Being named Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals is something that is almost always reserved for the most elite of the elite. Michael Jordan was named Finals MVP a record six times. Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal have won the award three times each.
In fact, since the NBA began awarding the Finals MVP in 1969, every winner but two who is eligible for enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is there.
It’s not as if White was a slouch. Jo Jo White was a seven-time All-Star in his career with the Celtics, Golden State Warriors and Kansas City Kings from 1969-81. He was All-NBA second team in 1974-75 and 1976-77. In the 1976 Finals, White scored 21.7 points a game as Boston beat the Phoenix Suns in six games. That Celtics team featured Hall of Famers John Havlicek and Dave Cowens.
Maxwell was a less likely pick. On a team that included Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Tiny Archibald, Maxwell averaged 17.7 points a game and shot better than 56 percent from the floor as the Celtics beat the Houston Rockets in six games to take the title.
Maxwell is, to date, the only Finals MVP to never have played in an All-Star Game. In 11 years with the Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers and Rockets, Maxwell tallied 10,465 points in 835 career games and he was the 12th overall pick in the 1977 NBA Draft after leading North Carolina-Charlotte on an unlikely run to the Final Four as a senior.
Here are some highlights from Boston’s clinching victory in Game 6 of the 1981 Finals:
Unlike baseball, where unlikely World Series MVPs are almost commonplace, pro basketball is a sport where it is expected—heck, demanded—that the best players step up at the biggest times.
So that’s why the NBA has no real equivalent in its championship series to players such as Pat Borders, who was the World Series Most Valuable Player for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992, or for Rick Dempsey, who won the award for the Baltimore Orioles in 1983.
But there might be one on the horizon.
Through five games of the NBA Finals in 2013, an unlikely hero has emerged and his is a story resembles not that of a Finals MVP. Rather, Danny Green is much more of a journeyman along the lines of a Borders or a Dempsey.
Taken in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft after helping North Carolina to a national championship, Green played just 20 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers as a rookie and was cut during training camp in 2010. He was picked up by the San Antonio Spurs early in the 2010-11 season, hung around for a week, was cut, then picked up again in March.
Green spent parts of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 in the D-League, playing for such non-descript entities as the Erie BayHawks, the Reno Bighorns and the Austin Toros.
He finally caught on with the Spurs prior to the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, starting 38 of the team’s 66 games and averaging 9.1 points per game and shooting 43.6 percent from 3-point range. The scoring was significant—to that point in his career, Green had totaled 81 NBA points.
He improved in 2012-13, averaging 10.5 points a game and averaging 27.5 minutes a night. He hit 177 3-pointers to lead the Spurs and canned 42.9 percent of them, the seventh-best percentage in the NBA among qualifiers.
Through the first three rounds of the playoffs, that’s exactly what Green was doing. He averaged 9.6 points a game and shot 43.1 percent from deep in series victories over the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies.
Then the Finals happened.
Green started calmly enough, hitting 4-of-9 from 3-point range in the Spurs’ 92-88 Game 1 win, finishing with 12 points. In Game 2, Green knocked down all five of his long-range attempts, scoring 17 points in the Heat’s blowout win.
Home in San Antonio, Green erupted in Game 3, hitting 7-of-9 from beyond the arc and scoring a playoff career-high 27 points as the Spurs rolled the Heat. Miami contained Green better in Game 4, limiting him to 10 points and just three long-distance bombs, but Green broke loose for a 6-for-10 3-point performance and 24 points in San Antonio’s Game 5 win.
On a team that has two surefire Hall of Famers in Duncan and Ginobili and a third player, Parker, who is building a solid resume, it is Danny Green—D-League refugee and second-round draft pick—who is leading the Spurs in scoring, averaging 19 points a game in the Finals.
His 3-point shooting has been absolutely other-worldly. His 25 3-pointers has already broken the Finals record of 22 set in 2008 by Ray Allen of the Celtics—in six games. His percentage is ridiculous: 25-for-38, 65.8 percent. Parker isn’t shooting that well from the free-throw line in the Finals, for crying out loud (14-for-22, 63.6 percent, for the record).
Here are all of his record 25 3-pointers Green has hit thus far in the Finals:
More surprisingly, Green is leading the Spurs in playing time in the Finals—34 minutes a game, more than Parker (who did leave Game 3 with an injury), more than Duncan (who is, after all, 37 years old) and more than second-year emerging star Kawhi Leonard.
He’s become the guy coach Gregg Popovich wants on the floor, because the guy just doesn’t seem to miss from behind the odd-shaped arc.
And if the San Antonio Spurs can close out the Miami Heat in either of the next two games and Green keeps up his torrid pace, we’ll witness the minting of the most unlikely Finals MVP ever.