 in the Palace (Round 2 #16 Overall)
Sticking with the LeBron train in the second round with one of his most epic performances. This was probably the moment LeBron took the torch from the Pistons as the new alpha of the Eastern Conference. First, let’s start with the stat line: 48 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 18/33 from the field, 2/3 from beyond the arc, 10/14 from the line in over 50 minutes of action.
How we got to that result is what makes this moment so memorable. 22-year-old LeBron James walks into Detroit to take on the former champion Pistons in a crucial Game 5, with the series tied at 2, and stole the show. LeBron showed every move in his arsenal, finishing through contact, off the dribble, creating for others, dunking with ferocity, it was all there for LeBron. As the game entered its final stages, LeBron rose to the occasion. He scored the team’s final 25 points bridging between the fourth quarter and overtime. He was simply unstoppable. It since has become commonplace for LeBron, but this was special, this was the first time. LeBron took this series over and flipped it on the veteran Pistons. The Cavs went on to win the following game in Cleveland, and the series, before being disposed in LeBron’s first Finals appearance by the Spurs. But this was just the beginning of his long reign over the East.
Kobe Alley-Oop to Shaq (Round 2 #17 Overall)
Before they were one of the most iconic duos in NBA history, Kobe and Shaq were on the brink of elimination in the Western Conference Finals. Trailing by 15 in the fourth quarter, it looked as if the Lakers were cooked; it looked as if the Trailblazers were going to advance to the NBA Finals.
But then the Trailblazers started to go cold, missing 12 straight shots; the Lakers started to get some calls, in one of the prominent examples used by NBA conspiracy theorist; and most importantly Kobe and Shaq became Kobe and Shaq, with a thunderous lob to clinch the game and the series.
This moment very specifically decimated our criteria of cool. In addition to the aesthetic of Kobe crossing over one of the greatest perimeter defenders to ever play the game and Shaq running back with his face in shock and his fingers pointing to the sky, the call of the broadcast team remains one of the most electric listens in NBA history. It truly was a play that launched a basketball dynasty.
Klay’s 60 in 29 (Round 2 #18 Overall)
Do you remember where you were when Klay Thompson dropped 60 points in 29 minutes on the Pacers? The college squad and I were posted up at a dining hall to watch the Dubs game on my laptop over dinner. The food was pretty nasty, but Klay was nasty nasty.
You already know the numbers. 60 points. 29 minutes. 11 dribbles. It had never been done before, and may never again–if Steph Curry says it won’t, it probably won’t. 21 of 33 from the field. Sheesh. When Klay gets hot, he gets hotter than anyone in human history, even if not in the volume that a few select primary options such as Kobe manage to jack up. When it’s time for a Klay outburst, he does his damage in unprecedented efficiency (see: 37 points in one quarter, 14 threes in way less than three quarters, and oh, 60 points in 29 minutes). With his 6’7” frame and obliviousness to defenders up his grill, you know he’s catching and shooting over you, and there’s almost nothing you can do about it. (Well, other than the fact that he’s in the discussion for best cutter of all-time as well.)
I mean, take this demolition of the Pacers for example–he was effectively posting up and shooting turnaround jumpers with no dribble from the three-point line! And as it always goes with the Warriors when they get going, he was limited to only three quarters of action. If he had played even 36 minutes in the game, let alone 40, he was going for 70, 75, 80. Imagine that he was having that exact same game, but the Pacers were keeping pace with him in their own right. He would’ve played most of the fourth quarter, continued getting touches, and realistically might have blasted Kobe’s 81 points, the second-most points ever scored in an NBA game. I mean, Klay never got up another shot for the rest of the game when there was still over two minutes left in the third quarter.
In that game, Klay surpassed the career highs of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, who, uh, didn’t seem to care. Footage of Steph jumping up and down, spinning in circles, and running up and down the tunnel in celebration of his Splash Bro is an immortal souvenir of the team-first glory within the Warriors culture.
Moral of the story: don’t let Klay get going. At that point it’s already way too late.
