Top 10: Best NCAA championship games

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As college basketball fans gear up for tonight’s NCAA championship game between Villanova and Michigan, here’s a little history lesson.

Since the NCAA basketball tournament began in 1939, there have been great dynasties like UCLA, which won 10 titles in 12 years beginning in 1964. There have been great players like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton,  Larry Bird and Magic Johnson,  Michael Jordan and Christian Laettner.

There have been watershed games that changed the sociological face of America and enhanced the popularity of the college game, bringing words like March Madness and Final Four into the American lexicon.

There have been seven overtime games, including a triple overtime classic between North Carolina and Kansas in 1957.  Six games have been decided by a single point.

UCLA has won the most titles with 11, followed by Kentucky with 8, North Carolina with 6 and Indiana and Duke with five apiece.

Here are the 10 most memorable championship games in NCAA basketball history:

1. 1979 — Michigan State 75, Indiana State 64 — Many call this the most important college basketball game ever played; with a 24.1 Nielsen rating it is the highest rated basketball game ever. It was the game that put college basketball, March Madness and the Final Four on the map. Oh yes, and Magic Johnson, shown right, outscored Larry Bird 24 to 19 in Michigan State’s win.

2. 1966 — Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65 — Another watershed game, as an all-black Texas Western starting five surprised Kentucky. Soon after, Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp. the Baron, began recruiting black players, breaking down barriers throughout the South. In 2006, the film “Glory Road” dramatized the game and Texas Western coach Don Haskins.

3. 2016: Villanova 77, North Carolina 74 – Kris Jenkins hits a dramatic three pointer at the buzzer on a feed from Ryan Arcidiacono to give the Wildcats the win and their first championship in 31 years. UNC’s Marcus Paige had tied the game on a three with just 4.7 seconds left

4. 1957 — North Carolina 54, Kansas 53 (3OT) — The unbeaten Tar Heels outlasted Wilt Chamberlain and the Jayhawks in the longest game in NCAA championship game history. Two free throws by Joe Quigg with six seconds left made the difference. UNC also played three overtimes in the semis, beating Michigan State.

5. 1983 — NC State 54, Houston 52 — The Wolfpack, sixth seeded with 10 losses during the season, won when it mattered most as Lorenzo Charles putback dunk at the final buzzer upset Houston’s heavily favored Phi Slama Jama. Few will ever forget  the site of NC State coach Jim Valvano racing around the court looking for somebody to hug after the final buzzer.

6. 1985 — Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 — In a shocker, the Wildcats shot a tournament record .786 percent. They attempted 10 field goals in the second half and made nine. Georgetown was defending champion and the top seed, but fell short against eighth-seeded Villanova after beating another Big East foe, St. John’s, in the semis.

7. 1982 — North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62 –– This was Michael Jordan’s coming out party,  and the freshman hit the game-winning shot, a 16-foot jumper with 15 seconds left, to give Tar Heel coach Dean Smith his first national championship. “I was all kinds of nervous,” Jordan said, “but I didn’t have time to think about doubts. I had a feeling it was going to go in.”

8. 1950 — CCNY 71, Bradley 68 — City College of New York (CCNY) legendary coach Nat Holman, a New York native and a star with the Original Celtics,  led the Beavers to wins against Bradley in both the NCAA and the NIT, both at Madison Square Garden. CCNY remains the only team to win both the NCAA and the NIT in the same season.

1987 — Indiana 74, Syracuse 73 — Keith Smart’s 16-foot baseline jumper with five seconds remaining gave the Hoosiers a victory in a matchup of Hall of Fame coaches, Indiana’s Bob Knights versus Jim Boeheim of Syracuse. Seven three-point baskets by IU’s Steve Alford combined with the Orangemen’s futility from the foul line were just enough to give Indiana the win.

10. 1973 — UCLA 87, Memphis State 66 — UCLA won its seventh NCAA championship  behind center Bill Walton, shown right, who made 21 of 22 shots for 44 points as the Bruins waltzed to another victory. Overall, the UCLA dynasty would capture 10 crowns in 12 years under coach John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood.

