Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday when the Heat were a team with one All-Star struggling to keep their heads above water in the playoffs.
Well, actually it was.
Then, barely 11 months ago, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade on stage at American Airlines Arena for that smoke and laser light show. Which brings to mind a few other NBA teams that have made the rapid ascent from middling to championship contender.
1975 Golden State Warriors — In the previous season, the Warriors with Hall of Famer Rick Barry were a 44-38 team that didn’t qualify for the playoffs in the 17-team league. The addition of rookies Jamaal Wilkes and Phil Smith and a splendid season and playoff run by Barry sent the Warriors on their way to what was considered the greatest upset in the history of The Finals. Not only did the Warriors beat the favored Washington Bullets, but swept them 4-0.
1977 Portland Trail Blazers — In the first six seasons of the franchise’s existence in the Pacific Northwest, the Blazers had never even reached the playoffs. Then a team with third-year center Bill Walton got a huge boost when Maurice Lucas joined the team at the merger with the ABA and Jack Ramsay took over as coach. Lucas was the team’s leading scorer and second-best rebounder. They added rookie guard Johnny Davis to a backcourt with second-year pro (and current Hang Time Grizzlies coach) Lionel Hollins and were poetry in motion moving the ball all the way to the championship and Blazermania was born.
1977 Philadelphia 76ers — The heavily-favored Sixers were the victims of the Blazers in The Finals. But the addition of Julius Erving from the ABA lifted the franchise to new heights. It had only been four seasons since the Sixers set an NBA-worst mark of 9-73 and in the previous season they lost in the first round of the playoffs. With Dr. J leading the way, the Sixers would reach The Finals four times in seven seasons and won it all in 1983.
1980 L.A. Lakers — Yes, the Lakers had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Yes, they were a playoff team. But when a rookie named Magic Johnson arrived in Hollywood, everything changed – the Lakers, the NBA, the game of basketball. It was the start of the golden age of the league as the Lakers went from 47-35 and third in the Pacific the previous season to winning the first of five championships in the ‘80s. And it all began with Magic’s legendary 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals in the Game 6 clincher at Philly.
1980 Boston Celtics — While Magic was performing his tricks in L.A., a rookie named Larry Bird was working similar miracles on the opposite coast. The Celtics were 29-53 and last in the Atlantic Division the year before he arrived. In Bird’s rookie season they went 61-21 and in Year 2 won the first of three championships in the decade.
1995 Orlando Magic — Call it Lottery Magic. First Orlando hit the jackpot for Shaquille O’Neal in 1993 and then struck it rich by winning again in 1994 and turning that pick into a deal for Penny Hardaway. By June of 1995, the Magic were the beasts of the Eastern Conference and advance to The Finals against the Houston Rockets.
2002 New Jersey Nets — Ever since they were forced to sell Julius Erving to Philadelphia on the eve of the first post-merger season in 1976, the Nets franchise seemed to be cursed. But the trade that brought Jason Kidd to the Meadowlands changed everything. Kidd was the point guard, the scorer, the All-Star, the leader that the franchise had so desperately needed and when he teamed up with a young Kenyon Martin and a rookie Richard Jefferson. After finishing just 26-56 the previous season, Kidd took the Nets on a rocket ride that produced back-to-back trips to The Finals.
2007-08 Boston Celtics — Just three seasons into his NBA career, Paul Pierce reached the Eastern Conference finals with Antoine Walker and a cast of young talent. That was the closest he’d come to a title until 2007-08, when Celtics president Danny Ainge followed up a miserable 24-58 Celtics campaign in 2006-07 with cache of blockbuster moves. First, he dealt Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and a 2008 second-round draft pick to Seattle for All-Star Ray Allen and rookie Glen Davis. Three days later, he traded Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair and a 2009 1st round draft pick to Minnesota for former MVP Kevin Garnett. He also traded for Rajon Rondo on Draft day, added defensive stopper James Posey and sharpshooter Eddie House in the offseason and landed veterans P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell at midseason. It all culminated with a 66-16 season as the Celtics defeated the Lakers in The Finals — Pierce was named Finals MVP — as Boston nabbed its 17th title.