2000 Dunk Contest (Round 2 #19 Overall)
“LET’S GO HOME, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, LET’S GO HOME!”
With all due respect to Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis, the 2000 Dunk Contest was all about Vince Carter.
Vince’s first dunk, a 360 windmill with clockwise rotation, elicited the legendary call from Kenny Smith. The childlike reactions from KG and Shaq on the sideline illustrated the utter insanity of the dunk. It’s a dunk that had never been completed in the history of the dunk contest prior to Vince, and one I would bet only a handful of guys ever could pull off.
Vince wasn’t done there, following that up with a clean 180 windmill coming in from behind the hoop. Then he brought out his cousin Tracy to set him up on a bounce pass for a between-the-legs jam that ended with Vince posed under the hoop pointing both hands to the sky and then strutting off and with a double throat-slash gesture to the camera while mouthing “It’s over” as Smith made the same declaration on the broadcast. Vince wrapped up his performance with another dunk that had never been seen before, landing with his elbow in the rim and hanging on for a second to put an exclamation point on his slam dunk crown.
The NBA Slam Dunk Contest had fallen from grace since the days of Jordan, ‘Nique and Spud Webb in the 1980s. The ‘90s featured forgettable contests with winners like Harold Minor, Isaiah Rider and Brent Barry, and the contest was cancelled in ’98 and ‘99. Vince Carter’s iconic 2000 performance emphatically put the NBA Dunk Contest back on the map and made Vinsanity a household name.
Wade to LeBron alley oop in MIA (Round 2 #20 Overall)
The Game 2 comeback of the Dallas Mavericks over the Miami “Heatles” in 2011 was picked 11th overall in this draft. When I heard the selection, I thought it was a great pick. The whole Dallas run, Dirk’s solo victory over the great Miami Big 3, all of it was so incredibly memorable. With that, a very big part of why that run was so memorable was because of who they conquered in the Finals. If that team was matched up against Dwight’s Orlando Magic, or the original LeBron ‘06 Cavaliers team or one of the Pacers teams the Heat faced in the ECF, we would have chalked Dallas’ victory up to an impressive run in one of the weaker playoff fields of recent memory. Fortunately for them (and us fans as well), the victory came against one of the most memorable soon-to-be dynasties in recent memory.
The Heatles were my first experience with a dynasty – I was a casual basketball fan during the Celtics Big 3 Era, but followed at a distance, not enough to have any emotions about the team. I knew nothing about the KG trade, or the Ray Allen trade – I simply knew that the Celtics had a great team. But when The Decision happened, and LeBron and Chris Bosh joined the Miami Heat for the 2010-2011 season, the veil was lifted, and suddenly the great team of the time became a collection of individuals, rather than a united group. When pundits discussed the Big 3 Era Celtics, there was never a consensus on whom the team belonged to. Some referred to it as Paul Pierce’s team – he was the incumbent star, as well as the player who most often was taking the final shot in a tight game. Others referred to it as Kevin Garnett’s team – he was the former MVP, and had pretty clearly the most impressive statistical resume of the group. When it came to the Heatles, however, there was no such gray area. The Heatles were LeBron’s team, the superteam he had come to Miami to construct. LeBron was the best player in the league at this point (despite what Kobe stans may say) and as great as Wade and Bosh were, there was a clear dividing line between multi-time MVP LeBron James and the two others. Wade became the clear second fiddle, given his previous title experience and sustained excellence prior to arriving in Miami, while Bosh settled in as the third, both due to his more sparsely decorated resume and his more easily malleable game.
The victory of the Dallas Mavericks over the Miami Heat in the 2011 Finals was as much about the Heat losing as it was the Mavericks winning. No team had received such backlash as Miami had in recent memory, and seeing the entire NBA fanbase root for a single team to lose was a sight to behold. Later into the Heatles era, LeBron would choose to buy into the role of a villain, even donning a black face mask for a game in 2014 after suffering a facial injury – a game in which he had 31 points on 13/19 from the field, including an iconic dunk and celebration from the King himself.
