Despite a surprising last second loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers are still overwhelming favorites to meet Western Conference champion Golden State in the NBA Finals. It would mark the third consecutive year that the two teams have met with the championship on the line. How rare a circumstance would it be, not just in the NBA, but in the Big Four professional sports leagues? Let's look back and see.
NFL: I went back only so far as the beginning of the Super Bowl era, but that's still over fifty years of championship games. Despite the dominance at times of the Packers, Steelers, Cowboys, 49er's and Patriots, there has only been one repeat match-up in Super Bowl history. That came in 1994 when Dallas dismantled Buffalo for the second consecutive year. Forget about two teams meeting for three years in a row. In fact, only two teams have made it to three or more Super Bowls in a row: Miami from 1972 - 1974 and Buffalo from 1991 - 1994. Granted, the NFL and NBA are drastically different leagues, with just a couple of basketball players capable of making a team dominant for a few years. But it still shows how difficult it is for two teams to meet each other for the title in consecutive seasons.
NHL: I went back to about the same time, the mid-1960's, to look for consecutive meetings in the Stanley Cup Final. Prior to then, the NHL was a small league with just the original six members, producing a lot of teams meeting a couple of years in a row. Still, we have to go back to Detroit and Montreal in 1954 - 1956 to get three seasons in a row of the same teams in the final. Since 1965, there have been four repeat meetings for Lord Stanley's Cup, the last one in 2008 - 2009 between Pittsburgh and Detroit. This is despite the tendency for hockey teams to have significant runs of excellence, like the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings.
Major League Baseball: You would think that with the Yankees and Cardinals combining for fifty-nine World Series appearances and thirty eight wins, they would have met in consecutive fall classics at some point in the last 50+ years, which comprises the expansion era of baseball. Well, it just hasn't happened. There has only been one repeat, that being the '78 series between the Yankees and the Dodgers. You would also think, given the ineptness of teams like Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and others, that we would have seen an extended run of repeat Series from 1920 - 1964. Well, you would be wrong. We have to go all the way back to 1923 to find the third Series in a row that pitted the aforementioned Yankees against the then-New York Giants.
NBA: Not surprisingly, the league with the most back-to-back Finals is the one with the fewest players on the roster. Ten times since 1963 the same teams have met two years in a row, twice in the last four seasons. But even with that total, the same teams have never, in the history of the NBA, played for the title three times in a row. What about Magic and Bird, you ask? Even though they combined for seven NBA titles, they only met twice in the Finals in non-consecutive seasons.
So what do we make of this potential development? There are a couple of things, actually. One is, don't count the Celtics out of this series. Even with the Chicago Cubs breaking their jinx-provoked streak in the World Series, at least they'd won before. The Cavaliers advancing to play the Warriors erases the word "never" from the description of three consecutive finals with the same teams. Another is that all of the panic expressed by some members of the media over the lack of competitive balance in the league is probably misplaced and blown out of proportion. It can most likely be chalked up to a circumstance of these particular teams getting to the Finals at this point in time. But don't forget, it's still "never" happened. At least not yet.
Hear my recent interview with legendary sports agent Leigh Steinberg,
where we discussed his agency, concussions, franchise relocation and
philanthropy at http://thechtonsports.com/cold-hard-truth-sports-radio-show-1242017/
listen to our conversation with author and sports journalist Mike
Carey, as we discussed his latest book "Bad News" about Marvin Barnes
and reminisced about Mike's coverage of the Boston Celtics during their
glory years with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge and Robert
Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" at Amazon.com and listen to me Friday's at 8:40 am EDT/ 7:40 am CDT on Lou in the Morning, streaming live on www.WPFLradio.com, 105.1 FM. Also check out www.thechtonsports.com for our podcasts and live broadcast on Tuesday's at 8:30 pm EST. I can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.