The NBA announced the addition of four postseason trophies honoring four of the game’s legends earlier this month. The Larry Bird and Magic Johnson trophies, respectively, will honor the Most Valuable Player of the Eastern and Western Conference Finals. The Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson trophies will go to the teams that win the Eastern and Western Conference Finals.
The institution of these awards in 2022 naturally raises the question: Which players would have won it? Let’s take a look at the rich history of the Western Conference.
10. Shaquille O’Neal in 2002
30.3 points, 13.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists
2.4 blocks, 53.2% fg, 9.9 fta
Defeat Sacramento Kings 4 games to 3
Diesel Dominance. This series is best remembered for the bad calls and *very plausible* accusations of being fixed in the Lakers favor. Sactown is a small market sadly.
9. Charles Barkley in 1993
25.6 points, 13.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists
50.4% fg, 8.1 fta, 1.4 steals, 1.0 blocks
Defeat Seattle SuperSonics 4 games to 3
Chuckster dominated Shawn Kemp all series long, and toppled a Sonics team in the midst of a great era. The Round Mound of Rebound posted 44-24-1-1-1, 19-22 free throws in one of the best Game 7 performances ever.
8. Magic Johnson in 1989
20.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 14.3 assists
.500/.429/.952 shooting, 2.6 stocks
Defeat Phoenix Suns 4 games to 0
Talk about stat stuffing. The last Conference Finals that Magic would win or play in. The Lakers were cruising, 11-0 heading into the Finals, but were swept by the Pistons for the Larry O’Brien after Magic suffered a series-ending hamstring injury.
7. Wilt Chamberlain in 1964
38.6 points, 23.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists
55.9% fg, 46.9 minutes, 12.3 fta
Defeat St. Louis Hawks 4 games to 3
The Hawks had Hall of Famers starting at all five positions. Lol. Lenny Wilkens at point guard, Richie Guerin at shooting guard, Cliff Hagan at small forward, Zelmo Beaty at power forward, and Bob Pettit at center. No match for Wilt and four sidekicks. Stilt had 39-30-6 on 66% in Game 7.
6. Stephen Curry in 2019
36.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists
.469/.426/.938 shooting, 6.5 made threes (NBA record, any series)
Defeat Portland Trail Blazers 4 games to 0
37 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists
7 threes, 2 turnovers, 47 minutes
Game 4 road win (119-117, series clincher)
Kevin Durant didn’t play a game in this series after getting hurt against the Rockets the round before. The Warriors should have been primed for at least a minor letdown against the red-hot Damian Lillard and his Blazers. But then Steph remembered it was Damian Lillard and his Blazers. If, for argument’s sake, you say Kevin Durant was the Warriors best player, then this is the best a team has ever played without their best player (Ewing Theory move aside). And of course that’s because of number 30. In the four games, Curry: 36 points, 37 points, 36 points, 37 points.
5. Tim Duncan in 2005
28.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists
3.0 blocks, 0.8 steals, 56.9% fg, 11.4 free throw attempts
Defeat Dallas Mavericks 4 games to 2
34 points, 24 rebounds, 6 assists
6 blocks, 2 steals, 63% shooting
Game 3 road win (96-83)
One of the many power forward master classes we saw in the early 2000s West. Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Garnett are three of the four best PFs ever, alongside number 9 on this list. In ’05, Duncan got the better of the Germanator, who averaged 25-11 in his own right. Dirk got hurt and didn’t play after that Game 3. The Big Fundamental would earn his third title and third Finals MVP in his first eight seasons against the New Jersey Nets in the next round.
4. Kobe Bryant in 2010
33.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 8.3 assists
.521/.432/.881 shooting, 2.0 stocks, 2.5 turnovers
Defeat Phoenix Suns 4 games to 2
38 points, 7 rebounds, 10 assists
68.2% fg, 1 steal, 1 block, 2 turnovers
Game 4 road loss (115-106)
As the reigning champs and en route to a repeat, the Lakers took on a Suns core that was in its third Conference Finals. Amar’e Stoudemire was top 10 in points, rebounds, free throws made, and field goal percentage while playing all 82 games. Nash led the NBA in assists, free throw percentage, turnover ratio, and assist percentage while being tenth in 3pt percentage.
