An essential element in the cult of Michael Jordan is the fact that the man never lost an NBA Finals. It’s how we choose to remember him: Perfect. 6-0 in the endgame. Unassailable. In doing so, we place him in the tiniest of circles, that being multiple champions who never lost a title.
On paper, this is perhaps a poor estimator of greatness. Kobe Bryant, for instance, has been to seven different Finals. Kobe receives criticism for his two failed campaigns in 2004 and 2008, as if these deep playoff runs are somehow worth less than the years Jordan was snuffed out in the early rounds by the Celtics and Pistons.
Fair or not, Jordan’s peers in the Undefeated Finals Club remain few. Bird, Magic and the Bad Boys took turns bloodying each other’s reputations throughout the 80s and 90s. The new-wave Pistons fell short of a repeat in 2005. The Second Coming Celtics were beaten back by the Lakers in 2010. Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki have each given the other a Finals scar.
Then there is Tim Duncan, who at present is 4-0 in Finals series, and was only ever truly challenged in one of those runs. Duncan’s legacy is an enigma; praised by all as underrated, yet, somehow, still underrated.
The casual basketball fan is likely to nominate Hakeem Olajuwon for the Jordan/Duncan group. After all, it was Olajuwon’s Houston squad who ruled the NBA during the Jordan Intermission. In 1994, the Rockets dispatched Ewing’s Knicks, and in the 1995 encore swept a young Shaq and his Magic. Nonetheless, Jordan’s club is a group to which Olajuwon cannot claim membership.