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Remembering the five best NBA finals ever

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This is going to be one fascinating NBA finals. One of the most improbable and unexpected rematches.

But it’s got big shoes to fill after last season, a seven-game thriller between the two most iconic of NBA franchises. In honor of that series and to dream about what could be coming up, we decided to look even farther back.

Here is our list of the five best NBA finals ever. Something for the Heat and Mavs to aspire to (even if both of them would prefer to win in a dull sweep).

1969 finals, Boston Celtics defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games

This became the Celtics 11th title in 13 years, the last one for the Bill Russell era dynasty. It also was probably the biggest punch in the gut the Lakers ever got.

It was a series of legendary names: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor for the Lakers; Bill Russell — who was the player coach — John Havlicek and Sam Jones, but this Celtics team was considered too old and past it’s prime. They had only finished fourth in the East but had fought through to the playoffs.

Game 1 was the Jerry West show as he dropped 53 points. Havlicek answered in Game 2 with 43. The most dramatic game of the series was Game 4 when Don Nelson (yes, the future coach of Nelly ball) hit a game winner on a shot that hit the back of the rim as time expired, bounced straight up higher than the backboard, then fall back through.

It all led to a dramatic Game 7 was in Los Angeles. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke was so sure his team would win he had balloons put in the rafters to fall when the game was over, he scripted out what the band would play when the game ended. Bill Russell looked up at that and used it as motivation for his team, telling them the Lakers were already planning the party, and Boston hit 8 of their first 10 shots and went on to win the game on the road.

1998 Finals, Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in six games

This was Michael Jordan’s final playoffs with the Bulls, the win that provided the second three-pete and one of most iconic movements of Jordan’s career.

That Jazz team had Karl Malone and John Stockton at their peaks and they won Game 1, but the Bulls started clamping down on defense and won game two then in Game 3 held the Jazz to 56 points. Yes, for the game.

But it was the final 30 seconds of Game 6 that had Jordan leaving on top. The Bulls were down one point. First Jordan made a blind-side steal on Malone in the post. Then he made the one of the signature shots of his career — the crossover (and push off) on Byron Russell, followed by the pure jumper that won the game. And the series. The iconic end of Jordan’s career.

2010, Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics in seven games

Yes it did just happen last season, but how many NBA finals have had a fourth quarter comeback in Game 7? This is going to go down as one of the better finals we have ever seen.

In Game 2 Ray Allen went off and hit eight straight three pointers to lead the Celtics to the win and tie the series. In Game 5 there was Kevin Garnett falling out of bounds but making the breakout pass up the court to a streaking Rajon Rondo to seal a win.

Game 7, playing without Kendrick Perkins but getting a huge lift from Rasheed Wallace, the Celtics led by 13 in the third quarter and had stunned the Staples Center crowd. But the Lakers got huge baskets from Ron Artest and Pau Gasol — he had 18 points and 19 boards —while Kobe Bryant had a poor game overall but had 10 points in the fourth quarter when it mattered. Without Perkins the Lakers dominated the paint and the boards and that combined with Boston foul trouble proved to be the difference.

1970, New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games

For the second year in a row, an Eastern Conference underdog handed the Lakers a heartbreaking defeat.

This series is remembered for a couple iconic moments. First there was Game 3, where Knicks legend Dave DeBusschere hit what looked like the game winner with three-seconds to go, only to have Jerry West hit a three-quarter court shot to tie it. Maybe the greatest shot in NBA Finals history. But the Knicks went on to win that game.

Then there was Game 7, when the Knicks lone star player Willis Reed was not expected to play. But he came out of the tunnel, fired up Madison Square Garden and his teammates, played a handful of minutes and that was enough. The motivated Knicks won Game 7 off that wave of emotion.

1984 Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games

It’s hard to think of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird separately. This may have been the greatest of the two finals between the two icons of 1980s basketball.

The Lakers controlled this series early but the momentum changed when Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis in Game 4. That game was the turning point, an epic overtime battle that stands out in the crowded history of Celtics lore as a franchise highlights. It was one of the best Finals games, ever. Boston had to go seven but won a series that finally gave Bird a win over Magic in a big game and cemented his place as a Celtics legend.

(The Lakers bounced back and won in 1985 in Boston Garden in what was maybe the most iconic win for that franchise.)

WNBA rescinds fines regarding protest shirts

FILE - In this Wednesday, July 13, 2016 file photo, members of the New York Liberty basketball team await the start of a game against the Atlanta Dream in New York. The WNBA is withdrawing its fines for teams and players that showed support of citizens and police involved in recent shootings by wearing black warmup shirts before and during games. WNBA President Lisa Borders said in a statement Saturday, July 23, the league was rescinding penalties given to the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury and their players for wearing the shirts–which was a uniform violation. The players started wearing them to show solidarity after shootings in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
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LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and a number of Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets players wore “I can’t breathe” T-shirts in warmups after the death of Eric Garner in New York. LeBron and his then Heat teammates wore hoodies for a photo shoot after the Travon Martin shooting. NBA players have made other protest fashion statements, with no repercussions from the league.

