Pat Riley trademarked the term three-peat back when he coached the Lakers. Now, the Heat executive is hoping to accomplish one, something even those Showtime-era teams couldn’t.
In fact, only the Minneapolis Lakers from 1952-54, the Celtics with eight straight titles from 1959-66, the Bulls from both 1991-93 and 1996-98 and the Lakers from 2000-02 have accomplished the feat.
The Heat are the first team since the Celtics from 1984-87 to appear in four straight NBA Finals, which begin today in San Antonio. So their place in history seems secure, regardless of this series’ outcome.
Comparing teams from different eras is about as accurate as a Dwight Howard free throw. Or, to be fair to a previous era, one from Shaquille O’Neal. But given the current weakened state of the Eastern Conference, does that affect where this Heat team would rank in the discussion of all-time greats?
“I hate to compare teams because ultimately people will read in that you’re diminishing one at the expense of the other,” said broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy, who held a front-row seat for the Bulls dynasty while coaching the Knicks. “I would just say the Bulls teams back in their heyday had to go through some monster teams to win it all, really incredible teams.”
One of those teams was the 1997-98 Pacers, who owned a double-digit lead in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at the United Center before the Bulls rallied to cap their second three-peat. Mark Jackson, who will work alongside Van Gundy and Mike Breen on ABC’s Finals call, played point guard on that team.
“Watching (Michael) Jordan’s Bulls and obviously the Celtics with (Larry) Bird and (Kevin) McHale and (Robert) Parish … and the great Showtime Lakers, those were incredible teams,” Jackson said. “I don’t diminish what (the Heat) have been able to do. Obviously, the competition isn’t the same, but you go through who you have to go through. They’ve done it.”
The debate about great is fun but unsolvable.
“The Jordan Bulls could compete against any of the great teams that were ever put up,” Van Gundy said. “I loved going into Chicago Stadium. You came out of that tunnel and you knew it was on. In a great atmosphere against the greatest ever to play during my time in the NBA, it was an honor to be on the same floor.”