As we close in on deciding the winner of the 2017 NBA Finals, some single player will rise above all others to give the signature performance of the series and take home the Most Valuable Player trophy. Named the Bill Russell Award, it likely would have gone to its namesake many times during his record 11 NBA Championships, but alas, it wasn't given out until 1969. Russell helped the Celtics to win it all one last time in what would be his final year but the series was dominated by an in-his-prime Jerry West, allowing "The Logo" to be the only winner of the award, to this day, whose team lost in the finals (NOTE: that's a good hint for the quiz to come!)
Since then there have been four players who have racked up 3 Finals MVPs or more (we can't tell you that here because it would give too much away for the ensuing questions!). But there have also been wonderful surprises, unheralded performers stepping up in basketball's biggest stage.
Now you too can step up out of nowhere and be an MVP. We will give you the year, the two teams fighting for the title, and four standout performers from that series. You tell us who was deemed most valuable. Your award is NBA knowledge glory.
2016 - Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
A seven game classic that made everyone eager to see it all over again in 2017, the Warriors came in with the best record in NBA History and the Cavs came in with... LeBron James. And he was huge, going for a near triple-double with 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 8.9 assists, but this time he also had Kyrie Irving playing at a superstar level next to him, pouring in 27.1 points per himself. On the Dubs side, guards Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined for over 40 points scoring average, making a remarkable 53 threes.
2015 - Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
Cleveland v. Golden State, Part One, started out with epic battles, but ended with one team winning three in a row to take the series 4 games to 2. Amongst the most surprising performers was Warriors' sixth man Andre Iguodala, who was inserted into the starting lineup coinciding with that three-game run, scoring 16.3 points and filling out the stat line with great defense and hustle. Stephen Curry was the dominant force for the Western Conference team though, going for 26 points per game, including 25 three pointers. LeBron didn't disappoint in his return home, going for an amazing 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists with a limited supporting cast.
2014 - Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs
After a seven-game masterpiece in 2013, the Heat and Spurs played a relatively disappointing five-game clunker the next season, with four games decided by 15 points or more. For Miami, LeBron James scored the most points of any player on the floor in four of the five matches, going for 28.2 points per game, his highest scoring average ever in a Finals. The Spurs were more balanced, with ageless wonder Tim Duncan going for 15.4 points and 10 boards, upstart 22-year-old Kawhi Leonard inheriting the mantle with 17.8 points and sterling defense, and Tony Parker leading the way 18 points per.
2013 - Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs
In a seven-game matchup featuring major contributions from likely 8 future Hall-of-Famers, and a classic Game Six with astounding defensive plays on both sides down the stretch, there were standout performers a plenty. Tim Duncan turned back the clock with 18.9 points and 12.1 rebounds, while LeBron James showed his superstardom countering with 25.3 points and 10.9 boards on the Heat side. Not to be outdone, stars in their own right Tony Parker had 15.7 points and dished 6.4 assists for the Spurs and Dwyane Wade went for 19.6 for Miami.
2012 - Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Four of the best still playing the game today did not disappoint in a relatively easy five game series, with LeBron having his first dominant NBA finals, with a Magic-like stat line of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists, and D-Wade going for 22.6/6.0/5.2 in his own right. Meanwhile the Thunder's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for nearly 2/3 of their team's points alone, with 30.6 and 27.4 per, though Westbrook and James on the Heat side both shot horribly from three point range, a combined 6-38.
2011 - Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat
After "The Decision", the favored but flawed Miami Heat made it to the finals against the underdog Dallas Mavericks and played a great six game series. Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade played more than half their club's minutes combined, and finished with 18.5, 17.8, and 26.5 points per game respectively, good for 2/3 of the scoring, while also getting 2/3 of the assists, and more than half of the rebounds. The Mavericks were the Dirk Nowitzki show, pouring in 26 points per contest, hitting a game winning shot after a wild 15 point comeback in the final six minutes of Game Two.