Overtime…5 More Minutes, 6 More Classics

2008 — Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT) — Kansas was down with 2:12 left in regulation but missed Memphis free throws left the door open, and the Jayhawks finally tied  the score on Mario Chalmers three-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining. Kansas then dominated the overtime to win its first championship in 20 years.

1997 – Arizona 84, Kentucky 79 (OT) – Guards Miles Simon and Mike Bibby combined for 49 points to give Arizona the championship. Coach Lute Olson’s fourth-seeded Wildcats became the first team to beat three No. 1 seeds en route to a title.

1989 — Michigan 80, Seton Hall 79 (OT) — Rumeal Robinson made a pair of free throws with three seconds left following a controversial foul call to give the Wolverines the win in the NCAAs first overtime game since 1963. Seton Hall rallied from a 12-point deficit to send the game into overtime on John Morton’s three-pointer with 24 seconds left in regulation.

1963 – Loyola of Chicago 60, Cincinnati 58 (OT) – Down 15 with 12 minutes to play, the Ramblers scrambled back to force overtime. Then Vic Rouse’s rebound basket with one second left gave Loyola the championship.

1961 — Cincinnati 70, Ohio State 65 (OT) — In an all-Ohio finale, Cincinnati, minus the great Oscar Robertson, who had graduated, beat defending champion Ohio State. The Buckeyes roster included Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek. The Bearcats would go on to repeat in 1962, once again beating OSU.

1944 — Utah 42, Dartmouth 40 (OT) — Utah originally turned down an invitation to the NCAA tournament, but was given a second chance after losing in the NIT, and after Arkansas pulled out of the tourney after two players were injured in an automobile accident.  The Utes were the youngest NCAA champion in history; the team’s average age was 18 years, six months.

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Jabbar part of the conversation of best ever

1758742ADB_DNA023133068Who’s the best basketball player in history?

The most popular answer is Michael Jordan. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are popular selections. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are certainly in the conversation. LeBron James is a favorite of the current generation and still climbing.

A name that rarely…if ever…comes up is Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Surprising, considering the big man’s pedigree. Here are 10 supporting arguments for Kareem Abdul Jabbar as the best ever.

1. POINTS: He’s the leading scorer in NBA history with 37,387 points. Karl Malone is second.

2. MVP: Kareem won the NBA MVP award a record six times. Jordan won five and LeBron is a four-time winner.

3. RINGS: He’s won six NBA championships, one with the Bucks and five with the Lakers. Only Robert Horry and a bunch of Celtics have won more. Russell is the leader with 11.

4. DEFENSE: Kareem was selected to the NBA’s All-Defensive team 11 times.

5. REBOUNDS: He’s fourth all-time in rebounds with 17,440, trailing only Wilt, Russell and Malone.

6. ALL-STAR: Jabbar appeared in 19 NBA All-Star games, the most in history. Kobe Bryant is second with 18.

7. BLOCKS: Only Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutumbo have more blocks than Kareem.

8. UCLA: Won three straight NCAA titles with UCLA in 1967,68 and 69, and made first team All-American each year.

9. GAMES: Only Robert Parrish played in more NBA games than Jabbar.

10. SCORING AVERAGE: Kareem averaged 24.6 points per game throughout his career.


10 essentials on Knicks-Celtics playoff rivalry

Here are 10 things you absolutely had to know about the storied playoff history between the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks, the NBA’s two remaining charter franchises.

1. All-Time Record
The Celtics and Knicks are meeting for the 14th time in playoff hyistory.  Boston won seven of the previous 13, including a 2-0 win in a curious 1954 round robin with the Syracuse Nats. Overall Boston leads the series 34-27.

2. Common Foes
That’s second all-time to the 18th playoff meetings between Boston and the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers. They have met 19 times, though just twice since 1985.

