The ultimate goal for any basketball player is to win an NBA championship. As the world’s premier basketball league, the NBA provides players a global platform to showcase their talents. More than any others, the following 10 players elevated their game and achieved immortality on basketball’s biggest stage. These are the top 10 performances in NBA Finals history.
1) Bill Russell, Boston Celtics, 1962
Russell had many great performances among his record 11 NBA championships, but the 1962 Finals stands out from the rest. The Hall of Fame center averaged 22.9 points, 27.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 74.2 percent from the free-throw line. Russell took his game to another level after the Celtics went down 3 games to 2 to the Los Angeles Lakers, recording a 19 point, 24 rebound, 10 assist triple-double in Game 6 in Los Angeles, and then following that up with a massive 30 point, 40 rebound performance in the Celtics’ Game 7 win in Boston.
2) LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016
James had already won two titles with the Miami Heat, but winning a championship with his hometown Cavaliers remains the crowning achievement of his storied career. James averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists in the series, but it’s what he did in Games 5-7 that put Cleveland on the championship map. With the Cavs down 3 games to 1, James averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 3.0 steals and 3.0 blocks as Cleveland won the last three games to defeat the 2-time defending champion Golden State Warriors. In the decisive Game 7, he had a 27 point, 11 rebound, 11 assist triple double.
3) Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls, 1993
The greatest clutch player in the history of the game had his best postseason performance in the 1993 Finals. Jordan scored 40 or more points four times in the series, including a Finals career-high 55 in Game 4. For the series, he averaged 41.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists while shooting an efficient 50.8 percent from the field as the Bulls beat the Phoenix Suns in six games. In Game 6, Jordan carried the Bulls’ offense in the fourth quarter, scoring all but three of Chicago’s points, as the Bulls held off a Suns rally to win their third straight NBA championship.
4) Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers, 1969
West remains the only player in NBA history to win Finals MVP while playing on the losing team. The honor was well-deserved, as the Lakers guard averaged 37.9 points and 7.4 assists in a hard fought 7-game series against the rival Boston Celtics. Among his four 40-point games, West scored a massive 42 point, 13 rebound, 12 assist triple double in the Lakers’ 108-106 Game 7 loss. It was the sixth Finals series loss for the hard-luck West.
5) Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat, 2006
While Shaquille O’Neal dominated the headlines before the series, Wade was the undisputed king of Miami when the 2006 Finals ended. The 24-year-old guard averaged 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.7 steals in an outstanding all-around performance in leading the Heat to their first NBA championship. In the decisive Game 6 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, Wade had 36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks.
6) Larry Bird, Boston Celtics, 1986
Bird and the Celtics were Finals fixtures in the 1980s, but 1986 provided Larry Legend’s signature performance. The Hall of Fame forward averaged 24.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.5 assists and 2.7 steals in the series. Bird recorded triple-doubles in both Game 3 (25 points, 15 rebounds, 11 assists) and Game 6 (29 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists), as the Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets in six games to claim their third NBA title of the decade.
7) Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers, 2000
The game’s most dominant center won his first ring and brought the Lakers their first NBA championship of the Phil Jackson era with one of the greatest performances by a big man in league history. O’Neal averaged 38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks as the Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers in six games. The 7’1,” 325-pound center had three 40-point games in the series, including 40 points and 24 rebounds in Game 2.
8) Bill Walton, Portland Trail Blazers, 1977
Walton already had a championship pedigree coming into the NBA, having won two NCAA titles at UCLA. In 1977, the 6’11” center led the Portland Trail Blazers to their first NBA title. Walton dominated on both ends of the floor, averaging 18.5 points, 19.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 3.7 blocks while shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 78.9 percent from the free-throw line in the series. In the deciding Game 6, he had 20 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists and eight blocks.
9) Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets, 1994
By the 1993-94 season, Olajuwon had established himself as the NBA’s best all-around center, and the 1994 Finals provided the ultimate showcase for his skills. In a physical 7-game series against the New York Knicks, “The Dream” averaged 26.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.9 blocks for the champion Rockets. The NBA Defensive Player of the Year held fellow Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing to only 18.9 points per game and 36.3 percent shooting in the series.
10) Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks, 1958
In 1958, Pettit and the Hawks did something no other team could do from 1957-69, beat the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. The Hall of Fame power forward averaged 29.3 points and 17.0 rebounds in the series, including 50 points and 19 rebounds in the Hawks’ series-clinching Game 6 win. Pettit’s 50 points were the most ever in an NBA Finals game up to that point.