Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals is re-airing tonight at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSP.
Sixers fans are not a single-minded collective. Fans prefer different types of players, coaches, personalities and styles.
With that said, Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals had what everyone was looking for. To say it was and still is the franchise’s best, most indelible win since May 31, 1983 — the day the team clinched the NBA title in Los Angeles — does not seem to be a controversial statement.
In a basic sense, that’s true because no Sixers team since 2001 has advanced further than the Eastern Conference semifinals. Winning basketball games in June tends to be a big deal, and that’s especially true when you’re used to the season ending in April or early May.
The context of that game is part of what’s made it iconic. The Lakers had swept their first three rounds of the playoffs, had two superstars in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and were, it appeared, cruising to a second straight title. The Sixers had a lone superstar in the league’s MVP, Allen Iverson, and were coming off draining seven-game series against the Bucks and Raptors. They were a very good team, to be sure, with the Defensive Player of the Year in Dikembe Mutombo and the Sixth Man of the Year in Aaron McKie, but the Sixers were dealing with an array of injuries and venturing into the home of the defending champions.
In isolation, it was simply a very entertaining 53 minutes of basketball. There were brilliant individual performances (O’Neal had 44 points and 20 rebounds), swings in momentum and emotion, drama until the final seconds. It was compelling for neutral viewers, too.
Iverson played like the MVP. He had 48 points, six assists, five steals and the temerity to sink an overtime baseline jumper in front of the Lakers’ bench and step over Tyronn Lue. The Sixers’ offense relied on Iverson to an extreme degree — he took 41 shots that night, while his teammates split up the other 42. When Lue denied Iverson the ball late in the fourth quarter, the Sixers looked lost, searching for ways to find their star for most of the shot clock, then forcing up hopeful attempts as their 24 seconds dwindled.
We often stretch a bit for narratives in sports and have a tendency to fit what we see into neat, cliched storylines. We look for “angles,” ways to contextualize and make sense of the action, yet can be hyperbolic in our assessments because we’re so focused on crafting the stories we’ll tell.
Game 1 doesn’t require any work. A brash, lovable hero stunned a powerhouse, surrounded by an eclectic group of guys who defended, grabbed offensive rebounds and played extremely hard.
Of course, Game 1 might not be held in such high esteem if the Sixers had won another game in the series. Would we look back at that night in Los Angeles differently if, in Game 3, Robert Horry had missed his corner three with 47.2 seconds left and the Sixers had taken a series lead in Philadelphia? Would Iverson’s step over Lue have lost a little of its shine if the Sixers fell in six or seven games instead of five?
It’s an interesting hypothetical. Logically, another win or two in that series would’ve given fans more fond memories to juggle and less reason to fixate on a single game and single moment. However, what Iverson and the Sixers did in Game 1 was special regardless of a bigger picture. That game speaks for itself, and it should for a long time.
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