NBA.com takes a look back at the top moments that define the history of the NBA.
> The Kobe & LeBron Years (2000s)
Kobe Bryant-to-Shaquille O’Neal alley-oops are among the most iconic and lasting NBA images of the early 2000s. The duo’s alley-oop in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals to cap a wild fourth-quarter comeback stands against Portland above the rest as a career highlight for both stars.
When Michael Jordan retired for the second time in January of 1999, he said he was “99.9 percent certain” that he would never play in the NBA again. Less than two years later, on September 25, 2001, that 0.1 percent chance was realized as Jordan announced his return, this time as a member of the Washington Wizards.
When Pat Riley trademarked the phrase “three-peat” in 1988, he anticipated it would be for his two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. But while the Riley-coached Lakers were swept by the Detroit Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals, L.A. realized Riley’s vision 14 years later with their victory over New Jersey.
There are a handful of NBA Drafts that could lay claim to being the greatest. In 2003, another group added themselves to that list. While LeBron James dominated the headlines as Cleveland’s top overall pick, Carmelo Anthony (No. 3), Chris Bosh (4) and Dwyane Wade (5) rounded out a historically great top five.
The Spurs dodged a catastrophe in 2000 when franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan turned down a full-court press from Orlando to re-sign despite a rapidly aging roster. Three years later, Duncan sent fellow Spurs legend David Robinson into retirement on a championship note with a Finals performance for the ages.
When Joe Dumars was hired by the struggling Detroit Pistons to be team president after the 1999-2000 season, he couldn’t have predicted what awaited his team four seasons later: An impressive five-game victory over the vaunted Lakers for their first championship since he and the “Bad Boys” won their second straight in 1990.
Just like the old saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. That about summed up the Spurs once again, who edged the Pistons in a physically demanding and thrillingly epic Finals, which San Antonio grabbed in seven games after a season of major NBA changes.
Down 89-76 at home with 6:15 remaining in Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat’s season was hanging on by a thread. The Heat were already in a 2-0 hole to the Dallas Mavericks, knowing full well that no team had ever come back from 0-3 in NBA history. That’s when budding star Dwyane Wade took over.
When Wilt Chamberlain scored a mind-boggling 100 against the New York Knicks in 1962, the NBA world knew it would never see anything like it again. That was until Kobe Bryant lit the Toronto Raptors up on January 22, 2006 in the greatest single-game performance in modern NBA history.
In LeBron James’ first postseason, the Cleveland Cavaliers gave a heavily-favored Detroit Pistons team everything it could handle before falling in Game 7 of the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals. The Cavaliers avenged that loss the following season thanks in large part to James’ remarkable performance.
Until the Miami Heat won 27 games in a row in the 2012-13 season, the Houston Rockets’ 22-game win streak in the 2007-08 season stood as the gold standard for consecutive wins in the modern NBA era.
Before the Celtics acquired Allen and Garnett in a pair of blockbuster trades, Boston had gone 21 years without an appearance in The Finals. But coming off a 24-58 injury-plagued season, Celtics president Danny Ainge changed the franchise’s fortunes almost overnight with two bold moves.
It took 43 years, but in 2009 Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson did what was once considered the impossible: Passing Boston Celtics icon Red Auerbach for the most NBA titles won as a coach when he collected his 10th championship.