What is the lowest seed to ever make it to the NBA Finals?
Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? In the history of the NBA playoffs, there have been a few but truthfully, there’s only one team that really qualifies.
Ahead of this year’s playoffs, there was the feeling that the Brooklyn Nets could be contenders and so it would have been impressive to see the No. 7 seed make it all the way to the finals. Of course, now that they’ve been swept that notion is nothing more than a memory, but the interesting thing is that had they made it there, they wouldn’t have been the lowest seed to do so.
The New York Knicks are unique
That’s right! It was the New York Knicks who became the lowest seed ever to reach the NBA finals and it was during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. Incidentally, by doing so the Knicks also became the only No. 8 seed to become conference champions. Indeed, though the Knicks would eventually fall in five games to a Tim Duncan and David Robinson led San Antonio Spurs team in the 1999 NBA Finals, they will of course be remembered for the unique feat which they were able to accomplish. In total, there have been nine teams seeded at No. 4 or lower which have advanced to the NBA Finals - see below. Only two of those teams won the title: The 1994-95 Rockets and the 1968-69 Celtics.
|No. 8||Knicks||Spurs||1999||L, 4-1|
|No. 6||Rockets||Magic||1995||W, 4-0|
|No. 6||Rockets||Celtics||1981||L, 4-2|
|No. 5||Heat||Lakers||2020||L, 4-2|
|No. 4||Cavaliers||Warriors||2018||L, 4-0|
|No. 4||Celtics||Lakers||2010||L, 4-3|
|No. 4||Mavericks||Heat||2006||L, 4-2|
|No. 4||SuperSonics||Bullets||1978||L, 4-3|
|No. 4||Celtics||Lakers||1969||W, 4-3|
If you’re wondering what the lowest seed to win the NBA Finals is, that would be the Houston Rockets led by Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1994-95 season who entered the playoffs as the No. 6 seed out of the Western Conference. En route to the finals, they defeated the Utah Jazz, the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs, before taking on and defeating Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy.
The Knicks road to the 1999 NBA Finals
What’s interesting to note about the New York’s team in that fateful year, is that they essentially overhauled the roster. In came Marcus Camby and Latrell Sprewell via trades and Kurt Thomas was acquired in free agency. Of course, the base of icons such as Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and Charlie Ward were already there, but there was uncertainty as to how the group would mesh. As things went, that’s exactly what the problem appeared to be. From injuries to a lack of chemistry and a shortened 50-game campaign, the team just made it into the playoffs with a record of 27-23. To that end, most expected the team to be eliminated in the first-round and Jeff Van Gundy - head coach at the time - to lose his job.
Yet, that’s not what happened at all. After a shock upset against the top-seeded Miami Heat, fans realized there was something to this Knicks team and that notion was duly affirmed when they dominated and swept the Hawks in the second-round. By then it was clear that New York had come to the postseason to take names. What’s even more incredible, is that their dismissal of the Indiana Pacers in the conference finals was accomplished largely without their star, Patrick Ewing, who had torn his Achilles tendon in Game 2 of the series. Sadly, that injury would prove to be New York’s undoing. With no Ewing in the front court, the Knicks had no response for the “Twin Tower” threat posed by Duncan and Robinson and so it was that they finally fell. Yet, as one can imagine that New York team lives on to this day in the hearts of not just Knicks fans, but basketball fans on the whole.