There are questions that will never go answered in the NBA. For instance, what if the Detroit Pistons drafted Carmelo Anthony? What if Steve Nash never got injured while with the Los Angeles Lakers and so forth. There are simply too many What If’s for many basketball fans. We live in the world of the unknown and that alone is what makes this game so special.
Just this past season, we wondered what would’ve happened if Kawhi Leonard had missed that shot against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7. Would the Raptors had won a title if the Warriors were at full health? These are debatable questions but it leaves us thinking: What are the 5 biggest What If’s in NBA History?
5. What If Kobe and LeBron Played One Year Of College Basketball?
One season of college ball and the NBA and possibly their careers would be different. In 1996, the Charlotte Hornets selected Kobe Bryant with the 13th pick straight out of High School. They would then go on to trade him to the Los Angeles Lakers.
But what if Kobe had gone to Duke University for a year? In 1997, he more than likely would have been the No. 1 pick and gone to the San Antonio Spurs or Philadelphia 76ers. A career with possibly no Shaq or Phil Jackson to team with? Maybe no titles, and would he still be the Mamba without those?
For LeBron James, it’s the same. One year of college at Ohio State and he never makes it to his hometown team and changes their fortune forever. Instead, James could have begun his career with the Orlando Magic in 2004. Would they have still made the Finals with James leading the way over Howard? Would there still have been a super team formed in Miami if LeBron had stayed a year in college?
Two mega superstars, two decisions that changed careers and organizations forever.
4. What If Jordan Was Called For The Push-Off?
It’s simply called “The Shot”. Michael Jordan, once again displayed why he’s considered the G.O.A.T.
In Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, Jordan drove on Bryon Russell, crossed him over but also used his left hand to gain more space. But what if? What if the refs decided to make that tough call?
Even though it wasn’t a Game 7, would the Jazz have had enough momentum to take down the mighty Bulls the next game? Why not? They would go in loose, happy, and knowing the refs were on their side or at least willing to be neutral where Jordan was concerned.
The teams were evenly matched as the series was tight throughout, but giving the Jazz a boost of confidence while a Game 7 was to be played at home, would have crushed the legacy of the Jordan-led Bulls.
That non-call changed plenty in the NBA.
3. What If Fans Weren’t Persuaded By Popularity?
At what point did the conversation go left? Michael Jordan is good but the greatest? Well, that’s debatable. He was magnificent on the court. Six titles in six tries.
However, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was just as dominant in his day. While Jordan’s career scoring average was better, Abdul-Jabbar was no slouch when it came to putting the ball in the basket. Let’s not forget who the NBA career scoring leader is.
The only reason Jordan is perceived as the best is that he was marketed that way. There was no Space Jam for Kareem. No Gatorade commercials or no big brand like Nike plastering his face everywhere. If so, this G.O.A.T. conversation would be different.
If rings make you the best, then why is Bill Russell not given the same respect? It’s not taking anything away from Jordan, but one title-less compared to a player who averaged 22.9 shots per game (Jordan) against Abdul-Jabbar who took 18.1. Kareem played more years but that goes to show how fit he kept his body.
Let the media tell it, NBA basketball didn’t start until Jordan hit the league.
2. What If John Starks Made A Shot?
In 1994, the New York Knicks had their best shot to bring home a championship.
While paired against the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals, both teams were evenly stacked. But for the Knicks, they had the ultimate X-Factor in John Starks. All season and throughout the playoffs, Starks had bailed them out of tight spots with clutch defense and shooting. But in Game 7, it all went wrong.
Starks went 2 of 18 from the floor and that’s including missing all 11 of his three-point attempts. The Knicks would go on to lose Game 7 by the score of 90-84. But what if Starks was on? The prior game (Game 6) he dropped 22 points (14 in the 4th) so the Rockets knew the damage he could cause.
But in his and the Knicks biggest game, he just didn’t have it. Even as the Knicks all-time 3 point shooter, John Starks still can’t evade the what-if question.
This would have given not only Starks a ring but Knicks’ legend Patrick Ewing one as well.
1. What If Sam Presti Wasn’t So Cheap?
Before the Miami Heat and the Golden State Warriors, Sam Presti built one of the best teams in NBA history.
Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden. The core didn’t seem like much then but look at them now. Harden is the best SG in the NBA. Durant is arguably the best player, Green is a solid contributor and Ibaka just won a ring in Toronto.
And let’s not forget the man who has averaged a triple-double for the last three seasons in Westbrook. Why mess that up?
When Harden was due for an extension, Presti refused to pay Harden what he was worth and decided to go another route. What transpired was the breaking up of a team on the rise.
Yes, losing to the Miami Heat was a blow but they were young. Presti then let Green and Ibaka go which should have been a sign of things to come. While people will point the finger at Durant for leaving, the bigger picture is the lack of loyalty and cheapness by GM Presti. All he had to do was go all in.
The Thunder downfall began when they refused to pay Harden.