There is perhaps no sport that is captured in the moment better than basketball. First, there’s the dunk, the human body literally in flight, graceful and powerful, forceful and poetic. Secondly, there’s the game winner, which thanks to the hard court game’s small number of total athletes, five on each side, can often be captured by every man or woman. Finally, there’s the largesse of the game’s stars, particularly since Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan transformed the sport in the 80’s and 90’s, leading to memorable off-the-court images as much as on-the-court.
Take a moment, if you wish, before taking this quiz and think about where you were when your favorite NBA moments occurred. Perhaps it was surrounded by friends watching the game in your living room or at a party or a local bar. Or maybe you heard about it the next day and rushed to YouTube when you exclaimed “Kobe did WHAT?!” Or, if you are one of the lucky ones, you remember the chill running down your spine when you thought “I can’t believe I was actually AT this game!”
Not too bad to think about, huh? Now let’s test your memory of possibly that moment and these other iconic snapshots of (recent) NBA history…
Jordan Hits Biggest Shot Of Career
Did he push off of Bryon Russell? Some argue that since Russell didn’t complain to the refs, it didn’t happen, others look to the footage as indisputable evidence he did. But what people don’t often remember from this signature Michael Jordan play is that the Jazz had the ball up by one with only 30 seconds to go, but MJ slapped at a Karl Malone dribble to steal it for the Bulls at 15 seconds to go, setting up this moment. Malone and fellow Hall-of-Famer John Stockton faced Chicago twice in the finals, and went home empty handed, undoubtedly two of the greatest ever to never win a championship.
Shaq's Signature Moment
There have been a lot of great professional basketball players but there are few you can say this about: there will NEVER be another Shaquille O’Neal. At once larger than life as a physical presence, as in bigger and stronger than literally everyone else, and larger than life as a celebrity, spouting “Big Aristotle”-like wisdom at every turn, he was a true entertainer on and off court. He was as goofy as he was dominant, the self-described “sexiest 7-footer in the NBA.”
There is a popular meme of LeBron James crying and one man even got it as a tattoo on his leg this past June. "LeBron is definitely a legend, but he's the biggest crybaby legend of all time,” Salt Lake City’s Kalen Giles said. The Michael Jordan fan added, “he's always flopping, crying, looking for fouls. I've never had a lot of respect for him.” Of course, if you live in Cleveland, the image of LeBron crying means something else to you, a local icon who cares deeply for his community and knows his power to uplift them with his team’s performance on the court.
Kobe waves to crowd
Kobe standing alone on center court is a fitting image for the 18-time All-Star and 5-time NBA champion. He currently ranks 3rd in league history in total points, 7th in minutes played, 14th in steals, and 29th in assists. Incredibly he was MVP only once, in 2008. He is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the Lakers only had four losing seasons in his 20 years with the club. He is a winner, through and through, and an all-time great.
The Big 3
In their four years together, the Miami Heat’s “Big Three” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh each made the All-Star team four straight times. They were in the NBA Finals every year of their time together, and won two championships. Wade has spent his whole career with the Heat, including bringing Miami its first title alongside Shaquille O’Neal in 2006, but Bosh and James signed as free agents in the 2010 off-season out of Toronto and Cleveland respectively.
Curry and Warriors are Dominant
The 2015-16 Regular Season was one for the ages for the Golden State Warriors as they raced to a 73-9 record, beating the previous mark held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls by one game, for best in NBA history. They started 24-0 and never let up, led by star Steph Curry, whose MVP season featured some incredible numbers. He broke his own record for 3-pointers made in a season with still 24 games to play; ending up shattering his mark by 116. He led the league in scoring, and was the only player in history not named Michael Jordan to average 30 points, six assists and five rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the floor.
1987-88 was quite a season even for Michael Jordan’s standards: he would win his second straight NBA Slam Dunk Contest and be named All-Star Game MVP in front of a home crowd in Chicago Stadium, then his first regular season MVP, his only Defensive Player of the Year Award, all while leading the league in both points and steals. He even wore his popular Air Jordan III’s throughout. His team fell to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference semifinals however; Phil Jackson’s arrival as coach was two years out.
