May 12, 2011, 1:10 PM EDT
In the 1998 NBA finals, Michael Jordan pushed off on Byron Russell to drill the game winner in what was the end of an era in the NBA.
These 2011 finals, wherever and with whomever they take place, will mark the start of a new era.
For the first time since Jordan’s final game as a Bull, the NBA finals will not feature at least one of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal or Tim Duncan. Sekou Smith pointed this out over at NBA.com. While it seemed that streak would almost certainly continue this year heading into the playoffs, the elimination of the Celtics Wednesday night killed the streak.
Think about that for a second … let it marinate … and then realize that those are the three players that define their generation. Their faces make up the Mount Rushmore of the league since 1998. No one starred brighter on the biggest stage as much as — or more often than — those three future Hall of Famers.
Eras never run exactly on decades, even though we tend to define them that way But Kobe, Shaq and Duncan defined the 2000s in the NBA. Duncan and his Spurs with their quiet efficiency winning four titles. The dynamic Lakers of the Shaq/Kobe era, with all its drama on and off the court. Shaq with Dwyane Wade. The latest iteration of the Lakers with Pau Gasol and a long front line.
Who knows how this next decade will be defined. By the Heat and a string of titles. By Derrick Rose leading the Bulls back to glory. As the decade that Oklahoma City became the center of the basketball universe.
But the Kobe, Shaq and Duncan era is coming to an end.
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