3. The First Time
Boston faced New York for the first time in 1951, when the Knicks beat the Celtics, 2-0 behind Max Zaslofsky, a guard from Brooklyn and St. John’s, who averaged 17.9 points a game.

4. Knicks in the 50s
The Knicks won the first three playoff meetings  — in 1951, 1952 and 1953 — and advanced to the NBA Finals each year, losing all three times.

5. Eventual Champs
Four times the winner of the Celtics-Knicks playoff series has gone on to win the NBA Championship — Boston in 1969, 1974 and 1984 and New York in 1973.

6. Seventh Heaven
Twice the series has gone seven games, in 1973 and 1984. The Celtics had never lost a Game 7 before 1973, but the Knicks marched into Boston Garden and won 94-78 behind Walt Frazier.

7. Larry Legend
The Knicks pushed the Celtics to seven games in 1984, but Boston dominated the finale and won 121-104 behind Larry Bird, who averaged a career post-season high 27.5 points that year.

8. King of the Court
Knicks forward Bernard King averaged 29.1 points per game for the Knicks in the 1984 series, the highest single series scoring average in the history of the rivalry.

9. The Last Time
The Celtics swept the Knicks in four straight in a 2011 first round meeting. Before that, they last met in the playoffs back in the spring of 1990, when Paul Pierce was 12 years old and rooting for the Lakers; Carmelo Anthony was in kindergarten.

10. Knicks Break Streak
In 1990, the Knicks rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series and won Game 5 to break a 26-game losing streak over six years at Boston Garden.


10 Facts On Celtics-Knicks Playoff Rivalry

Earl Monroe shoots over Dave Cowens in 1973 Eastern Conference Finals.

Here are 10 things you absolutely had to know about the playoff history between the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks, the NBA’s two remaining charter franchises.

1. All-Time Record
The Celtics and Knicks are meeting for the 13th time in the playoffs. They split the previous 12, unless you count Boston’s 2-0 win in a curious 1954 round robin with the Syracuse Nats. Overall Boston leads the series 30-27.

2. Common Foes
That’s second all-time to the 18th playoff meetings between Boston and the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers. They have met 18 times, though once since 1985.

3. The First Time
Boston faced New York for the first time in 1951, when the Knicks beat the Celtics, 2-0 behind Max Zaslofsky, a guard from Brooklyn and St. John’s, who averaged 17.9 points a game.

4. Knicks in the 50s
The Knicks won the first three playoff meetings  — in 1951, 1952 and 1953 — and advanced to the NBA Finals each year, losing all three times.

 5. Eventual Champs
Four times the winner of the Celtics-Knicks playoff series has gone on to win the NBA Championship — Boston in 1969, 1974 and 1984 and New York in 1973.

6. Seventh Heaven
Twice the series has gone seven games, in 1973 and 1984. The Celtics had never lost a Game 7 before 1973, but the Knicks marched into Boston Garden and won 94-78 behind Walt Frazier.

7. Larry Legend
The Knicks pushed the Celtics to seven games in 1984, but Boston dominated the finale and won 121-104 behind Larry Bird, right, who averaged a career post-season high 27.5 points that year.

8. King of the Court
Knicks forward Bernard King averaged 29.1 points per game for the Knicks in the 1984 series, the highest single series scoring average in the history of the rivalry.

9. The Last Time
The Celtics and Knicks last met in the playoffs back in the spring of 1990. Paul Pierce was 12 years old and rooting for the Lakers; Carmelo Anthony was in kindergarten.

10. Knicks Break Streak
In 1990, the Knicks rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series and won Game 5 to break a 26-game losing streak over six years at Boston Garden.


Imagine: Celtics vs. Lakers, Best of The Best

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, two of the best in the Celtics-Lakers all-time match.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could take the best players in Celtics and Lakers history — in their primes — and square them off in a playoff series.

A seven-game playoff series with the greatest players from the two greatest teams in NBA history. Give the Celtics the home court advantage, since they have won 17 NBA championships to 16 by the Lakers. So the inevitable seventh game would come down to a showdown in the old Boston Garden.