2010 - Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James dominated the regular season, but the Finals was a familiar match-up: Celtics/Lakers. After being accused of being soft after Game Five, Pau Gasol responded with a near triple-double in Game Six and 19 points and 18 rebounds in Game Seven. Kobe poured in 28.6 points per game, but shot awfully, .319 from three and .405 overall (including 6-24 in Game Seven.) The aging Celtics big three, were well balanced but quiet, with Paul Pierce's 18 points and Kevin Garnett's 15.3 points leading the way.
2009 - Orlando Magic vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The 30th Finals appearance for a legendary Laker ball club came against only a second time for the Orlando Magic, once again riding the back of a dominant big body inside Dwight Howard. His stat line was impressive, 15.4 points, 15.2 rebounds, and 4 blocks per game and Hedo Turkoglu led the scoring with 18 points per. On the LA side, Kobe Bryant poured in 40 out of the gate in Game One, going onto 32.4 points per over the five game series. Pau Gasol followed up on his All Star appearance with a consistent 18.6 points and 9.2 boards.
2008 - Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
After four straight games decided by six points or less, the 2008 NBA Finals sadly ended in a 39 point rout. Still, the rematch between the league's two greatest franchises, The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers lived up to its billing with star power on both sides. For the Celtics, their Big Three delivered 21.8 points per game from Paul Pierce, 20.3 points and .524 shooting from three point range for Ray Allen, and 18.2 points and 13 boards per from Kevin Garnett. In return, Kobe Bryant "played like Mike" and led all scorers with 25.7 from LA's side.
2007 - Cleveland Cavaliers vs. San Antonio Spurs
At just 22, LeBron James was already tasting NBA greatness, leading his Cleveland Cavaliers into the Finals to meet the experienced San Antonio Spurs. He led his team with 22 points per game, but met a well balanced three-headed-best of Tim Duncan with 18.3 points and 11.5 rebounds, Manu Ginobili with 17.8 points, and Tony Parker averaging a series-high 24.5 points. The series was decided in just four games, though the final two were a one point and three point victory respectively for the road team.
2006 - Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat
"It will go down in history as the worst officiated Finals in the history of the game," Mavericks' Mark Cuban said of a contest that saw the Heat's Dwyane Wade go to the line a remarkable 97 times in 6 games. He hit 75 of them on the way to 34.7 points per game, including a game tying shot and game-winning, you guessed it, free throws to end regulation and overtime respectively in Game 5. Dallas responded with a team effort, with 14.7 points per from Josh Howard, 22 points per from Jason Terry, and Dirk Nowitzki delivering 22.8 points and 10.8 rebounds.
2005 - Detroit Pistons vs. San Antonio Spurs
"Big Shot Bob" Horry, otherwise known as Robert, had the shot of the series, a three pointer with 5 seconds left to steal Game Five for the Spurs. The tightly fought seven game series was also a showcase for first-time All Star Manu Ginobili, who delivered a gritty 18.7 points per game and, of course, Tim Duncan who paced San Antonio with 20.6 points and 14.1 boards. Detroit had its own post-season greats at work, with Chauncey Billups going for 20.4 points and Richard Hamilton for 16.7.
2004 - Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers
O'Neal and Bryant and the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers were back against the Detroit Pistons, and the stars combined for nearly 50 points a game in what would be their final Finals hurrah. On the Pistons side, all five starters, including Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, and Tayshaun Prince scored in double digits, but guards Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups shouldered the scoring load pretty strongly for their side as well, going for 21.4 and 21 points per game respectively.
2003 - New Jersey Nets vs. San Antonio Spurs
The sixth game of the 2003 NBA Finals was Hall-of-Famer David Robinson's last of his career, but it was fellow big man Tim Duncan who led the Spurs, with 24.2 points, 17 rebounds, and an astounding 5.3 blocks per game. A 20-year-old point guard named Tony Parker also emerged, pouring in 14 per in a supporting role. For the Nets, back in the championship round for a second time, their well balanced attack was led by Kenyon Martin, who managed 14.7 points and 10 rebounds, and do-it-all point guard Jason Kidd, who averaged 19.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 7.8 assists.
