LeBron James, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan have all produced spectacular performances in the NBA Finals. But if you could go back in time and assemble a Dream Team of NBA greats to compete in an ultimate NBA Finals matchup, who would you pick?

Here’s a look at our picks for an Ultimate NBA Finals matchup.

Steph Curry - ultimate Finals team
Steph Curry scoring a three point basket as he takes his place in the ultimate Western Conference team (Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Eastern Conference Ultimate Lineup

Bill Russell – Center, Boston Celtics

NBA Finals appearances: 12 (NBA record)
NBA Championships: 11 (NBA record)
NBA Finals MVP: 5

No list of NBA Finals greats would be complete without including the man whom the NBA Finals MVP award is named after. One of the most successful athletes of all time in all of North American sports, Bill Russell’s name became synonymous with winning during an epic 14-season NBA playing career that featured a record 11 NBA championship victories and five NBA Finals MVP wins.

Michael Jordan – Shooting Guard, Chicago Bulls

NBA Finals appearances: 6
NBA Championships: 6
NBA Finals MVP: 6 (NBA record)

The only player to claim more NBA Finals MVP awards than Bill Russell, Michael Jordan was the most dominant player of the 1990s, leading the Chicago Bulls to six championships in six NBA Finals appearances.

Michael Jordan
It wouldn’t be an Eastern Conference dream team without this man. Michael Jordan in action against the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Credit: Photo By USA TODAY Sports (c) Copyright USA TODAY Sports

Among the most memorable of Jordan’s epic playoff performances came in his final appearance with the Bulls. Reeling from a heartbreaking 83-81 loss on home court in Game 5 of their 1998 NBA Finals matchup with the Utah Jazz, the Bulls remained one win shy of glory as the scene shifted to Utah for Game 6, and if necessary, Game 7.

With Scottie Pippen hobbled by a back injury, the pressure was on Jordan to carry the Bulls, and “His Airness” rose to the challenge. Jordan racked up 45 points, capped by a 20-footer with just 5.2 seconds remaining that has long been immortalized as “The Shot”, which clinched Chicago’s sixth NBA title in eight years and Jordan’s sixth career NBA Finals MVP award.

LeBron James – Point Guard, Miami Heat/Cleveland Cavaliers/Los Angeles Lakers

NBA Finals appearances: 10
NBA Championships: 4
NBA Finals MVP: 4

Often included in the debate on who is the greatest NBA player of all-time, LeBron James has won on every finals stop during his 19-season NBA career. King James cracks the list as the only player in NBA history to win titles with three different teams. His most memorable performance to date came in 2016, when he powered the Cleveland Cavaliers to a sensational comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Finals with a trio of MVP worthy performances to bring the NBA championship to Cleveland for the first time in franchise history.

Larry Bird – Small Forward, Boston Celtics

NBA Finals appearances: 5
NBA Championships: 3
NBA Finals MVP: 2

After some lean years for the Boston Celtics in the late 1970s, things changed with the arrival of Larry Bird in 1980. Bird had an immediate impact, leading the Celtics to the NBA Finals on five occasions between 1981 and 1987, raising the trophy on three occasions and claiming NBA Finals MVP honors twice during that stretch. The rivalry between Bird and Magic Johnson reached legendary proportions during three NBA Finals clashes between Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers, with Bird and the Celtics topping Magic and the Lakers on two occasions.

Dave Cowens – Power Forward, Boston Celtics

NBA Finals appearances: 2
NBA Championships: 2
NBA Finals MVP: 0

An explanation for Dave Cowens’ inclusion here can be provided in one word: defense. Selected as NBA MVP early in his career, Cowens earned a place among the greats in the rafters of the old Boston Garden during his two NBA Finals appearances.

Dave Cowens
Dave Cowens makes a three point shot as he takes his place in our ultimate Eastern Conference Finals lineup (Credit: Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

Most notable among those was the 1976 NBA Finals, which also marked Cowen’s swan song in Boston. His dominating performances in the paint in the Games 5 and 6 turned the tide in the wake of back-to-back road losses to the Phoenix Suns. While Cowens never earned an NBA Finals MVP award, his 20.5 PPG, 16.3 rebound performance in the Finals proved to be the difference in Boston’s drive to a 13th NBA title.

Western Conference Ultimate Lineup

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Center, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers

NBA Finals appearances: 10
NBA Championships: 6
NBA Finals MVP: 2

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made two trips to the NBA Finals with the Milwaukee Bucks, raising the trophy in 1971. But he’s best remembered for his epic Finals performances with the Los Angeles Lakers. A six-time NBA champion, Abdul-Jabbar’s most memorable performance came in the 1980 NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Kareem Abdul=Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a talisman for the Los Angeles Lakers for so many years and won six NBA Championships (Credit: MPS-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers returned home for Game 5 with the series knotted at two games apiece, but feared the worst when Abdul-Jabbar suffered an ankle injury that sent him to the locker room. That didn’t prevent the two-time NBA Finals MVP from embarking on an epic 14-point fourth-quarter performance to lead the Lakers to a 108-103 win and a series lead they would not relinquish.

Steph Curry – Point Guard, Golden State Warriors

NBA Finals appearances: 5
NBA Championships: 3
NBA Finals MVP: 0

Steph Curry has yet to claim NBA Finals MVP honors, but played a central role in three championship wins over five straight appearances during the 2010s. Curry has averaged 26.5 points per game over 27 career NBA Finals contests and has been dominant from three-point country. He accounts for five of the top 12 three-point performances in NBA Finals history, and sunk a record nine threes in Game 2 versus Cleveland in 2018.

Tim Duncan – Power Forward, San Antonio Spurs

NBA Finals appearances: 6
NBA Championships: 5
NBA Finals MVP: 3

One of just five players to be named NBA Finals MVP on three or more occasions, Tim Duncan emerged as a star on both sides of the ball during his two-decade career with the San Antonio Spurs. The five-time NBA champion averaged over 20 points per game in three of his six NBA Finals appearances.

Tim Suncan
Tim Duncan emerged as a star on both sides of the ball during his two-decade career with the San Antonio Spurs (Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports)

Names to the NBA’s All-Defensive First team on eight occasions, Duncan also gave opposing shooters fits while racking up 81 career blocks in the NBA Finals, second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Magic Johnson – Shooting Guard, Los Angeles Lakers

NBA Finals appearances: 9
NBA Championships: 5
NBA Finals MVP: 3

Magic Johnson may be best remembered for the epic rivalry he developed with Larry Bird over the Los Angeles Lakers’ three straight clashes with the Boston Celtics during the 1980s. And with good reason. Johnson recorded 12 double-doubles and five triple-doubles while leading the Lakers to a pair of championship wins over Boston.

However, his most memorable NBA Finals appearance came in 1980, when he drained 42 points while leading LA to a 123-107 Game 6 win over the Philadelphia 76ers that clinched the first of his five championship wins with the Lakers.

Kevin Durant – Small Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder/Golden State Warriors

NBA Finals appearances: 4
NBA Championships: 2
NBA Finals MVP: 2

The youngest player to ever win a scoring title, Kevin Durant also played a huge role in two of the Golden State Warriors’ three recent NBA championship wins. Durant averaged an impressive 32.2 points per game and claimed a pair of NBA Finals MVP awards while leading the Warriors to glory in 2017 and 2018.

He is also one of just three players in NBA history to tally at least 35 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists in a series clinching game on the road.

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