Iverson and the 76ers Have Their Moment
Allen Iverson was the story of the 2000-01 NBA Season. He led the Philadelphia 76ers to a 10-0 record out of the gate, on the way to an Eastern Conference best 56-26, the most wins for the club in 16 years. He won All-Star MVP and then NBA MVP, after averaging a then-career high 31.1 points per game, taking home his second career scoring title. On the defensive end, he led the league in steals at 2.5 per game (the first player since Michael Jordan to lead in both points and steals in the same season.) All this at just 6 feet tall, becoming the shortest player in NBA history to be named most valuable player.
Pacers/Pistons rivalry erupts
The NBA in the mid-2000s was a different beast, where low-scoring, physical games were the norm. The average points per team rose over 100 in the 1957-58 season and stayed there through 1994-95, not to return again until 2008-09. Defense was at high standard for successful squads, with the Pistons finishing tied for 1st and 2nd respectively in points allowed 2003-04 and 2004-05, and the Pacers 3rd and 5th. The men in the picture say it all, with four-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace (including 2004-05) and 2003-04 Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest squaring off.
Rodman Wears Wedding Dress
A Hall-of-Fame player who won two titles with the Detroit Pistons and three with the Chicago Bulls, and one of the best rebounders of all time, Dennis Rodman has, like it or not, also been a celebrity side-show for going on three decades. He dated Madonna, married Carmen Electra, won three “Golden Raspberry Awards” for his horrible acting in “Double Team” alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme, and became best buds with none other than North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un in recent years.
The debate rages on whether Michael Jordan (the classic choice) or LeBron James (the contemporary choice) are the greatest player in NBA history. Here are some stats: total championships (MJ - 6, LeBron - 3), MVP awards (MJ - 5, LeBron - 3), Defensive Player of the Year (MJ - 1, LeBron - 0), NBA Scoring Champion (MJ - 10, LeBron - 1). Of course, many argue that LeBron is the more complete player, or plays in a more competitive era, and they may be right, but it's hard to argue with the hardware.
Plain and simple, Jordan could score from anywhere, in any way. He scored more than 60 points 5 times, more than 50 points 34 times, more than 40 points 172 times, remarkable stats especially when one takes into account his era (after all, Wilt Chamberlain once averaged over 50 in a season.) He was considered one of the best dunkers in the game, earning the nicknames “Air Jordan” and “His Airness” but also developed a three point shot after averaging under .200 in his first four seasons.
LeBron Makes An Announcement
He has been a hometown hero, then chided for his passiveness in big moments, then public enemy #1, then NBA champion, then hometown hero again, then the “man who saved Cleveland”, and, ultimately, one of two people in the history of the game in the conversation for “Best Ever.” Currently, it could be argued he is singlehandedly responsible for a max exodus of talent from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference this off-season, as he has represented in the NBA Finals seven straight times, with seemingly no end in sight.
Jordan won six championships in total, beating five different teams in the process. The first was the end of one era and the beginning of another; Magic Johnson, shortly before announcing he had HIV, and his “Showtime Lakers” bowed to the Bulls in five. The second was against rival Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trail Blazers, followed by another rival in newly acquired Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns, both in six games. Following his first retirement, the Bulls had a then NBA record 72-10 regular season mark, and took down the Supersonics in six, despite Gary Payton’s “glove” like defense on MJ. Finally the Utah Jazz took two bows for Jordan’s fifth and sixth titles.
Dwight Howard Becomes Superman
As hard as this is to remember, there was a time when Dwight Howard was one of the NBA’s most likable young stars. He was selected #1 overall in the 2004 NBA Draft, made his first All-Star team in 2007, and from 2007-08 to 2009-10, his Orlando Magic enjoyed three straight Division Championships, highlighted by a trip to the 2009 NBA Finals. At 6’ 11” and 265 pounds, he was the most dominant inside presence not named Shaquille O’Neal, leading the league in rebounding in each of those three seasons, and averaging the most blocks in the latter two.