2002 - Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Jersey Nets
The New Jersey Nets were buoyed by a in-his-prime Jason Kidd who dominated from the point in the series with 20.8 points and 9.8 assists, many of them to power forward Kenyon Martin who led all NJ scorers with 22 points per. The Lakers, however, had Shaq and Kobe, even if not much else in terms of scoring talent. Bryant went for 26.8 per game and O'Neal went for 36.3 points and 12.3 rebounds, and setting a record by going to the line 68 times in a four-game-series. shockingly for him, he even made 66% of them.
2001 - Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Allen Iverson led the heavy-underdog 76ers to a game one win with 48 points, including an emphatic step over Lakers guard Tyronn Lue after completely fooling him on a crossover dribble resulting in a silky smooth jumpshot. He would average a series high 35.6 points, supported by mid-season addition four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo, who poured in 16.8 and 12.2 rebounds, and who guarded Shaq, who was traded for this very situation. O'Neal was still a force however, with 33 points and 15.8 boards, and teammate Kobe Bryant lended 24.6 points per game of his own.
2000 - Indiana Pacers vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Shaquille O'Neal was NBA MVP and All Star Game co-MVP, and followed that up by being the most dominant performer in a six game NBA Finals, averaging 38 points and 16.7 rebounds, earning top scoring honors in each game of the series. Young 21-year-old teammate Kobe Bryant pitched in a little help with 15.6 points per, but the Pacers featured a two-headed monster of their own with shooting guard Reggie Miller and small forward Jalen Rose rising well above their regular season averages with 24.3 points and 23 points respectively.
1999 - New York Knicks vs. San Antonio Spurs
Never before and never since had an 8th seed made the NBA Finals when the New York Knicks pulled off the feat in 1999. Their dynamic swing guard combo of Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell led the way throughout the run, and both didn't disappoint in the finals, scoring a playoff-high 21.6 points and 26 points per game respectively. The San Antonio Spurs, meanwhile, were led by the new "Twin Towers" duo of vet David Robinson, scoring 16.6 points, pulling down 11.8 boards, and blocking 3.0 shots, and a 22-year-old Tim Duncan, going for 27.4, 14.0, and 2.2 respectively.
1998 - Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz
Bulls/Jazz for a second straight season didn't fail to disappoint, with a six-game series decided by a game-winner by a legend. Toni Kukoc averaged 15.2 and Scottie Pippin 15.7 and both filled up the box score with aggressive play across the court for the Chicago Bulls, but the series belonged to its stars, Michael Jordan, with 33.5 points per game and the Utah Jazz's Karl Malone, with 25 points and 10.5 rebounds, with a signature 39 delivered by the Mailman in a Game Five victory.
1997 - Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz
Karl Malone was regular season MVP in leading his team to a franchise record 64-18 and their first NBA Finals. Once there, he scored 23.8 points and 10.3 rebounds and Hall-of-Fame teammate John Stockton added 15 points and 8.8 assists. Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan countered with 20 points and 32.3 points per game respectively, and the latter added to his legacy with a Game One winning buzzer beater jumper over Byron Russell. Fighting off exhaustion from a stomach flu, he added a game clinching three pointer in Game Five.
1996 - Chicago Bulls vs. Seattle SuperSonics
After his bizarre baseball hiatus, Michael Jordan returned and led his Chicago Bulls to an NBA record 72-10 regular season, before pouring in 27.3 per game in the Finals. Forwards Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf of the Super Sonics countered with 23.3 points and 10 boards, and 16.3 points and a .389 three point shooting percentage respectively. But it was "The Glove", Gary Payton, who stole the spotlight with 18 points and 7 assists, but more notably took over guarding MJ in a series in Game Four to limit the Bulls to an average of 84 points in the rest of the series.
