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Miami-Dallas: The Strangest Finals Rematch Ever

Posted by Neil Paine on May 28, 2011

Finals rematches usually involve a familiar cast of characters with a great deal of bad blood built up over past battles, right? Repeat clashes where any roster change is minimal, and the two teams can draw on that shared experience to develop strategies going forward... Like the 1985 Finals, where the two teams' playoff rosters had 21 common players from the year before.

That's the mental picture we get when we think of a championship rematch, at least. But not this year. There are only four common players between the 2006 and 2011 Finalists' playoff rosters:

Udonis Haslem
Dirk Nowitzki
Jason Terry
Dwyane Wade

Among Finals rematches that took place within 6 seasons of the initial matchup, that's the fewest common players in league history:

Franchise Franchise 1st Finals 2nd Finals Common Players
Heat Mavericks 2006 2011 4
Celtics Rockets 1981 1986 5
Celtics Lakers 1963 1968 6
Lakers Nationals 1950 1954 7
Celtics Lakers 1962 1966 7
Lakers Knicks 1970 1972 7
Celtics Hawks 1957 1961 8
Celtics Hawks 1958 1961 8
Celtics Lakers 1962 1965 8
Celtics Hawks 1957 1960 9
Celtics Lakers 1965 1969 9
Celtics Lakers 1966 1969 9
Celtics Hawks 1958 1960 10
Celtics Lakers 1959 1962 10
Celtics Lakers 1959 1963 10
Celtics Lakers 1963 1966 10
Celtics Lakers 1965 1968 10
Knicks Lakers 1970 1973 10
Celtics Lakers 1966 1968 11
76ers Lakers 1980 1983 11
Celtics Lakers 1963 1965 12
Lakers Celtics 1984 1987 12
Lakers Celtics 1985 1987 12
Lakers Knicks 1952 1953 13
Celtics Lakers 1968 1969 13
Celtics Lakers 1962 1963 14
Knicks Lakers 1972 1973 14
Lakers 76ers 1980 1982 14
Lakers Celtics 2008 2010 15
Hawks Celtics 1957 1958 16
Celtics Hawks 1960 1961 16
Pistons Lakers 1988 1989 16
SuperSonics Bullets 1978 1979 17
76ers Lakers 1982 1983 18
Celtics Lakers 1965 1966 19
Bulls Jazz 1997 1998 20
Lakers Celtics 1984 1985 21

Now, one could certainly make the case that Nowitzki and Wade are so important that the lack of commonality is being overstated, but you be the judge -- here are the other Finals with the fewest common elements:

The only other Finals that really compares is 1986, which also took place 6 seasons after the initial matchup, but only the Rockets really turned their roster over as substantially as Dallas and Miami have -- the Celtics' core group of Hall of Famers (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish) was still intact from 1981 when they met Houston again in '86.

In truth, compared to Finals rematches of the past, Dallas-Miami is barely a rematch at all. Aside from Nowitzki, Wade, Terry, Haslem, and the fact that American Airlines is going to get great brand exposure again, this might as well be an entirely new matchup.

16 Responses to “Miami-Dallas: The Strangest Finals Rematch Ever”

  1. Gabe Says:

    Do yoou not count Willis Reed, because he was injured for the '72 playoffs, even though he was on the team?

  2. Neil Paine Says:

    No, I'm not counting guys who didn't play in the playoffs.

  3. Alex Says:

    Are we expecting Dampier any time soon?

  4. Greyberger Says:

    Dampier bridges the gap. He remembers his time in Dallas, and he seethes - he'll ignite the Heat with emotional outbursts, locker-room leadership, etc... don't know how many minutes he'll get though.

  5. Luke Says:

    Speaking of Dampier, can we get a list of guys who played in the Finals against a former Finals team? I think that'd be interesting to see how many guys "switched sides" and ended up winning (or losing).

    And let's not forget Cuban and Riley (albeit in a different capacity than 2006). I think they carry enough weight, along with Dirk and Wade, to still feel like a true rematch.

  6. Ricardo Says:

    Both are strange, but Boston-Houston 1986 was a stranger rematch.

    At least in 2011, both teams still have the best player from their previous appearance (Nowitzki and Wade) - in 1986, Moses Malone was long gone.

    Pat Riley isn't coaching the 2011 Mavericks - but the coach of the 1981 Celtics, Bill Fitch, was in 1986 coaching against the team he won his championship with.

