NBA Finals 2020: How notable NBA legends performed in their Finals debut?

LeBron James and Anthony Davis dominated Game 1 of the 2020 NBA Finals, carrying the Los Angeles Lakers to a comfortable 116-98 win and 1-0 series lead.

While it was the 10th Finals appearance for the King, for the Brow, it was his first. And what a debut he had.

In 38 minutes, he finished with a game-high 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three blocks, and a game-high plus-minus of 23. He shot 11-of-21 (52.4%) from the field, 2-of-4 from beyond the arc, and a perfect 10-of-10 from the free-throw line.

MORE: By the Numbers - AD's historic Finals debut

His 34 points are the third-most scored by an NBA player in a Finals debut since the NBA-ABA merger.

That got us thinking, how did notable NBA legends perform in their first NBA Finals game? Here's a look:

Bill Russell - 1957

Stat line - 11 points, 25 rebounds vs. St. Louis Hawks (W, 119-99)

Russell made an immediate difference to the Boston Celtics as a rookie, playing a huge role as the franchise won it's first NBA title with a 4-3 series win over the Bob Pettit-led St. Louis Hawks.

He went on to become the winningest player in NBA history, leading the Celtics to 11 championships in a 13-year span from 1956 to 1969.

Wilt Chamberlain - 1964

Stat line - 22 points, 25 rebounds, one assist vs. Boston Celtics (L, 108-96)

As he did in most games throughout his career, Chamberlain stuffed the stat sheet in his Finals debut. But like many non-Celtics experienced in the 1960s, he came up short against Russell and Boston - losing 4-1.

Lew Alcindor - 1971

Stat line - 31 points, 17 rebounds on 13-16 FGs vs. Baltimore Bullets (W, 98-88)

Similar to Russell, Lew Alcindor was an instant impact for the Milwaukee Bucks, a franchise born in 1968 - just a year before drafting him. In Game 1 of the 1971 NBA Finals, one the Bucks would sweep for their franchise title, Alcindor was the game's leading scorer and rebounder. He was later named Finals MVP - his first.

It was a few months after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to the championship that he converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Magic Johnson - 1980

Stat line - 16 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds, three steals vs. Philadelphia 76ers (W, 109-102)

Magic Johnson capped off his rookie Finals series in historic fashion with arguably the greatest Finals game by a rookie - Game 6 of the 1980 Finals where he started at center, in place of Abdul-Jabbar, and led the Los Angeles Lakers to the title with 42 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists.

His first Finals game falls short of those gigantic numbers by quite a margin, but by no means was it a poor performance. He was one rebound shy of recording a triple-double against a star-studded 76ers squad.

Larry Bird - 1981

Stat line - 18 points, 21 rebounds, and nine assists vs. Houston Rockets (W, 98-95)

Just like Magic, Larry Bird came agonizingly close to recording a triple-double in his Finals debut. It was during this game that Bird pulled off a play that legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach later said was the greatest he had ever seen.

Boston would go on to win the championship, defeating the Rockets in six games. It was the first of three the franchise would win in the 1980s.

Hakeem Olajuwon - 1986

Stat line - 33 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, and two assists vs. Boston Celtics (L, 112-100)

Olajuwon, in just his second season, was, by far, the best player on the floor for the Rockets in his Finals debut. But against a stacked Celtics squad, considered among the greatest teams ever, his performance went in vain.

Michael Jordan - 1991

Stat line - 36 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds, and three steals vs. Los Angeles Lakers (L, 93-91)

Michael Jordan played his first Finals against a legend in Magic Johnson and the iconic Los Angeles Lakers. The Chicago Bulls were edged out by a late Sam Perkins three but Jordan rose to the occasion, finishing two rebounds shy of a triple-double.

Chicago went on to win the next four games, clinching their first title in franchise history - one of six they would win over an eight-year span.

Shaquille O'Neal - 1995

Stat line - 26 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists, and three blocks vs. Houston Rockets (L, 120-118)

Similar to the names mentioned above, Shaquille O'Neal, just 23 years old, had one of the greatest Finals debuts in NBA history. He too came really close to becoming the first player ever to record a triple-double in his first Finals game.

However, the opponent had the final say as the Houston Rockets, then the defending champions, came back from a 20-point deficit on the back of clutch shots in regulation and overtime to steal Game 1.

Houston would go on to win the next three games to sweep O'Neal and the Orlando Magic.

Tim Duncan - 1999

Stat line - 33 points, 16 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks vs. New York Knicks (L, 89-77)

In just second season, Tim Duncan led from the front and starred in the San Antonio Spurs' first-ever NBA Finals victory. Against a short-handed Knicks squad, the Spurs would clinch their first title in franchise history in just five games.

Duncan was named Finals MVP - first of three in his career.

Kobe Bryant - 2000

Stat line - 14 points, five assists, three rebounds, and two blocks vs. Indiana Pacers (W, 104-87)

With Shaquille O'Neal (43p/19r/4a) dominating Game 1 of the 2000 NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant did a little bit of everything else.

He was the Lakers' second-highest scorer and would go on to play a huge role later in the series, especailly in Game 4 when he came up big in crunch time.

Allen Iverson - 2001

Stat line - 48 points, six assists, five rebounds, and five steals (W, 107-101)

Allen Iverson's Game 1 performance is arguably the greatest Finals debut in NBA history.

Going up against the well-rounded defending champion Lakers, who came into this game with an unbeaten 11-0 record in the playoffs and a 19-game win streak overall, Iverson dropped an NBA record for most points in a Finals debut and led the 76ers to an overtime win that could be considered as one of the greatest single-game upsets in Finals history.

LeBron James - 2007

Stat line - 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists vs. San Antonio Spurs (L, 85-76)

Going up against a stacked and experienced Spurs squad, LeBron James contributed across the board but did have a sub-par game by his standards. San Antonio would go on to sweep the Cavaliers en route to a title.

13 years since that Finals series, James has arguably the greatest Finals resume in NBA history.

View this post on Instagram

👀 where @kingjames sits on the #NBAFinals milestone lists! 📊 Game 1: 9:00pm/et on ABC!

A post shared by • #WholeNewGame • (@nba) on

Kevin Durant - 2012

Stat line - 36 points, eight rebounds, and four assists vs. Miami Heat (W, 105-94)

KD's 36 points are tied (with Jordan from 1991) for the second-most recorded in a Finals debut since the NBA-ABA merger.

Oklahoma City Thunder won Game 1 thanks to Durant's performance, the only contest of the 2012 Finals that they won against the Miami Heat's Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.

Stephen Curry - 2015

Stat line - 26 points, eight assists, four rebounds, and two steals (W, 108-100)

Going up against LeBron James, in his fifth Finals appearance, Curry led the Warriors in points and assists. The Warriors would go on to win their first title in 40 years by defeating the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers in six games.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

More from

LeBron tops Forbes highest-paid NBA player list
Benyam Kidane
NBA 75
Full season preview guide for 2021-22
Scott Rafferty
What did we learn in preseason? FTR
Five things we learned in preseason
Kyle Irving
LeBron James and Russell Westbrook have a discussion during preseason.
Preseason overreactions: Time to panic for Lakers?
Kane Pitman
Dennis Rodman and Shaquille O'Neal.
Which players deserve to have their jerseys retired?
Kane Pitman, Benyam Kidane, Scott Rafferty and Yash Matange
Bradley Beal exited the preseason game against New York with a knee contusion
Beal exits vs. Knicks with knee contusion
Kane Pitman
More News