What match ups, some seen before, some never seen. The best of the best in the 64-year history of the NBA. Here are the teams.

Celtics

C — Bill Russell
F — Larry Bird
F — Kevin McHale
G — Bob Cousy
G — Sam Jones

Coming of the Boston bench as sixth man would be John Havlicek, shown below against Jerry West. Tom “Satch” Sanders is the lockdown defensive specialist.

The other reserves, in no particular order, would be Dave Cowens, Tommy Heinsohn, and Bill Sharman from the 50s, 60s and 70s, and two current members of the team, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Last cuts — KC Jones, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parrish

Lakers

C — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
F — Elgin Baylor
F — James Worthy
G — Jerry West
G — Magic Johnson

The top reserves are Kobe Bryant and Michael Cooper, a superior defensive player. Kobe may be the greatest Laker of them all, but with a backcourt of West and Magic, he brings more fire coming off the bench.

The bench is somewhat lopsided with Gail Goodrich and Pao Gasol bracketing three centers — George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquelle O’Neill. (Yeah, you gonna be the one to tell one of these guys they’re not good enough).

Last cuts — Slater Martin, Kurt Rambis, Bryron Scott.

Red vs. Phil
The coaches, Red Auerbach of Boston and Phil Jackson of Los Angeles, of course. Between them they’ve coached 20 NBA champions.

Imagine having Kobe Bryant and John Havlicek as sixth men.

Russell faced off against Wilt many times, but what fan wouldn’t want to see Russ against Kareem, or Shaq, or even Mikan.

So who would win? Game winds down to the final seconds tied, the old Boston Garden utterly electric. Who’s taking the lost shot? Is it going into overtime?

Imagine.


The Sports Guy Hits a Three-Pointer

Bill Simmons, the ESPN Sports Guy, hits a three-pointer with “The Book of Basketball” (Ballantine Books) a wildly entertaining treatise on professional basketball, and the players and teams that make the sport special.

Simmons, a native New Englander, fellow Holy Cross alum (the SportsLifer was class of 73) and admitted Celtics fan, fills the “Book” with levels, pyramids and categories, remindful of Cosmo Kramer’s interior design in his Manhattan apartment.

The most fascinating debate in the book is the selection of the top 96 players in NBA history. Michael Jordan as number one should hardly surprise anyone, although defining Jordan the all-time, forever pick isn’t defensible. Who’s to know there’s not some kid on the horizon, born already, who will someday surpass Jordan’s numbers and his “pathological competitiveness, command of the room and mystique.” Never say never, always or forever.

Anyway, after Jordan, the rest of Simmons’ top 10 in order is Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Hakeen Olajuwon. Duncan is the only active player on the list, but Kobe (15)  and LeBron (20) are coming.

1986 Celtics Voted Best Team
The Sports Guys nod to the 86 Celtics as the greatest team in NBA history smacks of homerism. First of all, Simmons eliminates or severely penalizes all teams before 1976, citing the following reasons:

  • The pre-1960 teams (not enough black players, defense and quality shooting)
  • The 70-76 teams (because of the expansion ABA/double whammy…)
  • The pre-70s teams (because I’ve seen the tapes and you can’t tell with a straight face that the 65 Celtics or 67 Sixers wouldn’t haven gotten swept by the 01 Lakers by 25 points a game.)

The No 1 team vote for Larry Bird, right, and the 86 Celtics was based in part on Boston’s remarkable home winning streak, 50-1 that season, 55 straight over two years, 40 of the 55 wins by double digits. “You have a better chance of seeing another multi-permed NBA coaching staff than seeing another NBA team win 55 straight games in the luxury box era,” said Simmons. “No way it will happen.”

The hair reference refers to Celtics assistant coaches Jimmy Rodgers and Chris Ford, who sported ghastly perms that season. Simmons footnoted that “Ford even threw in a porn mustache and variety of 80s suits that looked like they came from the Philip Michael Thomas estate sale.”