Magic makes an announcement
The #1 overall selection of the NBA Draft in 1979 would go on to bring 5 titles to Los Angeles in the 1980s, winning three MVP awards along the way. Earvin “Magic” Johnson also played on the famous 1992 “Dream Team” that took home gold in the Summer Olympics, despite having his career cut short in 1991 with his diagnosis of HIV, then briefly returned for an emotional appearance in the 1992 All-Star Game and a half-season comeback in 1996.
The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the great franchises in the history of not just the NBA, but team sports in general. They have won 16 championships and been to the Finals 31 times in the last 69 seasons. They have 15 players in the Hall-of-Fame, marking almost 10% of all inductees, and Kobe Bryant will soon be the 16th. And with all this greatness, it's Black Mamba who stands atop most of the teams records; he is #1 in team history in games played, minutes played, points scored, and steals to name a few.
This is a moment everyone in Boston will remember for years to come. What exactly is Paul Pierce celebrating in this iconic image? He's yelling at the top of his lungs, overcome with joy. Pierce will long be remembered for what he did preceding this iconic moment.
In perhaps the biggest challenge Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls had en route to six titles in the 1990s was when the Suns traded for Charles Barkley in the offseason and he led them to a 98-96 Game Six lead in the finals with less than four seconds remaining, with a chance to force a Game Seven in Phoenix. MJ passed the ball off early, and Hall-of-Famer Scottie Pippin’s drive to the hoop was well defended, leaving an unlikely hero to swish a three pointer giving the Bulls the game and the series.
Kobe The Competitor
That face. The legacy of Kobe Bryant is undoubtedly his competitiveness, the intensity with which he played the game he loved. His work ethic was unrivaled, and he won the respect and disdain of teammates alike for the high standards he placed on every practice. Speaking of mugs, look at Jalen Rose behind him, pure frustration, the home crowd exuberant in the background. This is a definitive Kobe moment captured in time if there ever was one, and judging from the four choices on this question alone, there were quite a lot of them.
Heat Season Saved With 3-Pointer
Perhaps the game and the moment that made the “Big Three” a success instead of a flop, the Miami Heat were down 3 games to 2 to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, and down by five with less than 30 seconds left on their season. LeBron missed a 3-pointer to tie, but Chris Bosh out-dueled two Spurs for the rebound, and passed off to the shooter pictured here, who had to backpedal to get behind the line in the right corner.
Miller "Chokes" Spike Lee
There is a definite theme here, and there is no question that Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks, and their super-fan Spike Lee, subject of the choke gesture, was one of the best storylines in basketball throughout the 1990s. The teams met six times in the postseason between 1993-2000, and despite Miller’s iconic and often dominant clutch play, they actually split the meetings 3-3. The Knicks would make the Finals twice in the era, and the Pacers once, but neither team actually took home a championship despite their always entertaining and newsworthy clashes.
Westbrook's 2017 Story
Most of the Durant/Westbrook rivalry, ignited by the former’s decision to abandon the latter’s team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, for a title shot with the already dominant Golden State, has been centered around cupcakes. From Westbrook’s original July 4 Instagram post aimed at former teammate’s Kendrick Perkins code for “soft” players to Thunder fans chanting “cupcake” at Durant to Warriors players wearing cupcake shirts after their February win over OKC to Durant posing with cupcakes at a Giants game in April, it has become a rallying cry for both sides of the new, albeit one-sided, rivalry.
"Big Shot Bob" hits a game-winner
16 seasons. 7 rings. Three different teams. During his tenure as a role player alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry netted three of those titles, dueling and beating the rival Sacramento Kings each time on the way. This particular shot was, well, particularly brutal as dumb luck led the ball to bounce out to Horry after both Kobe and Shaq missed layups that would have tied the game. The Kings fell apart the Lakers’ title run ended, never since making the conference finals, and currently in a streak of eleven straight seasons without making the playoffs.
Magic and Isiah Kiss
Before there was LeBron, D-Wade, CP3 and Carmelo taking vacation together or Draymond Green texting KD to come to the Warriors moments after a season ended, the NBA was known for bitter rivalries over stars using their friendship with each other to make super teams. From Wilt and Russell to Magic and Larry, there were men who respected each other but also went to war against each other. Then Magic kissed Isaiah, and the NBA’s first friendship across enemy lines took center stage, particularly as it became intertwined with Johnson’s HIV announcement.