Many consider the 2019-20 season to be another asterisk year for the NBA finals. It’s obviously due to the fact that an unprecedented pandemic literally put the season on hold for a good four months. For the most part, the coronavirus-hit campaign is anything but a “normal” season.
This is not the first time the NBA has had an asterisk season, which by its loose definition, is a rather contentious season that may or may not have ended differently under normal circumstances. That is, the eventual champion of the said season may or may not have won the title had it not been for a series of unfortunate events.
The 2019-20 campaign certainly falls in this category, but there are a few others that are even more contentious, so to speak. Below are three of the biggest asterisks in NBA Finals history.
1994* & 1995* -Champions: Houston Rockets
**Micheal Jordan was busy playing baseball
We have a bit of a double whammy for our first asterisk championship on our list today. It comes in the form of the Houston Rockets, who won back-to-back champions in 1994 and 1995. The main reason why these titles were somewhat contentious is because of the simple fact that Michael Jordan went on a hiatus from basketball.
After winning his first three-peat with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan retired in the summer of 1993 at the peak of his powers. He sat out the entirety of the 1993-94 campaign, prior to returning late in the 1994-95 season.
The Rockets went on to win the title in both seasons, with legendary big man Hakeem Olajuwon leading the way for Houston. The 7-foot Hall of Famer was also a dominant force during his prime, so taking away those titles from him and the Rockets would be totally unfair.
Houston defeated the New York Knicks in a thrilling seven-game series as Olajuwon faced off with another legendary big man in Patrick Ewing. The same was the case the following season, with Olajuwon now pitted against a young Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic in the 1995 NBA Finals. Shaq and company ailed to mount a significant challenge against the defending champs, however, with the Rockets sweeping the Magic en route to title No. 2.
At this point we will never know if the Rockets would have still won the title in both years if Jordan never retired. After all, the Bulls won another three titles between 1996 and 1998, and there has been some belief that Chicago could have done eight straight if MJ stayed in the NBA.
1999* – Champions: San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan won his first out of five championships with the Spurs in 1999. It came in a pretty contentious manner, though, with the 1998-99 NBA season mired by an extended lockout.
The season didn’t officially start until February, and all teams ended up playing just 50 games in a significantly condensed format. Moreover, more than a few stars started the season in terrible shape, which in reality, is certainly not San Antonio’s fault. However, the fact that this team played a grand total of just 67 games — including the playoffs — makes some believe that that 1999 title doesn’t really count.
The Spurs faced off against the Knicks in the Finals. San Antonio made easy work of the Knicks, taking the series in just five games. Throughout that playoffs series, the Spurs amassed a record of 15 wins versus just two losses.
Duncan would prove all doubters wrong not long after, with the Spurs winning the championship again four years later. If that wasn’t enough proof, this team did it again in 2005, 2007, and finally, for a fifth time in 2014. At that point, there was no longer any doubt that that particular Duncan-led Spurs side was one of the greatest teams in league history.
2012* – Champions: Miami Heat
*Lockout + Derrick Rose injury
The 2011-12 season was pretty much a repeat of the league lockout that went down more than a decade earlier. It was a lengthier campaign as compared to the 1999 iteration, though, with the 2011-12 season kicking off in December. This allowed the teams to play 66 regular season games — a significant 16-game difference from the 1998-99 lockout season.
Another incident that played a significant role in the outcome of the season is the injury of then-reigning league MVP Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls suffering an ACL injury that would spell the end of the season for him. It was an injury-plagues season for Rose, and it could be argued that the extended lockout was a factor in the same.
Chicago was the top team in the East during the regular season, but without Rose, the Bulls were eliminated in the first round by the eighth-seeded Phialdelphia 76ers. Ultimately, this injury marked the beginning of the end for Rose and his (pre) prime years.
The Miami Heat ended up as the 2012 NBA champs, and this was a redemption victory for the infamous Big 3. The trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh — painted as the villains of the NBA at that time — had lost in the Finals the previous season in their first year together in Miami.
To be fair to them, they won the title again the following year, in a complete, 82-game 2012-13 season, thereby abolishing all doubt on their asterisk championship in 2012.