BTW, the 01 Lakers are #5 on the all-time team Book of Basketball list, behind the second-ranked 96 Bulls, third-ranked 87 Lakers, and fourth-ranked 89 Pistons.

The best part of “The Book of Basketball” is the wacky style and creative, rambling prose of the Sports Guy. For instance, this is how he describes Allen Iverson, #29 on the all-time list.

“…..one of the most fascinating, complex athletes of my lifetime: a legendary partier and devoted family man; a loyal teammate who shot too much; a featherweight who carried himself like a heavyweight; an intimidating competitor who was always the smallest guy on the court; an ex-con with a shady entourage who also ranked among the most intuitive, self-aware, articulate superstars in any sport. If I could pick any modern athlete to spend a week with in his prime for a magazine feature, I would pick Allen Iverson. In a heartbeat.”

Hmmm, that’s interesting. The Answer. Who knew.

Lastly, you can’t do the book justice without reading the footnotes, like this one on Bob Cousy, another former Holy Cross Crusader.

“Cooz had a phenomenal French/New York accent. He couldn’t pronounce R, but that didn’t stop him from announcing Celtics games for two solid decades, leading to him calling Rodney Rogers “Wodd-ney” in 2002.”

And of course Rick Robey was Wick Wobey.


Predicting the Future is No Guarantee

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”
— Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929
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We’re all experts in this world. We think we know it all,

We see the crystal ball. We foresee the future.

In sports, as in life, we make predictions. We guarantee.

Oh sure, they’ll cover the spread. This one’s a lock. We’re gonna win.

But for every Joe Namath there’s a Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson. For every Mark Messier, a Patrick Ewing.
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“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
— Bill Gates, 1981  ____________________________________________________________________

In 1969, quarterback Joe Namath brashly predicted his Jets would upset the heavily-favored Colts in the Super Bowl. They did of course, cementing the legend of Broadway Joe.

Two years earlier, Kansas City defensive back Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson, not only predicted his Chiefs would beat the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I. Furthermore, Williamson vowed that his trademark forearm chop to the helmet – a move he dubbed “The Hammer” – would rain down on Packers receivers all day.

Well the Pack crushed the Chiefs 35-10, and The Hammer was carried off on a stretcher after getting trampled by running back Donny Anderson. Asked afterward about Williamson, Packers coach Vince Lombardi said, “Was he out there? The only time I noticed him was when they carried him off.”

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“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
— Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962

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Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics was one of the greatest players in NBA history. During Bird’s rookie year, one NBA general manager was asked what he thoughts about Bird.

The GM admitted Bird was a pretty good shooter and a better passer than people thought. However, the GM did not think that Larry Legend was mentally tough enough for an NBA season. Yeah right.

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“I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face, and not Gary Cooper.”
— Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind”

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Patrick Ewing, the Knicks center from Georgetown, was famous for issuing guarantees….guarantees which rarely, if ever, came true. In 1997, Ewing’s line to the media was “See you in Chicago,” by which he meant the Knicks would beat the Heat in a seventh game at Miami to face the Bulls in the Eastern finals. The Heat won.

Ewing ended his Knicks career by guaranteeing a victory in Game 6 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers. He missed his final six shots in a 93-80 defeat.

Contrast that with Mark Messier of the New York Rangers, who not only guaranteed a victory against the New Jersey Devils in Game Six of the 1994 NHL playoffs, but scored a hat trick in the third period to clinch a 4-2 win. The Rangers went on to win the series, and then Messier scored the decisive goal in Game Seven as the Rangers beat Vancouver to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.

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“Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances.”
— Dr. Lee DeForest, Inventor of TV

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After winning the overtime coin toss in a 2004 playoff game at Green Bay, Matt Hasselbeck, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, said, “We want the ball, and we’re gonna score.”

Shortly afterwards, Hasselbeck threw the ball right to Packers defensive back Al Harris, who returned it for the winning touchdown.

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“This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
— Western Union internal memo, 1876