1995 - Houston Rockets vs. Orlando Magic
A battle of Hall-of-Fame Centers saw a grizzled vet Hakeem Olajuwon with a line of 32.8 points and 11.5 rebounds on one side and a 22-year-old Shaquille O'Neal countering with 28 points and 12.5 boards on the other. Young sidekick Anfernee Hardaway supported Shaq with 25.5 points and 8.0 assists before his career soon swiftly declined and another aging vet Clyde Drexler did the same for "The Dream" with 21.5 points and 6.8 assists. Despite a Game One decided by the smallest of margins, the series was a one-sided four game sweep
1994 - Houston Rockets vs. New York Knicks
In a 7-game-series in which no team scored more than 93, there was one name on the top of the list in every single game, Hakeem Olajuwon, who accounted for nearly a third of the Rocket's total points, averaging 26.9 per, to go along with 9.1 rebounds and 3.9 blocks. The Knicks had a more balanced effort, though they were led by a legendary center in his own right, Patrick Ewing, who garnered 18.9 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 4.3 blocks on his end. Guards John Starks and Derek Harper supported his play with 17.7 points and 5.9 assists and 16.4 and 6 respectively.
1993 - Chicago Bulls vs. Phoenix Suns
Charles Barkley, long in Michael Jordan's Eastern Conference shadow with the Philadelphia 76ers, landed a trade to the Phoenix Suns prior to the 1992-93 season, and didn't disappoint, winning league MVP and leading the team to only its second NBA Finals. He rose to that occasion, scoring 27.3 points and 13 rebounds in the six-game-series, with teammate Kevin Johnson adding 17.2 points and 6.5 assists. Barkley had 32 and a triple-double in Game Four but Michael Jordan scored 55, in a series in which he averaged 41 points, while Scottie Pippen averaged 21.2 and nearly a series long triple double.
1992 - Chicago Bulls vs. Portland Trail Blazers
After the fourth-best regular season record in NBA history, the highly favored Chicago Bulls were treated to a tough six-game-series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Point guard Terry Porter played a series high 263 minutes, scoring 16.2 points per game, but more importantly playing floor general. Star shooting guard Clyde Drexler led the effort with team highs 24.8 points and 5.3 assists. For the Bulls, Michael Jordan poured in an average of 35.8 points, and Scottie Pippen shook a reputation for occasionally taking games off by scoring a combined 50 in Games Five and Six, including a near triple-double in the former.
1991 - Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers
MJ vs. MJ in the passing of the baton was the story of the 1990-91 NBA Finals. The 31 year old Magic was typically brilliant with 18.6 points and 12.4 assists, with young center Vlade Divac nearly doubling his regular season scoring average to put in 18.2 points per game himself. As it would be for years to come, Jordan and Scottie Pippen played the Bulls' one-two punch, with team highs 31.2 points and 11.4 assists from the former and 20.8 rebounds and a team high 9.4 rebounds from the other. After starting 1-1, the series was quickly over in five games.
1990 - Detroit Pistons vs. Portland Trail Blazers
The best team of the late 80s faced off against one of the best teams of the early 90s, and legends in their prime Isiah Thomas of the Pistons with 27.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 7.0 assists and Clyde Drexler for the Trail Blazers with 26.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.2 assists respectively put on a show. Backcourt mates Joe Dumars also kicked in 20.6 points for Detroit and Terry Porter 19 for Portland. In a series highlighted by tightly fought games, Thomas scored 7 straight late to bring his team back in Game One and Drexler hit the game winning free throws in Game Two.
