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FROM MY SEAT: Brushing Up

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I love history. Almost as much as I love sports. This week, the passions collide and the end result is some historical perspective on the eight teams still vying for the 2007 NBA championship. Among the most inspiring aspects of history is witnessing it unfold right before our eyes. And on a basketball court, no less.

  • SAN ANTONIO SPURS -- Three championships since 1999. One of only three franchises to reel off eight consecutive 50-win seasons. (The Spurs' current streak would actually stand at 10 were it not for the strike-shortened 1998-99 season.) With two-time MVP Tim Duncan as their centerpiece, the Spurs are the closest thing to an active dynasty in American pro sports. And to think they have a David Robinson knee injury to thank. San Antonio was a legitimate contender in the early Nineties when Robinson was their franchise player (62 wins in 1994-95, 59 the next year). But when the Admiral missed the 1996-97 campaign, the team plummeted into the draft lottery and won the privilege of drafting Duncan. San Antonio is the only former ABA franchise to win an NBA title.

  • DETROIT PISTONS -- One of only two original NBA franchises still alive (along with the Warriors), the Pistons -- like the Spurs -- are trying to become the fourth team to win four NBA crowns. The closest thing to a lunch-pail bunch these playoffs can claim, Detroit seeks its third trip to the Finals in four years with point guard (and free-agent-to-be, Grizzlies fans) Chauncey Billups their biggest star. With Michigan native Chris Webber now in the mix, the Pistons may have the offensive strength to challenge the Western Conference champ, but this team hasn't yet approached the celebrity status of the back-to-back "Bad Boys" champions of 1989 and 1990. No fewer than four players from that team have had their numbers retired (Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, and Vinnie Johnson).

  • PHOENIX SUNS -- Yes, there actually was basketball in Arizona before Steve Nash arrived. Phoenix lost one of the greatest Finals in history, bowing to Dave Cowens and the Celtics in 1976. Boston needed three overtimes to win Game 5 of that series before clinching the championship in Game 6. The Suns made eight consecutive playoff appearances under coach John MacLeod, but didn't reach the Finals again until Charles Barkley was on board in 1993 (Phoenix fell to Michael Jordan's Bulls in six games). For a franchise that's only been around since 1968 -- and has never won a title -- the Suns have retired a ridiculous nine numbers. Alvan Adams anyone? Tom Chambers? (Chambers played five years in Phoenix, nine elsewhere.) Barkley's number is retired, though he only played four of his sixteen seasons in a Suns uniform. Someday soon, the club will name their arena after Nash.

  • CLEVELAND CAVALIERS -- The closest thing to a golden era in Cavs history is the 11-year period from 1987-88 to 1997-98, when Cleveland reached the playoffs nine times. Sadly for Cleveland fans, this run coincided with, first, the Pistons' three-year run to the Finals, then Jordan's prime in Chicago. The only time Cleveland got beyond the first round was 1991-92, when they dropped a six-game series to Chicago in the Eastern Conference finals. That team, coached by Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens, featured point guard Mark Price, center Brad Daugherty, and former slam-dunk champ Larry Nance. All names that will soon be footnotes in the history book titled, "LeBron and Everyone Else." For the record, no Cleveland team has won a major championship since the Browns won the 1964 NFL crown.

  • UTAH JAZZ -- Absolutely the most misplaced nickname in American team sports (even worse than Los Angeles Lakers). If I were commissioner David Stern for a day, Utah and New Orleans would switch names. (The Salt Lake Bees play in the Pacific Coast League, so Hornets would be a natural fit, no?) The Jazz franchise originated, of course, in New Orleans where even Pete Maravich and Truck Robinson couldn't get the team into the playoffs. The club moved to Utah in 1979, drafted John Stockton in 1984, and Karl Malone in 1985. The Jazz reached the playoffs an astounding 20 straight years (thanks largely to the aforementioned draftees), and fell twice in the Finals to Jordan's Bulls. They had missed the postseason the last three years before winning the Northwest Division this season. Utah coach Jerry Sloan has been calling the shots since 1988, the longest active tenure of any coach in American pro sports.

  • CHICAGO BULLS -- If a pre-Nash Suns team is hard to imagine, the Bulls before Jordan seem to be little more than a quaint notion. Nonetheless, Chicago did have an NBA team for 18 seasons before Jordan was drafted in 1984. They reached the conference finals in 1974 and '75 with Bob Love and Chet Walker leading the way, but never cracked the Finals until 1991, when Jordan and friends beat the Lakers for the championship. Jordan's Bulls won all six Finals he appeared in and were never so much as forced to a seventh game.

  • NEWJERSEY NETS -- The franchise that gave us Dr. J has enjoyed a rebirth since the arrival of another transcendent "J" in 2001 (Jason Kidd). With Kidd breaking triple-double records, the Nets reached the Finals in 2002 and 2003, only to fall to the Lakers and Spurs. A pair of Eastern Conference championships, though, were major achievements, as the Nets won a total of nine playoff games between 1976 (when they joined the NBA from the old ABA) and Kidd's arrival.

  • GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS -- For its first 16 years, this franchise was the Philadelphia Warriors. (The Warriors won the very first NBA title in 1947, and another in 1956.) They moved to San Francisco in 1962, played there for nine years, then became the Golden State Warriors when they moved across the bay to Oakland in 1972. Led by Hall of Famer Rick Barry, the Warriors swept Washington in the 1975 Finals. Between the players' shorts, owner Franklin Mieuli's checkered pants, and coach Al Attles' prodigious collar, that 1975 team photo may be the best in NBA history.

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