The play that defined the Heatles Big 3 era for me follows along those lines. Yes, Ray Allen in the corner is objectively far more impactful and far more memorable than any other play made in a Heat uniform. But the play that sums up the Heatles era more than any in my mind is this incredible transition alley-oop, the one that created one of the most iconic still shots of basketball history.
The Heatles dynasty is one with a long, complicated legacy, one that will surely be boiled down for future generations, but one that deserves to be chronicled in full. From “not one, not two, not three…,” to making fun of sick Dirk, the period was defined by the Miami Heat. I don’t need to remind y’all of the accomplishments and achievements they garnered during their time together. Rather, I hope I was able to remind you of just how dominant and dazzling the Miami Big 3 was, and how significant that team was to the way we think of basketball today.
Cleveland wins the ‘11 lottery (Round 3 #21 Overall)
““It has been a rough, difficult road. This is a new beginning Cleveland. We’re coming back.” Dan Gilbert
Picture Cleveland, Ohio, circa May 13, 2010. LeBron James has, as we know now, played his last game for this iteration of the Cleveland Cavaliers, falling to the Big 3 Boston Celtics in six games. The team won 59 games in the regular season, and GM Danny Ferry has surrounded LeBron with veteran talent such as Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Antwan Jamison. Owner Dan Gilbert has been pouring resources into the team since they drafted LeBron with the #1 overall pick in the infamous 2003 draft class, (featured in Matt Cooper’s article – the whole draft class was the 7th overall pick of this exercise) and all they have to show for it is a clean sweep in the finals. Cleveland fans and executives are hopeful that LeBron will return, but to many, the writing is on the wall, and the departure of The King from The Land appears imminent.
The Decision happens, and the NBA is flipped on its head.
The very next year, the Cavaliers finish with a 19-63 record – a 40 game drop from the previous season. Attendance remains at 3rd out of the 30 teams, but Gilbert and his people are nervous. A city like Cleveland can sustain multiple sports franchises, but over half a decade of LeBron James has inflated the expectations of Cavaliers fans, and it will be a tremendously hard sell to convince the fanbase to once again cheer for playoff contention rather than dream of a title. A star trio of JJ Hickson, Ramon Sessions, and Anthony Parker was simply not going to work, not after the sustained success the franchise saw.
Fortunately, the Cavaliers made quite possibly the most lopsided trade of modern NBA history when they shipped off Mo Williams (who had made his only All-Star team two years prior) and Jamario Moon to the Los Angeles Clippers, still captained by Donald Sterling, who sent back in return 31-year-old Baron Davis and their first round pick for the upcoming 2011 draft. Unprotected. The Clippers were at the 8th worst record in the league before making the deal, and clearly expected their two incoming players to make a significant impact in their record. Baron Davis was making a little over $14 mil a year for two more years, and Mo Williams was on an $8 mil a year deal, so the Cavaliers did give the Clippers some savings as well as an upgrade in talent. Win for both sides, right?