1989 - Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Magic Johnson hobbled off the court with a pulled hamstring in Game Three of a 4-0 sweep, and wouldn't return in the series. Teammate James Worthy would carry the Lakers in his stead, scoring 25.5 points per game. On the Pistons side, it was small ball, with 6' 2" back-up guard Vinnie Johnson scoring 17 points per, 6' 1" point guard Isiah Thomas putting in 21.3 and dishing 7.3 assists, and "towering" 6' 3" scoring guard Joe Dumars averaging 27.3 points and 6.0 assists. Retiring legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar received a standing ovation in the final minute of Game Four.
1988 - Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Isaiah Thomas began cementing his legend, when he led his Detroit Pistons in turning an 8 point deficit into a lead in the third quarter in a would-be Game Six clincher, pouring in a NBA Finals record 25 points despite severely spraining his ankle. He finished the seven game series with a stat line of 19.7 points, 9 assists, and 2.9 steals. Teammate Adrian Dantley poured in 21.3 points and on the Lakers side fellow point guard Magic Johnson provided 21.1 points and 13 assists. James Worthy paced LA with 22 points per, including a Game Seven triple-double.
1987 - Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
In the final NBA finals match-up in a decade dominated by Boston and Los Angeles, the six-game battle is remembered for Magic Johnson's game-winning baby sky-hook in Game Four. Magic, coming off an MVP season with his highest scoring average ever, popped in 26.2 points to go along with 13.0 assists. At 39 years old, rumors of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's decline were put to bed when he poured in 21.7 in his own right. On the Celtics' side, Larry Bird went for 24.2 and 10 rebounds, and Dennis Johnson 21 and 9.3 assists.
1986 - Boston Celtics vs. Houston Rockets
In a six-game series defined by big men, a 23-year-old Hakeem Olajuwon roared to an average of 24.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, and even 2.3 steals. On Boston's side, starting forwards Larry Bird and Kevin McHale went for 25.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks, and a near-Triple-Double of 24.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.5 assists, along with 2.7 steals. And that's not even to mention future Hall-of-Famer 7-footers Celtic Bill Walton and Rocket Ralph Sampson, the latter of whom got ejected when he punched guard Dennis Johnson in the eye in Game Five, sparking an energized home crowd in the decisive Game Six.
1985 - Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Kevin McHale won Sixth Man of the Year for a second straight season but actually became a full-time starter in February of that year and held onto it for the rest of the decade. He was exceptional in the Finals outscoring and out-rebounding teammate Larry Bird 26 points to 23 and 10.7 rebounds to 8.8 per game. On the LA side, 37-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a vintage 25.7 point and 9.0 rebound performance and Magic dished 14 assists along with 18 points.
1984 - Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
It was the first Bird/Magic showdown and the seven game series didn't disappoint. NBA MVP Larry Bird actually elevated his game to the tune of 27.4 points and a remarkable 14 rebounds, despite being the smallest member of a front court that included Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. On LA's side, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went for 26.6 and 8.1 rebounds, James Worthy for 22.1 and Magic Johnson for 18 points and 13.6 assists (including a finals record 21 in Game Three.)
1983 - Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers traded for Moses Malone in the off-season, coming off being named NBA MVP, and he rewarded them with winning another one in 1982-83. He continued his strong play in the Finals going for 25.8 points and 18 rebounds. Shooting guard teammate Andrew Toney, an All-Star that season in his own right, added 22 points and 5.8 assists. On the Lakers side, basketball legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson had big series. Kareem went for 23.5 points and Magic for 19, to go along with 7.8 rebounds and 12.5 assists. The series was a dominant four game sweep.
1982 - Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Andrew Toney and Julius Erving averaged 26 and 25 points per game respectively with Dr. J pouring in 30 in the decisive Game Six. Meanwhile, the well balanced Lakers saw six players average in double digits, epitomized by the near-Triple-Double performance by Magic Johnson, scoring 16.2 points, pulling in 10.8 rebounds, and dishing 8 assists per game, while totaling a series high 250 minutes. Jamaal Wilkes paced LA with averaging 19.7 points, including 27 in what would be the final game of the series. In the end, the MVP choice was deemed questionable by some media members.