The Miami Heat hardly needed any bulletin-board material to beat the Milwaukee Bucks in the first-round of the playoffs. The Heat are unquestionably the best team in the NBA, and should steam-roll their way to the NBA Finals (I’m losing faith in the Knicks by the day). The Bucks, on the other hand, are one of the worst teams to ever make the playoffs—finishing 6 games under .500—making a good case for scraping the conference system in the process. But just incase LeBron and company needed that extra bit of motivation to stick it to Milwaukee—to avoid the danger of sleeping through a series everyone had them sweeping—Brandon Jennings opened his mouth and predicted a 6-game series victory for his team.
First of all, you can’t blame Jennings for showing some confidence and declaring belief in his team—after all, what was he supposed to say when reporters asked him if his Bucks had a chance: ‘nah, we’re gonna get killed’? But it might have served him, and his team, better to simply express the fact that he was confident and leave it at that. No specifics. As it predictably turned out the Heat swept the Bucks, winning every game comfortably, and Jennings, perhaps because of the added self-inflicted pressure, stunk it up badly. Here’s a suggestion: If you’re going to make bold predictions, at least play well.
But Jennings wasn’t the first guy in NBA history to make a bold and slightly risky prediction. Some guys have looked like geniuses when things turned out well, and some have, like Jennings, ended up with proverbial egg on their face. Here are some of the best and worst NBA predictions/guarantees of all time:
While at times during his long NBA career, Wallace may have lacked tact, and the ability to understand when it was a good time to tone down his shtick with the refs (he has the record for most techs in a season), he NEVER EVER lacked confidence. That was on full display after Game 1 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, a game that Wallace’s Detroit Pistons dropped to the Pacers. In an interview prior to the pivotal 2nd game, Wallace confidently asserted, “We will win Game 2”. And they did. The Pistons grinded out an ugly defensive victory, 72-67, and one in which Wallace only shot 4-19 from the field. But nonetheless, the Pistons won and Wallace’s confidence was vindicated. The Pistons went on to win the series in 6 and defeat the Lakers in the NBA Finals. And Wallace’s confidence even helped coin the term “Guaransheed”. You’ve gotta love Urban Dictionary.
This literally happened a couple days ago, but it was such a stupid decision on Martin’s part that it already deserves to be ranked among the most ill-advised guarantees in NBA history. Prior to Game 5 of the Knicks-Celtics series (the Knicks were looking to finish off Boston at MSG) Martin convinced a couple of his teammates to dress in black before the game—telling them to “Wear black. Funeral colors”—essentially making a guarantee that the Knicks would close out the series. Unsurprisingly J.R. Smith, among others, acquiesced, and even less surprisingly the Celtics, full of pride and with 2 future Hall-of-Famers, took offense and decided to postpone their own funeral by pulling off a gritty win. After the game a testy Martin refused to discuss his tactless pre-game shenanigans, telling a reporter, “if you want to talk about basketball, we’ll talk about basketball”. And no one pushed him on it, because, well, Kenyon Martin’s crazy. Crazy and not too smart.
Whether it was telling opponents exactly where and when he was going to score a basket, or talking some of the best in-game trash in NBA history, Larry Legend was pretty good at opening his mouth and backing it up. Perhaps his most famous trash-talking incident came at All-Star Weekend in 1988, as Bird was preparing to defend his 3-point Shootout title. Prior to the event Bird walked into the locker-room where the other participants were getting ready, and asked, “Who’s finishing second?” After such an outrageously cocky declaration Bird had to ‘walk the walk’. And he did, dramatically winning the competition on the final shot. What’s more, he didn’t even bother to remove his warm-up jacket during the competition. Now that’s confidence.
Okay, so just a few days ago T-Mac finally reached the second round of the NBA playoffs. Granted, he played just 5 minutes during the Spurs’ sweep against the Lakers, but it counts…sort of. Until that point the T-Mac narrative was one of a player who could never make it out of the first round. It’s an unfair narrative that tends to overshadow the fact that in his prime, McGrady was the purest scorer in the game. But in a league that prioritizes winning over all else, it’s the narrative that sticks.
The low point of McGrady’s first-round woes came in 2003, when his Orlando Magic were 3-1 up against the Detroit Pistons. With the Magic looking set to close out the series, McGrady was quoted as saying that it was great to “finally be in the position to advance to the second round”. McGrady made it seem like closing out the series was a mere formality, but the Pistons refused to die. They won the next 3 games and clinched the series, leaving T-Mac looking a little foolish.
Good: Pat Riley’s championship repeat guarantee
I imagine that most basketball fans in the 80s either loved or hated Pat Riley. Well, actually, probably every fan outside of Los Angeles hated Riley. But he was damn good at what he did—winning NBA championships—and he did it with an undeniable swagger. After the Lakers won the 1987 title, triumphing over the Celtics in an epic Finals, Riley guaranteed a repeat during the celebrations. It was a bold prediction considering that one of his star players, Kareem, was getting older and slower, and a repeat hadn’t been accomplished in previous 18 seasons—since Russell’s Celtics won back-to-back championships in ’68 and ’69, in-fact. But Riley’s Lakers backed up their coach’s bold proclamation (only just) as they triumphed over the Pistons in a grueling and dramatic 7-game series.
Here’s another Laker making a bold prediction, but this one didn’t work out quite as well.
In 2011, the reigning-champion Lakers were swept out of the playoffs by the Mavericks, but such a humbling experience did nothing to deter MWP’s (then Ron Artest) confidence. In an interview with Stephen A. Smith, MWP stated that in the 2011/12 season the Lakers would “Win the whole thing. That’s a guarantee”. Of course, the Lakers won nothing—losing a second-round series to the Thunder in 5—and that guarantee joined a list of the ‘top-10 crazy things MWP has done/said’, along with attacking fans, changing his name, and elbowing James Harden in the head. But hey, it could’ve been worse. MWP could’ve guaranteed a championship this season…although he recently said that the Lakers could win next season without making any personnel changes. Not quite a guarantee I guess, but equally as crazy.