Cal Basketball: Who Are the Bears' Greatest NBA Finals Performers?

Leon Powe, Jason Kidd and Charles JohnsonAll photos courtesy of Cal Athletics

Only eight former Cal players have appeared in the NBA Finals, none since Jason Kidd in 2011

For the eighth straight year, they are playing the NBA Finals without a Cal player on either roster.

Hard to believe the thing gets any TV ratings at all!

Actually, eight former Golden Bears have played in the NBA Finals, dating back to Darrall Imhoff in 1965. Imhoff got there three times in four seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, but lost to the Boston Celtics each time.

Jason Kidd, who also played in three of them, is the most recent Cal player to reach the final round of the NBA playoffs, helping Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks win the 2011 crown.

Many of Cal’s greatest players never made it to the NBA Finals, including Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Ryan Anderson and Lamond Murray. Sean Marks’ San Antonio Spurs beat the Detroit Pistons for the 2005 title, but Marks did not play in the postseason.

Here’s our ranking of the most impactful NBA Finals performances by former Bears:

8. Mark McNamara

​With the Philadelphia 76ers as a rookie in 1983 and again with the Lakers in ’89, McNamara totaled 5 minutes of playing time in three games. He played 1 minute in one game and scored 4 points during the 76ers’ sweep of of the Lakers, then totaled 4 scoreless minutes over two games as the Lakers were swept by the Pistons.

7. Francisco Elson

A long-shot to even make the NBA after averaging 5.5 points in his two seasons at Cal, Elson reached the game’s biggest stage. He played 47 minutes in the Spurs’ four-game sweep of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 Finals.

While averaging 4.0 points and 2.5 rebounds, he holds a distinction few others can claim: He never missed a shot in the NBA Finals. Elson was 6 for 6. Perfect.

6. Leon Powe

One of my favorite Cal players ever, Powe got one chance to play in the NBA Finals, with the 2008 Boston Celtics. The Celtics won the series 4-2 and in five of the six games Powe averaged barely 3 points.

But he had one special game that Celtics fans still remember. In a Game 2 victory, Powe scored 21 points on 6 of 7 shooting from the field and 9 of 13 at the foul line in barely 14 minutes on the floor.

5. Darrall Imhoff

The star of Cal’s national championship team had a 12-year NBA career best remembered for being the opposing center when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points on March 2, 1962. But the late Imhoff (who only played 20 minutes in that game), had better moments.

He reached the NBA Finals three times with the Lakers, although his contributions were minimal in the first two: 1.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in 1965, and 2.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in ’66.

Imhoff played a significant role in ’68 as the starting center on a Lakers team led by Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. He had 12 points and 14 rebounds in Game 1 vs. the Celtics, then 11 points and 20 rebounds in a Game 4 victory.

Imhoff averaged a very respectable 8.5 points and 10.2 rebounds, but the Celtics won the series in six games, led by Hall of Famer Bill Russell, who produced 17.3 points and 21.8 rebounds per game.

4. Kevin Johnson

​Cal’s first great “modern” era player, KJ led the Phoenix Suns into the 1993 NBA Finals, where he averaged 17.2 points, 6.5 assists and 3.0 rebounds against the Chicago Bulls. Johnson scored 25 points each in Games 3 and 5 — the Suns’ only two victories in a six-game series dominated by Michael Jordan.

As good as KJ was, MJ was better — as he usually was against every opponent. Jordan averaged 41 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists in the series and scored 55 points in the Bulls’ Game 4 victory.

3. Phil Chenier

The slick guard from Berkeley High contributed to three Finals appearances by the Bullets in the 1970s, but he was significant in only one of them. Chenier was injured and did not play in 1978, when Washington beat Seattle 4 games to 3. A year later, he scored just 5 points in 25 minutes spread over three games as the Super Sonics got revenge with a 4-1 series win.

The outcome wasn’t what Chenier wanted in 1975 as the Warriors pulled off a stunning four-game sweep, but he was very good, averaging 23.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.5 steals. His 30-point effort in Game 2 matches the most point by any Cal player in an NBA Finals game.

2. Charles Johnson

KJ and Chenier scored more points, but the late Charles Johnson helped the Warriors to their first title in the Bay Area — and their last for 40 years. Listed generously at 6-feet, Johnson averaged 7.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.3 steals to complement the spectacular series performance by Hall of Famer Rick Barry (29.5 points per game).

After twice scoring more than 20 points in earlier playoff rounds, Johnson had 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the 92-91 Game 2 victory at the Cow Palace on the way to a four-game sweep of the heavily favored Washington Bullets.

1. Jason Kidd

Cal’s greatest player made it to three NBA Finals and had impact on all three. But he had to be patient before finally winning one.

Kidd was at the height of his powers in 2002 with the New Jersey Nets, a first-team all-NBA selection for the fourth of five times after averaging 14.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 9.9 assists for the season. His numbers were better yet in the Finals, where he produced 20.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 9.8 assists, including a triple-double in one game and 30 points in another. But the Nets were swept by a Lakers team featuring Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

The Nets made it back to the Finals a year later, and J-Kidd averaged 19.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists against the Spurs, with another 30-point game. But San Antonio was the better team, winning in six games.

Finally, at age 38 and nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career, Kidd got his ring. As running mate to Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, Kidd helped the Dallas Mavericks to the 2011 title with a six-game series win over Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

Kidd’s numerically modest contributions: 7.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 43 percent on 3-point shot attempts. He had 10 assists in Game 3 and 13 points and 3 steals in Game 5 on the way to becoming the oldest starting point guard to lead his team to an NBA crown.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle gave context to Kidd’s contributions during the 2011 postseason run.

"He's one of the most experienced and most resourceful players in NBA history,” Carlisle said at the time. “Nothing he does surprises me."

Comments