Because Mo Williams and Jamario Moon, stunningly enough, were not enough to carry the Los Angeles Clippers to the playoffs. And when they finished the season at 32-50, with the 8th worst record in the league, they set Cleveland up for one of the more thrilling nights in the lottery, as they had the 2nd worst record in the league themselves, meaning they had a 21.6% chance of winning the 1st overall pick with one of the two picks. So it happened, the Clippers pick (2.8% chance at the #1 slot) was the one to jump to the top that night, and Cleveland’s own pick slid to #4 overall. The Cavaliers went on to draft mysterious Duke superstar Kyrie Irving with the first pick, and Tristan Thompson out of the Texas big man factory with the fourth pick. Both players were vital in the recruiting of LeBron back to his home, and both were critical pieces of the 2016 NBA Championship team. Yes, landing the #1 picks in 2013 and 2014 was massive as well – without the ‘14 pick, the Cavs would have been unable to trade for Kevin Love (or would have had to give up significant talent on the roster). However, it is the 2011 lottery that stands out in my mind as the beginning of a new era in Cleveland, an era where The Land and the King could finally form a partnership rather than a dependence, a team so powerful one could argue it pushed Kevin Durant to the 73 win Warriors. The 2011 lottery is, in my opinion, the most monumental in the chain of events that brought LeBron James back to Cleveland. Without the 2011 lottery, Cleveland doesn’t win the 2016 title. The impact of this lottery on the Cleveland Cavaliers, not to mention the stigma it created around trading unprotected picks, is so immeasurably immense that this article doesn’t do it justice. Sure, maybe LeBron comes back to Cleveland if Kyrie Irving isn’t there. Maybe they luck into Kemba Walker at #9, or Klay Thompson at #11. But maybe they don’t, and maybe the team remains a bottom feeder with no discernible talent, and maybe LeBron remains in Miami, or breaks the fabric of the NBA even more by going to some new destination we never even considered. The 2011 NBA Draft Lottery had implications far outside of the picks themselves, and it can’t be understated how greatly the shape of the league was shifted by the order of the ping pong balls that fated night.
June 30th 2019 Free Agency Bonanza (Round 3 #22 Overall)
Over two and a half billion dollars was committed to NBA free agents on June 30, 2019. We saw three ’18-19 All-NBA players switch teams and the Brooklyn Nets complete one of the most impressive 5-year turnarounds in recent memory. We saw Philadelphia, Indiana, Milwaukee and Utah make enormous commitments to new or incumbent all-stars or borderline all-stars. We saw the Knicks strike out yet again. And right when we thought we could catch our breath, we learned that Golden State was reloading its core by acquiring a 23-year-old All-Star in a sign-and-trade for their outgoing MVP.
June 30, 2019 was a microcosm of the NBA’s extraordinary year-round news cycle. The NBA’s decision to move the beginning of the offseason (and the first opportunity for deals to be legally announced) up from midnight to 6 p.m. Eastern was brilliant and completely changed the flow of NBA free agency. The explosive, resulting string of signings made for one of the most mind-numbingly exciting six-hour stretches in recent memory, but also brought about an increased focus on the league’s tampering rules. No fan or league executive is naive enough to believe that none of these deals were discussed prior to 6 Eastern, and many of them were announced the minute the clock turned from 5:59. The ramifications of that fateful six-hour period will undoubtedly shape the next few years of NBA basketball, both on the court and off.
2016 Dunk Contest (Round 3 #23 Overall)
While the 2016 Dunk Contest didn’t have enough iconography/legacy implications to go down as the greatest dunk contest of all time, Zach Lavine’s showdown with Aaron Gordon was easily the best ever in terms of degree of difficulty of the dunks. Let’s recap:
-Near-360 between the legs
-Handoff between the legs over the (very tall) mascot
-One-handed 360 off the handoff from the spinning mascot…with flare
-Free-jumping handoff from the mascot yet again, this time going under the legs and finishing with his left hand
-Two-handed reverse windmill oop
-Emphatic double-clutch reverse tomahawk
-Around-the-back reverse self-alley-oop
-Alley-oop from the free throw line
-One-handed 360 off self-oop
-A WINDMILL from the free-throw line
-Reverse between-the-legs self-oop from behind the basket
-Between the legs…from 14 feet
Do you understand how many times that evening Kenny the Jet had to say, “Let’s go home ladies and gentlemen, cuz it’s over!”? Too many times! And I don’t blame him. Both contestants submitted numerous candidates for greatest dunk contest dunk of all time, and then managed to keep topping each other. On the last dunk, a tiebreaker, Aaron Gordon’s double-pump tomahawk may have been a 50 in any other dunk contest, but Zach Lavine had perhaps the nastiest trick yet left in the bag. One step in from the free throw line between the legs? Get out.
At this point, all I can really do is advise you to watch that video yet again, because no matter how many times I’ve rewatched it, it never gets old, and no words can do what either of those men did any justice.
