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The Greatest Expectations

A ring is a ring, and every NBA championship should be treasured—but not all title paths are created equal. The 1996-97 Bulls needed to beat the 44-win Bullets, 56-win Hawks, 61-win Heat, and 64-win Jazz in a row; 40 years earlier, the Celtics and rookie Bill Russell received a bye to the conference finals, then beat the 38-34 Syracuse Nationals and 34-38 St. Louis Hawks to win the franchise’s first championship. Or: Everyone reading this piece knows that Michael Jordan won six titles to LeBron James’s three—but accounting for team quality and home-court advantage, LeBron’s team was favored in only two of his nine Finals appearances; a third was a toss-up, and the other six saw him as the clear underdog. LeBron James Finals Odds Year Team Opponent Odds of Winning Result Year Team Opponent Odds of Winning Result 2007 Cavaliers Spurs 15% Lost in 4 2011 Heat Mavericks 76% Lost in 6 2012 Heat Thunder 48% Won in 5 2013 Heat Spurs 65% Won in 7 2014 Heat Spurs 27% Lost in 5 2015 Cavaliers Warriors 15% Lost in 6 2016 Cavaliers Warriors 20% Won in 7 2017 Cavaliers Warriors 6% Lost in 5 2018 Cavaliers Warriors 17% Lost in 4 Jordan, meanwhile, made three fewer Finals, but he always had roughly even odds or better when he made the championship round. (The odds dipped just below 50 percent against the 1992-93 Suns because Phoenix would have hosted a potential Game 7.

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Written by The Ringer

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