But this is about Kobe. This was obscene basketball greatness. He scored 30+ in five of six games, picking up 13 assists and a win in the sub-30 game.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974
34.8 points, 19.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists
3.0 stocks, 2.5 fouls, 66% fg, 47.3 minutes
Defeat Chicago Bulls 4 games to 0
44 points, 21 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 1 steal, 20-29 fg, 4-4 ft
Game 2 road win (113-111)
If you’ve ever seen total dominance like those series numbers, you’re the only one in the room raising your hand. Kareem blew the doors off the Bulls single-handedly. It was a one man show that became a one man demolition.
This was the last season of Oscar Robertson’s career, and future Hall of Famer Bob Dandridge had just made his first All-Star team. Kareem had double Dandridge’s points in the Finals and no one else averaged more than 12. His 33-12-5 was still almost enough, taking the Boston Celtics 7 games. He averaged 49.3 minutes, not once sitting in that series.
We just can’t get over this WCF though. 35-20-4. Kareem averaged 35-20-4. Thirty-five, twenty, and four. More stocks than fouls. Hit two-thirds of his shots.
2. Hakeem Olajuwon in 1995
35.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists
4.2 blocks, 1.3 steals, .560/.500/.806 shooting
Defeat San Antonio Spurs 4 games to 2
39 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists
5 blocks, 2 steals, 16-25 fg, 7-8 ft
Game 6 home win (100-95, series clincher)
This one of the most famous star vs star beatdowns ever. The Spurs had won 62 games compared to 47 for the Rockets. David Robinson had won MVP that year, despite Dream averaging more points, assists, steals, and blocks, and the exact same 10.8 rebounds. Just like Jordan, He Took That Personally.
Olajuwon outscored Robinson and the entire game every game, except for one tie. He honestly just embarrassed The Admiral. In that series clincher above, he did all of that while holding the MVP to 35% shooting, 6 turnovers, and 5 fouls. He then swept Shaq and Horace Grant in the Finals in dominant fashion, where the Rockets became the only 6 seed to win it all. Because 6 seeds rarely make it to the Conference Finals, this is the only time a 6 seed has ever beaten the 1.
1. Jerry West in 1965
46.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists
.453/none/.905 shooting, unknown minutes (history says 48:00)
Defeat Baltimore Bullets 4 games to 2
42 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 46% fg, 12-14 ft
Game 6 road win (117-115, series clincher)
This might be the best series of all-time, period. Jerry’s points scored: 49, 52, 44, 48, 43, 42. The Lakers needed every bucket. All six games were decided by single digits. Three by one possession, and the other three by 6, 7, and 8 points. In six games, all other Lakers scored 20 points three times. West led both teams in scoring every single game. He had more points than his next two teammates combined in all six games. He led the Lakers in assists all six games. Elgin Baylor played 5 minutes in the series.
Best performances in a loss
Amar’e Stoudemire in 2005
37.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists
.550/.000/.843 shooting, 10.2 fta, 2.6 stocks
Defeated by San Antonio Spurs 4 games to 1
Yes, really. 37 points a game. And note they lost to the Spurs. Meaning he did all of this on PRIME Tim Duncan’s head. A first-team All-NBA and All-Defense selection that year, top 5 defender of all-time, and historic playoff riser in Tim Duncan. He led both teams in scoring all five games: dropping 41, 37, 34, 31, and 42.
Amar’e was just 22 years old in this series. He was so young he was still Amare no apostrophe. All five games were decided by ten points or less. Stoudemire had 42 points and 16 boards with 4 blocks in the elimination game, a six point loss.
Kevin Johnson in 1989
23.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 12.8 assists
.525/.667/1.000 shooting, 2.0 stocks, 6.8 fta
Defeated by Los Angeles Lakers 4 games to 0
In just his second season, after being a deadline pickup the year before, and his first playoffs, KJ was instantly nasty. He did all of this at 22 years old, just like Amar’e. Averaging more points in the playoffs than you’ve had birthdays is outrageous for any player. This series was a sweep, but every single game was decided by single digits.
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