South Florida, you’re in position to make “winter sports” history.
This is the 75th season in which the NBA and the NHL will both crown champions, and never has the same city or market won both the NBA championship and the Stanley Cup in the same season.
The Miami Heat finished first in the NBA East, thereby seeded to reach The Finals, and is playing the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the playoffs. The Florida Panthers finished with the best record in the NHL, claiming the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy, and are playing the Washington Capitals in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There are currently 14 markets in North America with franchises in both the NHL and the NBA. Seven qualified teams in both sports this postseason with four the NBA teams eliminated in the first round. Still alive are Boston’s Celtics and Bruins, Dallas’ Mavericks and Stars plus the Miami area’s teams.
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If the Panthers and Heat so much as reach their respective league championship rounds, that would mark only the ninth time that one market has done that. In the previous eight instances, the first participant won four times only to see the second one lose.
Nets fall short as Tim Duncan goes off
The most recent “double finalist” was the New York metropolitan area in 2003 with the New Jersey Devils and the New Jersey Nets.
The Devils were seeded No. 2 in the East, upset No. 1 Ottawa in the East Finals and defeated Anaheim, a long shot at No. 7 in the West, in seven games to win the Cup on June 9. At that point, the Nets trailed San Antonio in The Finals two games to one.
Led by Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin, New Jersey was seeded second in the East at 49-33 and had swept No. 1 Detroit in the conference finals. The Spurs finished 60-22, tied with Dallas for the NBA’s best record.
The Nets won Game 4 at home 77-76, but that was their final victory of the series. The Spurs took Games 5 and 6, with NBA Most Valuable Player Tim Duncan going off for 21 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in the clincher played in the Alamo City six days after the Devils won the Stanley Cup.
While the Nets came within two wins of completing the double; one location has come within one game. And that was also within the New York metropolitan area.
The Knicks, Bob Costas and the O.J. chase
On June 14, 1994, the New York Rangers ended the franchise’s fabled 54-year Stanley Cup drought with a Game 7 win over Vancouver. Their Madison Square Garden brethren, the New York Knicks, were seeded second in the East that season, which was the first of two in which Michael Jordan was away from the Chicago Bulls trying to become a major league baseball player. With top-seeded Atlanta knocked off in the conference semifinals by No. 5 Indiana, the Knicks beat the Pacers in seven games and were three games into The Finals, trailing Houston two games to one.
The Knicks took Games 4-5 at home to move ahead three games to two. Game 5 was played on the night during which much of the nation was captivated by live coverage of the O.J. Simpson-white Bronco slow-speed chase across the Los Angeles area. With The Finals on NBC, Bob Costas was called upon to perform the unlikely broadcast duty of cutting between live action from the Garden to the helicopter shots from high above L.A.
After the series returned to Houston, the Rockets won Game 6, 86-84, with MVP Hakeem Olajuwon blocking John Starks’ three-point shot at the finish on June 19, the day the Rangers held their Cup parade in Manhattan. Houston then took the finale, 90-84, with Starks infamously shooting 2-for-18 from the floor and missing all 11 of his attempts from behind the three-point line.
The Heat has been the NBA’s top overall team once, in 2012-13 as defending champion. Miami rallied from a 3-2 Finals deficit to San Antonio to repeat thanks to Ray Allen’s three-pointer from the right corner to send Game 6 to overtime.
Let’s look back at some other memorable “near misses” in the history of Stanley Cup and NBA championship chases:
So close in Boston
With all those NBA championship banners hanging in Boston Garden from the late 1950s through the late ‘60s, the Celtics provided excellent opportunities for Beantown to celebrate double titles. But the Bruins couldn’t make it happen.
It almost occurred in 1957, Bill Russell’s rookie year. The Celtics won the championship on April 13, beating the St. Louis Hawks in seven games. The Bruins finished third in the six-team league, knocked off No. 1 Detroit in the opening round and faced No. 2 Montreal in the Final. The Canadiens won the second straight of what would be five consecutive Stanley Cups.
The Celtics and Bruins both reached the championship round in 1958, and both lost to the same opponents from the previous year.
The Celts famously added 10 more titles over the next 11 years. The Bruins missed the playoffs eight times during that span and finished last six times.
That NBA dynasty’s final bow came with Boston’s fourth-place team in 1968-69 winning every series without homecourt advantage. The Bruins, building something special with young Bobby Orr, lost in the semifinals to Montreal.
The following year, Orr and the B’s claimed the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1941 with his memorable post-goal flight through the crease in overtime against the St. Louis Blues, now immortalized by a statue outside TD Garden.
Another Boston chance
The Celtics were contenders again a few years later and won the ’74 title on May 12 over favored Milwaukee featuring MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Bruins owned the NHL’s best record and reached the Final to face the Philadelphia Flyers, the first of the six NHL expansion teams of 1967-68 to have a legitimate chance to claim the Cup.
On May 12, the Bruins trailed Philly’s Broad Street Bullies two games to none. They went down in six, losing all three times after Kate Smith belted out “God Bless America” before puck drops at The Spectrum.
Both top seeds weren’t enough in Detroit
Only once has a city’s NBA and NHL teams both finished with the best record for that season – 2005-06. The Pistons were 64-18, setting the franchise’s record for wins, behind “Rip” Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace. The Red Wings of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg went 58-16-8 during the season that followed a year with no NHL play because of the owners’ lockout of the players.
The Wings were shocked in the opening round by No. 8 Edmonton, which had no players among the league’s top 20 scorers, losing in six games on May 1. The Pistons at that point were en route to beating Milwaukee in the first round. They were derailed in the East finals in six games by the Heat of Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal.
What about all those Lakers rings?
The Lakers have won 12 championships in the time in which the Los Angeles area has had at least one NHL franchise; the Los Angeles Kings began play in 1967-68, the Anaheim Ducks in ‘93-94. In those 12 NBA title seasons, the Kings and Ducks never won more than one playoff series.
During the three years in which southern California’s NHL teams hoisted the Cup – the Ducks in 2007, the Kings in 2012 and ‘14 – neither the Lakers nor the Los Angeles Clippers were serious championship contenders.
Chicago’s golden opportunities
When the Jordan Bulls won their first title in 1991, the Blackhawks finished with the NHL’s best record. But they were stunned in the first round by the Minnesota North Stars. When the Bulls repeated in ’92, the Hawks finished second in their division yet upset their way to the Stanley Cup Final. They were swept by Mario Lemieux and defending-champion Pittsburgh.
Philly? Forget about it
Things were promising in Philadelphia in 1983 when the 76ers had the NBA’s best record and the Flyers were second best overall in the NHL. Moses Malone predicted his Sixers would go undefeated through the three best-of-seven playoff rounds – “Fo,’ fo,’ fo.’”
The Flyers faced the Rangers in the best-of-five first round, and Philadelphia coach Bob McCammon referred to New York’s relatively undersized forwards as “Smurfs.” The little Blueshirts swept the series, and the finish was ugly – 9-3 at MSG on April 9. The penalty box doors nearly fell off the hinges; the first four of 25 penalties were called 44 seconds in.
Malone was close. It was “four, five, four” for the 76ers, sweeping the defending-champion Lakers by an average of 10 points per game.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Miami Heat, Florida Panthers can pull off a first in NBA, NHL city