Cleveland Cavaliers Can Learn From Past Disappointments Of Lakers, Bulls

As the Cleveland Cavaliers continue their quest for a first-ever NBA championship, they would do well to learn from history.

There was a time when the “close, but no cigar” shoe was on another foot—that of the Los Angeles Lakers, now one of the league’s most storied franchises.

Having won five titles while playing in Minneapolis, the Lakers joined the growing sports landscape in L.A. prior to the 1960 season. Their excellence continued on the West Coast, but championships didn’t. The Boston Celtics had other plans.

The Celtics were in the midst of a championship streak that would stretch to eight consecutive seasons, and 10 of the next 11.

It was a much smaller league in those days. Even by the end of the 1960s, it was still only half the size it is today.

Nonetheless, six times in that decade, the Lakers played the Celtics in the finals. Six times, they came up short. After Bill Russell retired in 1969, the Lakers lost one more title series for good measure, to the New York Knicks in 1970.

The leader of that team was Jerry West. Despite a period of finals futility unmatched in NBA history, West is praised as “Mr. Clutch,” and his silhouette—not Russell’s, for instance—adorns the league’s logo.

In all, the Los Angeles-based Lakers have lost 14 times in the NBA Finals. Because they became winners over the last three decades, however, their past failures are forgotten.

A closer comparison to the current Cavs would be—perhaps inevitably—Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, with their multiple playoff shortfalls of the 1980s. That frustrating run stretched over six seasons and included three straight playoff losses to the Detroit Pistons, the last two of which were in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The moral of both stories, however, is the same. Sustained excellence, despite even repea...

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