When judging the legacy of a player, we often look at his performances on the biggest stage as the indicator in what separates said player from being a superstar and an all-time great.
The NBA Finals is where star players cement themselves as legends alongside other greats of the past.
We take a look at the five greatest performances from individual players on the game’s biggest stage:
#5.) Shaquille O’Neal, 2002
The Lakers capped off their 3-peat with a dominating sweep of the New Jersey Nets, and Shaq was at the forefront.
O’Neal averaged an absurd 36 points and 12 rebounds on 60% shooting, and showcased why he’s widely regarded as the most dominant player in the modern era.
This performance marked the 3rd straight season that Shaq had taken home Finals MVP honors. He, along with Kobe Bryant, formed was the most lethal duo in the history of the Finals. It’s a shame that they never saw eye-to-eye, and O’Neal was traded two years later.
#4.) Dwyane Wade, 2006
The term “carrying a team” is often overused in the sports world. But in this instance, Dwyane Wade carried the Heat to their first ever championship.
Wade’s 35 points and 8 rebounds per game is even more impressive when you take into account that the second highest scorer for Miami in 06′ was Antoine Walker. Antoine Walker. He averaged a measly 13 points in the six-game series.
Add in the fact that Miami was down 2-0 in the series at one point, and you’re looking at a top three Finals performance ever.
#3.) Shaquille O’Neal, 2000
3rd spot on this list, and the 3rd team that Shaq has been apart of. But his performance in the 2000 Finals was the best of the bunch.
The turn of the century marked the beginning of the Laker dynasty, and the 38 points and 17 rebounds that Shaq averaged that year in the Finals is unlikely to be seen ever again.
This mind-boggling performance kicked off what was the most dominant three year stretch in Finals history, which saw O’Neal put up 36 points and 15 rebounds en route to 3-peating both the Larry O’Brien trophy and the Finals MVP award.
#2.) LeBron James, 2016
All things considered, a decent argument can be made that LeBron’s performance in the 2016 Finals is the greatest ever.
After all, he did take down the greatest regular season team of all-time after falling behind 3-1 in the series, all while breaking Cleveland’s infamous title drought.
James averaged 30 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists on 50% shooting, including 37 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in the three elimination games, catapulting himself on the all-time list from a fringe top-ten player to an undisputed top-three.
#1.) Michael Jordan, 1993
Fitting that the greatest player ever had the greatest Finals performance ever.
Jordan averaged a remarkable 41 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists across six thrilling games against MVP Charles Barkley and Phoenix in 93′.
But this series goes far beyond what was displayed on the court, as it was the final straw in Michael Jordan’s first retirement. The famous words “I have nothing left to prove” were uttered four months after he captured his 3rd title and Finals MVP.