Derek Fisher 0.4 (Round 3 #24 Overall)
A shot so clutch it made us question the rulebook.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked parts of Derek Fisher’s .4-second shot was how we got there. Tim Duncan hit one of the most improbable shots possible from 22-feet, at the top of the key to give San Antonio a one-point lead. For a moment, it looked like that shot would be forever linked to Duncan, a key highlight in his Hall-of-Fame reel. Derek Fisher had other ideas. With just .4 seconds remaining he caught, turned, and launched an incredible jumper. The Lakers dynasty survived, for the time being.
Kobe’s Walk Off 60 (Round 3 #25 Overall)
I remember this night vividly. Kobe’s final game and the Warriors gunning to lock up the best regular season record of all-time were both on ESPN and ESPN2. While everyone wanted to pay respects to Bryant’s final game, no one could have expected that kind of second half. What started as entertainment watching #24 take a shot on what felt like every trip down, turned into an NBA experience as he hit another gear in the second half.
By the time the fourth quarter hit, and Kobe was trying to will his team back one last time, no one was paying attention to what the Warriors were doing (NBA history) on the other channel, it was all Mamba now. Despite his age, Kobe kept getting to his spot on the floor, rising and firing over all the spry Jazz defenders they tried to throw on him. Down 10 with just about 3 minutes left. All Kobe. He took his young team on his back and for one last time said, “I got us.”
Kobe finished with 60, with my dorm room going crazy with every shot attempt. This was the whole point of the Draft, right? Most memorable moments? I remember everything about that night, and it was so fitting for a player like that to go out on his terms, putting up as many shots as possible and willing his team to victory.
Baron Davis Dunk vs. Jazz WCSF (Round 3 #26 Overall)
My first pick for aesthetic value and coolness, it is hard to sum up just how shocking and crazy this play was in real time. It was used as five of the ten plays on the SportsCenter Top 10 that night just showing it from different angles. More importantly, in a half-decade that has literally been dominated by a Warriors basketball revolution, the “We Believe” Warriors of 2009 still remain arguably the most beloved team in the history of the franchise. For my money, Baron’s dunk was the apex of Oracle, the single most electric basketball arena in the country at the time. The entire play is violent poetry, starting with the left side blow-by into the elevation, the body contortion as Baron absorbs the contact, the cocking back of the ball, and finally the ruthless slamming of the Spalding on top of Kirilenko. The shirt lift from BD is the cherry on top celebration as “Roaracle” exploded into a frenzied state of madness that temporarily delayed the ensuing free throw. Couple that with the Stephen Jackson brushing-of-the-shoulders added swagger, plus just an outstanding Mike Tirico call into a couple of seconds just stunned silence, and we have one of the better basketball moments of the last 20 years.
To this day, it remains one of the most memorable dunks and playoff moments of all time.
“My Next Chapter” (Round 3 #27 Overall)
KD joined the Warriors in the 2016/17 season after they had won 73 games the year prior. This controversial move essentially locked the Warriors in as Finals favorites for the next 3 years. In the age of “super teams,” this was arguably the most well-rounded and dangerous. The complexion of the NBA was entirely shifted as the Warriors went on to win two championships with KD. It also continued forward with an era of NBA players using the media to announce major decisions on their own.
Durant’s Player Tribune cover has since become fodder for the sport’s media (and thousands of others) to announce when they are doing anything related to them moving. KD’s image was irreversibly changed in the immediate aftermath of “My Next Chapter,” despite ultimately accomplishing his main goal in moving to the team in the Bay.
PG and Kawhi to the Clippers (Round 3 #28 Overall)
There’s been so much recent talk about the “Player Empowerment Era” in the NBA, that on the surface, this might have seemed like an unsurprising move. After all, Kawhi had been linked to the Clippers constantly through the 2018-19 season, and they seemed to be the favorites to sign him at almost every point. Yet, even with that being the case and Clippers officials notoriously attending Raptors games to recruit Kawhi, when the news broke that Kawhi had signed with the Clippers on the heels of a championship with the Raptors, it sent shockwaves through the rest of the league (don’t worry, I won’t use the same earthquake joke that everyone else did that day).