    The 1986 Rockets weren't the winners of a contest between bad and worse, as it was in 1981; Both Western Conference Finalists then had a record of 40-42. In 1986 it was the 51-31 Rockets defeating the defending champion LA Lakers (62-20).

  7. Cort Says:

    good point about fitch coaching the 1986 rockets vs. the celtics after leading boston to the 81 title over houston. if i recall correctly, houston had tried to hire tom heinsohn out of the CBS broadcast booth to coach them before hiring fitch. seems like they wanted some celtic mojo. may still now with the likely hiring of mchale.

  8. Cort Says:

    off the top of my head, other than the 1997-98 chicago vs. utah Finals, it seems that the team who lost the first time has won the rematch since 1970...
    1970 NY over LA
    1972 LA over NY
    1973 NY over LA

    1978 Wash over Sea
    1979 Sea over Wash

    1982 LA over Philly
    1983 Philly over LA

    1984 Boston over LA
    1985 LA over Boston

    1988 LA over Detroit
    1989 Detroit over LA

    2008 Boston over LA
    2010 LA over Boston

    Some exceptions...1982 LA over Philly after Lakers beat 76ers in 1980; 1987 LA over Boston after 85 same result. But in 87 Boston was decimated by injury and a brutal gauntlet to just reach the Finals.

  9. Cort Says:

    1957 boston over st louis
    1958 st. louis over boston

    1960 & 61 boston over st louis

  10. huevonkiller Says:


    Those are A LOT of exceptions.

    "Some exceptions...1982 LA over Philly after Lakers beat 76ers in 1980; 1987 LA over Boston after 85 same result. But in 87 Boston was decimated by injury and a brutal gauntlet to just reach the Finals."

    And Boston in 81 and 86. You made it sound absolute until the end. Bulls, Lakers, Lakers, Celtics.

    Also teams frequently lose Conference Finals to the same opponent, think of the Kings vs the Lakers. It wasn't the Finals but it was the real Finals.

  11. huevonkiller Says:

    It is better to think of the top teams facing each other, rather than Finals opponents.

    I forgot the Spurs in 2001 and 2002 as well, when they kept losing to the Lakers. 1st and 3rd in SRS.

  12. Mike Goodman Says:

    There were just 7 players in common between the 1970 and 1972 Knicks and Lakers;
    but there were 10 common players between '70 and '73 ?
    Mentioned earlier, Willis Reed missed the '72 Finals but returned in '73.
    For the Lakers, Keith Erickson did likewise. Also Mel Counts returned to his 1970 team.

  13. BSK Says:

    The interesting thing is that neither team (particularly the Heat) would likely be in the Finals if not for all the re-tooling. If the Heat were still trotting out Shaq, Mourning, Wade, and Haslem, I doubt they get out of the basement.

  14. Cort Says:

    only a couple exceptions, and when i started writing the post in my head i meant teams who met in back to back years. the 2 exceptions i pointed out were finals with a year in between (80/82, 85/87). but i expanded it to include Finals with a year off in between because the teams were similar in makeup to the first meeting.
    only time the team who won first in back to back Finals won again was chicago in 97-98 vs utah. and the refs had a lot to do with that.
    i dont consider 1981 and 1986 boston v. houston a real "rematch". bird and parish returned as starters, mchale was a key rookie reserve in 1981 yet a big star by 86. other than that no celtic remained from 81 in 86. only rocket who played a key role in 81 and was still there as a starter 86 was robert reid, although he had moved from forward to guard. allen leavell was a backup guard both series. he did play a key role in 81 off the bench, but not in 86.
    i do agree that the 2002 lakers/kings conf finals was the REAL finals. kings should have won. same could be said of boston/philly in 1981 ECF, although they met three years in a row in the ECF; SA/Dallas in 2003 WCF too.

  15. huevonkiller Says:

    There are multiple exceptions.

    Chicago/New York? Chicago/Cleveland, Pistons/Chicago, LA/SA, LA/Sac, LA/Portland, Utah/LA (90's), LA/Utah (2008-2010), etc. There are multiple instances within a conference.

    Game 5 2002: Shaq got 1 FT and fouled out in 32 minutes. Lakers lost by 1 point, just looks like you dislike them.

    If Shaq and Kobe play 44-40 minutes a game each, why shouldn't the Lakers win? They weren't as deep as Sac but they shortened their rotation. Take out some of Samaki Walker and Devean George's minutes for Shaq and Kobe.

  16. huevonkiller Says:

    And Jordan took 27 shots a game in that 98 series, he's going to get calls.