Riding the NBA stairway to 7

The Cleveland Cavaliers are swimming upstream against history. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win a championship. And only three teams have ever won a seventh game on the road.

For just the third time in history, a team has forced a seventh game after trailing 3-1 in the NBA Finals. That would be the Cavaliers, who will go to the mat against the Warriors on the road in Oakland.

In 1951, the Knicks trailed the Rochester Royals 3-0 and rallied to force a Game 7 but lost 79-75 in the final game (shown above). Arnie Risen led all scorers with 24 points as Rochester won its only NBA Championship. The Royals later moved West, first to Cincinnati, then Kansas City-Omaha, and eventually Sacramento. Somewhere in transit they become the Kings.

In 1966 the Lakers trailed the Celtics 3-1, only to win twice and force a decisive game. Boston held on to win that game 95-93 at the Boston Garden and capture a record eighth straight NBA championship. Bill Russell scored 25 points and took down 32 rebounds to lead the way.

Seventh games are a rarity in the NBA Finals. Cleveland-Golden State is just the 19th Game 7 since the league’s first playoff in 1947. Since 1984, only six Finals, including this one, have gone the distance.

And the home team – that would be the Warriors – has the decided edge if history proves true to form. Only three teams have won a seventh game game on the road. The last team to win a Finals Game 7 on the road was the Washington Bullets, who beat the Supersonics in Seattle. The Bullets won 105-89 behind center Wes Unseld, who was named MVP.

The Celtics did it twice – in 1974 against the Bucks in Milwaukee and.in 1969 against the Lakers at the Los Angeles Forum. In 1974, the road team won five times, including the last four games. The Celtics won 102-87 in what turned out to be Oscar Robertson’s final game.

In 1969, Boston, which finished in fourth place in the Eastern Division, came back to take the last two games as Russell outplayed Wilt Chamberlain. Boston held onto what had been a 17-point lead in the finale to win its 11th title 108-106.

Jerry West became the only player on a losing team to win Finals MVP. LA owner Jack Kent Cooke had thousands of balloons in the rafters ready to be released when the Lakers won. The balloons never came down.

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RIP Champ, you were always ‘The Greatest’

I never had the opportunity to meet you, Muhammad Ali. If I did, I would have told you how much you meant to me, to the American people, to all citizens of the earth. You changed the world.

You were a fighter, a social activist, a poet, a legend, and icon. You led the way champ, and taught us how to stand up against things that were wrong, whether it be the treatment of black people in America in the 60s or the Vietnam War.

WABC Radio in New York used to run a program called “Speaking of Sports” that was hosted by Howard Cosell. Your many appearances on that show and the dialog with Cosell made for great radio.

You were the greatest fighter of all time. I still remember listening on the radio to your first heavyweight title fight in 1964. Nobody thought Cassius Clay had a chance against the fearsome Sonny Liston, but you won when Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round.

In 1974, I watched a closed circuit telecast of your stunning upset against George Foreman in Zaire. Again nobody gave you a chance, yet your “rope-a-dope” tactics wore out Foreman.

Although I never met you, I once met Chuck Wepner, a guy you punished in a 15-round title match in 1975. I asked Wepner what it was like to be in the ring with you. “It was pure hell,” he told me. “I knew he was the better fighter, and so did Ali.” I’m sure George Frazier and so many others would echo similar sentiments.

And who will ever forget that steamy night in Atlanta in 1996, when you lit the torch to open the Summer Olympics. That was a moment for the ages.

You were known for your poetry and observations. Here are some of your best quotes. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” was one of your favorite sayings. My favorite was “Don’t count the days, make each day count.” You made your 74 years count.

I cried this morning when I heard the news that  you had passed on, a victim of Parkinson’s disease. You inspired us all and fought the good fight to the end.

The world was a better place with you in it Muhammad. RIP Champ. You were The Greatest.