But it was the news that followed Kawhi’s signing that really caught people’s, and the league’s, attention. Not only was Kawhi going to the Clippers, but he had also spent the last few weeks recruiting Paul George, who still had 2 years left on his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, to come and join him. So Paul went to Thunder officials and asked for a trade, which resulted in one of the most monumental trades in league history. The Clippers gave up a record number of picks and pick swaps that were mostly unprotected in their quest to seal the deal with Kawhi. The move definitely lifted some of the smoke surrounding the notion that Kawhi was just a superstar that went about his business and wasn’t like the other elite of the Association. And while the Thunder likely were happy with the deal they ended up getting and have a bright future in terms of picks, they also cemented their franchise as the poster-child for the small market team that does (almost) everything right but ends up losers in the “Player Empowerment Era.”
Robert Horry Game-Winner vs. Kings (Round 3 #29 Overall)
In an amazing seven game series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings, game four had one of the most famous endings in NBA history. Back-to-back defending champions, the Lakers were down two games to one against the upstart Kings. Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry was known for his clutch shot-making on numerous teams. Horry already had four rings and wasn’t about to let the Kings secure their first. The Lakers somehow came back from as many as 24 down as the Kings missed layups and committed offensive fouls to let the Lakers back in. With the chance to go up by three with 11 seconds left, Vlade Divac went one of two at the line before Phil Jackson called timeout. The Lakers had the ball with 11 on the clock and it was inbounded to Kobe. The right side of the lane opened up for him after receiving the ball on the perimeter. Divac came out on him, playing excellent defense and forcing a miss off the front iron. But this meant Shaq was open underneath on the weak side, somehow Shaq missed a bunny layup that would have tied the game with 2.8 left on the clock. Divac and Shaq fought for the board again and in a desperate attempt to win the game, Divac tipped the rebound out of the paint. Unfortunately it went right into the hands of Horry standing at the three point line. The rest is history. Horry knocked down the three and one of the biggest buzzer-beaters in NBA history, and the Lakers went on to win the series and eventually their third straight NBA title. The legend of Robert Horry continues!
KG Trade to Boston (Round 3 #30 Overall)
The third moment I selected was the monumental trade of the Big Ticket – Kevin Garnett. After ascending from a high school phenom to the top of the NBA over 12 seasons in Minnesota, KG finally decided he was on board with moving on to contend for a title. The Celtics gave up a smorgasbord of assets in a record 7-for-1 deal on July 31st 2007 to land the former MVP. Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, and two 1st round picks were sent to Minnesota just for the rights to KG’s services. This signaled the end of an era in Minneapolis. The Garnett years had seen the Timberwolves appear in 8 straight playoffs, including a Western Conference Finals appearance in 2004 that they just might’ve been victorious in had their top two point guards not been injured. Three seasons later, it was apparent the fleeting Cassell-Sprewell caliber sidekicks were not to be replicated, and the ever-so-brief title contention window had passed. As a result, Minnesota shifted into a rebuild mode that would bog them down for the next 13 seasons.
Boston on the other hand, was ignited by the Garnett (and Ray Allen) acquisition and took the league by storm in 07-08. They improved by an astounding 36 wins from the prior year and vaulted all the way up to the top defense in the entire NBA, anchored by Garnett. They had some tests in the playoffs, twice winning Game 7’s, but ultimately took home the title in their very first year. Ultimately, this would be the only title they would secure in Celtic green due to some untimely injuries as well as a Game 7 Finals defeat against the Lakers in 2010. This trade no doubt cemented Garnett’s legacy as he was able to secure that coveted championship ring that had eluded him so many times in Minnesota.
See you soon for our write-up of rounds 4-6, we hope you enjoyed it!
From Bottom Left Clockwise: Zack Krukowski, Lance Smith, Mike Bossetti, Reed Wallach, Brett Kornfeld, Matt Cooper, Rob Antle, Stevie Cozens, Sam Johnson, and Cooper Hird.