But when WNBA players wore black warmup shirts in support of Black Lives Matter and other anti-violence protests, the WNBA came down with fines for the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury ($5,000) and players involved ($500) for uniform violations. That led to a lot of backlash — including among WNBA players. Some refused to answer basketball questions with the media after recent games.

Saturday, the WNBA rescinded the fines. As they should have.

The women’s players’ union supported the move, via a statement from the director of operations Terri Jackson.

“We are pleased that the WNBA has made the decision to rescind the fines the league handed down to the players on the Fever, Liberty, and Mercury. We look forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with the league to ensure that the players’ desire to express themselves will continue to be supported.”

I want a league — for men or women — where player’s individuality and statements can be made — I don’t want the NBA to be the button-down, cookie cutter NFL. Let the players be themselves. And if players want to weigh in on the biggest social issue of our time, they should. Without fear of repercussion.

Good on the WNBA for coming around to that.

Meyers Leonard says he hopes to be ready by start of Blazers’ season

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 8: Meyers Leonard #11 of the Portland Trail Blazers takes credit for a foul call during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on December 8, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Meyers Leonard could be poised for a big season in Portland. His minutes jumped last season because he provided spacing. With Portland adding Evan Turner on the wing to go with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, any big who can stretch the floor is going to get run, and Leonard has turned himself into a stretch four.

Leonard just hopes he can show what he can do at the start of the season — he’s still recovering from shoulder surgery. Here is what he told the Associated Press.

“My hope is to be ready right around the start of the season,” he said. “It’s a progression, first introducing rebounding, grabbing stuff overhead, then one-on-one, three-on-three, extending to the full court. We’ll see. You just never know.”

Leonard had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in April (they could have used him in the playoffs), and the timeline then was to have him back around the start of the season. Before he was shut down, he proved enough to get a four-year, $41 million contract extension with the Trail Blazers this summer.

The Trail Blazers will start Al-Farouq Aminu at the four, and Moe Harkless can certainly play there too (I’m far less sold on the future of Noah Vonleh). Leonard wants to get back before someone starts to steal any of his minutes.

Pelicans sign Jones for 1 year, Frazier for 2 years

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 21:  Terrence Jones #6 of the Houston Rockets reacts to a play as Cody Zeller #40 of the Charlotte Hornets looks on during their game at Toyota Center on December 21, 2015 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) The New Orleans Pelicans say they have signed free-agent forward Terrence Jones and re-signed guard Tim Frazier.

A person familiar with the negotiations says Jones, a four-year veteran, signed a one-year deal Friday for the NBA minimum of about $1.14 million, while Frazier has signed a two-year deal worth about $4.1 million. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Pelicans have not released contract terms.

The 6-foot-9 Jones, who was Anthony Davis‘ teammates on Kentucky’s 2012 national championship team, has spent his first four NBA seasons with Houston, posting career averages of 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Frazier played in 16 games for New Orleans late last season, averaging 13.1 points, 7.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 29.3 minutes per game.

Deron Williams says he is recovering well from sports hernia, will be ready to go at camp

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 01:  Deron Williams #8 of the Dallas Mavericks during the first half at American Airlines Center on March 1, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Deron Williams will be back with the Dallas Mavericks next season — and be ready to go by the start of the season.

He’d like to say he’d be back for the next few seasons, but coming off a Sports Hernia injury his options were a little limited. However, his recovery is going well he told NBC Dallas in an interview from American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe (which you can watch this weekend on NBC).

“Feeling really good. It’s healing pretty well, I’m doing a lot of work on and off the court. I haven’t got the full-go clearance yet, but that’s coming soon. I’ll be ready to go definitely by the time training camp rolls around.

“I’m running, I’m jumping a little bit. I’m just not going crazy. I kind of have to wait for August 1 for that, to go see the doc and get the go ahead. But it’s not much restriction right now.”

Williams averaged 14.1 points and 5.8 assists per game for the Mavericks last season and was solid at 32. His efficiency slipped a little (to be expected as he is on the wrong side of 30 and has plenty of miles) but he played well for Dallas.

Dallas signed him to a one-year, $10 million deal. Williams was hoping for a little more security.

“I was happy to come back. Would have liked a little longer deal but I’m back for one year and hopefully can build on last year and improve. I think there’s room for a lot of improvement. Hopefully I can stay healthy. I think that’s the biggest key but I’m excited about this year and this team.”

The one-year deal is more about Dallas than Williams — they could see a significant shift in plans when Dirk Nowitzki steps away (he inked a two-year deal but the second year is only $5 million guaranteed, so he could be in his final run if he wants).

Dallas added Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut from the Warriors to a starting five that also includes Nowitzki, Williams, and Wesley Matthews. If they can stay healthy — no little thing with that group — it’s a quality starting five that coach Rick Carlisle is going to love.