We’re not talking shots on net, we’re of course talking about photos. The NBA Finals have produced some extraordinary moments that are absolutely legendary. Today, we’re going through our top 15 shots in the history of the NBA Finals.
These photos transcend fan loyalty and get to the core of why we love this game so much. Basketball is not just about who wins; it’s rivals pushing each other to their limits, last second buzzer-beaters, momentum-swinging dunks, impossible comebacks and late-game heroics that snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. In short, the Finals are about more than winning or losing. They are a chance at achieving greatness for a fleeting moment on any given night.
The images below immortalize that greatness in the way that only photography can, bringing the action to a standstill so that we can stop and take it all in.
1. Kobe Takes Off (2001)
A 22-year-old Kobe Bryant glides under the reach of center Dikembe Mutombo in Game 4 against Philadelphia. With Shaq and Kobe, the Lakers would win a combined three NBA titles, and the two stars would go down as the greatest basketball duo of all time.
2. The Shot (1998)
In a moment known simply as “the Shot,” Michael Jordan wins his sixth championship with a thrilling buzzer-beater. It was his last shot with the Bulls, and the perfect bookend for basketball’s single most legendary figure.
3. Malone Posterizes Rodman (1997)
The towering Karl Malone elevates over Chicago’s Dennis Rodman and Ron Harper in Game 1. The Utah Jazz gave the Chicago Bulls a run for their money, but Jordan’s Bulls would win the series.
4. Charles Barkley’s Roar (1993)
Charles Barkley led the Phoenix Suns past the Bulls for a Game 5 win. Barkley was one of Michael Jordan’s greatest rivals, but Jordan’s victory in the ’93 Finals would prove who was the better player.
5. The Jordan Era Begins (1991)
Michael Jordan’s first championship was the beginning of an era and one of the greatest careers in sports history. This first victory over the previously dominant LA Lakers would put the league on notice that there was a new sheriff in town.
6. Magic Kisses Isiah (1988)
Two of the most intense competitors in the league, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, would begin a ferocious finals series with a kiss. The two were old friends, but this simple greeting surprised fans.
7. Rivals (1987)
The finals of 1987 were the last time that Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics went toe-to-toe against Magic Johnson’s LA Lakers. The rivals obsessively followed each other’s careers, and by the end of the ’80s, only two of the decade’s 10 championships would be won by a team other than the Celtics and Lakers.
8. Larry Legend (1986)
This iconic image of Larry Bird pulling up from deep was captured during the Celtic’s ’87 finals against the Houston Rockets. Bird’s Celtics would come out victorious, giving them two championships titles in three consecutive finals appearances.
9. McHale’s Hard Foul (1984)
In a seminal moment for the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, Boston’s Kevin McHale fouls Kurt Rambis hard in Game 4, reigniting a rivalry that had gone dormant. The series would be remembered as one of the most intense in history.
10. Moses Slams It Down (1983)
Moses Malone of the Philadelphia 76ers was a force to be reckoned with. His play in the ’83 Finals would lead to a devastating sweep of Los Angeles.
11. The Doctor in Reverse (1980)
Julius “Dr. J” Erving displaying his famous reverse layup in Game 4 of the 1980 finals. Dr. J’s acrobatic style would forever transform the game of basketball.
12. Walton Guards the Net (1977)
The finals of 1977 were defined by Bill Walton’s unrelenting play. The colossal Trail Blazers’ center rallied his team with his intensity, bringing them back from two consecutive losses to sweep the next four games and win the championship.
13. Willis Blows by Wilt (1973)
Willis Reed of the New York Knicks blows by the long reach of Wilt “the Stilt” Chamberlain for the basket during Game 2, eventually winning the game to tie the series.
14. Reed Is Back! (1970)
Willis Reed was the star and driving force of the New York Knicks, but a devastating thigh injury sidelined him in the middle of the finals. After his absence led to a Game 6 loss, it seemed New York’s title hopes were all but buried. Then starting Game 7, Reed dramatically stepped out onto the court of Madison Square Garden dressed to play, and the New York crowd went bananas. Reed scored the Knicks’ first two shots, and though they were the only two points he had on the night, it was the boost that his team needed. New York won the game and the title.
15. Russell vs. West (1968)
Bill Russell’s Celtics dominated the ’60s with eight consecutive titles, but the perennial thorn in their side was the LA Lakers of Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West. Here Jerry West drives past Russell in Game 6 of the ’68 finals. Boston went home victorious.
You probably aren’t one of the lucky few with tickets to the finals, but if you have basketball fever, share photos from your local courts on PicsArt photo editor and tag them with #FinalsFever!